In March I was on the market for a bunk bed. I wanted one with a full-size bottom , and twin-size upper. It could serve as a guest bed when family visited (we don’t have a guest room), specifically when they visited in May. I did some online scoping, and found one I liked, but I didn’t love the price tag.

So I moseyed over to Craigslist, where I’d had so many successful years of buying used – and generally awesome – furniture, cars, sports equipment, and kids’ gear at a reasonable price. Upon searching “bunk beds”, I found a woodworker based in Rhode Island. His website was no great shakes, but he boasted a catalog of custom furniture, so I emailed him about my project.

Joe was responsive, and seemed like a salty ol’ carpenter who ran a small woodshop with his wife. I’d sent a photo of this Pottery Barn bed and asked if he could make something similar, with a drawer. He agreed. We volleyed about the type of ladder and its placement. I told him our ceilings are a low 7’, and he should scale the bed accordingly. He even asked about tight turns or stairways in our home. He seemed to know what he was doing.

Pretty bunk bed

“Yes, I can recreate that,” said the carpenter.

Our exchanges about the size of the bed, project timeline, and type of low-VOC paint I’d chosen indicated he’d worked with clients before. He drafted a proposal, charged me a deposit through his Etsy storefront, and we were off.

One week before my in-laws arrived, I ordered the mattress and sheets, and sent a friendly “Just making sure we’re on for delivery next weekend!” email. He responded. We were good.

A few days later, I wrote again, “Hey Joe. Planning our weekend. Please let me know when you’ll be here to set up the bed.” No response. I checked my phone compulsively. I emailed him once a day, and called, tone increasingly anxious. By the end of the weekend, I was practically barking, “WHERE THE HELL IS MY BED, ASSHOLE!?”

I felt swindled. I wanted to do good, to buy local, and this “Joe” stole my money! Not to mention the hours of time communicating. I re-read our emails, and he still came off as a Good Guy. My husband agreed. We looked at the Rhode Island obituaries, seeing if maybe (hoping?) he’d croaked. He didn’t. At least not publically. I sent a final message: Get in touch by Tuesday night or I’m contesting my credit card deposit. No word, so I got my money back, thanks to AmEx. We figured an alternate sleeping arrangement for my kids and in-laws, but the whole thing really got under my skin.

He emailed me a week later, claiming health issues kept him at bay, and the bed was ready. I didn’t respond. That bed was dead to me.

He contacted me again; he wanted to do right. He was going to deliver it. I responded, huffily, Fine.

He and his wife arrived, an older couple, sweet as pie and very apologetic about our tumultuous transaction. They were worker bees, kind to each other and to our family as they installed the bunk. I put down my gloves, and left with the girls for a bit, while Dave stayed.

When I came home, the assembled bunk nearly skimmed the ceiling. There was no way my daughter could sit up. I pointed this out, and Joe agreed to return with the right tool to chop down the legs. Then it’d be futon height, with no drawer. The carpentry seemed solid but utilitarian, pretty raw. I thought, maybe if I just put on a few more coats of paint….

custom bunk bed_small

“Well, they’re both white.”

After living with it in our space for two nights, I realized: We can’t keep the bed.

It’s too tall. The proportions are off. The ladder isn’t what I asked for. The whole THING isn’t what I asked for.

My dad took the bed apart the next morning. When Joe arrived, I showed him the pieces in my garage, and said, “We’re not going to keep it. Sorry, but it’s not what I asked for.” It felt good, and bad, to refuse it. It’s not like sending back an overcooked steak; I don’t think I’ve even done that. It’s a freaking piece of custom furniture. But, I’m the client. And I’m definitely right. Perhaps I should’ve vetted him more thoroughly, or asked, “Can you make a bed that has details very similar if not identical to this?” Either way, the whole thing went awry. I’m not sure I can extract the lesson here, but I won’t be doing that again.

Then I went back to Pottery Barn and got the bed I wanted.