Reno Rant # One – You Won’t Believe What’s Going On!

Hi Everyone,

Or, maybe you will believe what’s going on.

Welcome to my reno rant. A reno rant that’s happening days before the renovation has begun. But, hang in until the end because it’s not all bad.


Oh, man. I woke up today, dragging myself out of bed while seriously asking myself why I thought this renovation was a good idea.


In my dreams, it is all so beautiful. I can see the finished design. I love everything and everyone. I’m hosting another Christmas party. Only this time, my guests won’t fear getting sucked into the spiral of death that no longer exists except as a bad memory.

Sure, go ahead and laugh. It’s freaking hilarious.


Well, Laurel, what could be so bad at this point? Maybe you’re just nervous and excited?


Oh, no… nervous and excited don’t even begin to cover it.

Yesterday, I received an email from the architect whose name may never be mentioned.

However, something went horribly wrong because he sent me back a floor plan that, in writing, is 20″ too long and, as drawn, 38″ too long. An inch or two for a space that’s nearly 31 feet long is not a problem.


Three feet is enough to send me packing to the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health.


I couldn’t believe it. So, naturally, I spent the rest of the afternoon, evening, and again into the wee hours on Monday working on this. I did it for myself, and also, if I’m going to tell a highly experienced architect that he massively effed up, I sure as hellfire better be right.

Now, did *he* eff up? Most likely not. Most likely, it was one of his underlings. Maybe they misread the numbers or just assumed they made a mistake because, yes, the upstairs IS bigger than the downstairs. However, those numbers are also wrong.

I will leave that one, be for now, and we can focus on the mess that is the downstairs plan.

Below are the existing plans. Mine lines and walls are in the teal green, and the architect’s drawing is everything that’s black.

The thick dark green line on the left is where the apartment ends.

So, let’s begin by looking to the right. It all starts out great, nearly identical. The width is perfect, the doorway lines up, as does the first niche by the door. When he comes to the chimney, things begin to go horribly south. I have measured it six times. It is 58″. That’s 4′-10″, right?  Two inches shy of five feet. Right? He says the chimney is 6′-4-3/8″. That’s 76.375″ vs. 58.”

But, that is only for starters. ALL of it is way off, except for the width and the first third.


It’s crazy-making at its finest.


Plus, today, he’s insisting that I need an 11″ tread instead of a 10″ tread for the stairs because this is more than a one, to a two-family home. Of course, that has to mean a shared staircase like in an apartment building. Well, I got a very nice guy on the horn from the building department. He said he’s an architectural access board compliance officer.

He said even though it’s a multifamily home, my staircase is not intended for the other residents, so it does not have to be 11″.

I mean, the building staircase, where my upstairs neighbors would have to emerge unless they took the fire escape, is only 10 feet from the front door. Across from my apartment is the common staircase. Even if I was home, why would they take the time to knock on my door to use my staircase?


Here, please allow me to show you the absurdity of this notion.


Below is the building plan for the paaaaahlaaah level of our home. In the front is another duplex apartment. Mine is in the rear, facing the alley rats, the John Hancock building, AND the sun for several hours a day.

So, let’s say there’s a fire in the building. It’s on the top floor, and the owners are not home. On floors 3 and 4, my neighbors above me quickly make their way downstairs. That’s the indigo line. The front door is to the left.

Do they?

A. Make a beeline for the front door on the left and go outside to safety?


B. (in red)  At the bottom of the steps, turn right and walk 20 feet away from the door, pound on my door to use my staircase.


Hmmmmm… Let me think…


But okay, if, for some reason, the access out the front door was blocked, they would use C. The building staircase across from my front door is indicated by the turquoise lines. That takes them down the common corridor, through the vestibule, and out of the building.

The point is my residence has a staircase that’s not shared with any of the residents. The only reason there is a staircase inside my apartment is so *I*, Laurel, a former housewife turned design blogger, have access to the lower level. Of course, in a dire emergency, I would let my neighbors in to use my staircase. Is having the tread one inch shorter going to be a problem?

Hey, this could be a single-family home with two parents and ten kids.

And, if it were now, the fire would be the least of their problems as they’d all break their necks on the killer spiral.  Hey, I’m 100% for safety above all else. I get the 36″ wide staircase, although I don’t agree with it. But, saying my staircase wouldn’t be up to code because this is a five-family dwelling makes less than zero sense.


What would be unsafe is having to add 15″ to my stairwell opening.


So, did the architect apologize?


Not yet.


Well, could you be wrong about the measurements?


Of course, I could be wrong, and it could also snow tomorrow, now that it’s nearly June. However, my measurements align with the condo docs, AND I’ve carefully measured everything more times than I can count. I mean, what kind of crazy would it be for me to sit here for a thousand hours making floor plan after floor plan with inaccurate measurements?

He was here for barely an hour. I’ve been measuring this place for nearly 2.5 years! And, it’s not a couple of inches. That’s not a problem. But three feet is. Of course, it is.


This would be the time when most people would pour themselves a glass of something mind-altering. However, I virtually drink no alcohol, except for a sip less than 10 times a year.

Well, did you pour yourself a glass of banana cream pie? *


Now, you’re talking. But, no. Instead, I called my contractor.

Oh, please pick up, pretty please.

He picked up.

I exhaled.

There was a lot of noise in the background, like a noisy restaurant or bar.  It was his wedding anniversary! Anyway, he was a doll to pick up and go outside and couldn’t have been nicer or more understanding. He said he would come with the architect at the end of the week to measure and discuss the plans.


But, some good news. He has the building permit! He only applied a week ago.


And, he reassured me that it would all be fine and he will come over Friday to measure and go over everything.

But, bloody damn, I have a coffee in the morning, AND Cale will be here. Thank God! But, I might have to miss my coffee with darling Wendy Oleksiak.

So, this is why I woke up in a funk and why I don’t have a better post for you today. Something has to give.

Just so you know, I’ve developed a new mantra.


This is only a temporary glitch, and all will work out.


” I can see you’re really upset, Dave. Why don’t you take a stress pill and think things over?”

The best.

I promise to have a nice post for Sunday. I’ve already made a lot of headway on it. Thanks so much for your love and support. I’ve received so many kind messages recently. I love you all!


Update on what’s happened since this post was written.


Last Thursday, (May 25th) the architect’s young assistant came by with my contractor. She brought a better-calibrated laser and admitted she was at fault for the inaccurate measurements. It’s a mistake I made ONCE. In my case, it was for one window and the drapes had to be rehemmed, that is all. But, it was a lesson learned.

One must never assume a measurement. In this case, as I suspected, she thought she had made a mistake regarding the chimney size downstairs. It is considerably smaller downstairs than upstairs. Thinking she made a mistake, she changed it to match the upstairs. I told her she should’ve called me and I would’ve been happy to double-check that measurement for her. I’ve been in that situation, too. So, depending on how well I knew the client, I would either come back or ask the client to double-check for me.

The stair situation.

Apparently, the building code for my home because there are five units, is different from single-and two-family homes. Even though my apartment IS a single-family apartment with a private staircase. And, in this case, the “family” is one aging former housewife.

Since these codes are based on occupancy, how is it possible that my staircase, not meant for egress, but for movement only for me, between floors be subjected to the same code that applies to an entire apartment building or dormitory?


That code is fine for the shared staircase that lives outside my front door.


In addition, I realize that my hole is 9″ too small. I do need one more tread width for the stairwell. So, instead of 99″, the opening needs to be 108″. However, if the 12 treads are each one inch longer, that adds, of course, an additional 12 inches. Now, instead of 99″, the hole will need to be 120″.  However, there’s only 126″ between the two doorways, (moulding to moulding). The 108″ hole is still fine. The 120″ hole, is not at all fine, and the only possibility is to move the den door over, 18″.


In addition, the downstairs door would have to be moved over and the entry reconfigured.


On Friday, the architect said, after speaking to the contractor, he will be drawing the plans with the single and two-family-sized stair tread.  Those plans will be submitted shortly to the building department through a long form. That process takes at least two months. So, the stairs will most likely not be able to be touched until August, at the earliest, and quite possibly later.



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29 Responses

  1. wow just found this blog and this is the first stop I’ve read ! Hope it all works out for you but have no doubt, it will ! Can’t wait to read more.

  2. Hello Laurel, I want to hire your architect. I could definitely use an extra three feet magically added to my apartment. There is a saying that the best fertilizer is the feet of the farmer, and this could be modified to the best thing for building or renovating is the presence of the owner. My apartment needed some work that the landlord wanted to do while I was away, but I told him no, imagining all the horrors that could transpire in my absence. I hope it will be smooth sailing for you from now on.

  3. Can you imagine what would have happened had you not been the super-organized trained professional that you are and had started to remodel with those plans? And I bet this architect has an excellent reputation! You could always negotiate a deal that you won’t tell ANYONE his name in exchange for a new set of plans and a refund!

  4. Hi Laurel, I hope it all works out for you! I’m an architect and this is the kind of thing that should never happen! One thing I would caution you on, while it might be to residential code for your area, a 10″ tread is very narrow. Working in commercial architecture, we do a 12″ tread (plan distance it’s 11″ but the lower tread extends underneath the upper). Codes are always evolving, but would hate to have this affect you if you need to do any reno in the future. Building a stair is not a little job. Good luck and can’t wait to see the progress!

  5. Laurel, it’s a good thing that you’re SMART, have such an attention to detail and you understand building codes. This will be worth it in the end. It sounds like you’re making progress!

  6. I would have a cow if an expert I paid made a mistake I would not have as a someone without certification. This guy needs to fix the plans and refund his fee IMHO. But that will never happen.

    If this is the worst issue, you will be getting off very lucky indeed.

    My simple reno of bath and floors turned into more than six months of hell. I am still recovering as that much stress triggered my underlying health issues.

    But I believe your place is going to be stunning. So we all wait with bated breath and will be here holding your hand.

  7. I’m with Yu. This is a big red flag. Something I don’t have any patience for in my life any more. I say fire his ass. No one needs a “professional” who makes so many beginner mistakes right up front. It’s a sign. You don’t need that headache, especially with the lovely plans you’ve come up with.

  8. The difference between an amateur and a professional is that one gets paid. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the professional is “PROFESSIONAL”! You may be an amateur architect, but you are a professional detail person! I hope your architect is properly mortified by his (or an underling’s) mistakes and apologizes profusely. Home renovation is like the medical field – no one cares as much as YOU and you have to advocate for yourself.

  9. You are not alone! We are preparing for either a tear down or a renovation of a current property and quoted $3200 for an in-depth survey-no issue with that-our only request is to let us know when it would be done so we could be there.
    Returned to the property, and noted that it had been done without notifying us, and in addition, only three of the four property line stakes were placed, because the fourth one could not be found-so unfortunately had to put a call out to our contractor, who was kind to answer the phone, despite vacationing out of the country!
    Things don’t always go as planned and like everyone says – just hang in there. It will be OK in the end!! (that is what I keep telling myself…)

  10. Good morning Laurel,
    A great timely post for me as I’m currently undergoing a kitchen renovation. My island has been measured, remeasured and remeasured again. Numbers match. Friday morning on the way to sign off on cabinets I received an email that basically says my island violates code because there’s only 27” from the island to the closest cabinet and it’s too small of a walk way. I lost my you know what! The new replacement plans were unacceptable. I remembered my mantras…”nothing is permanent and everything is fixable. If it’s built by a human, it can be fixed by a human.” My engineer husband knew the Friday morning plans were wrong so he got out the blue painters tape, taped it out and voila! We have 39 inches between the island overhang and the next closest cabinet! We had an impromptu meeting with my contractor and cabinet maker in my freshly drywalled and primed kitchen and all were in agreement the numbers matched and the cabinet design software was wrong. It took about 4 hours to correct but we signed off at 7pm Monday night. First cabinets will be delivered next week! Stand strong! There will be hiccups and burps with a good amount of heartburn along the journey but it will end. Someday soon. I hope. Best wishes!

  11. This wonderful stream-of-consciousness rant has made my morning… thank you! (read while snorting coffee out my nose ;-). I’ve had the odd mis-measurement and made floors be ripped up because they were laid perpendicular rather than parallel to the existing floors…. silly me for not checking the layout of the beams… but in a compact space even the BEST contractor cannot compensate for the errors you found. How kind of him to take your call … I hope you can write another fun blog that is NOT a rant sooner than not… but thank you for this one!

  12. Laurel, may this the be the worst part of the Reno, and you’ll be doing good! And please rant on, I certainly don’t expect you to always post sunshine and roses. You are real, which is why I keep reading your blog and purchasing your products. I think you have have definitely found a great contractor who has your back and can get permits so fast. That would be a miracle in Austin to get permits so fast. Has your building Board approved it also? I’m really excited for you, and I hope you feeling lighter after venting. Big hugs to you, and remember to breathe.

  13. What a way to start your project! Hopefully you are getting all the crap out of the way before you begin. The architect sounds like he’s in the wrong business. You had a feeling when he came to do the measurements and spent so little time taking them. Well, it looks like you read him right. It looks to me like he phoned it in. Your contractor reminds me of the contractor we used for a total redo of our landscaping. We hired a landscape architect who drew up the plans. Once the contractor saw them, he found flaws but said, “no problem, I’ll do it right” and he did. It turned out perfect! Seeing him and his bobcat at work was like watching a ballet. It was beautiful and awe inspiring.
    We had a rule at work that if we got an answer that didn’t make sense to check two more times. If we got the same response all three times it must be correct, if not, it wasn’t. I’m so glad you didn’t take his word about the stairway treads. Your explanation of the lack of logic in his reasoning made me laugh out loud. I know if there were a fire, I’d be banging on my neighbor’s door, hoping they’d answer so I could come in to use their stairs to escape, rather than going down a common corridor and out. Don’t you have to wonder if he even thought about what he was telling you? Again, I’ll say, he has no business being an architect. His profession is all about details, logic, problem solving and critical thinking. There have been several times in my life when I’ve had to tell someone. ” I may look like a dumb broad, but I didn’t fall off a turnip truck.” Your architect is about to learn who he’s dealing with. He has met his equal. You may not have a bunch of letters behind your name, but you certainly have done the calculations and know your measurements are correct. Hang in there, hold your ground. It will get better! In the meantime, have plenty of your favorite indulgences on hand. I have a feeling you’ll be needing them.

  14. Laurel – I feel your pain! However unlike some of the other commenters I think this is a big red flag. Such basic and non-trivial measuring discrepancies demand a direct explanation, and shouldn’t be glossed over. Even worse is the beginner error about the code treatment of the stair tread. Something is amiss, and when there’s no obvious explanation I get worried. Best of luck!

  15. Hi Laurel. What a shock it must have been to see your plans gone gloriously wrong. Thank goodness you review everything. People make fun of people like us who obsess and triple check things a million times, but guess what? That’s how we find mistakes. Which can happen easily in software. You go to move a wall, and expect it to move right, but it moves left and you don’t notice. But man, those extra non-existent inches will mess it all up. Between you and the contractor, I have no doubt things will work out. As you know, mistakes may happen, but as long as they are corrected, in the end it works out!

  16. my project of turning one wall of my guest bedroom into a home office is complete. I have a nervous breakdown just doing something small like this (drawers, countertop, shelves, painted wall, framing of two prints) Good luck, Laurel!! It will all come together in the end.

  17. Your own expertise and attention to detail saves the day Laurel! When you shared that you were hiring an architect, I understood why but I also thought “They can’t do a better job than Laurel!” I hope the architect apologizes, pays attention, and makes things right. Very glad you have such a great contractor. Hang in there! Your mantra is similar to mine while we remodeled this old 60’s ranch house. “This, too, shall pass.”

  18. Oh dear! Fortunately, you are SO on top of this! Your training, experience, attention to detail and savvy will all help you with the mechanics. But the trust in the architect is now blown!! I hope he has a good explanation…well, at least, I hope he come up with some accurate plans. In the end, that is what is most important. It is interesting and educational for us to read about it all, so your post is helpful.

  19. Oh Laurel – This is definitely a pain and I’m praying for you. It’s hard to sleep when you have started this huge project and it isn’t coming out of the shoot correctly. Makes one wait for the other shoe to drop.
    You are well educated, smart, know your stuff so be at ease knowing this will definitely be a difficult renovation surgery but you will be fine.
    You have so many of us who are backing you 100%.
    My architect “goofed” on the stairs but the contractor fixed it and I learned “from now on” get a second opinion. My sweet Laurel, you are the second opinion and you caught what wouldn’t work.
    Please keep us all updated. There is some light after the storm but right now, it sure is difficult to see.

  20. Oh Laurel, I’m feeling so sorry for you! But you did make me laugh out loud. So that’s a bonus, at least for me. Truly hoping that everything progresses smoothly for you from now on. I find that pounding the pavement for a few laps of my block really helps me sort things out more clearly. Taking the dog makes it more fun, although I guess you can’t do that late at night on your own, while trying to resolve complex measurements. Keep up your smiling good spirits and I trust you are soon enjoying lots of warm sunshine, while we start to shiver here in OZ.

  21. Laurel,
    Wishing you the best; sending you a prayer. Keep going! Thanks for preparing the rest of us for our reno nightmares!

  22. Good luck Laurel! We are still trying to get the builder to clean up the mess but it sounds like you have a great contractor, that will make all the difference. I can see the beautiful Christmas party you will host, wishing you all the luck in the world. Have I told you how much I love your blog!

  23. Dear Laurel – don’t worry – you did write a post. I’m so sorry this is such a horrible headache for you, but it’s also a reminder that we shouldn’t assume the professional has got everything right, and that we’re not alone in renovation stress. It sounds like your contractor has your back anyway. And it’s going to turn out mighty darn fine!

  24. As if you haven’t already figured your space down to the inch. I’ve got agida over this. No excuses for that architect. It sounds like you’ve made some good friends there who can hold your hand through this. Good luck.

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