Morningside Renovation

Our Journey Through The Renovation Process Of Our Future "Forever Home" In Morningside (Atlanta,GA)


With a Little Help From Phillip Phillips

I’m not a regular follower of American Idol however the winner from a few seasons back, Phillip Phillips, first introduced and sang his signature song “Home” which eventually achieved a # 1 ranking on many charts and as a result received a considerable amount of airtime (some would scream, “over-played”) on radio, TV & film –  and also in my head.  The lyrics of “Home” are fairly vague which let’s one derive their own meaning from it and has probably led to some of its popularity; however during the last several months of our renovation project the main line which states, “I’m going to make this place your home” is probably where my personal connection to this song actually began.  Over time as I eventually paid attention to the rest of the lyrics I found them also somewhat relatable to our then current renovation journey.  So it became my personal and unofficial theme song during the last half of our crazy, stressful, frustrating, disheartening and at times disappointing journey.

While “Home” eventually found its way to my iPod I was never guilty of blaring it through my speakers or reaching for it when needing a little inspiration.  Nothing like that at all, this was more intimate and personally developed over time.  As mentioned earlier, several months back you almost couldn’t turn on your radio without hearing it.  But it seemed as if every time I got in my car after experiencing or hearing about another disappointing setback (and they were numerous) or when we would question the logic behind continuing to move forward when one of us would want to throw in the towel, this song would be playing on the radio and it seemed to drown everything else out and refocus my original purpose of making sure J received her “forever home”.  Now looking back it makes sense why over the last several months of our project I felt as if my brain had this song on some vicious repeat cycle.

“Don’t pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear”, “the trouble it might drag you down”

Unfortunately those verses became a reality as we eventually realized that who we once thought was our Superman(our new GC) was far from it. Now there were similarities, both of them heroically rush in to rescue someone in a dire situation, however that’s where it all pretty much ends.

Unexplainable & lengthy delays, excessive expenses and mistruths  became too frequent and numerous as weeks and eventually months passed with little to no progress being made. Eventually we realized that we weren’t alone and the reasons behind some of those delays were ultimately uncovered.

Our agreed to payment process was fairly standard, the GC, or his subs, performed the work; weekly an invoice or draw was created & presented to us and we would either write a check for the full amount (if all was completed) or for an amount equal to the percentage of what was truly completed for that specific task.  He would then reimburse his subs and/or vendors, deduct his agreed to fee and present us with a Lien Waiver.  Pretty simple process and one which would keep everyone paid on a timely basis and hopefully minimize delays which was extremely important since we were already so far behind our original construction completion date and still carrying the financial burden of two houses.  Except there was one little issue, although we were a little late realizing what was truly happening it was eventually brought to our attention by a few of the subs that over the last several weeks our new GC had started making it a habit of either short-paying them & the vendors or just not paying them at all.

So there’s no mistake, I realize that there are some very good contractors with extremely high ethics but I’m also confident that there are numerous others which are either incompetent or as greedy and crooked as the two we’ve experienced.  The problem is that the bad ones are just so damn good at strategizing how they can take advantage of a situation and milk the homeowner for every possible dollar while getting away with it.  And to make it even worse they know how to work around or just barely within the laws which were originally designed to “protect” the homeowner and prevent this from happening.

Now if you’ve read any of my earlier post it’s probably fairly obvious that 1) I’m not very bright and should have bailed on this whole project numerous times before, 2) a personal trait which I like to think of as persistence is probably better defined as bull-headed and 3) I wanted to give J her “forever home” and was determined not to let anything stand in the way of it.

While our home is now complete it was a long, difficult and extremely stressful road.  Threats, intimidation & frequent mistruths all became a common place with our GC.   Threats of further delays, additional costs if we decided to terminate the relationship and the threat of placing liens on the house were all tossed around whenever we began to ask questions or push back against their answers.   Any of these would have been enough for most people to terminate a relationship but we just felt at the time that despite all of this they were our best hope for completing our dream as we continued to try to convince ourselves that this was possibly just part of the home renovation business – the norm.

To give credit where it is due I have to admit that they were good in some areas; their structural work was good and their subs were great; however  they were even better at creating a situation where we felt as if we were being held hostage financially and ultimately for completion.

But we weren’t, we had an angel – plus the two of us can be a pretty formidable team when we share the same goal.  After cutting our loses and painfully walking away from our initial deposit we set out determined to GC our own project, our minds determined to finish the job.  Couldn’t be much to complete, all we had left to do was; finish the floors, install the rest of the trim, hang all of the doors (interior & exterior), painting (interior & exterior), have all of the cabinets & countertops installed,  completion  & installation of all of the electrical and plumbing fixtures, construction of the built-ins as well as the hearth and mantle for the great room, rebuilding and finishing of the outdoor room & deck as well as the carport area, grading & pouring of the driveway, back-filling the area around the basement expansion, completion of the front porch, completing the exterior brick work, installation of the glass walls & doors for the shower in the master bath, replacement of the water & sewer lines as well as the coordination of all of the required inspections and approvals.  Plus a few extra items on the exterior which included,  grading & leveling of the backyard, laying sod, installing a French drain along 2 sides of the house, plus adding a privacy fence to enclose the backyard as well as a driveway gate.  We knew it would be a challenge but we had no idea what it all entailed and I can guarantee you that we would have gone a different route if we even had a hint that with almost every one of the above listed items we would experience at least some issue.

One of the deciding factors to break free though was after we experienced a situation with our cabinets during installation.  The cabinets were already 7 ½ weeks behind scheduled delivery but once they arrived we noticed the doors and drawers weren’t what we ordered.  Calls were made to our GC as well as the cabinet-maker to find out the reason for the mix up.  GC’s response – he did his best to try to convince us that the doors & drawers delivered were what we ordered and to replace them it would cost us even more money.  One problem, we had in our possession a sample of the doors we originally ordered with our GC’s handwriting on the back confirming that this sample was the style of doors which we would receive.  Despite this fact our GC didn’t give up trying to convince us otherwise; he would change his story, yell, tried to put J and me against one another, scream louder and shifted the blame to everybody else.  Enough!!   A few days later he was released and while we had to hire another cabinet-maker to give us the style of doors we originally ordered, we eventually achieved the look of what was originally envisioned for our kitchen.

Finding, qualifying and selecting the needed subs & vendors, the coordination and logistics of lining everyone up, plus the selection of finishes and decisions which had yet to be made or had to be made once again was more time-consuming and frustrating than what we anticipated.  But at times it was just the simple decisions such as which comes first, staining & finishing the hardwood floor or painting the interior walls, that tested our patience and will.

The stress, frustration, disappointment and sacrifices which we experienced on so many levels is beyond anything I ever want to experience again, but somehow we did it.  Sure a never-ending punch-list still exists and I now know way more than I originally ever wanted to know about the whole building process  but somewhere along the way I also gained an appreciation and somewhat of a love and/or passion for it all.

I guess it all goes back to what’s  listed above under the first part of #1, all that we went through should’ve been enough to turn anyone off, but as each obstacle was somehow overcome a crazy affection started to grow.  Of course the coordination involved with the whole moving process and the purchasing of needed furnishings and window treatments did nothing for this admiration, nor did the fact that we were basically kicked out of the house we were renting during construction because the landlord found a higher paying tenant which resulted in us having to spend several nights in a hotel until our house was “livable”, but somehow this “love or desire” developed and has left me thinking.

While I don’t believe that all of the negative experiences that we encounter during our lifetime are predetermined, I do believe that it is our responsibility to use those experiences to somehow help others going through something similar.  So that’s my struggle, how best can I help others in similar situations or maybe it’s what can I do to educate and prevent this from happening to someone else?  Not sure about the answer yet, maybe it’s this blog (although I doubt it) or maybe it’s just to assist a friend when they’re faced with a similar situation…just not sure but it’s a thought that is constantly in my mind.

So that’s my “brief” summary and explanation as to where I’ve been over the last several months.  It took 18 long months to finally complete it and along the way we tried our best to find or create fun and memorable moments for us and the boys which at times seemed impossible but…We Made It!!

We met some wonderful subs during this whole ordeal but we honestly couldn’t have done it without our Angel(who I’ll talk about in more detail in a future post). I’m not sure what the future will hold but I do know that despite all that we’ve experienced I feel extremely grateful & appreciative and  hope that one day I can somehow return the favor and find a way to assist, or prevent, someone else from going through something similar.


Structural Repairs

Well even though it may not look like it, a lot of work has been done on our house since my last update.  The vast majority of them are structural repairs as it seems that age and carpenter ants had compromised the structural integrity in some places. 

As age and gravity can tend to make things sag over time, houses built in the 1920’s aren’t immune to it either.  And while some have said that the waves in our hardwood floors add character, I would rather let that come from elsewhere.  So they have been supporting  the floors by adding new beams below the main floor as well as re-supporting the ones that were already in place.






They’ve also discovered a few places where carpenter ants and Mother Nature had spent some time.  Because of this they’ve removed and replaced all of the rotted and eaten wood and re-support the house in those areas as well.






Last, they’ve supported the back of the house, I’m really shocked that the temporary supports held it up for such a long period of time.


Does Anyone Really Know Their True Purpose?

So I somehow came across the below article which gives tips on blogging.  Not sure how I found it being that 1) I never have nor are my aspirations to make money from this site (humorous even thinking about it), 2) it is a site created and tailored for moms.  Nothing against moms, but it’s just not a site that I would normally find myself stumbling upon.

My personal feeling is that everyone has a purpose, that there is a bigger reason than the obvious as to why someone was born. Of course I understand how someone could oppose that statement as I’ve heard some very valid arguments, however I stand firm in my belief.  And while I have absolutely no idea as to my own “purpose” I’m determined to eventually uncover that ever elusive question – hopefully.

Anyway, #1 got me thinking.  Originally I created this site to update friends and relatives about our construction (remodeling & renovation) project while of course showing numerous pictures of our progress as well as the occasional ones of our boys. Unfortunately that all changed.  We experienced a horrible nightmare with our first general contractor and while we came close to abandoning it all we decided to press on and try to accomplish our original task knowing that it will be a huge up hill battle.

So currently and going forward what is the overall purpose of this site?  I have no idea.  I’ve read my past posts and I’m all over the place.  Of course I could continue on the same path but does that really answer the question?  One thing I do know, I’ll probably have the answer as to the purpose of this site before I discover my own. 

Blogging Tips

Grading the Backyard

Not a lot to report due to the rainy weather that we’ve had in Atlanta this past week  but I’ve included a few pictures of the backyard which was recently graded/leveled and now gives us a more visual idea as to its size, although the purpose was to give them a place to unload the upcoming framing packages. 


Little Brendan (22 mo) just had to get involved


Of course Max was quick to volunteer in helping me spread some hay to prevent erosion as well as start re-stacking the wood pile which had to be located.



Good things are happening, just need to find ways to cut down some of the upcoming expenses, as this is where the $’s start to be spent.


Interior Demo

What a week, after having gone through so much frustration in the past it’s refreshing to actually be making progress.  Unfortunately we had a horrible experience with our last GC however it’s refreshing with the progress that’s been made with our new GC.  He’s cleaned up the mess which was left behind,




cleaned up the basement,

These stairs will be removed and are being relocated into the expansion space


and then finished removing all of the plaster as well as laths from the walls and some of the ceilings. 


One of the surprisingly interesting finds was the condition of the brick which has been hidden for years behind plaster. 


We’re seriously contemplating letting the exposed brick become part of the “decor” in the dining room however we would also like to find a way to incorporate the brick (2nd above photo) into what will serve as a hallway/corridor.  We’re still not sure what we’ll do with the fireplace in the foyer, however thankfully we have a couple of weeks before we need to decide. 

I feel somewhat foolish celebrating the demo, however it’s been a long time coming…can’t imagine what we’ll feel when they start driving nails. 

I wanted to share another interesting article, What to Look for in a Contractor’s Contract, (this one is from Houzz)  that is certainly worth a few minutes if you’re about to enter into a contract with a General Contractor.

Hard to Trust Again

Personally this next step has been one of the toughest.  Tough mentally as well as emotionally.  Some people automatically trust others until proven differently, while others are only willing to extend that gift once it has been duly earned. While I strive for the former, unfortunately the latter is more of my nature.  Regardless, it’s been extremely tough to move forward and hire another GC, even though it’s imperative if we’re going to achieve our original goal. 

There’s probably very few people who have never been the recipient of some sort of betrayal…at least once in their life.  And while I was taught early that “you’re only as good as your word”, I’m often reminded of how differently some have been raised.  Our original GC we initially “loved” and trusted, he was the one who would ultimately deliver our dream.  We did our due diligence and trust was rightfully given, however that trust was shortly shattered and as a result our dream was almost abandoned.  Trust is the basis of any healthy relationship, business or personal, and for me it can at times be challenging to readily “re-extend” that gift after it’s been recently, and in my opinion, abused – especially when it’s been so costly mentally, emotionally and financially. 

I’ve been told that how you respond to life’s challenges is what defines you. Not really sure how I or we’ll end up being “defined” – but I am somewhat curious.  I do know that while it could be so easy to waste needed energy getting bogged down in our past experiences it would ultimately only prohibit us from moving forward. To begin our next step of moving forward we’ve met some incredible GC’s, ones that are undeniably competent enough to finish our project.   In the end our criteria for choosing a new GC went beyond experience and we decided to leave the final decision to our gut/heart. 

So this past Monday we began our next phase/step, the crew from our new GC showed up an hour early and progress has resumed!!!  While it’s disheartening that some of the sacrifices which will now be required will affect/alter our desired finishes, appliances and basically the green features of our home, it is beyond exciting to see progress once again being made.  The vast majority of this week will be literally cleaning up the mess left behind by our former GC and if possible they might start demo’ing the interior of our house.  While it’s scary stepping back out on this “limb”, it’s comforting to see the organization of our GC and even more that there’s someone on site with a real understanding of the project and actually supervising the work. 

As for our past experiences, I truly believe in Karma and have no doubt that those with poor intentions will more than receive what they have once dealt.

But the one thing I’ve learned over this past year which is more valuable than anything else is that we’ll be okay…we can make it through whatever lies ahead as long as we stay focused on what’s most important.


Not Throwing in the Towel – Just Yet

As for our little project, if you’re a glass half-full type then you could say that we’ve made a wee amount of progress. Wee as in tiny, small, minuscule,slight, etc… But, at least we’re moving forward.

Interesting last several days which I’ll try to recount: first I received an interesting call from two past clients of our former GC.  One just wanted to compare notes as to the various issues which they’ve uncovered as well as their past experiences with him while the other wanted to get my opinion on our experience with him and if we would consider using him again.  Pretty easy guess as to my answer – I really can’t believe that he’s still out there marketing himself, hopefully through various efforts that we’ll be short-lived.  

Now, on to that which is positive.  As you may know I’ve tried to divorce myself from this house and our dream quite a few times and while I’ve come so very close numerous times, presently I just can’t find the strength (sense) to do it.  So even though there is a significant financial gap as to what we’ve budgeted and what it will now take to complete the task, I’m determined to make it happen.  How? I’m not totally sure, but I have faith that somehow we can get it done without sacrificing quality of finishes or our initial plan (maybe there’s a little touch of insanity). We have a couple of highly competent GC’s that we’re deciding between which have thankfully offered to assist us in various ways, however I still have a fairly large hill to climb.  No doubt that it’s going to take more than a team effort so please feel free to offer any advice, tips, suggestions, etc…but Please- only positive talk.  I know 99.9% of the population would have abandoned this “dream” weeks ago but it’s something that I just can’t let go of, at least not yet.

First step, the architect which was hired by our GC contacted my wife and offered to assist in any way possible.  He had heard about all that had transpired and volunteered to do whatever he could to make it right and assist in any possible way.  His first task, re-draw our roofing plan. We’ve been told by numerous contractors that our current roofing plan was a little extreme, basically it required over double the amount of materials as to what a similar home with a comparable square footage would require.  His second task is to confirm all of his past measurements as we’ve had questions arise as to the inaccuracies of them, not sure if this will reduce the overall costs but hopefully it will help to eliminate some of the future surprises. Last, review and look for inefficiencies and ways we can achieve our overall goal that could also reduce the construction costs, not expecting much with regards to the last request.

Truthfully, after discovering that a few of our past issues were created due to the architect’s inaccuracies I haven’t been his biggest fan but almost everybody deserves a second chance.  We gave our former GC 3 to 4 “second chances” so Julie talked me into granting the architect a second one.  We shall see but I’m not really sure how it can hurt.  We need to utilize every resource possible so hopefully this will prove fruitful.

Second Step…hopefully coming soon

Reality Check

Patience is defined as the state of endurance under difficult circumstances. Blah, Blah, Blah!!!  I’m ready to move forward!!

Beautiful day so I decided to knock off a little early. Julie and the boys were at a “play-date” so I thought I would take advantage of the weather and split more wood – by now I probably have enough firewood to last us through 4 or 5 Atlanta winters.

Of course this provided me with a little Reflection Time.   I received a thank you note today from a guy who interned with our company this past summer. This is a kid who lost his dad when he was 6 months old and mom when he was in high school, both tragically unexpected.  Prior to his mom’s death he lived a life that I’ve only read about or seen in movies; there were times when they had no utilities and the only food in this growing boy’s body were those provided by his school.  His mother worked 3-4 jobs as life continued to present them with challenges that would sink most. So one day over lunch I asked him how he managed to stay out of trouble and not get caught up in such readily available negative influences, his response – that wasn’t his focus.  It was there, all around him, he easily could have taken another route and more than likely ended up being a statistic that we all pay little attention to on the nightly news, but that wasn’t his focus. 

We’ve communicated a few times since he left to go back to school but this young man who is half my age left quite an impression on me.  The odds were more than against him, life couldn’t have dealt him a worse hand but he never let that stand in his way.  Today he’s a sophomore at Harvard and one of the standouts on their defense; one amazing and determined young man, a true inspiration.

Sort of puts life into perspective for me…Best of Luck Zach and Thank You!!