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Quality versus instant gratification

The arches glow in the afternoon light.

It has always amazed and interested me that my clients never ask, “How long will this last?”

We live in a culture that demands immediate gratification.

The same 40 thousand spent on a kitchen remodel buys an instantly-available-almost-no-money-down automobile. The contrast of waiting as long as three months to complete a kitchen presents an obvious perceptual contrast. When objects are hand-crafted, rather than factory-made, it takes alot longer to produce them and their cost reflects it.

It was not that long ago that carpenters nailed every board with a hammer rather than a nail gun. We often encounter a fairly new house sheathed in 1×6 rather than plywood, with drywall nailed rather than screwed to the studs. This demonstrates that despite advertising claims, the home building industry has had relatively few innovations. Building a house still requires that the carpenter, sheet rocker, tiler, or roofer cut and fasten each piece by hand. Sure the saws are more efficient and companies use computer software to create speed and accuracy in fabricating a stock sized product; but in general, we have to carefully fit each box into a not-so perfectly square or level room. You get the point.

Prefabricated structures are not such a good deal.

Over the years I have built a number of prefabricated structures. Often the materials are of a lesser quality and the net feel of the end result is somewhat artificial. The prefab path is sold with the caveat of speed and cost effectiveness; but if the carpenters need to upgrade the trim work, repair the drywall, add porches, garages, decks and built-ins, the cost advantages are marginalized. Given the design and size limitations of transporting boxes over roads, why not just built a real house?

So, back to the question of duration … If we choose the correct materials for climate variety, create a breathable yet weather tight structure, fit everything carefully, choose the correct wood for strength and stability, these buildings can last 200 years! Let’s see how long that 40 thousand dollar Lexus lasts!

In our daily lives, we have many opportunities to select either “Value” or “Waste”. Which do you choose? Well crafted products or products engineered for the landfill?

I vote for legacy. Surprised? I guess not. I love traveling in Latin America – walking in the Colonial centers, through buildings made of stone which have stood for 400-500 years. The best of these buildings still share their ancient stories yet are wired and plumbed for contemporary life.

When we bask in the beauty of ancient architecture, we support our connection to ancestral lineage. When we restore a one hundred year old Colonial, we honor the craftsman’s precision and create the possibility that it may last another hundred years.