9 Dallas families reveal their secrets for staying sane and solvent during a remodel.
LOVE THY CONTRACTOR
For Lori Martin, contractor Cathy Koonsman of Restoration Park Cities was the key to her successful remodel. She and her husband (still) adore their contractor, who helped them transition a boxy, 1980s spec house into a fresher traditional home. During the remodel, Martin and her family moved into her parents’ house and stayed there for five months. She emphasizes the importance of getting children involved with the renovation. “Children are always excited at the beginning of the project, but as the months roll on, it is easy for them to become tired of hearing about the house,” Martin says. “Get them involved with their own rooms and play areas and give them choices. Limit their visits to the house-in-progress to about once every couple of weeks.”
Patty Lynch Smith
Smith and her husband have renovated nine homes coast to coast, including four in Dallas. They are now working on “a most unremarkable 1980 spec house that we couldn’t wait to get our hands on.” The Smiths lived in two of the homes during construction – “yes, my children climbed a ladder and shimmied into their second-story bedrooms through a laundry room window while the wood floors were being sanded and stained.” The best method Smith has found to determine the financial aspects of remodeling is to “get three bids, take the mid-priced quote, and add it to the highest and lowest bids – that’s how much your project will cost.” Smith also says that it takes a great contractor and a great homeowner to get the job done right. “Great contractors are helped along by informed homeowners,” Smith says. “Visit new construction open houses, collect tear sheets from magazines, frequent Home Depot EXPO Design Center, The Great Indoors, etc. to become familiar with your own design sensibility before walls start coming down. Examine a variety of builders’ work and check references. We used a McKinney builder who gave us a great price and finished the job in 75 days.”
YOU HAVE TO MOVE OUT
Cheryl Van Duyne, ASID
This Dallas designer renovated her own home twice (a kitchen and a conservatory) but can no longer count how many she’s done for clients: large and small, bathrooms and kitchens, and additions. And she’s had challenges. One project in Vermont proved that some subcontractors don’t like having a designer on the job: The contractor took Van Duyne to look at lighting all day just to keep her off the job site. Another client failed to heed her most strongly worded advice – move out – and found their home invaded by spray painters dressed like space men, decked out in white and working in bubble helmets. No question, says Van Duyne, “you have to move out.”
Mayor Miller Moves In
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and husband Steve Wolens have stood the tests of numerous political campaigns, but they had never worked on a renovation together. They recently remodeled their 1952-built, 8,170-square-foot Preston Hollow home with the help of a serious all-star team. “We had a wonderful architect in John Allen who made everything work, and we used John Sebastian as the general contractor,” she says. “[Sebastian] is very detail-oriented: On the final walk-through, he found things we didn’t even notice. My designer, Julio Quinones, is my godsend. We came to this project from a little bitty house, and we had to buy a lot. He showed us that with design, everything is not about money.” What she loves in her new home: “My Viking cooktop has a zillion burners. My laundry room is outside across the porte-cochere – a brand new laundry with a big sink. (I used to have a stackable washer/dryer in a closet in my kitchen.) In our old home, my husband and all three kids shared one shower. So, we did a gigantic his- and-her shower in marble with a rainfall head and all Waterworks fixtures.” Ultimately, their new home is an adult one. “In our old house, the kids’ walls were white, and they hung posters,” Miller says. “Now they have nice paint and wallpaper and window seats with big fat cushions. And they have their own bathrooms.” Following the advice of her father’s wife, Miller used white-tumbled marble in the kitchen and all the bathrooms, which she highly recommends. “It’s a very clean looking white with gray veins, and the tone everywhere has continuity.” And, in the end, Miller knew her renovation was a success when her younger sister gave her this compliment: “Since when do you get a real house?” “It was a big deal for my sister to be jealous,” Miller says.
CHEAP ALWAYS COSTS MORE IN THE END
Carol Boerder-Snyder and Will Snyder
When architects Carolyn Boerder-Snyder and Will Snyder’s 26-year-old daughter wanted to remodel her home, money was tight. Mom and Dad drew her plans pro bono, but she ended up with the plumber from hell and a “brother-in-law” job on the Sheetrock, which had to be redone three times. Snyder’s advice to new homebuyers: Spend money on a quality, competent contractor. “An organized contractor will make a timeline and provide dates so you’ll know when those decisions need to be made.” The couple also emphasizes the importance of communicating. When Snyder was drawing plans for a house, the owner indicated that he wanted a wine cellar, so the plans were significantly modified to include a tunnel from the basement to a gazebo where the wine cellar would be located. When it was all said and done, the owner said all he really was looking for was an under-counter wine cabinet.
Strimple and her husband had a wonderful remodeling experience with a contractor who was also a personal friend – and still is. The best decision, she says, was to remain in their previous home until the new one was ready. “Over a period of four months, I slowly sorted drawers and packed boxes as my schedule permitted,” she said. Then with each trip to check on progress at the new house, she’d take a couple of boxes and set them in the garage. “By the time we were ready for the big move, all the out-of-season clothes, books, objets d’art, and incidentals were already there. Movers transferred the furniture into the new place in one day.”
TAKE IT SLOW
Diane and Daryl Johnston
Daryl Johnston and wife Diane remodeled a Dilbeck home overlooking a lake on 2.3 acres in Preston Hollow, taking the original structure down to the studs but preserving the builder’s flavor. “We worked with the footprint that was here,” Diane says. “[And in doing so] we preserved the integrity of the structure.” Her advice for homeowners: “Don’t be afraid to think out of the box. For example, my kitchen used to be the formal dining room.” And, when it comes to decorating, slow down. “I wish I had taken more time selecting furniture,” Diane says. “I’m an instant-gratification person, and I wanted it all done fast. Live in the house for a while with less furniture before rushing out to invest in fabrics and hard furnishings.”
LISTEN TO THE EXPERTS
Matrice and Ron Kirk
Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and wife Matrice live in a 3,589-square-foot, 1932-vintage O’Neil Ford home, the first home the architect built after he went out on his own. Matrice has learned many things from her renovation experiences past and present: “I hired a contractor who would have the exact same person on site every day,” she says. “I got a job done both ahead of schedule and under budget. Every week she gave me a spreadsheet and progress report. She was also a ’she,’ which I really enjoyed.” Matrice continues to solicit advice from her contractor. “When I have issues today, I can still call her,” she says. “Paying extra for that personal attention was worth every penny.” In short, trust the experts, Matrice says. “Listen to your architect, contractor, and designer – especially when all three say the same thing.”
Invest in Beautiful Details
George Cameron Nash offers sage advise for every room in your newly remodeled house.
Owner of one of the leading showrooms in the Design District, George Cameron Nash has more remodeling experience than he cares to recall. There’s his Dallas home, the house on Cape Cod, and his new East Texas farmhouse: “Louisiana fishing cabin meets country club.” His advice: “Don’t skimp on things you think are extravagant details. In the end, details are what will make it satisfying.”
1 Bathrooms: Consider marble tile for the walls rather than just the floors. Thresholds and floor molding pieces are fabricated from slab sections rather than out of tiles, and the labor of mitered edges on outside corners remains beautiful years later.
2 Closets: Use solid millwork and cabinetry, sturdy/double extension glides on drawers, and top quality hardware. Heavy gauge chrome bars last longer than wood dowel rods. Planning 50 percent more storage that starts out as “empty extravagance” turns into well-utilized space.
3 Bedrooms: Plan a minimum of four duplex electrical outlets and one phone
outlet behind each side of the bed where a chest or nightstand will end up.
4 Entertainment: Hire a good technician who will make sure to verify all outlets and cable hookups. The pre-wire is the trick, it can get tedious in an older house.
5 Paint: Use top-quality paint brands such as Benjamin Moore, Pratt & Lambert, or Farrow & Ball. If you try to match a color with a lesser brand, the end result won’t yield as sturdy a finish. And, the color may fade or lose its brilliance to ultraviolet light.
6 Carpet: Wool carpeting is an investment for the future. Minimum two to three times the price of acrylic or nylon carpeting, wool retains its shape, doesn’t crush, and can be cleaned over and over.
7 Kitchen/appliances: Quiet dishwashers are the upper-end, and worth it. Specialty lighting in kitchens and under cabinets adds elegance for the money spent. Fine wood cabinetry and slab marble countertops with detailing like custom-fit, under-counter sink installations are easy care, but cost more money. These au courant commercial stoves are a joke. (Way too cleanup intensive.) My latest “fave” toy is an all-glass-top stove that is – surprise – electric. Clean up is so easy, you Windex and go. I regret buying my glass-front refrigerator; refrigerators cannot be couture hampers with designer labels. Things inside like leftovers in Reynolds Wrap or open milk cartons are not pretty to see.