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


  • 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.



  • 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.



  • 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?


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.

Glass Block

Berkeley has a hippie mentality reputation even more than San Franciscans, but boy, those wonderful crunchy granola folks can have some great ideas for reuse!

I was visiting a friend, who is also my bookkeeper, and she had found an awesome reuse solution for glass blocks! Yes, that stuff that was used in the 80's, instead of windows and walls, which provide privacy and solar heat in homes and offices all over the Bay Area. It's so simple, I'm surprised that I haven't come across it on Pintrest yet. She had one 10" block halved to make a leak free planter for her succulents. Perfect for a desk in need of a little freshly made oxygen.

Commando Shower and other Water Saving Techniques

Some regions are known for their weather, hot and humid in Georgia, cold and snowy in Minnesota, and rainy and grey in Seattle. California is no different, we are simply "weather-less" to the minds of people from the more extreme regions. Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, with our summer fog blowing in through the Marin headlands, past the golden gate up into the Berkeley hills and all our other microclimates, it is easy to forget the dry heat of the valleys, that though fruitful with crops can also seem like a dessert. In times of severe drought, California's governors have time and again called for conservation. Have you seen the EBMUD's (east bay municiple utilities district) billboards showing use of brooms instead of hosing the sidewalk? Have you heard the Water Sense radio ads for how boaters can save water so they can keep their boats in without getting stuck in the muck? Maybe you've even heard a Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A's recommending taking a "power shower"?

So if conserving water is their problem, isn't it ours too? Hetchhetchy water tastes great, until we run out and need to use wells filled with minerals that discolor and leave hard to clean spots on our cars and shower doors and that has a disgusting taste like Hanford water. So what can we do?


Effective cheap techniques (more men than women seem to prefer these)

Water Collection While Waiting For Hot Water

Water Collection While Waiting For Hot Water

  • Commando Shower: Turning the shower on, waiting for it to get up to temperature, getting wet, turning off the water, lathering up while getting goose bumps, turning the water back on and fiddling around trying to get the temperature right again, rinsing off and being done in 5 minutes or less. Over twenty years ago a shower head was designed just for this purpose with a little "off" button on the shower head!
  • Bucket Brigade: Having a bucket, or several, in your bathroom hoping not to trip over them, filling them with cold water as you wait for the hot water to reach you from the water heater that is located at the other end of the house, picking the heavy bucket out of the tub or shower being careful not to spill gallons all over your floor or drop the thing on your toe and then enjoying a nice warm shower... Repeat per person in the house because the water cools off in the pipes in the 15-20 minutes it takes for you to dry off, get dressed and other essential getting ready time.
  • Let it Mellow: Applying only "if it's yellow", let urine and toilet paper sit and hang out in the toilet bowl for a few trips to the toilet, not enough to clog the system hopefully, then flush assuming your friends are friendly with this, otherwise expect them to flush or think your toilet may not be functioning and try to fix it for you, and scrubbing the toilet bowl more often due to bacteria that tries to make a new home for itself.
  • Sink Capture: Hand washing dishes in a bucket and reusing the dirty water in their toilet and over time having a toilet that clogs regularly and flushing mechanisms not working. Some pour this water into their gardens, more appropriately, but find that pests become attracted to the washed out food particles.


Mythological techniques (no unicorns or dragons to help these out)

E. Coli Bacteria in Black Water

E. Coli Bacteria in Black Water

  • Hand-washing dishes in the sink: many homeowners all over the Bay Area are still hand-washing their dishes, some simply don't have a dishwasher, others find it therapeutic but most believe they are being Eco conscious. What they don't realize is that even if they are washing in a bucket and collecting dishes in a sudsy place, while they rinse they actually use more water on average than they would using a dishwasher! Dishwashers today have been designed to use very little water, not only can they reach the scalding germ killing temperatures that are impossible by hand, but they precisely spray the water where it is needed and use small effecient and powerful streams of spray that push the grime off. They also have integrated little garbage disposers in them so that the particles get grinded up and sent out so that they're not spread all over onto other clean dishes.
  • Reusing all water is good: Water from the kitchen sink, and even washing machines especially for parents washing soiled diapers and changes of clothes is actually considered "black". Black water is a fabulous place for organisms to grow, hibernate and spread potential disease in food partials and grease. Grey water, called so because of its general coloring and lack of clarity, can be reclaimed immediately without needing to go to a major processing plant. This water may be from washing hands with environmental friendly soaps or using the washing maching with a regular cycle of clothes and can be used to flush toilets and water plants safely. There are elaborate systems plumbers can hook up to capture this potential waste and direct it to gardens and filtering collection tanks. There are also simple systems to connect bathroom sinks to toilets to avoide flushing potable drinking water directly down the drain.


Realistic techniques (approved by Berkeley and San Francisco hippies)

  • Basic: Water Sense and PG & E have a great websites with simple cost effective techniques that are safe and relationship friendly.

What if you're already Planning to remodel? 

Toto Drake II, 1 Gallon per Flush (GPF)

Toto Drake II, 1 Gallon per Flush (GPF)

  • Select water saving fixtures and faucets start with dual flush toilets and low flow toilets, Toto has one that is 1GPF (gallon per flush)! 
  • How about the shower head? Yes, you can still feel luxurious as water rushes down covering your whole body, has enough pressure to rinse out your hair and saves water! No need for those commando showers boys!  That being said, for those who like to turn the water off mid-shower, I recommend getting a thermostatic shower valve. This measures how warm the water is and maintains that temperature during your shower without losing pressure when someone in another part of your home runs the dishwasher or flushes a toilet.
  • Shorten your wait time for hot water. Ask your plumber if an on-demand or tankless hot water heater just outside your bathroom, or even under the sink makes sense for your home and situation. Another cost effective option might be to use a recirculating pump which pushes the cold water from the hot water line into the cold water line until hot water is a few seconds from your sink or shower without changing the temperature of the water in your cold water line, it's a neat trick!

I'm curious, how might your thinking have changed about saving water? Please add your comments.

What Size Tile Should I use?

Should the tile on shower walls be bigger than bathroom floor tiles?

There are no real rules regarding tile sizes. Ultimately, the tile on the floor should be less slippery, and if you do a standard drain in the shower you will have fewer cuts if you use something that is 4" or smaller. Linear drains have really opened up the possibility of using larger tiles on the shower floor because you can now slope the floor in one direction instead of from all four corners.
As far as aesthetics, go with your gut. When you are looking at tiles in the showrooms and on displays and even on Houzz, do some comparisons to see what you ultimately like. For instance, if you are doing a traditional bathroom, do you like a smaller "octagon and dot" or a "basket weave" pattern on the floor with a rectangular "subway tile" on the walls? Or do you prefer a larger square tile on the floor set in a diagonal pattern with the subway tile instead?

Berkeley Traditional Universal Design (small 9x7 Bathroom)  Photography by Treve Johnson

Berkeley Traditional Universal Design (small 9x7 Bathroom)

Photography by Treve Johnson

Helpful hint: for a small bathroom, try to avoid using a tile that is approximately 12" x 12". Whether you are conscious of it or not, it is a size we are all accustom to; for example most of us look at and hold 8.5 x 11 paper daily and it is almost the same size, it becomes easy to tell and feel if a room is small. I recommend using larger tiles like 12" x 24", 18" x 18" or smaller tiles like the "basket-weave" pattern in this small bathroom in Berkeley or even simply having the 12" x 12" tile installed on a diagonal or off-set in a "cobblestone" pattern. 

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.

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?


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.

San Francisco Design Center's Historic Preservation on Pause

San Francisco Design Center

San Francisco Design Center

About a month ago I had discovered that the San Francisco Design Center was in a land development pickle. Now I am pleased to see that district supervisor Malia Cohen has stood her ground! 

She also agrees that the design district buildings deserve landmark designation but not at the cost of its current tenants. 

While I love Pintrest, this issue has nothing to do with them except that they were the big name tech company in the running for this space. These couple of blocks of street was named after Henry Adams for a reason, and that history for the design center is key for all in the remodeling industry and homeowners too. 

This follow-up story by SF Gate is clearly stating everything. Check it out. Oh and if you are in her voting district, I hear she is up for re-election, please consider supporting her in the polls for doing there right thing for her community and yours!

It's Not your Grandmother's Grab Bar

Bathroom safety is a designer's top priority with function and style running a close second. You may have heard the commercials saying "I've fallen and I can't get up!". Well, its a more serious topic than the silly commercials leave you to believe. Many seniors fall in tubs and showers and opt to sponge bathe for years rather than take a chance at being that person crying for help. The market is littered with ugly grab bars, suction-cup attaching things and other white plastic hospital style temporary safety stuff which gives bathroom safety a bad name. 

Its my job to tell you that grab-bars are not just for seniors! They are for everybody, and they don't have to be an eyesore to your newly remodeled home!

I recently had a client in her 40's comment "you must think I'm old". In truth, I had not considered her age when I told her that I was recommending a grab bar in her shower. What I had considered was basic human experience. I use a grab bar every day, and yes, I'm only 36. It is easy to over heat ourselves while relaxing in a warm bath or under a hot steamy shower and become dizzy. When we have the flue, or simply don't feel good we are even more prone to needing a little assistance, whether it's to sit down or step out or simply shaving our legs. When I was pregnant, with our now 3.5 year old, I was even more sensitive and even kept the bathroom door open so that my husband could hear if I collapsed.

It could happen to anybody. Have you ever stepped out of the bath only to accidentally grab the towel bar just to have it bend out and fall from being under very little weight? Have you ever stepped into the shower and grab onto the hand-shower bar? Of course, we all do, its a natural tendency. So why fight it?

Now in my best "info-mercial voice" But wait, there's more! 

Ginger Kubic Grab-Bar with Squared Corners

Ginger Kubic Grab-Bar with Squared Corners

Watermark Designs Loft Adjustable Sliding Hand-Shower Mount

Watermark Designs Loft Adjustable Sliding Hand-Shower Mount

Delta Contemporary Tissue Holder with Assist Bar

Delta Contemporary Tissue Holder with Assist Bar

Style doesn't need to be sacrificed! Ginger Co, Watermark Designs, Delta Faucet and many other companies at all ends of the cost spectrum, have designed grab-bars that essentially match their towel bars. Check them out, reach out and touch them if you can, the Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery showroom in Oakland has just installed a couple of these beauties in their live bathrooms. You'll find that they have a larger diameter than the average towel bar but otherwise, they have the same mounting trim detail as the rest of the accessories for your bathroom. Ginger was one of the first to provide aesthetically pleasing designs, Watermark Designs has integrated their vertical hand-shower slide-bar into a grab bar to make it more useful and Delta has taken the next step and integrated an "assist bar" into their towel bars and even their toilet-paper holders!

"Just a Toilet"

Over the past 14 years I've helped Bay Area homeowners select the right faucets and fixtures for their bathroom remodels, the majority of the time they tell me "this will be easy, it's just a toilet". And then they walk into the showroom to start their comparison and see the options in rows upon row.

Sure, you're basic toilet needs to function in one way, remove our biological waste as fast as possible so that we leave no trace of our unmentionable left overs from our digestive systems. The options come in in a mirage of ways and asking questions is the best way to narrow them down. How tall are you? How difficult is it for you to sit and stand? What is your consciousness of water usage? How much water are you trying to save? Who cleans the bathroom? Are their small children in your home who's aim is yet to be perfected? And so many more. 

What about personal hygiene? This is where the bidet comes in. The French invention designed for bathing our lower private parts without taking a full bath. Who really wants to take off all their clothes past their ankles to sit on cold porcelain backwards so that they can splash soap and water on themselves? And who really wants to dedicate another almost 3' of space to a non-storage fixture to sit right beside the toilet that they don't want to think about in the first place? Thankfully Toto, a Japanese company, and others have designed the bidet seat or Washlet (they have even made one for travel, now thats smart!). Simply use the toilet as usual and push a button to enjoy a warm cleansing rinse without the extra work of undressing or a cold seat! 

Homeowners I work with who choose this option are typically retired and are planning to live in their home as long as possible or they have an aging parent moving in who has trouble reaching after using the toilet. Others have experienced them on their travels across the world and have found that they are a relaxing part of using the restroom. For this reason it is my practice to design an electrical outlet near the toilet for a bidet seat, even if it may be a future amenity.

Now tech enthusiasts and moms of young children will love the next phase in the bidet evolution. It's the Toto Neorest. This toilet is simple, has clean lines, no extra nooks and cranny's so it's easy wipe down to keep clean. It's as close to Jetsons age as I have seen for homes. The lid opens upon walking up to it, it's seat is warmed. It will even flush and quietly close the seat and lid when you walk away! Oh, did I mention its virtually "self-cleaning"? With ewater technology they electrolyze a mist of water which the system sends into the bowl to disinfect after each use and after an 8 hour period of stillness.

Feeling refreshed isn't reserved for shower and bath-time anymore!

ps. If you would like to test one out for your self, come by the Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery showroom in Oakland!

Cleanliness is Friendliness

Fantini Rubinetti, I Balocchi Collection

Fantini Rubinetti, I Balocchi Collection

The term "Italian made" is considered a trademark for style, beauty and quality. In this case its funny looking, but apparently very popular. Fantini Rubinetti has brought back an original design with some "re-editing" from their line of "taps". Its the I Balocchi with its chunky cross handles in a rainbow of colors! These faucets are actually playing a major part in bring fresh water to those in need in Masango Burundi Africa through their "100 Fontane Fantini for Africa" campaign. This "pop-art" style faucet was first introduced in 1978. Starting in 2013 %100 of the profits from the sale of this collection will finance a new clean water fountain close to the villages so that children can spend their time in school and playing instead of carrying water. 

“Water is life”. African saying 

What sink size works best?

This question was recently asked on

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.

What Are Your Questions?

I'd like to write an article based on FAQ's regarding kitchen and bathroom remodeling.

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San Francisco Design Center's and Historic Preservation

I have only recently become aware of the San Francisco Design Center being considered for historic preservation. My first thought? Excellent! These buildings need to be preserved, lets not lose them! But upon being more informed I am deeply saddened at the loop-holes that will tear apart this great institution. This article by the San Francisco Chronicle gives a balanced report, but ultimately it does mean the demise of something only large cities provide.

San Francisco Design Center

San Francisco Design Center

I'm not the most political person, I agree with the historic preservation of these buildings on Henry Adam's at the Division Circle and I love Pintrest. I don't agree with misuse of the historic preservation trailing policies that are allowing the building owners to force the San Francisco Design District into chaos. There needs to be balance. While I value Pintrest as a tool for homeowners and designers a like, to displace those who are in the building industry will only make things more difficult for homeowners in the along-run. The beauty of having a design district is to simplify and reduce the time it takes to visit showrooms, thus increasing the likelihood of higher costs to homeowners. Digital images are not something to be trusted when making the ultimate purchase for your kitchen or bathroom projects. You need to see, feel and operate if possible the items that you will be investing in and installing into your home.

What we need is to incorporate the building industries' technology partners and mesh showrooms and offices together, not push out. We need showrooms and office spaces integrated so that designers, architects and contractors as well as technology tenants can cohabitate and collaborate to being the best built homes to the public. 

We are San Francisco, would the New York Design district put up with this? Neither should we.

Muppet Theory

Last week at All Soul's Episcopal Parish in Berkeley, I listened to a sermon referencing Muppet Theory, based on the article published by Slate, in relation with the workings of the Holy Spirit . I started wondering "what kind of Muppet am I". Do I bring chaos or order as I interact with people?

Okay, I admit it, I took the Zimbio quiz previously via Facebook and it thought I was Gonzo. Yes, that lovable blue creature with the hooked nose who is somehow in a relationship with Camila the chicken. In general I'd say he brings chaos to the Muppet stage. Out of curiosity I retook the quiz and I was now the very organized stage manager Scooter. Oddly enough, all of this actually makes sense. 



As a kitchen and bath designer I bring both chaos and order to the lives of homeowners and contractors on a daily basis. Remodeling one's home is inherently going to bring chaos by losing the use of one or more room and simply moving out so as not to live in a construction zone is stressful. 

Designing a fresh new space also brings chaos. Some things I am continually balancing in my mind include: Can I relocate plumbing? Can I relocate walls? How can I increase storage and function in a small space without changing the walls? What new and efficient technologies can I introduce and what will be the impact on the budget and installation? So how do I find balance and relieve the remodeling stress for both the homeowner and their contractor? Through listening, checklists, documentation and clear communication.



I was recently working with two different clients who happened to work with the same architect and both found that he didn't provide adequate assistance in moving their project along so that the general contractor could provide an accurate budget and start construction with-in their timeline. Each had decided that they would take his incomplete materials list and "go shopping" on their own and both were quickly overwhelmed.

One, happens to be a personal friend, and started telling me her story and how stressful it was with her frequent travel schedule and her husband's long work hours. We quickly pulled together a plan to accomplish selecting the items she would need so that she could provide all of the necessary details and pricing to her contractor before she hopped onto the next plane. My other client let her contractor know the circles she was moving in without the results she was hoping for. He referred her to me, as we have worked together on previous projects. 

Decision making is often more difficult than we imagine. As we worked together to narrow down the possible options, through a process of elimination of style, taste, cost and comparison, their shoulders relaxed, their disposition was more cheery and over all, they had a better experience than they had ever imagined. And the bonus was that their contractors had less "work" to do to prepare their final budget and construction schedules because we were able to provide them detailed information and ready to purchase quotes.

Order brings a sense of peace to the chaos that is remodeling. This is the balance that a professional designer can bring, and maybe a Muppett too.

New Office!

Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery

Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery

I am excited to announce that I am moving in with my favorite plumbing showroom, Jack London Kitchen and Bath Gallery! 2500 Embarcadero St., Suite F, Oakland, CA 94606 where I will be holding office hours from 10 am - 4:30 M-F by appointment.

As of Monday June 16th, I will have my office in the loft area of this fantastic showroom. Stop by and say "hello" or make an appointment and I can do what I do best as the "Sherlock of Design" by turning the overwhelming choices into an enjoyable experience in selecting what is just right for their function needs, style and budget while having fun.

Apple's Home Kit

Home automation gets easier with Apple's upcoming release of their "Home Kit"!

If you're anything like my husband, you have already watched the keynote address for the World Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) at Moscone Center in San Francisco. If so, this is old  news. But for most of us not so "with-it" tech people this is is still very exciting!

In the fall of 2014, Apple will be releasing its iOS 8 operating system for their mobile devices. While there are currently some deadbolts like the August Smart Lock and thermostats like ecobee's Smart SI with special apps,  this will include home automation that can open even your garage door simply by using Siri! Along with Home Kit, Apple is trying to establish a standard for home automation devices. Having a unified standard will allow more manufacturers bring products to market quickly and ensure cross-compatibility with other devices.

Latch-key kids can now forget their keys and still get home safely, actually they don't even need keys anymore!