My Last Word

For health reasons I am retiring, leaving my 40-year-old business in the capable hands of Justin Schmidt who has an ideal skill set: a sharp aesthetic eye, and the ability to work with people no matter how difficult they may be at times. Let’s enjoy some aphorisms I picked up along the way, not all of which I agree with, in discussions with developers, general contractors, other tradesmen, laborers, clients.

Any yahoo can run a commercial job, it takes someone special to do residential well.

Every new hire is good for the first two weeks—if they aren’t for any reason, fire them immediately because they will never get better.

The toughest part of his day is figuring out where to go for lunch.

Residential construction is not about bricks and mortar, it is more akin to theater.

From ‘A Guidebook to Architectural Practice’, 1952: When managing a project on site there are certain individuals one should always consult—the developer, the general contractor, the site superintendent—and there are certain ones to avoid.  For example, never speak directly with the masons.

Joe gave us a lower price, but we really want you to do the project—take 10 cents off the square foot price and the job is yours.

Client, arriving home at five o’clock, looking over the progress on her newly installed kitchen:  “I had no idea it would look like that!” Site super, sensing impending disaster: “It's exactly as shown on the print ma’am, may I show you?” Client: “Oh, I don’t care about that—this is my kitchen!”

Best way to get fired when starting out as a laborer: wear sandals to work.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my hands my whole life, and looking at all thepermutations of laying brick and stone: from the hod carriers of India, to Mexican masons who build arches and domes without temporary forms, to the Polish crew who threw a shovel full of mortar up three flights to be caught by the next laborer who neatly deposited it on their mortarboard. I marvel at tools and techniques that have changed little in thousands of years and across many cultures; I am amused by the fact that 90% of the work we do can be accomplished with just the tools in my white canvas bag and two levels. I leave this practice with a feeling of tremendous gratitude for what I have learned, and the knowledge of how much more there is.

- Pat deKeyserling