model. Renovate. Overhaul. Facelift. Call it what you will: an updated home can give you the peace and comfort you desire, and you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get it. by Jennifer Garrett
The ’80s are great if you’re talking about the Brat Pack and break dancing, but not so much if you’re staring at a country kitchen or Bauhaus bathroom. You don’t have to be held hostage to dated décor. Sure, a down-to-the-studs remodel will bring you into the modern era in no time, but a few nips and tucks here and there will also get the ball rolling in the right direction.
VALUE OVER PRICE
The recession certainly caused many homeowners to feel wary about spending or borrowing large sums of money on home improvement projects. Doug Widish is the showroom manager of Gerhards Showroom, a kitchen and bath design center as well as retailer of plumbing
fixtures plus kitchen and bath cabinetry. He says people are taking more time and are weighing their options more carefully than they did in the housing heyday earlier in the decade.
“We are just now moving forward on a project we quoted a year ago,” Widish says. “People want to be responsible so they do a lot more planning. They take longer to move forward. And they make sure they get what they’re paying for so that they’re not overspending.”
However, those who are pursuing projects remain committed to quality and value, he says. Rather than scrimp on materials, homeowners are scaling back in size or amenities.
“It’s not that they’re not getting what they want. They just spend more time to find out what’s really important to them,” Widish notes. “They might start with a big long list of wishes, but when they really start going through the list, they realize some things are not as important as they thought or they decide they don’t want some things anymore.”
Alicia Szekeres, co-owner of Nature Stone of Wisconsin, says her clients aren’t looking for the best price, either. Instead, they are looking for the best value. Thus, they are willing to pay for quality if it means they won’t have to worry about durability or longevity.
That is what draws many of them to her company’s stone composite flooring, particularly for basements that are prone to high moisture and wear. “Nature stone is made of real stone, which is a timeless product,” she says. “It’s permanent. It can withstand any kind of water. It’s similar to a good quality wood or stone tile, and it’s never going to go out of style.”
LOW PRICE, HIGH IMPACT
Some cost-conscious homeowners are scaling back their goals and expectations by making small changes that have a big impact. For example, spreading a new coat of paint, swapping out door handles or even sprucing up storage areas are all projects that come with relatively low price tags but deliver substantial improvement. They can also often pave the way for other incremental changes over time.
Paint has long been the go-to strategy for home transformation. Inside or out, a fresh coat of paint can dramatically affect the way a home looks and feels. Yet Renee Kalvestrand, a spokesperson for hallman/lindsay Quality Paints, says painting isn’t as simple as ordering up the first gallon of eggshell burnt umber you see.
“Painting is a labor-intensive thing. Or, if you hire someone, it’s an expense,” Kalvestrand says. “The more you can visualize up front, the better the result is.”
That is why the Sun Prairie-based painting company invested in an entire new color system that reflects current trends in both color choice and shopping style. Kalvestrand says hallman/lindsay worked with an international color guild to develop the palette and to create user-friendly display racks. With large-format paint chips and $5 test quarts, the local paint company wants to give customers the tools they need to make the best choices possible.
“We also do expert color matching, so if you bring in your bedspread—or whatever else you want to match your walls to—we can do that at no charge,” says area sales manager Mark Kowald. “We also have excellent record keeping, so if you have a red in your bedroom, we can keep a record of that if you want to [for touch-ups down the road.]”
Sure, hallman/lindsay isn’t the only paint store in town that offers up-to-the-minute hues and color matching, but it is one of very few area paint retailers with a factory nearby. That’s a big bonus for the buy-local crowd that likes to support area businesses. It’s also a benefit to
customers, particularly those buying exterior paint.
“We formulate it for our climate,” Kowald says. “We know it can be 65 or 70 degrees during the day, and it can get down to 30 degrees in the night. Our paint accommodates for those kinds of temperature changes.”
The localism has another environmental benefit beyond savings in transportation fuel. More than 95 percent of all hallman/ lindsay’s residential paint is low-VOC and meets LEED building standards. “When you’re dealing with no-VOC paints, product stability becomes an issue,” Kowald explains. “Because we’re manufactured here locally, we don’t have to stockpile paint and we don’t have to ship it all over the United States. So it became much easier for us to transition our line to low- or no-VOC.”
Paint isn’t the only option budget-conscious homeowners have to update their homes without undertaking a full-scale remodel. Kris Wilke, the manager of The Stool Store, a west-side showroom that offers countless stool choices both in stock and by special order, notes that new hardware on cabinetry can change the look and functionality of a kitchen without putting much pressure on the pocketbook. New coordinated seating can extend the effect of the improvements.
“People are bringing in their light fixtures and hardware, and we’re able to match them,” Wilke says, adding that metal stools are among the most popular styles that she carries. “You have a lot more choice with metal than you do with wood, and a lot of people have so much wood in their kitchens already that they want to stay away from it in their stools. Plus, our manufacturers figured out long ago that they need to match finishes.”
Most homes have other but somewhat hidden opportunities for better functionality and livability. Many consumers can find the space and comfort they desire simply by looking in their closets.
Cory Schneider, owner of California Closets, says remodeling goals often change once homeowners tap into under-utilized storage space. “People who want to remodel or add on are often looking for more storage space,” Schneider says, “but a good organizational system can maximize the space you already have.”
Co-owner and designer Lindsay May Schneider says almost any area of a house can benefit from more thoughtful organization. “Ninety-nine percent of the time we can find a solution,” she says. “People might have a tiny eight-inch wall and think there’s nothing they can do with it, but that’s not true. We can work with almost any space.”
Both Schneiders say that the other benefit of good organizational systems is the peace of mind they bring. “Being organized is also about time management,” Cory Schneider says. “You can find the things you’re looking for,” which eases stress.
That gives people what they ultimately want out of their home-improvement projects. “They come in looking for organized, calming spaces,” Lindsay May Schneider says, “and that’s what they find: spaces where they can relax and spend time with their families.”
PEACE AND COMFORT
Dan Luck, president of remodeling at Bella Domicile, says many of his clients are investing in their existing homes rather than moving to different houses, and the majority are looking for the same things that the Schneiders describe. “[Our clients] use words like ‘comfortable,’ ‘functional’ and ‘open,’” he says. “I would describe it as relaxed and inviting.”
The cornerstone to this kind of living is the open-concept floor plan with a kitchen that flows into a great room with a dining area. While some homes still have formal dining rooms and living rooms, they also have the more expansive, casual space that allows the kitchen to function as command central. This is where kids grab a snack, teens check their e-mail, toddlers stack LEGOs, all while Mom and Dad unpack the groceries and start dinner.
Furnishing great rooms can be a challenge to homeowners more accustomed to smaller traditional rooms. “That’s where our in-house design service can help,” says Kelly Hofmeister, manager of Woodworks. The west-side furniture store that deals in investment-quality wood and upholstered furniture also offers complimentary in-home design assistance to help clients make the best decisions.
“Getting into the home is the best way for us to help. It gives us the opportunity to see exactly what we’re dealing with. It’s better than someone trying to sketch it out for tell us. Things always look different in their mind’s eye.”
Hofmeister says that too often homeowners misconstrue the size and scale of their great rooms. They might buy furniture that is too small, or they don’t arrange what they have to take advantage of the space. “There’s such a mentality that furniture has to be against the wall,” she notes. “In some of these spaces, if you do that, you’ve got a ballroom in the middle of the room.”
Despite the recession, homeowners still have seemingly unlimited options. Whether it’s furnishings or finishes, consumers still have the luxury of choice. And those choices seem to be only growing.
Jeff Hensen, president of Hensen Fine Cabinetry, says he has been working with more exotic wood species for kitchen cabinetry. Wenge, leopard wood and lyptus are just a few of the unusual grains showing up on pantry doors.
“I think people are looking for something to set their homes apart from everyone else’s,” he says. “There are some beautiful woods that are out there from different parts of the world, woods that we’re not used to seeing.”
Hensen notes that the exotics are particularly popular in the more modern applications, often with a horizontal rather than a vertical grain. He acknowledges that contemporary styling continues to gain foothold in the marketplace, yet Hensen is quick to point out that traditional styles have not disappeared. “We’ll do something one day that’s a modern look, and the next day we’ll do something with [decorative crown molding] all over it.”
That is the beauty of a custom cabinet shop, says Randy Washa, owner of Prestige Laminated Products, which designs and fabricates cabinetry for all areas of the home. “We make everything to order,” he says. “The customer can choose the quality and the type of wood. They can have what they want, where they want it.”
That means there are no awkward or difficult spaces. Any entertainment center, bar, shelving area or fireplace mantel and surround is designed to fit just right.
As construction technology continues to evolve, fabricators can achieve greater and greater precision. In truth, no dream or demand should fall outside the realm of possibility. “I’ve not been stumped yet,” Washa says, “and we’ve done some crazy stuff.”
It comes back to value. Craig Patchin, president of Window Design Center, says customers are willing to pay more and make some compromises for quality.
“There is a focus on smaller spaces that are designed more intelligently,” Patchin says. “They want longer lasting things. Cheap usually isn’t a good value. Actually, it never is. People see value in something that performs better, looks nicer and does what they want it to do.”
He points to the Marvin Lift and Slide door that essentially creates a moveable wall of windows that can open fully. When open to porches, decks or patios, the vast passageway connects the outdoor and indoor spaces almost seamlessly.
“Even though the panels are very large, they move easily and are energy-efficient,” Patchin says. “With the popularity of outdoor spaces, these doors give you the option to be out of the way when you want to be outside yet they lock down securely when the weather requires it.”
The doors are not inexpensive, but they create exactly the kind of indoor-outdoor living space that used to seem impossible in a climate like Wisconsin’s. Customers, Patchin says, are willing to invest the money in a product that truly delivers.
In the end, most remodeling projects are driven by the same goal: livability. All homeowners are simply trying to make their spaces more comfortable, more functional and more conducive to daily living and entertaining.
“The biggest change we are seeing today versus five years ago has more to do with lifestyle than a specific kitchen or bath design,” Luck says. “Our clients want a less formal look, one that embodies a more open, relaxed feel that is conducive to communication and can accommodate a wide variety of activities.”
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