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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

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?