Modest Marvel
Unlike with previous contractors, Sun, who is half Chinese, felt comfortable with Koh. “I felt he already understood,” she says. Her instincts told her he was trustworthy. And she liked the idea that Koh had his own crew of workers. According to Koh, using his own workers, rather than relying on subcontractors, allows him to have more control over the quality of the work and the schedule. “That's the most important thing,” he says.

Koh suggested adding a modest bedroom and bathroom, and a walk-in closet, for a total of about 400 square feet. When Sun visited The Home Depot and brought back samples of tile and laminated flooring, Koh told her: “We can do better than that for you.” Indeed, she preferred the tile he suggested and was happy to see that his plan called for white oak floors, “not fake stuff.”

In early March, two weeks after Koh's first visit to the house, the job started. Having heard stories from other homeowners who had bad remodeling experiences, Sun was a bit nervous. “What if they don't show up?” she thought. But her fears soon faded when the crew showed up that day to pour the foundation and arrived at 8 a.m. every day after that, except Sundays, until the job was done. Sun notes that the crew was exceptionally hard-working, extremely polite, and quiet. “They think a lot,” she says. “They don't talk your ear off.”

When it was time to start working on the existing house, the foreman explained to Koh that she and her daughter would have to move their things into the front of the house. Sun recalls the foreman being extremely considerate about inconveniencing the family.

While the main part of the job took about eight weeks, Sun decided to add more features mid-stream, including new windows throughout the rest of the house. She chose aluminum double-hung units. At the back of the house, beyond the new bedroom, Sun was not sure what to do with the ragged backyard. Her initial thought was to just cement over it, but Koh said he didn't think that was a good idea. Instead, during a meeting of all his company foremen, the idea arose to install an arbor-covered deck and a lawn area behind that. “Five minds are better than one,” Koh says of his company meetings. Sun thought that was a great idea and agreed to the work.

Throughout the project, Sun's mother brought the workers refreshments and Sun tried not to micromanage the project. “It's like artists,” she says. “You have to let them do their own thing.”

Still, Sun was concerned when she saw that the deck did not have railings. Although she gave Koh lots of free reign to design her project, she had always envisioned that the deck would be surrounded by railings. So she asked Koh, “Where are all the railings?” He explained to her that another of his foremen had an inspiration to put a railing on just one side, and to then create steps leading from two sides of the deck out to the backyard. Sun realized that the foreman's idea created a streamlined, open look that reminded her of a Japanese tea house. “That's Asian style,” she admits, agreeing that omitting the railings is a better design and more fitting to feng shui.

After the deck was built, Sun hired a crew to add a lawn and to plant flowers in the backyard. The landscaper reused the white fencing that once enclosed the backyard by leaning several sections of it against a back wall as a trellis for climbing bougainvillea.

Sun did not renovate the existing bathroom or the connecting unit where her mother lives, but she plans to do so in the future. The addition has made a tremendous difference in Sun's life, as well as her daughter's. Camille got to pick the colors for her new room, and she chose her favorite blue. Her room has a table and chairs, a television, and her own framed artwork, and Sun said she spends a lot of time there.

Sun furnished her own room with an antique bed, rugs, and an armoire. Her closet has more room than she needs, and the wooden deck is outfitted with an assortment of vintage iron and wicker chairs.

To create even more good luck and fortune for herself, Sun has bolstered the corner of her house associated with money and power with flowers and other symbols.

“It just all came together beautifully,” Sun says of the remodel, expressing gratitude to her contractor. “He gave me a lot of peace and tranquility in my life.” —Freelancer Kathy Price-Robinson writes about remodeling and green building from the central coast of California. She is the author of an award-winning remodeling series, “Pardon Our Dust,” for the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times.