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.

 

Inside Strite

Recently, a client looked over our final invoice at the completion of a project and compared it to our original “description of work” (DOW).  “I know you guys did a lot of additional stuff during this remodel.  You should include those things in the invoice and show their value, even if you aren’t charging for them,” he commented.  Our response was that the additional paperwork wasn’t really worth our effort as long as he appreciated what had been done — which was really the point to begin with.

His observation, however, got us to thinking about the way we look at integrity in our business.  How we define that term is a frequently asked question that we can answer in six words: keeping our end of the agreement — which is, of course, another way of saying “doing the things we said we were going to do.”  As an integral part of the STRITE culture, this value goes beyond the notion of contractual obligation.  Sure, our contracts require us to produce what we’ve agreed to on paper, but our interpretation of “integrity” is more about truly having the best interests of our customers in mind.

In terms of how our definition of integrity is experienced by our customers (besides seeing things accomplished beyond the DOW), it involves maintaining a critical eye throughout the life of a project in order to present options that will create a better outcome.  It is important to point out, however, that presenting these options does not necessarily mean adding cost, but instead ensuring that down the road our clients don’t find themselves wishing something had been done differently when an alternative could have been presented earlier in the process.  From a client perspective, you might say that our sense of integrity is felt most keenly as an absence of regret.  For us, it simply means viewing our obligation to our clients as going beyond the particulars of the description of work.  Fulfilling a contract is one thing, leaving your customers with an abiding sense of fulfillment is quite another — it’s a seeming intangible that is at the heart of what the word “integrity” means to STRITE.

Award

When you consider the number of businesses that participate, in some form or fashion, in the remodeling industry (well over half a million nationwide), it might come as some surprise that a company headquartered in Boise, Idaho could be among the top 500.  Once again, however, two leading trade magazines, Qualified Remodeler and Remodeling, have included STRITE in their respective lists of the top companies in the remodeling market for 2013.

In the case of Qualified Remodeler, whose Top 500 list encompasses all remodelers, irrespective of category, STRITE was ranked number 437 — the only Idaho-based, full-service remodeling company to earn this distinction.  STRITE moved up nearly 40 slots from last year’s ranking, propelled by revenue of approximately $1.6 million, earned from 51 remodeling jobs in 2012.

Remodeling magazine’s list of the top 550 remodelers drills down into categories that include the niche that STRITE occupies: full-service remodelers.  According to the magazine, “These companies offer the range of services, in-house or subcontracted, that allow them to build the additions and alterations (think kitchen and bath renovations, master suites) that substantially change the look, feel, or square footage of a home. Many specialize in a particular type of renovation—kitchens and baths, for instance, or historical restoration—but big custom projects, either designed by the company or built off an architect’s plans, are what their business is about.”

That has certainly been what our business has been about for nearly 40 years now, and based on Remodeling’s ranking, STRITE is currently the 194th largest full-service remodeling company in that business.  Both Qualified Remodeler and Remodeling have estimated STRITE’s 2013 revenue to reach $2 million — a year-to-year increase of around 20 percent.  Interestingly, we should note that according to Remodeling, “America’s biggest remodelers expect to see a 19.9% increase in revenue from 2012” — which pretty much puts our performance on par with the national average.

Remodeling magazine’s article on the top 550 remodeling companies goes on to make another observation about the remodeling market that echoes our own experience here in the Treasure Valley.  “When the recession put the housing market on hold a few years back, full-service remodelers were especially vulnerable and many downsized, voluntarily or otherwise. Now, after a few years of uncertainty, many see business gaining, with more and larger projects in the pipeline. Many full-service remodelers on this list project modest revenue increases this year.”

STRITE’s president, Bob Mundy, made a similar observation in a recently issued press release announcing our Qualified Remodeler ranking: “One of the trends we’re seeing for our business is an increasing average cost per project.  We believe this reflects a deeper impulse by homeowners to invest in making their homes more desirable places to live for the longer term.  Remodeling has become much more of a lifestyle consideration — which also makes it a much more sustainable business environment for a company like ours, as well as a lagging but important indicator of gradual improvement in our local economy.”

Here’s to good times ahead — and a heartfelt thank you to the customers who have sustained us through good times…not so good times.  No matter the vagaries of our economy, we have strived to add value to the projects you’ve entrusted to us, and our success is less about bragging rights than it is a confirmation that we’ve redeemed that trust.

 

 

Rendering of shed roof from front of home by Strite Design in Boise, Idaho
Garage Addition Digital Renderings

“Begin as you mean to continue” is a great philosophy for living in general.  In remodeling, however, intentionality in execution begins with intentionality in design.  In the case of some remodel projects, the number of options that face a designer require the kind of scrutiny that only 3D modeling can provide.

Vision

Our clients wanted to add an additional garage to their home, and had thought through their remodel criteria very carefully.  They wanted high ceilings, an overall sense of openness, and an orientation that would take advantage of the view from their foothills home.

Challenge

As we attempt to gain ceiling height in the new garage (the existing garage roof is just under 8 feet), the fascia tie-in between the new and old structures presents a challenge that is best addressed by carefully modeling different roof options.

Accomplishment

We have invested in 3D modeling capability for precisely the reasons this case study presents.  Using this technique with a home that already has an unusual roof line, we were able to look at shed roof designs that included clipped and unclipped versions of the existing garage roofline, then study the ramifications of these options from different perspectives.

Highlights

While we still have a couple of studies remaining, our 3D models have already led us to the conclusion that the clipped roof doesn’t tie in well with the rest of the overhangs, so we will look at retaining the existing roof line while looking at the connection with the shed option and the hip option.  You can imagine the sense of confidence these models will give our clients as they make their final decision on the design of the new addition.

Click on images for a larger view.

Addition with shed roof and no clip on existing roof

Shed from side. but wait, keep reading more

Kitchen Demolition before renovation by Strite Design in Boise, Idaho
Remodeling Experience

In thinking about the process of a home remodel, I’m reminded of an old blues song: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”  The inescapable fact of any significant home makeover is that in between the “before” and “after” is the rather messy “during.”

Walls come down, soffits are demolished, plumbing and wiring are relocated, trades cadres come and go as their craft requires…it’s like living in a construction zone.  Which is, of course, exactly what it is.  And while it’s not as though a new build doesn’t have its share of dust and drama, the difference is that folks don’t generally try to live in a home while it’s being constructed.  By the time they turn the key in the front door and walk inside, it’s all bright and shiny, with everything in its place.  At least, that’s the expectation.

If a remodel project is extensive enough, our clients will, on rare occasion, choose to relocate to a hotel or rental until their remodel is accomplished.  More often, however, we simply devise temporary solutions that minimize the impact of the project on their daily lives.  Take this current kitchen remodel in south Boise for example.  The following pictures illustrate the ways that STRITE helps our clients “manage the chaos” that ensues in the necessary transition between “before” and “after.”

The demolition phase of any remodel project is probably the most traumatic, but we’ve learned a lot of ways over the years to minimize its impact on our clients’ lives.

The demolition starts now!

The demolition starts now!

The door between calm and chaos (or an orderly sort). We've constructed a temporary wall between the kitchen and dining room with a door for access between the space under construction and the rest of the home.

The door between calm and chaos (of an orderly sort). We’ve constructed a temporary wall between the kitchen and dining room with a door for access between the space under construction and the rest of the home.

During a kitchen remodel, we will usually set up a temporary food preparation area in either the garage or in another room, based on whichever option is most convenient for our clients.

During a kitchen remodel, we usually set up a temporary food preparation area in either the garage or in another room, based on whatever option is most convenient for our clients.

All the comforts of home.

All the comforts of home.

Separating the family room from the kitchen/dining nook during the demolition and construction phases.

Separating the family room from the kitchen/dining nook during the demolition and construction phases.

Protecting the furniture in the living room, which also serves as a holding area for furnishings we removed from an impacted dining nook.

Protecting the furniture in the living room, which also serves as a holding area for furnishings we removed from an impacted dining nook.

Why do these people look so happy about their kitchen being demolished? Perhaps its because they know what awaits them when their remodel is finish.

Why do these people look so happy about their kitchen being demolished? Perhaps it’s because they know what awaits them when their remodel is finished and assuring its prosperity, One of the easiest ways to keep tiles longer new for longer is by applying a grout sealer. By protecting the grout lines, dirt and water is repelled and doesn’t stain it.

Bob Mundy

Industry Trends

STRITE design + remodel has once again been ranked by the trade publication Qualified Remodeler as among the top 500 remodeling companies in the U.S.  While this is a notable achievement in itself — especially considering that we operate in a much smaller market than most of the other companies in this prestigious ranking — the larger story behind this recognition is something worth sharing for what it reveals about our industry and the environment in which it currently operates.

To gain some insight into the dynamics of the Treasure Valley residential remodeling market, I turned to a veteran of both the upturns and downturns of our industry: STRITE’s president, Bob Mundy.  I asked Bob to characterize and contrast the current remodeling environment with what was happening in our industry just a few years ago.  Whether you are a homeowner who is contemplating a residential remodel, or simply a keen observer of our local economy, his perspective is worth noting.

If the remodeling business is a less volatile place to be since the bursting of the real estate bubble five or so years ago, some credit is due to an overall improvement in the regional economy.  However, this explanation only goes so far.  For one thing, while STRITE has seen its estimated revenue for 2013 improve by roughly 20 percent over the previous year, the pace of economic growth in the Treasure Valley has been far less robust.

From Bob’s perspective, the improvement STRITE has seen in the remodel market can be attributed to five factors that, while they may not constitute a “perfect storm” of business opportunity, at least point to a more sustainable environment in which to continue to do what we’ve been doing for the past 37 years.  In no particular order, Bob Mundy characterizes these factors as follows.

Pent up demand — After a lot of fear and trepidation regarding their economic future, home owners are deciding to no longer put off their home improvement goals.  “People are deciding to live their lives, and they want to genuinely add more value to their homes, and to their experience of their homes.  Folks are just more positive about the future.”

An acceleration of new products and technologies — Not that many years ago, the pace of new products and technologies being introduced into the home improvement market was much slower than it is today.  “We used to wait for five years to entertain new products in the market place.  Now, the quality that is coming out is really exciting to both us and our clients, and we can move forward with much more confidence because of the improved quality of innovations in lighting, materials, colors — things that are really having an impact on peoples’ lifestyles.”

The role of the Internet — In a trend related to the one previously cited, the Internet is fueling an increased awareness of new product and design trends — especially through social media sites such as Facebook, HOUZZ, and Pinterest. “Thanks to the Internet, people are not only exposed to new ideas, but they are able to share them and create conversations around them that add to the ‘buzz’ taking place in our industry.”

The desire to update rather than move — Moving is no guarantee that people will be able to more closely align their lifestyle needs with their homes.  This is especially true if they want to stay in the neighborhood where they currently live.  In that regard, remodeling is an option that allows homeowners to have their cake and eat it too — or at least redecorate it.  “Builders are hard pressed to respond to all the new design ideas that are out there today, so they tend to stick to more generic products and designs.  Remodelers don’t face that constraint.  More than ever, if you want your home to reflect the latest design and product innovations, remodeling is the best avenue.”

Adapting to lifestyle needs — As more people choose to invest in the long term livability of their homes, they are taking a more critical look at how they use their living space.  “We’re seeing less of an interest in adding space through additions, and more of an interest in better using existing space through changes in layout.  This is going to be an even more pronounced trend as the aging ‘boomer’ population increasingly looks at ‘aging in place’ as an option to retirement communities or assisted living situations.”

This last trend points to a broader and more fundamental factor that STRITE believes will contribute to a more sustainable growth in the remodeling business over the next decade: the growing interest in universal design.  “While the new construction industry may continue to experience ups and downs along with the economy, the interest in adapting homes for changing lifestyle needs such as aging in place will be more significant as time goes by.  People will always have an interest in updating the look of their homes, but improving the livability of their homes is a more fundamental investment in value that bodes well for our business.”

For some additional perspective on the Treasure Valley remodeling market, read our blog “The New Normal.”

 

 

 

 

 

Orange

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Trends

While residential design trends may not be as subject to the vagaries of fashion as hemlines, they do change.  Consequently, what is esthetically pleasing today will probably appear “dated” in a couple of decades.  As a remodeling company, the best we can do at chasing the ephemera of “timelessness” is to focus not just on appeal, but on functionality — especially functionality that evolves with the needs of a homeowner over time.

Which is why a recent article in Qualified Remodeler (Actionable Ideas for Universal Design) caught my eye.  If the concept of universal design (aka, UD) is a new one to you, the article’s author offers the following definition: “Universal design simply means inclusive design – thoughtfully filling homes with features that provide comfort and convenience, regardless of age, stature or ability.”

The article goes on to point out that the appeal of universal design has been somewhat muted by its association with “aging-in-place” — a misconception, the author notes, that is best addressed with examples such as the following.

“Let’s say you are building a bath sink vanity. If you built it with an open knee space under the sink with clearance for a wheelchair user, that would be a typical aging-in-place element. However, if you added a removable cabinet front that could convert it easily to a typical sink base with a floor and cabinet doors, that would be a universal design element because it could easily be converted to fit a variety of user’s needs.”

In an effort to “rebrand” UD, a number of industry notables have come together to create Better Living Design, an institute whose goal is to “promote, educate and encourage wide adoption of Better Living Design, the sensible design approach to improve how homes are built and remodeled in America.”

BLD’s mission to “change how homes and the products that go in them are designed, built and remodeled to better meet the needs of everyone at every age, life stage and ability” is an ambitious one, but it has some heavy hitters backing it, including not only the AARP, but more than 30 other organizations, companies, universities, and leaders in the universal design category.

With an aging boomer population that has indicated a strong desire to stay in their homes, STRITE echoes BLD’s observation that “the demand for more livable home design across the life span becomes increasingly more important” — which is why we will be paying attention to BLD and its recommendations to designers, builders, and remodelers.  Regardless of your age, if you are considering a home remodel, we recommend BLD’s website as a resource for ideas on how create a more livable home for any stage in your life.

For a case study on how STRITE approached an “aging-in-place” remodel, click here.

 

 

 

Deck Addition

A beautiful deck can add a lot to ones quality of life…until it ages to the point of becoming a hazard.  Remodeling to the rescue!

Vision

When a deck begins to wobble, it has become more than just an eyesore.  It’s just plain dangerous.  Our client wanted us to not only make it safe, but more appealing.

Challenge

Our client wanted to keep the basic configuration of the old deck, but add a new design element in the form of a trellis that would offer both an element of visual appeal as well as a source of shade for a southern exposure.

Accomplishment

We removed the old slab that the original deck was built on and poured a new slab for the deck’s foundation.  The new deck was a two-tier version of the original, with decorative metal railing to define the upper and lower areas

Highlights

With a southern exposure, you want to limit the negative effects of the sun, but not at the expense of blocking the view from a hillside lot.  We used a clear rail system to balance these considerations, as well as opting for a more durable material than the previous deck’s wooden railing.  Ah, the good life!

 Click on photos to enlarge. 


Completed Above the Garage Addition by Strite Design in Boise, Idaho
Addition

When a family increases by one child more than the number of bedrooms, it’s time to consider a larger home — but that doesn’t mean buying a new one.  Think of this situation as an opportunity to customize, as well as add on.

Vision

Our client’s family had increased by a child, and with only two kids’ rooms in their current floor plan, they needed to add a new bedroom to accommodate number three.  Having recently spent some time overseas, however, they wanted a design that would reflect a new esthetic sensibility as well as provide more space.

Challenge

The original floor plan design for the new addition had been created by an architect whom our clients had hired.  As the folks who were responsible for building it, however, we found some aspects of the design to be a bit awkward.  The first thing we did in redesigning the space was to create a larger family area as part of the new bedroom addition.

Accomplishment

We ripped out the two original kids’ rooms and used the space over the home’s garage to frame three bedrooms and a family room.  This was a more technically demanding project than it might seem on its surface, since we had to accommodate existing duct work in the construction.  In designing the layout of the new rooms, we made sure that each of them had windows on two sides — something we are big believers in doing.

Highlights

Along with the windows in each child’s bedroom, we added a skylight to the new family room space to bring in more natural light.  The result of the project was a balancing of personal and communal space that appealed to the newfound sense of esthetics that our clients had acquired while living overseas, and gave new meaning to the expression, “one big happy family.”  Great design, when applied to where we live, has a way of bringing joy to our lives.

Click on the photo to enlarge:

 

 

 

 

 

A kitchen remodel by Strite Design + Remodel in Southeast Boise, Idaho

We traditionally think of kitchens in very functional terms.  After all, this is the space from which we feed our families.  But it is also a space in which we interact with them, as well as with guests.  It’s not surprising, therefore, that when our clients ask us to remodel their kitchens, they often not only want to update their look, but open them up to the rest of the home in the process.

In cases where opening up a room requires the removal of a load bearing wall, we need to do more than a facelift; we have to engage in reconstructive surgery.  This often involves installing a steel beam for structural support — which further involves getting an 800 to 900 pound piece of steel into the house. Needless to say, you just don’t walk one of these bad boys in through the front door.

The point to this post is simply to demonstrate that whatever the construction challenge, we find there is always more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.  We just want to make sure the cat can still take Best in Show by the time we’ve finished with it.

Click on photos to enlarge: