Over the years, remodeler Bo Steed has found that the architects he has worked with usually have little to do with a residential project once the clients bring Steed Remodeling their plans. But that wasn't his experience when he worked on a kitchen-and-bath remodel near his office in Kansas City, Mo. “It was out of sync with what I was used to,” Steed says. How he worked with the architect, an interior designer, and the clients offers a lesson in diplomacy as well as some helpful insights.
Jeff and Cheryl Jernigan's major complaint about their 1950s ranch house was that it was dark and that the rooms were “chopped up.” “We were used to having the main living area connected and available to the kitchen,” says Cheryl, speaking about their much larger previous home. Yet at first, they were looking to hold down costs and didn't want the kitchen remodeled. “Once we finally decided to take out the wall between the kitchen and the living room [and completely redesign the kitchen], the plans came together,” says Jeff, whose goal was for “people to walk into the house and say ‘wow.'”
The previous owners were interested in Japan and had made the house an Asian-inspired showpiece — from the red concrete roof added in 1992 to the Japanese garden, shoji screens, and interior artwork and wallpaper. Situated on a corner lot on busy but prestigious Ward Parkway, the Zen nature of the house — the way it felt like a spiritual retreat — is part of what drew in the Jernigans, who have both battled cancer.
Steed, who had spent his secondary school and college years in Catholic seminary, has a strong spiritual side. He appreciated the Jernigans' needs and was drawn to what he says is their “positive mind-set to help heal themselves.”
Group Dynamics The president and CEO of a bank, Jeff had worked with a commercial architect, Sonya Jury, in his business and hired her to design the plans for his and Cheryl's remodel. The architect hired Michelle Fox, an interior designer, to help with design specifics. Jeff then contacted Steed, a long-time acquaintance from the Rotary club, to run the construction side of the project.
Steed Remodeling is design/build, hiring architects on a per-project basis. Steed was used to being the “first” in overseeing a job. Now he was the production manager on the Jernigan project and was considered the “‘first' from the construction standpoint, but a ‘second' in design,” Steed says. “The architect was riding herd on the job and playing hardball for the homeowners. She was so involved because the homeowners thought that was the way to do it and because that's how commercial work is done.” (A side note: Steed Remodeling had no lead carpenter available for the January start date, but Steed wanted to service the Jernigans on their schedule. Steed hired out the lead position to a friend and former employee who had his own remodeling business. Steed, who normally is responsible for sales at the company, was best suited to work with his friend and so took on the role of production manager. In retrospect, Steed says, this took up too much of his time because the lead was not up to speed on the company's systems.)
Cheryl admits “there was some tension in who was going to be in control. But it was creative tension, not functional tension. The nature of the people involved and their relationship with us meant that we never worried.”
Steed, Jury, and Fox held weekly meetings with the clients once the project was underway. Steed, who is relaxed and easygoing by nature, sometimes got frustrated when Jury would question changes or ask for things such as mortar samples (common in commercial work). But because he — and the others — cared so much about the clients and wanted to work in their best interests, Steed was able to take a back seat.
“I had to pick my battles,” Steed says. “It was important to keep the whole team on the same smooth boat ride for the best end result, and it was best for me not to make any additional waves.” By way of example, he mentions the floating fireplace mantle installed in the living room at the front of the house. “The designer and the architect thought it was a great idea, but didn't know the details. I did. It wasn't going to be a $200 detail, and I relayed that information to them.”