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.

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.


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


  • 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.



  • 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.



  • 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?


Remodeling projects excite me!

I love working with home owners to create functional and beautiful kitchens and bathrooms. The thrill of listening to their ideas and needs and working on creative ways to make as much of it come true as possible by assisting with materials selections and smoothing out the overwhelming decision making processes that take place prior to construction.

Yesterday was another wonderful part of this adventure. I had the opportunity to be with the general contractor, David Karp of City Structures during a site walk-through of the trade contractors. Even more exciting was that I was able to invite some of my favorite companies to work with! Collaboration is essential for a remodel to run smoothly. Not only was I able to meet these professionals, but we worked together to find solutions to some of the more complexities that need to be resolved before we apply for building permits.

What is a "Trade" and who did I invite? A Trades person/contractor (or sub contractor) is very specifically focused on the work that they do, a plumber, electrician or tile installer for example. Its fun to be on a team that isn't about being responsible for just their part, but has the ultimate goal of a fabulous bathroom in mind. I was glad to have the opportunity to invite some of my trusted trade partners, Lunt Marymor, Roberts Electric, Sarah Young Tiling and Sontag Construction, many of whom are NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) members.

Even more exciting is that this bathroom will be brought to life in the near future.   Go Team!

Alameda Natural Cove Master Bedroom Suite

Alameda Natural Cove Master Bedroom Suite