I have a fountain


Our house came with an atrium. In the middle of this atrium is a sad fountain and a bunch of rocks and pebbles.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

I’ve wanted a fountain for a long time. I guess I over-emphasized my desire for one because one of my kids started pointing out every fountain he saw with “THEY have a fountain!”. Hmmph. This is the same kid that gave me a desktop fountain for Christmas one year – which helped get me through my fountain-crush.

Most people with our floorplan have removed the atrium, turning it into the new kitchen space.
We, however, had once designed a house with an atrium in it, so naturally we embraced the idea wholeheartedly!

We weren’t sure what we wanted in a fountain. I’ve seen some mighty cool fountains where the water burbles up out of the vessel and gently spills over the brim.

Do you think its too big for the space?

Do you think its too big for the space?

Or perhaps we want the fountain to cascade from one vessel to another?

Umm, no.

Umm, no.

This kinda goes with the Tiku Hut theme, yes?

This kinda goes with the Tiku Hut theme, I think.

Well, after pricing fountains (eek), we decided to go with a simple waterfall – no separate water feature after all. The water goes from the pond to the pump, which sends the water to the other side of the atrium and up over the rock shelf into the pond.

Hauling out the fountain.

Hauling out the fountain.

The rocks can be reused so they are wheelbarrowed to the side of the house.

The rocks can be reused so they are wheelbarrowed to the side of the house.


Here's the pond before we added the plants.

You can see the water damage on the siding along the right side of the atrium

Rick installed metal flashing around the atrium below the window sill to minimize water damage. He also replaced the old window sills.

atrium before plants

Here is the atrium before the plants and then as of a few days ago.

That one canna lily off to the left is probably 7 feet tall!

That one canna lily off to the left is probably 7 feet tall! It is THE happiest plant in the atrium.

The rock in the middle of the pond is for the turtle. More on the turtle adventures in another post.

We planted 1 lily in the pond but it promptly died. Stupid lily. I also wanted horsetail but it also lacked courage.

I saw a lovely pond with these very tall lotus in it...I wanted to replicate that - to no avail.

I saw a lovely pond with these very tall lotus in it…I wanted to replicate that – to no avail.

After awhile the lily grew some new leaves underwater, then the leaves disappeared. I am going to hazard a guess that the turtle likes the lily the best? I have left the pot there just in case I get more leaves some day…just in case ūüėČ


Our gorgeous deck!

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I must say that Coastal Lumber did a marvelous job!

Here is what the space looked like before…

ugly, isn't it...

ugly, isn’t it…

and after…

...and the guys who did the work...

…and the guys who did the work…

Here are some ‘during’ shots…

Its scary when a big 'ol truck has to maneuver around our little parking lot!

Its scary when a big ‘ol truck has to maneuver around our little parking lot!

Support posts for the deck.

Support posts for the deck.

Placing the boards on the deck frame.

Placing the boards on the deck frame.

Once it was done, I rolled on a¬†water-resistant stain. ¬†Painting is not my forte. ¬†Not sure what is, exactly, but it definitely is NOT painting. ¬†However, it needed to be done, so I did it. ¬†It doesn’t look half bad.

Now we have added an inexpensive table and chairs and a gazebo for shade.  We spend many lunchtimes out there, sometimes have client meetings and even our clients will use it after meetings to continue their conversations.

Before photo

Before photo

Come and set a spell...

Come and set a spell…

That’s the definition of a well-designed space! ¬†ūüėČ

Getting quotes for a deck

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Its strange that we have so much trouble getting quotes for a deck and fence. You would think that, being in the residential design industry that contractors would, if not falling all over them selves to get on our good side, at the very least try NOT to get on our bad side!

Oh, I wish that were true.

Location of future deck

Location of future deck

This shows where the deck will go. The BBQ will be on the deck and the trash cans will have their own little enclosure! The deck will be resting on the asphalt, which slopes, so one end of the deck has to be built up a bit with a step.

We were getting three quotes. 1 from the people who put in the fence on one side of our property Coastal Lumber, 1 from a company who did a gorgeous job with a fence and some gates for the property next to us (we’ll call them “Reuben”) and another from a company that called us out of the blue, Just Wood.

Just Wood came out on time, 2 guys. I was told when I made the appointment that “Alex” knew everything there was to know about fences and decks. I don’t remember which one was Alex but 1 of them was on his cellphone 1/2 the time, not paying any attention to our project. The other guy wanted to spend more time talking about his friends home remodel project than talk about our deck. They tossed off a quote for $12,000 (for a ground-level deck that’s 12×15) then said that there was a springtime sale of 20% off so the total would be $10,000.

$10,000! My mom’s deck cost $4800 and hers was more than 2x as big with stairs and railing and footings AND it’s made out of a more expensive product than what we were asking for. She used a Trex-like material and we’re using redwood.

They also said they’d follow up with a written quote – they finally called just now, 3 WEEKS later, to ask if we still wanted a quote! D’oh. I told them they were over a week too late, we’d hired someone else.

Coastal Lumber came out on time, was professional and followed up with a written quote – which, incidentally, was half, HALF!, of what Just Wood quoted.

Fence that needs replacing.

Fence that needs replacing.

Reuben, ah, Reubon. Reuben’s employee, Jeffrey called me 45 minutes late, at 5:45pm and said he wasn’t going to be able to make it that day. He asked if he could reshedule to the next day, same time. Sure, I said.

Of course, he’s a no-show…and no-call.

I wait another day, thinking I got the day wrong…nope.

I call the company and they’re closed for the day, so I go on their website and, being the gracious, gentle soul that I am, ask them to please confirm when Jeffrey was coming out since I obviously got the time wrong.

A Reuben rep calls the next morning and says they don’t have us on their schedule – and , guess what, Jeffrey doesn’t make his appointments anyway. Oookaaay. No apology, nothing. Nothing about how Jeffrey just decided he wasn’t going to make it and didn’t bother to follow up with his people to make sure we got taken care of. No, nothing like that.

Now the rep is saying that there isn’t anything available until – not next week – the week after that. Fine, whatever, I make the appt for Tueday at 10am.

This bench is in the way.

This bench is in the way.

(We’ll relocate the bench but the plant might get crushed by the deck construction – hopefully it will grow back because it is a lush, colorful plant.)

In the meantime, we received a nice quote from Coastal Lumber and decided to go with them rather than wait another couple weeks for Reuben to get around to seeing us. They did a fine job on our fence – although the marketing guy modified our fence contract because he didn’t understand why we wanted the fence we wanted – he thought we should only want a 5′ high fence…why would he think he knew what we wanted? Fortunately, we caught the error as the first panel was being built. Lesson? DON”T BE GONE DURING CONSTRUCTION OR YOU MIGHT NOT WHAT YOU WANT!!!.

Isn't this a nice fence?

Isn’t this a nice fence?

I call Reuben to cancel the appt and…sure enough, they don’t have us for Tuesday at 10am, they have us for Tuesday at 6pm! They are a mess! I certainly don’t want to hire a company who can’t seem to get 1 appt scheduled properly.

Coastal Lumber starts Wednesday…I’ll keep you updated on what happens then ūüėČ

Almost random thoughts on design



The design process is one of give and take.  You want white, she wants cream, they want expansive, you want cozy, we want a great room and you want a formal dining room.

And during the design process, you will make many decisions – some tiny, some large –¬†which lead to a finished product.¬† But someone looking at the finished design, whether it be a house or a fork, doesn’t have the perspective of all those decisions previously made.¬† The critique could be insightful but most of the time?¬† Its not helpful.

That said, here are some pictures and my humble thoughts on the design, heehee.

Take the picture at the top.  During the kitchen remodel, those posts either had to stay or a beam put up in their place Рthey are structural supports.  So, what can you do?  Why, make them interesting!  This is a good example of making the best of things.  Switching out to a support beam would have been much more destructive of the existing space and could have cost a pretty penny.


Now, look at this picture.¬† Not a very exciting kitchen, but its OK.¬† Now find the red pan on the counter and scan upwards to the ceiling.¬† See the open beams?¬† What is that curly pipe?¬† WHAT?!?¬† That’s the sewer pipe under the toilet?¬† Ewww!¬†¬† I’da camouflaged that, you can be sure!


Here is a bathroom that has been squeezed into the attic space.¬† They removed the crawl space to get some head height.¬† Discussions about the sense of removing insulating value aside, this is a pretty imaginative solution to making tiny spaces work.¬† Look to the right and there are the shower heads.¬† No separate shower stall, there wasn’t room.¬† Nifty idea, I think!¬† If you’re worried about getting the toilet paper wet, there are holders available from boat supply places where the rolls are completely protected from water, yet easily accessible.


In this tiny bathroom, a coat rack serves as towel and robe rack.¬† Great idea, but I’d be tripping over the wide angled legs all the time.¬† Better to have a rack with a flat round base.


Are you starting to see a lot of undercounter curtains like this?¬† Reminiscent of Granny’s kitchen.¬† I don’t have an opinion about it, do you?¬† I DO have an opinion about the open racks above the sink.¬† It just looks messy.¬† And busy.¬† And dusty.¬†



What with all the ‘no fire’ days this winter, we haven’t been able to use our fireplaces very much, have we.¬† This is a striking use of the¬†space, don’t you think?¬† Simple, sleek and the shell reminds¬†us of warm¬†summer days to come.


This is a lovely idea, too, although sticking the box out into the room is awkward.¬† I’m guessing they covered over the firebox opening to keep out drafts (or its a fake mantle).¬† Fill a box or basket with tiny white lights and pinecones or kindling and you’ve got a warm, lovely, warming ‘fire’.¬† OK, not so warm but definitely warming…


Oh, yeah, I¬†must admit that most of the pics are from Houzz.¬† If you’re looking forward to a remodeling project or you’re just a lookiloo, its a fascinating trip into other people’s homes.¬† Inspiration abounds. Be warned, you can lose a lot of time wandering around this alternate reality -better set a timer so you come up for air ūüėČ


What color should a Tiki Hut be?

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We bought a house.

Rather than buying a fixer-upper to move into, renovate and sell in a couple years, we decided to buy a house in an area to which we’d love to retire (and to which the grandkids, which currently number in the oughts will really, really, really want to come! ¬†We are very forward-thinking, aren’t we.)


Long story short, we bought a fixer in Discovery Bay, about 95 minutes north of us.¬† It’s a community of homes built around a golf course or lake and with canals which connect to the Delta.

The house is about 1800sf, 1 story, on a lovely canal, well, its not a canal, more of a baby bay.

This is an aerial view of the area, but not our bay.

This is an aerial view of the area, but not our bay.

Below is our list of musts and wants, which changed from side to side – must to want and vice-versa, depending on how glorious or meager the item was in a particular house.

– great room

– deep water dock

– 1 story

– space for a pool table

– large deck

– not in a pinched area, fighting for dock space

–¬† 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom minimum

– sunset views

List of deal-killers

– no dock

– 2 story

– major fixer-upper

Yeah, its a small list.¬† There weren’t a lot of homes in our price range.

Being a contractor and an Architect Рplus having done a number of large and small projects on our own homes РRick (me, too) is very comfortable with homes needing work.  But there are items that would simply bust our budget, like needing a new roof or having foundation issues.  Any house we bought would have to need mostly cosmetic work.

And…we found one!¬† It has perfectly functional bathrooms and kitchen, which is important so we can wait to redo them in a few years…plus replace the windows then, too.

The view from our deck.

The view from our deck.

So, what are we doing now?¬† Repainting, that’s for sure.¬† The inside is mostly white and the living room is a mushroom-gray color but too dark for the space and not my fave color, anyway.

Boring mushroomy-gray, see?

Boring mushroomy-gray, see?

I love yellow walls, pale pale yellow, like buttercream.  It goes with so many other colors you can accent with Рturquoise, orange, leafy greens, white, black, browns, even gray.  Done!

However, I don’t want the entire house to be one color, then again, I don’t want every room to be a different color.¬† A small house feels cut up if all rooms are unique colors, I think.¬† Better to have a cohesive plan, yes?

All trim is white.¬† The kitchen cabinets (to be replaced later) are white so they’ll look more like they were part of the plan.¬† The wainscoting (how IS that word pronounced) in the hall and the bathrooms so those will be white, too.¬†

Unfortunately, when I say ‘white’, paint suppliers say ‘dove’ or ‘ice’ or ‘lace’.¬† I want the purest, most whitey-white I can find and it doesn’t exist, which is frustrating.¬† The brightest white I can find simply isn’t WHITE!¬† Its off-white…not-white…virtually-white, nevertheless, those are my choices, so I buck up and pick the one closest to a true white.

But, behold!¬† Sherwin-Williams does make a brilliant white for ceilings.¬† I can’t get it in any type but flat, so I’ve have to live with barely-white everywhere else.¬† At least the ceilings will be WHITE.

Now to find another color for some of the rooms.¬† I love the color next to the buttercream on the color chip strip.¬† Its darker, a warm golden beige.¬† Gorgeous.¬† Walking around the house, I decide that the entry will be the darker color.¬† You’ll walk from the entry to the living room, and the living room opens up in space and the lighter color.¬† The hall will be the darker color and you’ll walk from the wall to the bedrooms, which will lighten up.¬† Lighter color in the bedrooms also allows for more variety in the decorations.

Now, all I need is a color for the yucky painted-brick fireplace. ¬†Since the TV will be placed over the fireplace, I don’t want a big black blob on that brick.¬† Better to have a darker, complimentary and not matchy-matchy color so the TV is a bit more blendy, without disappearing completely.¬† So, the fireplace brick is now a lovely brown.¬† It is lovely, just don’t be changing any diapers there, it might call for an uncomplimentary comparison.

Now, we turn our gaze to the floors.  I swear (and my relatives, Johnny and Celeste, support me in this) that the carpet can be saved with a good cleaning and I have the phone number to Stanley Steemers already programmed into my cellphone.

My husband swears that it cannot be saved.  He has nothing to support this theory except for puppy-dog eyes.  I yield.

Carpet choices are easier when its only the bedrooms and they are all the same color.¬† I ask the carpet installer, Neil from Checkered Flag, which manufacturers he prefers.¬† He gives me some pointers and steers me away from a particular brand that he says will stretch too much over time and he’ll have to keep coming back each year to pull it tight again.

Shopping for carpet isn’t too difficult, there are a lot of choices but I am fine with a color that looks good with the pain, isn’t too dark or too light and is, maybe, on sale.¬† See?¬† I’m pretty easy.¬† I was a lot pickier when choosing a carpet for our office, for some reason.

I don’t want something that is a nightmare to clean or vacuum, either.¬† Those fancy loopy piles that remind me of a Komondor?

Looks just like a rug I saw for sale a couple weeks ago!

Looks just like a rug I saw for sale a couple weeks ago!

Nope.  That extreme shag carpet?  Too easy to lose Legos in that stuff!  And then where are your toes?  In your hand, as you hop around muttering X%*#@! after stepping on one!

I’m not cheap when it comes to the carpet padding.¬† A better padding will make a less-expensive carpet feel just as appealing to your toes as the crazy-pricey one.

Carpet?  Done!  Its called Sweet Tea, but I think sweet tea has a stronger reddish color.  This carpet is more of an Arnold Palmer.

Yeah, way red.

Yeah, way red.

Still too orangey...where DO they get the names for colors?

Still too orangey…where DO they get the names for colors?

Flooring…we won’t have carpet in the main rooms.¬† We’d like hard-working hardwood floors.¬† We’ve had oak and bamboo thus far.¬† I like oak but I’m tired of it.¬† Bored with the grain – we have it in our office/house so I’d really like to get something different.

We put bamboo in our office entry, which has held up very well but I’m not fond of the unremarkable caramel color.¬† The colors we really like are in a stranded type of bamboo, which is strings of bamboo shredded from the stalk and then bonded together.¬† Bamboo comes in 5 basic colors:¬† naked pale, blah caramel, cinnamon, brown and very dark brown.

While the patterns of bamboo are very interesting in all of its varieties (flat boards, end, side or stranded), we really liked the stranded variety with its stripy, tiger look of dark and light browns. ¬†Its a very busy pattern, too. ¬†I think I’d like it more for cabinets or doors, ooh that would be cool!



Then we saw this Eucalyptus floor and fell in love with it. ¬†It has a marvelous wood grain and it wasn’t the cheapest choice, either, so there. ¬†And, side note, it is my niece Roni’s favorite tree.

Isn't it pretty?

Isn’t it pretty?

Most of the time, we make our list of finishes (tile vs stone vs granite, paint color, chrome vs bronze vs nickel, pendant lighting vs track vs wall sconce vs ceiling fan…and so on and so forth), knowing that little is actually set in concrete.¬† We see something we like (perhaps a shower curtain) and the entire room can change to accommodate it in an instant.¬† And that is exactly what happened.¬† But that is for a different post.

Its better to be flexible when choosing your finishes.¬† Keep your options open.¬† BUT, on the other hand, don’t keep putting off your decisions and second-guessing yourself. ¬†Research but don’t get brain fry and freeze into immobility. ¬†Make your purchase and accept that you might have been able to save a few bucks if only you had worded your Google search a little differently. ¬†Put a check mark by that item and move on.

The same thing applies if you discover an item you want is no longer in stock or won’t come in time. ¬†Don’t mope about it, move on.

While I’m on my soapbox, here’s another lesson I’ve learned with the multiple projects we’ve done: ¬†Timing is not under my control. ¬†I can’t force painters, suppliers, weather, work and so on to fall under my command.

The wood flooring was stuck at the Port of Oakland for some strange reason – delaying installation for a week. ¬†The painters didn’t begin when I thought they would, they took a job between quoting ours and my signing the contract, so that delayed the carpet installation for a week. ¬†Our ski boat is in the shop and the shop is swamped with work so we are in a long queu and probably won’t be done in time for our Labor Day Weekend.

I'm not sure this was the best purchase we've ever made >sigh<

I’m not sure this was the best purchase we’ve ever made >sigh<

I learned a loooong time ago that whenever I push, I lose…oh, I might win the battle, but I lose the war. ¬†THere are things useen at work here…stress, for instance. ¬†Relationships, too. ¬†And sometimes, the delay for me ends up working out better somehow…like a store losing my order but now I found something better for less. ¬†Its not the destination, its the journey. ¬†

Now if I could just figure out why the paint in the hallway looks just like Harvest Gold from the 1970’s!¬†

Not at ALL the right color!!!

Not at ALL the right color!!!

Its hideous and I can’t figure out why.¬† The other rooms don’t look like that!¬† ?!?!?¬† Well, I’m not gonna stress about it.¬† I can always repaint it, right?¬† ūüėČ

An Interview with a Backyard DIYer

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Last year some friends of ours redid their backyard.  I asked them about the process.  Here’s the Q&A:

What prompted you to redo your backyard?

Our whole backyard was a swimming pool that was about 30 years old.  Our kids are older and no one is really using the pool.


The pool took up almost the entire backyard.  We figured the cost to repair and maintain the pool vs the cost for a new backyard was probably about the same and we’d get more use out of a real backyard.  So we decided to fill it in, re-landscape and have a usable space. 

When our daughters saw the pool gone for the first time they said that we’d filled in their childhood!







How long did you think about redoing it before taking the first step?

We had talked about it for a couple of years before taking the plunge. (ha!  I added that)

What did you do first?¬† I started messing around with some designs of my own, we noticed peoples‚Äô yards more, talked about what we would want it to be like and we educated ourselves doing internet research on what it takes to fill in a pool, how it needs to be done, what permits were necessary, etc.¬† We got advice from friends about the process and considered what our future use of the property might be ‚Äď such as putting on an addition.¬† (Note: the possibility of an addition in that area would have meant compacting the soil for structural stability ‚Äď but City ordinances regarding rear setbacks reduced the likelihood of an addition there)

How did you choose a design professional?  We got only one recommendation, from you, and based on that invited Lois Miller to meet with us. At our initial meeting we liked the pictures she showed us, the way she listened to our desires and budget. We hired her right then.  We wanted someone with a proven track record, not just out of the phone book.  (Lois Miller’s Garden Design website = http://www.loismillergardendesign.com )

Did you have a budget?  We had a rough idea of what we wanted to spend, not a strict budget. We really didn’t know what to expect. As you can guess our initial thoughts turned out to be too low.

It cost about $15,000 to do the backyard, not including filling the pool ‚Äď which was about $5,000.¬† The cost of the irrigation wasn‚Äôt bad but the lights!¬† Whoa!¬† In reading about the cost, though, all advice said to spend the money; the extra cost for the more expensive lights was worth it.

 What was it like working with a design pro?  Lois was great. This is the first time we’ve worked with a designer on any project so I really can’t compare her to anyone else.

 We were pleased with her easy-going nature and the fact that at our initial meeting she asked questions.  She really listened and incorporated what we wanted into the plan.  That really meant a lot.  She even brought books to show us what the plants looked like.

She also had good suggestions Рadding elements to the plan that were beyond our current scope.  She said she wanted us to see what it could look like and that those items were completely optional.

The fireplace and BBQ she put in the plans were expensive, so we bought portable ones, instead.¬† Although we did not incorporate any of the ‚Äúextras‚ÄĚ at this point, it was designed so that we could add them later if desired.

How much of the work did you do yourselves?¬† We hired out the hardscape (pavers and rock) and filling in the pool.¬† Those jobs were way too big for us. But we did the rest ‚Äď soil prep, irrigation, lighting and planting.¬† The design was easy to follow.

Click here to see the actual plan            

Rototilling the backyard turned out to be a bigger job than we‚Äôd counted on.¬† When the pool was filled in they broke up the concrete and tossed it into the hole.¬† Then, the 5 or 6 dump trucks of ‚Äėclean‚Äô fill they brought in turned out to be full of branches and rocks the size of watermelons.¬† We dug out 4 pickup truck loads of rock!¬† (Definition of ‚Äėclean fill‚Äô can be found here √†t http://dirtfill.com/definitions.html¬†¬†Based on this, they did NOT get it!¬† When my family moved into a new house in Fort Lauderdale, you could lift up the sod and find all sorts of construction ‚Äėtreasures‚Äô!¬† Staples, nails, brackets‚Ķmany things to warrant a trip to the hospital for a tetanus shot!)

Did you deviate from the design?  As I already mentioned we chose not to do some of the optional ideas. We also made minor adjustments to some of the original plant choices. Some plants weren’t available at that time, so we substituted for something else.  Other than that we stuck pretty close. 

How did you go about choosing the suppliers for the products in the design?  Lois gave us lists of contractors and suppliers. We chose our paver contractor from her list and used some of the suppliers she recommended.

We were very fortunate to have a friend who works at a commercial nursery.¬† He got us all our plants ‚Äď a savings of probably $1100! ¬†We obtained 2 plants from a retail nursery and they were $80!¬†

Other than that I used suppliers that I already familiar with ‚Äď everything from Home Depot to landscape supply yards.

 All those suppliers recommended by Lois were very helpful.  Although it might have been possible to find less expensive ones, it was worth it to get people who were good and proven. 

 In fact, the guys at Lane Irrigation inCampbellwere super-helpful.  They spent about an hour with me helping work out the irrigation plan and showing me how to lay out the electrical for the lighting, recommending tweaks.  Not cheap but worth it. (Lane Irrigation = http://www.laneirrigation.com )

And Victor Mendariz, of Interlocking Paver Specialists, and his guys provided those little extras that mean a lot.  They showed up on time, were pleasant and cleaned up the job every day.  Lois recommended him and he was fabulous.  He even came back to fix something that we’d caused!  We were consistently advised that quality was worth paying for.  We didn’t skimp on the materials.  We’re glad we didn’t.  (Interlocking Paver Specialists =  http://www.ipspavers.com/ )














What do you think is the best decision that you made?  The best decision was to hire a designer. Though I’m sure we could have come up with something on our own, Lois’ design flows so beautifully and ties the whole yard together. Her knowledge of plants also gives a better chance of things surviving long term.   

The second best was to use quality materials. Once the dollars started adding up it was easy to think about cheaper choices for lighting and irrigation or maybe to use seed rather than sod. Now that it’s done I’m very glad we went with the better materials. They were much easier to work with and made the finished product look great now and, hopefully, long-lasting.







Anything else you’d like to add?  In hindsight, we might have gone through the process to gain access to our backyard via an easement with the Santa Clara County Water District that runs along our property.  That would have alleviated the need to take down the fence and move a storage unit out of the way.  We saved time but you can still see the impact in the lawn of all those trips back and forth hauling supplies from the front to the back.  The lawn is a little lower along that path.

Choosing all the different colors was more involved that we thought it‚Äôd be ‚Äďthe pavers vs the stone vs the rock vs the bench caps ‚Äď all those different tints.¬† We had to take samples from each yard to the other yards to try and get a match.

The pair of ducks that had been wintering at our pool for the last 3-4 years came by and walked around like ‚Äúwhere‚Äôs our pond?‚Ä̬† ¬†Otherwise, the backyard project came out better than we had hoped. It is beautiful, relaxing and spacious. We‚Äôve already had one large gathering and everyone loved it!¬† Especially the flamingos you gave us.¬† (OK, I added that last part ūüėČ )

One nice thing Lois did was create a pretty view out of each window.  She paid attention to window placement and everywhere we look there is a nice focal point. 

Now we need to figure out what to do with the front yard.  We have a huge palm tree there and out of the front window all you can see is the leg of an elephant.

Thanks to the Paul and Karen Brown for letting me interview them and post pictures of their project.  Keep in mind, dear Reader, that it takes plants 3-5 years for plants to fill out, so things will look sparse for awhile yet.

There are a few things I’m hoping you’ll take away from this:¬†¬†Lesson 1 is¬†the value of good design.¬† Some people have said ‘I designed this myself’, too ignorant to know that the design speaks for itself (it sucks) and we are nodding¬†our heads and murmuring¬†‘ahh, mmmhmmm’ hoping no further comments are solicited from us.¬† Inside we are cringing.¬† What’s that saying? Oh yes, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”.¬† The same goes for design.¬† Expect a professional to help you get the most out of your land.¬† A good designer will listen to you.¬†

Which reminds me, you need to listen to your designer, too.  They bring an outside-the-box level of thinking to your project. 

Lesson 2 = Buy good materials!  Our cheap landscape lights failed quite early on so we ended up having to replace them.  Shoulda gone with the good stuff from the get-go!

I probably sound like a broken record, but, honestly, cheap choices made today are paid for tomorrow ūüėČ

You get what you pay for.


What about the ones at the bottom? Are they for sale?

There are 3 facets to this post:  1.  Low bids from contractors   2. Acting as your own general contractor  3.  What can make your project cost more

Firstly:  You have construction documents and you are getting bids from contractors.  You get three bids.  One is $100, one is $500 and one is $350.  Do you take the lowest bid?   NO!  There is probably something wrong with that bid and you should scrutinize it with a fine-tooth comb before signing over any money to that contractor. 

What are you checking for, you ask?¬† Does the bid cover everything on the plans?¬† Vinyl windows,¬† radiant heat flooring, tankless water heater, down draft stove, barrel ceiling, basement wine cellar?¬† Have you told him/her that you are having a tile floor in the laundry room or a vinyl floor?¬† Granite on the counters or soapstone?¬† Copper sink or stainless steel?¬† Special ‘green’ products?¬† The list is a long one and the possibility for a project-¬†(and heart-) stopping problem is high!

If you really like the contractor, then review the contract very carefully, maybe even have an attorney review the contract with you to make sure you are protected.¬† You don’t want to have a contractor coming to you during the project and say that the triple pane windows aren’t included or that he didn’t price trenching the electrical conduit to the garage or that the upgraded electrical panel isn’t happening.¬†

Better than an outhouse, I guess...

I’ve seen contracts that said very little – like¬†“Patio deck, $5,800, 40x20sf”.¬† Nothing else!¬† Where’s the info about the step and the railing and the materials and the amount of money to be put down as a retainer and the turn-around-time for the project?¬† I rewrote the contract with the original information and added all the stuff I¬†wanted included in the contract¬†(and that we had discussed).¬† Then I presented it to the contractor, he and we signed it and off we went.¬† He did a great job and we are very happy with the deck.¬† Contracts are not his strong suit, we know that, and we are so satisfied with his work that we use¬†him over and over – and recommend him to others. ¬† But, would I feel comfortable doing that with someone I don’t know – absolutely NOT.

Was it really gonna cost too much to redo the ceiling lights? Apparently so...

And, don’t you do it, either!¬† A client just emailed us asking for a referral for an electrician.¬† Their electrician has done some financially questionable things, claiming items aren’t included in his bid even though¬†they are on the plans¬†and so they’ve lost confidence in him.¬†

Always, ALWAYS check on the contractor’s license with the Contractor’s State License Board.¬† Check references, check YELP, check the Better Business Bureau, check anywhere and everywhere you can to try and head off any problems.

Hopefully, you’ve talked with contractors during the ‘design’ phase of the project to get a feel for the contractor¬†and an idea of¬†the construction cost and then you meet again when you actually have the construction documents.¬† And you meet a third time to go over the bid.¬† This way you’ve begun to develop a relationship.¬† Remember, it’s a marriage and each party depends on the other to hold up his end of the bargain.

Another story from Rick…quite a few years ago a client up in the hills talked with Rick about the bids he’d received from contractors.¬† The low bid was 35 grand less than the other bids.¬† Rick had never heard of the contractor and told our client to be sure the bid included everything.¬† The homeowner said “Yeah, but $35,000!¬† That’s the price of a Mercedes!”.¬† He hired the low bid and, guess what?¬† That’s right, the contractor started work and after a while, the homeowner noticed that certain items weren’t being done, like trim around the doors.¬† The contractor didn’t have that stuff in his bid.¬† But it was on the plans.¬† The homeowner hired Rick to come to the job site each week to monitor the work and they started pushing the contractor to do what he was obligated to do.¬† The contractor ended up going bankrupt and leaving the project.¬† The homeowner had to hire the subs himself to finish the work.¬† In the end, not only did he pay the $35,000 in real money, he paid much more than that in frustration and headaches.¬†

Secondly:¬†¬† You know the old saying ‘he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client’?¬† Well, that can apply to acting as your own general contractor, too.¬† We have a few clients each year who are doing their project ‘on the cheap’, so to speak.¬† If they’ve never managed a construction project before, then they might be in for¬†an unpleasant surprise.¬† The cost of their construction might not be reduced as much as they’d like.¬† Here’s why:¬†

1.¬† Subcontractors will have little confidence that a newby homeowner can manage the project.¬† There are many aspects of the job that dovetail together and timing can be critical.¬† Subs don’t want to be scheduled, then put off, then called in ASAP.¬† They are working on multiple projects and their timelines can be drastically affected and they could even lose a future job¬†due to¬†a homeowner’s ineptitude.¬†

Shoulda called the plumber to come extend the pipe to the shower head, beFORE tiling.

A competent general contractor knows how to schedule the flooring, painting, cabinet installation, etc. so that one subcontractor is less likely to damage the work of another subcontractor.¬† You don’t schedule the cabinet installation when the floor tile is still drying.¬† You schedule the painter to come in twice, once before the cabinets are installed and then again to do the fine work afterwards.¬† And the general contractor knows how to handle a conflict between subcontractors, do you?

2.¬† When a homeowner is a beginner, the subs end up training the homeowner and it costs them time and money to hold¬†his/her hand.¬† If a¬†subcontractor knows he’ll be dealing directly with the homeowner without the usual buffer of the general contractor, he might charge more for that inconvenience.¬† There are subcontractors who specifically choose NOT to be general contractors because they don’t want to have to deal with homeowners.

One contractor told me of a client who had researched how to frame a wall and didn’t feel that the contractor was doing it right.¬† The contractor had to take the time to explain the rules for California, and¬†the rules for the city and why the wall-framing info he’d found online didn’t apply to his job.¬† Aargh!¬† What a waste of time and now the contractor is frustrated.¬† You want your contractor to WANT to come to your job – ¬†if he hates your job, is making no money on it, then watch out.¬†

The only way to turn off the fan is with the wireless remote. If you can't find the remote, you lose your hand.

3.¬† Discounts.¬† General contractors frequently receive discounts with suppliers from whom they buy frequently.¬† Many contractors pass those savings along to their clients.¬†¬†¬†Some contractors will use those savings as their buffer for when other costs go up, so they don’t have to turn around and charge the homeowner.¬† A discount here can offset a price increase there.¬† Homeowners aren’t going to obtain those same discounts.

Thirdly:¬† Your project might cost more because you are on a hillside or¬†using products that are unusual or hard-to-find with long lead times.¬† Maybe you’re in a city that is a pain to deal with – reduced¬†counter¬†hours, grouchy inspectors, weird requirements.¬† And, yes, pretty much if you’re in Los Gatos¬†or Palo Alto, you’ll be charged more than if you¬† live on the ‘east side’ (hey, I was raised on the ‘east side’ and loved it…Go Silver Creek Raiders!).¬† It’s a¬†fact of life – similar to the fact that Macy’s in Valley Fair has different products than the one in Oakridge¬†– it’s the demographics, baby.¬†

They cut through the plexiglass window rather than go through the wall.

Here are more reasons why a project might cost more:¬† Look in a mirror.¬† Can you make a decision?¬† Are you always looking for a better deal?¬† There is always a different product, different price, different color, different idea, different size, different EVERYthing.¬† STOP .¬†LOOKING . AND . MAKE . A . DECISION!¬† Your inability to decide costs the contractor money.¬† The contractor wants to be sure you can choose the oven or paint or whatever, when the time comes.¬† Late product delivery holds up the job.¬† Don’t let the myriad of choices render you immobile.

Another contractor told us of a client (not one of ours) who couldn’t decide what she wanted and would have him¬†build something, then decide it was too small or short or something and change it, then go on to the next area.¬† That type of work is fine if you are a contractor without a pipeline (other jobs coming up), but it really only works if the contractor has nothing else to do.

Frequently, it’s the clients who try to bargain¬†like they’re at a flea market who are the ones¬†causing problems in the future.¬† They drag their feet then try to rush¬†with self-imposed deadlines created because they dragged their feet in the first place.¬† They use the cheapest contractors, then come running to us to save them when something goes wrong.¬† They find fault with others and¬†always assume the worst.¬† Everything is a problem, everything is an emergency and its all someone else’s fault.¬†

Too cheap to pay for big enough support posts?

We had a client call us to say he was ticked off that there wasn’t a fireplace in the master bedroom.¬† He’s already in construction.¬† He’s reviewed the plans and reviewed the plans and¬†gone over them with the contractor when getting the bid.¬† When did he tell us he wanted a fireplace in the master bedroom?¬† Even if he told us and we forgot to put it in, he’s been looking at the plans, too.¬† It’s not something that goes in every house, like a refrigerator!¬† If we don’t know you want one, you better make sure to tell us.¬† And don’t act like its our fault, cuz it isn’t.¬†

Count on your job costing at least 10% over what you think it will cost.¬† Things happen, products you want are no longer available, paint needs a third coat, the window arrives broken and waiting for it delays something else.¬†¬† Plus, a general contractor can choose to ‘eat’ a small change order in the name of client satisfaction, whereas having no general contractor on site means the homeowner gets to pay for it.

A tunnel between 2 rooms, what's with the curtain? The paneling, the cardboard? Accomplishing what, exactly?

Well, I guess I got into ‘parental mode’ there for a while.¬† But sometimes, thinking over the ridiculous things people say can make us, and by ‘us’ I mean ‘me’,¬†irritable.¬† One client got all huffy because he saw that Rick didn’t hand draw the details for his job.¬† He felt he wasn’t getting the superior¬†level of service because Rick used a standard detail.¬† Rick asked the guy, do you really want to pay me to hand draw the plans?¬† Using standard details means that the contractor won’t have to charge the homeowner for the process of learning how to do something in a new way just for this one job.¬† Standard details mean less chance of error and standard details means we can charge less because we didn’t have to spend time putting pencil to paper.¬†

Fun movie...I love what Haley's best friends, who are guys, say the first time they watch her and her teammates compete 'How did we NOT KNOW about this sport?'

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Stick It’?¬†¬† One of the girls that no ones likes is always mangling words and phrases.¬† She is going off to do school homework and tries to put down another girl (our heroine) ¬†for not ever graduating.¬† The other girl says she got her GED when she was 15.¬† The first girl¬†spouts another put-down and then says “and I don’t see what ‘driving under the influence’ has to do with it.”¬† Sigh, GED, not DUI, but, really, have you ever tried to correct someone who is so completely wrong?¬† You start to, you open your mouth to say something and then…you just shut it again, because they simply aren’t going to get it.¬†¬†

Yeah, that hand-draw-the-details-guy was like that.  He wanted to feel special and felt we were gypping him.  How do you explain to him that hand-drawing these days is not necessarily top-of-the-line service, but probably, in this 3-D design software world, quite the opposite!

This is a creative reuse of an Apple product!

One of the things Rick stresses to his¬†clients is that there is a soft cost to all projects.¬† That cost is the tuition for learning how to live through a construction project.¬† It’s not easy, not for the faint of heart.¬† You’ll do better if you have a good attitude, a sense of humor, the ability to adapt, a rainy-day fund and patience.¬†

Construction projects are stressful.¬† Hopefully, by anticipating problems¬†yours will be less so.¬†¬† Part of the reason I provide these goofy examples is so you can learn from them.¬† Don’t be afraid but don’t run off half-cocked, either.¬† Like the Boy Scouts say “Be Prepared”¬† ūüėČ

Photo credit:  www.ThereIFixedIt.com

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