Nothing lost in translation

| 30 Sep 2011 | 08:34

Man from Down Under meets the Orange County men who inspired his backyard project, By Beth Kalet Warwick — A matched set of gazebos, like two compass points, now dot the globe. One, in Westtown, was designed by Daniel Grant and built for a book written by Warwick resident David Schiff. The other, in Newcastle, Australia, was built from plans in Schiff’s book, “Building the Perfect Gazebo.” Last weekend, the three men met when Australian Michael McDonald was on an American vacation. They compared notes on their projects, toasted each other and formed a new transatlantic friendship. “I never thought when I wrote the book that I’d be bringing the world together,” joked Schiff, after meeting McDonald and his wife Roz. The two had planned to spend time in New York City during their vacation and were delighted to find that Warwick was only a bus ride away. Ever the intrepid travelers, the couple took a bus from the Port Authority to Oakland Avenue, where Schiff picked them up. Soon they were all off to Westtown, where McDonald happily checked out Grant’s gazebo, the one pictured on the cover of Schiff’s book, which devotes a segment to its plans. As luck would have it, the McDonalds arrived in town just in time to help Grant celebrate his 60th birthday and were welcomed warmly to the party put on by his wife Ingela Noren that the Schiffs had been planning to attend. It was another connection the group felt, as McDonald has celebrated his own 60th anniversary back in March in his gazebo. A labor of love McDonald, a lawyer, said the project took about nine months to complete, between hiring help to lay a foundation and then waiting out a rainy patch so he and others could construct it. Grant, an artist, with help from Schiff and others, spent about a year designing and building the gazebo on Grant’s property. Among the challenges for the Australian builder was converting the dimensions in the plans to metric, but beyond that was something the Americans hadn’t expected. McDonald could not use the Western Red Cedar called for in the plans and so commonly employed in North America. Here it is a preferred outdoor building material because it is light in weight, rot-resistant, stable and easy to work with. Builders can nail or screw directly into it. But none of that mattered down under, where McDonald reported that native wild birds — sulphur crested white cockatoos — nibble away at softwoods, destroying porches and railings without regard to the efforts of the builders. “They have been known to completely demolish verandah railings, etc.,” McDonald said. The McDonald property backs up to a nature trail, where the birds, exotic to the Americans, are as pesky and ever-present as deer to Orange County. ‘A dabbler in wood’ “Because of this,” McDonald wrote in an e-mail about his experience with the project, “I chose to use a New Guinea timber called Merbau (botanical name Intsia bijuga). Unfortunately the timber is very, very hard.” That meant he had to pre-drill every nailhole. “As a result of its denseness it is also very heavy. We estimate the whole structure weighs about 7 tons.” McDonald, who described himself as a “dabbler in woodwork,” nevertheless managed to build the perfect match for the gazebo on the other side of the world. He has hosted celebrations and held Christmas dinners in his gazebo. “When people ask me ‘Why?’ I just say it is called Michael’s Folly and leave it at that.” Beth Kalet is the managing editor of The Advertiser-News North and South, sister papers to The Warwick Advertiser and The Photo News. Her husband, David Schiff, is the author of the book, “Building the Perfect Gazebo.”