The Team Theory of Remodeling

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(Warning: if you are the type of person who believes that fighting is the only way to get what you want out of life, please do not read this article as it could disrupt your entire way of life).

If you are embarking on a remodeling project, it's hassle enough to have to pull out your credit card twenty eight times in one week, to find unfamiliar, sweaty men smashing up your home (your old cabinets anyway) one bright morning, or to discover that your new $6000 fridge, finally delivered four weeks late, is the wrong one. You don't also need a battle with a contractor. You need, instead, team spirit.

Let's imagine that you find a contractor who has the skills and willingness to execute the project you envision. Part of you would love to have the guy do everything, figure out everything, buy everything, while you could go to Bali for a month and come home to a fabulous new kitchen that is exactly what you want. Of course, most of us don't have the kind of dough this theoretical guy charges to do it all, and, more to the point, some of us like the idea of choosing and deciding and creating our own outcomes.

The key to a successful, efficient, happy and minimal-stress remodeling project is to be the captain of your remodeling team, the most vital player and he/she who calls the shots, sets the plays, and gets carried on the shoulders...well, probably not, even though you will win with this approach.

We are expert remodelers. Robert alone has over 30 years of hands-on home building and remodeling experience. We've installed over 600 IKEA kitchens. And you have to know quite a bit to pass the California State contractors' licensing exams. But we also know that you, the customer, know what you want, and are the key player in the "game" of getting a new kitchen (or any remodeling project). The way we see it is that our expertise is for you, the homeowner, to use, to acquire knowledge from, to consult, and to count on to skillfully execute the plays that you call.

One purpose of our kitchen planning service is to start to build the team. For the homeowner, getting questions answered, getting professional design help and getting a contractor in to inspect and provide a bid are vital and we do these things thoroughly for them. But when we send our contractor and designer to meet with the homeowner, our primary purpose, beyond providing the initial knowledge and assistance the homeowner needs, is to find out what the homeowner actually needs and wants. We've done hundreds of projects, many of them a lot like the one we did the week before. But we never know what any individual homeowner actually needs and wants and requires. We have to find out each time.

And thus, communication is the elixir in all remodeling. Good and abundant (and business-like and/or friendly) communication can keep your costs down significantly, can get your project completed weeks earlier than you thought possible, can result in a much more beautiful result and it can, surely and definitely and every time, minimize stress, upsets and confusion, which can bring about extra expense, delays and dissatisfaction.

What is a team, after all? It's a group of people who coordinate. And who communicate. And who then communicate more. And thus coordinate better. And then, just because it proves hugely successful, they communicate even more.

You might be thinking that you could simply call the fantasy contractor, the one who is "doing it all," from Bali. If you called every fifteen minutes, that would be a lot of communication. Since, intuitively, you know this is not going to work, there must be some other ingredient that, added to communication, ensures a win.

That ingredient is responsibility, that 100%, bottom line, buck-stops-here point of view that you take for your project. This is not to say the members of your remodeling team are not also responsible. To the contrary, each team member--contractor, designer, crew member, husband and wife, even IKEA or Pacific Sales or Home Depot, need to be 100% responsible also. But unlike you, the captain of the team, each of these players may not see the entire project, may not have the insight and oversight and resultant foresight, and commitment and vision that you have, in regard to your project.

If your wife, or husband, is only peripherally involved with the project, she/he still needs to know what’s going on, what it's going to cost and when and how long it's going to take. He/she must somehow align his/her own activities and intentions so as to help, and not hinder, your goal. In this way, that significant other is significantly responsible. If not, invite them onto the team officially.

And your contractor, is, always, 100% responsible for the quality of his work and communication, for the meeting of deadlines, for prompt and friendly customer service. He is responsible for ensuring you have the full benefit of his expertise and knowledge.

However, a contractor (none I know) cannot read minds. He cannot see through walls. And though he may be utterly expert and well-intentioned, he is human and fallible and has other projects and his own life, on his mind. He is, no matter how charming, muscular (and maybe know-it-all), merely and factually your EMPLOYEE, someone you have hired to help you. Tell him what to do, let him know your expectations, ask for his help and cooperation, and let him do his job without undue interruption or micro-management. But don't make the mistake of thinking that you are the employee, the junior party to this project, or that your contractor knows what you want before you tell him, and will do what you want without your instructions, your supervision, your explicit communication, and your feedback, day to day, hour to hour even. Ensure he has good intentions but don't assume he knows what you want, ever, in any detail, or, that he is omniscient in general. A good approach to working with your contractor could be this: if it hasn't been discussed and ALSO put in writing, it doesn't exist and won't happen.

Because our company offers customers an initial comprehensive planning service, and because we communicate a lot and quickly, there is the liability of inadvertently leaving the customer with the sense that "it's all taken care of."

Here is (made-up) customer Joe. We meet with him and his wife, Mary, and design a great new kitchen for them. It's a medium size project, including tearing down two walls to open the kitchen and dining room to the family room area. There is re-wiring, some venting work needed, flooring to install, some tilesetting. Our typical project, in other words.

Mary works full time plus, and Joe, who works at home (online investments), is going to be the primary person working on the project. Joe has a thick folder by the time we come for the planning meeting. He has appliance specs, pictures of kitchens from magazines, drawings he's done of his ideas, lists of stuff and competitive price lists for items he and Mary need to buy (tile, appliances, flooring, paint, handles, light fixtures, sink).

As Robert (contractor) walks through the downstairs with him, Joe is taking notes. He hasn't thought of how many outlets he'll need, whether he wants a water line run under the house for a pot filler for his new sink, or if his existing venting is going to have to be adapted for the chimney hood he has already bought. These are just examples of the issues that contractors bring to a homeowner's attention. They affect kitchen layout options, costs, and functionality and enjoyment of the kitchen-to-be. If they haven't been discussed however, don't assume your contractor is planning or handling them for you. Ask. Take all the time you need, ask all the questions you want, because the guy is your employee, after all.

After the meeting, Joe continues to look into each of the new aspects of the project Robert has brought to his attention. Joe is new to remodeling, but he's done other type of projects in his life and knows that attention to detail and control are key to getting the result. He knows he is the boss.

During the project, as the old kitchen is torn out and new stuff goes in, Joe is around the house most of the time. He works upstairs while the crew is downstairs, but he's there. He talks to Robert every morning and comes in each day as the guys are cleaning up and his excitement shows as things start to change. He asks questions, and makes decisions as new issues or options, arise. He knew he didn't know everything and is prepared for the commitment a team captain makes.

Joe's project was a big success. He quietly tells us his new kitchen looks better than his neighbor's $86,000 kitchen remodel. Joe spent $18,500 with all new, top of the line IKEA cabinets in kitchen and dining room, high quality appliances, Silestone counters, elegant floor tile and backsplash, and new and much better and safer electrical and lighting through all the downstairs of the house.

Customer Alice (also made-up) was different. She's a very busy mom and after a flood from the upstairs condo unit, had to replace her kitchen. We came to do her planning and she was sure the kitchen footprint should stay the same (possibly an instance in which deferring to the experts would have been smarter). She ordered her cabinets via fax from the first layout draft, and on the first morning of the installation, gave Robert a key and a check and drove off.

Now, usually, this type of project goes fine. If something comes up, Robert will call the customer and they figure it out together. In this (made-up) scenario, the only problem was that we started the installation on Thursday and Alice told herself, despite the timeframe noted on her contract, that it would take two days. She had 26 cabinets, cabinet lights, and tile to set so this was not a good prediction. On Friday afternoon, she walked in and got upset upon learning that tile cement has to sit for 24 hours before grouting. The kitchen would not be done that day! Robert had also told her that corroded plumbing lines behind the sink would have to be changed out. This is not something you can see until after the demo, but Alice got upset about this, too. We should have known, she said.

We got this job done on Monday afternoon after Alice got a plumber in to replace the rusted out pipes on Saturday morning. The kitchen was beautiful. But we didn't get a big thank you (or a hug...). Maybe it is simply that we failed to help and guide Alice to take responsibility for her project. We are the experts and maybe, just maybe, this is part of our job.

To you, the reader, it's pretty obvious that those rusted pipes are Alices's, not the contractor's. But in the middle of a project, under a time or money crunch, it sure can be easier to blame someone else. But that is usually only true for those who quickly resort to fighting (or, in the same category, antagonism) to get what they want.

As contractors, we are 100% responsible for the results we get, but when we walk out the door for the last time, leaving a beautiful new kitchen behind, the homeowner, from that point, and rightfully, takes all the credit. A responsible, communicative homeowner, who knows he/she is the captain of the team, and who uses and controls his/her team members effectively, cheerfully and knowledgeably, really deserves the win.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.


Basic Tips on Buying Materials

Get our FREE ebook, "How to Budget for an IKEA Kitchen Remodel"

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

Once you have a plan you love, and an acceptable bid for the installation and any remodeling work you might need or want, it is time to buy stuff. If you are buying new appliances after the plan is done, make sure, before you buy cabinets, that the plan takes your appliance sizes into account. If anything changes when you purchase appliances, make sure your plan is edited, too.

With a kitchen plan in hand (or uploaded to IKEA's server), most people go to IKEA to look around one last time and to place their order. IKEA staff will, to some extent, help you place your order. An experienced IKEA kitchen planner can help you order also. It is sometimes possible to order IKEA cabinets via FAX, but not easy. Usually you have to go to an IKEA store to place a kitchen cabinet order.

Countertops are often the biggest purchase you'll make if granite, Corian, Caesarstone or similar types are in your budget. IKEA has high quality laminates and butcherblock for low cost solutions. There are numerous places to look for and purchase higher end counters. but it is often efficient to order everything, cabinets and counters, at IKEA.

As another note on countertop, if you order laminate or butcherblock, it is delivered as part of your cabinet order. It is installed by your cabinet installer, cut on the spot to fit your layout. If you order Corian or granite, etc., your countertop supplier will arrange a trip to your home as soon as your base cabinets have been installed. The supplier (fabricator) makes a template and your counters are usually custom fabricated offsite and delivered and installed for you. It can take a few days to several weeks for counters to be fabricated. Your cabinet installer can put a plywood base in for you, if required by your countertop supplier or, if you have to wait for the counters, to leave you with a somewhat functional kitchen during the wait.

Once you've placed your IKEA cabinet order, you'll get a delivery date. You can hold off delivery for as long as two weeks usually, with no charge for storage at IKEA's distribution center.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you. 


IKEA Installation: How We Are Different

Get our FREE ebook, "How to Budget for an IKEA Kitchen Remodel"

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

(This article was written in 2006, when I owned a remodeling company that designed and installed IKEA kitchens. My current business, Modern Family Kitchens, only designs extraordinary IKEA kitchens. But the know-how was acquired over many years and many projects)

I've written earlier about why we chose not to work directly with IKEA as "certified" installers. The main reason was that, for some reason, IKEA would not allow us to offer any planning assistance while we were their "certified" installer. And we knew that, without help planning the kitchen layout and the project itself, before cabinet purchase, the finished result was not likely to be as good, as elegant, as functional, and as affordable, as it could be.

So we chose to remain independent, a remodeling company that specializes in projects in which the homeowner is using IKEA cabinets. We advertise, we build trust and confidence and we build a referral base through happy, satisfied customers.

The "certified" guy Can certainly install your cabinets. But he may not concern himself with building trust since he's got an ongoing supply of customers referred to him from the IKEA store.

So what is the difference? First and foremost, as mentioned earlier, we know that most homeowners will benefit greatly from having our expert kitchen designer and contractor on their team from the start. Our low-cost planning service provides professional layout/design of their kitchen or other rooms, and builds a relationship with the contractor during the planning stage. There are very few simple kitchen remodeling projects, and sorting out the various issues, concerns, and requirements of both design and remodeling BEFORE you buy your cabinets, can save time and money. As independent installers, we can do this.

On the other hand, if you want the least costly route, you may find that the "certified" installer from IKEA is cheaper than us. Typically you can expect to pay $300 more on installation of a $5000 project for the type of full service kitchen remodeling we do. Our per-cabinet rate is higher. Some of our other service prices are lower.

So why would anyone choose to work with us?

First, our planning service. Even if you plan to install your own cabinets, let us do the planning service for you for $275, in Los Angeles or anywhere else ( we can do it via email with your measurements, which we guide you through). It's worth it (believe me) to have an expert IKEA designer do your plans and cabinet order list for you!

Second, let's say you go with Mr. Certified. He shows up on Tuesday at 8am to install your cabinets. Halfway through the job, he sees that your kitchen outlets are too low and that the base cabinets will cover them. He will pack up his tools and tell you to get an electrician in, and then call him (leave three voice mails) when the outlets are moved. How long will that take? To find and hire an electrician, and to reschedule your installation? You could be stuck without a kitchen for weeks. We've seen it. The scenario I'm describing is not a rare one.

So how are we different? Let's say for some reason we didn't identify the outlet issue during the planning phase. Or let's say you had new flooring put in that raised the cabinet height we planned for by 1/2 inch. That'll do it sometimes. So here is how we handle this:

1) Call customer at work and explain issue.
2) Provide change order (adding to the job specs) for "move two outlets", (let's say the cost is $200 to do this)
3) Email customer change order.
4) Customer signs change order and faxes back.
5) While we continue to install cabinets, we move the outlets, patch up walls.
6) Total delay for outlet issue: 25 minutes.

Can you imagine being at work while your kitchen is being remodeled to find out there is a problem you have to solve that will cause you unknown expense and unknown delay?

Now you know the difference. Consider paying $300 more for expert, full service installation from experts who care. Unless your project is bare bones simple, we're a MUCH better, not just a bit better, choice. Call for customer references, don't take my word for it.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.



IKEA Kitchen Planning

Get our FREE ebook, "How to Budget for an IKEA Kitchen Remodel"

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

Planning for a kitchen remodel can be a lot of fun. You get to look at magazine photos, search the web for tips and products, and stroll through brick-and-mortar stores, both big and small, to look at stove models, tile, flooring, and price tags.

As with anything else worthwhile in life, the more you learn and know, the better things work out. So use your time in the planning phase to read up on any and all aspects of kitchen remodeling. During this planning phase you should also talk to a few contractors and get a sense of labor costs and timeframes.

The majority of homeowners who use IKEA cabinets act as their own general contractors. This means that, instead of hiring one company, a general contractor, to provide all labor and all materials (cabinets, countertop, flooring, light fixtures, sink, etc.), they buy all the materials they need from stores/suppliers, often several different ones (not just IKEA), and hire either one company to provide all the labor or, quite common, they do some themselves and hire plumbers, tile setters, cabinet installers, etc., as needed. This last is often the best way to go but it requires real knowledge and excellent planning.

As I've written elsewhere, unless you have a very limited budget, the best way to move your project forward design phase is by getting some expert help with the layout of cabinets.  The limitations of the free IKEA kitchen planner become the limitations of your new kitchen. Our company offers a very affordable and very comprehensive expert IKEA design service. The guidance and expert help you will receive, along with custom design, will transform your project, and your finished result.

Once your cabinet layout or kitchen design is finalized, you can work out the true costs of your project.  It is much easier to get an accurate bid from a contractor when you have the layout done. A well done layout becomes the foundation from which electrical work, plumbing work, wall changes, any window and door work, and flooring installation can be priced out. Also your other materials, not just cabinets, can all be figured out from the layout. For example, if you are installing cabinet lights, how many fixtures will be needed is one cost. How the electrical will be run is another.

(Tip: make sure you let your contractor know that you will be wanting cabinet lights before the cabinets are installed. It's a lot less time consuming to wire for cabinet lights before the cabinets are installed).

Use our free eBook ( to ensure your planning includes an accurate prediction of the costs involved in your project. Get expert help with the kitchen layout to save yourself the stress and expense of design errors. Interview contractors by showing them the layout you have worked out. The contractor can then compare what you now have to what you want to have, and can then list out the services that have to be provided to you in order to prepare the kitchen (including demo, wiring, wall repair and other work), install the cabinets and other items (e.g. sink, appliances, light fixtures), and finish with paint and cleanup.

Get a timeline from the contractor as well. If you want to order your cabinets and appliances from IKEA during a kitchen sale, work out the best time to order so that delivery concurs with the contractors timeline. Save some time to clear out your kitchen cabinets before the work begins.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.


What If You Don't Live Near an IKEA Store?

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

If you have been dreaming of an IKEA kitchen of your own, but live hours from any IKEA store, it might seem unavailable. But recently, IKEA got their online shopping feature working much more effectively and, with some help, anyone can buy the materials for an IKEA kitchen remodel.

Living 2 or 3 or 5 hours, or more, from an IKEA makes the planning and design phase even more crucial. As the owner of a remodeling company, I saw how common it was for the skilled guys on a job to need to run to Home Depot every day, sometimes more than once. This always frustrated me because it wasted time, and cost the company money. I always thought that the crew and the foreman should be able to predict parts that would be needed ahead of time. Or stock up on various sizes of dishwasher hose connectors and other such things.

A homeowner who plans to do an IKEA kitchen in a rural area, far from IKEA and perhaps far from a hardware store, has to have this PARTS issue figured out. You will want to have EXTRA PARTS on hand so that your project doesn't get stopped for lack of something. This is not hard to do with screws, nails, tile, flooring and paint. But the components of an IKEA kitchen, meaning cabinet components, are not all equal and some are more likely to come up missing during a remodel.

In this scenario, good design is even more vital. All the layout issues must be worked out before you order. The order itself should include certain extra parts. Each kitchen is different so I can't specify which parts, but you do want some extra hardware, some extra frame pieces, more than enough trim, and, sometimes, an extra set or two of doors.

During installation, it can happen that what looked perfect on paper, doesn't work, or doesn't look the way you want it to, in 3D, in an actual kitchen. You want to be able to PREDICT these things and have the parts to execute alternate solutions.

Here is an example: During installation, it turns out that the refrigerator you bought is taller than you thought. Or the floor in the fridge part of the kitchen is 1/2 higher than on the stove side. The 24 inch high over-the-fridge cabinet doesn't fit. The fridge cabinet is the first wall cabinet to be mounted because it sets the height for the rest of the wall cabinets. You are stuck at this point, because in almost every case, although the cabinet frame can be cut down in height, IKEA cabinet doors cannot be cut down without a serious degrade to their appearance and durability.

A smart designer (that's us!) will do all he/she can to predict such things on any project but when it comes to homes that are far from an IKEA store, extra care is taken in this matter.

Finally, you can always return extra parts that you didn't use (didn't take out of the box). And most single cabinet components are pretty inexpensive anyway. Probably, most people would rather spend an extra $40 or $100 on extra parts, than be without a kitchen for an extra week or two awaiting a delivery.

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.


Working with IKEA Kitchen Professionals

...and visit our website to find out about expert IKEA Kitchen Design Services

An IKEA kitchen remodel is a bit of an oddity compared to the typical kitchen remodel.  You can spend 1/3 or less and get a comparable result using IKEA cabinets, but you need a lot more knowledge to get results as beautiful as those IKEA display kitchens, to stay within a modest budget and to have a calm remodeling experience.

The majority of single family home kitchen remodels in the U.S. are done by a contractor who supplies the cabinets and other materials. Often, a homeowner hires a kitchen cabinet company, perhaps choosing cabinets and/or appliances from their showroom and catalogs, and the store’s employees or an affiliated contractor do the design and labor. Sometimes the design service is free, but of course you pay for it in the price of the cabinets. That cabinet price is typically three times the price of IKEA cabinets for the same layout, although quality is often comparable. Per Consumer Reports data, IKEA cabinets rank higher than many brands that cost much more. 

With IKEA kitchens, homeowners see the store displays and when it comes time to remodel their kitchens, they know what they want, cabinet-wise. But IKEA stores provide only minimal design help and customer support. Homeowners are expected to design and to figure out the process on their own. Most IKEA stores have installers they can refer, and sometimes a designer you can hire, but these are often are bare bones services, often impersonal and rushed, and the rates are not lower, but often higher, than other expert service providers.

I can often help a reader locate a designer or contractor but I especially want to point out the significant benefits of working with an expert when planning and designing your project. Although there is free software online and in IKEA stores for designing your own kitchen layout, if you are going to invest many thousands of hard-earned dollars in a new kitchen, a small fee paid to an IKEA kitchen design expert is the intelligent way to proceed. 

What are the benefits of working with a professional IKEA kitchen designer?

1) You plan your project with the expertise and foresight gained from hundreds of similar IKEA kitchen projects completed by the designer.

2) You get insider, detailed knowledge of IKEA cabinets and related products.

3) Your designer knows how to customized IKEA cabinets for irregular spaces or special requirements. You are not limited to stock sizes in designing the perfect layout for your new kitchen.

4) You have ongoing, expert support from planning through completion.

5) You have a design liaison to your installation contractor.

6) Your IKEA ordering experience will be easier and faster. A comprehensive IKEA order list will be compiled and reviewed by your designer before you order. You will have special instructions for the store for any customized cabinets in your layout (which require detailed knowledge of component parts).

Professional assistance is especially crucial for clients who live far from IKEA stores. Your designer will help ensure the materials you order will allow for adjustments needed or wanted during installation, avoiding mid-project delays.

Sometimes there may be no truly qualified IKEA design professional in given area or city, but designers who know their stuff can easily work with you via email and phone, and provide the same support and creative design. If you can measure a wall, and email a photo, you can work with the best IKEA designers no matter where you live.

I hope you decide that expert support for your project from an experienced professional is indeed the best way to go. Even a small project on a tight budget is likely to get far better results (more “bang for the buck”) with expert guidance in planning. 

If you'd like to discuss your project with me, I can offer you a free, 30-minute phone consultation. Here's my calendar, just pick a time that works for you.


My company, Modern Family Kitchens, offers an IKEA kitchen design service. We can provide expert service to clients anywhere in the world. We think you'll spend the least and get the best results when you invest in expert design. Call or write us to discuss your project. 877-550-1753.