Rescue mission

Typical remodeling projects grow in scope once homeowners begin talking with a remodeler. Similarly, this seemingly typical kitchen update grew to include integration with the family room, which also would require updating. As long as the family room had been wrapped into the scope, a wall would be removed to integrate the solarium with the family room/kitchen space, all of which would feature a new, open floor plan.

Also typical of remodeling projects is to discover problems with wiring, plumbing and structural support when walls come down. “When we started demolition, we realized what a big mess the house was. Structurally, we were surprised it hadn’t collapsed,” says Rob Mathews, RN, CR, CGR, and president of Curb Appeal Renovations in Keller, Texas

“We began noticing evidence of poor workmanship; loads were supported improperly,” Mathews says. “We had to see what was going on upstairs. The master suite is above the solarium space, and we measured the floor of the master bath and realized from one end to the other it dropped 2 in. That’s substantial. So then we needed to see what was going on above the master bath. That’s when I found the turnbuckle. One side of the home was literally hanging off the other end of the home from steel cables strung through the attic and hidden under insulation. Directly below the turnbuckle is where a crack in the master bedroom ceiling was, and below that is where we were taking out the solarium wall when we first noticed structural problems.”

At this point Mathews’ team took a step back from the kitchen remodel and wall removal to consult with an engineer. The goal was to keep the ceiling flat across the former solarium space; a small 12-in. steel beam did the trick. “Weldable hangers from Simpson Strong-Tie helped make everything work. The beam and support posts were installed, the floor was jacked up, and the floor was leveled out. Then, we reframed and stripped out the ceiling in the solarium and made it flat. It worked out pretty well,” he says.


More surprises

It was discovered that renovations had previously been done to the master bathroom, above the kitchen. The bathtub had been moved, and to accommodate the new location of the drain, a floor joist above the kitchen had been cut in half. Additionally, multiple electric wiring issues involving bare wires surfaced. Water leaks also were discovered.

Of course, upon discovering all these problems, not only had the project scope increased, but the budget grew roughly 60 percent. Steel work ate up about $10,000. On top of the structural, design and financial challenges, there were the homeowners’ emotional challenges to address. “We had to help them hold it together, convince and reassure them the house is no longer going to fall in, and the result would be beautiful. We will be able to fix the problems. And it will be done before their daughter’s wedding, which they planned on hosting. The emotional roller coaster was a big part of this project,” Mathews explains.

Projects like this that present multiple surprise challenges also present many opportunities to demonstrate how remodelers can solve those challenges and make homeowners’ dreams come true. “It bugs me when homeowners, the public, look at contractors as thieves and crooks trying to run away from problems,” he says. “And I take exception to that. But, when you open up a place like this and see the poor workmanship that is done by some out there, I can’t blame the homeowners for thinking like that. Here in Texas remodeling is a non-regulated industry, and it’s sad that situations like this exist. But, it drives me to go the extra mile and make things as perfect as possible for homeowners. Typically, like in this case, that hard work pays dividends.”

No one element of this transformation project makes Mathews proud; all of it does. “I’m most proud of how we can see the before and after photos and know we did that; we designed it. But when you experience a project like this where the homeowners were so upset and thought they’d have to tear down their house, and weeks later they have a beautiful space that went from despair to pride, it’s extremely rewarding.”


Now, the fun part

Curb Appeal Renovations is a design-build remodeler and, as is typical of design-build projects, the remodeler worked closely with the clients to design a space that would look great and function even better. The homeowners came to the table with a few design ideas, but mostly with a list of general requests, such as wanting new cabinets, a better layout and traffic flow. Mathews knows that functionality is as important as cabinet and floor colors, so he always asks how a space will be used. “Do they have dogs? Kids? What are their ages? We figure out how they live, how they cook, and design a space to work best for them,” he says.

New cabinets: check. Better layout: check. Optimal traffic flow: check. Not everything was new, however. All of the brick in the new space was salvaged from the old space, says Robin Burrill, ASID, CAPS, Curb Appeal’s interior designer. “Where needed, we found matching brick and added two faux columns. The old flooring was tile which was replaced with wood. The windows and doors are all new. The fireplace existed but features a new mantel. The cabinets on either side of the fireplace are new, too.”

The remodeled space remains light and airy despite ample use of dark wood and plenty of brick, a feat accomplished by careful placement of each material. For example, brick exists on a few columns as opposed to an entire wall, to provide the visual effect of brick without the heaviness. The design of this space intentionally does not include a focal point. “You walk into this space and you feel, ‘Ahhhh … comfortable,’” Burrill says.

Removing the former wet bar in the kitchen helped to open up the space, Burrill says, but not every decision went as she advised. “I was surprised with the black distressed cabinets the clients chose for next to the fireplace. That finish was not my first choice. But, because it’s our job we showed them options and they fell in love with that one. Many times I’m not crazy about what clients do, but this time it turned out great,” she adds.

The ceiling in this new space turned out well, too, Burrill says. “The varying ceiling heights were included for visual interest and to add height in certain spaces. Either dropping the ceiling down or raising it up to add interest also added a level of elegance that if not there would have looked a lot different,” she explains.

Varying height wasn’t the only feature of the ceiling. The Curb Appeal team added accent lighting, as a surprise to the homeowners. “The ceiling lighting is my favorite part of this project. It adds ambience and a ‘wow’ factor when the lights are low and the ceiling is lit up,” she says.