Think I was wrong about the butcher block? A remodeler weighs in

Written By: admin - Aug• 19•12


Just the other day, I was waxing on about the regrets people feel about their butcher block counters. In the back of my mind, I’m wondering if anyone’s having a good long-term experience with their wood counters.

So today I get a comment from Bryan with T&B Construction in Howell, Mich., who says this:

As a home remodeler that specializes in bathroom and kitchen remodeling I have installed everything from tile to wood countertops and I agree 100% that the wood finish looks a lot different 6 months from now than it did on the day you installed it.

I can see it maybe lasting 3-5 years, but honestly I have never seen it last more than 6 months. A quick tip however… if you refinish it every 3 months you could keep it going for likely up to 10 years, however it may not be worth the hassle.

I guess I was right!

Photo: This and That

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Is it a grab bar? Or a fashion statement?

Written By: admin - Aug• 19•12

It’s true: People don’t generally like the way grab bars look. The industrial feel of old-school grab bars brings to mind an institution of some sort. And so while it would make sense to install grab bars during any bathroom remodel, many homeowners don’t on account of the looks.



These are from our friends at Moen. Check it out.

Casting Call — ‘Professional Grade’ on HGTV

Written By: Kathy Price-Robinson - Sep• 21•11

Think you can renovate better and chaper than a contractor? Do you live in the Los Angeles area?

Then HGTV’s popular new renovation show Professional Grade is looking for you.

The goal is for you to find high-end materials on the cheap, do most of the labor yourself, and hire and manage subcontractors — such as plumbers and electricians — to do the rest of the work.

The show producers suggest that you get these subcontractors to work below market prices, but I don’t agree. Even though you can win cash based on the difference between how much you spent on your remodel and how much various contractors say it would cost for them to do it, do you really want to rip off the subcontractors. Do you? Do you really want them to take a lower fee so you can win the prize? That’s not the golden rule. My suggesion is that you pay your subcontractors a fair price no matter what you stand to gain from shorting them. Most have families to support.

Your best bet is to do most work yourself, and spend a lot of time looking for high-end stuff that is perhaps disontinued or damaged or was taken out of someone else’s high-end remodel. Craigslist, here you come.

Here are the requirements for being on the show:

  • Have a remodel project planned in Fall 2011 
  • Are physically capable of completing the renovation
  • Have the time available and can commit to a firm completion deadline (4 to 5 weeks of project time) 
  • Have an appropriate budget already set aside for the renovation
  • Are enthusiastic about being on TV and are ready to put your skills to the test 

If you’re interested, send an email to for an application.

And good luck.

Laundry rooms of the rich and famous — their secret

Written By: admin - Sep• 08•11

Larry David Laundry
So I’m sitting here watching HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with Larry David, one of my many guilty pleasures, and Larry is in one of his typical fixes. He’s offered to let the residents of a battered women’s shelter use his washer and dryer when theirs has gone on the fritz. Of course, if you know Larry, you know he made this generous offer to make up for being such a jerk in previous interactions.

So in the scene of my great revelation, one of the battered women is loading up the washing machine in the laundry room of Larry’s house (you could call it a mansion) and he’s rudely suggesting that she’s way too big and mean to have been battered.

And that’s when I looked beyond the faux drama unfolding on the screen to the appliances in the background and I realized: Wow! There are two washers and two dryers!

Larry David Laundry
My mind exploded! Can you do that? Is that legal? Who ever thought of having two sets of laundry room appliances? In a home? I once interviewed a woman in Malibu who had two dryers, but that’s because she said she had OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and had to wash pretty much everything in the house everyday.

But having two of each actually looks feasible. With the stacking front-loading units, they take up the same floor space as one set. And if they are newish and super energy- and water-efficient, the two sets probably use less energy and water than one set of older units.

The implications are immense.

In my house, that would mean I or my husband could get a week’s worth of laundry done in a few hours, rather than it becoming a daylong marathon.

Plus, we could each do laundry at the same time. In fact, we could each have custody of one pair of appliances so that we’d never have to keep checking to see if the washer was finally free. Think of the family harmony.

Of course, Larry and his peers would likely never know this kind of glee. But I”m sure their housekeepers have a swell time in these awesome rich people’s laundry rooms. And I feel happy about that.

Remodeling in History: How to remodel your garage for only $1,618

Written By: admin - Sep• 07•11

Here’s a clever ad that ran July 9, 1965 in the St. Petersburg Independent:

 The newspaper ad reads: “Buy an Opel Kadett. Put it in your garage and suddenly your garage never looked so cavernous. Opel’s 58 inches of width makes all sorts of room for tricycles, lawn mowers, bushel baskets and sleds. However, do not be deceived. Opel may be small outside, but it’s a different story inside. GM built this 2-door sedan with 35.1 inches of leg room and 46.3 inches of shoulder room in the front. It allso has a 46-hp engine, bucket seats, 4-speed floor shift, windshield washer, plus a lot of other little surprises. So do your garage a favor. Go to your Buick-Opel dealer now, before you forget all the good things. And keep your ears open. You’re in the place where money talks.”

Here’s what it looked like in person:

Photo: Classic Car Blog

You can read more about this storied automobile here.

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Laundry room appliances too cute to hide

Written By: admin - Sep• 07•11

When Kristina Johnson and David Franke remodeled their California kitchen and laundry room, they did a surprising thing: left the door off the laundry room.

Of course, I had a question about that missing door: “Why?”

You might have to love appliances as much as Kristina and Dave do to understand the reasoning: The high-end, stackable washer and dryer are, in their eyes, just too beautiful to hide behind a door.

Of course, there are also practical reasons for their action. A full-size door on hinges would get in the way. Even smaller swinging saloon doors would be awkward. And most of all, the open laundry room adds a sense of spaciousness to the kitchen, making it seem larger.

To pull this off, here’s what was needed:

• Handsome appliances (check)
• Super cute tile floor in a checkerboard pattern (check)
• A shelf for folding clothes made from granite leftover from the kitchen (check)

That piece of granite for the laundry room table, by the way, cost $300 to get fabricated (cut and polished), so it wasn’t a cheap deal.

But for the ease of use and overall attractiveness, I’d say the open laundry room is a winner.

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A hot new career for women — home energy auditor

Written By: admin - Sep• 06•11

First, what are home energy auditors?

These are professionals (accredited through BPI or certified through RESNET) who go into homes and measure or assess how much energy is being used and wasted through leaks and lack of insulation and bad HVAC systems and watt-sucking appliances. The idea is to figure out ways to make that home more energy efficient.

Why are women good for this job?

Auditing a house is more than just saving energy. It’s also about proper fresh air infiltration, which is critical for the health and comfort of the inhabitants and the durability of the home. And women, I think, are particularly interested in a house that is healthy for them and their families, and comfortable and that will last a long time.

We come to the table with all these cares and concerns built into our DNA. As I like to say, “Home Is Everything.”

A.Tamasin_SternerEnergy auditing is a growing field (see job offerings here) and A. Tamasin Sterner (pictured here), a well-respected energy expert and teacher, is offering a five-day energy audting course Oct. 10 to 14, 2011, FOR WOMEN ONLY at her center in Montana.

This is a step toward becoming a BPI-accredited auditor, or a way to get CEU credits if you’re already accredited.

And in order to understand this field better, I will be attending the course and reporting on it for one or more energy-oriented publications.

To find out more about this opportunity, and the chance to spend five days with like-minded women on a ranch in Montana, check out Pure Energy.

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The doggie apartment in the laundry room

Written By: admin - Sep• 06•11

Dog Laundry Room
Where to put the dog bed? That is the question.

In my own house, I tend toward the philosophy of: Let’s put the dog bed in the middle of the living room so my fur baby doesn’t get lonely. But not all people are going to warm up to this idea.

I’ve never crated a dog in my life, so designing a “cage” for a dog in the laundry room, as did this family in Mandeville, La., seemed odd at first.

Kathy's Remodeling Blog But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the beauty in this set-up. After all, dogs love tight quarters. Think coyotes in an underground den.

So why not build into your laundry room a permanent crate, a little apartment of sorts for your doggie? This would be a safe place for little Rover during big parties, and perhaps a nice and quiet place to spend the night. Plus, you have a place to put the food and water dishes other than in the kitchen where you tend to kick them and get water all over your shoes once or twice a week. Or is that just me?

In the photo at the very top of this story, though, I wonder about that gate. Unless it’s closed, it would block the door behind it. And that means the gate is always closed, when the dog is inside or outside of it, except for when the newspaper photographer comes by.

Kathy's Remodeling Blog I rather prefer the “freedom nook” in a remodel I wrote about for Remodeling Magazine, which you see above and to the left.

If I was designing the gated doggie nook, I’d make sure the gate could stay open most of the time so little FeFe could come and go during day.

Other than that, I’m totally on board.

Top photo: Times-Picayune

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Stunning butcher block counters . . . are not for everyone

Written By: admin - Sep• 05•11

butcher block counter
Butcher block counters are so gorgeous! They evoke French country kitchens and a slower, more thoughtful time.

Kitchen before and after In truth, they are not for everyone. More than one homeowner has rued the day butcher block was chosen, If the finish is not rock hard, they can get stained, gouged and encrusted with years of accumulated foodstuffs.

I visited a home remodel done by aspiring professional chef Ian and his wife. It was a lovely and expensive remodel and included a butcher block counter. The contractor told Ian he would regret that counter, especially in combination with the tall professional-grade faucet he chose. But Ian wanted that look.

A few years later, I contacted Ian and asked about any regrets. I like doing that, getting the old 20-20 retrospective from folks who have remodeled. And sure enough, he hated those blasted counters. They were constantly stained from the faucet overspray. He so wishes he had chosen something rock hard.

But . . . if you’re not an aspiring chef, and you’re fairly careful and diligent about wiping them off, well then I guess you’ll be OK.

Butcher block counter I’m certainly happy for Vanessa of This and That blog. She and her husband stained and installed the gorgeous IKEA butcher block counters you see here. What an improvement fromt the kitchen before (above right).

And, they did it on a budget. Check this out:

Butcher block: (Ikea for the whole kitchen) $393

Sink: (scratch and dent at Home Depot) $67

See a complete tutorial on how this resourceful couple pulled off this graceful project and check out the whole kitchen.

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Would you sacrifice square footage for charm?

Written By: admin - Sep• 03•11

Susan SerraWhen famed kitchen designer Susan Serra visited Copenhagen this month, she stayed in this apartment and sent back this photo.

In this living room, I was struck by the deep-set windows, which add so much charm. It creates a feeling of thick walls, and provides shelves for plants, flowers and other things of beauty, and provides a place for a wall heater (behind the table).

And then I realized that anyone could have charm like this by building up raised-panel boxes around the windows.

I suspect this architectural feature also has a practical function, providing space inside to run the utilities, like electrical wires, plumbing pipes and perhaps air contidioning ducts.

But even if these boxes were strictly for charm, would you be willing to give up the lost linear foot of floor space?

Below is the apartment’s kitchen with the same feature:

Susan SerraWhat say you about sacrificing floor space for style?

Also, if you can’t get enough of Danish style, check out Susan Serra’s company Bornholm Kitchen.

New Orleans House Paint Colors — Lower 9th Ward

Written By: admin - Sep• 02•11

New Orleans

This beautifully restored little cottage is right on the levee in the Holy Cross area of the Lower 9th Ward. The exterior colors include:
• House siding: Bright yellow
• Doors, window mullions and foundation: Pumpkin orange
• Door jambs, door trim, window frames, fascia, and corner quoins: Periwinkle blue
• Steps, cornice above windows: Mint green

Before & After — Ikea kitchen island on steroids

Written By: admin - Sep• 01•11

Ikea Hacker
This is one of the best budget kitchen remodels I’ve seen. While you can see a dramatic change from before (bottom) and after (top), notice that the cabinets are the same, the window is in the same place, all the appliances are in the same locations and the floor and ceiling are the same. So what’s making this kitchen look so dramatically different?

Ikea HackersLet us count the ways:

• Cabinets painted white
• New cabinet hardware
• New Ikea Numerar countertops
• New appliances (always a bonus)
• New backsplash of glass tile (yummy!)
• Upper cabinet on right replaced by Grundtal shelving from Ikea
• Green accent wall (that was inspired)

But the biggest deal in this kitchen is the new island, which I found featured on Ikea Hackers, a great website for discovering how you can mess around with basic Ikea products to create something totally awesome.

This is a Varde base cabinet ($249) from Ikea with an overhanging butcher block top and, most significantly, the owners covered the standard white Melamine on the front (actually the back, see below) with the same glass tile that was used on the backsplash.

Verde With the three white stools, this is an Ikea hack extraordinaire! Congratulations to the genius homeowners who made this happen!

See a glass tile tabletop I got for free

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Mississippi tradesman rings the opening bell at New York Stock Exchange

Written By: admin - Sep• 01•11

National Tradesmen Day Congratulations to this handsome hunk of a man, Delwyn Thornton, of Brandon, Miss., who won a skills contest — gripping, marking, clamping, sawing and drilling — put on by Irwin Tools.

As part of his honors, he got to ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange.

Other than enjoying the visual of this fine-looking shoe repairman, and the fact that he is there to also honor “National Tradesmen Day,” which Irwin created to honor its customers, the story is a little wonky for me.

First of all, does Delwyn own any stocks?

Is he part of Wall Street?

Second, look at the photo below and tell me who among these pepole ever touched a tool or honored the people who do touch tools?

Every single well-dressed, well-groomed person in this picture has benefited enormously, as we all have, from the talents and skills and sweat of plumbers and carpenters and plasterers and roofers and electricians and framers and mechanics and tile setters and drywall hangers and masons and concrete finishers and window installers and welders iron workers and lathers on and on.

I hope, understanding how much of our comfort and security we owe to tradesmen and tradeswomen, that we honor them every day.

Markup and Profit — Why you want your contractor to get some

Written By: admin - Aug• 31•11

Michael Stone If you already think a remodeling contractor is entitled to an item titled “Markup and Profit” in the bid, you can skip this post.

But if you cringe at this concept, and try to negotiate markup and profit out of the bid, keep reading.

As far as I can tell, there are three major types of remodeling contractors:

1. Excellent and ethical contractors who really know how to run a profitable business. These are the ones you should hire.

2. Good-hearted and ethical contractors who are not good at business, who tend to lose money on jobs. You want to hire these guys, but you really shouldn’t.

3. Scoundrels. Of course, you should stay far, far away from these guys.

It’s that second group that I want to discuss. Many times, remodeling contractors get into the business because they truly like people and like pleasing people. But sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, they are not very good businessmen. And they sometimes bid way too low just to get a job, and then struggle to finish it.

This is what  you want to avoid. You want to avoid a contractor is working at such a low margin that when anything goes wrong, there’s no cushion to make things right. If your contractor gets no markup and profit, and is basically working for wages rather than building a strengthening a company, you can be sure there will be troubles. They may not have enough credit to buy materials. They might struggle to pay subcontractors, who then revolt by not showing up.

Markup & Profit author Michael stoneIn my opinion, you are much better off hiring a company who makes a profit, who pays employees well, who provides some kind of benefits to them, and who has enough breathing room to come back to your job to fix anything that has broken or failed.

You might want to hire the cheapest guy, but I don’t recommend it, for your sake.

For contractors, get this book Markup and Profit: A Contractor’s Guide, and read it several times. I recently met the author, Michael Stone, and he is your advocate and champion for running a good business and not giving yourself away cheaply. Because that doesn’t help anyone in the long run, especially not your customers.

See a video of Michael Stone here and read his blog.

The New Orleans Healing Center rises from the post-Katrina muck

Written By: admin - Aug• 30•11

Post Katrina Healing Center New Orleans
My heart goes out to the victims of Hurricane Irene. I feel your pain. (And I promise not ask this inane question: Why would you live/rebuild where hurricanes can hit? I’ve been to Vermont. I know why you live there.)

Six years ago, when the federal levee system failed in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, many wondered if the subsequent flooding meant death for a great city.

Post Katrina Healing Center New Orleans It certainly has not died, and most of the 300-year-old city has come back even better than before with a green focus, better schools, and more restaurants than ever (900+). The music is still strong, Mardi Gras rolls on, Jazz Fest rocks, and the friendliness of the folks and the closeness of families cannot be dimmed.

Some areas still struggle. The street where this former furniture store once thrived (on St. Claude at St. Roch) is a work in progress. Many ruined shops remain shuttered, while new shops emerge, and the whole neighborhood is underserved by the most common businesses, like grocery stores and banks. As it turns out, it’s kind of a blessing that this area has been rejected by the chain stores that have homogenized so many once-unique towns.

The New Orleans Healing Center — a nonprofit collective conceived right after the levee failures as a massive catalyst to more improvements — had its grand opening on Saturday and the 3-story, 75,000 square feet of luminious space was mobbed (in a good way) by happy and appreciative citizens. The feng shui and air quality in this place are extraordinary, thanks to green-building practices.

The Healing Center includes a food co-op, eco cafe, botanica store, spaces for artisans to sell their goods, a fitness center, credit union, performance space, classrooms, a White Lotus yoga studio, Maple Street Books, art gallery space, an Interfaith spirituality space, and so much more.

I stand in awe of the heart and work it took to bring this about. It’s hope for our future, hope for our present.

Historic covered bridge washes away in Vermont

Written By: admin - Aug• 29•11

I didn't even know how much I loved old covered bridges until I saw this video of one washing away during Hurricane Irene, and I cried! It was built in the 1870s.

This is what Kathy's Remodeling Blog is all about, treasuring and restoring our heritage, our past, our history. I can't believe how emotional this is. With radical weather change upon us, we must take even more seriously the preservation of our homes and landmarks. That will be tougher from here on, and we must be prepared.

P.S. Turn down your speaker volume if you don't want to hear the observers of this tragedy cussing. I think it's quite appropriate, but you can make your own decision.

Looking for a FEMA-approved contractor? There’s no such thing

Written By: admin - Aug• 29•11

Fema_logo This post ran previously on Kathy’s Remodeling Blog, but it’s good to repeat now, following Hurricane Irene:

Just the other day, someone posted a comment on this blog saying his company’s website listed FEMA-approved contractors looking for work. FEMA, as you probably know, is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which steps in after disasters.

The only trouble with directing homeowners toward a list of FEMA-approved contractors is that there is no such thing. Here is a direct quote from FEMA:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency neither certifies nor endorses any private-sector contractor. Individuals and government entities should be extremely cautious when hiring contractors after any disaster.

Further, don’t fall for the line that any product is approved or certified by FEMA. A statement like that is just not true. Also from FEMA:

Use of terms such as “FEMA Approved” and “FEMA Tested” are patently false and may well be violations of Federal Trade Commission and state consumer protection laws and regulations.

So whenever you hear someone make the false claim that they or their product is FEMA-approved, you can just assume that everything else they have to say is a bit suspect.

Coming soon to a house near yours: climate change distasters

Written By: admin - Aug• 28•11

Who could have predicted this? I'm not referring to radical climate change exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels. Scientists have been telling us about this for decades. There is no real question about this. If you're not into science, however, then the research and conclusions of the vast majority of scientists won't mean much.

What I couldn't have predicted is the number of my fellow citizens actively campaigning for an end to environmental rules, guidelines and laws that keep the giant oil, gas and coal corporations from killing us all.

We expected it from them. That's their job. Their moral obligation is to make money. Our moral obligation is to save ourselves from destruction. There are more of us than there are of them. But . . . they brilliantly used their billions of dollars to influence good people into denial of the reality of climate change. As I heard recently, "It takes an optimist to say our future is uncertain." In fact, we are allowing our environment to be absolutely smashed, destroyed, obliterated.

The problem is with your house, which is what I'm concerned about here on Kathy's Remodeling Blog. In my own life, my home is everything. It's my safety, my refugue, my solace, my serenity, my privacy, the place where I build up my strength. And I've seen firsthand what happens when people lose their homes to weather-related events and their lives devolve into turmoil and rootlessness and hopelessness. I don't want that to happen to me because I'm not sure I could survive it.

So when extreme weather events — fires, floods, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes — made worse by human-exacerbated climate change threatens my place of safety, then you've really ticked me off, oil barons. Your oil profits should not trump my right to live peacefully in my house. Period.

I'll be attending this event on Sept. 14, and I welcome you to join in.

During a hurricane, wishing for another chance

Written By: admin - Aug• 27•11

Hurricane With a hurricane on the way, you have a long list of things you wish you’d done earlier. They include:

• Installed some kind of shutters or hurricane-resistant windows

• Bought a generator to avoid the long lines at Home Depot or Lowe’s

• Bought a small air conditioner and small refrigerator to run off that generator

• Bought gas for the generator

• Had flashlights in good working order

• Had the car filled up with gas, again to avoid the long lines in case of evacuation
• Had a good supply of drinking water (1 gallon per person per day)

* Put your important papers and photos in one place in case of evacuation

• Had set up direct deposit for your income, in case of long evacuation

• Had your prescriptions filled up and handy

• For renters, you wish you had bought renter’s insurance

• What else?

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Remodeling in History: 1948 — President Truman slammed for building a balcony off the White House

Written By: admin - Aug• 26•11


In 1948, President Harry Truman wanted to add a balcony on the side of the White House and his detractors were up in arms.

“Women especially seem to resent the fact that Mr. Truman is altering the White House a few months before the people are choosing a president,” David Lawrence reported in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Jan. 19, 1948. “The argument is frequently made that Mr. Truman was never elected to the presidency, but got into the White House by accident. If he were to be reelected, it is assumed opinions might be different.

“The President in his press conference replied to criticism in congress that he was only ‘a temporary tenant’ by saying all presidents are temporary.”

(Note: Truman succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his historic fourth term. Truman was indeed elected to a second term and served until Jan. 20, 1953.)

The reporter goes on to say that Truman missed the point and that the White House belongs to the people and any structural changes should be left to an impartial and nonpolitical board, the Fine Arts Commission, which had already rejected the proposal.

“For Mr. Truman to go ahead anyhow, as he is now doing, is not only bad taste, but bad politics,” the reporter wrote.

A Republican congressman from Pennsylvania said he objected to the project because the $15,000 would be taken from the maintenance and upkeep fund and he said that was illegal.

Truman was probably trying to recreate the ambiance of his beloved home in Key West, Fla., (below) which was known as the Little White House.

Harry Truman outside the Little White HouseSee more celebrities, porches and outdoors