When (And Why) To Hire A Contractor VS A Handy Man

Welcome Home!
Welcome Home! This is a shot of our kitchen after a sensitive remodel.  We added quartz counters in the same colour of the original formica, which matches the terrazzo floors. My husband is a chef, so we replaced the tiny double gas wall oven with a HUGE American Range double oven.  This meant building out a new cabinet space for it. All original hardware was reused.  The light featured is original to the home and is one of three George Nelson lamps.


Hi everyone!  We’ve all been here before where we want to save money but also want the job done right.  Whether its a small thing like clearing debris or renovating a bathroom, every task matters, but the skill level necessary can be quite different.

Many folks get confused between what a handy man does and what value a contractor has so here is the primary difference:  A Handy Man typically is an individual working for himself who generally does all of the work himself.  He may, on a larger job, hire a buddy to help him accomplish the work.  When that happens, you are relying on how good his buddy is or isn’t.  Typically a handy man is doing work part time or perhaps just starting out or may just be comfortable with smaller jobs here and there and they don’t really seek out larger projects and generally are not up to the task of a large one either, even if they state that they can do it.  They cost less than a contractor for sure and for the tiny stuff, that is where I go first!  But I warn you, you cannot just let a handy man go and do work unsupervised!  They are not at that skill level.  Therefore, YOU become the Project Manager or Contractor, overseeing all the work.  And it is this reason that they are cheaper.

A contractor is essentially a Project Manager.  You should come to the table with a fairly clear idea of what you want. Check out this software for some ideas.  But the contractor should know how to do all work involved, enough to hire the right people for the various tasks at hand as well as be experienced enough to comfortably get in there and get their hands dirty along with their crew.  I encountered a contractor once, which we used for some large projects, where all they did was oversee, never actually touching the work themselves.  That contractor used a 85-95% of his time flitting from one project to the next rather than paying full attention to what was going on at my house.  There was Scope Creep, where the project took significantly longer (and therefore cost more) to complete.  Also, the work done was not at the best level.  Mistakes got made that were never addressed.  Sad because most of us really don’t have the money to do things twice.  We don’t hire him any longer.  Its sad, really, but alot of folks who cannot ‘work for a boss’ become their own boss when, if they are honest with themselves, they already know that they are not equipped to do it adequately.  When you hire a contractor, you are paying a salary and that makes you actually the boss.  A smart contractor (and handy man) recognizes this and tried to stay present and get the job done to the best of their abilities.

To drive this point home, I conduct interviews along with asking for quotes.  I want to get references and I also want to gain a level of understanding on what this person knows and how willing they appear to be to do the work.  We had a handy man once who’s work was stunning, but the man was plain lazy.  We had to light a fire to get him to finish any project he started.  He actually bailed on the very last project we hired him for,  claiming somehow that painted columns he had repaired, were not his responsibility to touch up and repaint, even though that was included in the original bid and he had bought all the paint to do it.  I was upset; he would not budge.  A year later, I let him know, by way of a mutual friend, that we were doing a major renovation and that we were hiring someone else since he never completed his last job on the columns.  Through his friend, he stupidly stated he would finish the columns if I gave him the other job.  I explained to his friend that where I work, if I did not complete a project assignment, I would be let go.  I absolutely would NOT get another project to work on!  You can lead a man to books, but you cannot make him think and the good lord knows nobody can fix stupid.  The man did great work, when he showed up.  We’d hired him for many years and a smart man would have understood that not completing a job would mean severing ties.  Sometimes great people think they are irreplaceable.  I have to explain to them that they are only as great as their last work.  I hold myself accountable with the work I do and my employer absolutely does.  Why should this be any different for people I hire with my hard earned cash?

So When do I hire a Handy Man vs a Contractor?  If I am having a hole dug to plant a tree, a doorknob installed,  getting ceiling fans or light switches installed, or maybe a small bit of Sheetrock done in an inconspicuous place or perhaps patch painting said Sheetrock, I may hire my Handy Man for those kind of tasks.  For any important painting or Sheetrock, such as a focus wall,  something that will be noticeable and seen every day, or a large undertaking like counter-tops or kitchen/bath remodel, large landscape project – all of that goes to an experienced contractor (landscape designer/company).  And wherever possible, I start with a small job to see how they do before I engage them in a larger scope of work.  We moved last year and a contractor I love and work well with was busy on other work.  So we initially hired another individual.  We provided 2 months notice for our remodel so that our contractor could  block that time out with his people.   We wanted all or at least the bulk of the remodel finished prior to moving in.  First, our contractor was  a bit slow on the draw to come out, to measure etc.  I had kitchen countertops I wanted along with cabinetry work done for a new double wall oven going in.  We thought at the time we only needed a roof patch and the Atrium floor was uneven, with cheap broken tile.  The Atrium is a focal point as the entire home wraps around it with 3 sliders opening up to it.  The Atrium had to pop and had to be done right away.

God Does You Favors Sometimes – This worked out very well but at the time was quite upsetting.  This contractor I’ll call Ed, said he got another much larger project so that he was going to take that work on instead.  While he could do me the favor of still getting my counters done, it was clear to me that he would not be focused solely on my job.  Plus I had really, for the sake of cohesiveness, wanted to work with ONE contractor to manage ALL the work needed.  Right in the midst of my meltdown, my favorite contractor, Francesco, had stopped by.  I explained my upset, no Atrium work would be done and this way cool ‘Knife Edge’ I wanted on my counter-tops,  Ed’s stone guy said ‘just isn’t done’ with no further explanation as to why not.  My explanation that I had just seen Knife Edge done in a design store kitchen, so maybe they should go see that and report back to me met with a blank stare.   So I was not happy.  I’m not a contractor but I really hate feeling like the village idiot when I come up with an idea and that idea gets dismissed as stupid.

Francesco,  had just wrapped up one project and the other had been pushed out leaving cycles to do the work I needed.  We discussed atrium cement, how it would need to be a lot bigger in scope than what Ed said.  Our Atrium ceiling has a big hole I call the moon roof in the center of it.  The cement would need to be ground level yes but also ground down in order to make it even with the threshold once new tile was applied.  A french drain should also be added.  All this to remedy a corner of our Atrium from turning into a pool during heavy rains. Honestly I want a pool and my husband has assured me I would be found dead in it if that were to ever happen.  But I sure don’t want a pool in our Atrium!

Later, Ed showed up and when I noted all the cement grinding needed to match the threshold from the Atrium into 3 sliders going into our house, he said ‘I never thought of that.’  His quote to do the Atrium work was a full 5k less than what we paid Francesco but where I had heartburn at the job going from 5k to $10,500, it was a blessing hearing those words from Ed which confirmed the additional money was well spent.  Rather than having a botch job where it would never be right until it was redone, it is done now to last a lifetime.

As a Project Manager, I understand that a contractor is essentially a PM who oversees all work done on the project.  As a PM, I also understand the intrinsic value to hiring one(a good one).  While you pay extra for this individual, a good contractor is a worthwhile investment.  For example, I once had a contractor and the job he did was beautiful.  One of his workers, who was great on the project, gave me his card as he did a lot of smaller jobs on the side.  I hired him just once directly.  The work was poor quality.  The work was actually night and day from his level of efforts when working for the man rather than himself directly.  I wonder if he wonders why I never called him back for more work.

Things to ask in your interview – Beyond overseeing the overall project, will they be doing any of the work themselves?  What is their level of experience?  How long have they worked for themselves?  Do they enjoy the work and what part of it do they like best?  Are they insured? Who are their references?  And of primary importance, will they be wrapping up or initiating new business while they are working for you?  You want someone that will be dedicated to your job rather than flitting from one project to the next as this translates to scope creep and errors made.  He cannot watch over his people at your project if he is elsewhere.

Scope – This should freaking go without saying, but it seems I have had to point it out on so many occasions that now I just as a habit do so.  We discuss the scope of the work and as I noted earlier, I try to start them on a small project first.  I explain that to me, regardless of the size of the project, it’s a big deal for me. i am paying for it and its something that I will be seeing often and something that should last where i am not having to repeat steps more than necessary.  I am connected with my neighborhood, with my neighbors, I am a business woman and I know people.  I love to share out great reviews on folks who have done exemplary work for me!  I am also part of a neighborhood board that posts companies and individuals  and shams to avoid.   I explain that I always maintain my property well and I have expensive taste, so something is always going on.  This means that if we work well together, there is going to be an ongoing relationship and more work, more projects.  The smart people get it.

Cost – Again, hiring a contractor to PM your project is going to cost you more.  That stated, a good one is well worth it.  The contractor I use, I have used repeatedly.  He is a bit more expensive than everyone else, but the job is done right, flawless and he is ready to address any issues.  As one of my good friends put it, he signs his work.  He takes great pride in what he does.  For our landscaping project, currently underway, he has hand picked every boulder going in.  Rather than just order gravel to be delivered, he drove around looking at the gravel first because he wanted the sizing and colour to be a certain way. He hand picked each plant and tree.  He is also great with advice and ideas, very creative, a cross between a designer and a contractor and the best of them encompass this ethos.

After spending years undoing and redoing someone else’s shoddy workmanship, discovered later, much of it ‘no warranty’ I have found a great contractor and now always use that person.  I do the very same for good handymen, Carpet/ductwork/floor guys etc.  Anybody who does me right, I retain that info and I am happy to pass that to my neighbors to generate business for them.

Don’t be cheap.  If you have found someone that does great work, pay the little bit extra to get it done right.  Life is full of enough drama without adding more to it.  Please post comments are ask any questions you may have and all the very best in your next remodel project!


Roomba Review And Why I hate the iClebo


I’ll admit, I am a bit vacuum obsessed.  I have  8 vacuums; a Bosch canister that works very well, a 60’s Rainbow (my little R2D2) I adore, a Miele canister I love, a quickie sweeper vac, two robotic vacuums and  a Dirt Devil and some other one, both inherited.  I need to garage sale, I do.  The two robotic vacs are my groovy and talented 880 Roomba and my red headed step child iClebo.

I suffer the iClebo, a misspent purchase to replace my old Roomba when a puppy we were babysitting looked up at me sweetly then proceeded to drop his head down and toss his cookies all over the Roomba while the vac was going about its daily business.  It begun just spinning in circles, it could no longer cope.  After desperate attempts to clean it, add new this and thats, I had to throw it away.  Roombas are not cheap , and the iClebo had just come out and was about $100.00 less at the time.  While the iClebo can suck up a quarter, the programming is not the same as with a Roomba.  You have either programmed it to come on every day or you haven’t.  With the Roomba, you can choose your days and your times for each day.  And with the red headed step child,  you MUST carry around the remote to unstick it from perhaps a rug fringe or sometimes something invisible.  This becomes a pain if, like me, you deliberately place your remotes where you know that you will find them again, you know, where they belong, but you are, say, at work in the back office of your house when the iClebo freaks out again.  There are no stop/start/don’t wig out buttons on the iClebo.  No, rather illogically, you must control everything the bloody thing does with a remote….a remote you may not now know the location of  because you have for the nth time reset the iclebo because it keeps stopping for no apparent reason and singing its little help me tune.

The Roomba is more than i think anything else out there is, but this is a classic example of getting what you pay for.  Any version of the Roomba is great.  So if you want to save money, go without the remote or even get an older model.  The older models have brushes.  The plus on those is that they sort of polish your floor as they pick up stuff.  The downside to the brushes is that they pull and retain a lot more hair.  This means cleaning more regularly.  The newer versions of the Roomba and the one I have had now for a couple of years, is that rather than brushes, there are these rubberized rollers that attract and pick up dirt and hair without holding onto them so much.  Instead, they go into the waste bin better.  It is amazing what this little guy picks up on a daily basis, even when I believe my floor to be clean.

If your low slung furniture is a bit high enough, it even gets under things like your bed or sofa where few of us (being honest) take the time to maintain on a regular basis.  So while it isn’t perfect it is damn good!  So good that I won’t be without one and when the iClebo folks refused to grant me a refund, I promptly went out and purchased another Roomba anyway!  I was getting the shakes without it.

Whenever the iClebo finally terminates itself, I will go out and purchase another Roomba because two are better than one.  I can have one working the bedroom wing while the other tends to the kitchen and living quarters.  People ask well, how often does it get stuck etc.  and isn’t that a way pain?  The iClebo gets stuck on its own shadow.  I hate, no, despise the iClebo.  It was a sorry waste of hard earned cash.  The only upshot it does have is that it is now perhaps 2 years old and still works.  I am sure this is just by design so that I cannot rationalize another Roomba purchase.

The room/house does need to be ‘Roomba proofed’ which means picking up any towels, cat toys, dog toys, string, dead bodies (just checking you are still with me on this) or major impediments on the floor such as a dog bed you might want to vac under, etc.   The Roomba climbs a bit so it will easily do multi-surface areas, going from hardwoods or stone to carpet or even a rug with fringe.  Did I mention it goes under your sofa and chairs and bed etc? And you will need to set up your little satellite blocks to alert your Roomba not to go places you don’t want it to go.  It will sense stairs and avoid but if you have a patio home with sliders out to the patio and they are open?  Your grass is getting vacuumed.  My Roomba has actually been out the front door and down to my nextdoor neighbors before i caught up with it and carried it back home to finish its work.  This was entirely my bad for not having the blocks set up and on.

The machine lasts years and the Roomba folks are pretty good at helping you trouble shoot.  This is where I went first when my old one got vomited upon.   Although the Roomba does not totally replace all vacuuming,  I believe Roomba to be one of those household items that you will ask yourself why you waited so long to get one and what did you ever do without it.

Hardwood Floors – How to Clean and Maintain Them


2nd liv rm alcove down

Everyone has their theory on maintenance but I grew up with hardwood floors then rented places with them and finally purchased a home with them.  I LOVE hardwood floors!  But I am not a big fan of scratching them all up and doing polyurethane repeatedly as many floor experts have told me to do.  No, I use wax.  Begin with a nice floor and if that means having them lightly sanded first, so be it.  Whether you do a linseed finish or poly or whatever, once they are ‘done’ you will really want to maintain them so that you don’t ever again need to shave years and inches off your hardwoods because there really is no need for that drama.  Just maintain your floors.  How?  Once a week, sweep or vacuum them thoroughly.  For any high traffic areas, you may need to sweep those areas a bit more often.  Next, I use Ecover Natural Floor Soap because it is non toxic and it has linseed oil in it which feeds the wood.   This stuff is also great for stone and Terrazzo.  Once my floor is nice and tidy clean, I apply Weimans Floor Polish for a lovely,  non toxic and not super slippery floor.  Over time it builds up a bit to provide extra protection on your hardwoods.  Maintaining my floors this way has meant I have never had to redo a floor.  They remain beautifully protected.  Enjoy!

Terrazzo – How to Clean and Maintain It

Yummy Terrazzo floors!


Many Mid-Century homes have Terrazzo which is this amazing amalgamation of materials, marble, quartz, glass, granite, etc, typically poured in place with a cement binder.  You can also buy terrazzo tiles now, which is very exciting, to remodel with!  Many call it and MCM cold, but I think the architecture is inviting and find terrazzo to be one of the most beautiful floors, sturdy and easy to clean while lasting a lifetime.  While hardy, it is porous, which can lead to dirt and staining especially for the older MCM floor.  To clean my floors, I typically vacuum or sweep thoroughly to remove any surface detritus and then I whip out my steamer.  I use the Eureka EnviroSteamer.  It calls for 12 oz of water but I typically do 11 oz and the last oz either vinegar or I add more water and a teaspoon of Miessence BioPure Probiotic (http://puretempleholistic.com for purchase) Household Cleaning Concentrate which has an amazing vanilla smell and does a fabulous job!   The Probiotics eat away dirt and grime, and continue working after application as well.  Of course, I probably kill a lot of the bacteria off with the steamer, but that smell is still amazing!  The end result is smooth floors that feel upscale hotel clean.  I walk barefoot at home, shoes are not welcome in my home, they traffic in bad mojo.  One of my peeves is anything, any schmutz that comes between my feet and the floor that shouldn’t be there.  This combo cleans so well.

Now that your floor is sparkly clean, how about preserving that with a glowy seal?  There is another post on maintaining hardwood floors, which I lived with and loved most of my life until I met terrazzo.  When we moved, I had a couple of cases still of Weiman Hardwood Floor Polish, so I began trying that out here, on the terrazzo.  What I love about the product is that, unlike many others I have tried, it leaves a soft glow without the slip.  I used to have to warn folks…careful, I j-u-s-t waxed.  The dog would look like a cartoon trying to go from one end of the room to the other.  So while the floor looked gorgeous, it was a bit dangerous.  But also, I did not realize that most floor waxes contain lead and other toxic ingredients!  As I try hard to be environmentally friendly and toxin free in what goes in the home, in or on my body etc, it was important to me to find products that work while not adding to pollution our our body burden.  To apply the Weiman Polish,  I pour it directly on the floor and then use a flat mop to work it against and then with the grain.  Now let it dry about a half hour and you’re done.  You can alternate steam cleaning your terrazzo or stone floors with Ecover Floor Soap (see my hardwood floor maintenance post). For the daily maintenance,  I also have a Roomba, ( See my Roomba review) that vacuums the floor for me every other day.  Enjoy your clean terrazzo floor!  🙂

MCM Coffee Table Books, Kitchen Towels and Mobiles

Shopping for cool MCM stuff is a passion and I had some fun today perusing and posting below some of my favourite little gems.  Just look at these adorable kitchen towels  off Amazon!  Too cute and Swedish too!  Crate and Barrel is sometimes a great source and there is an outlet here I was lucky enough to find some close out towels with a vintage modern vibe last year right ahead of closing on our house!  Great to shop end of season there for a deal.

Love Plants? Check out this low slung planter (I am ordering one as soon as I get done typing here!) by Modernica.  I already have a couple of the taller ones and love them.  They are well made, true to the originals and have held up well.   Check out the burnt orange and the pebble really all are great colour choices!

For the Coffee Table – Are you in need of a groovy coffee table book to add a bit of shaggadelic Fractal pop?  Perhaps the 2nd book from Atomic Ranch filled with so many ideas as well as looking stylish on your coffee table!  (AR’s first book is great too!)

Mobiles and Stabiles – And how about a lovely Calder inspired hand made mobile for your ceiling?  Or this purple lumen multi coulour gem! And if you have cash to burn, the Orbit is exceptional and is pictured at the top of this post.

While this is not something for your home, you could wear them in your home. For $37.99, I love these Mobile Inspired Earrings!


So What IS Mid Century Modern and How do I Search Online?

Suzanne wonderingIMG_1574

The problem is twofold – When I was first trying to not only nail down a description of the style to buy the kind of house I wanted to buy, I found it very challenging to convey what I was looking for in both searches and with realtors.  Is it Mid-Century?  Is it Modern?  Is it Contemporary, Ranch, or is it Mid Century Modern (MCM)?  What’s Atomic Ranch?

Trying to isolate Mid Century Mod homes for sale on the internet is taxing at best, although the popularity of the style has made it a bit better recently.  Trying to find things with which to feather that new nest with can be complicated as well.  There are 3 different but similar sounding categories; Modern, Contemporary and Mid Century Modern.     I want to state right here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these styles, it is simply a matter of preference.  That stated, this site is geared toward Mid-Century Modern which is its very own design aesthetic which pulls together designs from prairie to ranch. Form, function and melding with the environment.  Some call it Atomic and if you envision the space age we were dreaming about, rebounding from WWII, starting families where the emphasis was on hope for our futures filled with leisure activities and alot more FUN.  En Voila, you had these great home designs catering to young families that could, on a reasonable budget, live the dream!

First let’s review what MCM is not by briefly describing what Contemporary, Modern, Ranch, Mid Century and Mid Century Modern are.  Contemporary is today, what most home buyers are wanting, what is popular right now and as such, it is not limited stylistically.  It’s a clean look, unfettered by a lot of detail, rooted in the now and using the latest materials.  Here you may see Vessel sinks above counters, Dekton or Granite counters in the kitchen and baths.   The landscaping could lean more lushly or have none at all.  Sustainability and recycling materials is also showcased.   A modern home is similar in that it is newer construction. But here you will see a bent on taking what was done back in the 50’s and 60’s in the way of the best funkiness of the period and putting that great style into a newly minted showcase, all LEED certified, best new materials, xeriscaped and perfect.

Mid Century simply means the home was built during that time (40’s, 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s perhaps).  It contains period details relevant to that era, with retro colours on appliances, formica counter tops, alot of wood veneers and paneling.  The home may be a ranch style, (one story and  long) or it could be considered MCM,  depending upon additional elements, some of which are hard to place, but it’s a vibe thing.  A rancher can be ‘atomic’ or ‘modern’ because it has design elements that give it pop.

Mid Century Modern pop, has much to do with funky cantilevered planters, low slung roofs, window walls and car ports in the front, rather than a garage.  it is a bit industrial, commercial, with metal support beams,  window walls, atriums and patios.  Many homes, like mine, were  built around an Atrium or Patio.  For flooring, there was hardwood and cork used but also a lot of stone, such as bluestone and slate, particularly at entryways and  terrazzo.

The very best way to locate these homes online and learn them, is to google MidCenturyModern homes but also when searching available homes on the market, narrow the search to the era, i.e. 50’s, 60’s,  because otherwise you will miss out on opportunities to find a great home that has been miss-classified.  For example, one home I looked at, advertised ‘Early 60’s home with tile floors.’  The pictures told me it was Terrazzo on those floors and seeing it confirmed whether  it was ranch or Atomic/Mod.  Many are classified as ‘Traditional’ when the funky roof-line tells you otherwise.  A wise realtor is going to show case the home as MCM but if you are seriously searching, you will be doing a ton of legwork yourself and this will help you find your dream home.

For my searches, I also put in contemporary and Modern as well as narrowing searches by year/decade.  Try not to limit your search to say, ‘Terrazzo’, because while that may pull up homes that have it, it may also leave some out that have it too.

You’ve found said dream home but are not sure what to do with it, where to start the remodel etc, check out http://retrorenovation.com.  Also check yourself….yes, put yourself on pause and let the vibe become absorbed into you for a good 6+ months.  Every home lives differently.  You will live differently in this home than you did in your last home or apartment so just chill and let the house tell you what it really needs over time.  If you are more experienced, the same thing can still apply here.  Do what is critical, such as an uneven atrium floor maybe, or if you know you are doing quartz counter tops in the kitchen, the laminate is shot, and you don’t want to redo with laminate, then perhaps  you proceed with those things you know and wait on the rest.  It is VERY easy to mess up a remodel on these homes which will cost you cool vibe now and resale later.  Some of the items in your home, the hardware, for example, bathroom consoles and the general woodwork for another, are hard or impossible to duplicate readily.  So breath, relax, pour a glass of wine and ponder a while.  I don’t mean to sound critical but dear God in heaven do not do above counter top vessel sinks in an MCM home.  The first problem at the hardware store is when something is too en vogue and everybody is doing it.  MCM is not that kind of house where every new and cool style of today, of contemporary, works well with it.  Don’t crush the vibe.  Watch some cool 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s films to set your mood.  Think linear, simplistic and natural in both landscape and interior.  Think marrying the outside with the indoors with uncovered (or carefully fitted with shades) floor to ceiling window walls, atriums and large patios with a few mod planters.  Think simple and private garden areas off the master, off the den, etc.  Don’t be in a rush.  It took me nearly 3 freaking years to locate my MCM dream home.  I got out bid, found the perfect home that was too far for my husband to drive to work from, or was way out of my price range.  Frustrating doesn’t even suggest the level of pain finding this home was for me.  But along the way I learned so much and by the time I located this Atomic Modern with Terrazzo floors and window walls, I knew exactly what to do to bring out its very best!  Cheers to your search! Keep watching for groovy finds and ideas here!  🙂