Kitchen remodel lets family gather for Rosh Hashanah dinner

Paul Norr and Helaine Gross, members of Congregation Neveh Shalom, were perplexed by the kitchen in their 1924 Ladd’s Addition bungalow. They’d remodeled it themselves twice during the 35 years they’d lived there, but now that they were older, and their son, Aaron, was grown, their home had become the gathering place for family events such as Passover seders and Rosh Hashanah dinners: they needed their kitchen to work in a new way.

“It’s a small kitchen, but we’ve never wanted to expand the house,” said Paul, who sits on the board of Jewish Family and Child Service. “We’ve done some remodeling over the years – there were no upper cabinets, so we added those when we installed a dishwasher in 1987 – but nothing structural. It’s a good-size house for us, and we love the location.”

They didn’t want to change the home’s layout, but they agreed that the kitchen’s small eating nook was taking up space that could be used more efficiently.

“It was really too small for the three of us to eat in,” said Paul. “We almost always ate in the dining room. And the small table in the nook just turned into a place that collected clutter.”

“There never was enough room in the kitchen when we’d have parties, so I would set up a buffet table along the wall in the dining room,” Helaine said. “But afterwards, it would never come down, and pretty soon it, too, would get piled with stuff.”

Talking with remodelers, however, left them frustrated.

“They didn’t seem to hear us when we said we didn’t want to do anything structural,” said Helaine. “They came in with outrageous ideas.”

“And everybody wanted to move walls,” said Paul.

Then their painter suggested they look up John May, owner of Creekstone Designs.

They were charmed.

“Something I appreciated about John was that he has a design background, so within our confined space and limited budget, he had some really good ideas,” said Paul. “He very quickly grasped what we were looking for.”

The couple’s home has beautiful, golden wood floors in the living and dining room, so one of John’s suggestions was that they replace their kitchen flooring with wood, linking all the spaces with warm, honeyed oak underfoot. He also suggested a grayed green color for the walls in the living and dining rooms, another element that helps connect those rooms with the grayed taupe walls and dark granite countertops of the kitchen.

“It makes a huge difference,” Helaine said.

The underused kitchen nook now sports a granite-topped wraparound buffet that on ordinary days holds the microwave and serves as a handy spot for a snack, but on party evenings becomes the perfect spot to set the spread. Ample lower cabinets hide recycling bins and provide pullout shelves for kitchen paraphernalia.

“That additional counter space and the cabinets have made the space much more functional for us,” said Paul, “and John’s suggestions for the flooring and colors made a total difference in the look of the house – without having gone through any structural changes.”

Construction angst, too, was kept to a minimum during the remodel, which took about six weeks.

“We really appreciated the way John developed a daily work schedule for us,” Paul said, “so we knew what would be accomplished each day. The work seemed to go quickly because there were no lags, we always knew what was happening, and John was here every day.”

“And if there were glitches – of course, there are always glitches in remodeling – he handled them right away,” Helaine added.

In sum, said Paul, “John was quick to let us know what he thought, but he wasn’t pushy. He would give us options; he was an easy fellow to work with. We’re very pleased with the result.”

Tips for a Smooth Remodel

One of the things Paul Norr appreciated about John May’s approach to remodeling were the computer simulations John provided so they could see how the cabinets would look with different handles, view a range of countertop materials, debate cabinet configurations and so on.

That 3D modeling tool, May said, “is critical to seeing what ‘done’ looks like before we start, and really helps people visualize the end product.”

The other standard practices May uses for his projects include line-item cost estimates tied to the construction contract; a detailed daily work plan; and a billing schedule that requires no down payment – payment is made after the work is completed to the customer’s satisfaction.

May’s Creekstone Designs ( also provides a 10-year warranty.

“The construction industry typically does a one-year, but I don’t believe that is fair to the client,” he said.

Here are a few other tips May offered to ensure a smooth remodel:

• Get detailed designs to minimize change orders and save money.
• Lighting takes “good” to “amazing” and can be done at very low cost.
• Make the work schedule part of the contract, including project
assessment, design, ordering and installation.
• Contracts should include not only the scope and timeline for the
project but also the billing schedule and change-order process.
• Insist on permits to ensure that the work is done legally and correctly.

Portland freelance writer Jan Behrs specializes in stories about gardeners, gardens, remodeling and real estate. Her work also appears in The Oregonian, Better Homes and Gardens and online.

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