interior designer

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

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?

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.

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.