Contractor

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.

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

San Francisco Design Center's and Historic Preservation

I have only recently become aware of the San Francisco Design Center being considered for historic preservation. My first thought? Excellent! These buildings need to be preserved, lets not lose them! But upon being more informed I am deeply saddened at the loop-holes that will tear apart this great institution. This article by the San Francisco Chronicle gives a balanced report, but ultimately it does mean the demise of something only large cities provide.

San Francisco Design Center

San Francisco Design Center

I'm not the most political person, I agree with the historic preservation of these buildings on Henry Adam's at the Division Circle and I love Pintrest. I don't agree with misuse of the historic preservation trailing policies that are allowing the building owners to force the San Francisco Design District into chaos. There needs to be balance. While I value Pintrest as a tool for homeowners and designers a like, to displace those who are in the building industry will only make things more difficult for homeowners in the along-run. The beauty of having a design district is to simplify and reduce the time it takes to visit showrooms, thus increasing the likelihood of higher costs to homeowners. Digital images are not something to be trusted when making the ultimate purchase for your kitchen or bathroom projects. You need to see, feel and operate if possible the items that you will be investing in and installing into your home.

What we need is to incorporate the building industries' technology partners and mesh showrooms and offices together, not push out. We need showrooms and office spaces integrated so that designers, architects and contractors as well as technology tenants can cohabitate and collaborate to being the best built homes to the public. 

We are San Francisco, would the New York Design district put up with this? Neither should we.


Muppet Theory

Last week at All Soul's Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, I listened to a sermon referencing Muppet Theory, based on the article published by Slate, in relation with the workings of the Holy Spirit . I started wondering "what kind of Muppet am I". Do I bring chaos or order as I interact with people?

Okay, I admit it, I took the Zimbio quiz previously via Facebook and it thought I was Gonzo. Yes, that lovable blue creature with the hooked nose who is somehow in a relationship with Camila the chicken. In general I'd say he brings chaos to the Muppet stage. Out of curiosity I retook the quiz and I was now the very organized stage manager Scooter. Oddly enough, all of this actually makes sense. 

Gonzo

Gonzo

As a kitchen and bath designer I bring both chaos and order to the lives of homeowners and contractors on a daily basis. Remodeling one's home is inherently going to bring chaos by losing the use of one or more room and simply moving out so as not to live in a construction zone is stressful. 

Designing a fresh new space also brings chaos. Some things I am continually balancing in my mind include: Can I relocate plumbing? Can I relocate walls? How can I increase storage and function in a small space without changing the walls? What new and efficient technologies can I introduce and what will be the impact on the budget and installation? So how do I find balance and relieve the remodeling stress for both the homeowner and their contractor? Through listening, checklists, documentation and clear communication.

Scooter

Scooter

I was recently working with two different clients who happened to work with the same architect and both found that he didn't provide adequate assistance in moving their project along so that the general contractor could provide an accurate budget and start construction with-in their timeline. Each had decided that they would take his incomplete materials list and "go shopping" on their own and both were quickly overwhelmed.

One, happens to be a personal friend, and started telling me her story and how stressful it was with her frequent travel schedule and her husband's long work hours. We quickly pulled together a plan to accomplish selecting the items she would need so that she could provide all of the necessary details and pricing to her contractor before she hopped onto the next plane. My other client let her contractor know the circles she was moving in without the results she was hoping for. He referred her to me, as we have worked together on previous projects. 

Decision making is often more difficult than we imagine. As we worked together to narrow down the possible options, through a process of elimination of style, taste, cost and comparison, their shoulders relaxed, their disposition was more cheery and over all, they had a better experience than they had ever imagined. And the bonus was that their contractors had less "work" to do to prepare their final budget and construction schedules because we were able to provide them detailed information and ready to purchase quotes.

Order brings a sense of peace to the chaos that is remodeling. This is the balance that a professional designer can bring, and maybe a Muppett too.