Championship Kitchen Remodel

A small bland kitchen's floor plan flips to create the perfect space for old-European style. The owner, a real-estate agent, had been inside scores of houses in the area and was determined to make her remodeled kitchen and family area different from the norm.

March 31, 2008
Products List
The Financials
Company Snapshot
Project Timeline

The skylight and raised ceiling provide drama and light, while the restyled corner fireplace, wood-finished beam, European-style range and rustic chandelier add warmth and character.
After photos: Nathanael Bennett Photography

The pressure was on for Danville, Calif., design/build remodeler George Gayler. When he stepped into John and Stephanie Fox's house, "John's first words were, 'I saw my neighbor's remodeled kitchen and I was totally under-whelmed,'" recalls Gayler. And Stephanie, a real-estate agent, had been inside scores of houses in the area and was determined to make her remodeled kitchen and family area different from the norm. No granite counters, no slick, contemporary style for her. "I knew I had to hit a home run," Gayler says.

The dated, galley kitchen in the Foxes' 1978 house was walled off from the adjacent family room, isolating the cook. The family room itself was dark and drab. And it was sandwiched between the kitchen and garage, requiring the Foxes to lug incoming groceries and outgoing garbage a long way.

Two or three remodelers had come by, tossing out a few uninspired ideas and sketchy estimates for improving the kitchen and family area. Gayler was in a different ballpark. In his initial meeting with the Foxes, he showed creative spark, proposing to remove the wall between the rooms and flip the whole 583-square-foot floor plan, putting the kitchen next to the garage and designing an inviting kitchen-great room. He gave them a rough estimate of $250,000 to $280,000, which included a bump-out that the Foxes requested. But Gayler's open floor plan promised to yield livability, light, space and views without the bump-out, and at a cost much closer to their $185,000 budget.

Client Insight

To work up a full-fledged design, Gayler and design coordinator Meredith English interviewed the Foxes in detail about their wants, needs and at-home lifestyle. The quality of the Foxes' furnishings also guided them in developing a comprehensive estimate with realistic price points for products and finishes.

"Stephanie had a discerning, sophisticated taste," says English. "She wanted the kitchen to look European and eclectic. And most important to her was that it be original in the design and the interior finishes." Gayler and English specified cabinets and shelves in assorted heights and depths for a warm, country effect. To blend with the country look, they boxed out the range hood and hid it behind furniture-look molding.

The cabinets are a subtle yellow inspired by an antique table in the family room. Earlier the Foxes had installed hand-hewn maple flooring in other rooms; Gayler continued the flooring into the kitchen and great room. The Foxes chose a large, European-style range as a kitchen centerpiece; an apron sink completes the European country theme.

John, who does most of the cooking, wanted to be able to socialize with guests, see the outdoors and have a view of the family room fireplace while making dinner. Gayler accomplished that and more. He removed the kitchen wall, replaced a small kitchen window with patio doors, and installed an angled island with stool seating to give John expansive outdoor views plus an easy connection to guests. John can enjoy the former family room fireplace, which became the focus of a seating area in the corner of the kitchen. As a bonus, Gayler repositioned and angled the wall between kitchen and entry, giving John a view of the living room fireplace, too.


Above: A wall between the old kitchen and family room isolated the bland room and confined it to tight quarters. Little light reached the family room. 
Below: Oriented toward the family room, the angled island links the kitchen with the entertainment space; hand-hewn wood floors unite the two areas. Varied cabinets and shelves in the kitchen and bar achieve a European country ambiance.

Ceiling Surprises

During the design phase, Gayler presented the option of creating a cathedral ceiling. The Foxes declined because of cost. But, as production began they changed their minds. Gayler encouraged them to think about the $13,000 change order overnight. "Once my clients establish a budget, I try to show them how to keep it there," he explains.

"I really appreciated that," says Stephanie. The Foxes decided the vaulted ceiling would be worth the extra dollars.

Production manager Paul Panepinto planned to support the existing trusses, then remove all but the top cord, install a new engineered ridge beam across the 13-foot-high peak and sister new rafters onto the old truss top cords. Gayler had accounted for all that in the price. He was surprised, however, when the structural engineer said a new pier needed to be added inside the house. A drilling sub-contractor excavated a 10-foot-deep, 12-inch diameter pier under the new supporting interior wall. Gayler's crew added steel reinforcing, filled the pier with concrete, and closed the floor back up.

Though Gayler intended to enclose the beam in drywall, the Foxes liked the look of the exposed beam. Stephanie wanted it finished to match the wood floor. Like Michelangelo, Panepinto's crew labored at ceiling height, balancing on scaffolding to sand the beam and paint it to echo the distressed wood below. "It was work," says Panepinto.

Photogenic Finish

Early in the planning process, Stephanie chose the cabinet paint color. When she went to a showroom and saw the softening effect of glazing, she decided to add glazing to the mix. John thought the cabinets would look terrible. Gayler repeatedly reassured him. The day the cabinets arrived was a nail-biter. To everyone's relief, John agreed they were perfect.

On the other hand, Gayler was leery of using the white Carrara marble counters Stephanie wanted. "George, my friends, even the counter supplier, told me not to put in the Carrara marble," says Stephanie, because the soft marble stains easily. She chose it anyway. But she seals it often, uses marble scraps as hot plates, and figures a few stains will add to the patina.

For the great room bar, Stephanie bought an antique sideboard, which Panepinto retrofitted as a base cabinet with wine cooler. The upper cabinets harmonize with the kitchen units. The combo looks unique and cost less than a full suite of new cabinets in the bar.

Gayler helped the Foxes save thousands more. First, by extending the brick above the family room fireplace, which helped it fit into its new kitchen setting; the Foxes had thought of moving the fireplace. Second, by recommending a more economical cabinet door style than the inset style they'd considered. They also recessed their standard refrigerator in a cabinet opening, where it resembles a luxury built-in.

The project itself rolled in essentially on budget — change orders and allowance overage account for the higher final cost — and before Thanksgiving, as promised. "They love" the new space, Stephanie says. As a real-estate professional, she adds, "I won't refer anybody I wouldn't use in my own house." She's enthusiastically spreading the word about Gayler. And it's a home run for Gayler Construction.


Project manager Paul Panepinto retrofitted an antique sideboard to form the base of the family room bar.

Products List

Apron sink: Rohl Cabinets: Precision Cabinets and Trim Dishwasher: Miele Hood liner: VAH Microwave drawer: Sharp Oven: La Cornue Refrigerator and warming drawer: Jennair Skylights: Velux Windows: Milgard Wine grotto: Marvel

The Financials

With 22.5 percent draws at production milestones, remodeler George Gayler's cash flow on the Fox project was healthy once work got underway. Change order payments were due when the orders were signed.

The Fox project ran like clockwork. "There were no dead days, no letting things fall behind," says project manager Paul Panepinto. That's largely because the company commands the attention of trade contractors. "Most trades are dying for cash flow," explains George Gayler. "They want 70–80 percent when rough is completed, and 20 percent at finish." Gayler's trades get the cash immediately. Once a contractor's work is done, the Gayler project manager signs off on it and calls the office. "The contractor can pick up a check on the way home," Gayler says.

Gross profit on the Fox project came in a hair below the 33 percent budgeted. Gayler says most jobs, including this one, are covered for up to 2 percent slippage. And he blames himself for the slippage. It tends to be "an estimating error on my part, usually underestimating labor," he says. Or, as with the Fox project, it's caused by "giving things away. We had to put the pier in [for the raised ceiling], which I had not expected, so we did it at no charge. And we put in power beams — at a cost to us of $1,000 — to repair a sagging roof.

"Chalk it up to good will," says Gayler. Besides, such giveaways "make my job look nice. I put it in marketing."

Company Snapshot

Gayler Construction 
Owners: George and Darlene Gayler
Location: Danville, Calif.
2007 volume: $3.45 million
Projected 2008 volume: $3 million
Web site: 
Biggest challenge: Raising the ceiling over the finished space

Project Timeline

2006 Stage of Project
May 1 Initial meeting; design agreement signed
June 6 Contract signed; 5% payment
Aug. 14 Demo begins, cabinets ordered; 22.5% payment
Aug. 17 Change order payment
Sept. 17 Change order payment
Sept. 22 Repair roof leak; Change order payment
Sept. 26 Rough electrical and plumbing completed; HVAC installed; 22.5% payment
Sept. 30 Change order payment
Oct. 6 Insulation and drywall installed; 22.5% payment
Oct. 19 Cabinets installed; 22.5% payment
Oct. 29 Change order payment
Nov. 10 Change order payment
Nov. 22 Substantial completion; 5% payment

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