Finally, our “renovation reveal” episode is here! While we filmed hours and hours of the renovation work as it was completed, not much has been shown of the nuts and bolts. I suppose contractors knocking down walls and hoisting air conditioner fans onto the roof is more suited to a This Old House sort of show than ours. At any rate, the work began in small bites August 15th and in earnest on September 6th when we returned from St. Barths.
Simon and I work well under pressure, and thrive on it. Every time we begin a major project we set ourselves a deadline, otherwise we would procrastinate forever. We were helped in a way by the Season 2 production schedule; the last, drop-dead date of filming was November 1st, and the producers jokingly asked “What can you get done by then?” Our first response was…”our entire Phase 2 – the garden and parlor levels!” After permit setbacks and a few other surprises, we amended that to finishing one entire floor. We did that, and then some. From September to November 1st we did the kitchen, dining and living rooms, our bedroom and two bathrooms – one full, one half. For more of the nuts and bolts of the work, jump over to www.mccordvankempen.com for a renovation specific blog that addresses things like structural walls, wiring and floorplans.
One thing that Simon and I are infamous for are quick decisions when it comes to renovating. People can easily be overwhelmed by the amount of choice out there and our architect told us horror stories of a client who literally spent months choosing between barely different paint shades. Our solution for “abundance of choice paralysis” is to only look at items in stock that can be delivered within the week. Also, we go out of our way to buy to fit at least one of the following criterion: made by domestic (preferably local) craftsmen, environmentally friendly or in support of a charity. All of our kitchen and bedroom cabinetry & hardware was crafted in Brooklyn just a few miles from our townhouse. We chose bamboo for the cabinets in the kitchen and our bedroom as it’s a highly renewable resource. The meteorite countertops were cut about 5 minutes from the house as well. All new artwork was bought at charity auctions, including the Alice Cooper portrait at an auction to benefit City Harvest. The fabric came from Zarin, and the sewing was done in their workshop on the Lower East Side. It was a win-win situation. We could give Jill and Bobby business, they were local, and most importantly they could work within our deadline. One Sunday afternoon in October we brought the boys to the showroom to choose the fabric.
At this point we had chosen the wood flooring, furniture and paint colors, so knew exactly what we needed. The question was, would we find it? We wanted the boys to be involved as well. We’d had them with us in each showroom and they had actually led us to the red couch and chair we picked out from Maurice Villency (not on their say-so, but they pointed us in a direction we were heading anyway.) I have to digress here to talk about the furniture for a second. It’s covered in a fabric that Maurice Villency developed called Eco-Suede, which looks and feels like suede but is actually made from recycled plastic bottles. How cool is that?! Anyway, we’d chosen all this and it was in process, so we knew we needed either red, black or grey window treatments.
This afternoon I did a radio show called Mamapreneurs (http://www.mamapreneursinc.com/) and was talking about filming with children, and how it’s so difficult because suspension of disbelief isn’t really possible with little ones. Adults and teenagers can accept that there is a crew of 20 people around them, they are wearing body mikes and being followed by a big fuzzy boom, yet they are supposed to act normally and pretend the crew aren’t there. The thing is with these very little guys, 1 and 3 in season one and 2 and 4 in season two, that they don’t get it. To the boys or any very young children, a big crew of people means a big party with loads of fascinating & tempting electronics, and it’s almost impossible to get a genuine moment from them. This season it worked the best when we were at home. Our nanny, her son or a family friend would stand by and we’d get the kids in and out of the scene in 5 minutes or less.
We’d had a great season, and perhaps let our hair down a bit too much the day we filmed at Zarin. We broke our rule - we brought the boys into a scene that wasn’t about them but where they were expected to stand quietly and not get in the way. Oops. Although the boys had been fine in showrooms off camera, such as Maurice Villency, that was because they had at least one parent’s undivided attention. When we arrived in the store they both ran off immediately. As soon as we realized that, we each grabbed a boy and carried them through the rest of the store. François found his beloved lime green fabric to hide behind, and Johan spent most of the time on Simon’s shoulders. I will say at one point in the scene Jill’s voiceover talks about François pulling on a bolt of fabric, while the video shows her pulling on it, not him, but I will also say that they were both determined to play with the crew, touch the fabric, pull the cords and look at all the pretty colors. It could have been a recipe for disaster but in the end, we ordered what we needed and nothing got ruined, so the trip was a success. A week later, the window treatments looked great.
Five days before the party, the appliances were loaded in and the glass doors installed. I really wish there was a “Five Days to Party” crawl over this scene as no one would believe we actually went from A to B in just five days. It was pouring, and the door guys had to leave as they couldn’t operate blowtorches in the rain. The weather forecast predicted rain for the next six days. Agggh! Last week we saw the Halloween episode, which of course in real time was the day before the party. I can’t believe we weren’t on the sidewalk in the fetal position at that point, and I loved seeing the white primer on the front door behind us; very ghostly for Halloween. At one point I counted 17 guys in the house, and many of them stayed until 11pm the last couple of evenings. At noon on Saturday the 1st, our very first au pair from 2005 arrived as a surprise for the boys, and she spirited them away for an afternoon of fun. A 5 person cleaning crew arrived and got to work. The installer from Zarin arrived at 6pm, and left at 7pm with draperies hung. Maria Rizzo and crew from the Halcyon Gourmet set up great food and flowers, and the party started at 8pm, co-hosted by us and Marty Markowitz, the Borough President of Brooklyn and his wife Jamie. It was such a huge honor to have Marty and Jamie with us that night, although unfortunately you don’t get to see his presentation of Brooklyn Passports and gift bags to the other housewives. It was great, and Ramona and LuAnn were roasted a bit in absentia. I still have their passports, but as I mentioned to them, they need to come to the house to get those. Tee hee.
Folks, you mightn’t believe it, but when it comes to renovation, this is how we roll. We did the same thing in 2002 in our co-op in Park Slope, except it was the granite being laid at 6pm with a limo full of Australians arriving for a month at 8pm. If you set a date and your mind to it, you can accomplish pretty much anything. The great thing is, we didn’t lose our minds! It could have happened. But, it didn’t.
Tonight, we are throwing a huge party in our house for all our contractors, architects and suppliers. I would like to say a big thank you to the following people: Aaron McDonald and Amy Gifford, Paul diPippa, Anne & crew, Martin Polom, Lubo & crew, Warren Anthony and the folks at the Pinnacle Group, Nissim Holland, Jack Kennedy, Victor & Mike from The Right Connection, Bryan Yurkins, Billy & Jason, John Venetis & crew and everyone who nearly killed themselves during those 10 weeks to help us bring this project in on time.