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Mastering the Master Bath: Part II

March 11, 2015

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.

This is the original vanity in Hinsdale. Yeah, a little on the big side...

This is the original vanity in Hinsdale. Yeah, a little on the big side…

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.

And here's the vanity being installed in Jodi's space. Half as big, but twice as nice!

And here’s the vanity being installed in Jodi’s space. Half as big, but twice as nice!

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!

Mastering the Master Bath: Part I

March 2, 2015

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.”

Alright, not sure why mom and my 13 year-old self needed to take this photo in the bathroom. But note the laminate vanity!

Alright, not sure why mom and my 13 year-old self needed to take this photo in the bathroom. But note the laminate vanity!

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!

New tub, anyone?

New tub, anyone?

After 25 years, the vanity is finally out! We came, we sawed, we conquered.

After 25 years, the vanity is finally out! We came, we sawed, we conquered.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Work Hard, Play Hard

January 7, 2015

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.


Baby Beach, Maui. When we break, we really break down!

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:

  1.  Plan a new adventure every day— check!
  2.  Learn to surf — check! (we have the sunburned asses to prove it!)
  3. 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)
  4.  Eat seafood and anything else that we wanted— check!
  5.  Drink fruity drinks — check! (we do like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain)
  6.  Feel immensely grateful and blessed to be on this trip— check, check, check!

Look, Ma, no hands!

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!

IMG_6483 IMG_6492

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.


We’re ready to salvage, this time while wearing fabulous hats.

Home is Where the Kitchen Is

August 20, 2014

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.”

A gem from one of my many kitchen adventures growing up. I tried to be a "French chef."

A gem from one of my many kitchen adventures growing up. I tried to be a “French chef.”

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.

A more recent photo of family and friends goofing around in mom's kitchen. No matter how old I get, I will always be a kook for mom's kitchen.

A more recent photo of family and friends goofing around in mom’s kitchen. No matter how old I get, I will always be a kook for mom’s kitchen.


Care for a Dance?

July 7, 2014

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!

Call Me Sentimental

June 20, 2014
This front porch has housed we Murphys for 23 years

This front porch has housed we Murphys for 23 years

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…

Christmas at my childhood home, 2001. And rockin' a red velvet sweater, may I add..

Christmas at my childhood home, 2001. And rockin’ a red velvet sweater, may I add…

Another shot of house, this time celebrating Jodi's 40th! The history of the home reminds me of the power of salvage, and how hard it can be to part with your past

Another shot of the house in 2002, this time celebrating Jodi’s 40th! The history of the home reminds me of the power of salvage, and how hard it can be to part with your past


Less is More: the only thing eternal is transition

June 6, 2014

Why do we feel that if something doesn’t last forever, we’ve failed? Human beings have always been obsessed with permanence, and this attitude pervades our relationships with others and our own self-identity. We are terrified of the idea of transition, to the point where we dig in our heels and attempt the impossible: to somehow, someway, even at great personal expense, make a moment last.

But what if we could shed these delusions, the desperate expectation of permanence? What if we didn’t expect these intense, perfect moments/unions/constructs to last forever? For lack of a better explanation, moments are precious because they are momentary. Impermanent. The briefest taste. Moments are fleeting, exhilarating, powerful, breathtaking, educational, exceptional; they are wonderful flushes of feeling that zap us and just as quickly recede. They are shocking and discombobulating in their swift entrance in our lives, and even swifter departure. I think the common despair comes from the assumption that if a moment can be frozen in time, so will its effects. It’s a cheat code, we think, that can prolong joy and exclude pain. What is so difficult to grasp is that the brevity of the moment is what produces the rush, the power, and the emotion. If you could jump out of an airplane and free fall for days, I guarantee you would eventually get bored. After enough time the screaming and flailing would stop, the adrenaline wouldn’t pump. Hell, you would even get bored after awhile and start looking around for a book. Moments are not equipped to last forever, and neither are we equipped to participate in them forever.

So I ask you another question: why can’t we just savor these moments for what they added to our lives, instead of representing what we now do not have? The lens of permanence makes one view life through anything but rose-colored glasses. To try to relate your level of success to the duration of important moments/unions/constructs is insensible. I once ascribed my riding a 2-wheeler with training wheels as a benchmark of success, but I no longer cling to that. That accomplishment is not relevant to my current station in life. It was a great stepping stone among the thousands that have composed my path in life, and I leave it at that. This mindset, of course, is harder to apply to the bigger landmarks- our first loves, our promotions, our rejections. But in the end, they all boil down to moments, and like it or not, none can be suspended.

My life on several occasions has changed course because of a sentence spoken, a single look, a wrong turn. The lesson imparted in seconds left an eternal impact.

We are an accumulation of every experience. Nothing lasts forever, except for the impacts and collisions of our lives with fleeting experiences, good or bad. We are modified by moments. I like to consider a moment as a grain of sand. Sure, it’s small, but boy, can that sucker be grating. Get enough sand particles, and suddenly you have an amazing dune, or a deep cut through solid rock – every moment leaves its mark. Every moment is a means of building you up or breaking you down, and in the end, the final result is your full life.

The lens of permanence is a myth, and it is undoubtedly tempting. But it is also is a quick and easy way of creating unnecessary despair.  True living entails passing from moment to moment. Take in the moments, let them give you momentum, and keep on keepin’ on as you traverse your path. When you consciously stop fighting to keep one grain of sand in your palm, you’ll find that you have an entire beach waiting for you.


A lovely moment with my girls.

A lovely moment with my girls.


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