Bringing Your Renovation To Life

June 2015
by Rachel White

Designing a renovation is a collaborative process at Byggmeister. Between the time we first visit a house and sign a construction contract, several members of our planning group will have had a hand in developing the project. For more than a decade Karin Mahdavi has been a key member of this team. An interior designer who hired us to do a kitchen renovation and sunroom addition many years ago, Karin impressed us with her thoughtful and practical approach to product and finish selection—so much so that we asked her to join our team once we completed her project.

Up until that point we had, like many contractors, left product and finish choices entirely up to our clients. Sometimes this worked out. But sometimes it didn’t. And when it didn’t it was extremely aggravating for everyone. Problems ranged from schedule delays to cost overruns to products that didn’t meet our quality standards. Not to mention the stress.

Fortunately Karin showed us another, better way. At least that’s what we have heard from many past clients, including Hilary Elkins and Alice Abrams, who recently completed kitchen renovations. For this article, I spoke with Hilary and Alice to find out what it was like to work with Karin, as well as how their collaboration affected their satisfaction with the finished space. I also spoke with Karin to try to better understand her position within the company.

Rachel: Back when I joined the company Paul told me about you, and I recall it was challenging for someone without a design background to understand what you do for the company and for clients. I am sure there are many homeowners who would also like to understand what it's like to work with you.  Can you explain your role in the design process?

Karin: Sure. What I bring to the process is color and life, and coordination of all the material choices that need to go into the project beyond the construction drawings.  These include lighting, plumbing, tile, and counter materials to name a few. There are so many decisions that need to be made about what goes into the finished space and I help clients make choices that meet their needs, style preferences and budget. It’s so easy for people to get overwhelmed and end up with things they don’t love or don’t hold up over the long-term.

Rachel: Hilary and Alice, how would you describe your experience? How much did you know going into the process, and how much did you rely on Karin?

Hilary: I relied completely on Karin and wouldn’t have known where to start without her. I knew what I didn’t like, but I couldn’t articulate what I did like. Karin was great at asking me questions to draw out my style preferences.

Alice: I had initial impressions and vague ideas but then there was a lot of back and forth. I felt that Karin understood my taste and was able to present options that reflected my preferences.

Karin: Some designers want to put their stamp on a client’s home. They have a certain style that comes through on every project. My philosophy is more about making sure that the client feels that the finished space really reflects them.

Rachel: So, how do you figure out someone’s taste?

Karin: It’s a matter of asking questions and being attentive to what people say. Early on, Hilary mentioned that she might like open shelves in her kitchen. That’s a small detail but it told me a lot about her. And Alice is an accomplished ceramicist. She understands color and appreciates materials. So when we visited showrooms I paid close attention to her responses. I like to zero in on details that clients express.

Alice: Karin also knows what works and what doesn’t, what’s quality and what’s just looks. She really taught me how to assess products and how to understand the ramifications of different choices.

Karin: Part of my role is to filter information and guide the client so that making decisions isn’t burdensome. I try to provide enough choices so that someone’s style can shine through, but not so many that the process is overwhelming.

Rachel: I’m hearing that Karin streamlines the selection process and makes it less stressful. But I’m wondering, Hilary and Alice, whether you think you would have eventually ended up in the same place if you’d been making decisions on your own.

Hilary: I don’t think so. Karin gave me the confidence to add distinctive touches I might otherwise have been afraid to add. If I had been doing it myself I probably would’ve been too scared to do open shelves. Also, Karin suggested nice details like finish options for the cabinet hardware. If she hadn’t assured me that a darker finish would look great, I probably would’ve played it safe and gone with chrome. Ironically, I think my kitchen looks like me because I worked with Karin.

Alice: When I was swept away by looks, Karin provided a reality check. She’s very focused on practicality and quality: how something works, the maintenance it will need. And she knows what’s happening in the market. When we were working on countertops we discovered an entirely new porcelain product. I absolutely loved it and ultimately that’s what we went with. But I relied completely on Karin to vet the material and make sure it met my expectations.

Rachel: So it must be important, Karin, to get feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

Karin: That’s something that I’ve built over time as I’ve gone back to clients and learned what has held up well and what has needed repairs. I go back to installers too, because they’re the ones who are called in to fix things.

Rachel: So I have to ask about cost. It’s not uncommon for people to think that they can save money by selecting their own products.

Hilary: I’m convinced that working with Karin actually kept costs in check. We had a budget and she worked within that budget.

Karin: We develop a list at the very beginning of a project that shows allowances, or budgets for each product. This brings discipline and accountability to the process.

Hilary: Karin was also an integral part of keeping the job on schedule. She ordered the products and worked with the crew to make sure that they would be on-site when they were ready to be installed. The crew really values her involvement too.

Alice: The whole process was very efficient. Beginning from our showroom visits, where Karin knew the staff and could really move things along. But it was also fun. There’s a lot of serendipity involved and we got to discover things together.

Rachel: Any final thoughts?

Alice: Karin is as significant to the Byggmeister team as the architect and the carpenters. It makes a huge difference whether you end up with products that work for you or not. People tend to overlook just how important these things are, the things you touch and use every day.

Hilary: When I think back to what it was like to live in our old kitchen, I just shudder. It was so dark and small and awkward. I love our new kitchen and can honestly say that I have no regrets.