Off the Grid: Terror and other ways to parquet flooring
Thu., March 9, 2023
If ever I want to strike terror into the heart of my husband – and I often do for one reason or another – I suggest that I do a tiling job myself.
Once, I had my own tile cutter and this made my threats far more viable. But then, in a mysterious reorganization of tools, my tile cutter disappeared. It’s the strangest thing.
Now that we are designing and building a new house, we have a clear division of labor: Charlie does essential planning, budgeting, project management sorts of things. Seeing as he has a degree in construction, I have to concede that he probably knows at least something about these matters. And I am responsible, mostly, for turning the rest of his beard gray and pretending I can build anything if I just watch enough DIY videos.
As we don’t agree on all matters of design (apparently this is common when couples build houses), we have both taken to employing our own strategies of coercion. Charlie has primarily attempted to use a vocabulary of intimidating terms like “exceeds budgets” and “premium product.” This might work for other spouses, but Charlie makes the crucial mistake of assuming I care more about being impoverished than having parquet floors.
“Parquet, huh?” Charlie said, “That’s a premium product.”
“It’s OK, I’ll save us money by installing it myself!”
Much to his horror, I have taken to suggesting that I plan on showing up at the job site (in my pink tool belt) to help the crew. I’m just going to stand in a corner with a framing hammer and a fistful of No. 16 nails, my safety glasses, safety gloves, earplugs in my ears, an extra set on a cord dangling around my neck, my “PROTECT QUEER KIDS” T-shirt, and my carpenter’s Birkenstocks. Those are the ones with the soles worn off, by the way.
Let’s say I want a beautiful bathroom tile job made with those teeny-tiny little tiles that create a mosaic of gorgeous imagery, like a Turkish bathhouse or mosque on the Mediterranean. It will be magnificent!
Now Charlie, he’s a structure and function guy. If we let him have his way, he’d build us one of those self-cleaning bathrooms that spray bleach and sterilize themselves after you leave, like a toilet in a French train station. The walls would be made of Teflon and there would certainly not be any plumbing installed on exterior walls, mind you.
“Our tile guy costs a pretty penny,” he’ll say. “Might not be in our budget.”
He forgets how optimistic and solution-oriented I am, or how easily impressed by and satisfied with my shoddy craftsmanship.
I just turn up the volume while I listen to someone explaining mortar mixing and trowel technique, and suddenly he’s calling in favors from a subcontractor. I’m not privy to those conversations but I think they go something like this:
“My wife is offering to help you lay the tile.”
“For the love of God, Charlie …”
“I’m not going to tell her no …”
“OK, OK, let me see what I can do to get the cost down.”
As far as I can tell, the only thing more expensive than building a house is building two houses, a not-too-uncommon outcome of such projects.
The thing is, while I might seem attached to the dream of wood flooring, I’ve had other housing experiences. For a time, my bedroom was a tent. It doubled as a zoo because the raccoons always came in to find my secret stash of Big Hunk bars. I tried to move into the first floor of my brother’s treehouse for a while but was quickly evicted after I got scared and tried to move up to his much-farther-from-the-cougars room.
What we have to try to remember in this endless, often grueling process is that homes aren’t the fixtures and the fir, the square footage or the accent walls. They are the hearts that beat in them and the laughter that echoes in them. They are treasure chests of memories being made and kept. I just hope some of those memories are of me laying tile.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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