When we first met Richard Ballard of Ballard Design & Construction, my wife and I were incredibly excited to get started on a kitchen renovation. After we saw how prompt and professional Richard was in returning a comprehensive estimate, we knew he was the general contractor we wanted to work with. He had every detail covered, from the height of our waterfall island, to the fact that our drainboard needed to be left-handed, to the finish on the pot filler.
Demolition started, and we made good progress. After six months, though, things slowed down. Our kitchen was, at best, half-finished. We had a range but no gas. We had a subfloor but no tile. We had no fridge, although we did have a bucket that Richard filled with ice once a week.
Another six months went by, and it seemed like barely anything happened. We didn’t want to complain, but there was no explanation for all the time we were losing. I sent a polite but clear email to Richard. After that, he came by and told us how long it would take to finish—no more than ninety days. He refilled the bucket with ice from his truck cooler and said he’d return the following week to start finishing up. We wrote him a check to cover materials.
We then didn’t hear from Richard for two and a half years. I’d text him occasionally, but not too often. Richard was a nice guy but kind of gruff and always busy. I didn’t want him to think I was whiny. For our wedding anniversary the year after the year that Richard stopped working, I got my wife an air fryer. We put it in our bedroom.
Around four and a half years after starting the kitchen renovation, my wife and I began to talk about having kids. I did some quick googling—it seemed like there would be a lot of bottles, and we didn’t have a dishwasher or a kitchen sink. I tried search terms like “feed baby + air fryer,” but those mostly came up empty. My mother, who refused to visit until we finished the renovation, told me she’d call child protective services if we brought her grandchild into “that godforsaken, kitchen-less hell house.”
So I bit the bullet and called Richard. I left a voicemail. I didn’t hear from him for almost a year after that, but that wasn’t a huge deal, because we were still working through the baby thing, and I’d bought condoms at Costco.
Then, one day, Richard was at our door. He refilled the bucket with ice and told us he had an unusual proposal. What if, instead of continuing to work as our contractor, he moved in? We could stop paying him, and he could continue to work on finishing the kitchen, but as more of a roommate favor rather than a contractual obligation. We were puzzled. We hadn’t seen or paid him in years. Still, the kitchen wasn’t done, and finishing it was a priority.
Richard laid out his plan. The kitchen would now be a dual-purpose room. It would be our kitchen and Richard’s bedroom. We dug in further. Would parts of our original kitchen design be lost in this compromise? Yes, they would, Richard explained. Rather than a French door refrigerator, there would be a miniature fridge, doubling as Richard’s nightstand. But, as Richard pointed out, we hadn’t had a fridge or consistent bucket of ice in years anyway.
“Okay,” I said, “what else?” The waterfall island had been installed four years ago so that definitely wasn’t changing. But we’d be forgoing a lot of storage to construct a private sleeping area under the island, ringed by a beaded curtain.
“The island counter would be largely unchanged,” Richard said.
“Largely unchanged?” I asked.
“Well, one small change,” he said. Because of the way the plumbing was set up, he told us, the sink would be converted to a toilet. So Richard would ascend a small staircase (like what a pet uses to get on a bed, he explained) to reach the top of the island, where he’d use the bathroom. There would still be a left-handed drain board, albeit next to the commode.
“What about a door or walls around the toilet area?” my wife asked.
“There wouldn’t be any.” Richard said. He was out of framing materials, and supply chain delays were making them impossible to get. “So that would have to be something to think about for later.”
We stopped all the work on the project, which was simple because no work was being done, and my wife and I took this plan under advisement. We totted up the budget and considered the design changes. We had spent around $177,000 against our original $35,000 budget, much of that in HOA fines, because one kitchen wall lacked exterior cladding and was covered by a tarp. We’d also spent $149 on the air fryer. We didn’t want to throw good money after bad, but that wasn’t a concern, because we had no cash or credit left. In terms of design, we already had the pot filler, which we loved, and that wasn’t changing. And the island toilet was unusual, but we assumed it meant we could list the house as a 3.5-bath.
Ultimately, it simply made sense for Richard to move into our house. He is making good progress, although he has prioritized setting up cages for his dogs in the lazy susan rather than hooking up the range. We don’t quibble about the order of operations, though—he’s the expert. Besides, it’s never good to bicker with roommates.