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First Person Singular: Home contractor Michael Sauri of TriVistaUSA

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

When I was 17, I turned pro as a musician. I got to play on an album with David Byrne. I fronted a band that got some play on MTV. One of the things I hold most dear -- I got a chance to play for [producer] Rick Rubin, and he looked at me and said, "Dude, you rock." And I was, like: I can die now.

So I'm this rocker with long hair flying around the world in leather pants; I meet this girl. I never thought I wanted to quit what I was doing. She just really made me want to do more. About that time, the dad of a guy in our band bought a house in Baltimore, fixed it up and rented it out. I thought, Hey, maybe I can do that. I bought a house for $18,000, in Baltimore in the total 'hood. And when I was done, it was worth $75,000. And I remember thinking like: Hmm, maybe I just do this again. The second home I did sold in three hours.

If you decide at 17 that you're going to make a living as a musician, deciding to remodel a house really is not that daunting. It doesn't feel like I went from one thing to the other, because it's the same muscle. I still create. I still perform, and I still listen. When you're producing a record, you're taking all these people who are trying to grab this abstract idea and get them to create something together. A producer once told me that my guitar needed to sound like a muffin. When I listen to homeowners say, "I want a bunch of light and space, and I want the house to breathe and flow," it's the same thing. That's the best they can do; they have no vocabulary for it. When I walk into a home of a client I've never met, it feels as improvisational as writing music. My job is to transport them where they want to go, not where I want to go -- just as music does.

If a homeowner doesn't trust you, you're not going to have any freedom. The trust makes it magical, but it doesn't make it easy. The truth is, we're in people's homes, and sometimes they expect that just because you're the home remodeler, you're going to make everything right. That's not going to happen every single time. And I hate not being able to be perfect. I want to be the shining star on every job. I want people to come in and say, "Oh, my God, Michael, this rocks."

Interview by Amanda Long


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