Rethink Remodeling

Turn the house you have into the home you always dream about

Maybe it’s a straight-up renovation to bring a 1980s country kitchen into 2011 with smarter cabinet design and modern materials. Maybe it is converting a small spare bedroom into a home spa for empty nesters who need a place to get away from it all without leaving the comfort of their own home. Maybe it’s a whole-house update, or just the first phase of one. Big or small, remodeling projects are just bursting with opportunity.

“What I like about remodeling is what we can do with an existing space, how much better we can make it,” says Dream Kitchens Dream Rooms owner Keven Schmidt. “Our biggest satisfaction is when a client looks at it and says, ‘I never thought of that.’”

Greg Shaw, owner of Shaw Building & Design, says remodeling has a lot of advantages over new construction. You and your children don’t have to leave close friends and neighbors. You don’t have the hassle of selling a house and moving into a temporary house while the new one is under construction.

“You always have family memories from the home you are in,” Shaw points out. “A lot of older homes [also] have a lot of great character or woodwork that you can’t afford to put in a new home these days. And there are always things you like about your home … why you bought it in the first place. This list could go on and on.”

Schmidt also notes that remodeling projects allow homeowners to focus on one or two parts of the home at a time. In new construction, you have to make a dizzying amount of decisions and spread your total budget over ten or so rooms. With remodeling the scope is much narrower so you can concentrate just on the kitchen and great room or just on the master bedroom and bath. “You’ve decided that you’re going to do two rooms and you’re going to do them right,” he says.

Larry Balousek loves the challenge of renovation as well. The managing partner of Sugar River Landscape Group deals with exteriors, not interiors, but he feels the same way about bringing new order and beauty to an overgrown landscape. “It’s the reason I’m in the business,” he says. “I love to go from what’s there to what can be. When I walk on the property, I can know almost immediately what it needs.”

It seems most of the experts enjoy remodels as much as new construction. “I like taking a house and turning it into a home,” says Todd Anderson, owner of Midwest Rocktops, a natural stone fabrication company. “I enjoy giving clients something that will make them sit back and say, ‘wow.’”

To Wow from How

So where to start? Schmidt, Shaw and other experts encourage homeowners to hit the library, newsstand and websites to find pictures of rooms or spaces that they like. Don’t worry if you can’t find the exact look you want. It’s fine to have one picture with the appliances you like, another with a general color and lighting scheme, and even another that captures basic design style. Your actual layout and design will be unique to your own home, so there is no need to seek out perfection in the pictures.

Brynn Usadel of Madison Block and Stone says her team learns a lot from the images clients bring in. Whether they are simply conversation starters or exact products to match, the pictures are helpful to the stone fabrication company that handles landscaping, cut stone and masonry projects. Yet Usadel also wants homeowners to know that they aren’t essential.

“We pay close attention to details,” she says, adding that no matter how clear your ideas at the start, Madison Block and Stone will “ensure the look and feel you’veenvisioned will be reflected in your home remodeling project.”

They key is taking time, asking questions and exploring all options before making decisions.


Most retailers want you to be satisfied with the selections you make, and they understand that envisioning the final product can be challenging for most of us who don’t design for a living or who haven’t been through a remodel before. Fortunately you can benefit from interior design expertise even if you don’t hire an interior designer (or a contractor who has one on staff). Homeowners who are simply replacing flooring, countertops or hardware can access design services via the product retailers who have designers on staff. In many cases these designers even make house calls.

Nicole Schreck, an interior designer with Coyle Carpet One, encourages homeowners to ask about and rely on free design services. “Most of our sales staff are also interior designers, and we can help with color selection, product selection and education,” she says. “There’s a lot of information out there, and we have a lot of product knowledge not only about what we carry but also about what is in the marketplace.”

Schreck notes that some products look similar but vary in durability, fabrication or other qualities. “We can help sort some of that out,” she says.

Amy Atwood, residential showroom manager at La Force Decorative Hardware in Madison, says their industry knowledge can be very beneficial to homeowners. She encourages shoppers to always ask questions and discourages them from assuming that what they see is all that they can get. “Some things are not on display,” Atwood says. “We know what is out there, and if someone wants to take the time and sit down and explain their end goal, we can help them get there. We have a lot of product knowledge.”

At La Force, service includes more than looking at catalogs or websites. Atwood notes that the company offers home walk-throughs for clients looking to replace all their door hardware. “We’ll also contact the door suppliers to make sure that everything fits,” she says. “If it doesn’t, we’ll take care of it.”

That, she says, distinguishes local business from online retailers that often do not have after-sale customer service. That can be tricky for homeowners who notice that knobs aren’t turning well or drawers are sticking when the temperature and humidity change with the seasons.

Service is a priority at Midwest Rocktops, too. That is why Anderson brings dozens upon dozens of granite samples out to job sites so that clients can compare options in their own homes with their own lighting. “I don’t want our clients to say that [their selection] doesn’t look like it did in the warehouse,” he says.

Schreck encourages consumers to explore all services and options available at various retailers. Coyle, for example, has expanded its product lines into cabinetry and countertops along with vinyl and wood flooring. Coyle also offers full start-to-finish remodeling services in addition to sales, so customers can simply purchase flooring or hire the company to handle the entire renovation.

Consider All Options

Woodworks, a west side furniture retailer, is another of the many retailers offering complimentary design services. While furniture is one of the last things to go into a renovated space, Woodworks manager Kelly Hofmeister urges homeowners to come in sooner rather than later.

“Often people do not think about furniture until their remodeling plan is set in stone only to realize that they have made a space that is difficult to furnish,” she explains, noting that traffic patterns, focal points and even heat vents can dictate where you can place furniture.

“I love it when clients bring their floor plans in just when they are starting the process so we can address furniture placement, new-furniture needs, and what they should budget for those new pieces,” Hofmeister says. In-store designers can also help determine appropriate style and scale for the new furniture long before the remodel is completed.

Taking a peek at plans and early designs also allows Hofmeister to counsel shoppers on fabric and paint selections. “I tell them to delay their paint selection until they have made fabric choices,” she says. “There are hundreds of fabrics to choose from, but there are thousands of paint choices, so fall in love with a fabric and then choose your paint colors based on that.”

Balousek says the early design stage is also a good time to consider landscaping. Even projects that don’t add space to houses can tear up yards with construction equipment traffic. Planning ahead allows homeowners to make decisions about what to save, what to remove, and what to replace. “Then we can incorporate the new so that there’s a flow from old to the new and nobody can tell the difference,” Balousek explains.

Landscapers can even move mature trees to different parts of the property, whether it’s part of a remodeling project or not. So you don’t have to choose between a familyroom addition and saving a beloved elm or sycamore.

Atwood says it boils down to good planning, which allows homeowners to get all the things they want in their remodel—inside and out. She notes that hardware often gets overlooked even though it can enhance other finish choices, particularly cabinetry and doors. If the budget isn’t planned and managed well, homeowners have to settle for hardware that is of inferior quality when compared to the rest of the material and finish selections in the house. And Atwood says people often regret it when that happens. “Hardware is the thing that you touch,” she says. “I don’t think people notice ordinary hardware, but people notice nice hardware.”


Homeowners remodel or update just about every part of their homes inside and out, but some projects are more popular than others. Jeff Grundahl, president of full-service contractor JG Development, says the vast majority of remodeling projects involve opening up the kitchen to other living space. It is not a trend, Grundahl says, but the new standard.

“It seems to be the way of the future to have it all in a single useable area,” he says noting that high-paced multitasking is just the way of life for many families, as is blending socializing and entertaining with meal preparation. “People want to be able to see the TV or the fireplace while they are cooking … They want to be able to see the kids or family as well.”

On the other end of the hopping mission-control kitchen is the quiet refuge of the bathroom.

Right now “baths are the most explosive side of the business,” Schmidt says. The designer and owner of full-service design and remodeling company says bathrooms are growing bigger and more luxurious as comfort-seeking homeowners add features such as walk-in showers, heated, floors, dual showerheads, waterproof sound systems and more.

“Master baths are becoming home spas,” Schmidt says, noting that many clients are looking to create places of luxury, calm and refuge in their homes rather than seeking escape elsewhere.

The rooms don’t have to be large to be luxurious, Usadel points out. “Adding granite to any bathroom is a fairly inexpensive way to bring a touch of luxury into a small space,” she says.

Todd Boetzel, a landscape designer with The Bruce Company, agrees that homeowners are looking for relaxing retreats. “There is a definite move toward reinvesting in your current home, and a great way to change the look and create an outdoor oasis where you can unwind and get back in touch with nature is by redoing your landscaping,” he says.

“One area that will really add value to your home is adding an outdoor patio. it is a great place to enjoy summer evenings and depending on your budget can include an outdoor kitchen, bar and fireplace or fire pit. When adding the latter you can extend the usefulness of this outdoor living area by a couple of months.

Balousek and Boetzel say homeowners can invest in a landscaping plan and then implement the plan—either by themselves or with the assistance of professional landscaping companies—over time to save money.

Going Green

“Green” isn’t really a trend anymore. Energy efficiency is practically an industry norm. “It doesn’t cost much more to build an energy-efficient home than it does to build a non-energy-efficient home,” Shaw says.

Homeowners should ask contractors about green options and how they will influence costs. You can also do some of your own research with Green Madison, a city resource offering a variety of services including home energy efficiency and safety testing, financial incentives and low-interest loans, and other personal assistance to help you with the details of your remodeling project.

Green Madison offers a wealth of information to homeowners whether they want to make smart choices in their remodeling project or whether they are remodeling specifically to improve their homes’ energy efficiency.

“When it comes to home improvements, it’s easy to spend money in the wrong places if you don’t have the facts first,” says Green Madison’s Paul Grimyser. “We understand that it can be overwhelming for homeowners to figure out where to start and what will make the biggest impact.”

“We’ll pinpoint where your home is wasting energy and money, and we’ll work with you to implement an effective, affordable plan to increase the efficiency, comfort, and safety of your home,” Grimyser says.

Other eco-conscious choices include using more durable natural materials with long life spans. Anderson says that is one of the beauties of granite and other natural stones. It might cost a bit more up front, but there is last waste in the long run.

Long-Term Thinking

Investing more at the outset does more than keep materials out of landfills, Usadel points out. It can also minimize upkeep, replacement costs and stress. “Homeowners are often remodeling the home they plan to stay in for the rest of their lives,” she says. “They don’t want to go through another remodel in ten years because the countertops they’ve chosen didn’t hold up.”

Grundahl says changes in the real estate market have caused homeowners to think farther ahead than they might have just a few years ago. Not only are clients considering the longevity of their materials; they are also factoring in their own futures in their homes.

“We discuss it on every initial interview with clients, regardless of age or status,” Grundahl says. “With declined home values, it is more important than ever to consider the long-term needs and effects of the project.”


Not everyone who remodels wants to stay put. Some still want or need to move to different houses or even different states. The goals for those projects are usually quite different. Rather than creating a personal oasis, bolstering curb appeal and improving first impressions are paramount.

“I like to think of landscaping as the picture frame that surrounds your home,” Boetzel says. “When people think about curb appeal, most of the time they look at adding fresh paint. However, one of the most effective ways to increase the resale value of your home is through landscaping… In fact, landscaping can add up to 15 percent to a home’s value.”

– Jennifer Garrett


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