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.

Open concept living next to kitchen by Strite Design in Boise, Idaho

Professional remodeling companies come in different shapes and sizes, from one guy in a truck to the full-service, design-remodel business like STRITE that has a staff of designers, project managers, and others who ensure that every detail of your project is completed to your standards, on budget, and on time. STRITE is the most ideal choice for people looking for the following remodel experience:

Value added design that not only enhances the esthetics of a home, but improves its livability and functionality.

A single point of contact in day-to-day management of the construction process, and accountability for its successful completion on-budget.

Cost savings through the experience to “expect the unexpected,” the skill to execute your vision, and the ability to pass volume savings along to you.

Amazing clients
Client Relationships

Any credible company will blithely profess that taking care of customers is just “good business.”  Ingraining good customer service into an organizational culture, however, involves an investment of time (which equals money) that not all businesses are willing to make.

For STRITE, customer relations is as necessary a cost of doing business as meeting our payroll. One of the legacies of our company’s founder, Jim Strite, was to make customer care not simply a rigorous discipline, but the subject of on going study. Rather than handing out reading assignments on new construction techniques, which our project managers were already inclined to learn as a matter of perfecting their craft, the STRITE team was asked to study books like “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” As a result, STRITE’s weekly production meetings typically focus as much on the emotional states of our remodel customers as they do on construction details.

To better appreciate how customer relations shape the STRITE culture and its business practices, I recently interviewed vice president Brad Millspaugh on the subject.

Q: Why are customer relations such an important component of a successful remodeling business?

A: We joke that our project managers need to major in construction and minor in psychology, but when you think about it, we’re spending every day in situations that are inherently stressful — we’re going into peoples’ homes, into some of their most intimate settings, and completely transforming them.  That in itself puts people in a pretty vulnerable mindset, and we have to be sensitive to that.

Q: How do we promote good customer relations among our project team?

A: The first thing we do is practice the techniques we’ve learned from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” These include always looking for the “win-win” in a situation and seeking first to understand. That last technique is especially important when you have a customer who is upset about something.  We’ve learned that the best initial response to a customer concern is to simply shut up and listen. Another important attribute of our project managers is the ability to stay calm. Bringing a sense of calm to a situation that is inherently stressful is vital to keeping our customers calm as well.

Q: How important are good communication skills?

A: Extremely important — but good communication goes beyond interpersonal dynamics. It starts with the systems we put in place to keep our customers in the loop on their remodel projects. Over the years, we’ve built layers into our tracking and reporting systems in order to accommodate different customer personality types. This means including levels of detail that satisfy a more “engineering” mentality, or keeping things more high level for customers who simply want to know if we’re on track with deadlines and budget, but don’t want to get into the weeds. Every week, our clients receive an email update of their project status tailored to their particular “need to know.” Things like small business software also helps out in managing the team for quick communication.

Q: What else matters to customers?

A: Responsiveness. We don’t like to get a phone call in the middle of the night from a customer who says that the tarp protecting their construction site just blew off in a windstorm, but we have to not only take that call, but respond to it by going out and fixing the problem. In a case like that, just listening isn’t enough.

Q: What is most upsetting to customers?

A: Not being kept in the loop. When we fail to adequately communicate, and our customers have to contact us to find out what is going on with their project, that’s simply not acceptable. Which brings up another aspect of good customer relationships — the inevitability of error, and our willingness to take ownership for our mistakes and fix them without playing “the blame game.”

Q: What is it about practicing good customer relations that makes it a cost of doing business?

A: When we take on any remodel project, one of the things we tell our customers is that after we’ve created the budget, the description of work, and the project calendar, the only wildcard is them. We don’t mean this in a negative way, but simply to recognize that indecisiveness or tortured decision making can add delays and cost. We’re generally pretty good at recognizing these types of situations up front, and we build it into what we call our “dollars versus relationship transaction” rather than put the burden back on the client when issues arise. I think most of our clients recognize that the more they contribute to the efficiency of the process, the more it benefits them in the end…and that the reverse is equally true — but we’ll treat everyone with the same respect and professionalism regardless. As in any relationship, the true test is how well you hang in there through the not so good times as well as the good times.

Kitchen Concepts

Do you remember the first time you imagined the ideal kitchen? If this seems a trivial, if not odd, question to pose, bear with me a moment — and think about the role that kitchens have played in your life. I’ve lived in a lot of homes over the years, and while many of the rooms that served as a backdrop to my life story have passed out of memory, I can sketch the layout of every kitchen I ever spent time in with surprising accuracy, going well back into my childhood.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that from an anthropological perspective, our kitchens may tell us more about our cultural values than almost any other room in our homes. Which leads me back to my opening question. Do you remember the first time you imagined the ideal kitchen? Being a child of the ‘60s, the first idealized kitchen I can recall was straight out of Disney’s Tomorrowland. It was space age, chrome, and all about instant gratification with little or no labor.  Meet George Jetson.

It will probably come as no surprise, then, when I confess that my ideal kitchen has come a long way since the space race. I don’t foresee giving up my microwave, but my childhood obsession with automation has evolved into an emphasis on connectivity that goes beyond the digital. If you believe, as we do at STRITE, that form follows function, than my ideal kitchen looks quite a bit like those we have most recently created for our clients: spaces with forms that serve the function of nurture — in ways that go well beyond dishing up healthy meals. They are, in addition, focal points of family life, social hubs, and places of intimacies born of the act of sustaining ourselves communally. While you might argue that the bedroom is the locus of intimacy, it can hardly celebrate that virtue as publicly as the kitchen — not, at least, with similar propriety.

If you need more than just anecdotal evidence to prove the case for the kitchen’s profound transformation over the decades, consider the latest cost vs. value figures from Remodeling Magazine. (The cost-value ratio expresses resale value as a percentage of construction cost. When cost and value are equal, the ratio is 100 percent; when cost is higher than value, the ratio is less than 100 percent; when value is higher than cost, the ratio exceeds 100 percent).

According to the survey for 2014, kitchens were a star performer in the ratio’s strongest increase in nearly a decade. In its trends summary, Remodeling Magazine noted that, “In general, kitchen projects outperformed bathroom projects, regardless of cost. One indication is the Major Kitchen Remodel.”  The article further notes that, “Despite its hefty $54,909 price tag, its cost-value ratio of 74.2 percent ranks it second among the seven K&B (kitchen and bath) projects, just above Bathroom Remodel, which is about one-third the size. And the $109,935 upscale Major Kitchen Remodel project ranked higher than the other three much smaller bathroom projects.”

Our own experience at STRITE over the past couple of years underscores this trend, as you’ve probably discovered in our more recent case study blog posts. In fact, in recognition of the current cost vs. value survey findings, we thought we’d use this blog to share some of our more recent kitchen remodel projects, and what we think they say about the role kitchens play in our lives.

Bring the kitchen out of the cloister

Back when folks were concerned that what happened in the kitchen stayed in the kitchen, it made sense to sequester this working space from the more tender sensibilities of, say, the parlor. Of course, back then you might also have had domestic staff to handle the utilitarian functions for which the kitchen was designed. Increasingly, clients are asking us to reintegrate their kitchens with the other public spaces of their homes, since cooking, rather than simply dining, has taken on a more communal nature. This is a good example of bringing the kitchen out of the shadows and into the family fold.

Walnut bar and bright bar stools

Go with the flow

As more homeowners embrace cooking as a pastime and not just a necessary evil, they are spending more time in their kitchens — and being able to move around easily in that space, as well as between spaces where food migrates, is of increasing importance. We recently finished a remodel that was at the lower end of the budget spectrum compared to some of the other examples in this blog, but that neatly solved a problem our customers had with the flow in and around their kitchen.

New floating island

Focus on the art  

If it seems an exercise in hyperbole to suggest that cooking has been raised to the level of performance art, then scan your cable channels and look at the number of cooking shows we turn to for entertainment. It stands to reason, then, that folks want a well designed stage for their own domestic performances. At the 2013 Tour of Remodeled Homes, STRITE showcased a Boise home whose owners had wanted to transform their interior from a Tuscan theme to a contemporary European style. In the process, they asked us to improve the layout of their kitchen, since both husband and wife enjoyed cooking and didn’t want to be “upstaging” one another. Note that this case study also highlights another kitchen trend: the use of non-traditional materials (think cork flooring).

Being in the present while honoring the past

Given the number of remodels we’ve done over the last four decades that have involved restoring vintage homes, it’s good to see the that so many of our customers want their kitchens to honor the original style of their homes, while fulfilling more contemporary functional needs. Here in Boise you don’t have to look too much further than the North End for great examples of remodel projects that have met that criteria.


Connecting the outside and the inside 

Perhaps this is simply a corollary of our first observation, but just as clients are wanting their kitchens to join the rest of their home, they are also more interested in making light and view as much a part of the decor as decorative back splashes. In this case study from the 2014 Tour of Remodeled homes, addressing this desire started with bringing down the walls.

image001 4

Bring on the drama 

Although it’s hard to keep up with the Jetsons when it comes to a truly “out of the world” design, our clients typically want their kitchens to make as bold a statement about their esthetics as any other room in their home…if not more so. We offer this example of one amazing makeover located in the Boise foothills.


One common feature that is often hidden below (or above) the surface of a number of the remodel examples we’ve shared in this post is the need for “structural intervention” to pull them off. We like to think of the meeting between design esthetics and engineering know-how as STRITE’s “sweet spot” — and I leave you with one brief example of how these two came together in a kitchen remodel that required the removal of a load-bearing wall.


For nearly 40 years, the STRITE remodel process has been refined by hundreds of experts: our clients. While good communication is always critical to delivering what you’re looking for, there are steps to getting there that are as critical to the STRITE experience as the people we employ.

While you can review a detailed schematic of the STRITE process by clicking here, the major stages of a remodel project are summarized below.

Input — We ask questions about your expectations and lifestyle, and then we listening. Together, we create a list of your project objectives and prioritize them room-by-room.

Design Agreement — We create an outline of your objectives and an agreed upon budget range.

Conceptual Design — Our design team creates what will be the basis of the preliminary plan for your project.

Final Selections — We provide a shopping list with budgeted allowances for your remodel finishes. Time to hit the showrooms!

Description of Work — We schedule a “trades party” for team members at the project site, and use their input as the basis for a comprehensive “description of work” (DOW) that details every step of the construction process.

Pre-construction — We walk through the entire scope of work with you and discuss project details, such as the preparation of the construction site.

Construction — During construction, you’ll remain in close contact with your assigned Project Manager, who will provide you with frequent production schedule updates. As your project nears its end, you and your Project Manager will review the “punch list” of details that need to be addressed. Upon completion, STRITE will review the remodel experience with you and provide product information and warranties to add to your Project Binder for safe keeping.


Remodeling as a Metaphor

“I appreciate that everyone wants to manage a budget, but I’ve learned that the last 20 percent you don’t want to put into it is the 20 percent that really distinguishes it in the end.”

“You can decide not to go there and end up with something ‘ho hum,’ or invest it and be glad you did.” — CJ (a STRITE client in Boise’s North End)

It would be ever so nice if we could have whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it, with no conditions or compromises attached — but the fact is that we all live in the real world.  And if we didn’t discover this by the time we were two years old, there’s nothing like a remodel project to bring us hurtling back to the reality that life is about trade-offs.

STRITE designer Michael Snow recently shared an online article with us on this very theme, and we thought it worth passing along with some insights of our own. The article, “Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save Money in a Home Remodel,” should be required reading for anyone contemplating a remodel, and the advice mirrors the discussions we have with nearly every client we work with at the outset of a project.  While we encourage you to read the entire article (along with its excellent sidebar links), we’d like to amplify on some of points it raises.

Very few, if any, remodeling projects will return 100% of your investment, so the decision to remodel should be more about your enjoyment of your home and getting more out of it. For any space, think about your family’s lifestyle, and spend more on the areas that support those priorities. — If your immediate goal is to put your home on the market, it certainly makes sense to prioritize those fixes/enhancements that will most likely get you a good offer.  In the case of most remodels, however, our advice to our clients is to always focus on how a project will enhance their lifestyle.  The reason we have always insisted on a design/build model for our business is to make sure that we focus on lifestyle priorities at the very outset of a project.  That said, it’s at least encouraging to note that the cost vs. value ratio for remodel projects has actually improved in 2013 for the first time in years.

You don’t want to overspend and possibly price your home way out of proportion to the rest of the neighborhood. — Following this advice has a lot to do with how long you plan to live in your home…which is a similar consideration you need to make when the question of “over customization” comes up.  This may be a more relevant issue to a young family than to an older couple, especially if that older couple is looking at modifications aimed at “aging in place.”  To get a good perspective on keeping remodel projects in line with logical enhancements to the style and function of a home, as well as it’s value within a neighborhood context, take a look at our blog, “Confessions of a Serial Remodeler.”

Invest in the Most Permanent, Fundamental Items. — One of the great advantages of remodeling compared with most new construction is the degree of choice you can exercise over materials that improve the durability, efficiency, and functionality of your home.  A good remodeler can guide you through those choices and help you weed out the things that are “the flavor of the month” versus those with more fundamental and longer lasting value.

Buy Cheaper Alternatives That Look the Same as Premium Materials — Thanks to the Internet, you can do your homework on how to get the look and performance that you’re looking for, without necessarily paying “name brand” prices.   An advantage we have after nearly forty years in the remodeling business is that we can do a lot of this homework for our clients, based on relationships with a long list of suppliers.

Spend More on Your Room’s Focal Points — Something we always take into account in any remodel design is the ways that “line of sight” and “flow” enhance the experience of a living space.  We find this to very often be the case in updating kitchens, when taking out a wall can connect a key center of family activity with the rest of a home’s public spaces.

Start Off on the Right Foot — The article recommends creating a realistic budget…and then adding 50% “just in case.”  As a remodeling company that has made “knowing our numbers” an essential part of the value we bring to our clients, our general practice is to allow between 3 and 5% for “additional work requests” (AWRs) that typically arise when a client chooses to add or upgrade something to a remodel project beyond the original scope of work.  In other words, give yourself some “wiggle room” if it means the difference between getting what you want and, as CJ so poetically put it, “ho hum.”








Trades Party

Next to building or buying a home, a remodel may be one of the biggest investments you’ll ever make — and choosing the right remodeling partner is the single most critical component to whether or not that investment maintains its value.

The best place to start in considering a remodeling partner is to identify those that are registered and/or licensed with the state to do business as remodeling contractors. In addition, check for their membership in local and state remodeling professional organizations, such as NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) and NARI-Idaho, and whether they have certifications in their trades — i.e., Green Certified Professional Certification, Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Remodeler Specialist (CRS), Certified Remodeler Associate (CRA), Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler (CKBR), Certified Lead Carpenter (CLC), Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), etc.

Other factors to consider include years in business, reputation, recommendations and references, and membership in local business, civic and community organizations. NARI suggests the following questions you should ask prospective remodelers:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • Who will be assigned as project supervisor for the job?
  • Who will be working on the project? Are they employees or subcontractors?
  • Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance?
  • What is your approach to a project such as mine?
  • How many projects like mine have you completed in the past year?
  • May I have a list of references from those projects?
  • May I have a list of business referrals or suppliers?
  • What percentage of your business is repeat or referral business?

If you are getting competitive bids, be sure to only work with reputable companies.  We also recommend researching articles and tips from industry websites such as and to learn more about the importance of selecting a professional remodeler.  Another excellent source for information on local remodeling companies is GuildQuality, which publishes surveys of remodel customers in communities throughout the country.

*The photograph shows A STRITE “trades party” convening at the home of a client at the start of a remodel project.

While people often think of home remodeling as synonymous with building an “addition,” there are a number of reasons it makes sense to remodel besides adding needed living space. Some of the most common reasons that we have seen in our 40 years of residential design and remodel experience are the following.

Updating the Look of Your Home

Like fashion in general, what was once fresh in the layout and design of a home can become stale over time. Believe it or not, harvest gold and avocado were once trendy, but unless you’re way into the “retro” look, you’d probably prefer a more contemporary style for your kitchen. As our case studies demonstrate, Strite has a long track record of design and build updates that wear well with time.

Improving the Functionality of a Living Space

Unless your home was custom built, its design made generic lifestyle assumptions that simply may not apply to you. We find this to be particularly true in the kitchen, where your own unique approach to food and entertaining can make a huge difference in a room’s size, layout and finishes. Your lifestyle and interests are paramount when we address the functional remodel of your home.

Aging in Place

Homes age…and so do we. As we age, we eventually face mobility issues that in turn affect the livability of our homes. Rather than going through the dislocation of moving to a new house, a remodel that transforms obstacles into conveniences (particularly with regard to bathrooms) can be a better option for how we deal with aging in our homes.

To read more about how STRITE design + remodel addresses these and other needs, view the Services page of our website.

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In some hopeful news for both homeowners and construction companies alike, Remodeling Magazine recently published its annual report on the cost versus value ratio for replacement and remodeling projects across the U.S.  In a positive sign for the remodeling industry, the 2013 national average cost-value ratio rose to 60.6%, ending a six-year decline.

Cost vs

The latest ratio represents a nearly three-point improvement over 2011-12, and is more than a half-point higher than the figure from two years ago. The Remodeling Magazine survey reveals that lower construction costs are the principal factor in the upturn, especially when measured against stabilizing house values (How good do those last three words sound, right?).

The further good news in the report is that cost-recouped percentages were up for all 35  replacement/remodel projects tracked in the survey.  This marks a complete turnaround from the 2011–12 report, when percentages dropped in all but three projects — some precipitously.  The biggest gainers this year were mostly replacement projects, which have always outperformed discretionary remodeling projects, more so in recent years as the economic recession brought price to the forefront for homeowners making remodeling decisions.

For those of us living in the Treasure Valley, Remodeling Magazine’s report not only breaks out the cost-value numbers regionally, but by metropolitan area as well, including Boise.  Looking over the numbers for our market, you’ll find that the best return on your remodel dollar comes from “minor kitchen remodels” at 76.2 percent.  The figures are revealing not only from the standpoint of giving you some idea of how much you might recapture from a home remodel project should you sell your home, but also for the insight they will give you into average remodel costs, and how our market compares to the rest of the country (hint: we’re looking pretty darned competitive, my friends).

So what does all this mean to our customers, you ask?  As interesting as the numbers in this report may be, they don’t fundamentally change the math as we see it — which has more to do with the intrinsic value of having a place to live that better meets your lifestyle needs.  That said, however, it’s nice to know that should you decide to sell a home you’ve improved through a professionally managed remodel project (no offense to the DIYers out there), your return on investment should be better than it has been in many a year.  That certainly beats a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, which isn’t a bad metaphor for what our overall housing market has felt like until now.


Inside Strite

Whenever we consider a remodel project with a client, the discussion inevitably turns to the topic of “value.”  Sure, the concept can seem a bit trite, if not hackneyed, but the first thing we try to do is to disassociate its definition from that of “cost.”  The lowest bid on a remodel project is no more a metric of value than the highest bid — and while the concept of “return on investment” may make sense in the business realm, it doesn’t translate as neatly into the math of a home remodel.

Value, as it turns out, is something you experience — and at STRITE, we believe that it is an experience with many facets to it.

For us, the concept of value starts with how we see our business, which is to provide a high quality service and product.  If you think about a “higher calling” associated with any business, ours is to fulfill a community need — and after all, improving peoples‘ homes is certainly an investment in the quality of a community.  Focusing on this aspect of our business model, rather than on simply making money, forms the basis of how we look at value.  To this, we add integrity (doing what we do honestly and professionally), talent, and experience.

To compare the value that competing companies offer is a tricky proposition when choosing a remodeler, since it would ultimately require homeowners to have the same project completed by several different companies — something that simply doesn’t happen in the real world.  The truth is, any good remodeler should end up producing the same, or roughly the same, outcome when it comes to fulfilling a client’s needs.  What happens in getting to that outcome is where value is experienced.

It may seem a bold statement, but we are the only construction company in our residential remodel market that doesn’t say, “We can’t do it.”  We’ve learned over the years that everything can be done…you just have to understand the parameters associated with doing it.  Helping our clients work through those parameters is another component of how STRITE adds value — one that also informs the culture of our company, and how we work together and with our trades partners.