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Design/Build Strategies for the Real World
By Judy Penz Sheluk

Thanks to the myriad of home renovation shows on television, today's homeowners are much more in tune with decorating do's and don'ts than they were a decade ago. At least they think they are.
The reality is, while these programs demonstrate lots of interesting and creative ideas, they're not always good long-term design solutions. Who hasn't seen a bathroom sink with lemons floating in it, a sheet disguised as a tablecloth or bolts of fabric flowing from curtain rod to floor and thought: Are you kidding?
Still, most homeowners understand that those solutions are simply staging techniques, primarily reserved for that quick property sale. It's programs that illustrate entire bathrooms being redone in a weekend (by the homeowners, no less) or a family room revamped on a shoestring budget that can create unrealistic expectations.
The upside is that, as a renovator, you've never had so much free press before. True, not all of it is good - there are those shows that illustrate the seedy side of renovation: shoddy workmanship done by tailgaters who cut and run the instant times get tough. But that's not who you are, and you can prove it by going one step beyond offering the same old design solutions. What you're going to offer the homeowner is a winning design/build strategy. Here are few tips to get you started.

Interviewing the client
In 1986, Friedemann Weinhardt founded the award-winning Design First Interiors in Ottawa. While he still believes that exceptional interiors start with a good design, he's also learned the art of interviewing potential clients.
"Most homeowners will obtain two or more quotes before proceeding with a renovation," says Weinhardt. "This is much more than a chance to win the job. It's an opportunity to interview the client. There has be an alignment between purposes; a good fit for both parties."
There are three key questions you should ask.
1Do you have a budget in mind?
You're in business to make money, and it's important that the homeowner understands that up front. Today's influx of do-it-yourself stores has made everything from cabinets to countertops accessible to the masses. But how many people know that the toilet seat rarely comes with the toilet? You - the professional - do. Don't be afraid to tell potential clients that you charge a fair price for your expertise. If they don't want to pay for it, walk away.
2Who will be purchasing the materials?
Insist on purchasing all the materials, from screws and nuts to fixtures and faucets. By making their selections from Web sites, catalogues and samples that you supply, clients can still do the shopping. They can also go to stores you recommend to record the skew numbers and other details. Some people will suggest this is all about you making more money and, to some extent, it is. However, it's also about professional coordination of the project. It only takes one missing piece of material to delay a project.
3What is your timeline?
It's important to allow enough time for design development, material procurement and the actual renovation. Tell the truth. Underestimating to get the job will result in one of two things: you'll exceed the time expectation… or you'll rush through the process. Both scenarios will inevitably come back to haunt you. Finish the renovation ahead of schedule, even by a day, and you'll be a hero. Finish a day late, and you're a loser that every one of the homeowner's friends and family are destined to hear about.

The Reason for the Reno
Now that you've interviewed the client, your job is to find out why they want to renovate. Asking the right questions will clarify the budget, wish list and future plans - all the information needed for a successful project.
Trent Bauman has worked as a project manager for 18 years at the firm of Menno S. Martin Contractor in the very traditional, rural village of St. Jacobs, Ontario. "The first question I always ask is: 'What problem are you trying to solve?' rather than 'What is it you want to do?'" says Bauman. "Sometimes giving people what they want is not giving them what they need."
"It's also important to understand your market demographics," he says. "For example, our market is quite conservative. Clients want us to show them tried and true solutions, and they're not really that interested in being trendsetters."
Ed McDonald knows all about demographics. As the founder and owner of MAC Renovations, an award-winning design/ build firm serving Victoria and Southern Vancouver Island since 1980, many of his projects fall into the category of "retiree" renovations.
"In reality, every situation is unique, so it's important to design customized strategies that fit," says McDonald. "For example, retiree renovations can include clients preparing to retire (and wanting to renovate while they are still earning an income), homeowners who can finally afford their dream kitchen/bathroom/ family room, individuals with special needs or medical issues, and additions for clients who have aging parents moving in."

And the survey said…
According to a 2004 Renovations and Home Improvement Survey by the Appraisal Institute of Canada, renovation projects providing the highest payback potential, at 75 to 100 per cent of cost, are kitchens and bathrooms.
Joy Myers Piske is a National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) certified interior designer and owner of LIFESPACE - Myers Piske Interior Design in Winnipeg. She has 24 years of professional experience and she's seen trends come and go. Remember Harvest Gold and Avocado Green appliances?
"I think it's important to help clients carefully analyze any trend they are interesting in incorporating," says Piske. "A practical, functional design should also have built-in longevity. For example, high island seating might look fabulous, but it's also difficult for little tykes to sit on safely. So if you're a young couple thinking of having children, it's not really going to work for you down the road. Providing for lower stools (24 inches high) or regular chairs for everyday use is simple, yet it demonstrates you're thinking about long term solutions.
Piske also recommends asking who will be using the kitchen. "Assume that mom is doing all the cooking, and you'll be wrong at least half of the time. Today's kitchen is often designed for the multi-task, multi-user family, and that means considering more than just one person's needs."

Kitchen Design/Build Strategies
Increase counter space by placing the sink into a corner on a 45-degree angle. Recommend lever controls, instead of knobs, on faucets and doors; they are easy to open and close (when arms are full or fingers just don't work that well any more) with the back or side of the hand, or even part of the forearm.
Stay away from intricate or "swirly" cabinet hardware, and look for easy-to-clean designs instead.
Consider automatic shut-offs or ground fault circuit interrupters on outlets that handle small heating appliances.
Higher toe kicks or cantilevered base cabinets can allow for wheelchairs or a way for a tired cook to pull up a chair.
An island will add work space, and open up the flow of traffic.
Storage should be accessible with pull-out drawers and organized interiors.
Good task lighting should include a mix of compact fluorescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes.
Grout is out: ceramic tiles on floors and countertops can collect grime in the ridges, and require more care. Depending on price point, use laminate or granite for countertops, and laminate or hardwood for floors; other flooring options include slate (which can be too hard) or the comfort of cork (which can be too soft).
Recommend ENERGY STAR-qualified appliances; while initially more expensive, the payback on reduced energy costs is well worth the investmen.

Khachi Interiors is a design/build firm based in Oakville, Ontario, since 1987. Owner Ramsin Khachi has seen a lot of changes throughout those years, especially when it comes to bathroom renovations.
"Our society is a lot busier than it used to be," says Khachi. "Clients want a spa look and feel, a Zen-like quality, but they rarely have the time to luxuriate in the tub, and they're certainly not interested in spending hours cleaning. Careful selection of materials and maximizing the use of every space is essential. And always take into consideration just who is going to be using the space. Even if it's a child's bathroom, kids grow up."

Design/Build Strategies
Install a rain shower head (for a revitalizing shower), plus an adjustable hand shower (for easier cleaning, or the times clients don't want to get their hair wet).
Wherever possible, install a walk-in shower. For an ensuite, consider a two-person shower, rather than a traditional bathtub.
Use drawers instead of cupboards under the vanity. The middle cupboard will need a cut-out for the drain, but there will still be far more functional space.
Build in plenty of sources for light: in the shower, above the mirror, pot lights in the ceiling, wall sconces. Dimmer switches will offer even more versatility.
Don't forget the basics, such as towel bars (large enough to accommodate drying) conveniently placed near the tub and shower.
When space allows, add a toilet room.
Proper venting ensures dampness and mould are not an issue.
Look for new technologies, including odourless toilets by WaterSave Logic, epoxy grout in a variety of colours (Laticrete International even offers glow-in-the-dark and sparkle versions), and polyethylene waterproofing systems like those made by Schluter-Systems. HB


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