About Me

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I have 20+ years experience in Home Furnishings and Interior Design, specializing in Kitchen and Bath Design since '01. I work for Bilotta Kitchens in the A&D Building on East 58th Street in the Mid-town Manhattan. I have a passion for learning and love the opportunity to collaberate on projects of all sizes. My strengths in the field begin with my design background, use of color and texture to bring interest to a room, spatial relationships, organizational skills, innovation, decisiveness, and planning. I have had the thrilling experience of helping hundreds...?maybe thousands of people with their projects, and what I love is it never gets boring, and no two are ever the same. Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Diary of a Bathroom Remodel "Go ahead and rip out both bathrooms, I'll shower at the Gym"

You know that famous interview question "what is your greatest distinctive attribute?" we have all heard it! As a kitchen designer, I had a great answer for that one--my age. Young enough to be seen as "hip" "in touch" "with it" and old enough to know better, not a rookie.

At The Kitchendeziner, we don't start a remodeling project until everything we need for it is inventoried in our warehouse. All stamped with Mr. or Mrs Happy Kitchen-Customer's name on it. Before we start the project we lay out a timeline with the clients that works for both parties. When I have more than just a kitchen remodel (kitchen+ 1 or more bathrooms), before we turn a screw in any room, we establish a sequence. My goal: balancing continuous job progress against access to facilities i.e.: shower, water closet etc. I never want a client running in the house after being stuck in rush hour traffic for 45 minutes and scrambling up the stairs to use a bathroom that doesn't exist anymore!

Last October, I started a kitchen and bath renovation I was really excited about. The job was a kitchen and two bathrooms in a two and half bath townhouse. That left Ms. Happy Kitchen-Customer with a half bathroom all to herself for the duration and my commitment that she would always have a shower. I thought about my options, knowing I had an excited and anxious homeowner on my hands. She had the desire to choose beautiful things and followed her heart. This was obviously a fun pleasureable undertaking, and I wanted to do everything to keep it that way. Keep in mind even kitchen remodleing customers who take six months to decide to move forward on a project have one question after they sign the paperwork, and that is: "How quickly can this all be done?"

The Plan for the Townhouse:

  • rip out the kitchen
  • rip out the hall bathroom
  • leave the master bathroom intact
  • get kitchen and hall bath past rough inspections and tile/install fixtures in hall bathroom
  • hall bathroom working/rip out master bathroom(trade one shower for another)

We were projecting a job completion date 10 weeks after initial demolition, on all phases. Everything was running ahead of schedule, I found I had Ms. Extra Happy Kitchen-Customer on my hands now.

With the holidays approaching, and work sending her out of town for a week, my client, who I am very fond of to this day, came and asked me to make a change. She said "Aston, while I am away will you rip out my master bathroom? I know, the schedule doesn't call for it, but I can 'shower at the gym'(words I won't forget) until the bathrooms are ready." I was reluctant, I warned against, and then I made like a neanderthal and caved.

I should have had my head examined! As a seasoned kitchen and bath designer, I know better than to take away all the bathrooms at once! but, I did it, fingers crossed.

And wouldn't you know, that the the very next thing that happened? Ms. Happy Kitchen-Customer's neighbor had a leak that flooded her unit, old buried un-neighborly disputes rose up again, the neighbor declined to allow the proper firestopping remediation that was now necessary, and my cherished client, came down with pneumonia. You can't make this up. I was in a tailspin.

Well, I have to say that without my plumber's tactful intervention (I didn't realize he was a part time "therapist"), the township inspector bending over backwards to schedule the inspections in a tight timeframe, and some Divine intervention, undoubtedly my client would have been bathing in her kitchen sink...which thankfully was as scheduled, back in action, her hall bath only two days from completion, on time, not too bad.

The key to keeping the situation under control was remember you don't get what you don't ask for, and you need to ask nice, people will go out of their way to help, if you are polite. Equally paramount: communication, with the town, the trades, and most importantly the homeowner. Don't let a day go without checking in, you may not always have answers, but a client in this situation is reliant on you, trip up and it can be a disaster, once you lose their trust it can very hard to recover. Let them know you have been to their house, you aren't just taking other people's word for it. Copy your homeowner on imporatant emails, don't make their project their part time job, just keep them in the loop.

And put your experience in your mental file for the future, the next time that the happiest customer you have ever met asks you to tread this close to the line remember from this little anecdote, no one with pneumonia wants "to shower at the gym".

Friday, February 6, 2009

Confession of a designer: I was a REFACE SNOB...

For most artists, nothing could be more fun than a blank canvas, or the equivalent...but let's be honest, as designers every kitchen we do isn't an expression of our art...that would make us lousy designers, and I tell my clients just that! "My job is to bring out the artist in you and skillfully make it all work", I constantly seek out and nudge and nurture any hint of preference I can find in my homeowners.

I don't love every style, I have passion for color and texture and love the opportunity of limitless choices, I appreciate all styles, and I am open to experimenting...and that, I thought, was about as open as I could be as I designer. The only thing I truly hated in our business was "kitchen refacing". Anyone who I met who was considering it, I am sure was met by my nose flipping upside down, and a twisted curl on the side of my mouth...seemed more like a scheme than a home improvement. I was suspicious.

As a kitchen designer, the very thought of Kitchen Refacing was like having my hands tied. I thought: 5 doors to choose from, 5 colors, nothing else changes.

Well, talk about needing an attitude adjustment! I was long overdue, and little did I know when I signed on at Empire Kitchens and Baths, http://www.empirecontractor.com/, I had met my match. I came to find out there was very little I could do in a new kitchen remodel that I couldn't do within a "kitchen refacing" project.

My preconceived notion of the process was:
  • remove old doors and drawers fronts
  • sand cabinet surfaces,
  • smear with glue,
  • slap up plain laminate
  • install new doors and drawer fronts
  • leave customer with same old floor, counter top, layout and basic look

In my mind, the frustrations of the existing layout never got addressed, everything just got "spruced up" like painting your front door, but way more expensive.

When I got to Empire Kitchens and Baths, located in Union, New Jersey, I learned that Kitchen Refacing wasn't a marketing hook, our refaced kitchens got completely overhauled, with huge benefits to the consumer. One main criteria was that their cabinet boxes had to be in good shape...beyond that there were few rules to obey. We moved plumbing if necessary, moved stoves, turned those 24" wide gas tall oven cabinets of the 1950's and 60's into
roll-out pantry cabinets, added custom islands, removed soffits and added crown molding, we even turned 30" high uppers into 42" high uppers. This was refacing like I had never heard tale of. The colors and finishes available competed equally with the new cabinet manufacturers, and we could be completely done, start to finish in THREE WEEKS.

How the process really is with the right designer:
  • Remove all old doors and drawer front and drawer boxes
  • sand all exposed areas as per plans
  • finish interiors of any cabinets with glass doors
  • make plumbing & electrical upgrades as per plans
  • add custom boxes and make necessary modifications to existing boxes
  • your refrigerator gets concealed behind custom panels and a new deep cabinet installed above it
  • new flooring is installed
  • high Pressure Laminate or wood paneling is applied to all expose surfaces as per plan
  • new Doors are installed with concealed European hinges
  • new solid wood dovetailed drawers with full extension soft close drawer glides are installed
  • new drawer faces are installed
  • new counter top surface of customers choosing is installed
  • new roll out trays, base wastebaskets, vegetable bins, liter bottle pullouts, spice racks, cutlery dividers, every convenience you can imagine is available and installed per plans
  • new crown molding and light rail
  • under cabinet lighting is installed
  • and a full custom back splash is added, tile, Corian, granite, customer's choice

This appealed to many customers, and the reasons varied. Some folks couldn't imagine being under construction for 6 weeks, some really liked their kitchen layout and just wanted an update and more conveniences, some wanted to leave more of their budget for high end appliances, others saw the value in their existing kitchen.

They may not have known they were being "GREEN" but imagine the benefits of re-using your existing boxes! Not just on your personal economy, but on the environment. The savings on energy by not re-manufacturing what already exists, not re-boxing it, not re-shipping it. Use what you have, the ultimate savings. And now add to that, you are saving the ugly question of where to get rid of your old cabinets!

Traditionally, when I rip out a kitchen, the arrival of a 30yd dumpster heralds the news to the neighbors. And while remodeling kitchens is my passion I know how this huge garbage bin makes my eco-friendly colleagues cringe. When I reface a kitchen, my installers bring what little remains back to the shop in the back of standard work van.

Compare the toll on the landfill, there is no question, refacing your kitchen is an act of ultimate conservation, and the results can be no less dramatic. The colors and hand applied finishes, the array of door styles, the ability to create your custom specifications equal to any other cabinet resource.

Ask yourself, what else can I learn about kitchen refacing, is it for me? Is it for some of my clients? I know it is for some of mine.

If you are interested inlearning more please feel free to email me and visit our website at The Kitchendeziner.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Big Impact Small Space-Kitchen Remodeling

Welcome to February 2009, friends know me as a person who loves to cook, and when I cook, I make enough to feed a small hungry army. I believe a great kitchen doesn't need to be huge to accomplish this task, just well organized. And when done, everything should have a home, I know i am not alone in my cooking style or my philosophy!
With the recent slump in the economic market, I see less clients on a daily basis who are willing to "blow out" the back of their home to add the "Super-Kitchen/Great Room". Many more are looking to grow from within. To me, that means, while they may be willing to remove a wall to promote the open feeling they seek, they are really looking to me for Zen-like efficiency and space planning. At the store I call "home" we recently completed just this very task. In a very nice neighborhood in Hillsborough, NJ, I designed a kitchen in a home like many others on the street. All well kept homes just of an age where the builders kitchen needed to go! Surrounded by neighbors, who also wanted islands or peninsulas, but had been turned down by designers and settled for less. Our clients hadn't given up on their dream!
The fly in the ointment: soffits that can't be removed. The answer: add more soffits where you need them so the design makes sense!(TBC in another post)

The key to the design, interestingly enough, was using a tall oven cabinet. By converting the surface cooking to a cook top, we were able to offer alternate corner storage solutions and pull the cooking away from the back door! The homeowners got the gourmet feeling they were looking for in many respects, glass transom cabinets, a fabulous dining peninsula, deep under mounted corner sink, and enhanced back splash with a tile mosaic; we even ordered additional sheets of glass tile to add more of the cranberry tones we wanted.
With this simple kitchen remodeling we went from a kitchen you would feel forced to cook in, to a kitchen you would love to cook in without building on to the space, just using what they already had better!