Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is city editor of the Napa Valley Register.

I agree, the optics aren’t great. It looks as if Cheryl and I frittered away an entire year.

In 2018, we were supposed to update our outdated living room. I announced our intentions to readers that January.

The makeover didn’t happen.

It’s not as if we did nothing. We spent the year nibbling around the edges of the project.

We had a gas fireplace installed. We found takers for a surplus piano, a surplus treadmill and a surplus wood-burning stove.

We even moved a mountain of stuff into the garage, displacing my car into the elements.

But what did all this accomplish? Very little. The living room remained tattered and empty, as unusable at year’s end as it had been at the beginning.

Our situation fell far short of being a housing crisis.

In 2017 we’d added a family room to the back of the house for TV watching and cocooning. This new room was meeting our day-to-day leisure needs.

Yet leaving the front room mothballed seemed wrong. It’s our house’s face to the world. An heirloom deserves better.

I say “heirloom” because farmer Borrette build this part of the house in the 1880s out of virgin redwood. An entire 26-foot-long living room wall consists of exposed, impressively sized redwood planks. When I look at that wall, I imagine myself living in a cabin atop Mount Veeder.

Why was the living room project dragging? Largely because Cheryl was picky about her choice of contractors for the remaining tasks: framing out and tiling the fireplace surround, replacing a strangely located 19th century door with a window and retexturing three walls covered with burlap.

Yes, burlap. In the ‘70s burlap apparently was a thing.

No Napa contractor was suitable for these jobs. Cheryl only wanted her contractor brother who lives in the Sierra foothills.

Don has a long history of coming down to Napa to help his sister out. He’s built a deck and a bathroom at prevailing pay rates.

There were signs that brother Don didn’t relish this new assignment. Months went by and he wouldn’t commit to a date. Our job would mean leaving his family for four or five nights. He had plenty of work much closer at hand.

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While the siblings negotiated, the living room languished.

Not that I particularly cared. The routines of daily life are so all-consuming, I was capable of forgetting that this ghost room even existed.

There was one rub. The longer this project dragged on, the longer I’d be parking my car in the driveway. I hate defrosting my windows on cold winter mornings.

In February, the year-long impasse between Cheryl and her bro broke. Don came to Napa for two days of fireplace construction. Then he disappeared.

But not to worry. Don was on a roll. He came back two weeks ago and worked like a madman for three days — one day for 13 hours.

Cheryl feared this project would be her brother’s undoing. Fact be told, he is no spring chicken.

It’s complicated having your brother be the contractor. They share familiarity and trust, which are good. But sometimes there’s excessive familiarity. Grievances and old rivalries from childhood can bubble up.

The two of them had some royal arguments. Don considers Cheryl bossy. Cheryl considers Don impulsive. Cheryl has design ideas. Don has expertise that can render some of these ideas impractical.

It all worked out — in the end — but I didn’t have the stomach to witness their disputes. I skedaddled every morning for the sanctuary of my job where no one was tearing up anything.

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Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.


City Editor

Kevin has been city editor since September 2010. He joined the Register in 1973 as a reporter. He covered Napa City Hall and assorted other beats over the years. Kevin has been writing his Napa Journal column on Sundays since 1989.