I walk into the condo with one eye closed.
The nerve-wracking moment is like the reveal in one of those TV home-decorating shows only in reverse. Rather than revealing the newly remodeled space to a homeowner, who had been blissfully unaware, the reveal was to me, the default designer who helped coordinate the home makeover from five states away.
A friend from Orlando, had purchased a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in Phoenix. The place was one part investment property, one part home for his 25-year-old daughter, who had gotten a job there.
It needed a complete remodel — to meet his liking and hers. Both were new at this, and didn’t always see eye to eye. My friend, D.C., asked me to help.
“So, you want me to weigh in when you and your daughter disagree?” I ask.
“Or when you disagree with us,” he says.
“Is this a remodel or an intervention?”
“Great, so I either upset you, or her, or both,” I say, summing up what was clearly a losing proposition.
“Or just make sure we’re on the right track,” he says, as if there were a right track. Did I mention they were new at this?
Faced with a decorating project fraught with awkward family dynamics on top of a major distance disadvantage and thus a high probability for failure, I realized this had never stopped me before. “Why not?” I say.
D.C. presents their wish list. He wants a “desert contemporary” style, and favors walls painted in a color he’s once used successfully: Sherwin Williams Bagel. He also wants floors covered in porcelain tiles that look like wood. She wants granite counters and new cabinets to replace the Formica and dated oak.
So sight — and site — unseen, with no more than a handful of photos on a cell phone, I help them cobble together a look.
The process feels like one of those new robotic surgery techniques being tested where a doctor in Los Angeles does surgery on a patient in Washington using a robot. While on paper it should work, there is no guarantee.
We mix floor samples, paint swatches, granite and tile candidates. I suggest a darker wall color, Sherwin Williams Totally Tan. He’s unsure. But his daughter likes it. Totally Tan it is.
Because the floors and walls would be midtone brown, I say paint the golden oak cabinets white, which is cheaper than replacing them, and go with dark granite counters (ultimately, Verde Butterfly). Neither is too sure.
“Trust me,” I tell D.C. “Spaces need high and low values – white and black – to balance the midtones.”
“Trust me,” D.C. tells his daughter.
I feel more responsibility than an Air Force One pilot.
Because I’m in this far, I say replace the skimpy baseboards with four-inch moldings. The move isn’t in the budget, but I convince D.C. it’s necessary. Still I worry. This is his money I’m spending.
As the space takes shape in our minds, D.C., now on a roll, asks whether he should replace the old black appliances with stainless.
“Well, I wasn’t going to mention it.” Inside I am cheering.
Click, click, click.
From there the daughter takes on the role of crackerjack general contractor, and three weeks later, I parachute in to see how it all came together. Or didn’t.
Which is how I came to walk into the condo with one eye closed.
And as sometimes happens, even when not everyone’s tastes align, the design gods smiled on a little piece of real estate, which turned out better than everyone hoped.
When remodeling with a distance disadvantage, here are some tricks and tips that can make the job go more smoothly:
• Love your chains. Finding great stone or tile where you live doesn’t help if you need materials elsewhere. Shipping is prohibitive. But big box chain stores can save you. Pick materials here; pick them up there. We found a good selection of affordable options at Floor & Décor, which has stores in Orlando and Phoenix.
• Get good referrals. Ask your realtor for names of good local painters, carpenters, electricians and handymen. The store that supplies your materials can also refer workers, and many times will guarantee their work, and not issue payment until work is done right. Although you might find cheaper local labor through Craigslist, getting a personal referral is safer.
• Have a solid ground crew. If you don’t hire a general contractor, have a friend or family member work as a project manager on the site. They don’t have to know everything about construction, but they do need to be organized and vigilant. Despite having never remodeled before, D.C.’s daughter kept the project moving forward.
• Create a critical path. First select all your materials and know they’re in stock. Then line up contractors so work gets done in the right sequence: painting, flooring, baseboards, counters, appliances.
• Use mobile technology. Texting photos across the miles is the next best thing to being there. Just as the tile mason was starting to lay the rectangular plank floor tiles the wrong way, we got a photo, which averted disaster.
• Budget for the extras. Though the bulk of the project came in on budget, what blew the bottom line by about 30 percent were several items not factored in, including supplies like grout and thin set for the tile ($200); faucets, undermount sinks and a garbage disposal ($700); and a last minute desire to have a slide-in cooktop oven ($1100).