Father – Son Collaborate

For collaborators, communication is key in building or in books

By Judith Montminy, The Boston Sunday Globe,July 14, 1996

Weymouth – When it comes to building a house, good communication is key. You have to do your homework, ask the right questions, and listen carefully to the answers before getting started.

Last spring, the author of the newly published "How To Avoid Building Or Remodeling Hell" discovered the same rules when publishing a book.

"The experience of producing the book was a parable for what goes on in building," said Richard Connolly of Weymouth, whose son, Mark, designed and illustrated the consumer guide. As with most building projects, the book production involved family members who come to a project with different ideas about how the final product should look.

"What the processes have as a common denominator is communication, decision making, compromise," Richard Connolly said. "The premise of the book is that it’s not about building, it’s about relationships and the questions you need to ask."

That insight did not come until the project was nearing an end, though.

When his son suggested he could save his father $15,000 by designing the book for him, Connolly had no questions for his son. His answer was "no."

"I don’t think you’re qualified," he remembers saying to his son. "That created some tension."

"I knew I could do it," Mark Connolly said.

A 1994 graduate of Massachusetts College of Art, Mark Connolly had designed ads for local retail stores and was looking to build up his portfolio. Even though his parents did not ask him to pay for room and board while living in their house, he said he wanted to help out.

The book seemed the perfect way to do that.

It was a tense time both financially and emotionally – two of the same elements that often plague building and remodeling projects.

Richard Connolly, a consumer advocate and consultant for home owners doing large and small building projects, had developed a series of work sheets for clients, taking them through the research and questions they need to answer before starting any project.

He had used similar information and worksheets in a local cable television series and his adult education classes in area towns. When his company, Cornerstone Consulting, suffered a setback after the building boom of the 1980’s dried up, he looked to the work sheets as a prototype for a book.

"I was worried about the future of the company and was concerned that all the hard work and effort would disappear if the company disappeared," he said. He saw his book as a research tool for consumers who want objective answers before making decisions, a sort of road map to a successful project before the project even begins.

The publishing houses he approached declined his proposal because it did not fit into an existing category of books on building, he said. Those books are either reference books, are written by builders and architects or are written by homeowners only familiar with one project, their own.

Rejections did not stop him.

"I don’t quit easily," Connolly said. "I decided to demonstrate on my own there is a market for the book."

Recognizing the same "never say no" attitude in his son, Connolly decided to give him a try when he saw the graphic design work his son was producing on the Macintosh computer in the basement. His son asked for the book files and created a book mock-up that convinced his father he could do the job.

"I passed my mother many times at 5 in the morning on my way to bed or to have dinner, Mark Connolly said of the hours he spent determined to persuade his father of his capabilities.

"I was astounded," Richard Connolly said. His son’s whimsical drawings peppered throughout the text perfectly conveyed the nonthreatening look he wanted for his readers.

"The way the book looks, everything you see, is done by me," Mark Connolly said. "Everything you read is done by him."

As with many building projects, there were some unsettled times.

Hours were spent in the basement office, with Mark, the visual one, trying to convince Richard, the verbal one, that the narrative was a story that needed to flow visually. He thought the back of the book was the place for the work sheets with lists of questions homeowners should ask before starting any building project. After hours of yelling and cajoling, they reached common ground, and Mark Connolly’s vision prevailed. A series of geometric symbols guide the reader to the related appendices.

"Out of this enormous conflict came this exhilarating creativity," Richard Connolly said.

When the printer of the first edition did not give them exactly what they had asked for, Richard and Mark Connolly again saw firsthand their book’s guiding principle -good communication – applies on all projects.

Said Richard Connolly: "Someone could have written a book on how to avoid printing and production hell, and it would have helped me."

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