Warehouse of Horrors

I was hired by a client about six months ago to renovate a warehouse they had recently purchased. It had been vacant for a while, which is always a bad sign when you start actually looking into the building—you see where things were neglected and misused during the off period. I have worked on other buildings that were poorly maintained, but I can assure you that this one took first prize.

I walked through the building with the client and talked about what he envisioned for the space—what sort of work would be done there, how many employees and that sort of thing. We immediately decided that the break and bathrooms would need to be enlarged, as he was expecting to hire more people than the rooms were originally designed for. This would cut into his available workspace, but we were able to reconfigure some of it to make up the majority of the room lost by expanding those facilities.

Then it came time for the demo and construction. I started to hear about mice from the team doing the work. Ugh. Mice are one of the two dreaded things to find during a renovation (in case you’re wondering, the other is mold). Not many things stop a project as quickly as a mice infestation. Since I try to be as conscientious as possible, I don’t see much point in killing these creatures—who can blame them for using the space, after all? Nobody else was. They seemed to be relatively new tenants, which was good. We didn’t see much damage to the interior of the walls and they hadn’t appeared to gnaw through any wiring at all, thank goodness! We set down some humane mouse traps to solve the problem.

Once the mice were safely and humanely out of the way, we were extra careful with the rest of the demo and did a serious clean out before we started building again. We located some hazardous materials that needed to be disposed of and a lot of rusty, unsalvageable equipment. Once we had that out of the way, we had the building checked twice more to see if any of our little friends had returned. We had to set down a few more traps, but all in all the situation got under control fairly easily. It could have been a lot worse.

We are nearly done with the renovation part now, and once that is complete, we’ll do another inspection to make sure everything is up to code before we start putting in the furniture and equipment. This has been a challenging project, to say the least. I think I will be done with warehouses for a bit after this one, and possibly off buildings that were previously abandoned altogether!

Fun With Fixtures

I recently had clients that desperately needed a kitchen remodel. It was not a simple update to the appliances. The original layout of the kitchen was awkward: if you opened the fridge, the door blocked the entranceway; the dishwasher was by itself, far from both the cabinets and the sink; and although the room was a decent size, there was not a whole lot of usable cabinet space. It was a big job—to make the room more functional, we had to rearrange some major appliances and add cabinets.

Having said that, the project was actually one of my most enjoyable to date. The clients were good-natured and fun, hands-on and articulate enough to give me guidance on what they wanted yet open to hearing suggestions about alternatives. In other words, my favorite type of people to work with. It helped that there weren’t too many surprises as far as the work or costs went because that can turn even the most good-natured of clients off the project in a big way.

My favorite part of most of my assignments is choosing the unique pieces that set the design apart from any other that I have done and reflects the client’s personality. I love taking them to boutique shops and stores off the beaten path to get that one item that really makes the whole room their own and ties it all together.

These particular clients were adamant about having a undermount style sink. It was a non-negotiable point as soon as I was able to confirm that we had the counter space and strength available to hold one. Since this was that One Big Thing the clients wanted for this kitchen renovation, and because a sink that size basically forces itself to be a focal point in the room, I vowed to make it as spectacular as was budgetarily possible. I took them to a specialty store that has all manner of plumbing fixtures. We quickly narrowed it down to a matte black color to coordinate with the new cabinet hardware. Then we started looking at features. My clients wanted a sprayer for the sink, but I knew from looking at the design of the sink it would have to be detachable from the faucet–there was no extra hole in the actual sink for a separate sprayer. That narrowed the field down even more. We finally found one that had a nice, high arc and all the little details that my clients were looking for. It pays in a situation like this to go to a specialty shop and not a home improvement store, there are typically a lot more options in a place like this.

We purchased it then turned it over to the plumber for installation. I did not envy the cabinet installer or the plumber’s job getting the sink put in properly. It was a beast of a sink, albeit a gorgeous one. But what the clients want (and can pay for), the client gets, so in it went! I have to say, though, it certainly did look gorgeous in the kitchen and is going to last them a good long time.

Overcoming Obstacles to Meet a Deadline

Sometimes I really am a miracle worker. I have been working on one of those projects. The kind that has an unpleasant surprise around every turn, a frustrated client, and mounting expenses. It is the kind of thing that makes you not want to get out of bed in the morning, I’ll tell you. But get up I have, ready to stare every last setback down and attempting to find a way to thwart every situation threatening to turn this project into a complete disaster.

It has taken a lot of energy, I’ll tell you. I’ve got a deadline approaching. And while my goal is always to get everything done correctly and to the client’s satisfaction, two of the things my clients want most is for me to get the job done on time and on budget. I completely understand. When things aren’t done by the time they should be, it can push other projects back and that has an ugly domino effect with the rest of my clients that I would very much like to avoid. While I have been around long enough now that it has gotten easier and easier to correctly gauge how long something is going to take, occasionally things take turns that even I couldn’t guess.

That’s where I am with this particular project. It isn’t anyone’s fault, per se, which makes it difficult. I can’t fire anyone involved in the project in order to prove to my client that I am handling the situation, and there isn’t really one thing that can satisfactorily shoulder the blame. Things have just been happening. We knocked down a wall and found asbestos. We called in an electrician to move an outlet and found that the wiring wasn’t up to code and had to be upgraded in order to power everything safely. I was wracking my brain to figure out how I could get my team to continue what little work they could do while the electricians did their thing.

Then I had a brilliant idea. A generator! I found one on this web site that can safely be run indoors without using electricity. I had the team come in at night, which cost extra but then they aren’t under the electrician’s feet the whole time, and they were able to install some of the flooring that we needed put in as well as inspect the pipes for any more leaks since the walls were all open at that point. Doing the work this way cost me a bit more than I would have liked but it put us right back on schedule. Since I have one of those post-deadline clauses, in the long run, it should actually end up saving me money. And I’ll gladly pay my workers a good wage to do a good job if it means getting the job done on time and a happy client at the end of the project.

Thank goodness for thinking outside the box. I don’t know what I would have done otherwise!

Difference Between an Interior Designer and a Decorator

I get asked this question probably more than any other when people are trying to decide who to hire to decorate their living or work space. It really depends on your objectives, but I tell people to go with the person they feel will best capture what they envision for their space. However, since I’m not trying to get you to hire me, I can talk about the differences here without talking myself out of a job.

An interior decorator does just that: decorates an interior. They buy furniture and fixtures, window treatments, rugs and that sort of thing. They can style a room like nobody’s business. A good interior decorator has done an apprentice or internship under the supervision of someone with more experience. They typically understand blueprints, building codes, inspection standards, and accessibility requirements. However, their sole purpose is to decorate a space through furnishings and accents.

On the other hand, interior designers (like me) tend to have more education. We have bachelor’s degrees in things like art, design, or architecture. We have to pass a nation exam so we can be licensed in the state we operate in. It’s very straightforward—if you don’t pass the test, you can’t call yourself an interior designer. I can walk into an empty space and change it—I can make adjustments to blueprints and reconfigure spaces. I can work with architects before the building is even built to go over the plans to make spaces functional and beautiful. In other words, I have a lot more that I can do than just decorate what is already there. I can decorate a room, of course, but I can also design spaces as well.

I can explain it best by giving an example. An interior designer will look at floor coverings and choose something based on what you like and what will work in the space. However, when I’m choosing flooring, I look at what the room is going to be used for, the acoustics of choosing such flooring, the durability of the options available, and fire codes. A lot more goes into my decisions.

Only you know what you really need. An interior decorator may have a lot of experience but if you want to knock down a wall or add whole rooms, you are much better off with an interior designer. If you’re renovating your space, I’m going to be a much better fit for your project. If all you want is someone to make your house look aesthetically pleasing, you can get an interior decorator for probably less money that I would charge you. Assess your needs and interview some candidates. Check their references, too. See who you feel comfortable with and who you think understands what you want and need. I am confident you can find the right person for the job.