Category Archives: Remodeling Info

MCM Remodeling – How To Remodel Your Middy

This is our original 1963 kitchen.  It came with its original Gaffers & Sattler stove top and double wall ovens, which all worked, just leaked gas.  My husband is an Executive Chef, so as a surprise, I decided to do a very sensitive remodel.

Mid-Century Modern design and MCM homes are so in demand right now and I can tell you why that is.  There is some old solid craftsmanship that you don’t often find in today’s modeling, coupled with the lovely lines that get blurred between the outside and interior of the home.  The vibe is like being on vacation as I describe it to people.  Sliding doors opening up to atriums or little patio hang out spots with large open entertaining areas that just beg for some Dean Martin and a cocktail.  Who doesn’t love a vaulted ceiling or a wall of windows?
Some new owners buy with plans to keep it the original jewel box that it may be while others get into an MCM with a few remodeling plans.  And tragically,  others get something abysmally contorted that must be undone. I can absolutely assure you that here in the Dallas market, I have seen some ugly re-work.  Just because your neighbor has decided that vessel sinks are cool is NOT a reason to go and install one yourself.  Decades from now, all of these vessel sinks will be known as the 2010-2020 time-frame and look dated.  Your middy is dated and should be.  The reasons you fell in love with it is precisely because of the 50’s -70’s vibe.  Take too much of that away and there goes your resale.

In one of my shelter magazines, I believe it was This Old House, they used the term ‘remuddle’ when someone went in, most likely with the very best of intentions, and just buggered the whole thing up for the next person of taste.

For some odd reason, one of the tell tales of a flip house here in the DFW market is painting the brick and typically gray.  When I see painted brick I immediately look for the cracks from the foundation needing work because back in the day, that is exactly why someone painted their brick.  The foundation had settled, there were cracks and the person did not have the money to fix it correctly and disguised it by painting the stone and brickwork.  It costs the new person 10-20k to attempt removing all of that paint.  Please refrain from painting your brick or stone.  These are natural elements that wear and age well that never need much in the way of ongoing maintenance like paint does because paint eventually wears and needs repainting on a regular basis. Why would you want to add more maintenance?

The next two photos are after the remodel of our kitchen.

Ovens/cooktop

Contractors generally do not have a clue what they are doing in an MCM home.  Unless you are working with one who has basically made it his business to do MCM work, they do not possess the right mindset.  They think ‘gut job’ means tear everything out and replace with new Home Depot stuff.  My realtor (Ed Murchison, really the best) wisely advised his clients to live in their home a year before they did anything.  Let the house speak to you because it will tell you what it needs after a period of living with things as they are.  We did not totally follow that advise because I had the vibe down and knew exactly what I wanted in the new kitchen.

Right here I will tell you that there are purists who insist on using only materials that were of the era and those, like me, who feel if they use materials the architect would have considered had they been around in that era, that they are keeping the vibe while bringing the home forward in a sensitive way.  This is why I used quartz on the countertops and in the exact colour of the original formica.  I also added quartz on the island top above the sliding cabinets too because that was just wood originally and I like plants.  The windowsill was also wood and for the same reason, I went with quartz there too.  We used all the original plan, shape, etc except that I went with a knife edge on the quartz which to my eye looked fetching and futuristic.  People, there isn’t anything wrong with granite except that, unless it is a solid colour, you don’t want it in an MCM home.  Granite looks terrific in an upscale traditional home or historic bungalow.  For MCM remodels think formica to be truly period appropriate and they come in great vintage patterns and look just smashing!  We planned on using the kitchen a lot and were used to stone counters.  I do love quartz so we went that route.  All original hardware was cleaned up and re-used. We added a shelf and 4 drawers next to the stove top and sink because amazingly there weren’t any prior.  The island had 4 drawers which we changed to soft-close.  The cabinet faces were constructed of new wood and stained to match the rest of the kitchen which has all its original sliding wood panel doors for the pantry area which covers a major amount of the room.  The original double ovens were tiny and remained on 24×7.  We installed a much larger double wall oven so we had to have a new cabinet made in the design of the old one.  The 3 original Nelson bubble lamps were retained as were the original kitchen window blinds and all moldings and trim.

It is very important to write down and point out what is being kept in a remodel of this kind.  I worked with Francesco Costa who, after showing him several pictures and describing what MCM is, totally got it and did his best to honor the mood in everything he did. I have not been this lucky with the last contractor who ripped out my original trim in the master bathroom and now I am searching for similar trim so the bathroom doesn’t scream ‘Home Depot trim available in 2018.’  You really have got to Birddog folks, perhaps in a polite way, but it’s your resale, your money, your home and your way that goes.

I had a neighbor exclaim that he wished he had done a similar remodel for his home but was unclear at the time how to go about that.  I recall offering my help when he first moved into the neighborhood but he didn’t really know me or my skills and basically gutted and did his place in his own style.  It does look good but it is no longer MCM at all.  All of that went to bulk trash, including the bathroom console I tried to salvage to use in my master remodel but sadly the console got torn up too badly when they gutted his master.  And here’s the thing, it takes a new mindset of not totally trashing stuff when gutting a room.  It takes a bit of attention to detail and extra time.  That console was, of course, salvageable if only someone cared enough to have preserved it.  The contractor clearly didn’t and completely ruined something no longer available on the market.

The things to be mindful of are colours, trim work, materials, style and vibe.  For example, we have a (currently not working) wall mounted tube radio/intercom system.  I really want that working again but hell would sure freeze over before I yanked that out.  It sets a tone for the home right as you walk in.  A neighbor pointed out that he would have removed it and then later regretted doing so and was so glad to see it in my home.  One thing that was tossed before I took ownership were all of the original blinds in the home.  The kitchen window was the only one left.  I chose not to replace them and just leave all the window walls open to the atrium and backyard.  Trim work is an easily missed detail.  The trim work around doorways has a look to it that Home Depot does not duplicate.  If you widen a doorway or gut a room, be mindful to retain the original baseboards, trim work and fixtures if they are in good working condition as well as original door pulls.    All of this will help blur the lines on when and what got remodeled rather than scream out ‘new.’

For this style of home, less is truly more.  Think open and uncluttered.  Think open living areas, sunken living rooms were very popular as well, see-through breezeways, wood trim, ceiling beams, ceiling vaults, large fireplaces that really heat up a room and a flooring surface of hardwoods or terrazzo is most common.  I like to see the same flooring encompass the entire home or at least most of it.  This adds continuity and allows the eye to visualize a larger open space.  Too many flooring changes look choppy and shrink the room size.  It can also be a tell that something was recently remodeled.  For our master bathroom, the original flooring was harvest gold and old shag over cement.  This was removed and replaced with poured in place terrazzo to match the rest of the house.  Nobody will ever know, unless they read this, that the floor is not original to the home.

Marmoleum is also a very nice and sound period-appropriate look as well and while folks tend to think of marmoleum as a kitchen or bathroom floor, it can be throughout the house and look amazing.  Marmoleum is a natural product that combines ingredients such as linseed that are naturally antimicrobial adding a layer of protection for family members.

Retro Renovation (https://retrorenovation.com/) is a great website to peruse for ideas as well as sources for cool vintage-inspired tile, appliances, flooring, furniture.  Don’t be in a hurry to make changes if you are at all unsure what you want.  For our dark choppy unattractive master bathroom, I lived with it 3 full years as I saved and planned out what it needed to become open, light and bright.

When we bought our house, the atrium was taking on water.  We had the quarry tiles which were not original, removed, the foundation ground even and new tile installed.  It took me weeks to locate the right time.  Bluestone would have looked lovely as would slate or terrazzo.  Now I know a guy but I was afraid of getting terrazzo that did not quite match and as the house wraps around the atrium, this was a big deal to consider.  The stone I wanted wasn’t available in the format I wanted.  Then while out shopping with Francesco, he took me to this fabulous place where I found the tile that reminds me of a suit James Bond would wear.  It was Italian porcelain and all the existing time in the home was Italian.  It was a dark slate in colour with a bit of texture to it, great for not slipping after your second martini.  I love the seamless look of the new atrium floor!

Lastly, don’t be afraid to take control and get exactly what you want or to hire someone such as myself if you are unclear and need guidance.

I hope that these tips have helped you and would love to hear about your remodeling and home stories as well as any comments you may kindly post below.♥

Recommended Reading:

Contractor Hiring & Contract Tips

Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!  Everyone should feel safe and welcome in their house.  Your domicile should be your oasis where you can enjoy the beauty and unwind.  Whether it’s just you, a couple or a big family, the home environment affects you even when you are not there. Things which need doing or knowing you are returning to a cluttered space or one that doesn’t suit you, has deep psychic effects.  People do run the gammut as to what they value.  My brother, for example, only truly cared that a place was neat enough to get around, clean enough not to get sick and that the roof didn’t leak.  He was the least materialistic individual I ever knew.  His sister, however, is very materialistic as well as spiritually minded.  I love my creature comforts.   Great Architecture is art.  And if you’ve read so far, then I make the assumption it is for you too.   It matters not whether it is a sprawling manse or a little jewel box, any home can be stunning.  We go around once, so we may as well enjoy, right?

After a recent remodel I felt the need to put this together to help others.  I have been through numerous handymen, contractors, repairs and remodels, between rental property and our homes and hope that my story and information herein helps you.  Feel free to kindly comment and share out because we are all in this together.  🙂

My day job is a project manager and documentation specialist.  I have seen various forms of proposals and contracts from contractors and handymen but I have found them to be far from encompassing.  There can be a lot of wiggle room about what a word or sentence means and things as simple and obvious as ‘Make the patio level’ left out can mean, as it did with one of my contractors, that its ok to slope a patio where my SPA was to go.

Many times we simply assume that what is obvious will take place or when we are discussing an 80″ half wall between two rooms, and we see verbiage in the contract about that wall, that we are good.  But we can be wrong there.  So create your own contracts and have anybody you hire sign them.  Don’t be afraid to spell every detail out.  If you are talking of a half wall, explain in great detail exactly where it is and what will take place. Even though heads are nodding in agreement, once you hand over the cash, an egregious individual, or perhaps someone exceedingly forgetful or cash-strapped, can begin taking advantage of you.

Not everybody who works for themselves does it well.  In fact, a lot of folks who work for themselves do so because nobody else would hire them or retain them very long.  Reasons can run  from being surly and not playing well with others, not take direction well, not being emotionally stable, not being fully transparent in their pricing or scope of work, failing on showing up to work timely to training issues, doing a sub-par job or having a criminal or sexual deviation on their record.  Your contractor could be a registered sex offender and yes I have encountered that one personally.

Remodelling is always stressful as much as it is exciting looking forward to the transformation.  I try to buoy myself by remaining focused on the happy outcome but still, you are perhaps losing a driveway,  lawn, kitchen, bedroom, foyer, a bathroom or even an entire house while the work goes on.  Your contractor should be sensitive to this.  The stress can be far worse when trying someone new.  Even if they are really smashing, there’s the business of building the relationship, learning to understand each other and figuring out if you can work well together or ever work again on another project.   This is your home and it is not about giving entitlements to your contractor when it comes down to the respect of your time, your home or the scope of work. You want someone you can have a good working relationship with.   Be careful of the goal being to get all the work done by the person giving you the cheapest quote.  Interview at least 3 people before deciding.  The goal is getting the job done the best and the swiftest by someone that can manage the work well and get along with you, making the experience the least stressful as feasible.  Every contractor you hire owes you this.

I am currently in contractor hell.  The man has a good crew, nice, personable, work well together but I was promised the crew would work full days, starting at 8:30 am, Monday through Friday.  In 3 weeks time, the crew logged less than 38 hours including trips to the dump.  The entire project, which is gutting one bathroom, rebuilding the closet, vaulting the ceiling, creating a half wall between the master bath and bedroom and a much simpler new toilet, counter, sink, faucet and wall sconces for the 2nd bath were all targeted to be completed within 4 weeks.  He was so snippy, slow and callous, I ended up firing him.  Upset when I documented our conversations, blatantly shouting ‘I will NOT be managed’ when I voiced concerns we were way behind because his folks weren’t putting in full work days.  This was the first contractor I have ever fired in over 300k worth of remodelling I have done so far!   I wear the same tiny rotation of clothes, cannot find a bleeding thing, clothes and other personal items are packed in boxes piled in our den as I waited.,…and waited…while his people worked 2 or 3 hours here, 4 hours there, or just didn’t show up at all.  This individual was too busy chasing money, taking my money and working other jobs.

In hindsight, I should have asked for my deposit back and sent them packing on day one.  But he came highly recommended and I thought well, he’s just wrapping up a job so then I will have his full attention.   But when he went off the rails 3 times,  lied about what was in writing in the contract, then expected me to pay again for what I had already paid for, I knew I had to let him go.

After going off on me (in writing) 3 times the man still had this job.  I just needed him to wrap these bathroom projects up and get out of our lives.  As a friend put it I was in ‘Salvage Mode’ where I had paid the man, didn’t feel like taking him to court, didn’t want to delay the work, didn’t want to delay the project and add any costs in hiring somebody new, I just bloody well wanted it done and him gone.  But when he cancelled our work on Monday because he couldn’t pay the terrazzo guy doing our floor after I had already paid him for that, then brought him over on Tuesday,  got him started on the work before telling us  we needed to pay the floor guy directly, and would not back down on this demand when I reminded him his final payment is due upon completion of all remaining work,  that was it for me.  I am a professional and I expect that from the people I hire.

The contractor  I hired prior poured a patio for dining, entertaining and to  hold a SPA.  It was a $2500.00 job.  He sloped it so that the entire patio is on a V slope with a hump in the middle, preventing me from putting my spa on it.  I asked for a big, level patio, even with the existing concrete path we had, showed him where the SPA would sit and the rest would be entertaining.  Because the patio humps up in the middle, which would warp the frame of my SPA, I sit with the SPA just tucked under the eaves of the house not working.  Ego.  Ego and shortsightedness. This same man did the best job ever on our kitchen remodel, our atrium floor, landscaping work, roof, copper gutters and numerous jobs at our old home and rental.  His ego prevented him from hearing me when I told him I wanted a level patio and suggested perhaps a french drain.  He actually argued with me that the word ‘level’ wasn’t in our contract.  This is why he didn’t get the bathroom remodels.  His solution was to charge me for materials to fix what he did wrong the first time.  I said no to that.

Shortsightedness or Job too small – Folks, some people are going to do a lot of remodelling in their life and others won’t.  But contractors live and die by word of mouth.  There is social media, Nextdoor app, Angie’s List and ways to spread the good news when someone is stellar and share the horror stories as well.  Regardless of how small a job may be, it can lead to larger projects.  I had a contractor hired when we first moved into our MCM home.  I wanted the patio releveled, a new cabinet to house our new double oven and the kitchen countertops done.  He ditched the job to take on ‘a larger project to make more money.’  Not only did I never hire him back again, but between the kitchen, patio and a surprise we need a brand new roof, we ended up topping out around  70k.   We ended up doing cabinet refacing in the whole kitchen and this guy was just too shortsighted to see the big picture.  So we ended up hiring the same contractor that did our roof, kitchen and patio for our Xeriscaping project the following year.   Repeat business is great for the home owner and the contractor.  It is far less stressful when you’ve located someone you can trust and work well with.

The problem with firing a contractor after work has begun is that nobody really wants to take that on.  Even if the work was done right, as my new contractor believes the rough in plumbing was for my situation, you are probably going to be out even more money.  (I will definitely be!)  Because they didn’t get the entire job, they pad their quote to finish it all up.  They may think you are a challenge to work with so they add money to compensate.  Or they flat think you are now desperate.  I was referred by a dear friend to this really nice young man who showed up all happy and fun, clearly knowing his business, but in reality, he was just a vulture seeing a way to bilk me for as much as possible.  He wanted 20k to finish.  Folks, my entire bathroom remodel, beginning to end, and quoted by 3 different contractors at the time, was only 15k for labor and materials.  Because I was purchasing specialty items,  I was getting  the tub, toilet, vanity, sinks, lights and faucet fixtures directly.  The 15k included the quartz countertops, mirrors, skylight and all other building materials to create new walls and closets.  This chirpy cheerful dude that gleefully sent me a quote for 20k, did so after 8k of the work had already been accomplished.  Inarguably the hardest part of the job, had already been completed.  There was cutting into the concrete foundation, re-routing and laying new plumbing, (the rough in plumbing) new rebar and cement to cover these new trenches.  Then terrazzo was poured in place, ground and polished.  This was the really hard part already done! I have personally floated plaster before and while it is work, it sure beats grinding a floor!   20K was more than the original quote from 3 other contractors start to finish!  With my new contractor, I am stuck paying another full months salary which I am nonplussed about.  But I need the work done and he is a structural engineer and I feel confident he will do me right.  And I can actually see his house from my house.  I feel confident I have the right guy for the job.

So, with this latest experience inspiring me, here are some helpful tips for you to avoid my pitfalls and hopefully have a much smoother remodel experience.

First, there is lingo and just having a basic understanding of how construction works.  While it’s not necessary, you will do yourself some good to speak the language and appear more knowledgeable and less gullible.  Understanding & Negotiating Construction Contracts by Kit Werremeyer  (click on the title to take a look at the book) is well written and will help you gain skills.

In addition to this book, here are my hard-won tips:

  • Of course, you will get references but do a background check before you hire.  You want to have a scope of this persons integrity and character.
  • Record conversations.  Ths may seem a bit paranoid but you would be surprised how much gets lost that you will now have a record of.
  • Get everything in writing; the time the crew will show up and how many folks are in the crew, what days they will work and how many weeks the job will require.
  • Have each page of the contract signed by both parties and adjust any wording that at the time may appear obvious but potentially mean something else, spell it out better.
  • I am very used to working with a contractor that takes just one job at a time and puts his full focus there.  If you choose to work for someone who had multiple jobs running, know that you will be paying for this guy to run multiple crews.  Also know that your work may get done slower.  Outline and document what the expectations are for the daily/weekly work hours that will be done on your project.  I personally will never hire anyone that works multiple jobs and crews again, what a nightmare!
  • Get some background and the names of the crew members.  They will be in your home, you should feel comfortable with them being there.
  • Get the percentage of time the contractor will be there on site managing his crew in writing.  Contractors typically take 15-20% of the job as their income.  They are working for you.
  • The contact should contain contingencies for terminating the contract as well as what the ramifications and deductions may be for breaching the contract terms, such as when the timelines are not met or something agreed to doesn’t take place.
  • Folks love to tell themselves they work for themselves but they don’t.  While you are paying them, you are their employer and they work, the duration of the project, for you.  If something they are not doing is not working for you, speak up.
  • Bad Ethics don’t change.  It doesn’t matter who recommended somebody.  If they lie about showing up every day at 9am, what else will they be fabricating that you won’t find out about until later?
  • Love the Contractor and the crew.  This is a package unit, and you need to respect from all parties.  You will be dealing with the crew (hopefully) daily but you should also be dealing with the contractor several times a week as well.  Nobody should be absentee here or not extend common courtesy.
  • IF you end up, as I did, having to fire someone, don’t get desperate.  Create a list of all the work left to do.  Ask neighbors, get out on Nextdoor.com, talk to people and come up with a plan.  Start getting new quotes.  For me, I explained the rough in plumbing had been done, the floor was installed and asked how much for all the rest, providing them the list.   Don’t feel pressured or stuck.  Breath.  Get the right guy.   Great luck!

Additional Help:

https://www.angieslist.com/articles/reasons-fire-home-improvement-contractor.htm

https://www.lawdepot.com/contracts/independent-contractor-agreement/?loc=US&pid=msnppc-servag_us-contractorexact_dza3-msnkey_contract%20for%20contractor&utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&MSCLKID=81cc8d32f62a153f010dd7ddf9b2a059&s=qsLocation&g=DurationQG