My father and architect John Johansen around 1985 (?), Michigan

“Xanadu” on the shore of Lake Superior, nearing completion

My dad and I were talking about weatherproofing, and he related a cool story. When he and my mom were building their gorgeous lakeside architect showpiece “Xanadu” in around 1985, he asked the lead contractor, “So, how is this place going to stand up to the lake gales and winter weather here?” And the man — one of those carved-from-granite salt-of-the-earth carpenters — replied: “That all depends how tight it is.”

My dad said the word “tight” was uttered in such a clipped manner, jaw clenched, lips drawn flat, that it almost sounded like another language. It sounded tight. It was a window on a point of professional pride, one that I think our builder here shares: “tightness” is a thing, and maybe the only thing.

And having watched these guys work, I realize it is much more than filling all the cracks or using all the approved weatherproofing techniques. It’s not having cracks in the first place. Our guys run a table saw in the driveway all day long, trimming every piece of rough-sawn lumber to exactly 5-1/2 inches, and making it straight at the same time. Inside, where they’ve built up and replaced framing, every block is perfectly flush with its neighbor.


Over the course of an entire house, I can see that such an approach would mean the difference between creaky walls and floors when the wind blows, and snug solidity. It’s “tight” way past skin-deep — it’s tight right down to its DNA.

In other news, I brought home our first purchase of insulation today. In the coming days the pendulum begins its long awaited swing back from demolition and horror to rebuilding human spaces.