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It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has worked in or with the remodeling industry that we live and die based on case studies, testimonials…and, of course, reviews.
All of which have served STRITE design + remodeling well over our 40-year history. Very well, indeed. So much so, that when asked how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors, we typically defer to our clients’ experiences. It is not hyperbole to observe that those experiences are stated far more eloquently than anything we say about ourselves (at least publicly). They are, in fact, representative of what we like to call “the STRITE experience.”
Such is the ubiquity of that experience that of the many reviews posted on the industry association website, Guild Quality, 97 percent stated that they would refer us to a friend or family member. Of the 3 percent that would not, it’s worth noting that none of their reviews were based on a failure to fulfill our contractual obligations. Instead, they were based on a negative experience of the fulfillment process.
To think of our “approval rating” more colloquially, image being in a room of 100 people, all of whom have done business with you. Now, imagine that 97 of those people would unhesitatingly recommend doing business with you to a loved one. With that amount of collective endorsement, you might wonder how the other three could have had such a conflicting experience. It would be easy to dismiss this minority as some dubious anomaly — or an affirmation of the conventionally accepted truth that you can’t be all things to all people.
Instead, we find the 3% to be the exception that proves the rule: the rule being that you deviate from proven processes at your own peril. When you do, you risk something more important than falling short of your clients’ expectations. You fall short of your own.
The most recent case in point is a review we received on the residential construction and remodeling website Houzz. There amidst all the five-star reviews is a scathing one-star criticism that is, hands down, the worst thing a client has ever said about us. It hurts…but there it is…and it’s hard not to get defensive about it. But a client’s experience is their experience — and when that experience fails to reach the five-star level we base our brand on, we have to look hard at when and how the disconnect took place.
At the heart of any client experience — good or bad — is communication. How well we keep our clients engaged in the remodel process is critical to their experience of it. In the case of those experiences that fall short of our goal, we typically find a disconnect between how we communicated with a client and that client’s communication style. In the case of our one-star review, our project manager provided the client with twice daily project updates by phone, at her request, rather than generate written reports following each communication. In retrospect, it would have been far better, when it came to resolving subsequent disputes, if we had maintained a more rigorous “paper trail.” Memories of what is said in verbal conversation can, after all, be faulty on all sides of the exchange.
The repairs referred to in the Houzz review had to do with dust that infiltrated the client’s wardrobe — for which we were presented with a nearly $4,000 dry cleaning estimate. We should here state for the record that we were not given the opportunity to assess this damage first hand. Although mitigation of demolition and construction impacts on a home throughout the remodel process is something on which we pride ourselves — and despite having isolated the construction area from the rest of the home — we took the client at her word and credited the amount requested in full.
One of our takeaways from this experience was a re-evaluation of our dust protection methods. Tools and techniques change over the years, and part of our job as an industry leader is to constantly improve on how we do what we do. In the case of our techniques for dust protection, we came away from this one-star project with a mitigation scheme that is far more rigorous — which only goes to show that people who cause you to do better work are to be appreciated, regardless of what they may say about you.
And this brings us to a final reflection on the other 3%. Yes, you can’t please all the people all the time — but as long as you make that your aim rather than dismiss it as a unrealistic objective, you’re more likely to end up with 97 out of 100 people who would refer you to a friend or family member. In the end, it’s what we learn from the three percent of folks who weren’t completely satisfied about working with us that makes the other 97% happy they did.
Whole House Remodel
A Southeast Boise home expands its options as well as its horizons
In residential design, many rooms are no guarantee of having room. At the heart of this seeming paradox is functional intent — and in the case of one Southeast Boise couple, the intent was to fill an empty nest with friends and family in an unobstructed space. What stood in the way of that vision were walls whose removal posed less of a structural challenge (after all, we’re good at that sort of thing) than a financial one. As it turned out, a patient design process and a focus on esthetic priorities ended up producing the best sort of compromise: Everyone got what they wanted.
Our clients had lived in their Lakewood home in Southeast Boise for 15 years, and even after their kids had moved out, its proximity to work, recreation, and downtown life made it a desirable place to continue living. Their change in lifestyle, however, made their home’s design shortcomings more pronounced. To achieve a more open floorpan and a better connection between indoors and outdoors, it was time to either remodel or move.
The ground floor of our clients’ home, as with many homes built in the ‘70s, had plenty of rooms…and no room. Walking into the house you confronted a wall from which a staircase led to the private living spaces upstairs, and behind which was the kitchen and family room. A narrow hall leading to those rooms accentuated the cramped feeling. Opening up these spaces to one another meant removing load bearing walls, one of which “carried” the roof and second story wall and floor system. An obvious solution would have been to transfer the load to pillars, but these would have defeated our clients’ esthetic goals, while structural support through added ceiling beams carried a price premium that exceeded their budget.
Repeated design iterations eventually led to a solution. By switching the floor plan positions of the dining and family rooms, we created a layout that situated the dining room between the family room and kitchen — in essence treating that space as a secondary part of the family room. The resulting floor plan was more in line with how we live in our homes these days. To address the challenge of structural support versus visual appeal, we took a creative design approach that wrapped the pillars in beautifully finished alder wood, which also tied them in nicely with the finishes on the floor and cupboards of the remodeled kitchen. By adding windows and sliders where there had been solid wall space, we not only brought the backyard into the reconfigured living spaces, but also created a horizon that stretched from the clients’ back patio to the front of their neighbor’s home across the street.
In solving the problem of relocating sections of the home’s HVAC system after removing the walls they were in, we also brainstormed an equally creative structural engineering solution to better balance the upstairs and downstairs climates without creating a dual-zone system — thus saving what might otherwise have been a more than $5,000 added expense in the interest of more efficient heating and cooling. But that’s another story altogether!
Although the design we settled on with our clients after much iteration seemed at best a livable compromise at the outset of the project, the end result proved to be everything they were looking for…and more. In terms of budget, what typically would have been the price of a high end kitchen remodel resulted in what was essentially a main level renovation. While credit goes to STRITE’s structural engineering prowess, even more goes to the patience and willingness of our clients to focus on the end rather than the means. In our business, we understand the value of keeping your eyes on the prize.
Click on photos to enlarge.
It was bad enough that this ‘80s style bathroom was weighed down in oak and somber finishes — it was also strangely configured. We breathed new life into its design by opening it up and letting the light shine in!
Here was a master bathroom that enjoyed a killer view of downtown Boise — but the spatial constraints of its layout hardly did justice to the expansive view from its foothills perch. Our goal was to not only create a sense of spaciousness, but to further enhance this with a lighter and cleaner look and feel.
Two major factors to the choppy layout of this bathroom were the peninsula vanity in its center and the large spa tub that took up an entire corner. An existing shower that was enclosed in a 3’x3’ space added to a claustrophobic feeling. To dramatically change the layout of this room, the vanity and the tub had to go.
Removing the peninsula vanity and the spa tub dramatically opened up this room. We kept the location of the existing shower, but increased its size and installed a glass enclosure. This gave the space a transparency that complimented the room’s newly discovered openness. We created a half wall for the shower to give it some privacy, and installed the shower controls in this wall. In place of the spa tub we added a stylish free standing tub. We replaced the existing brown carpet with lighter colored tile. What had formerly been a single vanity against the wall became a double vanity with new cabinetry and a full tile backsplash.
It was our good fortune that a skylight already existed in this room — but thanks to the changes we made to its layout and fixtures, its light was no longer swallowed up in a morass of dark wood, tile, and carpeting. At last, the open dimensions of the space inside did justice to scene it overlooked outside.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Whole House Remodel
Updating a foothills home, room by room
Well designed and constructed homes may age with grace…but they still age. As with humans, dealing with the “ravages of time” may require replacement, but it can also be achieved at a deeper cosmetic level — without the trauma of surgery. Think of it as optimizing the best of what you have by giving it a fresh look. That’s what our clients were hoping for with a home they purchased for their retirement, and it’s what we helped them achieve over a six-month period, in partnership with a local interior designer.
Our clients wanted to downsize their living space in retirement, but not at the expense of extended family activities or lifestyle. They found a home with a foothills view that reminded them of the one they had sold, and they loved its brick facade and overall layout. The interior of the home had not been touched in nearly thirty years, however, and our clients wanted to update its look and feel, as well as create dedicated if distinct spaces for private and family life.
A new home represents a blank canvas upon which to create, and the inherent possibilities can be simultaneously exhilarating and overwhelming. Other than having some heirloom furniture pieces that they wanted to incorporate, they didn’t really know what they wanted. We began our project together with the realization that the home’s basic floor plan sufficiently met their needs to require no major reconfiguration, and instead focused on a room-by-room rejuvenation that for the most part involved fixtures and finishes. To help in this area, our clients made the wise decision to involve an interior designer from the beginning, and based on our recommendations of local designers we had worked with in the past, they chose Amy Snow Interior Design.
Since their home’s layout ensured that our clients’ daily activities could be lived out almost exclusively on its main level, we made the kitchen and living room our remodel focal points, giving the combined space a “great room” feel. Aside from all new fixtures, appliances and cabinetry, the only change we made to the kitchen was to modify the island counter to provide more optimal seating. Since our clients liked the tile flooring in the kitchen, new cabinetry was selected to better compliment its color scheme. The only major structural change in the course of the project was the demolition of the previous living room fireplace, which was a cozy little brick structure with a white wooden mantel, and the creation of a floor to ceiling stone fireplace that added a sense of drama — and did justice to its foothills view. Along with repainting every room and replacing carpeting throughout, we also added new lighting and bathroom fixtures, while Amy Snow worked with our clients on finishes and accents that included decorative beams for a more masculine feel to the study.
Besides updating virtually every square inch of our clients’ new home, our remodel project gave it a clearer functional distinction between daily private life and extended family interactions — the latter taking place below the home’s main level through a recreational space and informal living room, as well as guest bedrooms and baths. By opening up a wall in the couple’s exercise room, we not only let in more natural light, but also inspired them to design a custom stainless window that we installed for them. As with humans, so with homes: Being old doesn’t mean being drab…as long as you’re willing to make an effort.
Click on photos to enlarge
Whole House Remodel
Every picture tells a story…and the pictures associated with this remodel tell quite a few — which should come as no surprise given the history of this home. Our job was to bring those disparate stories together into one seamless tale of beauty, comfort, and grace. Mission accomplished!
This home was moved to its present location in the Boise foothills in the 1960s, at which time an addition was built. Some 20 years later a second level was added. The ground floor living space was subsequently divided into several areas, out of which our vision was to open up and integrate an updated kitchen, dining room, and family room. The dramatic transformation that followed was based on yet another collaboration with Gina Wagner of Seed Interiors.
It’s not often that a floor is the starting point for all the elements in a remodel, but the structural reality of this project was that we were dealing with different floor systems from the home’s past. An even more significant structural challenge that we faced was in removing the posts and walls of the main living area — no small feat when you consider that they were supporting the second level!
We unified the floor system by starting at its highest point and leveling it using a laser, then laying down a roasted oak hardwood (the color that you see in the photos is natural, not a stain). We removed the walls and posts of the former kitchen area and spanned it with a steel beam for structural support, then reframed the entire system to raise the ceiling height as much as possible. By taking out a wall system we created a dining area separated from the kitchen by a large cabinet unit, with a pocket door added for additional separation if desired. We converted a space that had formerly been a large closet accessible off the main hallway into a kitchen pantry. For the adjoining family room we kept the fireplace in the same location, but installed a new unit and surround, then wrapped the ceiling beams so that we could stain them the same color as the mantle and flooring. We also updated the lighting and redid the ceiling texture.
To say that this remodel involved some focused effort is an understatement, but the before and after results speak for themselves. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Click photos to enlarge:
Open Concept Remodel
Is it really a compromise when everyone involved gets more than they bargained for? Based on their experience, our clients Paul and Becky would probably tell you that when you trust your remodel partner and keep your eyes on the prize, no one has to settle for less than everything they wanted. It’s an experience that reinforces a fundamental tenet of the STRITE culture: keeping your clients’ best interests at the center of any negotiation is the best way to get what you want.
It’s not as though Paul and Becky didn’t know what they wanted. They had lived in their Lakewood home in Southeast Boise for 10 years — long enough to know that its location fit their lifestyle. That lifestyle changed, however, when their children left home. While Becky wanted to scale down to a smaller home without a yard, Paul really wanted a yard. “It was either move or remodel,” Paul recalls.
The couple looked at a lot of homes but couldn’t find the lot size that matched the price they were willing to pay, and both loved the proximity to the Greenbelt and work that their current location offered. In the process of house hunting, Becky had compiled a notebook of ideas that inspired her, and that she and Paul eventually decided to incorporate into the remodel of their existing home.
“The biggest issue was to create a more open living space,” says Becky. “We love to entertain, but the way our house was set up was just not conducive to having a bunch of people over.” The couple chose STRITE based on the experience of friends in their Lakewood community. “We’d noticed STRITE signs over the years,” Paul recalls, “and we can probably name three homes we know of that were remodeled by them. If you have little kids and you’re going through a remodel — and it’s going well — there must be something to that.”
What Paul and Becky most wanted from a remodel was to create a more open floor plan. “There was no line of sight,” says Paul. “When you looked into our house, you looked right into a wall. The house was segregated by a living room, dining room, kitchen, and den.” Guests were confronted with a short, narrow hallway that further contributed to the sense of constriction created by their home’s layout. On the front page of her notebook, Becky had highlighted “better flow, counter space, lighting, and access to outdoors and patio space.”
In discussing their goals with designer Michael Snow, the challenge quickly became one of removing load bearing walls without obstructing the line of sight the couple wanted from one end of the house to the other. Initial design concepts envisioned steel beam supports, but this approach was untenable within the budget framework. Snow developed design options that made use of posts and half walls, none of which met the clients’ approval. “He would draw something, and I’d say that it wouldn’t work. It took some time,” Becky recalls.
The design phase in fact took several months to work through, during which time it was decided that the kitchen would be moved and the original budget would be increased to find the best compromise between adequate structural support, openness, and cost. Although Becky admits to being “a little nervous when we went into it,” she and her husband agreed that if STRITE couldn’t do the project, they would opt for a new home rather than a remodel. We should here note that we don’t take this sort of trust lightly.
Ultimately, the agreed upon remodel design switched the floor plan positions of the dining and family rooms to create a layout that situated the dining room between the other two rooms — in essence treating that space as a secondary part of the family room. The resulting floor plan was more in line with how we live in our homes these days.
To address the challenge of structural support versus visual appeal, STRITE took a creative design approach that wrapped carefully placed pillars in beautifully finished alder wood, which tied them in with the finishes on the floor and cupboards of the remodeled kitchen. By adding windows and sliders where there had been solid wall space, we not only brought the backyard into the reconfigured living spaces, but also created a horizon that stretched from the clients’ back patio to the front of their neighbor’s home across the street.
“I can sit on the patio outside my kitchen door and see all the way through my house to my neighbor’s front door,” says Becky. “I love this neighborhood, and it’s great to be able to see so much of it from my backyard. It is one of my favorite things to do. I wanted the outdoors brought in, and that’s what we got.”
In addition to integrating previously divided rooms, the remodel resulted in a kitchen that better met Becky’s ambitions as a baker. “I love everything about the kitchen. What I love the most is something that I came up with, which is the long baking counter underneath a long window that faces the garden and has all my baking stuff with it. It is a working space that is absolutely gorgeous and accommodates all my baking goods. It is beautiful and light.”
In tackling the rerouting of the HVAC system that was necessitated by the demolition phase of the project, STRITE designed an innovative way to better balance the climates of the two levels of the home, without the expense of adding an additional zone. “I was really happy with this compromise,” says Paul, even while admitting that “STRITE might have left some margin on the table.”
During the twelve weeks of the remodel, Paul and Becky had their share of patio grilled steaks, microwave eggs, and coffee in the garage — although Becky admits that, “It was nothing a couple of bottles of wine couldn’t fix.” What most impressed the couple, however, was the overall order that STRITE maintained in their home while they continued to live there during the course of the project.
“They were so organized,” Becky recounts, “particularly (project manager) Ed Lee. I can’t say enough about that guy. He would see things and take care of them before I even had to ask, and we saw eye-to-eye on things that didn’t work as we went along. He was here day after day, and after awhile he became like a part of the family, and everyone of the trades people we worked with were so polite and so hard working and professional. We would walk in after something major was done and just be amazed by it, and by how well the clean up was done.”
Paul recalls that although there were challenges to getting past the design phase of the project, “we knew that once we got going everything would be fine, since we knew how strong STRITE is on the back end of things.” Looking back on the realization of their original remodel vision, Becky adds, “The notebook I put together is almost identical to what we actually ended up with! We sit in this dining room every night — at the epicenter of our home — and look at each other and say, ‘This is so great.’ We’ll be here for awhile.”
The most obvious way to dramatically affect the look of a room is to change its layout — whether the goal is functional improvement or simply a makeover. That said, one should never underestimate the power of “finishes” to transform a living space.
The master bathroom in this home was already stylish, and its layout worked effectively for our client. The goal of this remodel was to update that style and give the room a more understated elegance. We accomplished this with well designed finishes, rather than through reconstruction.
Glass blocks have a timeless appeal, but they simply didn’t work with the look our client was going for. The biggest change we needed to make, however, was the transformation of the vanity, which we wanted to reflect a more contemporary sense of elegance.
We replaced the glass block it in this room with clear tempered glazing to allow more light, and complimented its transparency with mirrored doors on the closet facing the tub. We framed the new tub deck with openings for cabinetry behind the tub face panels to be used for towel storage. We removed the soffit from above the vanity — not only because of how it affected the look of the room, but because the lighting was ineffective. In its place we installed custom designed mirrors (can you find the one that is hinged for an inset medicine cabinet?) and new light fixtures. We constructed new cabinets and added a marble vanity top with matching backsplash, as well as new sinks and fixtures. To tie the look of the bathroom in with the master bedroom, we replaced the carpeting in both rooms with a dark hardwood that complimented the bathroom cabinetry. The visual “flow” between bedroom and bathroom was dramatic.
Not long after we completed this remodel, our client put the home up for sale. It sold within a matter of days, and our client assures us that one of the features that “sealed the deal” was our remodeled bathroom. We would never encourage anyone to remodel a home strictly with an eye to “return on investment” — but a well designed and executed remodel sure doesn’t hurt a home’s resale value!
Click on photos to enlarge.
As part of this remodel, we also completed a Powder Room remodel which turned out just as beautiful, visit the Powder Room post here.
When the rooms you live in most are too confining, it’s time to think about annexing some interior real estate from the rooms you live in least. Our client liked to entertain, but the kitchen was too cramped, the dining room was tucked awkwardly behind a partition wall, and the space occupied by the kitchen table obstructed the flow of traffic to the outside of the house. Our goal was to improve the livability of all these rooms, while updating the look of the kitchen.
Adding space to the kitchen meant taking it from the adjoining dining room — which meant taking out a wall. With a full-fledged second story above the kitchen, this also meant relocating plumbing and duct work. While we preserved the basic layout of the room, we shifted its location to open up more space between it and the family room. In the process, we removed one window and enlarged and moved a second and centered it over the new sink.
Moving the wall back between the kitchen and the dining room gave us an additional five feet of kitchen area. In the remaining space from the former dining room we created a spacious and far more useful walk-in pantry. We complimented the added sense of openness in the kitchen by removing the drop down soffits from the ceiling and replacing the old florescent lighting with can lights. In place of the former sit down bar we created a larger, two-tiered counter that was more appropriate for entertaining. Rather than the more expensive option of replacing the hardwood flooring, we refinished and stained ti to go with the new cabinetry we installed. We even had a stainless steel facade fabricated to replace the panel on the existing refrigerator. Why replace a perfectly good appliance just for the sake of making it “fit in” with its new surroundings?
The new kitchen was a stunning success, and redefined the look of the home. We should mention, however, that one of the children in the family had severe allergies. We’re pleased to say that because of our efforts in isolating the construction area, no one experienced any ill effects. We also set up a temporary kitchen in the garage, complete with carpet, so the family could maintain some normalcy in their lives. When it comes to transforming a family’s living space, we believe in taking the trauma out of the drama.