team

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.

 


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.