kitchen

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.

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

Do I really need a permit? But I'm only doing...

Benjamin Franklin first attempted to safeguard homes with minimum standards for fireplace clearance requirements in 1735.

Benjamin Franklin first attempted to safeguard homes with minimum standards for fireplace clearance requirements in 1735.

What most people don't realize is that permits are there to protect you, the homeowner and the money you're investing into your home. It's a little like the safety nets and guide wires that trapeeze artists have, everyone hopes that there will be no need for them as they freely fly through the air and at the same time everyone is sitting a little more comfortably knowing that if they missed the catch it wouldn't end in a tragedy. 

Similarly, permits require that your remodel has been planned to acceptable safety (fire prevention, harmful sewer gasses and flooding for example) and efficiency standards (water and energy savings to prevent rolling blackouts and reduce wasteful clean water consumption for our drought ridden state) called codes and that your installers and contractors adhere to those regulations by having city and county expert officials visit and inspect at critical times. 

Often homeowners think this is too much of a hassle to deal with and that they shouldn't be bothered because "nothing is changing". How much more of a hassle is it if you are "caught" remodeling without a permit? What would the additional fines do to your budget? How might delays due to being "red flagged" affect your moving back in? Did you know you can lose money, possibly your entire remodeling investment, in reselling your home because you must disclose any remodeling work not done with the proper permitting?

While some jurisdictions may require a little more patience on the homeowner's part than others, you should have permits on every remodel you do. Some cities make it easy and have a FAQ's just for this. 

Visit these local agencies to see if You need a permit or your work is exempt exempt from permits...

Alameda Permit Center

Alameda Permit Center

So yes, if you're remodeling your bathroom and you're not moving plumbing locations, you need a permit, however if your simply replacing your toilet for a quick repair you usually don't. And yes, If you're remodeling your kitchen to give it a face-lift but you're keeping the kitchen cabinets you need a permit, but if you're just changing the flooring in your kitchen and freshening up the paint you usually don't.

When we try to work around the law it will only return four-fold to haunt your home. Remodel safely and get your contractor to pull permits for your kitchen or bathroom remodel, it may save lives as well as money.

Source: http://alamedaca.gov/permits

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

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

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.

 


"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?

Practically Artistic

Recently one of my friends posted an image on her Facebook page of an art piece from a collection entitled "Marriage" from while visiting the Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen by artists Elmgreen and Dragset

Artistic Statement About Plumbing

Artistic Statement About Plumbing

What caught my eye is that it plays with the typically less decorative parts of the plumbing system, the drain lines. As a kitchen and bath designer I strive to hide, conceal or blend in this "unsightly" portion of a kitchen or a bathroom, where as this artist is celebrating it! Through a little google image research, I discovered that while this first piece I was introduced to was simply decorative, The Hayward Gallery at Southbank Center in the UK actually has a commissioned working bathroom from the same concept for their men's restroom! 

Toilet Slide

Toilet Slide

Here in the United States, we try to avoid "unmentionables" especially when they concern our bodily waste. However, in asian countries, the toilet has been celebrated for years. Maybe that's why Toto is the leading manufacturer for high quality, low water consuming toilets? There is a Toilet-Shaped House in South Korea that was built to mark the 2007 inaugural meeting of the World Toilet Association, there has also been a slide and toilet exhibit in Japan for people to "experience being flushed" with spiral shaped brown hats on their heads at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. 

While this may not be the right fit for most of us, we should consider the full functionality of our homes.

  • Who cleans your home?
    • Is it you?
    • How long are you on your hands and knees wiping the crud from the base of your toilet?
  • What is your style?
    • Are you hoping for a traditional pedestal sink or a modern wall-mount bathroom vanity?
    • If so, how much of the drain/waste line (aka P-Trap named because of its shape like the letter) might be seen?
  • What is in the cabinet below your kitchen or bathroom sink?
    • Do those items need to be stored there?
    • Are you adding functional drawers or pull-outs for stuff?
    • Will you have a garbage disposer and chilled/hot water that will need some of that space to function?

There are a variety of realistic solutions for every household. 

Pull-Out Under Kitchen Sink

Pull-Out Under Kitchen Sink

  • Maybe a wall-mounted toilet or a one-piece toilet with a "skirt" that covers the pathway of the toilet waste could be a better solution for a quick bathroom wipe-down?
  • Possibly a decorative "Bottle-Trap" is the answer where waste lines may be visible in your remodel.
  • Space efficiency and maximization is key in most Bay Area kitchen and baths. Working out details with your plumber early is essential to have as much storage inside a sink base cabinet as well as fitting critical design elements like disposers and other features like instant hot water systems or the Grohe Blue sparkling water kitchen faucet combo.

How will your artistic sense influence your decisions, selections and soon to be beautiful home?

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.

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

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.


Everything Including the Kitchen Faucet

I'm sure you've heard the old saying, "everything including the kitchen sink" as a metaphor for packing too much. But in this instance, Grohe has packed almost everything you can imagine into the kitchen sink faucet and its a good thing! 

GROHE Blue® Chilled & Sparkling  Ultimate Refreshment.

GROHE Blue®
Chilled & Sparkling

Ultimate Refreshment.

In the world of kitchen remodeling, clutter is the enemy. Everyone wants a magic wand for making it impossible for them to put it all back when they move back in. But at the kitchen sink, we tend to add more during the remodel. First there is a faucet, followed by an air gap (required by code to prevent dirty sink water from back-flowing into the fresh water lines), and the aminity items that improve our way of functioning, air-touch disposer switch, soap dispenser and filtered water/instant-hot water dispenser. And on top of all that, we want our sparkling water small appliance like the "Sodastream" sitting on the counter too.

The Grohe Blue series now has a Chilled & Sparkling option. Not only can you have filtered water at the same tap, but you can make your own italian sodas too! When I asked the representative a few weeks ago I found out that they are beta-testing an instant-hot water feature in Europe (I'm holding out for this version). Its nice that this is on display and functioning at the Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery showroom where I have my office, I can have chilled and sparkling water anytime I like!


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.

What sink size works best?

This question was recently asked on Houzz.com.

Choosing the best sink for you is what is most important. Ask yourself some questions. Do you like to hand-wash your dishes? Are you Left or right handed? Do you have a separate prep sink for washing vegetables? Do you need a separate sink for veggies? What is the largest pot or pan that you need to fit into the sink? Will it only fit into a single bowl? Would a lower center divide work for both fitting your pots & pans as well as having the separate space?  What is the size of your sink cabinet ? Will a larger 50/50 (equally divided) work better than a smaller 50/50 version? If you don't have a large enough sink base for a equally divided sink, maybe one that is 40/60 (small bowl on left or right) may work better for your needs. 

Kohler: Anthem Cast-Iron K-5840-5-U

Kohler: Anthem Cast-Iron K-5840-5-U

One thing I can say definitively is that you should purchase the sink-bottom-grid for the bowl that will hold your dishes. It will keep them off the bottom which generally means that your large pots fit a little better, they won't block water from draining and your sink, as well as your dishes, will last longer without the extra scraping on the bottom. 

For more sink options described in this article, visit my Houzz ideabook.

Teamwork

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

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!