Hey folks, Madelyn here. I’ve come with news: consider Jodi’s master bath mastered! This renovation should have taken months to design and execute. Hers didn’t. In less than 2 weeks, the cracked tile, far-from-fresh formica vanity and brown tub were replaced with new materials. Well… new to her. The retail cost of the materials installed should have totaled $8500.00. But by using 90% used materials, actual cash outlay totaled $2000.00, and that’s including grout, tile, and the like. Beyond saving money, this bath renovation ignited Jodi’s drive to tackle other projects in her much neglected house.
Yes, folks, that’s right. The bathroom was just the beginning. Jodi is now in the midst of upgrading her kitchen. And get this, 95% of her incoming materials are either re-utilized from her old stuff or recovered from elsewhere.
So, without further ado, onto the tale of Jodi’s Kitchen Clamor! I am here to begin the story, and Jodi will finish it up.
Just like the bathroom, this kitchen conversion was sparked by a series of events converging at once. It began a few weeks ago, when we were given a job where two condos were being turned into one deluxe condo. We had only 10 days to sell the stuff and get it offsite. That’s two high-end kitchens, six bathrooms, dozens of light fixtures, etc. that had to go… immediately. But hey, no pressure. So there I am in one of the kitchens, sweating profusely and whispering mean things to my tape measure, when I hear a sigh behind me. Jodi, who normally won’t stop for a second to tie her shoe, was standing quietly in the kitchen, glancing from side to side. “I like this kitchen,” she said longingly. We see amazing kitchens all of the time, but I couldn’t remember the last time I had heard Jodi personally covet something. So I, being the most sensitive person in the world, batted her comment away with sarcasm. “So get it.”
Little did I know, that was all of the encouragement that she needed. Within a split second, the quiet moment was over. “Hey,” she said with her nutty grin. “If I buy it, that’s one kitchen sold! Less work, right?” Jodi whipped around, clicked and clacked her heels along the hallway, pulled out her phone, and called our favorite moving company. The next call was to Mark, the zippy contractor who had just completed her bathroom. Three days later, that same kitchen was in her garage. There was no plan, mind you, just the fervent belief that she could make it work.
Ok, Maddie, I’ll take it from here…
Jodi here. Madelyn’s last sentence above struck a chord. The fervent belief that she could make it work. That’s really what it takes. You have to start with the leap, and then you can figure out the landing as you fall. Trust me, you will feel like you’re flailing at times, but it all comes together in the end. There’s no ker-splat! From my own plunge, I have a few tips for you Murco warriors.
Number one, trust that you have the mental agility to solve any retrofit obstacles that are bound to come. Recycled materials mean that you have to find a way to make them fit in your space, not the other way around. So it’s a puzzle, a game of kitchen Tetris. And who doesn’t dig Tetris? If you envision the pieces and try out a few combinations, you will eventually find a way. Hey, I believed I could do it; I believe in you too.
Next up, equally if not more important than your efforts are those of the guy putting in your materials. Your contractor can be your greatest obstacle if he’s not inclined to “roll with it”. Luckily, our contractor, Mark, is one of those guys who comes along for the ride. It makes for creative collaboration which can have nothing but a positive outcome for your project. For example, take my stove hood. Mark constructed a hood cover for my old hood out of leftover cabinet fronts. No muss, no fuss, just expertise and a little artistry. There are a hundred more examples I could tell you but you get the gist, right?
Another big take-away from this kitchen project is that you should try, whenever possible, to have the guy who takes out your kitchen put your “new one” in. That way, he’s got some skin in the game. There’s no blaming the “other guy” when things are missing or improperly taken apart. If the same guy is involved in the decon and recon, he’s inclined to do his best throughout. I mean, he’s not going to create his own headaches going forward, am I right?
Finally, take advantage of your talented friends. If you’re going to use someone, might as well be someone that you respect, yeah? My buddy, Cheryl D, is a fabulous LaGrange kitchen and bath designer. It’s amazing what friendship and a six-pack will get you. Once I told her about my ambitious kitchen project, she breezed right over. Over crackers and wine, she developed a hand-drawn plan for my kitchen, free o’ charge and full o’ love. That’s what we based the construction on.
Projects like this require creative collaboration and a willing spirit. I had myself surrounded by energetic pros that were rooting for me, so how could I go wrong? Oh, there were hiccups, and I’ll share a few with you as I finish up this winding renovation road. But man, oh man, what a ride it has been!
Stay tuned for more renovation updates and photos!
We are now halfway through the bathroom renovation, people! All of the pieces are fitting into place, and within a few days, the bath will be complete. The hardest part of any home project is getting started. When you begin, it’s exhausting to think about all of the factors that must go into the renovation… the materials, the labor, the loss of part of your home. Kitchens and bathrooms are the trickiest. Think about it: everybody’s gotta eat, and everybody’s gotta… shower. Threaten either of these activities and you’re in Procrastination City. But once you get that initial ground work out of the way, it’s amazing how quickly things come together. At least for Jodi’s bathroom, it seems that this renovation was meant to be.
I am the type of person who likes to tackle projects right away. This attitude works well for homework and football… not so much for real adult life and homes and stuff. Jodi, on the other hand, took on more of the wait-and-see attitude. She wasn’t going to begin a project before she could envision the end result; she needed the materials ready and waiting. “I’ll know ‘em when I see ‘em, Mads.” So we waited…
Now, wouldn’t this be a good time in the story to get romantic? I could embellish the renovation details a la Harlequin romance novel. Jodi sashays down a hallway of a doomed mansion… she hears a noise behind her. She whirls around to find a mysterious gypsy woman, who with a curved finger points to the bathroom at the end of the hall and whispers, “there you will find your destiny.” Cut it! Print it! Play that movie!
The plain ol’ truth is that there were several factors at work that finally got us out of Procrastination City. First and foremost, there was the matter of material acquisition. The whole project hinged on finding the right vanity, which would be the centerpiece of the bathroom and would determine the style of everything else. Jodi sees hundreds of bathrooms a year. That’s a whole lotta vanities to choose from. But nothing struck her fancy until we stumbled across the master bath in a Hinsdale demo. What led her to commit? To begin with, the materials coming from this demo were super upscale. The master vanity was a 4-piece stunner that was too big for Jodi’s space. However, when only a portion of the vanity was sold, Jodi re-measured the remaining portion. It was the exact size and orientation that she needed. Then, there was the convenience of proximity to consider. Hinsdale is ten minutes from Jodi’s ‘hood, making removal and transport of the vanity a breeze. From there, the renovation went into warp drive. After the vanity was secured the other materials literally appeared before our eyes. The shower doors recovered over 20 years ago and gathering dust in Jodi’s garage ever since… they finally saw the light of day. The Toto toilet acquired a month ago in Winnetka… you’re on, buddy! The bath fan and mirror from the old bathroom were rolled over into the renovation as well. So, the only new materials in this remodel were the tile, shower fixture, and tub.
The next big hurtle was finding a contractor, and during this time of year, when construction is booming, that can be tricky. All of the professionals that we normally work alongside were booked up until June. Plus, finding a contractor willing to work with used materials can be problematic. Roadblock! Good thing roadblocks are Jodi’s specialty. Put one down and Jodi will jump, juke, and circumvent it like nobody’s business. Who do we know? Who are we missing? Then a Eureka moment: “Uncle” Mark, distant cousin and contractor extraordinaire. Even though Mark does not live anywhere near Jodi, his kids and adorable grandkids do. Perhaps he could be persuaded to come into town… what man can refuse the lure of cash, beer, and grandchildren? The negotiation trifecta perfecta. So Jodi called up Mark, and he fell for the arrangement like a toilet seat.
Jodi’s master bath languished for some 25 years. Then, a single vanity in Hinsdale sparked the renovation turnaround. Within one week, we got all of the materials, organized labor, and got to work. Now, the master bath will be completed in a few days. This is typical “Jodi style.” Or maybe this really was destiny after all… anyone see a gypsy lately?
Stay tuned for the third installment of this blog!
It’s finally here! The day they said would never happen; ok, there’s no “they,” but I was skeptical for awhile. My mom, the pioneer who made rehabbing affordable to most, has never taken much interest in her own house aesthetics. Believe it or not, our family house is the last thing on my mom’s extensive to-do list. But now, she’s finally taking on a Murco project of her own: the upstairs bath. This bathroom was out-of-date when she first bought the house 25 years ago. Now, it’s finally on a path to rightfully earn the distinction of “master bath.”
I’ve written before about how I grew up in a Murco mayhem house. Our downstairs- the basic battlefield of the home- was decked out in recycled goodies. We had the kitchen appliances, the curtains, the mantel, the guest bath- all derived from auctions and salvage. But the upstairs bathroom, somehow, someway, was woefully ignored. Perhaps it was because the bath was on the second floor, and we only spent time up there to pout, sleep, or write moody poetry. Early on, we grew blind to the shiny, imitation wood laminate and the horrifying apron tub the color of old gravy. Or maybe it was because that bathroom was never empty enough to notice how truly ridiculous it was. After all, it was shared by four girls, and there was a never ending rotation of showers to be showered, washes to be washed, make-ups to be made up. With all of the towels and tissues and nail polish stains, I don’t think the counter of that vanity saw the light of day for ten years.
So when I, the last Murphy gal, packed up my bags for school and moved out, Jodi thought nothing of the master bath that was far from masterful. It was same old, same old. And besides, she was busy! Why focus on her perfectly functional bath when she could be focusing on other people’s stuff?
I get it. The reasoning is there. But I didn’t accept it. Once I realized the master bath had to go, my campaign began. It’s been a long process. My agenda for total bathroom redo was born about two years ago, when I started working for the family biz. Being a part of Murco does an odd thing to the brain. Maybe it’s kind of like a permanent concussion, where your poor gray matter gets jiggled around a little and your vision changes. When I used to walk into a room, I would take in the furniture, the size and scope of the telly, what kind of food was around for nibbling (charming, right?) Two weeks as a Murco employee and suddenly I’m zeroing in on the crown moulding like an eagle finding a mouse in a field (too epic of a simile? Well, I’m keeping it!) What TV? There’s were snacks in there? I wouldn’t know anymore. But I could tell you if your window latches are worth recycling, or how many fins your radiators have per unit. Anyhoo, one day on an innocuous visit to mama’s house I went to use the bathroom, and it was like suddenly ripping the blindfold off. Gah, the cracked tile! Wood grained formica makes me itch! As you know, Murco grants us access to amazing materials for a fraction of the cost, and we know all of the local contractors who can handle the handiness necessary for installation. Jodi was perfectly queued for a bath renovation; she just wasn’t used to diverting materials to her own home. I pushed, and I yammered, and I whispered sweet nothings… and the day has come, people! Jodi and her contractor broke ground- or better yet, tile- today. True to Jodi form, the bathroom will be gutted and completely done in 1 week (and that’s taking the weekend off). All she needed to spur her to action was my foot firmly planted on her fanny… sorry for the pressure, Mama. But just think of the bathroom coming your way!
Stay tuned for more updates!
We here at Murco are strict. We play by a hard policy. ‘Hard’ as in, “work hard, play hard.” In this internet-driven world, there is no work week. When there are materials to move and deadlines looming, weekdays blend into weekends with barely a second glance. Since our hours aren’t regulated by a conventional office setting and our services are tailored to the schedules of our clients and buyers (not our own), we don’t know the meaning of “set labor hours.” Maybe it’s genetic, maybe it’s madness, but we Murphy gals operate at full speed at all times. We run around like a kid on Christmas morning who just discovered the power of sugar.
The good news is that our proclivity for high-energy hard work is matched only by our proclivity for play. To put it simply, this is why our work ethic works. It also helps that it’s a family-owned business. When your business crony shares half of your cellular makeup, you tend to agree with each other on when to take a break.
This break came in the form of cat-sitting… on a Hawaiian mountaintop. Relatives live in Maui, and they needed someone to watch their kitty while they skied in Canada. Being the utterly selfless family members that we are, we flew in and promptly dropped off the face of the earth. Our one mantra: “keep the cat alive!” Our one goal: “relax!” Now, for women whose resting phase is a sprint, it might seem like it was a difficult transition from going hard core 24/7 to suddenly finding ourselves in a remote tropical town. I’ve never taken a two-week vacation; neither has Madelyn. I was secretly worried about what we were going to do for fourteen days without work or a to-do list. And then I realized that we did have a to-do list. Indeed, it was a very important and demanding list of tasks to tackle:
- Plan a new adventure every day— check!
- Learn to surf — check! (we have the sunburned asses to prove it!)
- Go on an epic hike— check! (although I almost quit when we reached the cliff face “ladder,” and all we found was a rickety tangle of rotted wood and equally rotted rope)
- Eat seafood and anything else that we wanted— check!
- Drink fruity drinks — check! (we do like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain)
- Feel immensely grateful and blessed to be on this trip— check, check, check!
We approached the vacation with the same zeal that we reserve for Murco. This was equally as satisfying from an achievement point of view, but much, much more fun!
And now we’re back! As our cell batteries died, our soul batteries recharged. The cold snap of Chicago is a refreshing snap into action. OK, so referring to wind chills of 20 below may be a sign of brain damage… but we are going to claim it as concrete evidence that vacations are necessary for our well-being. We played hard, and now we are ready to once again work hard. Bring it, recycling enthusiasts! Come at us, Murco warriors! We are rested, we are tan, and we are ready for 2015.
Hey, folks! This is Madelyn writing this week. This has been the summer of kitchens. Jodi and I have brokered nearly a dozen of them in the past 2 months, and there’s more coming up soon! With all of this wheelin’ and dealin’, I was inspired to write a bit about why kitchens are so important, and how replacing them can be both exhilarating and terrifying.
As of late, we have been involved in a lot of kitchen balancing acts. *Cue the old-timey radio announcer voice* “…come see the magnificent Murphy girls and their death-defying act of balance! Watch as these graceful ladies navigate the treacherous tightrope of kitchen coordination!” If we don’t do our jobs correctly, then things really can turn into a spectacle. In a nutshell, in the case of kitchen remodeling projects, when pre-existing cabinets, counters, and appliances are removed to make way for the new, timing is everything. If our buyers take a kitchen away too early, then a family is left kitchen-less. Their home is missing a major component, and the loss is felt by everyone.
A kitchen is for living, growing, socializing. It’s a gathering place, the modern-day version of a hearth. What draws us to our kitchens is the promise of communion. A kitchen not only fills your belly; it feeds the soul. In the house I grew up in, I told my mom about my first kiss in the kitchen. It was the room I learned to dance in. It was the lab I first dyed my hair in (and judging from the odd purplish result, I probably should have done it in a room with a mirror). It is the haven I still flock to when I visit mom. Hungry or not, that’s the place to go to really arrive “home.”
So when you are thinking of renovating your kitchen, I know that it goes far beyond mere aesthetic. Changing your kitchen is heart surgery for your house. There’s your heart, your center, being sliced open and exposed. You hope that the post-op will be worth it in the end, but at the time of the first cut, you wonder what the hell you were thinking. What an undertaking! And there’s the nagging worry throughout the process. Even after all of the stress and preparation and expense, you cannot help but wonder: will your home be good as new? Better than good as new?
This is where salvage can swoop in to save the day, and where our heart metaphor gets really good. When an organ is failing, we replace it with the healthy organ of someone else who no longer needs it. It’s salvage at its most organic. So when your kitchen needs replacing, know that salvage is just as feasible- hey, maybe even better than- the traditional retail route. Why construct a new heart when there’s a perfectly good one already waiting for its next home? This is the true joy of recycling. You get to give materials a new lease on life; you demonstrate that just because something is not fresh out of the box, it still is useful. It is a scenario where the buyer and the seller can mutually benefit.
Your home cannot run without a kitchen. We all know this. Ignoring its culinary contributions, a kitchen supports togetherness, and we are social creatures. It can be devastating to replace a kitchen, but salvage often eases the transition. Recycling adds an element of joy and purpose to the kitchen remodel that cannot be acquired through retail alone. We salvage kitchens for the same reason that people donate organs: to do good, to propagate the life of materials. And when all is said and done, when your new cabinets are in their place and the kitchen is pulsing with activity, perhaps you’ll find your own little brats scrambling onto the counters, talking about kissing boys and the color that their hair “should” be.
Keeping track of all of the various Murco projects in their differing degrees of completion can be daunting. Luckily, my brain is comfortable in this self-made chaos. I call myself a mental cavorter, but I think the fancy-schmancy title is cognitive juggler – meaning that I naturally multi-task and drift from distraction to distraction.
My brain is not a one-way track; it’s a 6-lane highway, with thoughts hurtling in several directions at once. The inside of my head is full of traffic jams, u-turns, and high speed chases with the windows down. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s busy… and it used to drive Madelyn nuts. If Madelyn juggled, she would prefer to do it with one ball only; she’s the one-track mind of our crew. However, that’s not Murco’s style. This business can change course quickly, with many unscheduled pit stops along the way. It took her awhile, but she learned to adjust to the great Murco road trip.
My point is that my brain is perfectly in sync with my job and vice-versa. Adroit of thought, nimble in action, incessantly incessant. However, sometimes it all has to shut down. To thoroughly exhaust my own metaphor, when I keep my pedal to the metal, I eventually run out of gas. Luckily, I know exactly what to do when my gears are fried: turn on the music and dance.
Here’s a candid shot of my ballet class. I managed to sneak in a picture between pirouettes.
I have been studying ballet for 20 years. Going to class has been the constant in my twirling lifelong spectacle of career, motherhood, sisterhood, friend-hood. At least once a week, I need to take the opportunity to stop the chatter in my head and let a ballet teacher chatter at me. In class, you have to strip down your thoughts to the most basic level. Tune into…then hone in on… the involuntary skills that keep you upright. In ballet, simply standing up straight in preparation to dance is extremely difficult. It’s the curve of your arm, the arch of your foot, the extension of your neck. And that’s before you even try to bust a move! When I’m working to summon a graceful exterior, the deals racing around on the interior are put in park.
Ballet makes the traffic halt because it consumes my conscious. I have to be aware of the tippy top of my head to the toppy tips of my toes. And just when I think I’m getting there, my instructor walks over with a quick correction to my torso, a nudge of my hips. Then she says, “Good, now pull up in your knees.” What? How does one actually do that? Who thinks about pulling up in their knees when haggling, negotiating, coordinating, or other Murco related –ing verbs? My knees definitely do not pull up when I’m in the office or surveying a property. But they do in class, with the help of a leotard and intense concentration.
Ballet takes my frenzied thoughts and fuses them to fit a single lens. I must give everything over to the combinations of movements given to me. There’s no room for mental cavorting. But surprisingly, instead of this environment being restrictive or stressful, it brings me clarity, absolute presence, and peace. You can’t master the movement unless you master the moment.
Ironically, even after 20 years, I am anything but a ballerina. Sometimes, when I catch myself in the mirror leaping across the floor, I burst out laughing because I look like such a crazy clodhopper. But I don’t care, I love it. I love the effort in spite of my suckitude. I don’t have to be good at it to do it. I don’t have to be good at it to gain immensely from the discipline. I just have to show up, pay attention, and pull up my knees.
Then, I leave class and my mind bursts back into a thousand directions. The Murco highway roars back to life, but now with a fresh tank. I’m ready for the trip. I buckle up and I smile.
After a good session of ballet, I’m ready to bust a move in Murcoland!
Hey guys, this is Madelyn. Jodi graciously let me cover the blog this week. As of late I’ve been thinking about the concept of sentiment. We all have it, we are all moved by it, but often we are not so attuned to the sentiments and attachments of others. A few months ago, this realization struck me when I worked closely with a family leaving their North Shore home of 40 years. As Jodi and I hustled and bustled through the house, identifying this mantel and that pedestal sink, I ran into the owner’s wife. She had peered around the corner to watch our evaluation process, and on her face I saw an unmistakable flash of grief. The sudden outpouring of emotion stopped me in my tracks.
Murco is a fast-moving business, a whirling dervish of bids, deconstruction, and under-the-gun negotiations. Most of the time, we preview homes that are already uninhabited. All personal effects are gone, and so are the families who gave those walls their sanctity. Equally as common are the properties that the owner can’t wait to level. Their sentiment for the home expired long ago, and their anticipation of the demolition is like that of a kid waiting for the Fourth of July fireworks to start. Working for Murco is like constantly wearing binoculars, trying to sort out the future purpose of used building materials. I see where stuff is going, not where it has been. That woman’s grief was a sober reminder of the fact that everything we redistribute has both a future and a past. Sure, the family enlisted Murco because they were moving on to greener pastures, and they wanted their former valuables to go towards reuse. But that doesn’t make the transition any easier for them. They were still leaving the haven that had been their childhood home, and that served as the home for their children. Where Jodi and I saw crown moulding and Thermopane windows, they saw the bedroom where they slept for more than 30 years, or the study where they practiced reading and writing, or the kitchen where the family gathered on a nightly basis. The magnitude of the history that Jodi and I casually traipsed through was astounding.
It is so easy to be consumed by the thrill of the sale, the deadlines, the networking. I forgot the value of sentiment. I forgot that in order to give something a new lease on life, something has to give in the first place. There is profound joy in salvaging, but in order to salvage something, something else must first be lost. This could entail the loss of usefulness, the loss of convenience, or far more despairing grievances like the loss of a home, the loss of a lifestyle. It is an honor to know that Murco brings happiness to families; this honor becomes all the more poignant when I remember that the home being torn apart raised families. The walls that we see as impending rubble used to be someone’s shelter, and when the wrecking ball charges in, that shelter will be gone forever. My job is to not ignore this fact, but to respect it.
I will not forget that remarkable grieving look for a long time to come. The memory often greets me when I go to new previews, acting as a gentle admonishment: before you go into work mode, first take a moment to appreciate that this was someone’s home, their most precious sanctuary. Only after I do that should I dive into the unsentimental practice of cataloging everything that can go toward reuse. I do this because I know that one day I will go through the same grief. I have been fortunate to have grown up in the same home since I was a baby. For 18 years, I wandered those halls. They guided me from my first unsteady steps in diapers to my first unsteady steps in heels, and then some. Even though I now live on my own in Chicago, I know every nook and cranny of our family house, and I love it. And not too far down the road, Jodi will sell it. The time will come when she wants to move on, and that house will be snatched off of the market. And eventually in my lifetime, that house will be knocked down. It’s over a hundred years old and the kitchen floor slants. The basement needs refinishing. It’s a 3-bedroom, but it could easily be made into a 5-bedroom given the lot space. I could list dozens of reasons to justify the destruction of my childhood sanctuary. And when the demolition date is carved into a calendar, I will grieve. And after I emerge from that pool of sentiment and fond attachment, I will then hopefully put on my silver Murco jumpsuit (we’ll have those in the future, right Jodi?) and proceed to document everything that we can salvage from my former home. Let’s see, there’s this mantel, and that pedestal sink…