I’m going to tell you a secret. I haven’t always been creative. Not unless you consider coordinating color coded file folders and labels artistic anyhow.
Like any decent secretary I could apply pretty themes to PowerPoint presentations and add graphics to handouts but I stayed within the black & white confines of the corporate world. My days were consumed with HR policy and procedure – single spaced in 11.5 Times New Roman font – collated and bound in pretty blue corporate binding, all sealed with a gold sticker.
It was enough to drive me mad.
I got my first taste of construction in 2004, after accepting a support position with a Chicago-based property development firm. I expected this gig to be more of the same; catering to big egos who sat behind even bigger desks. And a lot of the time it was.
But it wet my appetite for work that excited me.
When I left my administrative post I joined the ranks of the general contracting world. I worked on large-scale commercial and retail projects (malls, strip centers, and big box stores). I helped build local schools and municipal buildings. Here and there private medical offices or interior renovations were tossed in and I was involved in all aspects of their growth too. For a short while, I even assisted in roadway and bridge-building jobs. I got paid to run around in jeans and tennis shoes.
(some of my actual projects)
I can’t explain what it was that I loved about the work I was doing.
The pay was low. The hours were grueling. Owners and Architects had unrealistic expectations. City and county codes could be near impossible to decipher (much less abide by) and the amount of legwork that went into bidding a job only to lose out by $100 was disheartening to say the least.
To my surprise, there was a tremendous amount of paperwork that got pushed around. More documents went into erecting a building than did bricks. And the industry was chock-full of arrogant folks who demanded around-the-clock support. More than once I was told girls don’t belong in the field. Yeah, construction was definitely a boy’s club.
But there was something about a vacant lot morphing into an educational facility or an old warehouse converted to residential living that inspired me.
While most of my coworkers were eager to move on after the building shell was in place, I always found myself anticipating the interior build-out phase. I would pour over the finish schedules and fixture selections envisioning the final product. I secretly coveted reviewing submittal packages so I could ‘build’ a small scale version of the design on my desk.
So, I pursued an interior design degree. Only, I hated selecting uptight textiles and creating mood boards. I dabbled in civil engineering courses but really didn’t care where a building should sit on a site. I found architecture interesting but didn’t think highly enough of myself to pursue it as a career.
I was frustrated. I just wanted to take big, empty spaces and make them my own.
In September 2011, I remarried my ex-husband. Part of the ‘pre-nup’ included me stepping back from a 60-hour work week to allow for more family time at home. We’d just purchased our first ‘used’ house and while it was still relatively new (and had the ‘new house smell’) it wasn’t mine.
I had had no say-so in the location, layout or design. I didn’t like the floors or countertops. After 5 years the walls were still builder basic white and the honey oak trim made me cringe. The place lacked character but I could see its potential.
With time and creativity I figured I could put my own stamp on it.