Lessons from a Door Latch

Earlier this year I checked into a high-end hotel in a big city for a few days and I was reminded of the kind of problems that conscientious tradespeople need to do something about. As I closed the bathroom door, I noticed that it didn’t stay latched. Was this the typical issue of the latch not lining up with the strike plate? I pushed the door harder, but it didn’t help. It wasn’t until I looked closely that I noticed the cause. It was a shocking example of the kind of creeping incompetence that I’m seeing more and more often all around.

It’s not every day that you see a door latch installed backwards, but that’s what I was looking at. Yes, it was installed in the wrong direction relative to the swing of the door. Think about the series of fails that must have led to this. Some so-called tradesperson at some time walked into that almost-finished hotel room to install a door. Somewhere along the line this person’s “training” failed to enlighten them to the fact that the angled side of any door latch needs to face a certain direction. Fail #1.

Presumably, hotel rooms are inspected after completion before the owner signs off on construction. Either the inspection didn’t happen or the inspector missed something obvious. Fail #2.

Every day that the room is occupied, someone from the housekeeping staff enters the bathroom, probably operating the bathroom door at least once in a while, oblivious to the fact that the door doesn’t close all the way nor stay closed. No one reports the bad installation. Fail #3.

While we’re on the topic of incompetence, the latch plate wasn’t chiselled into the edge of the door, and the screws holding the handle mechanism were loose. Sloppy workmanship is one thing and it’s happening more and more often, but failure to understand the theory behind a door latch on a multi-million dollar project, isn’t this one step worse?

Quality never happens by accident, and mistakes are always waiting around every corner. Every conscientious tradesperson knows this, but care and pride of craftsmanship seems to be on a steep decline. Why am I telling you this? As a painter, you’re usually the last trade to see a space before it’s turned over to owners and the public. You can make a difference as a final watchdog, remembering the quality, effort, skills and diligence that used to be much more common in our world than they are today. One measure of the success of any society is how well it deals with the practical matters of life . . . including the installation of door latches.

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