bay area

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.

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

Commando Shower and other Water Saving Techniques

Some regions are known for their weather, hot and humid in Georgia, cold and snowy in Minnesota, and rainy and grey in Seattle. California is no different, we are simply "weather-less" to the minds of people from the more extreme regions. Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, with our summer fog blowing in through the Marin headlands, past the golden gate up into the Berkeley hills and all our other microclimates, it is easy to forget the dry heat of the valleys, that though fruitful with crops can also seem like a dessert. In times of severe drought, California's governors have time and again called for conservation. Have you seen the EBMUD's (east bay municiple utilities district) billboards showing use of brooms instead of hosing the sidewalk? Have you heard the Water Sense radio ads for how boaters can save water so they can keep their boats in without getting stuck in the muck? Maybe you've even heard a Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A's recommending taking a "power shower"?

So if conserving water is their problem, isn't it ours too? Hetchhetchy water tastes great, until we run out and need to use wells filled with minerals that discolor and leave hard to clean spots on our cars and shower doors and that has a disgusting taste like Hanford water. So what can we do?

 

Effective cheap techniques (more men than women seem to prefer these)

Water Collection While Waiting For Hot Water

Water Collection While Waiting For Hot Water

  • Commando Shower: Turning the shower on, waiting for it to get up to temperature, getting wet, turning off the water, lathering up while getting goose bumps, turning the water back on and fiddling around trying to get the temperature right again, rinsing off and being done in 5 minutes or less. Over twenty years ago a shower head was designed just for this purpose with a little "off" button on the shower head!
  • Bucket Brigade: Having a bucket, or several, in your bathroom hoping not to trip over them, filling them with cold water as you wait for the hot water to reach you from the water heater that is located at the other end of the house, picking the heavy bucket out of the tub or shower being careful not to spill gallons all over your floor or drop the thing on your toe and then enjoying a nice warm shower... Repeat per person in the house because the water cools off in the pipes in the 15-20 minutes it takes for you to dry off, get dressed and other essential getting ready time.
  • Let it Mellow: Applying only "if it's yellow", let urine and toilet paper sit and hang out in the toilet bowl for a few trips to the toilet, not enough to clog the system hopefully, then flush assuming your friends are friendly with this, otherwise expect them to flush or think your toilet may not be functioning and try to fix it for you, and scrubbing the toilet bowl more often due to bacteria that tries to make a new home for itself.
  • Sink Capture: Hand washing dishes in a bucket and reusing the dirty water in their toilet and over time having a toilet that clogs regularly and flushing mechanisms not working. Some pour this water into their gardens, more appropriately, but find that pests become attracted to the washed out food particles.

 

Mythological techniques (no unicorns or dragons to help these out)

E. Coli Bacteria in Black Water

E. Coli Bacteria in Black Water

  • Hand-washing dishes in the sink: many homeowners all over the Bay Area are still hand-washing their dishes, some simply don't have a dishwasher, others find it therapeutic but most believe they are being Eco conscious. What they don't realize is that even if they are washing in a bucket and collecting dishes in a sudsy place, while they rinse they actually use more water on average than they would using a dishwasher! Dishwashers today have been designed to use very little water, not only can they reach the scalding germ killing temperatures that are impossible by hand, but they precisely spray the water where it is needed and use small effecient and powerful streams of spray that push the grime off. They also have integrated little garbage disposers in them so that the particles get grinded up and sent out so that they're not spread all over onto other clean dishes.
  • Reusing all water is good: Water from the kitchen sink, and even washing machines especially for parents washing soiled diapers and changes of clothes is actually considered "black". Black water is a fabulous place for organisms to grow, hibernate and spread potential disease in food partials and grease. Grey water, called so because of its general coloring and lack of clarity, can be reclaimed immediately without needing to go to a major processing plant. This water may be from washing hands with environmental friendly soaps or using the washing maching with a regular cycle of clothes and can be used to flush toilets and water plants safely. There are elaborate systems plumbers can hook up to capture this potential waste and direct it to gardens and filtering collection tanks. There are also simple systems to connect bathroom sinks to toilets to avoide flushing potable drinking water directly down the drain.

 

Realistic techniques (approved by Berkeley and San Francisco hippies)

  • Basic: Water Sense and PG & E have a great websites with simple cost effective techniques that are safe and relationship friendly.

What if you're already Planning to remodel? 

Toto Drake II, 1 Gallon per Flush (GPF)

Toto Drake II, 1 Gallon per Flush (GPF)

  • Select water saving fixtures and faucets start with dual flush toilets and low flow toilets, Toto has one that is 1GPF (gallon per flush)! 
  • How about the shower head? Yes, you can still feel luxurious as water rushes down covering your whole body, has enough pressure to rinse out your hair and saves water! No need for those commando showers boys!  That being said, for those who like to turn the water off mid-shower, I recommend getting a thermostatic shower valve. This measures how warm the water is and maintains that temperature during your shower without losing pressure when someone in another part of your home runs the dishwasher or flushes a toilet.
  • Shorten your wait time for hot water. Ask your plumber if an on-demand or tankless hot water heater just outside your bathroom, or even under the sink makes sense for your home and situation. Another cost effective option might be to use a recirculating pump which pushes the cold water from the hot water line into the cold water line until hot water is a few seconds from your sink or shower without changing the temperature of the water in your cold water line, it's a neat trick!

I'm curious, how might your thinking have changed about saving water? Please add your comments.


The Disneyland Effect

What is the #1 thing homeowners are looking for in their remodeling process?

Simplicity.

Unfortunately, this is the complete opposite experience that even the best showrooms have to offer. In a continuing education course this week I was reminded of the clutter experienced by someone who walks in for the first time. Its so easy to to be overwhelmed! Homeowners who work with me have often experienced this before discovering me. They have tried to select or shop for their materials (plumbing fixtures, cabinets, tile, lighting fixtures etc) on their own. They have walked into some fabulous and not so fabulous places only to turn around and leave equally because there are too many choices and they are afraid of making the wrong one. For example, did you know there are 1000 different granite possibilities for your countertops? And thats not counting all of the other countertop possibilities like marbles and man-made options. I often refer to this as the Disneyland Effect.  

Disney's Main Street USA

Disney's Main Street USA

Imagine. You've just walked through the gates of the "Happiest Place on Earth" and instantly you have emotionally shrunk down to the size of a child. You're excited and intimidated, you feel like you should know where to go, and at the same time feel lost on where to start. You take a few steps in wonderment, looking around in every direction with an almost bobble-head bounce and with every step you continue to emotionally shrink and don't feel as happy as you had hoped. You find and check a map to collaborate with your group and decide where to go first. Once you've made it through the Main Street gauntlet the Wonderful World of Walt's dreams is opened up to a seemingly limitless expanse. But now you have your guide and a starting point and because and thats what you do. You keep yourself from going on all the other attractions before getting to that first destination. After you have had your first fun attraction experience you are at easy, you feel empowered you can explore the many nooks of delight without fear. It is now the happy place that was promised. At the end of the day you leave a little exhausted from all of your hard work, relieved that you were able to conquer the beginning frustrations and satisfied as you walk hand-in-hand smiling and wearing your mouse ears proudly.

Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery

Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery

The same is true of the showroom experience, only there are sales persons as guides. Of course, we have all been trained by our parents not to "trust" sales people. Yes, while some of them can have the "used car salesman" approach, most are simply overly trained in all of the product details, and they often try to teach homeowners which adds to the overwhelming feeling. This is where the team approach provides a more positive experience. The homeowners I work with are also needing a guide and a starting point. Someone who will help to narrow down the choices quickly and simply. Someone who is not "trying to sell" the most expensive items to bump up their commission and who can work with the product educated showroom associate side by side. Someone who has the full picture in mind even when the homeowner can't fully picture everything in their own mind yet. In the end, they may be a little tired, after all making decisions is hard work. They go home and have a good night's sleep. They are confident in their choices and comfortably at ease in knowing that the next showroom they walk-into to finish their bathroom or kitchen materials selections will be a smooth experience too.

"Just a Toilet"

Over the past 14 years I've helped Bay Area homeowners select the right faucets and fixtures for their bathroom remodels, the majority of the time they tell me "this will be easy, it's just a toilet". And then they walk into the showroom to start their comparison and see the options in rows upon row.

Sure, you're basic toilet needs to function in one way, remove our biological waste as fast as possible so that we leave no trace of our unmentionable left overs from our digestive systems. The options come in in a mirage of ways and asking questions is the best way to narrow them down. How tall are you? How difficult is it for you to sit and stand? What is your consciousness of water usage? How much water are you trying to save? Who cleans the bathroom? Are their small children in your home who's aim is yet to be perfected? And so many more. 

What about personal hygiene? This is where the bidet comes in. The French invention designed for bathing our lower private parts without taking a full bath. Who really wants to take off all their clothes past their ankles to sit on cold porcelain backwards so that they can splash soap and water on themselves? And who really wants to dedicate another almost 3' of space to a non-storage fixture to sit right beside the toilet that they don't want to think about in the first place? Thankfully Toto, a Japanese company, and others have designed the bidet seat or Washlet (they have even made one for travel, now thats smart!). Simply use the toilet as usual and push a button to enjoy a warm cleansing rinse without the extra work of undressing or a cold seat! 

Homeowners I work with who choose this option are typically retired and are planning to live in their home as long as possible or they have an aging parent moving in who has trouble reaching after using the toilet. Others have experienced them on their travels across the world and have found that they are a relaxing part of using the restroom. For this reason it is my practice to design an electrical outlet near the toilet for a bidet seat, even if it may be a future amenity.

Now tech enthusiasts and moms of young children will love the next phase in the bidet evolution. It's the Toto Neorest. This toilet is simple, has clean lines, no extra nooks and cranny's so it's easy wipe down to keep clean. It's as close to Jetsons age as I have seen for homes. The lid opens upon walking up to it, it's seat is warmed. It will even flush and quietly close the seat and lid when you walk away! Oh, did I mention its virtually "self-cleaning"? With ewater technology they electrolyze a mist of water which the system sends into the bowl to disinfect after each use and after an 8 hour period of stillness.

Feeling refreshed isn't reserved for shower and bath-time anymore!

ps. If you would like to test one out for your self, come by the Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery showroom in Oakland!


Sleep Safety

No matter where you live, whether its San Francisco, Alameda, or Berkeley, one code requirement remains the same. Smoke detectors are required inside and outside of each bedroom. Its not that the building inspectors really want to checkout your whole house, it is a safety precaution. Even if you are "just remodeling a kitchen or small bathroom" it is something that all building departments are responsible for. Its a good thing, big brother is actually looking out for your best interest for a change. Does this mean that you need to re-wire your entire house to put in a fancy hardwired system that alerts the fire department? In most cases, no. Requirements of that kind are usually reserved for new construction or when a certain percentage of your home is being worked on.

So what are your options? You could run to the hardware store and purchase the lowest costing model off the shelf, or you could go to the Mac Store and drool over the Apple computers and iStuff to buy a Nest model with its sleek design. The drawback to the Nest is that it is now a Google owned company and they have been able to turn its sensing features into more personal anylitics for their marketing strategies. I have done some research recently because my Apple employed clients are anti-Google-tracking, especially when it comes to your coming and going in your home just because you wake in the night to use the toilet. 

First Alert Photoelectric Smoke and CO Combo Alarm with Voice PC900V

First Alert Photoelectric Smoke and CO Combo Alarm with Voice PC900V

You may be aware of the concerns about carbon monoxide during sleeping hours too. This is because its presence will actually cause drowsiness  and if you are already asleep you are not very likely to notice any difference in your ability to take in the required oxygen to continue to breath. So how can you keep your newly remodeled home less cluttered without sacrificing your safety? First Alert has a wonderful, clean and simple combination detector that is photo sensitive to detecting smoke and has an active voice. Its the  PC900V, it will tell you which alarm is going off with words, it will also tell you when its battery is getting low so that you don't end up taking it down in the middle of the night and never returning it to its post. Its affordable too, you can buy it directly from their website or in most local hardware stores like Ace.

Now you can sleep safely in style without the concerns of the big G knowing even more about your hourly habits.     Nighty night!