What counts as expensive?

Every time I ask for quotes for windows or doors, whoever I ask makes strenuous efforts to dissuade me from whatever I have said I want and tells me it is too expensive.

Fifteen years ago it was for an extension, where the windows I drew into our plans turned out to be slightly non-standard to what all the local joinery companies offered. They were 1990s style modern and had clean lines; I had simply copied what I had seen in housebuilding magazines. Two places refused to quote for what I wanted, or even for the nearest they could offer. I kept looking, and eventually found a company who enjoyed the opportunity to add something new to their range.

So now we are starting to look at replacing the plastic windows and door at the front of the house with a modern, double-glazed equivalent of the original sashes. While it will be an upheaval and major work, especially as the two stone mullions need replacing as well, the current windows are reaching the end of their lives (several are steamed up, two have cracked and one has a several inches of water inside it that go up and down with the weather) and there is no point in redecorating more than the room we have done before replacing the windows.

After no thought at all, except for a continuing desire to sort out our hallway, I asked the first company I came across to give us a quote. My aim was to see what it would cost and whether it would be ‘this year, next year, some time, never…’ I should have known I was in trouble when after asking them not to phone and confirm the appointment for four days time, I received three phonecalls on the day before, two from the same person. I almost cancelled on the last call. A cheerful salesman arrived in the morning, who then did everything he could to avoid selling me their windows. My husband wasn’t there, we should reschedule. (No, it’s me you need to sell to.) It was too expensive to put weight boxes in, sliders were great. (They look fake.) It was too expensive to put the windows in their proper place, this would look right. (It wouldn’t.) It was too expensive to do hardwood. (Only a slight increase in timber costs, the work is the same surely.) He would have to check about mullions. He wouldn’t even give me a price for what I wanted, although I could get a really good deal on engineered softwood with sliders if I ordered by the end of the month. Since he left me no paperwork or pictures, I couldn’t even tell you what their doors looked like.

I asked some more people to come and quote. The second was local and honest. Phew. They were very happy to tell me about all the different window options they had available, going to the trouble of bringing in samples of a sash window and encapsulated glass panels. I was very impressed. But goodness me, you don’t want a non-standard door! They were persuaded to quote for a three panel archtop door as displayed proudly on their website, not quite what I was after but somewhere near, but clearly they didn’t want that part of the job.

The third person came and saw. Windows no problem, I could see them all in their showroom, and they would be happy to arrange an appointment at a time that would suit us, and they had plenty of toys M could play with while we talked. (Toys?!!) But non-standard doors, no chance. And theirs were not inspiring. I found myself in the surreal situation of trying to pick out paint colours and door furniture for a door I knew I was never going to order. A week later I had an email apologising for not quoting me yet, and then after another wait a phonecall I didn’t take giving a brief overview of prices, but to please be aware that although it seemed a lot there were cheaper options available, and the full quote was in the post. I’m still waiting for it to arrive.

The fourth person came, from an independent joiners. I was getting good at asking for what I wanted by this time so no problem over the windows or the stone mullions. I explained about the door and how if the internal doors were all going to be four-panel doors with me making the stained glass for them, I didn’t want the same thing for the front door. It needed to have a bit more character. By this time I had found some pictures, scanned them and printed them out so at this point I produced it. He nearly fainted with shock, said it would be way too expensive. Talked me out of half the detailing, which is part of the character of the door. Once he realised I was actually serious, and did have some idea of costs (he was the fourth person after all) he then started to get interested in the project, and a few days later emailed me a pretty favourable quote, almost the same price as company two but for a much more complicated door.

And finally the fifth person, a craftsman recently moved to the area, I emailed a photo of the door and said this was what I wanted. I still had to confirm that yes I did want all the detailing, but perseverance paid off and brought success at last – provided that I can draw all my own plans! Great, because I will be doing the stained glass for the door and I can do it exactly as I want it. It may take a little longer, and the windows are on hold for six months, but with an hour a day at best working time I’m quite happy to pace things.

The thought I have been left with when walking around our local area is: how sad that 95% of homeowners don’t have the courage to have their own vision, and insist that they get what they want and will look nice. Our house is very typical of the area, and also in the way it has been abused. But we will be the fourth along our road of ~150 similar houses to try and correct this trend, and those that have been done look wonderful. Given that I spend most of my time here at present, then it makes sense to me to respect the spirit of place and work with it to create an environment I love being in.

And to answer my initial question, what counts as expensive? Well the windows will cost about what we paid for a five year old Skoda car, and the door the extra costs of getting the car on the road. How much more joy my dream door and windows will bring me, and for a lifetime. (I’ll be posting pictures of the glass designs over the next few months as I create them.)

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