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How Far Off Is the Off-White?

May 12, 1991|DANA LAUREN RAMOS | Ramos is still recuperating from her remodel in Glendale.

Our friends and family pleaded with us not to do it. "It's a nightmare! It'll cost a third more and take twice as long as they tell you," they said. Or: "Your marriage will suffer; couples get divorced during remodels."

And, after reading other painful remodeling accounts in this space, we figured we'd better be very sure and very careful before getting into this.

Buy a new home or remodel? One way or the other we needed more space. We have a baby girl and a 4-year-old boy, and my husband and I do a lot of work at home, which requires room for a home office.

Even though our 1955 house was 1,900 square feet on a single floor, the layout was inefficient.

The kitchen was narrow, with no room for eating; the three bedrooms were separated (one was tucked away behind the kitchen on the other side of the home), and the two bathrooms were small and poorly situated.

The children shared a bedroom, and because there was no master bathroom, one was shared by all (the other bathroom was off the kitchen). The bedroom behind the kitchen was our home office.

We had been living in this home only a year when we knew it was time to grow or go.

Step One: We had an architect (who happens to be our best friend) draw a basic floor plan. We planned to break down the wall between the kitchen and the bedroom behind it to "add" space there.

And because we have a very small lot, we had no choice but to add a second story instead of expanding outward. The new 800-square-foot second story would consist of an office, master bedroom and master bath.

Step Two: We took the plans to a contractor who came well recommended by friends who had used him for their additions--a good way to find a contractor.

He told us that basic building costs would be roughly $70 per square foot, but before we could get excited at that low figure, he explained that "basic building" did not include such things as carpeting, painting, sinks, tile, toilets, new air conditioning, et cetera.

Then he gave us estimates on what the "extras" would cost. With those estimates, we could see where money should be spent--and where not to spend it. For instance, we decided we could live without redoing the fireplace mantel.

Step Three: Before we decided to go ahead with the plan, we made sure that our home would end up worth its present value plus what we would put into it, and that we'd be able to get a construction loan. I toured homes with a real estate agent, trying to get a feel for what our home could sell for after the remodel.

We also had to figure in several months' worth of living-away-from-home expenses and "what if" budget scenarios--like what if they find plumbing that needed replacing (they did) or what if there is termite damage in the walls (there wasn't).

Even considering the worst that could happen and extra living expenses, it still appeared as if remodeling would be more economical than trying to find another home that would suit our needs.

Step Four: Get permits. Because our home is in Glendale, we had to deal with the Design Review Board. I tend to get emotional when I talk about this experience.

The Glendale DRB was created a few years ago to help prevent atrocious add-ons or fairy-tale designs in a conservative neighborhood. So now, if you want to do a major remodel in Glendale, you must get approval from the board before you can even submit plans for building permits.

Getting approval is done in phases. Besides floor plans, we needed to submit such things as photographs of all homes within several hundred feet of us, surveyors' reports, a list of building materials to be used and fees--payable to the Design Review Board.

After three months of appointments with the board and winning approvals along the way, I stood in front of the members and was about to get the final stamp of approval when one gentleman said, "Wait. It says here you plan to paint the house 'off-white.' Well, which off-white is it? Egg-shell off-white or creamy off-white or Navajo off-white? Be more specific."

Frustrated and eager to please, I said, "Anything you want. You tell me what color off-white you want me to paint the house and I'll do it." But that wasn't how they do things, so I was sent away and told to return with a sample and name of the exact "off-white" I planned to use.

We did eventually get DRB approval. Two months later, we got building permits.

Finally: One of the wisest decisions was hiring an interior designer. I had felt overwhelmed at the amount of planning we would have to do. Just walking into a tile store was confusing enough. The thought of trying to pull together every faucet, sink, light and doorknob kept me up at night.

So I interviewed several designers, looking for one whose ideas and experience would suit our needs. Some were willing to work with our contractor directly and some were not.

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