contractor

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.

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

"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: 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

"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?

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