Masonry, Life & Doing the Hard-But-Good Things

steve_maxwell_houseTwenty five years ago I faced a choice, and it was like many of the big choices we all face in life. Do I do the harder thing that I know is best, or do I choose the easier way that’s not as good in the long run?

My particular choice was about the house I was building. That’s it to the left. Would I follow through with my idealistic plan to build it using stone quarried by hand from nearby fields, or would I save a lot of time and effort, do the “sensible thing”, and settle for an easier option like siding of some kind? In the end, two things led me to choose the harder way. These same two things apply to choices you may also face when it comes to your own home. The first is a simple cost/benefit calculation.

stoneworkBased on the wood and synthetic siding I’d seen in action, 25 years of beauty would probably be the most I could expect from any non-masonry choice. Twenty five years sounds like a lot when you’re looking ahead, but in retrospect it’s quite short. By contrast, well-built masonry should still be fresh, perfect and youthful after just a quarter century.

Even though my choice of stone would require more of an initial investment, the financial pay-off would still be there. The logical clincher for me was when I realized that the extra cost of masonry would be less than the maintenance and replacement required by any of the non-masonry options over time. Cheaper wasn’t really cheaper when I took working lifespan into consideration. As it turns out, the masonry I built looks exactly the same today as it did in 1991. So far, it has proven timeless.

basement_stoneThe promise of beauty was another thing that led me to make the harder choice. Although I could never put a financial number on the thousands of enriching glances I’ve taken from those stone walls over the years, it has been worth it. Very worth it. As I look at the stones chiseled and fitted together, or the play of light and shadow off the textured surfaces that varies with the changing angle of the sun, it gives me energy and happiness. I’ve come to realize that there’s simply something extraordinary about the beauty of masonry in so many of its forms.

Isn’t the quest for beauty the driving force that attracts so many people to visit the special cities of the world each year? Is it really coincidence that the big Canadian tourist destinations such as Victoria, Quebec City, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Kingston are also masonry-rich cities? Wood siding and shingles can be quite striking, but is there really anything that offers more maintenance-free beauty than masonry?

You’ll probably never tackle a stone project like I did, but the choices you make between long-term quality versus short-term expediency are fundamental for our society. As you make plans to renovate or build, realize that the world today offers many more cheap options than ever before. But just because something can be done more cheaply, doesn’t mean it should  be.

steve_stoneA hundred and fifty years ago, the people who built the great cities of the world were poorer than we are today. The tools available to build with demanded much more skill and time. There were far fewer luxuries than today. Yet somehow these people managed to afford masonry more often than we do. How is that possible? Even the tiny, 750 square foot starter bungalow my grandfather bought in 1950 had brick on all four walls. I thought we were supposed to be better off than our ancestors. Perhaps what we really need to remember is that quality always begins with a longer term perspective.