This profile series aims to bring some realness to the work-from-home conversation and hopefully, a bit of levity as we navigate the new normal of social distancing. At the end of the day, we are all in this together trying to do the best we can.
Neil was excited to move back to California, however, higher real estate prices meant squeezing a growing family into a smaller space. His wife, in a bid for domestic tranquility, requested that he make a “playhouse” in the backyard for the kids and their burgeoning toy collection.
As an attorney, Neil knew that building construction requires all sorts of legal approvals, from zoning to planning to housing codes. Far too much bureaucracy for a playhouse that might be temporary. His solution: turn the playhouse into a vehicle, which exempts it from building codes.
By traveling to a more rural area of California, he found several old trailers for sale cheap on Craigslist and settled on the frame of a dilapidated pop-up camper that someone was now using to haul garbage around a farm. Several hundred dollars later, he inched his way back over the Golden Gate Bridge and narrowly avoided demolishing a toll booth as he passed through it. For some reason, the clearance seemed a bit tight.
Neil made it home late on a Saturday evening. The next morning he discovered why he almost grazed the toll booth. The trailer was too wide -- in fact, it was so wide that it would not fit through the gate in his driveway leading to the backyard. Undaunted, after he guessed that it was late enough in the morning for neighbors to be awake, he powered up his circular saw and started trimming the sides of the trailer to make it fit.
Assuming his kids would either wreck or outgrow the playhouse, Neil tried to economize the design. The local Habitat for Humanity Restore offered materials salvaged from other construction jobs and home teardowns for 10% of list price. He drove away with a glass French door for $30, a 7-foot long sliding window for $20, a skylight for $20, and a brand-new gigantic double-paned wall-sized window for $90. Then he found someone throwing out transom window blocks on Freecycle. He also rescued a couple of sliding closet mirrors abandoned on the side of the road to hang behind a ballet barre for his oldest daughter in the playhouse.
Following the old adage about the best-laid plans of men and spouses, Neil changed the design to fit the low-cost components. Later he found spare siding at a garage sale and almost enough leftover hardwood flooring from someone else’s house to cover the tiny home floor.
Many weekends of work ensued, to the chagrin of one of Neil’s close friends who declared that the tiny home had wrecked their beautiful weekend 30-mile biking relationship. The kids did their best to grab tools when no one was looking and hide nails amidst the grass so the lawnmower would stay on its toes.
In an effort to nurture his kids’ theatrical tendencies, Neil constructed a wooden stage outside as a finishing touch, which served the dual purpose of covering the trailer wheels.
So did it meet his wife and kids’ expectations? Not at all! The kids were too scared that Darth Vader or Lord Voldemort might sneak up on them in an enclosed structure in their own backyard. Thus, the house continued to be too noisy, however, at least the kids went to school during the day.
For a couple of years the playhouse stood lonely in the backyard, a graveyard for forgotten toys and bereft of kids. COVID-19 dramatically changed the environment. Rather than respiratory issues, the largest impact at home was the mental health challenge of having the kids “study” at home all day while his wife tried to telecommute to her job. Suddenly Neil’s wife decided that even Darth Vader would make a better home office companion and she decamped to the playhouse.
For Mother’s Day, Neil purchased a long, beautiful slab of African mahogany and crafted a desk for her. Then he nearly lost his hearing using a screaming high-torque saw with a diamond blade to cut the 4-inch-thick slab of concrete around his house to run conduits to bring Internet to the office.
Suddenly, now that his wife is seeking refuge in the tiny office, his kids have a newfound interest in loitering there -- or maybe they are just trying to hijack the faster Internet access.