Secrets of successful remodeling

  • Article by: LYNN UNDERWOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 7, 2014 - 10:00 AM

“Remodelista” blog editors offer insights and inspiration in a new book.

Pg. 198 Ultimate Ikea kitchen. Excerpted from Remodelista.

Photo: Matthew Williams,

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Julie Carlson had just completed a second remodeling project in three years and was exhausted from perusing infinite websites for products and resources. Her friends felt the same way.

“We knew there had to be a better way than going to a plumbing website and looking at 1,000 faucets,” she said. “There’s more than 2,000 decisions to make in even the simplest kitchen remodel.”

So in 2007, Carlson and three design-savvy cohorts sat down at her California dining table and created a blog called “Remodelista,” featuring carefully curated products, photos and remodeling and decorating ideas. Remodelista eventually evolved from the blog to a digital home design resource. “We would get together and nominate our favorites and pick the ‘best in show,’ ” said Carlson. “It just took off.

This year Carlson and the other editors have gone old school by publishing the new book “Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home” (Artisan Books, $37.50).

“The book has 95 percent new photos and material on home remodels that aren’t on the website,” said Carlson. Within the 387 pages is an inside look at 12 homes, ranging from an 1850s farmhand’s cottage, to a Brooklyn apartment, to actress Julianne Moore’s Greek Revival townhouse. In the last chapter, the editors have done all the clicking for you by winnowing down their all-time favorite everyday objects — the Remodelista 100.

We chatted with Carlson about remodeling mistakes to avoid, Moore’s makeover and the 1960s hippie style revival.

Q: What remodeling project is worth splurging on?

A: If you have a well-thought-out kitchen with good countertops and appliances, you’ll get your money back.

Other smart upgrades — a good, solid, heavy front door for curb appeal, and simple brushed stainless or porcelain light switch plates. It’s surprising to me when I go into an expensively remodeled house and they still have cheap plastic ones from Home Depot.

Q: What’s the first step before you dive into a major remodeling project?

A: Research, research, research — so you know what you want before you talk to an architect. And choose the right team by interviewing at least three contractors and architects. These people are going to be part of your life for a while and you need them to work like a well-oiled machine.

Q: What are common remodeling mistakes people make?

A: They don’t finish the last 10 percent because of decision fatigue. I have a friend who didn’t pick out a pendant light because he was tired of making decisions, and the contractor put in a fluorescent fixture. Many people don’t correct errors right away and just live with them. I ended up with movable, instead of fixed, shelves next to my bed. When I hit my alarm clock, the shelf falls down. The little things can bug you.

Q: Some of the projects use Ikea cabinets and curtains. What are other ways to cut costs?

A: Be creative with your sourcing. For fixtures and fittings, look at industrial suppliers such as McMaster-Carr. Schoolhouse supply stores are great for library book carts.

Q: What are some tricks for bringing light into dark spaces?

A: Our first home in San Diego was a dark pine-paneled ranch house. Painting the interiors white made such a difference. Add skylights or transom windows. Put on doors with frosted glass to let light filter through. There’s nothing like natural light.

Q: What are the emerging trends for 2014?

A: L.A. has some of the more refreshing design. There’s a big trend toward a 1960s hippie revival of Bohemian interiors, macrame and hanging spider plants — it’s looser and craftier. But will it filter to the rest of the country? In the kitchen, granite countertops have become identified with McMansions and spec houses. I think Carrera marble has become much more desirable.

Q: What will have the biggest impact on home design and remodeling in the future?

A: Everyone should be thinking about green materials and sustainability. Stay away from plastic, and stick with reclaimed wood and natural stone, and you’ll end up with a better product.

Q: What is the “Remodelista look”?

A: Our editors gravitate toward very classic, streamlined, uncluttered interiors — timeless, not trendy. Our style is warm, livable modern.

Q: Why is it called “A Manual for the Considered Home?”

A: We were inspired by the quote by William Morris, the English Arts and Crafts designer, that you should not bring anything into your house that’s not useful or beautiful. It’s easy to get caught up in the consumer culture and fill your house with clutter. We’ve tried to create a website and book of projects and products that we carefully considered — and keep it pure and focused.

Q: How did actress Julianne Moore come to write the foreword and have a photo spread of her kitchen?

A: We were lucky enough to know her architect, her brother-in-law Oliver Freundlich, because we had featured his projects in Remodelista. We heard she was redoing her kitchen and found out she was an enthusiastic reader. We asked — and lo and behold — she said yes. It was a happy coming together of like minds.

Q: How have you renovated your “1970s builder’s special” in Mill Valley, Calif., which is in the book?

A: My grandparents were Swedish immigrants, so the Scandinavian aesthetic is in my DNA; I gravitate to natural materials and uncluttered environments. I wanted to make my house modern with Scandinavian undercurrents — white walls and maple-wood floors. Not a single inch isn’t used. My husband’s home office is also a guest bedroom with a pull-out couch. The laundry room is concealed behind pocket doors. Our home is just 1,900 square feet, but when it’s warm, I open the doors, and the house instantly feels bigger.

Q: You and many other homeowners featured in the book hired architects for remodeling projects. Do you recommend it?

A: It does add a chunk to the cost, and a lot of people try to cut that out. But having worked with an architect three times, I think it’s the best use of your funds, especially for any remodeling over $25,000. You want someone who is trained in proportion and spatial imaging or else you can end up with awkward spaces.

Q: What are your top three picks from the Remodelista 100?

A: I really love using the Muuto salad servers. They’re simple, sculptural and modern. I have two of the welded steel Circa 50 butterfly chairs. I use the Josef Hoffmann wine coaster next to my bed for a glass of water — since I will never be able to own a big Hoffmann piece; it’s a little moment in design history.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619






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