Outdoor Transformation

One improvement sparked ideas for another. Once HartmanBaldwin, a design-build company in Claremont, Calif., had gutted and remodeled the kitchen and master suite, the family room cried for a makeover. Next came the bathrooms. After two years, project architect Hudson Pruitt and project manager Troy Coats had transformed the entire interior of the Upland, Calif.

July 31, 2006

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The Financials
Snapshot
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One access door and a ho-hum patio isolated behind the kitchen made the backyard uninviting and underused. HartmanBaldwin solved both problems, adding glass doors across the back of the house, transforming the patio to an outdoor kitchen and building an adjacent sitting area that extends the living room.
After photography: Daniel Esgro/Getty Images

One improvement sparked ideas for another. Once HartmanBaldwin, a design-build company in Claremont, Calif., had gutted and remodeled the kitchen and master suite, the family room cried for a makeover. Next came the bathrooms. After two years, project architect Hudson Pruitt and project manager Troy Coats had transformed the entire interior of the Upland, Calif., house. They thought they were done. But the wave of improvement washed out to the backyard, producing an outdoor living area that the Macdonalds now use more than they ever expected.

Jan Macdonald chose HartmanBaldwin long before she planned to remodel. On a house tour in Claremont she visited one house that had been remodeled by HartmanBaldwin. "Detail, detail, detail," every detail had been addressed, she recalls. "This is who I will use" when the time comes, she thought.

In this before photo, the existing patio was little more than a patch of pavement. (In this photo, the old trellis has already been removed.) Pool and HVAC equipment made an unsightly cluster against the wall of the house.

Four years later she asked HartmanBaldwin and two local contractors for estimates on the kitchen and master suite remodel. HartmanBaldwin was her favorite hands down. The company was "very pricey," she says, "about 40 percent higher than the other contractors. But the other bids were far less detailed, and they didn't include an architect." HartmanBaldwin's design/build price was all-inclusive. Macdonald valued the fact that the design/build system would involve no communication problems between architect and builder. "I got a lot for my money with HartmanBaldwin — all [the services] in one package," she says.

She also loved being able to revise her remodeling project after production started. "The great thing about remodeling," she says, "is that you can change things you don't like" and add features along the way. While HartmanBaldwin presents design options before construction begins to keep changes to a minimum, clients often have new ideas as the project takes shape.

"She had new ideas every week," says Pruitt. "She wanted it to be great." Baldwin adds, "She's aesthetically driven, and the project shows it." But with all the changes, "we had to be on our game."

Positioning the cooking island 60 inches from the back wall of the house enlarges the outdoor kitchen and dining area and integrates it more elegantly with the outdoor living room. To light the island, project manager, Troy Coats bored holes through the slate countertop and embedded rods for three fixtures.

Tweaks and changes

The Macdonalds and their young son moved out for the interior remodel. Once back in the house, Jan recalls, "I looked out on the backyard and it looked dated. I said, 'Oh, gosh, we need to keep going.'" The main problem was the patio. A trellised terracotta-paved rectangle with metal chairs and a corner barbecue, it was barebones, uninviting and hidden behind the kitchen. Pruitt designed a more elegant patio with no trellis. It included a smooth, hand-troweled wall and matching stuccoed barbecue area, a stamped concrete floor ringed by tumbled pavers and archways to match the new arches between rooms in the Mediterranean-style house. The estimate for this work: $171,634.

The proposed improvement gave Macdonald another idea: a more formal outdoor seating area. "I wanted more of an outdoor living space," she says. At first she intended to connect this area to the gym. But building in that location would have meant losing a large tree and enduring delays because another building, more engineering and permits would have been required.

That's when Macdonald had an even better idea: "an extension of my living room, with nice furniture," direct access from the living room and a closer connection to the pool. Pruitt went back to the drawing board to design a two-part space composed of an outdoor kitchen and adjacent outdoor living room. An appliance island, featuring a barbecue grill, double burners, wok, warming drawer and small refrigerator for sodas defines the open-air kitchen space. The island counter is topped with slate that matches the counters inside the kitchen for continuity of color and theme. Slate flooring paves the outdoor room, complementing the counters. Stamped concrete surrounds both the outdoor rooms and the pool, linking them visually.

Sheltered by a roof overhang and warmed by a gas fireplace molded to fit between windows, the outdoor living room is an all-weather space. Walls with wide, arched openings, designed to match the exterior and interior doorways of the remodeled house, define the space while opening it to the outdoor kitchen, pool area and backyard views.

HartmanBaldwin framed arched openings and resurfaced the house's exterior walls with smooth stucco, rolling it in around the newly installed living room windows for a clean line. Subcontractors extended the built-in audio system to the outdoors. They moved the HVAC and pool equipment away from the house, hiding it behind a wall faux-painted with leaves. They landscaped the large yard and gave the pool an eye-catching facelift, sandblasting the old plaster, replastering, and acid-washing the new plaster two times to achieve just the right gray tone. Coats accompanied Macdonald in her search for many products, including the stylish glass tile she chose for the pool's edge.

"All of a sudden [the outdoor room] had so much potential," says Macdonald. It could be used for reading, for entertaining guests or for relaxing outside while keeping an eye on kids in the pool. What it lacked was a gas fireplace against the wall of the house to keep the room comfortable even on chilly evenings. Putting it in was "quite the challenge," says Coats, because the window installation was already complete. "We shaped the flue between the new windows," bending the metal and rounding the fireplace top to fit between the windows.

Scheduling strategies

Weekly meetings held with Macdonald at the house, paired with company-wide job status meetings held weekly at HartmanBaldwin, kept the many changes from throwing production off track. Sometimes just Coats and Macdonald met at the house. Often both Baldwin and Pruitt came to help Macdonald evaluate potential changes based on their impact on cost and schedule.

"I had a thousand questions," says Macdonald. To address them, review issues from previous meetings, go over decisions needed and assure that everyone was on the same page, HartmanBaldwin initiated meeting notes in triplicate. At the end of each meeting Macdonald and Coats got copies and the third went into the project file. "It's a way of managing expectations and gives a lot of comfort to the client," Baldwin says. "We now use it on all jobs."

All HartmanBaldwin project managers and architects join the company's construction manager and design manager at weekly job status meetings. "We talk about current jobs as well as jobs in planning," says Pruitt. Job schedules can be adjusted to accommodate any changes, late deliveries or other delays. That meant that, even with the flow of changes, scheduling of labor on the Macdonald job was never more than a week out of date. If necessary, subs can be shifted to other HartmanBaldwin jobs. On the Macdonald project, "both in-house and sub labor could be moved within the project without jeopardizing the schedule," says Coats.

Every bill mailed to Macdonald contained a questionnaire requesting 1 to 5 ratings on job performance. "If you give a rating less than 4, you are called by HartmanBaldwin to discuss and resolve the problem," says Macdonald. She never gave a low rating. "The service was impeccable and the work quality is unbelievable," she says. And the frequent requests for feedback showed her that the company aimed to please.

Please they did. After a year of inspired fine-tuning, the outdoor makeover was finished. The Macdonalds cook, eat, entertain, relax and basically live outdoors. Jan loves reading with her son by the fireplace each night.

Even the folks at HartmanBaldwin were impressed. Macdonald's many changes were certainly a challenge, but her changes got it right. "The place is just this side of perfection," says Coats.


Budget History

Initial estimate $171,634
Add ons: 38,634
Relocate and screen pool equipment 14,228
Move HVAC equipment 1,795
New plantings 9,561
Slate flooring 3,227
New electrical 2,422
New irrigation 599
Faux painting block wall 3,705
Miscellaneous 3,097
Final price of job: $210,268
Cost to produce $163,378
Gross profit $46,890
Budgeted gross profit 25.9%
Actual gross profit 22.3%


 

The Financials

HartmanBaldwin stands behind its estimates, guaranteeing them to be within 15 percent of the final cost of the project as described in the written scope of work, says architect Hudson Pruitt. But all bets were off on the Macdonald outdoor remodel when plans changed and the project mushroomed beyond its original scope.

But, the company does expect design/build projects to grow; "usually people add stuff when they see the job coming together," Pruitt says. Those additions generally make the project — and HartmanBaldwin as design/builder — look all the better. Besides, the crew typically is on site anyway, so labor costs rise little due to add-ons.

For all these reasons the company does not strongly discourage changes. In fact "we run those improvements at a lower markup," Pruitt says. Despite $38,634 in lower-markup add-ons, gross profit on the Macdonald outdoor remodel was only 3.6 percent below what was budgeted before all the changes. "We're not alarmed," says Pruitt.

Until a couple of years ago, every new client met with one of the HartmanBaldwin principals, Bill Baldwin or Devon Hartman, before being handed off to project designers and project managers. Now clients are connected right away to a design/build team. "As opposed to the limitations of [filtering every job through] a couple of key people," Baldwin explains, "we now have many companies within a company." That change, from a vertical, top-down alignment to a horizontal, team-based system, increased efficiency, multiplied the amount of work HartmanBaldwin can manage and quickly propelled annual volume from $6.8 million in 2004 to a projected $10 million this year.

For now, the company plans to stay at the $10 million level. "We redesigned the car," Baldwin says. "We want to run the car around the track for awhile" before revving up.

Snapshot

Remodelers: Devon Hartman and Bill Baldwin, HartmanBaldwin design/build
Location: Claremont, Calif.
Type of company: design/build, remodeling and construction
Staff model: 17 office, 27 field
Years in business: 27

Sales history:

2002 $4.3 million
2003 $5.4 million
2004 $6.8 million
2005 $9.8 million
2006 (projected) $10 million


Annual jobs: 45–50
Workweek: 40 hours
Software: AudtoCAD, MasterBuilder, Sage ACT! 2006, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, QuarkXPress
Contact: 909-621-6296, info@hartmanbaldwin.com


Products List

Barbecue, refrigerator, warming drawer, wok: Viking. Barbecue lights: TEKA. Counter tops and flooring: Blue Montauk slate. Fireplace: Mission. Faucet: Newport Brass. Pool deck: Stamped concrete. Pool tile: Walker Zanger. Sconce lights: Arroyo Craftsman. Sink: Link-a-sink. Sound system: Tanyo

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