Saturday, December 31, 2011

post purge - clearing the way for the remodel

The purge is in full swing. I am sure the neighbors suspect our Christmas was far too merry judging by the height of the trash piled up on the curb. Luckily in Newport Beach, you are not required to use recycling bins, or pre-sort your trash. They take everything and sort it for you, supposedly, somewhere. And also, luckily, we gave our trash guy his usual $25 Target gift card. Honestly, it is not enough. There is nothing that man won't haul away from the curb.

Friday, December 30, 2011

mid-century modern knobs, towel bars, toilet paper holder

It was time to order the homeowner’s portion of the mid-century modern remodel which is all the things not included in the contractor bid. I asked the architect to spec these out in the blueprints and the contractor asked the architect to give us all the pull sheets. These items are consistent with the mid-century look and feel. What follows is boring but important -- what we are using for hardware in our mid-century modern bathroom remodel and the suppliers. Total costs for hardware for three bathrooms was about $600. See pictures of towel bars and paper holders installed here and pictures of handles here.

Sugatsune, a Japanese manufacturer, for the cabinet doors and drawer pulls, purchased at

Sugatsune: SWF Series Handles for Cabinet Door
Sugatsune: SWF Series Handles for Cabinet Door

Monday, December 26, 2011

purge before remodel – seven days and counting

It’s December 26 and time to purge-purge-purge. We are on the seven day count down until the remodel begins. Christmas must be ripped down, two bedrooms must be packed up and two bathrooms must be deconstructed, plus a temporary grooming center setup in the laundry room. This task was daunting, even for me, a classic OCD organizer/purger from way back. How I do love to throw away.

My dad once called me during a garage cleanout. “We’ve got a lot of your old stuff here.”
“Give it to Goodwill,” I declared.
“I think you should take a look at this,” Dad recommended.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

is going into debt to fund your home remodel still fashionable?

It’s time to pay up or shut up. We need money to fund the bathroom project. Years ago, during one of the many refinance cycles, as interest rates continued to drop; we did some extra paperwork and took out a home equity line of credit on our house. This big tempting line of credit sits in a bank account that I don’t go into that often. It is where I keep ATM cash and my son’s savings account. I go into this account enough to have always been aware it was there.

This morning I called the number listed at the bottom of the screen with only one question on my mind, “How do I get this money?” I really didn’t have the foggiest idea. A nice lady named Peggy, with an older sounding voice, came on the phone and thanked me several times for being a BIG-BANK customer and began asking me questions. Within minutes I learned BIG-BANK would transfer any amount of money from the home equity line into a checking account. How much did I need? Did I think we would need more to cover remodel overages? Do we have credit card debt or car payments we needed to consolidate, up to the full amount of the home equity line? Could we use a credit card to access the remainder of the home equity line, to pull out cash anytime, anywhere?

Peggy made it sound so easy. I could hear the call of the sirens. I was thinking new bedroom furniture would be perfect in the adjacent master suite (the old would look so shabby next to such a spiffy bathroom). 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

the great Christmas tree fake debate

Purchasing a fake Christmas tree can be a life altering experience. This feeling is somewhat akin to converting from Blackberry to iPhone or buying your first pair of Christian Louboutin’s. Just like with your iPhone, after going through a Christmas season with your fake tree you’ll think, “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Here are eight good reasons for you to get a fake Christmas tree:

fake Christmas tree Roger's garden

Sunday, November 27, 2011

reasons to NOT hire a contractor

After years of hiring people in corporate America, the most important lesson I have learned is you are really looking for a reason to NOT hire a job candidate. These reasons you would not hire someone for a job at Yahoo Answers holds true  for contractors as well. After vetting the two contractors for the basics via the interview questions and comparing the two bids, both checked out as relatively good choices. I was torn. I decided, at this point, I liked Contractor #1 the best, just on gut instinct, and would begin checking his references first. I asked to see a home in progress. He had me stop by a large property in North Orange County, a 6,000 square foot house where his company had redone four bathrooms and built an ultra glamorous walk-in, 2-story closet. I was wowed and easily could look beyond the shabby chic décor to the meticulous workmanship. 

Shabby Chic Bathroom
Shabby Chic Bathroom

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

should a mid-century modern fireplace have a mantle?

Our mid-century modern (not) fireplace mantle has been a pet peeve with the architect almost from day one.

mid-century modern mantle

Sunday, November 6, 2011

using a fireplace insert to heat a mid-century modern living room

We have heating problems in our house. Big problems. And it is rapidly heading into winter. Later in this post, I'll explain how we solve the heating issue with a fireplace insert. But bear with me for now.

Our house is a flat roofed mid-century modern and all the heater ducting was laid into the concrete foundation. The ducting is galvanized metal and has rotted out down to the dirt underneath. When we turn on the heater every winter, sand blows through the house. I called a heating company, Empire Plumbing & Heating and described the situation.They said it was serious and sent out the owner of the company who put a scope down the ducts. Quote from their extensive report that includes an estimate for $14K to repair, "When we video observed the ducting we observed broken portions of ducting in every single run. We also witnessed several breaks in the ducting from what appears to be defect from new construction in the 1950's." Other problems include water building up in the pan below the heater, "The ducting runs leaving the plenum were draining water back into the plenum and the appearance of water fall like calcium deposits can be seen."

reference checking contractor #2

I went to a live site for Contractor #2. It was bustling with activity and involved the addition of a second story on a really large home in Irvine. The site was spic and span and the job was impressive. The homeowner is in the asbestos removal business and strongly recommended Contractor #2. Having a personal tour from the homeowner of a live job site really gave me the feel for Contractor #2 and made me trust him. Contractor #2 was around the site, but stayed away from the homeowner and me. The homeowner said the job was on budget, and was being completed in less time than quoted. The only problem happened due to an unusual rain storm, and the contractor did everything he could to mitigate this issue. The family of five lived in the house during the project and said they were very comfortable with the contractor. The tile in the bathrooms was beautiful and absolutely perfect. Our job is ALL tile so this is important. This reference check made me really appreciate Contractor #2. He became my favorite.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

bid returned - contractor #2

Contractor #2 met with us the very next day which provided a nice contrast. His bid was in a similar format as Contractor #1 except he called out what wasn't included more than Contractor #1. He was friendly and professional. The price made sense (lower than Contractor #1). Contractor #1, later in the week, sent us a detailed spreadsheet with costs broken out. Tile was 20% of the job though; that didn't seem right.  Both contractors provided reference information at these meetings. I was going out of town the week of October 18, so reference checking will wait on me to come back (about a week), and visit live job sites.

Postscript 11/28/2011: Contractor #3 never returned the bid! He followed up several times but then just quietly went away. I wish I had gotten 4 contractors so I would have had 3 bids. In the end, 3 bids would have provided good information as the prices between Contractor #1 and #2 were so similar.

Friday, October 14, 2011

bid returned: contractor #1

The architect and I met with Contractor #1 today. It was a good meeting. He answered all the questions we asked very appropriately, and would be a good fit for this project. Because of KP's poor remodeling experience, I made sure to ask if the contractor would ever request us to pay subs directly (NO-good answer) and how he handles mechanics liens as KP has had two that I know of. It seemed that he was surprised by my interest in mechanic's liens, but said he could make me comfortable. Also, he is very open to the idea of weekly project meetings between us, the architect and the contractor. We really want an open dialogue between all parties on this project so that was important. Frankly, his bid was higher than my high projection. Because there wasn't any type of itemization in his proposal, I couldn't tell what was driving the cost up. Probably our scary, detailed, plans and specifications. We can see after interviews with Contractor #2 (tomorrow) and Contractor #3 (next week hopefully) if this price is basically correct, or if something might be off. I added a surprise question #51, "What do you think about having this project detailed in a blog?" I said that architect and contractor names have been anonymized, but they don't have to be (depending upon their preferences), and I am most certainly not anonymous. The contractor smiled and said, "I think that is a great idea. I have always been meaning to do something like that." I caught the architect a little off guard (just a little). He said he likes the idea but are comments on? Good question! I told them the blog name, and saw that the page views went up this evening (you know, from zero to 15). Revealing the blog so soon was probably a tactical error on my part since we are still in the contractor selection/negotiation process, but this is REMODEL 2.0. Everything out in the open with total transparency.

Monday, October 10, 2011

24 contractor interview questions

I checked with all 3 contractors regarding bid status late last week. Contractor #1 was willing to make an appointment for this Friday to review his bid (exactly one month from meeting the contractors, as projected). #2 and #3 said they would be finished soon, maybe in a week. 

In preparation for bid meetings, I checked some books out from Newport Beach Public Library. Although many of the remodeling books had pretty pictures and nice ideas, I was really looking for specifics about running a project and hiring a contractor. My favorites were Home Remodeling for Dummies (out of print, but you can buy used copies), Remodel This! A Woman's Guide to Planning and Surviving the Madness of a Home Renovation and 50 Plus One Tips When Remodeling Your Home (large print format but I wasn't offended). I also liked this these 50 Contractor Interview Questions online, by Tim Carter. Another great post about selecting a good contractor can be found at

Monday, September 26, 2011

waiting for bids and shopping for mid century modern glass in New York City

All three contractors checked in this weekend with questions or to say they were still working on the bid. I am taking this as a good sign that they are all interested. Our architect says to figure it will take at least three to four weeks. Meanwhile, to kill time, I went to New York City with KP for our now second annual weekend of  extreme self-indulgence. Mostly intensive shopping followed by wine and dinner. We stopped in at our favorite mid-century modern glass shop, The End of History. Stephen Saunders, the owner, was in and said he remembered us from last time. Probably because of the non-stop self-deprecating chatter. I really loved three pieces from last year. He only had the yellow in the shop, and the green was at a show. The blue had sold. 

mid-century Italian glass
The three pieces I really wanted from the year before.

So, instead I bought two matching pottery pieces that should arrive in a week or so. Update Sep-30-2011: Here they are with the glass vase I purchased last year from the shop:

Mid-century Italian glass and pottery
My little Italian glass and pottery collection.
I have a real problem with glass and pottery. More about that another day.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

finding a strong contractor for a bathroom remodel: contractor #1

Contractor #1 came over tonight (#1 as in strongest referral). He is younger, I would say about 35-40. He works in a family business with his father and brother. He came strongly recommended from an old high school friend of mine who used him to remodel her period kitchen in a home off the traffic circle in Orange. My friend and her husband have extremely good taste and high standards so I was very interested in meeting their recommendation. Contractor #1 did not disappoint. By far, he asked the most detailed questions and offered alternative suggestions for what he perceived as problem areas. He was quiet, thoughtful and very mild mannered. He thought he needed 2 weeks for the bid. I told him to take his time. I figure 4 weeks when all is said and done and our plans are extremely detailed. This final meeting pointed out a couple of details we missed: the wood choice for the cabinets, cable details for TV on master bedroom wall, and the finish treatment for outdoor fireplace. I can't believe we left all that out! And we were trying to be so perfect. This contractor has done most of his work in Orange, which means a lot of remodels, but maybe not so many mid-century modern NPB.

selecting contractor #2

Met #2 today on my lunch break. He is #2 since he is the second strongest referral -- from a good friend of a good friend of mine. This gentleman was our oldest contractor (between 55 and 60), and definitely had been out in the field today from his dress, and seemed a little rougher than the other two contractors. The architect came over and briefly reviewed the plans with Contractor #2. This contractor seemed a little bit skeptical on some of the architect's ideas, especially concerning ceiling tie-ins from old to new. He asked extremely pointed questions. He also wondered how soon we were looking to start. I said, we could start right away, or work into the schedule, but if we didn't start in October, would want to wait until January due to things dragging out in December. Not sure if that was good or bad. This guy has worked a lot locally in the area and was familiar with NPB codes. Again, good impression. Seems solid.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

going over budget on remodel project, what is a good reason

I finally put together a spreadsheet with the dollars spent so far. GASP. I am disgusted with myself. Others in the household are not as surprised/horrified.

We are over budget on the architect. I can attribute this to some false starts in direction and narrowing the scope of the project as we went along. He charges hourly and bills monthly so it kind of snuck away from me. The architect has also served as a designer so that is part of the extra cost. And as the project progresses, he will stop by and offer some contractor supervision. The architect is my secret weapon to ensuring this project does not go off the rails. We had city plan approval on July-11-2011 and Home Owner's Association Approval on July-26-2011 (within a month of submittal). It has taken us about two more months (with vacations, school starting, etc.) to select and document every single detail in the plans. This includes toilets, paint colors, finishes, windows, tile, sinks, cabinet pulls, faucets,and the like.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

how we found contractor #3

Met Contractor #3 yesterday. He is our least strong referral as he came to me via the designer used by a friend of mind. He may have bid on their project but didn't get it. He ran over to grab the plans and understand the job. He is getting married next week but didn't want to be out of the running, so he was in a hurry and didn't ask a lot of questions. Contractor #3 commented that typically he gets plans on disk now-a-days. I called the Architect and asked about digital plans. He said, in fact, he had ordered digital plans (maybe his first time ever). He emailed them to me and I uploaded to Google Docs. Now we can do business like 21st century home owners. Contractor #3 is between 50-55 years-old, professional and has done many jobs in the Newport Beach area. He made an overall good impression. He looks a little like Tom Selleck. A little.

Postscript: he never returned a bid after several communications to us saying he would. He just wasn't a strong referral.

Friday, September 9, 2011

before pictures of our bathroom remodel

Here are the before pictures we are sharing with the contractors. There are a lot of them! The focus for the remodel is adding space to the two original bathrooms, adding a third bathroom, changing the heat from ducting in the slab, to in the walls and finally, a bonus, re-doing the interior courtyard and adding a fireplace and a cover (virtual square feet, if not actual).

Before Pictures - A link to the pictures.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

the great mid-century modern tile debate

The Great Tile Debate rages on. I can't decide whether to do the lighter tile on the master bathroom feature wall versus the darker tile (selecting from Timber Glen). It is the first time I have been stumped on a decision with the architect. I think he has admired my decisive nature and wonders if I am just like everyone else and not the super hero client he has always hoped for. On this tile color, I hem and haw for 3 days. The architect is definitely pro dark. My dear friend, KP, who has helped me do lots of stuff to the house, is pro light tile.  Husaband is no help because he says he likes them both (chicken). I send a decisive email saying absolutely, positively, light. Then I reverse it 8 hours later. We have landed on the dark after several switches. I am always drawn to color which KP reminded me. The decisions seem real and more final -- selecting the lighter tile, for now.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

selecting bathroom tile for a mid-century modern

The great tile debate has been raging on for about two weeks. Today, the architect and I are meeting at Daltile in Irvine to put an end to it. The architect is sold on 6x24 linear tile stacked on a feature wall in each bathroom. Not a common size. The tile he selected had little specs and neither of us loved it. I had spotted a tile online and saw it in the store, and voila, it was love at first site. Timber Glen, I heart you for our feature wall.

See the finished result, the mid-century modern bathrooms remodeled!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

how to select a great architect for your mid-century modern remodel

Well, I wish I could discuss the research I did, questions I asked, and extensive selection process I engaged in to pick the architect for our low six figure project. I essentially did it with personal references. I talked to two friends I trusted who both had remodels done recently and who were both happy. Both of their architects had a modern aesthetic and I liked the architects' work. Architect #1 was easy to schedule, came over with a portfolio, a CV, a flyer and references. Architect #2 came over with nothing and was challenging to schedule. Architect #1 returned a proposal quickly. Architect #2 took a week or two to return a proposal. Architect #1 had a cheaper hourly rate and Architect #2 was higher (but not crazy higher). Architect #1 specializes in and has a passion for Mid-Century Moderns (our house has vaguely Neutra-esque qualities and was built in 1955). Architect #2 lives in Irvine Terrace (our housing tract) and also built another show stopper in Irvine Terrace, meaning he is intimate with our HOA. Tough choice.

Neutra: Mariners Medical Center
Newport Beach, CA