Beyond Builder Basic

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Remember when customers clamored to get rid of their 1970s-style bathrooms, with their confined spaces and lack of amenities? Now there's a new enemy: the late 1980s and early 1990s.

December 01, 2002


 

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Remember when customers clamored to get rid of their 1970s-style bathrooms, with their confined spaces and lack of amenities? Now there's a new enemy: the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Julia and Don Wilson's master bathroom had the separate shower stall and whirlpool tub, two sinks, and a door to close off the toilet area when they bought their 1989 home in Savage, Minn.

Unfortunately, their 110-square-foot master bathroom also had the floral wallpaper and predominantly beige color scheme that were hallmarks of of the time. Julia Wilson describes the shower as "cheap" and "cheesy." The colors, patterns, finishes and overall style suited neither the Wilsons' personalities nor their tastes.

 

Drenckhahn added a half-wall to separate the tub and shower and also provide a ledge. The new shower is slightly wider than the old one, allowing for full arm extension. Built-in storage shelves look nicer than a hanging caddy. The new tub doesn't have jets but is much easier to enter. Tiles: GlaazartUSA. Tub and fixtures: Kohler. Cabinets: Decor Cabinets. Warm-floor system: Warmly Yours. Photos: Jerry Swanson.

Besides that, the builder had put little thought into functionality. The corner tub's fixtures were in the middle of the one side that offered access, so users could not sit on the ledge and swing their legs over to enter. Instead, they had to climb over the wide tile ledge and the fixtures, a process that often resulted in bumps and bruises for the Wilsons. Julia Wilson's "biggest beef"? None of the cabinets had drawers.

But other projects in the house, which the Wilsons purchased in April 1995, had to come first. By 2002, it was time. After seeing the October 2001 issue of Midwest Home & Garden, the Wilsons called DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen by Worldwide in St. Louis Park, Minn.

Interior designers as remodelers

DreamMaker is an international kitchen and bath remodeling franchiser with 235 locations. The St. Louis Park location is owned by interior designers Lynn and Sandy Monson of Monson Interior Design Inc. and general manager A.J. Paron-Wildes. Design/build projects targeting midmarket clients have been its strength, but the owners recently opened a second division called Remodeling Options that handles smaller jobs such as cabinet refacing and installing tub liners.

Projects such as the Wilsons', which primarily involved replacing lavatories, the tub, the shower, the toilet, cabinets, countertops and the floor, fall into the design/build category and are fairly common for the franchise, says project designer Michelle Drenckhahn, allied member ASID. As one of four project designers, she qualifies leads; estimates and sells projects; does space planning, selections and design; and helps clients and the project manager throughout production.

Drenckhahn won the job by setting the right tone. "She made an appointment and was there on time," Julia Wilson says. "We visited another company and weren't pleased. They didn't seem interested in the project." Drenckhahn appreciated that the Wilsons had done enough research to have realistic ideas about budget. For instance, the toilet area of their 110-square-foot master bathroom is shared between the master bedroom and a guest bedroom. While they would have liked to create two separate bathrooms, they suspected their budget would not allow for it and understood when Drenckhahn said so.

She invited the Wilsons to DreamMaker's showroom to get ideas and then met them at their home to take measurements. "She walked around our house and saw how we live," says Julia Wilson. "The fact that she did all those things, we felt comfortable that was how the rest of the project was going to be."

 

Before: "Every builder around here puts in oak and everything almond-y, and it all looks the same," says project designer Michelle Drenckhahn. The toilet area which is shared with a guest bedroom, was separated from the rest of the bathroom by a door.

The clients share in the work

The St. Louis Park DreamMaker lets clients purchase some products, do some work and even pay some trade contractors directly to keep the price down. The Wilsons chose to reuse some items and purchase the toilet. They also planned to remove the wallpaper, prep the walls and pay the plumbing and electrical contractors. The scope of work in the project contract detailed who was responsible for what. The Wilsons had to supply Drenckhahn with the model number and specs for the toilet before construction could start and also had to sign a waiver of warranty. Drenckhahn also charged a $500 coordination fee for each contractor the Wilsons were paying themselves.

This level of client involvement led to minor bumps. First, the electrical inspector insisted on seeing the warm-floor mat be installed. DreamMaker took care of the cost to have the electrician reinstall the floor and also paid for the extra tiles. "This we did to provide customer service because they were so understanding," says Drenckhahn.

Next, taking down the wallpaper and prepping the walls and ceiling turned out to be harder than the Wilsons had expected, so Drenckhahn gave them a bid for the walls. Julia Wilson thought the bid also included the ceiling and wasn't happy with the change order. Client and remodeler eventually split the cost.

Although many remodelers view engineers as especially tough customers, Don Wilson's professional engineering experience actually provided him with perspective, says his wife. "Change orders are a daily thing with him. With the remodel, we were like, 'This is nothing.' You hear horror stories about contracting all the time, and there was nothing like that."

She says she definitely would recommend DreamMaker and use it again. "We're absolutely happy with the bathroom," she says. "It's much more sophisticated than what we had. There was nothing custom about it."

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