Son rebuilds family’s life

‘He gave us the peace of mind that no other contractor could have given us.’

By Sam Schilling | For Royal Report

For the last year Jacob Thomas has channeled his every thought and action into his new forced-upon job. This job was bigger than his usual restoration project manager position. After a devastating fire, the unattached twenty-four-year-old began rebuilding his family’s life.

On May 31, 2014, three days before Jacob’s birthday, I stood beside Jacob as he watched his childhood home burn to the ground. Although I have been dating Jacob for almost two years, I do not stand alone in thinking that he is a blunt realist who did an incredible deed for his family.

This fire started in the garage and quickly spread to the house. Jacob’s siblings were staying elsewhere while his parents barely made it out uninjured. The few parts of the house that didn’t get destroyed by the fire had been ruined by smoke or water damage.

After many attempts to interview Jacob, he finally cooperated with the contingency that he could lay on his living room couch with his beloved dog, Leo.

Assuming this reluctance was stemming from his disinterest in reliving the devastation, I asked him why this was so hard to talk about. “It’s not that it’s hard to talk about, it’s that there’s not much to talk about,” Jacob replied. Jacob said there was nothing interesting about what he did or who he is, inserting a pun or joke wherever possible. This facetious humility was just the reinforcement I needed to know that Jacob was indeed someone of interest; it just took a bit of digging to uncover.

As Jacob baby-talked to his 160-pound bull-mastiff, I asked him what it felt like to watch the home he lived in for 11 years burn. “Hot,” Jacob said with a smirk.

I attempted to redirect his humor by asking him if he felt any devastation. He responded, “The feeling of devastation occurs when you have no where to turn for support and don’t know what to do. I didn’t have any of those problems. I looked at the issue and said ‘I will fix this.’ ”

And that is what he did. With only a few years of remodeling experience, Jacob took on the advanced project of building a house from scratch. Jacob said that building this house was about 15 times the size of his average job.

“I didn’t feel like I needed to take on this project, I wanted to. … I took on this project 40 percent because they are my parents and I know what they need, 40 percent because I wanted the experience, and 20 percent because I am an idiot and thought it would be easy.”

Despite his casual attitude towards the house burning down, he said this project was the most complex thing he’s ever taken on. The eleven months following the fire consisted of his normal workload plus this new project. Jacob said he rarely had a free weekend and would work from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. most nights.

Jacob was involved in every step. Jacob found a place for his family to live, initially replenished necessities, reported and negotiated about every article in the house to insurance agents (down to the last miscellaneous Tupperware lid), demolished what was left of his parents’ home, helped with the physical building, and experimented with designing, subcontracting, and building a new house.

“He did all that and more. He gave us the peace of mind that no other contractor could have given us,” Wendy Thomas, Jacob’s mother, said while expressing her gratitude.

Jacob Thomas explained that he felt more chaos than peace. “It was really hard balancing being their son and their contractor,” Jacob said. Jacob explained that his parents became so overwhelmed with all of the options and tasks in designing that they would give up or pick anything to get the job done. “As their contractor I was supposed to let them pick out what they wanted,” Jacob said, “But as their son I couldn’t implement their impulse decisions.”

The long days, the constant arguing with his parents and the seemingly endless negotiations with the insurance agents wore on Jacob. “After about four months I wanted to do be done,” Jacob said, “But my family was still living in a tiny townhouse and my job wasn’t finished.” So Jacob persevered.

Jacob made sure not stray too far from the original design, only to improve it. Jacob incorporated his family’s love for the outdoors with natural pine walls and log railings. For the family’s love for the indoors, he also added a movie theater.

After six months the house was finally built. In January, the Thomas family moved their few possessions into their new home especially designed for them. “This house feels even more like home than the other one did,” said Kyla Thomas, Jacob’s younger sister.

Jacob’s family has expressed their love for their new home and their gratefulness for Jacob. “Knowing that my brother was in charge, I knew everything would work out. Not even a year later and my life feels normal again,” Kyla Thomas says.

There is still much to be done at the new Thomas residence, but Jacob’s portion is almost complete. Jacob said that his last meeting with the insurance company is coming up. When asked how it felt to finally be done, his sarcastic yet strangely humble response was not shocking: “Oh, the feelings are so feelingful.”

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