Thursday, March 31, 2011


Molly and I are prime candidates for "downsizing" our home. Don't get me wrong, I am not going to get out the chainsaw and start cutting away, but with our kids grown and gone we rattle around like a peanut in a boxcar in our existing place! Eighteen years ago when we built our home it was just the perfect size for us, our two kids, all of their friends and two dogs. Just perfect! That was then and this is now...

In Tuesday's blog we talked about the difference between "square footage," and "space." We live in space - not square footage. If Molly and I are considering "right sizing" our home based on today's needs we don't need either the space or the square footage. Aging does funny things to you! Where we didn't mind taking care of our property and paying the light bill when the kids were younger and still at home, now that we are older we really mind! It's not just the maintenance and the electric bill that are driving me crazy, it's the manageability and the fact that we don't have a downstairs Master bedroom that has pushed me over the edge.

The Europeans have gotten this right for generations. Where I don't subscribe to the idea of multiple generations of family living together and sharing a "flat," somehow they have managed to survive without all this space. Cautiously I would submit to you that perhaps America is one of the few places left in the world that lives horizontally and not vertically (not having travelled throughout all parts of the world I could be persuaded otherwise on this topic!). So Sarah Sasanka, born in England and educated to be an architect, has been heavily influenced by European culture to take this shrunken concept with her as she relocated to the United States. She's made a complete career out of The Not So Big House book stressing quality over quantity. Brilliant!

Molly would like a space for the grandkids. Bob would like a space for the grandkids that was all upstairs so that the mess can be closed off. Molly would like a larger Dining Room, more storage, and a bigger Pantry. Bob would like the basic living "pod" of the house zoned separately for heating and cooling so that the rest of the house can be basically turned off until either guests or grandchildren arrive. And on it goes... If we're not careful we will end up building that camel (a horse designed by committee) that we talked about a few blogs ago! Suffice it to say that we don't seem aligned on what the real needs are here!

One thing we did agree on several years ago was the need for a room outdoors for entertaining. I seemed like a good idea at the time - still does. We have really enjoyed the addition of another "room" to our house (much less expensive than an add-on to the main house!) but it probably would have made more sense to have added that room on to a much smaller version of what we currently maintain. Not complaining, just telling...

This trend has become popular. With our Texas climate many have found the wisdom of creating cheap space by taking in porches for outdoor rooms. This is a great way to add space with minimal cost (compared to the costs of building additional rooms on the house) while making your home feel much larger.

Matter of fact, these folks liked the concept so much that they asked us to change out the screens to glass panes so they could enjoy their outdoor room year round! Air conditioning and heating was added for comfort.

As Molly's and my debate continues, here is our short list of items we are focused on while downsizing:

  • Manageable space - though different for everyone, we have identified (I think!) which spaces we need where, and what size they should be.

  • Flexible design - Master Bedroom on the first floor, and space that can get bigger when family comes. Most probably the flexible space ends up upstairs and is zoned for heating and cooling accordingly.

  • Property taxes - certainly an issue in Texas because property taxes supplement our State budget instead of having to pay personal State Income Tax. With the economy down most counties and municipalities need to make up the difference somewhere - property taxes seem to be the place. These can be really big numbers!

  • Energy efficiency - the world is going green, and we should too! Can a downsize be designed so that it is wildly energy efficient?

  • Re-sale - always a dirty word but being practical, can we sell it, or can the estate sell it on down the road?

  • Accommodations for live-in health care - now we are really taking a long look down the road, but how is the home designed (or remodeled if currently existing) so that it might include space for someone to take care of us in our old age?

There are probably other issues and considerations which we have yet to uncover. I keep reminding myself that this is a journey, not a destination!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Space - The Final Frontier!

How big is big? How small is small? When someone says they want to live in a "big" or a "small" house that probably depends on their perspective. Space and square footage among friends often means status. "Bigger" sometimes seeks to impress others. Smaller sometimes means "downsizing." For everyone it's different. What is big to one, may be small to another.

Truth be told, we all live in "space." That fount of all great knowledge Wikipedia defines space as the "...three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur..." Huh? The discussion then goes on to "non-Euclidean geometries; Einstein and the theory of relativity." Way Way above my pay grade! Let's be simple here: we live in space, not square footage. Your work in designing a new home, or adding and remodeling your existing home depends on your requirements - what spaces you need to accommodate your lifestyle. Let's look at some extremes.

Sarah Sasanka started a revolution in 1998 when she published The Not So Big House. Next thing you know she was on Oprah, HGTV, and was written up in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Her book was advocating the idea that homes should be designed in such a way that rooms share multiple functions. In other words you wouldn't have a Media Room with just a large screen and some big overstuffed leather chairs, you would share that space with a pool table, bar and the accoutrements of a Family Room. The Living Room - often the "museum" in many older homes, goes away to become a Family Room with big screen TV as well as a separate space for what used to be a Dining Room. Sarah is an English born architect. I swear she just brought the shared space concept from across the pond to a building industry that was ripe for going on a diet! Her wonderful ideas have spawned all sorts of complimentary avenues for her: The Not So Big Life; Not So Big Showhouse; even Maitrhea which has something to do with exploring the space of your inner self - OK, how did we crossover from architecture to self examination?

This is one of Sasanka's interiors. She is combining the concepts of shared function with an extremely high level of quality and craftsmanship. The style is faintly reminiscent of a Prairie type of architecture.

Jay Shafer goes even further. He has taken small to the extreme with his 65 square foot Tumbleweed Collection. Even his website is small! Little more that a large dog house occupied by humans, Tumbleweed focuses on simplifying your life by using only the bare essentials. (Read: no pool table!) Jay's Tiny House collection includes a "wet bath" with potty, sink, and shower all in one little cubicle. For the really adventurous Tumbleweed has a Small House collection that zooms all the way up to maybe 275 square feet.

The point here is that space is linked with function. The bi-product of those two elements becomes square footage. There is no real right answer - it differs according to need.

On the other extreme are homes that have separate rooms for every life function. If you want to play pool you go to the Billiard's Room; movies are watched in the Theatre; the grandchildren play in a separate Gameroom; and drinks are served at a separate Bar. The square footage meter burns itself out on homes of this size!

What's practical? What are your true needs? Site constraints, location, and budget usually define the early perameters of the space to be designed. Sometimes outside influence determines what space gets designed. Re-sale (a dirty word for most people), property tax implications, energy efficiency, even Realtors opinions can add additional pressure to the design process.

Where do we begin with trying to figure out what we can design? Not necessarily in the correct order, here are a few thoughts:

  • Catalog your living habits. How you like to live; spatially where you would prefer to have others (children, spouse, guests) in relationship to you; and normal daily tasks that have become habits (waste basket and recycling bin vs. trash compactor) are important to note.

  • Carefully examine your existing accommodations to evaluate how spaces and room functions relate to one another. What works? What doesn't? What would you improve? What will you never have again ('During parties I hate being able to see the caterer from the Dining Room!').

  • Budget. What resources can I allocate to the process? Will my property taxes be affordable? Same question for gas, electric, and water.

  • Define your "mindscape." What preconceived ideas do you have for the space? When the process is completed, what are my expectations for how the space will function? What are the one or two things you can't live without - are they included in the project?

  • Who do I trust to design my project and build it most closely to my expectations?

Not surprisingly you will find that a careful inventory of these thoughts and feelings will result in a plan that reduces "space" into "square footage." We all find it a lot more comfortable to live in well designed space as opposed to simple square footage!

Monday, March 28, 2011


I've heard it said before that a camel is nothing more than a horse designed by a committee of well intentioned novices! Ignorance really is bliss... As times get tougher there is a real temptation to do-it-yourself. Home Depot and Lowe's thrive off of this concept. So does this small burgeoning industry of "build it yourself" websites that entices you with the ideas that 'anyone can do it' and 'you'll save so much money.'

How about a second career as a homebuilder? Sounds like fun doesn't it? Should you choose to "build it yourself" that is exactly what you will have - a second career. Once you get into the nuances of things like rebar in concrete; kinds of framing materials and structural components; wiring, plumbing, and mechanical systems; trim; paint sheen; hardware etc. etc., you will discover that you have bought yourself another career. Experience suggests that you won't save money, you'll spend lot's more on your almost vertical learning curve.

Unless you are a jack of all trades most likely you will hire out (or subcontract) the parts of construction that you know are way above your abilities. Straight from the mouth of a longtime friend that framed houses for twenty years before finally becoming a builder, let me paraphrase his arguement for why this may not be your best option:

  • Subcontractors usually charge a lot more when they work directly with the homeowner. Fact: without the knowledge that experience brings to the project, most subs know that their job function will be wrought with confusion - time is money and they charge accordingly.

  • Most owners don't have enough time to devote to their project so the project ends up with the "leftovers." Most trades work from 7am to 3pm. Particularly during the heat of the summer months (when they may start at 6am) they usually won't change their hours for an owner's schedule.

  • An owner's lack of experience can often result in the trades taking advantage of the situation. Cuttin' corners to save time and money; recommending the addition of unnecessary elements for the sake of driving up the price; installing it per instruction when they know it will result in a costly change order, are but a few ways where lack of experience can be detrimental.

  • As a "one shot" transaction you remove the incentive for the sub to keep you happy. We call that 'gravy train' because most subs look for repeat business to ensure their longevity in a given trade.

From a larger perspective I would add a couple of other things to think about:

  • Most people are not well trained to spot good talent - they spot available talent. Without the exhaustive experience of having done a lot of building so you know what to look for, most people will find what is available. Not necessarily your best approach for space you are going to live in!

  • For good talent you usually have to wait. No shortcuts here. The good ones are always busy and you have to work into their schedules. This requires planning that most people are not used to.

With limited experience in the homebuilding business are you really saving money and gaining the efficiency necessary for this to become a viable option? I doubt it! If you required surgery to remove a part of your body that was defective, would you do the surgery yourself? Absolutely not! Though not as complicated as medicine or surgery a good 'ole do-it-yourself project can still be pretty complicated.

Friday, March 25, 2011


"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!" Wow, did Charles Colton have that right way back in 1820 when he uttered those words! Do you suppose that he was looking into a future where manufacturers would be indiscriminately knocking off all kinds of goods and services? I mean we have Coach handbags that aren't Coach; Juicy jeans that aren't really Juicy; Nike sneakers that Nike never produced; Rolex watches for $29.95 - well, you get the idea. Even with service though...everyone wants to be like the Sewell dealerships! It's a fascination with status without the cost.

This week I have been focusing on the tension between price and quality. Who wouldn't want the very best for the very least? So we spend our lives seeking "faux" - something that looks like the real thing, but isn't. Nothing wrong with faux. Some do it well, and well some do it.

Guilty as charged! I have a client that came to me very depressed some time ago because her interior designer was trying to convince her to buy a magnificent antique mantle for the Family Room that was more than double the budget we had outlined. Further to her distress were the six other mantles which her new home required with no budget remaining. You guessed it, we "knocked off" the old antique mantle, found six other designs which she liked, and had our friends at Texas Cut Stone in Liberty Hill, Texas produced all seven mantles for two thirds the cost of that fine French antique mantle! All were rubbed with either buttermilk and cow manure, or coffee to age them. Thought you might like to see our efforts on four of the seven...

In addition to rubbing this one with buttermilk and cow manure, we beat it up with chains. Anything for the sake of age!

Have a GREAT weekend!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Made to Order...Finding True Talent!

Don't you just love and admire great talent? Aren't you awed by people that have imaginative ideas that they can bring to life? Talent can take several forms: those that can come up with the great idea, but can't build it; those that can build it but can't come up with the idea; and that very rare person who can come up with the idea and build it! That unique person we normally call an "artist." Think Michelangelo...

Take this humidor for instance: the guy that built this was in his late 30's when he made it. Thought up the concept and made it with his own two hands. The box is made of seven exotic woods, all inlayed carefully on to the main frame of the humidor. How in the world did he do that? Dallas based Paul Labadie is probably one of the most talented guys I know! He is also responsible for coming up with our company jobsite signs and our logo (up in the corner of our blog), both modeled after an old wood block stamp. Paul represents the whole package - great ideas that he builds himself!

My youngest child Whitney has introduced me to some absolutely incredible blogs.  The twin sisters, Erika McPherson and Darby Stickler whom I mentioned in an earlier blog have Urban Grace Interiors and "fly through our window" respectively - both of which have wonderful ideas! Their creativity is refreshing. I have spent way too much time trying to figure out how so much talent is concentrated in one family... Apparently Erika is working on some interiors with a local Plano talent Catherine Clay because she links to her site CatherineClayPhotography. I just couldn't resist the temptation to see who Erika was shadowing so I too went to the website. In a different venue than the world I normally work in, Catherine is one of the more talented photographers I have ever seen. Since these ladies can both conceive of the idea and get them produced, does that make them artists?

Some people have the talent to recognize and create wonderful ideas but choose not to use their talents to produce them. Ah...we normally call them Architects! Most of the work you have seen throughout this blog has been designed by one of four enormously talented architects - Robbie Fusch, Richard Drummond Davis, Paul Turney and Wilson Fuqua. With an extreme eye for detail and a tremendous sense of creativity, their work stands out in the architectural community. Beside that, they are really nice guys!

The craftsmen we work with the most are the ones that take the wonderful designs of these great architects and others and make them come to life. Normally they do not have the ability to conceive of the wonderful idea or design, but they sure know how to work with their hands to get the idea built!

In the old style of building from hundreds of years ago here is a post and beam timberframe under construction. The walls are literally formed out of timber. We have Denshield vapor barrier installed in the middle of the timber to prevent moisture transfer to the inside of the structure.

Finished, the pool cabana turned out looking like this. Note the split brick nogging laid in a herringbone pattern in between the timber verticals. The same splits are on the inside so you have back to back herringbone patterns with a moisture barrier in between. Now that is real talent!

Truly talented people who are architecturally correct with period authenticity (and a budget that allows for their efforts!) come up with wonderful designs that talented genius' who work with their hands then build.

This walnut bar picks up the cross buck design of the floor.  The curved front corner of the cabinet requires a specially talented hand to make it look right! The handmade leaded glass panels were actually conceived by the interior designer and produced by yet another set of talented artisans.

Finding true talent is not easy. Through the years many have thought that they can design and/or build wonderfully detailed and intricate plans but missed the mark with the finished product. Something pleasing to the eye ends up being the custody of the beholder. Recognizing God's gift of talent and applying it in your chosen craft kind of makes your heart sing!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What's It Worth?

This economy has a chokehold on all of us! The news out of Washington while encouraging of late is still nothing to write home about. With all the doom and gloom blasting us in the face by multi media sources, the temptation to "cheap out" has never been greater. People are flocking to Walmart, not Neiman Marcus.

In my last post we talked about repainting the Living Room. Admittedly when it came time to buy the paint for the room, I had to cross that all too familiar threshold of "price versus quality." Wouldn't now be the perfect time to save a few bucks and cut a little corner on quality? Couldn't I cheat a little bit and buy the lesser quality paint that might cover up all that red? Not with the prospect of twenty-five ladies sitting in that room for an upcoming party! You always get what you pay for!

Sherwin Williams makes several grades of paint retailing for a range of $25 - $49.49 (Design Basics to Duration) per gallon. It is easy to convince yourself that a half price sale is all you need to get the job done. "Duration" is their top of the line paint which is advertised to be more washable than most brands. I chose "Super" grade paint at $40.99 per gallon because it is designed to cover with one coat - and I was trying to cover red! After eighteen years with the same red it was time for a change and I was hopeful that one coat would do it.

But that is precisely my point - eighteen years is a very long time between paint color facelifts! When our home was built back in '92 - '93 we hired a painter who took great care to prepare the walls and the wood so that we would maximize the longevity of the finish. Had we used cheaper paint and inferior labor, both that more closely fit our budget at the time, we could never have gotten eighteen years out of this paint job. By cutting corners and using lesser grades of material and labor how many times would we have had to paint walls and molding in those eighteen years to keep it looking fresh?

Walmart and Neimans both sell clothing. So do a lot of other fine department stores. The main differences between Walmart and Neimans are product style, product durability, and service. A busy executive that wears a suit everyday most probably would not buy his suit at Walmart. No, the styling, the materials, and the service offered when you gain a few extra pounds are better at Neimans. To be fair other fine department stores offer the same advantage. Nothing wrong with Walmart, but if you have ever had a Neimans suit - you probably still have it!

That tension burns within us. "Quality" has a price, but "price" often doesn't have quality. What's it worth to me - do I spend a little bit more now and save a lot later? Or by saving a few bucks now will I risk getting caught short on quality? It usually costs an awful lot to fix it later!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ready, Aim...Missed!

You would think as much time as I spend in and around the building business we would always get our colors right! Ah...wrong! It seems like every time we commit our home for a large party we end up sprinting to "fix up" parts of it for the event. Focus this time is on the Living Room. We changed the use of that room when we made our Gameroom a Playroom for the grandkids. The Living Room has become more of a TV room. Not a bad trade in my book because with three living areas (Gameroom, Family Room, and Living Room) our Living Room used to be a museum.

So off we go to take the red out of the Living Room. The first sample was too light; the second seemed deeper and just right. Covering the red is a monumental task so I had to double roll the walls. In the morning light it is just not working well with the furniture colors. Cheaper to change the paint color than the upholstery! Now it's looking like it could be Sherwin Williams 6427 Krypton, or 6246 Northstar. How in the world can you choose a whole room color anyway for those little itty bitty color chips?

For me the process in re-doing a room is always the same. I start by taping off all of the areas and moldings that don't get a color change. If we were re-doing the molding as well, I would start by painting that first and then taping it off once it was dry. As you can see, I had a lot of really great help!

For the baseboards I have discovered Frogtape. This green multi-surface tape seems to work better on low horizontal surface like base molding where excessive paint can accumulate and curl under the tape. It is not as easy to work with (too sticky) as the old standard 3M Scotchblue so I have been using the blue tape on the vertical surfaces.

I hear and obey!! If the boss says it's too blue - it's too blue. Before we can pull the tape however (because it's a pain to re-do!), we will need to coat it - AGAIN!! Once finished it should be a lot more peaceful than the red. Hope we get it right next time...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Consistently Consistent!

Spring is my favorite time of the year! Everything is fresh and new. I look forward to the Masters (golf tournament) - the first major of the year, not only for the golf, but for the scenery. The azaleas will take your breath away! It occurs to me that every year when they show Augusta National the azaleas are just the same. Always beautiful, always blooming, always colorful. They do the same thing every year - they are consistent!

Not a bad quality to have. God started it all. The Bible says He is 'the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow!' He never changes. Been doing it now for a lot of years!

We should be so consistent. After all, what brings us back to the same experiences time after time is the quality of the repeat performance. It is consistently good; their produce is consistently fresh; their service is consistently better; he/she is consistently on time. And so it goes. We subconsciously grade performance on the "sameness" of performance.

Molly and I love a good meal out once in awhile. Neighborhood Services restaurant is one of our favorites because the food is consistently good! The fare may change from night to night but we always know that by going there we can count on a really good meal. Their consistency is predictable.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could ensure that the quality, function, and style of all of our projects would be the same every time we performed? To some extent we can. Consider "standardization." The best way to deliver the same result is with the same labor and materials. We actually create an advantage for ourselves when we use the same trades over and over and over again. Not only do we standardize the performance of the labor (and by relationship get it on a more timely basis!), we standardize the use of the same materials somewhat because craftsmen prefer to work with familiar products. Case in point: this kitchen was built over twenty years ago by the same people that built the next two kitchens. Little time was spent educating the guys on how, and with what to build the next two kitchens because they were familiar with the process. Hence - consistency!

Effort #2 ten years ago: same labor, same basic materials, just a different look.

And finally, effort #3 about five years ago: again, same labor, slightly different materials used in the same way, and yet a separate and distinctive look!

Things that are 'the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow' are in great demand because of their predictability. On your projects you might want to consider finding great talent, working with that talent, and keeping that talent around for the next time so that you can consistently produce predicability!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Audrey and Jim Revisited - In Her Own Words...

A few blogs ago I chronicled Audrey and Jim's story of a remodel gone bad (see "Do" Process). Here in her own words is Audrey's brief story with a couple of sage words of advice. I thought you might be interested!

I couldn't have been more excited when I found out that they had accepted the offer we made on our dream home. It was ours and after making a few "minor" changes, it would truly be the perfect house. No laundry room = no bueno

Little did I know how much stress the few minor changes would bring. It seemed simple enough, turn the current upstairs master closet into a laundry room, extend the current master bath, create a small porch below the extension of the master bath.  We also needed to relocate the a/c units, rework the stairs to the front of the house and finally fix the flooding issue in the backyard.  Oh, I forgot, and repaint everything!

We began to interview builders...some came in a little pricey and others appeared to have minimal experience.  We finally decided to go with a builder that had recently completed a relative's home.  They claimed under-budget and finishing months ahead of schedule!  We trusted him and he seemed excited about the project.

When meeting with the builder to sign the contract, etc. I brought up a few concerns. In the contract, the stated timeframe was much greater than that we had verbally agreed upon.  We took the usual "handshake" spiel and went on about our business.  With my husband being in a contract based industry, we both should have known better.  When I say we went over the time frame, I mean four months turned into a year!  Thats right, people were still in and out of the house a year later.

If you take two things from this post, take these:

    • Communication is key

    • Get everything in writing (I strongly recommend using email for communication on binding issues)

Audrey and Jim ended up having a horrible experience that just seems to go on...and on...and on...... Please be careful so that you find yourself with wonderful memories of a job well done!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In The Essence of Time...

Do you like puzzles? Do you like really big puzzles? You might just have what it takes to be a Builder. That's what we do. We put large puzzles with lots of pieces together. Some are complex and some are simple - it just depends on the client who defines the puzzle.

Everyone is in a hurry. With technology changing daily we find ourselves bombarded with new goods and services which usually end up being incorporated into our projects. The pieces of the puzzle keep changing! With constant change there is a tremendous need for a project timeline. Somehow we have to keep all these parts and tradesmen on schedule!

Professionals know their time constraints. If you are working with highly reputable people (we subcontract all of our work) they know exactly how long their function will take. Why not work to assemble timelines with them so that owner, architect, structural engineer, builder, other trades and even the landscapers can schedule around the project? Sounds like a pretty good idea to me! We use a variation of this flow chart along with some other tools to communicate to the project team what we see as the project schedule.

But wait a minute - there are a bunch of pieces required to make a room look like this! Let's take all the known pieces that we will need, and work to define the pieces that are yet to be selected and incorporate them into our schedule so that we don't have any surprises. Nothing worse than working through the process only to find out that you haven't ordered something on time! Can you spell WORK STOPPAGE? Changes in selections will upset the flow of the schedule, but that is the perogative of the owner - they are the only contributor to the process that get the final vote.

To increase the predictability of our tradesmen performing on schedule we have found through the years the very best craftsmen in the business - these are the guys and gals that we use project after project to create such magnificence! Our relationship ensures their availability, and helps us feel secure in knowing with whom our clientele is interacting.

Complicated or rather simple by comparison a well structured timeline keeps everyone on task. After all, most people are in a hurry and when you are in a hurry who wants to slow down?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Birthday Girl!

Birthdays have always been a big deal at the Hoebeke household. "Grand-birthdays" are ENORMOUS!! Shelby and Jake's daughter celebrated two years with us on Saturday. Just a couple of reminders of what a wonderful time we had.

The "Happy Birthday" sign hanging from the chandelier was made by Roundtop Designs and is available at Heart's Desire in Frisco. Every Birthday Girl should have a hat...

Jake is missing all of the fun - he is proudly serving our country on the USS Ronald Reagan.... We all miss him terribly, but little one misses him the most!

Unbridled joy...a smash cake to call her very own! Sure hope we got the plastic on the rug before she started!

Finally, I leave you with this - who is having more fun? The Birthday Girl in the tutu, or Dolly in her tutu?

Friday, March 11, 2011

"Do" Process!

The small, shallow voice on the other end of the line told the whole story. Whitney's friend Audrey was right in the middle of a complete remodel of their home and she sensed that it was not going well. Was there any way I could review the process and offer an opinion?

While trying to be careful not to be 'the next instant expert' that comes through the door, I spent the better part of two hours reviewing the carnage that was currently unfolding before Audrey and Jim's eyes. This was their dream home. This was where they are going to raise their babies. This was maybe the single largest investment they may ever make. This was a mess! Materials were not being ordered properly - either way to late in the schedule for efficient handling, or wrong altogether. Specific owner instructions were not being followed. Installation of some items (even those not specified by Audrey or Jim) was being done incorrectly. The Builder was asking either Audrey or Jim independently for decisions which ended up pitting husband against wife. Items being saved from the old house for re-use were not covered and ruined. At the Builders direction they had advanced significantly more money than the progress in the job required. What should have been one of the most joyful projects that they would ever experience had turned into a disaster!

Plan versus Process

Shelby and Jake's daughter turns two tomorrow. Dolly and Dutch joined the other grandparents and bought her this Pottery Barn toy refrigerator (some assembly required). It illustrates perfectly exactly what went wrong in Audrey and Jim's remodel. Pottery Barn did a superb job of packing the refrigerator and adding specific instructions on not only how it should look when finished, but also how to get from point "A" to point "B" so that it ended up looking that way. They provided an excellent roadmap of how that journey from point "A" to point "B" was supposed to go! Audrey and Jim hired a wonderful architect who told them what the completed remodel was supposed to look like, but they hired a builder who forgot to tell them how to get there! There was no roadmap! Where architects are usually responsible for the "plan", builders should be responsible for sharing the "process" with the client.

That fount of all knowledge Wikipedia defines "due process" as "...the rights owed to a person..." We're not baking a cake or putting a refrigerator together here - we are remodeling a family's home! If it had been a cake or a refrigerator you would have gotten a box with both the picture of the finished product and the steps necessary on how to get to the finished product. Doctors and lawyers can get by without informing their patients/clients on how they are going to surgically remove that bad thing, or how we are going to proceed in a lawsuit. Builders can't! Since the client is paying for the experience, it had better be efficient and fun! Communication is the key - if you are not doing a good job of communicating with your client, expect problems.

The more complicated the process - the better your process needs to be! With all the stuff that needs to be selected and ordered; with the tight timelines necessary to insure the project does not go on forever; with the budgets that need to be managed - you'd better have a good process. Audrey and Jim's builder did not. Without clearly defining the process and supporting it with strong communication, tremendous misunderstandings usually happen.

Sadly Audrey and Jim had a terrible experience that may have prejudiced them from ever wanting to try building or remodeling again. Even more sad is that business practices such as those described here go on every day. Even in states that closely regulate builders (Texas is not one!)  there is no legislating against disorganization and greed!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


If "clothes make the man" then details make a house a home! We love it when someone really creative comes up with something different. As you can see above these aren't just cabinets, the designer had the playful foresight to create a village out of something that would ordinarily be routine. The detail required a lot of planning ahead. We were carefully instructed on exactly how to make the doors and what type of wood was needed to accommodate the artist's paint. But I think you will agree that the end result is at the very least provocative! I am never sure that details like this really add to the marketability or price of a home, but the kids don't care so long as they get to enjoy a room like this.

For sure the difference between mass producing homes and true custom work is the attention to detail. Nothing wrong with an "off the shelf" house which meets our need for shelter. But...if you can have it dressed up with fun additions that enhance your lifestyle all the better! This homeowner travels a lot and needed a bigger mailbox. We had the space and the creativity to build a drawer that allows the mail to pile up while they are gone a long time. Both the drawer and the floor are walnut - a beautiful addition to the overall feel of the home.

We could have bought those plain old numbers that they sell at the Home Depot, but a true work of art demands a trellis address plaque. To give this brand new home an aged look we stucco'd over brick and rubbed the finish with buttermilk and cow manure. Doesn't smell too great while you are applying, but the finished product is wonderful!

I have always marveled at how a good idea in the marketplace ends up being duplicated all over town. While groaning one day about how we were seeing this stucco finish everywhere Molly pulled me back down to earth and suggested I 'get over it and go figure out the next great idea!' We have!

One local hardware source toutes it's cabinet hardware as "jewelry for your cabinetry." This would qualify in my opinion...

This Kitchen picture reminds me of a detail the Architect, Richard Drummond Davis asked us to duplicate on the doors of the refrigerator/freezer. The original home was built in 1929 by famous Dallas architect Hal Thompson. It had all of these wonderful old doors with a pattern just like what we produced for the refrigerator.  A fabulous detail!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Junkyard Dogs!

Everyone loves a deal! Who wouldn't? The thrill of "beating the system" invigorates the soul and brings bragging rights with it. You can't be in construction, or construction related industries without developing an eye for a deal. Everywhere we go we keep a constant gaze for the undervalued while staying ready with the wallet. Our friends affectionately refer to Molly and I as "the junkyard dogs" because we are so all about the deal...

Take this coffee table for instance. Purchased for $175 with the beveled glass top from one of my favorite local haunts, Lots of Furniture down on Riverfront. It was rusty when I bought it but it cleaned up nicely - before I shot it with lacquer.

Sometimes the inspiration for a brand new piece can come from a source that wasn't an undervalued product. These gates (or the original design) were in a studio we visited out in the countryside of France. The price in France was prohibitive so we copied the design, made some minor modifications and enhancements, and had them produced in Dallas for a home in Grand Cayman. They turned a rather plain entry into something special!

This wrought iron was found in one of my favorite places in all the world - Marchee de Pusche (the flea market) in Paris. The single gate with several side panels came off a Parisian manor. Fortunately we came along a just the right time and had them shipped back to the States. Though it has now been years since that trip we have them stowed away comfortably just waiting for the right place.

We probably saved more money in France than we could ever afford, but the exchange rate several years ago made it silly cheap to pick up really fine treasures. This gorgeous old sideboard (below - in Paris) was another find from the flea market. Made of solid walnut (a/k/a "black gold" here in the States because it is such an expensive wood to work with), we tried  the piece in several places in our home before it ended up in our Dining Room.

Our clients like it too when we shop. Often uniqueness of the products we use will differentiate their home from their friends.

The secret to finding really terrific values is knowing when and where something "fits" in your design scheme and being ready at a moments notice to buy it and get it home. Molly travelled with her Mom and sisters years ago to London and found this chandelier which she just had to have for our Dining Room. She chose not to electrify it but rather uses candles to soften the mood for dinner parties.

But being a "junkyard dog" can also take on a very sentimental point of view. As our girls were growing up we would often eat at a local restaurant that always had wonderful, original oil paintings. Our family fell in love with this particular work! Painted by local artist Kelly Stribling Sutherland in 1993 it came to represent the wholesomeness of Americana as a mother and her children picnic'd. Imagine our horror when we walked in to the restaurant one day and the picture was gone! Come to find out management had decided to rotate the art in several of their properties and they just happened to have moved it to the main office inventory. Not for long... Molly and I tracked it down, bought it and now enjoy it every day. I reminds us of the good times we have enjoyed as a family!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Trash or Treasure?

If the SPCA had a profile for their "perfect" adopting family, we most probably would be at the top of their list. Molly and I love strays! Furniture that is... We have furnished our home with a wide variety of castoffs, rescued from the jaws of death and given a facelift for continued use. Oh, we have the resources to go buy an entire home of new furniture if we wanted to. But we would lose the sense of family that typically goes with re-using old (and re-built) furnishings. Often we have spent more by being socially conscious and re-furbishing old pieces. We just like the look and durability of old furniture!

This mantle came out of Molly's father's old childhood home in Bernice, Louisiana. When we received it it was covered with years of old sooted varnish. Because it was virtually black I told Molly that it was going straight to the trash dump... Wrong! After Thanksgiving dinner one year I wandered out to my workshop (under my father-in-law's watchful eye!) just to see if it would clean up. With a little Klean Strip Stripper, some single "0" steel wool, and a little elbow grease this absolutely gorgeous oak mantle came back to life! I used a Minwax wax finish to complete the process. We have enjoyed the mantle every day we have been in our home.

Before Shelby came along Molly was in complete denial about having a baby. So much in denial that she had me do the entire first nursery (that will NEVER happen again!). Anyway, I bought this crib which started life with slats on both headboard and footboard. After our kids grew out of it, that crib took up almost permanent residency in our attic - until grandbaby #1 came along. Thinking that we would get something completely new to spoil all grandkids rotten I suggested that we clean out the attic and get rid of the baby bed. Wrong again! Molly had my trim crew remove the old slats from the ends of the bed and add panels. Once completed she hired Debbie Cole of La Foofaraw in Plano to dress up what used to be a very boring blond baby bed. As you can see, Debbie did a phenomenal job!

Shortly after we married Molly and I were in Monroe, Louisiana visiting family when we happened in to a wonderful antique store. This table caught our eye. We bought it and used it for many years with the old carmel finish that was original to the piece. The table was incredibly well built but really did not go in our new home. Molly loves black and white! So I stole a page out of our painter's book and used a finish that we have done in many of our homes.  First, I stripped the table. Because the stain was so well impregnated into the old wood I did not need to stain the table again and could proceed to the next step which was to paint the table with Sherwin Williams flat latex black paint. Once dry I then sanded that amount of stain that I wanted to show through the finished product. After cleaning up the dust I coated it with Dura Seal Polyurethane - a product we typically will use on floors. I like how thin it goes on and how evenly it dries.  Two coats later we have a beautiful finish that wears like iron!

When we talk about "rescued from the jaws of death" we really mean RESCUED! This walnut armoire now sits in our bedroom, the top crown after having been used at one point as a chicken feeding trough! We found it way in the back of an antique store (where all the really good stuff is!). I think I paid $400 for it maybe fifteen years ago. Same program as we detailed above, a lot of love and a ton of elbow grease makes things clean up pretty well!

This is next... Molly told me to take her old "hope chest" from when she was a girl to the Goodwill. I saw it as a toy chest for the newly completed Playroom that was detailed a few blogs ago. As this is being written the chest sits on my work bench partially stripped. At some point we will try to show the progression to completion.

Look around - I bet you have things which could be re-used. Each has a story: all will continue to bring you pleasure if you will rescue them!