In Alignment

Reaching full growth potential as a company requires having more than one person — especially if that person is the owner — who can sell jobs. At Blackdog Design/Build/Remodel in Salem, N.H., president David Bryan has a whole team of design consultants who double as salespeople and triple as estimators.

December 31, 2004

Patricia Taylor designed the two-tiered, angled island - easily accessible from the appliances, sink area, pantry and desk - to be both the new focal point of the kitchen and a multipurpose workstation. It includes a cooktop, a prep sink, a cabinet with a mixer lift, rollout trays for storage, and a large granite countertop and eating area.

Cooktop: DCS. Downdraft system: Faber. Faucet: Sigma. Prep sink: Elkay.
By installing a French-style sliding door and replacing a built-in pantry with a pair of double-hung windows on the adjacent wall, Blackdog provided the homeowners with a greatly desired view of the backyard and access to the deck. Because the 150-year-old Colonial home sits in the historical district of Andover, Mass., replacement and additional windows and doors - all elements affecting the exterior - had to comply with historical committee guidelines. Refrigerator: Sub-Zero. Windows: Pella.
Relocating the appliances, expanding usable countertop space and creating separate work areas improved the functionality of the kitchen, while installing cabinets with interior fittings better organized storage space. Removing the wood stove and relocating interior walls enlarged the dining area. The painted and glazed insert door cabinets and large crown molding maintained the architectural integrity of the rest of the home.

Cabinets: Plato. Dishwasher: KitchenAid. Faucet: Sigma. Sink: Blanco. Oven: DCS.
Before and After
Thomas Carr,

Patricia Taylor

Blackdog Design/Build/ Remodel

Location: Salem, N.H.

Type of company: Full-service residential design/build remodeling firm

Staff model: 7 sales, 12.5 managerial and admin, 20 field

Sales history:



Annual jobs: 50 jobs

Workweek: 40 hours base

Software: 20/20 Design, ImproveBuild Remodeler's Business Solution


Reaching full growth potential as a company requires having more than one person - especially if that person is the owner - who can sell jobs. At Blackdog Design/Build/Remodel in Salem, N.H., president David
Bryan has a whole team of design consultants who double as salespeople and triple as estimators. Blackdog distributes leads among seven design consultants who handle jobs from lead qualification through pre-construction meeting, when the project managers and lead carpenters take charge. Throughout the process, especially on a big whole-house remodel, employees from three divisions and different disciplines must work together closely to achieve success.

The design consultant

One such job began with a phone call on October 9, 2001. Kitchen and bath designer Patricia Taylor took the lead, a couple living in a 150-year-old Colonial home in Andover, Mass., who definitely wanted to remodel their kitchen and also were considering changes to the family room and master bath. At the time, Taylor had been with Blackdog about a year, but had been in the kitchen and bath business for more than a decade, during which time she owned her own business and also did sales for a cabinet manufacturer.

"I talked to the client on the phone for quite a while," she says. "We talked about time frame, the scope of the project, cabinets, countertops." The couple wanted to take time to consider other options and canceled an initial appointment because of illness, so Taylor didn't actually meet with the prospects in person until May 2, 2002.

The initial visit, she says, typically takes about two hours and involves an introduction to the company and the design process, as well as some question-and-answer time. The homeowners had already seen some of Blackdog's work, had a scope of work and some definite goals in mind, and didn't require a fast turnaround time - important because Blackdog typically has a six-month lead time on construction.

"They'd waited for a long time and wanted it designed correctly before they moved forward," says Taylor. They decided to go ahead with the project, paying a $1,500 design retainer. At that point she began to work with the clients on the overall layout and space plan, creating elevations and floor plans. Then they talked cabinets, countertops, and fixtures, allowing her to come back with "good, better, best" scenarios at different price points. During the design process, which lasted until October of 2002, Taylor worked with a design consultant from the construction division on items beyond typical kitchen and bath scope, such as moving walls, removing the chimney and choosing windows.

Ultimately the scope of the job called for remodeling the kitchen and family room on the first floor and the master bedroom suite above. The 399-square-foot kitchen won a silver 2004 Best of the Northeast Award from Professional Remodeler.

The lead carpenter

This project was among Thomas Carr's last jobs as a Blackdog lead carpenter: he was promoted to project manager not long after project completion on March 23, 2004. The job kicked off more than a year earlier, when Carr and Taylor, along with project manager Pete Cook and the construction design consultant, held a pre-construction meeting with the homeowners to review schedule and any special needs.

Carr's job was to lead the day-to-day construction aspects of the job, including managing staff and subs. Field employees at Blackdog start as production carpenters, then become leads-in-training, then lead carpenters. "We promote our leads up through the ranks," says Carr. "What we try to do is put our inexperienced carpenters with a lead for a little while."

Despite his experience, Carr found his ability to make the remodel "a living thing," as he calls it, sorely tested by this house. Not only did the home have the usual mishmash of poorly done renovations, but also the original structure had been built using a combination of post-and-beam framing and balloon framing, which uses studs that run from soleplate to roof plate.

"It does what I call breathing. You know how your chest expands and contracts? This house does that exact same thing because of the myriad of framing techniques." Carr explains. "Trying to overcome the challenge of things pulling apart was a little tricky."

The structural challenges began at the bottom, with a 31/2-inch deep dip running the length of the kitchen floor. With the help of other staff carpenters - four revolved on and off the job - Carr installed two new carrying beams in the basement. He then jacked the floor up slowly, over the course of a month, "to keep the house from revolting," he says. Besides straightening out the floor, the additional support helped bear the weight of the new granite countertop.

Things looked no better at the top. During a prior remodel, someone had cut a 4-foot section from one of the crossties in the post-and-beam part of the house in order to create a hallway. As a result, the weight of the roof caused the second-story walls in the balloon framed part of the home to tilt out 21/2 inches. "We couldn't bring that back into check," says Carr. "That would have been reframing the whole house. But we had to stabilize that before we could go ahead."

Blackdog completely removed the second-floor flooring and then installed two 20-foot steel beams in the ceiling over the kitchen and one steel beam over the family room. "When we put our steel in, we tied the post and beam into the new steel girders so everything would move in the same direction it was supposed to move in," Carr explains. "The uppermost piece is what holds the lowermost piece in place. It's by pressure."

Knowing he could better pass on this type of skill to colleagues as project manager than as lead carpenter finally drove Carr to accept a promotion to project manager after more than 17 years as a carpenter with Blackdog.

"I resisted doing it with all my heart, because I loved doing what I did with my hands," he says. "I came into the office to make a difference for the company, to put my knowledge across more jobs."

Carr also is adding to his own knowledge by learning computer skills and programs so he can review estimates and designs with the design consultants. "It's been a really great thing learning all the different techniques," he says. "It adds whole new meaning to the word 'collaboration.'"

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