On a Complete Rehab

Lorenzo Winslow is a name you probably don’t know. Lorenzo was a high-priced architect on the East Coast in the middle of the last century. During World War I, Lorenzo was in the Army Corps of Engineers in France, and, after the war, he studied architecture in Paris. Coming home after his education, Lorenzo worked for a prestigious architectural firm in North Carolina. Eventually, he moved a bit north and began specializing on designing houses and, for a time, he was employed by the US Government where he worked on a partial rehab of the Statue of Liberty. However, Lorenzo’s passion was private residences. He received a call one day about a commission for a house that would prove to be one of his most challenging.

It was a rehab job, he was told. The house was one of those old, early American Eastern Seaboard piles that had been allowed to fall into decline over the decades. Lorenzo made the trek to the house to see it for himself. The resident met him and took him on a tour. Impressive place, he thought, old but with potential. It worried him that the floor slanted and the old chandeliers shook when one walked on the floors above them.

After a more detailed inspection with his engineer, Lorenzo informed the client that, yes, the house could be salvaged, but it had to be immediately gutted, leaving only the shell from which to reconstruct the house. The client questioned that level of reconstruction; the price Lorenzo quoted for the repairs rivalled what it would cost to raze the structure and rebuild from the ground up.

Lorenzo argued against that. He said that the 150-year-old house had good bones and some historical significance and should be saved, if possible. The client rubbed his chin in thought and agreed. Lorenzo further told the man that he had to vacate immediately, that parts of the structure was unsound and was in danger of collapse. The man’s wife balked at this despite the fact that a piano on the second floor almost fell through to the floor below. The wife loved the old place since the family (a daughter also lived there) had moved in a couple of years before, taking possession from another family who’d lived there for over a decade. Finally, and reluctantly, the wife agreed to move out while the rehab took place.

Soon, Lorenzo’s contractor had all interior walls removed. The house barely resembled what it was before, and the client began to question whether such drastic measures were needed. Lorenzo insisted that they were. He took the man on a tour of the work, and he pointed out that, sometime in the past, the structure had even suffered a fire; burn marks on some support timbers and scorches on the masonry proved his point. The client showed up several times during the almost three-year rehab and walked through the changing interior of the house. He was always amazed at the scale of Lorenzo’s vision for the work.

As these things often do, the project ran over time and over budget. Both of these contingencies angered the client. He didn’t exactly blame Lorenzo, but, being a man who usually pinched pennies, he felt that somehow he had not gotten his money’s worth out of the reconstruction.

“I could have done all of this for half the money and half the time,” a frustrated Harry Truman said on his first night back in the renovated White House.

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