Monday, October 24, 2011


A few years back, at the height of the dot-com boom, I  came across a bronze plaque outside the headquarters of one of those instant internet giants. In consummate public-relations prose, its text declared the company’s absolute commitment to quality and excellence at every level, invoking all the usual corporate buzzwords of the era.  What really fixed the plaque in my memory, though, was that one of its most mundane phrases was mispunctuated, reading “it’s ideals” instead of “its ideals”.  

Given the firm’s purported obsession with quality, you’d think they’d have given their mantra a quick proofread or two before committing it to bronze. 

This incident reminded me that a commitment to quality demands tangible final results, not just a lot of high-flying babble.  It requires vigilance down to the very last detail--even to a lowly apostrophe.

Quality relates to architecture and construction in much the same way:  The last little details can make the difference.  Hence, a project that’s going along swimmingly can still become shark bait in the last few days, because that’s when many of the parts you really notice are completed. The trouble is, this is just about the time the owner, the contractor, and yes, even the architect are tired, impatient, and rushing to get things buttoned up. 

Too often, this means that the most conspicuous details get the least effort and attention.
Here are some notorious quality killers that can sabotage a project at the last minute:

•  Moldings such as baseboard, door trim, and ceiling cove are often treated as last-minute frou-frou by harried contractors, even though they’re among the most obvious finish items.  Quality killers include inaccurate or open miters, ragged or splintered cuts, and gaps between moldings and floors, walls, or ceilings.  All standing moldings (such as door trim) should be installed plumb and square.  Running moldings (such as baseboard) should align properly and have clean, tight miters, or in the case of internal corners, coped butt cuts.  Gaps should be neatly caulked.  The last step, mind you, is seldom carried out but is a must for any quality installation.  

•  Indifferent painting is the surest way to destroy a quality job.  Ironically, although paint is the predominant finish on most houses, the painting phase is often cursed from being carried out late in the project, when money and patience are at low ebb.  Hence, workmanship suffers either because the job is rushed or because incompetent painters are hired in a misguided attempt to save money.  The quality killers:  Excessively thick or thin application, drips and runs, ragged or wavy brushwork along edges, and paint on fixtures, finish hardware, masonry, or glass.  None of these shortcomings should be tolerated.

•  Highly conspicuous finish hardware items such as door locksets, cabinet pulls, towel bars, grilles, and the like usually get hasty treatment because they’re among the very last items installed.  The quality killers include mismatched finishes (polished brass mixed with satin brass, for instance), off-plumb or misaligned pulls or trim plates, crooked towel bars, and locks and catches that don’t engage properly.  Insist that such items are neatly installed and are placed perfectly plumb, level, or square, as appropriate.

And in case you think fussing over such details is obsessive, one last remark about that would-be internet giant with the big bronze plaque:  “its” gone out of business.

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