My “Cheap” Mistake

I recently made a mistake when I tried to “save money”. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Chicago for a small business education class with other kitchen and bath design companies to learn techniques to run Design Set Match more efficiently. Not being a frequent flier, I simply did what has worked well for me in the past. I went to one of the travel websites and then a couple of others to discover that they’ve been bought up by the same company and are essentially all the same site now. Ok, so I didn’t see as much variety as I have before, but the rates looked reasonable.

A previous homeowner "saved" money by adding multiple pipes to raise this shower head

A previous homeowner "saved" money by adding multiple pipes to raise this shower head

The trouble is what I didn’t see coming. I booked a cheap flight on a “young” airline. I’ve done this before without any trouble from other airlines. Sure, I usually sit towards the back in economy, but that's not a big deal, I almost always get a window seat. Then I went on to select my hotel room. It was a little more than the cheap hotels, but it was within walking distance to the Häfele showroom where the training classes were to take place. I even upgraded because I didn’t want to be in a “dorm style room”. I felt good, paid for the trip, and was all set.

Not so fast, I immediately got an email from the airline about their “bare fare” to discover that they charge extra for everything! Ok, so I need to pay for a meal, that's pretty typical, I prefer the airport restaurants… wait, now I need pay for my carry-on luggage too, it's a basic essential for a 4-night 5-day trip! So I fork it over… select a seat? Forget that, it is additional money for even the farthest back seat! If I was flying with my family I would have needed to do it though (to be able to sit together), so I opted for a “random” seat. There’s more… or I should say less. They don’t even provide the most basic human necessity of water on this 4.5 hour flight without charging for it! And just to grind in the nickel-and-dime insult they have billboard advertisements on the interior walls and they have a long-winded flight attendant trying to “sell” their MasterCard at the end of the flight to get a discount on the food they just charged an arm and a leg for! Ok, rant over. 

What does this mean for remodeling? What can a homeowner like yourself take away from this? Learn from my mistake. Ask questions

1960's Blind Lazy Susan

1960's Blind Lazy Susan

When a contractor, cabinet company or plumbing shop says they can do your kitchen for less what does “less” mean? What are they removing to make it a “bare fare” like my flight? Often with cabinets they haven’t paid attention to the details of functions that have been painstakingly poured over by you and your kitchen or bath designer. 

Häfele Lemans Blind Corner Solution

Häfele Lemans Blind Corner Solution

Homeowners in the San Francisco Bay Area trust me as their kitchen and bath designer to review their orders before they spend $20,000+ on cabinetry or $150,000+ on their remodel. I often find that from the outside cabinets or other items “look the same”. What they’re actually being sold isn’t a solution to the problems that brought them into me in the first place. Lower cost cabinets usually function like their 1960’s cabinets do now. My clients will continue to lose pantry items in the back of the corner cabinet or deep pantry only to discover them years after they’ve expired. Or they’d be purchasing plumbing fixtures like a Toto wall-mounted toilet with the Geberit in-wall tank through an online retailer only to discover their plumber hasn’t installed one before and needs to spend hours on the phone with customer service because he thinks its “broken” and he can’t get a local manufacturer’s representative to talk him through the process which will prevent leaks in your walls. And worst of all is getting a general contractor who doesn’t meet expectations. They usually are unlicensed, have poor communication during construction, draw out construction longer than expected (even if there are no unforeseen circumstances) are careless with other rooms of your home and nickel-and-dime you because “they didn’t plan to install crown moulding” or the “wall-mounted toilet took more time to install than I had planned”.

Homeowner beware. Ask questions, get detailed written agreements spelling out what will actually be done, get a written construction schedule. It's worth the savings in valuable time and stress to pay a little more for the proper management and quality materials your trusted remodeling professionals will provide.

There's a difference between "frugal" and "cheap". Don’t make a “cheap” mistake of your own.

Yes, I “Drank the Kool-Aid”

San Francisco Duboce Triangle Edwardian Master Bath NARI Members involved in this project include     General Contractor: Jeff King & Company     Vanities & Plumbing Fixtures: Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery     Shower Enclosure: California Shower Doors     Photography: Treve Johnson Photography

San Francisco Duboce Triangle Edwardian Master Bath

NARI Members involved in this project include     General Contractor: Jeff King & Company     Vanities & Plumbing Fixtures: Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery     Shower Enclosure: California Shower Doors     Photography: Treve Johnson Photography

A few months ago at a NARI (Nation Association of the Remodeling Industry) chapter meeting this came up in conversation. It was said in a lovingly snarky way by a regular guest and it made me think to myself, “why do I participate fully and joyfully in NARI?”

It’s not my religion, but it is part of my faith structure. I realized that just as I am involved at All Souls Parish in Berkeley in helping members get meals and rides, and in my leadership responsibilities in Bible Study Fellowship International (BSF) to have a deeper relationship with God and my church community; I fully believe that making connections at the monthly San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA) and North Bay meetings is valuable for me, for the contractors, architects, showrooms, and other remodeling industry professionals and homeowners.

San Francisco Duboce Triangle Edwardian Laundry Nook NARI Members involved in this project include     General Contractor: Jeff King & Company     Electrical Fixtures: Berkeley Lighting     Photography: Treve Johnson Photography

San Francisco Duboce Triangle Edwardian Laundry Nook

NARI Members involved in this project include     General Contractor: Jeff King & Company     Electrical Fixtures: Berkeley Lighting     Photography: Treve Johnson Photography

Since starting Design Set Match five years ago, I desired to make connections that had meaning, connections that could take root. I’m skeptical by nature, but I knew some of what Paul and Nina Winans had poured into the organization and that there is often value that words can not describe so at the end of my first year as an entrepreneur I took a step of faith and became a NARI member. Now some might ask if I “got any business” from other members that first year, I don’t think I did, and that's ok.

I became a board member so that I could know and fully understand more about the organization for myself. And I’ve since become the board secretary, taking notes of each meeting, and I’ve joined Dave Freer of the Collier Warehouse on the Membership Committee after having an opportunity to watch and listen to see where I felt that best fit for personal and association growth.

So what do I get out of NARI? Nothing. Well not completely. I love that even if the topic was about concrete or something else that might bore me, the SFBA meetings are in showrooms so that every meeting is four-fold with great locations, educational topics, networking and industry politics (I’m glad others can represent me in this). I probably put more into NARI than I receive in “instant gratification”, but I believe that with small steps of faith, the services I can offer to homeowners in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Marin, will grow in quality. I attend meetings, invite new comers and reach out to members to build relationships with the company owner(s) and their staff. I find it is critical to know who I will actually be working with. I nurture those relationships each month and look for opportunities to improve my businesses quality of service by introducing homeowners to General Contractors I can trust and introducing contractors to showrooms and trade or sub-contractors that I believe they can trust too. Is it perfect? Nothing in remodeling is, but integrity and passion for remodeling is key for any professional I trust.

 
 

Investing in a strong building industry is the foundation for success in remodeling for homeowners and business owners a like.

When DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Is Toxic

Do-It-Yourself Demo

Do-It-Yourself Demo

Here we are, its Earth Day, the one day we focus on how our decisions impact our climate. Did you know it goes deeper and can be applied to any decision we make? Its not just about coffee cups or the big developer planing a building next to our creeks and watersheds. 

Last week, as I was watching Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos on Netflix , I realized how incredibly uneducated the public is about our built-environment’s poisonous components. In episode 7 “the Clean Room,” which originally aired April 20th 2014, he mentions that Ancient Romans had inadvertently poisoned their own water lines by using lead pipes in their aqueduct systems and that they realized it and mandated a change to their fresh water systems. In our very own time, lead was brought back and in full force by manufacturing companies pushing their own agenda, much like how “Big Tobacco” has pushed theirs by publishing partial data and quieting the hazardous effects caused by their “natural product” and ignoring the symptoms of their workers because they were of a lower class.

McCutcheon Construction Lead Abatement Protections

McCutcheon Construction Lead Abatement Protections

The thing is “natural” isn’t always best. Mercury is natural, it brought many Victorian women a clear porcelain complexion… just before causing untimely deaths of many and the poisoning of global fish (aka food) populations today. Lead is a naturally occurring element too, but while health officials simply ask parents if they live in a home built before the 1970’s with pealing paint, most people are simply living with it. Dr. Tyson’s show goes on to show how Clair Cameron Patterson created the first “clean room” just to eliminate the interference of lead present within the laboratory he was working in. As he was performing his experiments examining lead’s decaying values in from a meteorite to accurately calculate the Earth’s age his data was thrown off significantly even after he swabbed and cleaned the laboratory in detail. It causes me to wonder, if this is the effect of lead in a “stable” environment, how much more are the effects of lead in a remodel when walls are being torn open and fine dust particles are flying everywhere?

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has realized the dangers of dust and is continually making efforts to implement restrictions for our safety. Many of these measures started in California when I was a kid in the 70’s and 80’s. If you’ve been searching for stained glass windows or their repair recently, you may have noticed that you can no-longer get “real” lead for the joints only simulated materials are available. Lead based paints are no longer sold, and that “un-leaded” option at the gas pump, if you haven’t noticed, is the only option unless you have diesel engine. So they’re doing a good job of keeping toxic metals out of our current economy, but there is still the remodeling issue.

Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Cre 

Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Cre 

Most of the homes I’ve been involved in remodeling were built before 1978, and all of them needed to be gutted to the studs, thus removing the drywall and its lead based paint. Today there are abatement (hazmat) regulations for remodeling professionals to contain the lead, keep it from becoming air-born, and preventing it from being absorbed into the soils and natural resources. Too often homeowners mention that they want to save some costs by demolishing their space first. While this seems like a “good idea” it scares me to think of the toxicity they will be exposing themselves to at the expense of their health, their children’s health, and the increase in Dr’s visits paying in small increments co-pay after co-pay not to mention the unknown underlying their symptoms. The EPA has considered Do-It-Yourselfers by setting forth some guidelines, but there are still health risks. 

Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Warning

Synergy Enterprises Lead Abatement Warning

So where do you turn? Unfortunately the State of California, who is a self-certifying state, only lists the individuals who are certified, without their firm name, for the East Bay, San Francisco and Peninsula areas. I typically introduce homeowners to contractors who are NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) professionals  . NARI has offered Lead Removal Certification training programs for the cleanest demolition possible. Why? NARI has high industry standards and health and safety are at the top of the list. Lead exposure in any amount is not good for the human body, so why take the risk  ? Even if you’re not doing it yourself, be sure to ask your general contractor if they have a certified team to remove the lead from your home.

As with most decisions in remodeling it’s up to you to weigh it out. Is keeping your short-term remodeling budget low more important than your long-term health? Just because “it’s always been done this way” is the accepted attitude in society doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ask questions and make adjustments. As a designer and advisor to homeowners, I can only recommend the best practices, you are the only one who can make the best decisions.

Nesting Instinct

Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Guest Bath

Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Guest Bath

It's not unusual for young couples to contact me for their remodel with only a few weeks to go before their baby is born. Expecting moms, and sometimes parents, get a little extra hormone boost that instinctively tells us to make room, tidy up, and prepare safety for the blessing that is about to be. It's a good thing! Unfortunately, it isn't always conducive to a smooth remodeling process. Typically homeowners who contact me want to have everything complete before baby is born, unfortunately this is almost always unrealistic. Sometimes they contact me and plan to live in their home during construction before and even after birth. This can be complicated for health reasons. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself and be aware of in conversations with your interior designer and general contractor.

  • When is your due date? Is it 3 or 30 weeks out?
  • Will you be living in your home during construction, moving out temporarily, or going on vacation?
  • How much work are you planning to do yourself?
  • What is your main reason for remodeling now? Are the surface materials just ugly, or are things broken and you're concerned for safety?

Now see last week's article and consider how long a typical remodel takes, possible setbacks, and safety concerns before jumping head first into a kitchen or bathroom remodel with your growing family.

  •  How much time is realistic to do a remodel of this size?
  • How much is budget a factor in your decision-making?
  • Are you planning to live in your home during construction?
  • What steps are you considering that may expose you and your unborn/new baby to lead and other toxins as your old rooms are taken apart and demolished?
    • I mention this because many of us want the satisfaction of taking a sledge hammer to the walls, etc, to start the process and possibly save costs, but doing so in homes built before the 1970's exposes you and everyone around the area to lead and potentially asbestos too. 
    •  Even if you're considering painting yourself to save a little money or just to feel more involved, be sure to select a zero VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, not just one that is low VOC.
  •  Have you discussed what steps your contractor will take to protect you and the rest of your home during construction? 
  • Will they include plastic barriers/walls with zipper doors to contain much of the dust? Do you have realistic expectations as to fine dust that will escape and find its way throughout your home? 
  • How about noise? Are you prepared with sound-canceling earmuffs or planning to work outside of your home?
  • Do you have pets?  If so, what is your plan for them to be safe and well adjusted?

Does this mean that you shouldn't remodel as you're preparing for your new family member? I believe in having conscious decisions and full awareness to decide for yourself. Being prepared with realistic expectations will help when the time comes that you've dusted the coffee table for the 5th time in a day or someone's nap has been interrupted again. Remodeling is an adventure, I hope you enjoy yours.  

Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Kitchen

Berkeley Brown Shingle Traditional Kitchen

"How Long Will My Kitchen or Bathroom Remodel Take?

San Francisco Saint Francis Wood Mid Century Modern Kitchen

San Francisco Saint Francis Wood Mid Century Modern Kitchen

Whenever I meet someone for the first time to discuss their kitchen or bathroom remodel this question is at the top of the list. So how long will it take? Unfortunately there is no one answer, as there are many factors involved. Discussing and compiling these together during our complimentary consultation will start to gather the right idea, but ultimately it will need detailed focus from your contractor to have a schedule written out as part of your construction agreement.

 

As with anything, planning is the best way to keep control on a schedule and in remodeling, that starts with Design. For me, we begin with an initial phone call and a complimentary consultation in my office. If it makes sense we can sign a schematic design agreement inviting me into your home to measure and take preliminary photographs so I can remodel your home in the computer with 2-3 preliminary schematic design floor plans and photorealistic perspectives. Generally this takes 2-3 weeks to complete. When we review the Schematic Designs it is good to meet with you for your feedback on the designs as well as with your contractor or potential contractors to discuss ballpark costs and timing.

San Francisco Saint Francis Wood Mid Century Modern Master Bath

San Francisco Saint Francis Wood Mid Century Modern Master Bath

The next phase in planning for a remodel is Design Development.  This is when we actually go shopping and select the materials that will be installed in your home. Occasionally, I have clients who can take a full day to go to showrooms to make their selections, but more often than not we need to break these trips up into 3-4 smaller chunks of 2-3 hours, over a couple of weeks. Once this is done it also takes me a few weeks to do the back-end research of specifying in detail what the item is, where it is being purchased from, who is providing it, receiving and checking quotes, and incorporating the decisions into the drawings for a more realistic conversation with your general contractor and their team. Often the waiting in this phase is the toughest. It is very exciting to make decisions and it feels really good when we're done, but often my clients forget that it takes time to pull together all the details and checking for accuracy and they call or email me within a couple of days for a progress check. As much as I would love to say, "okay, here it all is," I've found that it's simply not possible as there are many different people involved in gathering the correct information and preparing the quotes. It's that phase in the three-legged stool where accuracy is the leading factor and sometimes it takes a little more time to accomplish this.

 

San Francisco Castro Condo Modern Dining Room & Kitchen

San Francisco Castro Condo Modern Dining Room & Kitchen

So far this has all been simply to provide your contractor with enough information to work out his conversations with the trade contractors, like the electrician, plumber, painter, etc. In the pre-construction portion there are a few weeks for these conversations to take place, to meet in your home, to pull together their estimates and to write a detailed construction agreement.

 

Construction timing varies by contractor, as well as scope of work. Start dates are usually affected by materials that take a little longer to arrive, like cabinets, plumbing fixtures, appliances and sometimes tile. These can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks to arrive once your order has been placed, approved and processed. Occasionally there are strikes that hinder transportation, such as the recent one at the Port of Oakland.  Sometimes I have clients that fall in love with a tile or a faucet that comes from Germany or Italy and can take as much as 12 weeks to ship overseas, even when the ports have been running as expected. I generally recommend that all materials are ordered and that all or at least the majority, especially anything that is in the walls like recessed lighting or plumbing valves, are onsite and checked for damage in your garage or another room before starting construction. This may delay the start time but it can speed up the construction time and help prevent lapses where no work can be done.

 

San Francisco Castro Condo Modern Master Bathroom

San Francisco Castro Condo Modern Master Bathroom

While a bathroom is typically the smallest room in a home (not including closets) they are also the most complex. Homeowners are often deceived by their size and think that it should be "simple" and only take a week or two. While home remodeling TV shows only take 45 minutes, there is much that is cut out of the weeks that actually go into the detail and installer's labor. The biggest factor in time is actually affected by its size. It's not possible to have the plumber and the electrician in the same space to accurately install what they're responsible for.

 


San Francisco Castro Condo Modern Kitchen

San Francisco Castro Condo Modern Kitchen

One part of remodeling that adds to the schedule is the "waiting time". Often it may feel that "nothing" has been done or that "no one" showed up. A good general contractor will have this time built into their schedule and discuss it with you before it happens in their weekly meetings. Why do these gaps take place? They can actually take place throughout the project for various reasons and they can be planned for. Once the plumber and the electrician have completed their "rough" work of wiring and recessed lighting, which hides behind the drywall, an inspector must come out to inspect that everything is compliant with current building, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing codes. Unfortunately, they give a window of time when they will arrive and they can often come to a project near the end of that scheduling window, leaving no room for installers to come in for the next step. When drywall is going in it also requires an inspection or two, plus there is time for coats of "mud" to dry before they can put on another coat to close up the seams between the drywall panels. Materials that need to be measured and templated, such as countertops and shower doors, also add time. These times are pretty noticeable because often it feels like everything else is done except that, or maybe the electrician or tile installer can't complete their work until the countertop is in. Remodeler's remorse usually sets in here; it's when you can see the finish line, but not how far you actually are from it. 

 

The long and short of it is that it is not possible to write out a fixed schedule for any remodeling project until the true scope of the work is spelled out, and to do that also takes a reasonable amount of time to, as Paul Winans Says, "do it once, right, the first time".

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Project: Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Design “risks” are easier to make in a guest bathroom as they are not used in its entirety on a regular basis. By “floating” the vanity cabinet we were able to open the space and light it from below which gives the illusion of expanding the room as the Crossville Porcelain tile continues beyond.

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Cabinetry designed with open storage for extra towels, baskets for toilet tissue and a space to sit down for skin care routines is reminiscent of being in a spa, an experience from which everyone leaves refreshed. Cabinet hardware like these 26 Series bar pulls by Sugatsune come in various lengths and can double as hand towels to prevent cluttered walls and dripping across the room.

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

 Often I am asked about designing master bathrooms with vessel sinks which we discuss in detail the pros and cons and how it may not be the best design for everyday use. However, this guest bathroom with the Kohler Bateau vessel sink coupled with the Kohler Stillness wall-mounted faucet on a mirror adds a touch of something special for guests to enjoy.

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Oakland Montclaire Contemporary Guest Bath

Best Of Houzz 2015 Award!

 

ALISA HOFMANN & DESIGN SET MATCH of OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA Receives

Best Of Houzz 2015 Award

 

Over 25 Million Monthly Unique Users Rated Top-Rated Home Building,

Remodeling and Design Professionals in the United States and Around the World

 

OAKLAND, CA, January 22, 2015 DESIGN SET MATCH of Oakland, CA has been awarded Best Of Houzz for Customer Satisfaction by Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design. The 5 year old design firm was chosen by the more than 25 million monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community from among more than 500,000 active home building, remodeling and design industry professionals. 

The Best Of Houzz award is given in two categories: Design and Customer Satisfaction. Design award winners work was the most popular among the more than 25 million monthly users on Houzz, known as Houzzers. Customer Satisfaction honors are determined by a variety of factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2014. Winners will receive a Best Of Houzz 2015 badge on their profiles, helping Houzz users around the world who discover and love a professionals work to learn even more about that business popularity and satisfaction rating among their peers in the Houzz community. 

We work with homeowners who are busy professionals working long days or running their kids to multiple activities and don't have hours to spend in showrooms. They have tried working with architects and are overwhelmed when they are sent to select materials on their own, or they are frustrated when they can't read their drawings or visualize their new kitchen and bath remodel. Usually they are trying to make responsible investment decisions but are secretly worried they may make choices they decide they don’t like until it is too late. We start with an initial conversation for about five to ten minutes and we schedule a complimentary consultation to see if we are a good match for each other. If it makes sense, we arrange to do a schematic design where we measure and remodel the kitchen or bathroom on the computer with photorealistic renderings to help us imagine the transformation before investing thousands of dollars and months in a construction zone. We work as a team with the general contractor in the design process and construction preparation to complete the necessary drawings for pulling permits as well as continued conversations and visits during construction for adjustments due to unforeseen circumstances. We have the honor of hiring a professional to photograph to document these fantastic home metamorphoses.


Houzz provides homeowners with a 360 degree view of home building, remodeling and design industry professionals, empowering them to engage the right people and products for their project, said Liza Hausman, vice president of industry marketing for Houzz. Were delighted to recognize Alisa Hofmann & Design Set Match among our Best Of professionals as judged by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts who are actively remodeling and decorating their homes.

Follow DESIGN SET MATCH on Houzz http://www.houzz.com/pro/designsetmatch/  

About Alisa Hofmann

From childhood I have always been fascinated with homes of all shapes, sizes, and styles. I found that I was also disappointed when visiting a historic home that had been poorly remodeled by a well-meaning do-it-yourself homeowner who, with a little design guidance, could have a room that functioned and didn't stick out like a sore thumb. When I discovered there was a career I could choose that would appease my fascination as well as improve the life of a family and a building, I knew interior design was the right choice for me.

Sustainable design was being rediscovered and taught practically while I was in school but has only more recently become mainstream in everyday living. I am not a step-in-and-design-it-for-you person. While there are certain design elements and placements that must be just so, I prefer to work side by side with homeowners to guide in their decision making process. With so many choices in the showrooms it is easy to get overwhelmed. As your designer, I help guide your decisions step by step so that you can focus on what will work best for you and your family and not all of the other distracting eye-candy.

While many homeowners may be adept in construction, I highly recommend choosing contractors and specialty installers who are licensed, bonded and insured, and are professionals certified through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and Build It Green (BIG). My goal is, as should be yours, to have the best experience possible. This comes often not through the cheapest bidder on a project, but through companies and individuals who listen, work as a team, document all processes, and desire to provide you with a service that will interrupt your home life as little as possible.

About Houzz

Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish - online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community powered by social tools, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, Houzz also has international offices in London, Berlin and Sydney. For more information, visit www.houzz.com

 

"Now Everybody is in the Bathroom!"

In my 2 bedroom home this statement is a daily exclamation from my 4 year old daughter.

My daughter encroaches on my privacy with her fingers and her toes, and sometimes our kitty joins in by waving her tail under too!

My daughter encroaches on my privacy with her fingers and her toes, and sometimes our kitty joins in by waving her tail under too!

As a mom of a small child this is not unexpected, you may have seen the images floating across Facebook and Pintrest of a child's hands poking under a bathroom door when their mom or dad is wanting just a little privacy in he bathroom for even two minutes. Unfortunately, I don't believe there is a real practical solution to this world-wide problem other than to wait-it-out and teach them patience until you're an empty nester.

It is also unsurprising as a family living in a small space where everyone is getting up around the same time. Sure, we've learned to work around each other. I take my shower first, my husband gets his coffee and the little one dilly-dallies, looks at books, plays with our kitty or attempts to play Candy Land on her own. But there is inevitably a point in our morning where we just can't not be in each other's space. Daddy is in the shower, the kiddo has finally agreed or has been coherced into having her teeth and hair brushed while I finish doing my routine, and of course as she doesn't want to be left out, Kitty joins us as an additional bathroom rug just as daddy is stepping out from the shower. That's three humans and one kitty in a standing space no bigger than 2.5 x 3 feet! 

Berkeley Brown Shingle Family Bathroom

Berkeley Brown Shingle Family Bathroom

My morning experience isn't uncommon in the Bay Area. Many homes in Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland, Marin and San Francisco have the same problem, too little bathroom! Surprisingly some larger homes have this as well! Occasionally they may have a powder room to reduce the wait time to use a toilet, but more often than not, single family homes were designed with single bathroom facilities. Unlike older kitchens without space designed for a refrigerator that I've mentioned in a previous article, I have trouble seeing the logic of the architects and builders after the 1906 earthquake. Bathrooms were a common requirement, the day of the outdoor privy and use of a bed pan for a servant to empty out were gone. I'm speculating, but maybe people simply thought they were still a convienience or a nice-to-have rather than a necessity? 

This poses two important questions:

  1. If I only have one bathroom, how do I remodel and maintain my personal hygiene during that time? There are generally 2 solutions for the common problem 
    • Move out during the construction time by renting a second home or apartment, going on vacation or staying with family. While this is ideal to keep you from breathing construction dust it is typically unrealistic to many new and retired homeowners financially speaking.
    • Live in your home during construction. While living in your home during is the most cost effective, it can increase construction costs when your general contractor needs to uninstall and reinstall a toilet every day so that you're not making nightly trips to a porta-potty. Or you don't have a gym membership or a friend who is generous enough to let you use their shower each day and so your contractor needs to do a little more work to set-up and take-down a temporary shower which takes time away from their duties in completing the remodel a few days or weeks more quickly. Its also easier to be frustraited with daily life in a construction zone, there is dust everywhere even in places where you're not remodeling, if you work from home the noise levels can be so much that you buy a huge pair of noise canceling ear muffs that don't even double as a music headset and most people naturally tend to feel like they need to micro manage the work crews which simply adds to everyone's stress levels.
  2. How can I add a second bathroom to my home without changing the overall footprint to keep my costs reasonable and not need to go through a long process to get my neighbor's approval?
    • In the last few months this has come up and the best solutions have been to absorb another space. Maybe it's a closet, a small office or dressing room or even a second kitchen that was added 30-40 years ago to accommodate student renters near CAL in Berkeley or SF State. Usually the space that needs to be absorbed requires a small sacrifice to get rid of unused items, you may increase your budget slightly to rework a closet in another area for better storage or you simply start to think differently about how you use your home and plan to make changes to your daily routine. Often this question comes up when someone is thinking of selling their home in a year or two. If this is the case its often not worth the stress or expense on your life, leave it to the next buyer. It is better to maintain and upgrade your current bathroom to be appealing than it is to do something with the assumption that someone else will "appreciate" your hardwork.

How many people use your bathroom? What challenges do you have to work around each other? And what would an investment to add another bathroom be worth to your life not just the resale value of your home?

Featured Project: Bungalow Bathroom Gains New Accessibility (This week on Houzz)

Do I really need a permit? But I'm only doing...

Benjamin Franklin first attempted to safeguard homes with minimum standards for fireplace clearance requirements in 1735.

Benjamin Franklin first attempted to safeguard homes with minimum standards for fireplace clearance requirements in 1735.

What most people don't realize is that permits are there to protect you, the homeowner and the money you're investing into your home. It's a little like the safety nets and guide wires that trapeeze artists have, everyone hopes that there will be no need for them as they freely fly through the air and at the same time everyone is sitting a little more comfortably knowing that if they missed the catch it wouldn't end in a tragedy. 

Similarly, permits require that your remodel has been planned to acceptable safety (fire prevention, harmful sewer gasses and flooding for example) and efficiency standards (water and energy savings to prevent rolling blackouts and reduce wasteful clean water consumption for our drought ridden state) called codes and that your installers and contractors adhere to those regulations by having city and county expert officials visit and inspect at critical times. 

Often homeowners think this is too much of a hassle to deal with and that they shouldn't be bothered because "nothing is changing". How much more of a hassle is it if you are "caught" remodeling without a permit? What would the additional fines do to your budget? How might delays due to being "red flagged" affect your moving back in? Did you know you can lose money, possibly your entire remodeling investment, in reselling your home because you must disclose any remodeling work not done with the proper permitting?

While some jurisdictions may require a little more patience on the homeowner's part than others, you should have permits on every remodel you do. Some cities make it easy and have a FAQ's just for this. 

Visit these local agencies to see if You need a permit or your work is exempt exempt from permits...

Alameda Permit Center

Alameda Permit Center

So yes, if you're remodeling your bathroom and you're not moving plumbing locations, you need a permit, however if your simply replacing your toilet for a quick repair you usually don't. And yes, If you're remodeling your kitchen to give it a face-lift but you're keeping the kitchen cabinets you need a permit, but if you're just changing the flooring in your kitchen and freshening up the paint you usually don't.

When we try to work around the law it will only return four-fold to haunt your home. Remodel safely and get your contractor to pull permits for your kitchen or bathroom remodel, it may save lives as well as money.

Source: http://alamedaca.gov/permits

When construction and life interact

Planning and preparing to remodel your kitchen and/or bath is a lot of hard work. Even if you hire an interior designer and a construction team there is emotional work, it can often be draining. People I work with often have some vision for their new space, colors, how they might use it and why, more often than not there is much more to be considered. 

Oakland Hills Contemporary Master Bath

Oakland Hills Contemporary Master Bath

Last week I met with a couple who's home is in Kensington. It's been their family home for more than 20 years where they raised their family and now have grandchildren come to play. While I was measuring their master bathroom we also discussed how their space might be different, and how might it improve their lives. Would changing from one sink to two make a difference? If we installed medicine cabinets with electrical outlets inside to charge their toothbrushes and other items would they actually use it? We stood together and seriously looked at what is working now... which usually isn't much, so next we looked at what wasn't working and why in an almost Sherlock Holmes methodology. Standing in the space and having some sense of roll play or pretending to use what might be. "Purging" was an option she suggested, but not one that I typically recommend as a starting point. Change is hard and changing the habits we have formed for many years is even harder. 

Lafayette Cottage

Lafayette Cottage

Sometimes we get to the last week before construction is scheduled to start and kitchen cabinets are still full and "no one" has time to pack it away in an organized manner. Often people tell me they will purge when they "move out" of the space, but really how many of us actually do that for everything that needs to go? The last time I moved it was in haste. Our upstairs neighbor had left their bath water running and it over flowed and rained into our apartment. Ideally we would have come back the next day and purged the expired pantry items, household cleaners and junk mail, but instead we purged the major items that were damaged and briskly packed everything including paper trash that really should've been shredded. Whew. When homeowners who are preparing to remodel leave this to the last week it is the same. Maybe there isn't a literal flood to deal with, but the hasty, unorganized packing is stressful and comes back to haunt them when it's time to move into their new kitchen or bath. What a let down to go through all that unwanted stuff in the middle of your new space.

Last year I met a professional organizer, Lis McKinley, from Let's Make Room. She specializes in working with homeowners preparing to remodel. Along with her crew she empties, organizes and assists in cleaning out the stuff that should really be tossed into the trashed and replaced with a better expiration date before unpacking. Earlier this year I introduced her to a couple I was working with in San Francisco to remodel their condo's kitchen and bathroom. While not everyone can or needs to move out, they felt this was the best option for them. Wow, I was impressed! Not only was she providing the needed packing, sorting and general cleaning out but she also helped them to sell unwanted items in good condition, provided and coordinated movers and found them temporary housing! I wish I had known her a couple of years ago!

In the end, whether you decide to do these chores yourself or hire someone who does it all the time, its best to remember that your personal time is valuable. For some it’s time away from your career, and others time with family. Make this time remodeling for yourself about yourself. 

Alameda Victorian

Alameda Victorian

Featured Project: San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian

As an interior designer, having a portfolio of work is important for homeowners to see spaces that they can relate to, compare against and dream about. What's usually missing is the story behind the changes. What was "wrong" with the kitchen or bathroom in the first place? What difference did the changes make? Who was the contractor and other team members involved in the beautiful result? This week I've decided to highlight a San Francisco kitchen remodel that was done a few years ago.   

San Francisco is known world wide for her cable cars, steep hills and painted ladies. She and other Bay Area homes are known for their small closets, antique built-ins, formal dining rooms and too many doors connecting small rooms as though they were related to the Winchester Mystery House. This kitchen was no different. Having 5 doors in roughly a 12'x12' space resulted in the refrigerator being located in the breakfast nook (through one of the doors) and the pantry door not opening all the way plus needing to squeeze into a small space just to get to the pantry items. 

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Dining Room Wall (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Dining Room Wall (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Dining Room Wall (After)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Dining Room Wall (After)

Why was this kitchen so poorly planned? For starters, refrigeration technology didn't exist. Victorian era people had ice delivered to keep cold items cold for a few days, and here in the Bay Area many used their "California Cooler" which was essentially a dry pantry with circular birdhouse sized holes to allow the foggy cool air regulate temperature. Milk and eggs were delivered regularly and many of the more affluent families had a couple of servants which were to remain hidden from guests while they prepared the food. Our culture has changed significantly from the days of Downton Abbey. Families today who have hired help want open kitchens and are not ashamed of the au pair or the housekeeper who work for them.  Why? It's simple, as humans we desire to be connected. Most families are working full time and being together for a few precious hours at home while preparing a meal and doing homework is just what we need.

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen Pantry (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen Pantry (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen (After)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen (After)

In redesigning this San Francisco Victorian to be more warm, inviting and useable, the first thing that needed to change was to eliminate a few doors. This was achieved by removing the pantry closet and a duplicate door to the powder room, voila, a place for the refrigerator in the kitchen! The pantry storage was incorporated into cabinetry with easily accessible pullout shelves, lazy Suzan's and other kitchen cabinet storage solutions. The three doors that remained became doorways instead, which removed the hazard of opening a door on someone as you entered the kitchen blindly. (There is a reason restaurant employees yell out "corner" and have rules about which door to go in and which to exit.) 

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen Door from Entry (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen Door from Entry (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen Door from Entry (After)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen Door from Entry (After)

The next design challenge was to simultaneously maintain the size of the kitchen while maximize its storage and making it more manageable for 2-3 people working in it. Being that there wasn't any room to expand, without losing the integrity of the formal dining room, this did take a little structural engineering and creative thinking on the part of the plumber, the heating duct specialist, and the carpenter but it was well worth it. We were able to keep the original heating location and painted wood paneling in the dining room and by providing a peninsula instead of an island we increased useable counter space, created work zones for a 3-person kitchen and invited guests to participate in the meal preparations without crowding the cook. 

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen (Before)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen (After)

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian, Kitchen (After)

Imagine, holiday dinners with the whole family, children rolling dough and cutting cookies, grandma roasting turkey and making her famous macaroni-n-cheese, dad washing dishes while talkative aunts and uncles are sitting at the counter with the latest "news" all without bumping elbows, stepping on toes or colliding with a serving platter full of delicious home-made goodies sliding off onto the floor!

View more photos and storage details in this project's portfolio

Design to Build On

One experience that makes me unique in the remodeling and design community is my time designing homes as an employee of Winans Construction Inc, a Design Build company out of Oakland, CA. Past National NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) President and SFBA NARI (San Francisco Bay Area) chapter presidents, Paul Winans & his very organized wife Nina have since retired remodeling homes, but their legacy lives on as they continue to come along side professional contractors via  and Remodelers Advantage, training them how to serve their clients with the highest integrity. 

Berkeley LaCasita Home Office

Berkeley LaCasita Home Office

Why is this unusual? Most Architects and Designers have very little hands-on experience with the designs they create. Now while I wasn't hammering nails or pouring concrete, I was present and available for answering questions about oddities that might come up such as framing being in the way that prevents the recessed light fixture or the shower valve and controls to be installed correctly. I was there to look for fine details and relationships, in tile placement and alignment for example. Keeping the completed project in mind so that in the end there were fewer items on the "final punch list" and no major do-over installation work to allow the homeowners to move back in on time.

Now as an independent kitchen and bath designer through Design Set Match I'm not a general contractor, but I do continue to offer the detailed focus that is necessary for a successful remodel. I like to work with general contractors who truly follow a team approach, who keep a detailed schedule of the project and who plan everything out as much as possible before starting construction. 

The team approach starts with Schematic Design. The Schematic Design phase gives me an opportunity to get to know you and your home better and I often connect homeowners with a couple of general contractors who truly care and value the new design you've work so hard come up with. I will have measured and drawn your existing rooms and created a couple of remodeled alternate options in my computer. During that time, I encourage my clients to connect with contractors, and as I’ve mentioned before in my article “Do I Really Need Three Bids?” have initial conversations and possibly get a ballpark cost (not a bid). Use this time to interview and narrow down your choices for whom you might want to work with.  If you have already selected your contractor that's great! I'd like to invite them to our appointment to review the schematic designs. 

El Cerrito Traditional Hall Bath

El Cerrito Traditional Hall Bath

In the Design Process and Construction Preparation phases, our next steps will include selecting the materials you will actually use in your kitchen or bathroom.  While the contractor generally isn't involved much here, I will be providing them with a detailed list of materials, quotes and data/specification sheets so we can discuss possible concerns early. I like to go to your home to walk through the project with the contractor and their trade contractors. Occasionally there is a concern for the electrical load on the existing wiring and coordinating with PG&E, or reusing fresh water plumbing supply lines and the plumber may recommend bringing a new supply line from the main at the street. Having these conversations now sets up expectations and reduces stressful and costly unforeseen circumstances after construction has started. This also provides your contractor with accurate information so they can provide you with a fixed price contract, as I've recommended before in "Decisions and Consequences". All to often homeowners are suckered by the "lowest bid" only to realize that the “allowances” the contractor provided were far from realistic and end up costing thousands more than what they had expected.

During construction the contractor is "in charge" of managing their team, but I schedule site visits to see and help understand specific aspects. Much as I did while working on the Winans Construction team, I act as a guide who focuses on the end of the project while answering homeowner and contractor questions regarding framing, electrical, plumbing and tile layout. Unfortunately this can break down when contractors are not organized with their schedules, are poor communicators and don't return phone calls or emails in a timely manner. I try to eliminate this as much as possible by reaching out to them often and working with them earlier in the process rather than later so that we have built a relationship on trust and mutual respect especially if we haven't worked together before. 

My goal is not to push any contractor under a bus, nor is it to be pushed. It is to create a beautiful new space for you to live in happily for years. Pointing fingers and passing blame is not my objective. Let's work together to design and build your home in away that is satisfying to everyone on the team especially you.

 


"I Wanted to Save Money and..."

How familiar is this to all of us? I often do this for something simple like trying to find gluten-free ingredients in Whole Foods so I can make a special cake for a friend. Not a big deal, there’s only about five minutes lost searching for the ingredients before I get the gumption to talk to an associate and theres on extra money involved. 

My mechanic at Piedmont Autocare told me about one of his customers whose car had a major oil leak. Instead of fixing it or buying a new car she'd simply refill it over and over again to delay "spending money". Ok, so probably a few thousand dollars were spent for the multiple quarts purchased over a period of time, not to mention the effect on the environment, but it wasn't like spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. What do you think, did she actually save?

Before Kitchen, Alameda Victorian (note this kitchen had been this way for 10+ years due to over enthusiasm without a plan)

Before Kitchen, Alameda Victorian (note this kitchen had been this way for 10+ years due to over enthusiasm without a plan)

Lately I've been contacted by several homeowners through Houzz and Yelp who have also tried to save money, their contractor has already started demolition and may have even started reconstruction yet have nothing to install and their timeline completion date is two weeks away! One said "I should have contacted you earlier, but I kind of wanted to save money and tried to select everything by myself, but I failed... Sad face." I'm not writing this to put them in a bad light, rather I know many homeowners like yourself who are spending $50,000 - $150,000 yet succumb to this same pitfall and I hope that you can learn from another's experience. 

So how do you decide if you need an interior design professional to work with? First, ask yourself a few questions and be honest with your answer.

What are you willing to invest in your kitchen or bath remodel?

  • What is my financial state and where am I funding my remodel from?
    • It’s all saved up and set aside and there is room to be flexible
    • I'm getting a second mortgage or home loan and my max spending has been approved
    • I'm using credit cards to get the miles and I can make regular payments so it's not an issue
  • What is my schedule and availability to work alone or with a kitchen and bath designer?
    • I'm a stay at home parent with a flexible schedule and my spouse is almost always at work
    • I'm single and I work long hours and I only have Saturdays open
    • My spouse and I both work long hours, but we can occasionally take a few hours off during the week
    • My family is constantly on the go, between work, kids sports and other activities, and my volunteer work, I have no idea when I'll be able to make my remodel happen

Have you remodeled in the past?

  • How did it go?
    • Was the end result something you are proud of?
    • Did I do it by myself, let my contractor dictate or work with a designer before hand?
    • Is there anything I would've done differently if only I...?
    • Did it look professional or like I did it myself?

Now weigh out the true cost implications to your life

  • What is your time worth / how much do you get paid an hour?
    • If you were to miss work for full 8 hour days at a time what would that cost you?
  • What kind of connections and resources do you have to go to great showrooms the first time?
    • Will you be visiting 3 or more of the same type of showroom for tile, lighting, cabinets etc?
  • If you were to work with someone who does this every day, how do you think your time spent might vary compared to being on your own?
    • Hint: I typically work with homeowners in 3 hour increments and around 4 different showroom visits
    • Or we have a discussion and use the Houzz ideabooks so that I can act as their personal shopper and bring back possible solutions to discuss at a more ideal time
After Kitchen, Alameda Victorian

After Kitchen, Alameda Victorian

When should you start selecting materials? Right away (as in weeks or months before your contractor has started to demolish your existing space) with these steps

  1. It may be in your subconscious at first. Start with a Houzz ideabook as I've described a few weeks ago in my article "Houzz???".
  2. Go through a schematic design to layout your space. Maybe it's not changing locations all that much, that's ok, do something to help you visualize anything that isn't your out-dated, falling apart, dirty looking, cluttered kitchen or bath that you have now
  3. Make a detailed list of all the parts and pieces you think you need, then add the many more parts and pieces you didn't know you need
  4. Make a list of reputable showrooms like my favorite, Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery
  5. Contact the showrooms, make an appointment with a sales associate and go shopping!

Remodeling your home for the first or last time should be enjoyable and rewarding. What you invest and value is relevant to what you receive. 

 

Do I Really Need Three Bids?

The short answer is no, however the Contractors State Liscense Board (CSLB) says"Yes". Discrepancy? Not really. 

Alameda Victorian kitchen

Alameda Victorian kitchen

What the CSLB is trying to do is help protect you, the consumer. Too often homeowners like yourself decide to use the first "nice guy" contractor they meet to remodel their kitchens and bathrooms. Unfortunately an overwhelming number, seniors and younger generations alike, are taken advantage of by unlicensed, expired or even shared license contractors who take excessive time in completing the remodel and usually increase the cost by nickel and diming "unforeseen" circumstances that they really should've been aware of and all too often these "nice guys" disappear never to be found or finish the work you've already paid them to do. The CSLB isn't recommending that you do this practice of getting bids just so you can find the lowest bidder. In fact it's the mere opposite. Doing the bidding process will illuminate for you who has listened and payed attention to your needs, home, budget and other details vs who it trying to be the lowest bidder. Typically the lowest bidder has not made a clear detailed description of the work they will be doing for you, how long it will take and fixed costs, sometimes they even have asingle page contract that generically says "remodel kitchen".

So why do I disagree with the CSLB regarding bids? Honestly it's because you can vett the good contractors out more easily. Start with a conversation. Ask your interior designer or architect for recommended professionals they have relationships with. Ask them why they think the contractors they are recomending might be right for you. During the Schematic Design Process, I often recommend a couple of contractors for the homeowners to meet. Occasionally I haven't worked with them before in a home, but I've built a relationship with them through the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and I've had great feedback about them and their work from colleges and past clients. More often than not I have worked with them on some remarkably transforming spaces. 

Main things I look for and recommend you look for too:

Lafayette Cottage Traditional Kitchen

Lafayette Cottage Traditional Kitchen

Trust

  • How do I feel in there presence
  • How do the things they say about their business model and process align with my core values? 
  • What is my basic gut feeling? It's okay to say it's not a good fit based on this alone.

 

Practical

  • What will they be like to work with as a designer and as a homeowner? 
  • Do they speak contractor over my head terminology or can they explain things in a way that I can easily understand? 
    • One of my pet-peeves is when experts in their field are my advisors, such as accountants and insurance professionals, and speak over my head in a lingo that is only specific to their career knowledge base.

 

Value

  • Pricing style:
    • Do they give a bid right after their first conversation with you based on random allowances?
      • How realistic could that really be?
    • Or do they offer a small contract to assess your home and provide a detailed construction contract with a fixed price?
      • In my experience this is the best path for a successful remodel.
  • Communication:
    • Does their construction contract provide a detailed list spelling out every fixture, faucet, work being done to re-wire and where etc?
    • Do they provide a construction schedule with their agreement outlining everything from where materials are ordered to when construction is expected to be completed?
    • Do they respond to emails and phone calls etc in a timely manner (generally 2 business days if they're not computer savy)? 
  • Finished product: 
    • Have you seen their recent work online or another portfolio?
    • Will they invite you to not only meet a past client but also see their project if you ask?
    • Did they pay attention to details or do you notice odd things that seem unfinished?

While there is nothing "wrong" with getting bids, we've seen how that can have a major negative impact in projects like the new San Francisco Bay Bridge from Oakland to San Francisco and the gigantic cost overruns! The most important thing to remember is that this is your home, who do you want to invite into your most private spaces?

Practically Artistic

Recently one of my friends posted an image on her Facebook page of an art piece from a collection entitled "Marriage" from while visiting the Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen by artists Elmgreen and Dragset

Artistic Statement About Plumbing

Artistic Statement About Plumbing

What caught my eye is that it plays with the typically less decorative parts of the plumbing system, the drain lines. As a kitchen and bath designer I strive to hide, conceal or blend in this "unsightly" portion of a kitchen or a bathroom, where as this artist is celebrating it! Through a little google image research, I discovered that while this first piece I was introduced to was simply decorative, The Hayward Gallery at Southbank Center in the UK actually has a commissioned working bathroom from the same concept for their men's restroom! 

Toilet Slide

Toilet Slide

Here in the United States, we try to avoid "unmentionables" especially when they concern our bodily waste. However, in asian countries, the toilet has been celebrated for years. Maybe that's why Toto is the leading manufacturer for high quality, low water consuming toilets? There is a Toilet-Shaped House in South Korea that was built to mark the 2007 inaugural meeting of the World Toilet Association, there has also been a slide and toilet exhibit in Japan for people to "experience being flushed" with spiral shaped brown hats on their heads at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. 

While this may not be the right fit for most of us, we should consider the full functionality of our homes.

  • Who cleans your home?
    • Is it you?
    • How long are you on your hands and knees wiping the crud from the base of your toilet?
  • What is your style?
    • Are you hoping for a traditional pedestal sink or a modern wall-mount bathroom vanity?
    • If so, how much of the drain/waste line (aka P-Trap named because of its shape like the letter) might be seen?
  • What is in the cabinet below your kitchen or bathroom sink?
    • Do those items need to be stored there?
    • Are you adding functional drawers or pull-outs for stuff?
    • Will you have a garbage disposer and chilled/hot water that will need some of that space to function?

There are a variety of realistic solutions for every household. 

Pull-Out Under Kitchen Sink

Pull-Out Under Kitchen Sink

  • Maybe a wall-mounted toilet or a one-piece toilet with a "skirt" that covers the pathway of the toilet waste could be a better solution for a quick bathroom wipe-down?
  • Possibly a decorative "Bottle-Trap" is the answer where waste lines may be visible in your remodel.
  • Space efficiency and maximization is key in most Bay Area kitchen and baths. Working out details with your plumber early is essential to have as much storage inside a sink base cabinet as well as fitting critical design elements like disposers and other features like instant hot water systems or the Grohe Blue sparkling water kitchen faucet combo.

How will your artistic sense influence your decisions, selections and soon to be beautiful home?

Houzz???

Maybe you haven't heard if it, Houzz (pronounced how-zz) is the digital equivalent of a home remodeling and decorating magazine. 

Kitchen & Bath Design News: Living Large in a Small Bath

Kitchen & Bath Design News: Living Large in a Small Bath

It use to be, that when I was going to meet homeowners who were considering remodeling their kitchen or bathroom for the first time, I would ask them to buy magazines and tear out only the pages they liked and recycle the rest. It was a very constructive communication tool but also wasteful of both the earth's resources and their money.

 

To use Houzz, you simply set up a free user account and then create an "ideabook". You can add the app to your web browser so that when you are on any website you can add those images to your idea book without being on the Houzz page, or you can search and browse with-in the Houzz site for images and add them from there. You can also download and use Houzz as an app on your Mobil devices! Be anywhere and daydream (not while driving please).

While this service has added a great many benefits it can still be overwhelming. Start by making an ideabook for just one room at a time, if you are doing a kitchen and two baths for example you will set up three "ideabooks". Many of the photos you will see are going to be of rooms that are bigger than your own. This is naturally to be expected as photographing smaller spaces can be very difficult. It's okay, use them anyway. You should be focusing on the big picture. Find rooms that give the feeling you want your kitchen or bathroom to have. You might find a really cool item like a light fixture or a faucet, but those details will come later and it's the reason you will work with an interior designer. 

As a designer I use these starter "ideabooks" to gain a better understanding of your personal style. During a complimentary consultation we will review photos of your existing home and talk about what is and is not working. We'll also review your ideabook and talk about why you like what you saved. Maybe it's the "light and airy" feeling, maybe it's "clutter free", maybe it is "zen" or "timeless". Which ever the reason, you saved each image, and the reasons are unique to you. As we contrast them with your existing circumstances, these give me insight into what might be right for your remodel. I often use these images as color inspiration for me as I create the initial schematic designs.

Design Set Match's Idea Book: San Francisco Edwardian

Design Set Match's Idea Book: San Francisco Edwardian

I also create ideabooks and use them throughout the design process to continue the conversation. Sometimes I will start creating it during schematic design. If I have a particularly challenging element to solve, maybe it's grab bars that look like towel bars, sometimes it's a unique way to open a shower door or simply a light fixture that would be an element of interest and I have included it in the drawings. I will save it in the "ideabooks" to keep me from needing to do double the research. I typically use it as a live document. Once we have had our first appointment in a showroom, I will add the selections you have chosen and the ones we have narrowed it down to so we can compare them side by side. Often homeowners don't have time to go to every showroom, and I will start to research various light fixtures and add them so you can delete the ones of no interest and give me feedback at any time of day, usually when your kids are asleep and you have some time to reflect comfortably or even during your lunch break.

The main rule of thumb to start your's is: Be open minded and look at the big picture not the details and don't overthink it. No more than an hour is needed for you daydream and save ideas to give a good sense of what might be right for you.

Should I Remodel or Move?

This is a tough question. Probably one of the most difficult that I come across and that I can only guide by asking more questions.

Alameda Mid-Century Modern - Kitchen : Before

Alameda Mid-Century Modern - Kitchen : Before

  • What is wrong with your home now?
  • Is your family growing, is a new baby expected or an aging parent moving in
  • Are there five people using your only bathroom?
  • Is your home falling apart at the seams?
  • Is tile falling off the shower walls?
  • Are the appliances the same age as your home steam is starting to warp the cabinets above your oven?
  • Are your energy bills over $400 a month?
  • Are you embarrassed when everyone squeezes into your kitchen and you are constantly shuffling around?
  • Do things fall on your head from above of the refrigerator when you open it because the cabinets above are unusable?
Alameda Mid-Century Modern - Kitchen : After

Alameda Mid-Century Modern - Kitchen : After

If you said yes to any of these, or perhaps you have another problem, then maybe remodeling is right for your home, but is it right for you and your family? This, unfortunately, is something that can really only be evaluated by you even when you get professional assistance from an interior designer, contractor and or realtor.

  •  What is the value of your home now? Even just a guess.
    • How does that compare to what you purchased it for?
    • Would you make, break even or lose money on selling now?
  • What is your neighborhood like?
    • Do you like it, do you have kids and are in a "good" school district?
    • If you moved would your kids need to change schools?
  • How much more would another home cost?
    • Would it already be remodeled or would you need to do upgrades before you moved in and essentially carry two mortgages until you did?
  • Have you talked with a realtor?
    • What did they have to say about your home now?
    • Do they think you would need to remodel it to sell at the "zestimated" value?
  • Do you like anything about your current home?
    • Would moving simply make all of your problems disappear?
  • Have you had conversations with a remodeling professional like a kitchen and bath designer or a general contractor?
    • What is the ballpark range of remodeling costs for your area?
    • Would it be more or less than the cost of moving including realtors/movers/staging fees etc?

Weigh out the pros and cons. Remodeling isn't for everybody. Maybe living in your home during construction would aggravate your child's asthma. Maybe the cost of living in a rental during construction is beyond your investment capabilities. What are you willing to invest in time as well as money? 

Richmond Heights Contemporary - Kitchen : Before

Richmond Heights Contemporary - Kitchen : Before

I recently met with someone who wanted to discuss remodeling their kitchen. They don't have a dishwasher and they enjoy hand-washing their dishes. They're not too happy with their new neighbors so they've started thinking of selling their flat in the next year. So should they remodel for the sake of having a dishwasher for resale even though it would involve new windows, electrical upgrades, and some major rework to their current space to maximize efficiency? They live in Berkeley and are in a great school district and family oriented neighborhood. Honestly, because the dishwasher is not an issue for them, and because the kitchen would most likely be remodeled by a new homeowner I recommended a different approach. What if we could "remodel" their kitchen for less than %1000? What if they did some minor handy-man work to improve the general cluttered feel of the space and we did a Schematic Design to provide the realtor with a hand-out to show the hidden potential so that they could make the space work for their personalities? Sometimes moving instead of remodeling is the right option.

Richmond Heights Contemporary - Kitchen : After

Richmond Heights Contemporary - Kitchen : After

We need a kitchen designer, not a kitchen salesperson.

Homeowners spend months trying to design their perfect kitchen or bathroom only to come up empty handed and overwhelmed.

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian

San Francisco Inner Sunset Victorian

They've spent hours sifting through Houzz, Pintrest and Google collecting inspirational ideas and clever tips. They start talking to contractors only to be told, "tell me what you want and where you want it". Often they have no idea where to start, and sometimes they download free "home design" apps that are slow and not as helpful in giving a realistic picture of their new space. Many walk into kitchen and bath fixture and cabinet showrooms or big-box stores, and come away disappointed by the experience of "being sold" because, naturally, they only design with the products they sell and their limited choices in design style. Sometimes it feels as though the sales oriented designer isn't even interested in good design, only increasing the dollar spent or they are not experienced enough to notice the important details.


Finding a "designer" is the easy part.  

You can search on Houzz, Google, Yelp, NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association), NARI (National association of the Remodeling Industry), IIDA (International Interior Design Association), ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) and other directories, but how do you narrow down the choices to find the right interior designer who doesn't act like a sales person? Ask questions and start with the basics. 

Berkeley Brown Shingle 

  • Have they worked in your area? 
  • Do you like some of the homes in their portfolio? 
  • What is their rating on Houzz, Yelp, Google+ etc? 
  • What do other professionals have to say about them, would they recommend them? 
  • Were you referred by a friend, did you like what you saw and heard as they remodeled their home? 
  • What about their website, does their process sound like what you would expect and enjoy? 

 

When you do decide to meet with a kitchen and bath designer for the first time, think about how you feel in their presence.

  • Is it easy to be relaxed in the conversation?
  • Are you doing most of the talking, are they listening and taking notes?
  • Or are they giving you "free" design and treating your project like a cookie cutter?
  • Do they offer a small design agreement so that you can "test drive" their ideas?
  • Do you feel that you can trust them?
  • Will they introduce you to general contractors and other professionals that they would trust to be in their own home?
  • Do they provide more than line drawings and show you what your remodel could really look like?
  • How do they speak of their competition? Do they bash them or are they cordial and appreciate other professionals, hint, this is a good indication of how they feel about their clients too

Computer Renderings

 

Ultimately, what is the deciding factor for you?

Do you look at the three-legged stool of remodeling and decide that the cheapest option is the best for you? Maybe a designer in a showroom working on commission might be the right fit after all. If speed or quality is your focus, an independent interior designer or a design-build company might be your best option. Whichever route you choose, trust is the essential ingredient. If for any reason you don't feel right or have a strange feeling about them you can politely end the conversation and let them know that it's simply not a good fit, thank them for their time and be on your way.


Glass Block

Berkeley has a hippie mentality reputation even more than San Franciscans, but boy, those wonderful crunchy granola folks can have some great ideas for reuse!

I was visiting a friend, who is also my bookkeeper, and she had found an awesome reuse solution for glass blocks! Yes, that stuff that was used in the 80's, instead of windows and walls, which provide privacy and solar heat in homes and offices all over the Bay Area. It's so simple, I'm surprised that I haven't come across it on Pintrest yet. She had one 10" block halved to make a leak free planter for her succulents. Perfect for a desk in need of a little freshly made oxygen.