February 11, 2013 § 1 Comment
A few months ago, my wife Olga (owner of Pacific Tile Wave) was commissioned to make a mural for a custom home on Whidbey Island, and, since I’m the resident tile installer, I was lucky enough to be asked to install it. I thought I could share a little bit about the process here for you. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below!
The amount of work that goes in to the making of these murals is kind of staggering to me. First, each and every piece is cut and shaped from raw clay, allowed to dry, fired once in to “bisque” at 1900+ degrees Fahrenheit, then the glaze is applied by hand to each individual piece, and then back into the kiln for the final firing at 2200+ degrees. If she’s lucky, that’s it and the pieces are ready to use in the mural, but this is a very organic art form, and nothing ever comes out quite the same twice, so very often there’s some sort of fixing that needs to be done, and usually that means they go back in to the kiln a 3rd time or sometimes into the garbage and it starts all over.
Once the pieces are made, then they are ready to be assembled and arranged into the mural. This is also a time consuming process similar to assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle. Only there’s no picture on the box to guide yo, only a rough idea in the artists head. I’ve seen Olga spend days creating a mural, only to pull it all apart and start over because she wasn’t happy with the way it flowed or the balance of color. And since these murals don’t have a preconceived design, it means there needs to be a surplus of pieces to pick and choose from. So really for any one mural, there’s probably twice the number of individual pieces that need to be made.
once the mural is assembled, it’s taped up with special adhesive plastic, labeled, and cut into manageable sections. Then it’s off to the customer’s home for installation.
Now it’s off to beautiful Whidbey Island, to be installed in the customer’s newly build custom home.
The mural was commissioned for the floor of the Powder Room. Since the floor is concrete, we installed a membrane first to ensure that if any cracks formed in the concrete(which is pretty common) they wouldn’t affect the tile. There are many different types of membrane available for this, but we like to use Kerdi Ditra brand.
Once the membrane is down, it’s tile to start installing the tiles. The mural is cut up into labled sections, so it’s just a matter of matching up the labels.
Once installed, and set-up, we can peel off the tape and install the grout. I love this part, because this is where we can really start to see what we’ve been working for.
Once the grout is installed, we can finally step back and admire this incredible work of art!
With a floor this beautiful, I think the customers and their guests are going to look for excuses to use the bathroom!
January 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Whether you’re starting a remodeling project for the first time, or you’re a seasoned pro, there’s always some level of stress involved. Really, the stress can start even before you begin your project. There’s so much involved in just the planning and design stages, that many people get overwhelmed and give up before they even get started. If you do manage to get past the planning and design, then you’re faced with a whole new set of difficulties from finding a reliable contractor to dealing with unexpected issues that pop up once the remodeling is under way (because there’s always something unexpected that pops up). Add a spouse or significant other to the mix, and things can really get heated: with fights over the budget and disagreements over fixtures and finishes, it can take it’s toll on a relationship. Many people, having gone through this process once, vow to never do it again, and that’s a shame, because it doesn’t need to be so difficult. In fact remodeling can be an exciting and rewarding process where you get to see your hopes and visions for your home come to life. So how can you remodel without the stress? Well, read on and I hope you’ll find a few tips that will help you do just that.
First, save your marriage! If you’re married or in a relationship, and you both want to be involved in the remodeling process, you can make some decisions up front that will save you some pain and possibly save your relationship. With so many decisions to make along the way, there’s equally as many opportunities for disagreement. My advice is to split up the decision making and the responsibilities. For example: one of you take the reins on the design and, and the other can take charge of the budget. This doesn’t mean you both can’t contribute to these different areas, but if you find yourselves deadlocked on a particular issue, it gives the person in charge the opportunity to make the final call without anyone feeling like their pride is being stepped on.
Next, think about hiring a designer. Again, it comes down to choices. It’s overwhelming how many choices there are when entering in to a remodeling project. Think about it: Have you ever tried to buy some white paint? There must be a million different shades of white! It’s a designer’s job to figure out your taste, and your needs, and filter the choices accordingly, presenting you with a few carefully chosen options. This saves you from getting overwhelmed, and saves you time as well. Furthermore, since this is what designers do, day in and day out, they are likely to have ideas you never would have thought of to make your project more functional, more cost effective, and more beautiful. It may seem like an extravagance to spend money on a designer, but bad decisions cost money too, and I can guarantee if you go into your remodel without a well thought out design, there are going to be some expensive mistakes somewhere along the way.
If your budget is too tight to hire a professional designer, you’re still going to need a design. Even a pencil sketch with some rough measurements, and a list of fixtures and finishes, is better than nothing. Make sure you’ve thought through the design and layout carefully before you hand it over to your contractor. The last thing you want to do is hire a contractor, give him some vague idea of what you want, and then turn him loose! Now I’m not saying it can’t be done this way, because it can (You can’t be a contractor for any length of time without learning a thing or two about design), and to be honest, I rather like it when my customers allow me a little artistic license, but this approach is time consuming, costly, and it leaves the door open for misunderstandings and can leave you with a finished project that doesn’t necessarily live up to your expectations. So take the time upfront to plan out the space and dial in the details. Then, once you’ve mapped things out as far as you can, feel free to sit down with your contractor and get his input before moving forward with the actual work.
Speaking of contractors, hiring the right contractor is probably the single most important step in the remodeling process. Want to set yourself up for failure? Go out get a few bids from random contractors, hire the cheapest one, and wait for the nightmare to begin. Do I sound overly dramatic? I assure you, I’m not. I’m speaking from personal experience here! Not only have I made this mistake myself (more than once), but I see it happen to others again and again. The biggest stress saving advice I can give you is to really spend time finding the right contractor for your job. Get references, check on their license and bond, get to know them, make sure they return your calls and respond to emails promptly. It’s worth the extra time and effort! You need to know this person is someone you can trust with your home and your money.
Another tip: Expect the unexpected. Just about any time you go in to a remodel there’s going to be something unexpected that comes up. An experienced contractor can help you anticipate some of the issues that may arise, but unless you have x-ray vision and a crystal ball, you can’t anticipate everything. The key here is to be flexible with your design, and your budget. Most often, a slight modification to the design is all it will take to overcome an obstacle, and if you set aside a contingency fund in your budget, you’ll have a backup for when you find (for example) some dry-rot behind the cabinets.
Along the same lines: expect delays. Whether it’s an appliance not arriving on schedule, or drywall not drying fast enough because of the humidity there’s always something that doesn’t go exactly according to plan. Again, a good contractor will anticipate this and not set your expectations unrealistically, but still, you should err on the side of caution, and avoid scheduling your project deadline too close to any important dates. Leave some room for the unexpected and you will weather the storms without the stress.
Finally, and I know this is tricky, but have faith. There’s going to be a point where the contractor is tearing apart your home, and you find yourself washing dishes in the bathtub and pushed off to a corner of your house surrounded by boxes of stuff you’ve packed away until the remodeling is done, and you’ll ask yourself if you’ve made a terrible mistake. It takes a lot of faith at this point to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and while it may seem inconceivable to you that the mess you’re living in now will ever come together, it’s just part of the process. Try to remember that while you may not have a clue how to make order out of the chaos you see before you, your contractor does(assuming you’ve done your homework and hired a good one!), and for him, this is just a walk in the park because he’s done it a million times before. So give it a little time before you hit the panic button, and try to enjoy the process of watching it all come together!
Need some advice on an upcoming remodeling project? Feel free to leave me a comment. I’m happy to help!
January 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Last month, we worked on this small apartment kitchen in located in downtown Seattle. While the kitchen is small, and the layout is very simple, the finishes and textures that the owner chose, combine to create a very compelling and stylish space.
The kitchen hadn’t been remodeled since it was built in the 1960s, so there was a lot to do to bring it up to date. One of the biggest changes we made, was to remove the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room. Although it didn’t add any significant square-footage to the small space, it made the kitchen feel ten times bigger!
The owner chose IKEA kitchen cabinets for their contemporary style, and budget friendly cost. Here we have IKEA’s Abstrakt white on top, and Gnosjo black for the bottom. Not only does it look ultra cool, but having a dark color on the bottom, and a lighter color on top adds height and dimension to the space.
Not content with a simple pattern for the floor tile, the owner came up with this unique pattern using 12×24″ porcelain tile.
The tile backsplash is made up of 4×12 back-painted clear glass tiles. rather than going for the simple brick-style layout, we chose to offset the tiles in 2″ increments. For the grout color, the owner really wanted to go with white, but in a kitchen setting I was concerned it wouldn’t stay white for long. So we decided to go with epoxy grout, which is stain proof, and doesn’t require sealing.
In keeping with the clean, uncluttered design, we removed all the outlets from the backsplash, and hid them under the cabinets. These plug strips, made by Wiremold, are very challenging to install, but offer the lowest profile outlet strip on the market. If you decide to install these in your kitchen, prepare yourself to hear a lot of griping and complaining from your electrician!
Funny that one of the smallest kitchens we worked on last year turned out to be one of my favorites. I guess it just goes to show that small spaces can still make a big statement.
December 16, 2012 § 1 Comment
In the years I’ve been working as a contractor, I’ve heard a lot of stories from people who have been cheated or had their home ruined by unscrupulous contractors. In fact years ago I was put through a hell of my own by a contractor I hired to install a sewer line for a house I was building. Long story short: he worked all day digging a 14’ deep hole in the alley to get to the sewer main. At the end of the day, he finally found the main, but not before collapsing it with his backhoe! He assured me that it was no problem, he’d fix it in the morning, and then never showed up again! (I found out later he’d been pulled over that night and then arrested for outstanding warrants!) In the meantime I had my own Grand Canyon in the alley, and now the city had to get involved because the broken main had filled with dirt and the sewer was backing up. I was already out thousands of dollars for the deposit I’d paid, and now had to come up with thousands more for a new contractor to fix the main, and finish the job! Anyway, from my own hard earned experience I’ve learned that you can’t just go out willy-nilly and hire the first contractor you find on craigslist! You need to find someone you can trust with your home and your money. The problem is, just about anyone can strap on a tool belt and call themselves a contractor. So how can you find a trustworthy, experienced contractor among all the hundreds of sketchy ones? I have a few tips, so read on.
- Make sure they are licensed and bonded. You can do this from the L&I website. From there, you can see if the contractor is licensed, if their license is active, and if they have any liens or disputes against them. Keep in mind, having a license doesn’t necessarily mean they have any skill as a contractor. In many states there’s no requirement for any training or testing to qualify for a contractor’s license (Here in the state of Washington, only plumbers and electricians are required to go through any training to receive a license.) However, in order to receive a contractor’s license the contractor is required to have liability insurance and a bond, and this will offer you some protection should you have any problems with the contractor or their work.
- Get references: Get names, contact information and job details of recent customers. It’s important to actually contact the references they provide. For all you know, they could’ve just given you names of friends and family members, so don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, and get detailed information about the contractor and the job that they did.
- Check out the contractor’s on-line profile. You can learn a lot by researching a contractor online. Check out their website, look for pictures of their work, read their blogs, check them out on Facebook, and, of course, look for reviews. Yelp and Angie’s List are two good places to find reviews. In this day and age, if the contractor doesn’t have any online presence, you have to really wonder how seriously they take their business.
- Try to get a few different bids for your project. Look for detailed bids that clearly spell out what you’re getting for your money. If you get a bid that just says, “Kitchen Remodel: $10,000” throw it out! A bid like that leaves you wide open for all kinds of expensive surprises. So read through the bid carefully, and ask plenty of questions to make sure that you are getting everything you intended.
- You also want to watch out for really low bids. It’s especially common for inexperienced contractors to underbid their jobs. As they get into the project and realize they’re not making any money they’ll either come to you with excuses as to why they need more money, or they’ll put your job on the back burner and start working other jobs to try to cover their expenses. If you’re lucky, they’ll finish your job (eventually), and if you’re not, you may never see them again!
- Finally, take the time to ask the contractor about themselves, when they got into the business, what got them started. Get a sense of who they are, and how well they communicate. Good communication is paramount to the success of a remodeling project. If they take a long time answering calls and responding to emails, it’s a good sign that they’ve spread themselves too thin, and your project won’t get the attention it deserves.
Remodeling your home is an exciting process, but also a stressful one. You can significantly reduce that stress, however, when you know you have a good and trustworthy contractor.
November 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment
A couple of years ago we had the pleasure of remodeling the kitchen of this beautiful log cabin( see my post about it here: Installing IKEA cabinets in a log home). It’s not every day that we get the opportunity to work in such a peaceful story-book setting, so when we were asked to come back and remodel the bathrooms, we jumped at the opportunity!
There were a couple of challenges with the bathroom remodels here. First was the lack of space. Both bathrooms were really small, and since knocking out walls and enlarging the space wasn’t an option, we had to plan everything down to the inch to get the most out of the space.
Installing a custom tile shower pan allowed us to utilize a few more inches for our shower instead of relying on pre-fab shower pans which come in limited sizes. We also swapped out the traditional door for a pocket door.
The other challenge was that the ceiling consisted of 1-1/2″ floor boards set atop log beams. This meant that there were no cavities between the floors to run our plumbing for the upstairs bathroom.
We hated the platform that the previous builder had installed to give space for the plumbing, and opted instead to build a soffit into the ceiling below to conceal the pipes.
We also decided that the tub just took up too much room and the family never used it anyway, so we opted for a shower instead, which increased the space dramatically.
Removing the old tub opened up enough space that we were able to add an extra vanity, and with three daughters sharing the upstairs bathroom, it’s going to be put good use.
Another way we were able to increase the sense of space was by removing the tongue and groove paneling from the walls and replacing it with drywall. The lighter colored walls really helped to brightened up the room.
Clear frame-less glass shower doors are another way of maintaining a sense of space in a small bathroom.
The modern colors and textures of the new bathrooms against the rustic elements of the log cabin create a compelling contrast which we really like.
Overall it was a just a really fun project. With the beautiful scenery and the peacefull surroundings, and the amazing elk who visited us daily, we’re going to miss heading out there!
October 1, 2012 § 2 Comments
Last month we remodeled this stunning kitchen for a couple in Tacoma. They opted for high gloss grey and white cabinets from IKEA to create a stylish contemporary feel.
To compliment the cabinets, they even had us refinish the floors, and stain them grey. I was skeptical at first, but it really does look amazing.
Originally from the Netherlands, the couple really loved the kitchen they had there which was also high gloss, but cost them over $40,000 just for the cabinets. When they realized they could have the same look with IKEA cabinets for under $10,000, they were sold!
Needless to say, they are thrilled with the look of their new kitchen, and so are we!
If you want to see how this kitchen went together, check out our video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9A1jTYpKeY&feature=plcp
July 15, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Last month, we completed a beautiful new deck for a family in Seattle. Their old deck was too small and very poorly built to the point that it was unsafe. For their new deck they opted for two levels, with the upper level acting as a carport.
The owner happens to be a graphic designer so he was able to draft up a 3D representation showing exactly what he was after making our job that much easier:
With a deck of this size, we were required to get a building permit, so we had an architect draw up blueprints for the city, and with permit in hand, we were eager to get started.
To make a little more room for parking, we had some excavating to do:
Now we have a clean slate it’s time to start building, and a good deck needs a solid foundation:
And now it’s time to start framing. I like this part, because it’s where things start to really take shape.
When it came to choosing a surface material for the deck, we went back and forth. The owners really wanted to use a composite material because of the low maintenance and durability, but they really liked the look of cedar. Ultimately the decision came down to cost. With composite materials costing a minimum of 5x more than cedar, it was just going to be too costly.
One of the big concerns going into the project, was that the family was hosting a baby shower at the end of the month. So we had to have the deck ready by then. This really left us plenty of time, but at the end the weather just wasn’t cooperating, and we had to keep postponing the staining of the deck. Finally we just couldn’t put it off anymore, so we covered the whole thing in plastic to let all the wood dry out, and waited for a break in the rain so we could start spraying.
With the deck all wrapped up, all we could do was wait for the reain to stop, and with very little time to spare, it finally it did.
with the staining done, the deck was complete, and just in time for the much anticipated baby shower! The only problem was, the baby was born the day before the party(8 weeks early, but healthy)! Oh well, hopefully the family will host many other parties to take advantage of their beautiful deck in the future!
Coming up: We’re installing a new heating system in a ski cabin which will have the ability to be controlled from the owner’s smart phone. I can’t wait to tell you about it in my next blog!