News and Tips September 2006

Welcome to the first issue of The Remodel Guidance "Construction Chronicles," a bi-monthy newsletter which features and celebrates successful projects, gives tips to navigating the construction process, and keeps readers updated on the latest news and events. Rest assured that your email address will not be sold or traded, nor used for spam purposes. If you wish to discontinue receipt of this newsletter, simply send an email to


Project Report: A Vintage Cottage Gets a Major Facelift with Modest Effort

Delurgio Residence, Fairfax, CA: Kitchen, Living Room and Bedroom Remodel

This 780 SQ FT vintage Fairfax cottage was in need of repairs and, believe it or not, configured as a duplex when the Marc and Susan Delurgio acquired it. On the plus side, it had "good bones" and great period details. The Delurgios eschewed a general contractor in favor of acting as owner-builders and pitching in on demolition, trim carpentry and painting, with Remodel Guidance providing architectural design, worker referral and construction management/supervision services.

The Delurgio's goal was to convert the house back to a single family home, but they were unsure where to start. We developed a plan that maximized the impact while minimizing the scope. As the back right corner of the house was the most private and directly adjoined by a bathroom, we made that the "Master Suite." By shifting one wall and opening another, we were able to create a great kitchen, open to the main living area, which added a lot of light into what had been a dark, cramped space. In keeping with the vintage style the owners favor, we sourced salvaged 1920s kitchen cabinets and a couple custom-built pieces to fill in the gaps. We sourced reclaimed fir flooring (which matched the rest of the house) to replace rotted sections and took the opportunity that afforded to redo and reroute the plumbing and electrical for the new kitchen. Tearing apart your first home before you move in and installing a kitchen is no small feat of courage, but the Delurgios were troopers. They loved the result, decorated in "Beach House" style, and the home appeared in Sunset Magazine's September 2006 issue - "Decorating: Coastal Cottage Style."

Work in Progress Photos

Part way through construction, the kitchen and living room opening

Sheet rocking the bedroom wall

"After" Photos from the Sunset Shoot

New Living Room with a view to kitchen

New Kitchen

Restored vintage hutch in kitchen

Bedroom, with a view to the kitchen

Tips: Working Wisely with the Seasons of Construction

Anyone who's been involved in a construction project knows that securing the services of a good contractor is crucial, but can be difficult. As with many in-demand services, understanding business cycles and "moving against the herd" can get you quality service AND save you money - here's how:

Construction is a seasonal industry. In our world, "prime time" is from April to October when the rains let up. During this time, already busy contractors see a deluge of interested clients as people scramble to get projects started and/or completed before Winter. Once the rains begin, many homeowners focus elsewhere.

Construction is also an overhead-heavy business. To attract and maintain a crew of skilled workers, contractors must maintain a steady stream of jobs. Diligent contractors strive to be booked for months in advance and to maintain that backlog. In prime building season, finding work is generally easy, and those contractors who are still available by then tend to be undesirable, expensive, or both. The key to getting a good contractor at a good price is to secure a contract for services well in advance. The best time to do this is during the slow season - Winter.

In the off season, contractors tend to be less harried, with time and enthusiasm for securing work for the next busy season. These professionals are often painfully aware of the uncertainties of the permit process and thus are loathe to bid or consider projects yet to be approved. A prospective client holding approved plans by early in the year is in prime position to get bids and negotiate.

Building Departments, likewise, experience heavy volume in the prime building season, which generates a backlog and lengthens approval time. This seasonal effect can add months to the time from submission to approval. The rush at Building Departments generally leads the prime building season by a month or two. So, do the math:

The development of a design and creation of construction documents generally takes one to two months and approval time for said plans can range from "over the counter" to six months or more, depending on the project's scope and planning implications. In other words: "The kids are back in school, get cracking on next Spring's project!!!" If you think we can be of assistance or would like to schedule an onsite consultation to get things rolling, please feel free to contact us at (415) 258-4501 or email

About Remodel Guidance

Remodel Guidance is a residential design and consulting firm based in Marin County, California. We specialize in "Remodeling and Construction Strategy" - helping industry professionals and homeowners develop plans that get approved and completed quickly and inexpensively. We're restoration and rehabilitation enthusiasts with expertise in modernizing older homes while preserving and enhancing their character. Our services run the gamut from permit expediting to complete plan packages and construction supervision services.

Meet the Designer

Graham Irwin has been working in the construction industry as a carpenter, general contractor and building designer since 1991. He relocated to the Bay area in 2001 and has built a busy design and consulting practice while restoring his own home, a 1922 California Bungalow. Dedicated to making the construction process accessible to the public, Graham teaches popular Community Extension classes on building permits and remodeling. He is an NCBDC Certified Professional Building Designer, a Professional Member of the American Institute of Building Design® and a Licensed General Contractor. A committed environmentalist, Graham is a member of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility and Build It Green. He has a degree in Physics and Business Management from Claremont McKenna College, which included two years of Engineering studies.

News & Upcoming Events

Possible Help for Flood-Prone Properties

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made available funds for elevating homes and structures in Special Flood Hazard Areas. In Marin County, this will be administered through the Marin County Home Elevation Grant Program. Though competition for the available funding is fierce, successful applicants could recieve up to 75% of the costs of such a project.

Eligibility criteria are as follows:

  • The property owner has expressed an interest in exploring elevation as a solution to future flood damage.
  • The elevation project must be cost effective - future flood damage reduction as a result of the elevation must exceed the costs of elevation.
  • The property owner must agree to pay 25% of the cost of the elevation at the time of construction. No commitment needs to be made right away.
Interested applicants must submit an "Elevation/Acquisition/Relocation Worksheet & Supplemental Worksheet" to the County by no later than September 27, 2006. Interested parties should contact Vivien Maisonneuve, Marin County Department of Public Works, at 415-499-3748.

Upcoming Classes

In addition to private consulting, we offer public workshops. Here are the most immediate, stay tuned for additional future offerings in Marin and Sonoma Counties, Berkeley and beyond.
  • Venue: The Building Education Center, Berkeley

    If you buy materials and hire subcontractors, you're owner contracting. Being organized is essential to getting the work done on time and on budget. A successful project manager, custom home builder and/or contractor uses a typical project to show you how to efficiently manage all the pieces and people in your project.
    Time and Date: Saturday, Sept. 23, 9AM - 4PM
    Place: The Building Education Center, 812 Page Street, Berkeley
    Fee: Fee: $75


    1. Call The Building Education Center at (510) 525-7610 during office hours (10 am to 3 pm, PST)
    2. Online: click here
  • Venue: Tamalpais Union HSD Adult & Community Education, San Anselmo

    Navigating the Remodeling Maze
    Learn the ropes of obtaining building permits before you complete your plans. This thorough exploration of the permit process and Q&A session will help you avoid unnecessary red tape and expenses by designing your project around established requirements. Whether you are contemplating a remodeling project, in the middle of one, or thinking of buying a fixer-upper, this class will save you money, time and heartache.
    Time and Date: Tuesday, October 3, 2006, 6-9 PM
    Place: Drake High School, 1327 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo
    Fee: $30

    Adding a Second Unit
    Whether you own a house and wish to add a second unit, want to buy a house and add a unit or have a second unit you'd like to legalize, there have been big changes in state and local law that make it much easier to obtain the necessary permits. This three-hour workshop will guide you through the requirements of your community and answer questions specific to your project. While not required, the class "Navigating the Remodeling Maze" is a helpful introduction.
    Time and Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2006, 6-9 PM
    Place: Drake High School, 1327 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo
    Fee: $30

    Retro Remodeling
    Whether you're restoring, remodeling, expanding or building new, if you love vintage architecture this class is for you. Learn how to get an authentic look with new materials and how to find and use architectural salvage for a great look, huge savings, and the ultimate in Green Building. You'll learn plenty of tips, techniques, sources, tricks of the trade, and do's and don'ts from a professional designer and contractor.
    Time and Date: Tuesday, October 24, 2006, 6-9 PM
    Place: Drake High School, 1327 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo
    Fee: $30


    1. Contact the Tamalpais Union High School District's Adult and Community Education Program at (415) 945-3730 between 8 AM and noon, Monday through Thursday.
    2. Online: click here
    3. Walk-in registrations are also accepted at the start of the class.
Contact Info For general questions or to learn more about our services, please feel free to contact us:
Telephone: (415) 258-4501




Remodel Guidance: Residential Design | Plans & Permits | Green Building | Period Architecture

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