HOUSTON — Dominique de Menil wanted the pine floors darker, and darker still.
Steve McConathy remembers the day she selected the finish from samples in the lobby of the not-yet-opened Menil Collection in 1987. She chose a black stain so deep it would give just a hint of the wood’s grain.
“Mizz D,” as McConathy calls her, was devastated on the day the museum opened, when visitors in stiletto heels put pock marks in the soft pine — a 100-pound woman in high heels puts more pressure per square inch on a floor than a 6,000-pound elephant. The marks are still there, along with many more.
McConathy, one of the few people left on the museum’s staff picked by the founder, has worked at the Menil since its planning stages in 1982. A Houston native, he was the project manager for Melton Electric, the electrical contractor for the construction of the campus’ first Renzo Piano building.
He loved it from the start, although the Menil aesthetic took some getting used to. The museum was different than anything else being built in Houston, as the city filled with rectangular office buildings fueled by that era’s oil boom.
Right man for job
Tall and ruggedly handsome, with big blue eyes and a near zen-like calm, McConathy must have appealed to Mizz D as well. She hired him away from Melton: One day he was in charge of the electrical contracting. The next he was in charge of all the contractors. He stayed on as the manager of facilities, and he’s never felt the need to leave.
McConathy has kept every inch of the museum and its more recent buildings looking good as new. But he has watched the Duraseal stain of the floors suffer a slower trauma — damage that even soft tennis shoes cause.
Start to refinish
So now the inevitable looms: Next year, McConathy will oversee the refinishing of the floors.
To accomplish that task, and also install a new “digitally addressable” fire detection system, the Menil will close its main building for eight months in 2018, beginning Feb. 26.
The campus’ other exhibition buildings will operate as usual.
McConathy, while recently standing in the lobby, looked up and down the museum’s 400-foot long hallway. To keep the color consistent on that impressively long stretch, the sanding must all be done at one time.
McConathy still stays in touch with Piano’s office. He’s making sure the floors will look exactly the same as they did 30 years ago. “Everything I do in the building has to consider his architecture,” he said.
That’s the Menil way. And his.