Don’t Need a Full Remodel? Consider a MiniMakeOver™

Most people call us for full-service kitchens, bathrooms, whole-house makeovers or additions. But what you may not realize is that we offer another option: the MiniMakeOver™. While these projects vary widely based on individual homeowner needs, they can include the following:

Swapping out dated sinks, countertops, fixtures, toilets and cabinet hardware with new, long-lasting items that won’t look dated in just a few years

Freshening up paint and wallpapers

Installing new, stylish lighting

Installing new flooring, appliances, and the new backsplash tile you always wanted

Refinishing/repainting cabinet doors, and reinstalling them with new handles and knobs

Typically, these projects are appropriate for newer homes (built in the 1980s or later) or in a room in an older home that was renovated to code during the past decade, but is now looking a bit dreary. (Note: It it wasn’t done to code, you have to get into pricey systems corrections.)

Symptoms of a home requiring a MiniMakeOver include dated fixtures and finishes. A dead giveaway is that forest-green-with-cranberry color combo from 1989. Yick!

The result? A nicely tuned kitchen (starting at $8,500*) or bathroom (starting at $5,500*).

*Prices vary by project and home. Please call for details.

Image: peapodsquadmom.

My Beef With Bad Home Design

I regularly drive past a 1950s split-level rancher that is being renovated near my home. At this point, I can see that the addition being built is closed in with plywood and the roof is on. But I cringe every time I see this home. It’s not that it’s structurally or technically unsound. It’s just bad overall design.

As you may already know, split-level homes have characteristic low roof lines, a big garage feature, and wide windows that refer back to the low, wide stance of the home. Typically, the private areas of the house are upstairs, and the public family room areas are downstairs. They were invented when people began buying cars and moving from the cities where they worked to the ‘burbs. That’s the culture they refer to, and it’s why they look the way they do.

The remodelers who are putting the addition on the house up the street are doing something “production builders” do. It’s a kind of home design based on Hollywood set designs, where only the part of the house facing the street gets the Palladian windows and lots of dormers, to signify “money spent” or “wealth,” if you will. It doesn’t matter what kind of house they are building; each one gets dormers and Palladian windows — even a 1950s rancher!

Of course, if you know anything about design, you know that multiple dormers on a split-level rancher are silly. The house is developing an identity crisis as the renovations progress because the two very different roof line styles now compete with one another. They also create a hinky roofing detail that is bound to leak in the future … but that’s another story.

When renovating a home, unless you are doing extensive tear down and rebuilding, you need to refer back to the original house with the new additions being built. If you don’t, the two design styles will end up “arguing” and creating confusion. And, at a minimum of $250 per square foot for a new 900-square-foot addition (this price is from the remodeler’s own website), these homeowners are going to end up with a $250,000 carbuncle on their hands.

Here’s one that’s done right! split level rancher

In the News Part III

Everything You Wanted to Know About Windows
The third installment in a 5-part series featuring Myers Constructs. Read the story here.

Q and A: Checking in With Myers Constructs

As the busy fall home-renovation season kicks off, Myers Constructs co-owner Diane Menke sits down for a chat about breaking traditional design build paradigms, finding paths for growth in a difficult economy, and the surprising places where her team finds design inspiration.

Q: Tell us about your design to build philosophy.

DM: Generally speaking, design build is a model in which the design and construction phases of a renovation project are done in a streamlined fashion — often by having design and construction professionals team up in order to save time and money. Our approach is a different take on this concept. We do both design and construction in house, using a very tight system of steps we have developed over the years. We call it Design to Build™ because we only design projects to build them. We don’t spend a client’s financial resources on exploration of ideas that won’t be built. Our system uses proprietary designing and budgeting tools to ensure the design and construction phases of a project are developed with efficient precision, as well as with great style.

My business partner, Tamara Myers, and I developed this approach after dozens of frustrated homeowners started calling on us with their architect- and designer-driven designs that they couldn’t afford to buid. We both come from backgrounds in fine arts and crafts. While studying for our respective BFA degrees, we were expected to explore and understand departments outside of our major. This philosophy mirrored Germany’s Bauhaus Movement, in which artists were expected to understand all of the arts — craft media, 3D, 2D, color theory, architecture — because they are so interrelated. In addition, we were taught the history of these various media. That exploration helped explain world history, and how various media and styles of architecture, literature, music or crafts arrived in places around the world. If I had to use one phrase to describe this kind of education, it would be “stay curious.” This is how we approach the many disciplines of home renovation at our company. And it’s this curiosity that made it possible to develop a logical system to address the design and construction needs of the homeowners, but keep control of the budgets for them.

Q: What motivated you to break the traditional design build mold?

DM: We really wanted to form a strong, lasting business to take care of customers and employees really well, long term.

Read more

Finding the Magic in Your Home

We often talk to new clients who come to the table with ideas about all kinds of “stuff” they want to buy and install in their homes. While this is a perfectly natural place for most people to start their renovation process, our job is to get them to back up a little and talk to us about their lives. What we really want to know is how they want to live, and how their home fits into that picture. Many times, we have to ask them to stretch a little, imagine a little magic in their everyday lives … and explain what that magic would be.

Typical questions we ask in the initial consultation include:

What works and doesn’t work in your home?

What do you love and what do you hate in your home?

When you travel or visit the homes of friends and family, what do you enjoy about those places?

What kind of experience do you want to have when you come home? What does it feel like?

What do you do for fun and relaxation?

How long has the issue you called us about been a problem for you?

If you closed your eyes and imagined your perfect home, what would that look and feel like?

How do you want your rooms to function? For example, in your kitchen, you cook, eat and store goods … but what kind of cooking do you do? What kind of foods and goods do you store, and in what quantity? Do you have religious or cultural guidelines you must follow in your kitchen? Is wine or beer a feature of your enjoyment of food?

Bathrooms, too, leave a lot of room for magic, if you open up your imagination. A bathroom can be a bare-bones space for performing necessary functions like cleaning your body … or it can be a pleasurable oasis consisting of luxurious materials and textures.

So we infuse some of this type of magic into all of our clients’ projects. And this is so much more important than merely selling them “stuff.”

Luxe Details Make Even a Small Project Sing

This small master bath renovation that we’ve been working on is coming to a close, and the final “shiny bits ” are now going in.

Along with the sleek chrome lighting and plumbing fixtures, we selected two small custom granite pieces for the shower bench and the doorway threshold. We selected Absolute Black granite in 1.25-inch thickness with an “eased edge” to complement the minimal modern bathroom we designed for this 1957 split-level home.

The wall tile is a 12×24″ porcelain that looks like travertine, and the floor tile is a 6×12″ porcelain that looks like black slate. We think the granite is a nice, crisp addition to the scheme, and, while it is a very deep black, you can see from the lefthand photo how its crystals sparkle.

Tell us what you think.

“Saving a Few Bucks” Can Cost You More

Over the course of many years in business, we’ve had many customers who look for ways to save money on their home-improvement projects. One way they attempt to do this is by purchasing appliances directly from a supplier’s showroom instead of paying a professional to manage these purchases for them. Obviously, contractors mark up appliances over cost to pay for the time it takes to do this task.

Sounds like a reasonable enough idea, at first blush. The problem is that, while appliances look self contained and simple on a showroom floor, in reality, they are not either of these things — and neither is the delivery process. Most people do not know what it is like to self-manage a purchase like this. This is a part-time job during a renovation project, and it takes both time and skill to do well.

Here is what the process is like on the purchasing end:

Shopping for appliances and most other remodeling products is both exciting and daunting. There are a lot of options to choose from, many functions to know about, and ramifications resulting from the wrong choice of size, specifications and/or requirements. It takes years to learn this stuff, and new products come along constantly. While the choices can be overwhelming for average consumers, they are not for reputable contractors, who are always learning about these new products because it is their full-time job and passion.

Price points vary wildly. An inexpensive kitchen appliance kit might cost $5,000 complete. On the high end, we have seen them exceed $40,000. Most salesmen will try to sell you what they can make the easiest commission, rather than what you really want or need. You may be tempted to cut corners and choose, for example, an appliance in a black finish because it’s $100 cheaper than a stainless-steel model. The problem is that it may be a special-order item that takes three to four weeks for delivery. Your kitchen is now going to take almost a month longer to finish. You will be frustrated by this, and the whole project will cost you more now in change orders than you saved on that cheaper product.

It’s very easy to mis-manage an order like this. For example, you probably don’t know what the letters SS, BK or WT mean on a model number. But these codes are second nature to an experienced contractor.

Your appliance salesman may forget who you are and may not return your calls. You will then have to call several times to set up and confirm delivery of your product. In fact, you will have to harp and nag to get what you want. You will also have to be on site to receive and inspect your order. And an incorrect or incomplete delivery can create many weeks of delay. It is common to have to make dozens of calls for items like dishwasher trim kits, missing knobs, damaged goods. Delays cost money because they cause you to reschedule or stop your project to wait for it the error to be corrected.

If space is limited on your project, you will have to arrange multiple deliveries as space is opened up and the product is needed. You will have to check each order as it is delivered to be sure it’s correct.

There is no room for change. If your cabinet layout calls for a three-door fridge 36x70x30, you cannot decide at the last moment to go with another fridge because it will not fit the cabinet space made for it, even if it is on sale.

There is no room for error. A 30-inch range is not always 30 inches. We need the appliance specs during design and installation because sometimes these ranges need more than 30″ to fit into their final location.

The more expensive the appliances, the less detail in the data about it and its installation is provided. This is true without fail. This is why these appliances must be on site during the cabinet-installation phase — and sometimes during roughing in — and checked for size and installation requirements. The gas line or electrical lines have a specific area where they need to be, and the appliance will not fit in its place if these are wrong. This wil l cost even more money because they will then need to be moved.

W hen you hire professionals to handle these tasks, you don’t have to worry about any of these details because they make the entire process seamless for you. And, in the long run, they can save you money on errors and mishaps that would almost certainly happen if you try to “go it alone.”

What a Difference a Door Can Make

Many times, a small change to a home can make a huge improvement.

In the case of this city home on a very old alley-sized street, we changed a whole lot of what is inside. But from the street, all you can see is the change we made to the front door.

The “before” photo shows that it used to have a solid slab door with bland and broken knobs and locks. This was not an original door. There was nothing nice or welcoming about it. It also leaked horribly.

The “after” photo shows the pre-hung walnut door and new brass hardware we installed. It’s not an expensive door, by any means. We also installed some puck lighting at the top of the jamb at the transom window.

Now, when guests visit or the homeowners come home, they are greeted by a warm, well-lit, shiny new door that says “Welcome Home!”

You can see some other nice examples of doors in old homes here

Fit and Finish

Being in the design to build business, I have a keen eye for when construction or design is not done “right.” This means that I catch a lot of details that most homeowners don’t. For example, I can see when a run of cabinets is out of level or square by even a small fraction of an inch. It’s also very clear to me when sections of wall are not square.

To illustrate, I’ll share an example here of what I call “Fit and Finish.”

Today, I visited a home that is less than 10 years old and located in a fairly pricey neighborhood. The people who live in this home have great style and taste, and they keep their home spotlessly clean. I love that. But I get so mad when I see how this newer home, like many others in its age range, are detailed. Disclaimer: I have every sympathy with an older home that shows bumps and rolls because of its age, but I have none for a new home that shows poor workmanship. There’s just no excuse for it. And if the walls aren’t square or the cabinets not straight, what about the other non-glamorous stuff in the building, like the roof or insulation? How good will they be? How long will this home and its components last? How will they perform?

If stock kitchen cabinets will be used in a newer home like this, the walls that contain these cabinet runs must be built plumb, level and square. The cabinet runs and rough ins must also be centered and allow for use of spacers at each end so the result will be “fitted.” In the case of this house, not enough room was provided for the cabinet run during the framing layout and plumbing and electrical rough ins. The result was that cabinet spacers were not used properly, so cabinet doors and drawers were not given adequate space to function properly.

In this kitchen, the very top of the line fridge was also supposed to be “fitted” into a small enclosure. But because the framing here was not properly done, the fridge and complementary cabinetry did not fit properly and were not symetrical when they should have been. So this very expensive fridge was not level and stood out to my eye.

Most people know that when you buy an article of clothing off the rack, you will probably have to take it to the tailor to have it fitted to your shape. A great tailor can make even an inexpensive article of clothing look great.

It’s the same with housing components like cabinets and appliances. It’s the job of the designer and carpenters to make sure these stock items fit a home properly. If they don’t, it’s a lot like bad tailoring.