How to Remodel Your Kitchen: Clients Reveal Their Top Challenges and How They Overcame Them

Truly a Team Effort: Thomas and Jill’s Kitchen Remodel

“…it will save your marriage…Whatever project you think you’re doing it’s like all is not worth it unless you work with somebody who is as passionate and who’s soul is into it as 3 Lights.” -Thomas K, Professional Photographer and 3 Lights Design Client.

How to do a Kitchen Remodel Right

A family of four on a tight budget in a beautiful Spanish style home in Redwood Heights District of Oakland needed a new kitchen.

The husband was a professional photographer and the wife a professional chef.  Both worked from home.

The husband’s main concern was avoiding creating something that took away from the aesthetics of their already beautiful home. The wife was wanting a more functional kitchen that not only allowed her to do her job better, but also to share her love of cooking with her two young children.

The kitchen was so small, however, and the counter and storage space so limited, that she felt cramped having anyone else but just her in there, leading her to feel isolated as well.

In this Post-Project Check-In, 3 Lights Design commitment to better understanding how we can serve our clients as their lives and their projects continue to evolve after the project is completed, what follows is an interview with the home owners, Thomas and Jill, on May 9th, 2017, several months after the project’s completion.

What Were the Main Obstacles Facing the Homeowners at the Beginning of the Kitchen Remodel?

Austin/Founder/3 Lights Design: What was the number one obstacle that you were facing when starting this kitchen remodel?

Thomas/Husband/Professional Photographer: Well, I think the biggest obstacle was our own mindset and our own limiting beliefs. I didn’t believe that we could actually number one, afford it; number two, not screw it up; number three, agree and survive our relationship through the process. So all of those financial obstacles, if it’s going to look right, if we’re going to both get what we want and then be happy with it at the end and still have a marriage. Because getting up to that point, there was a lot of disagreements, in terms of vision and the financial portion of it was big limiting factor in the way that I was thinking about it, anyway, because I was obviously trying to think, “What is the cheapest way that we can do this?” And from my own personal background [as an interior photographer] of liking to tinker with things in three dimensions, I thought I could figure something out myself.

Jill/Wife/Professional Chef:  Well, that was one of the early eye openers, and if you recall, we spent a year drawing, re-drawing, him [Thomas] figuring out the 3D program, the simple ones online. And we spent a year doing that and came up with the only thing we thought would work. But we knew we needed a professional after that and [3 Lights Design] came in and said, “Yeah, yeah,” and you looked at it and you’re like, “I’ll come up with some ideas for you.” And I was kind of insistent in, “I definitely want to see my idea.” And you kind of went, “Yes, yes.” And then you guys all looked at it and you came back with two extraordinary designs, plus my design, which came in third in the whole scheme of things, and was quickly eliminated.

So, I mean, that was illuminating in the beginning. But you gently let me see my vision, how we thought it would be. But yeah, the financial factor is a big part of this process and it’s hard because the first person you go to is a designer. Then you go to the engineers, contractors, or whatever. But the problem is that, you spend thousands of dollars on a design and you’re not sure if you’re looking at a $75,000 kitchen or a $150,000 kitchen. It’s a little bit tricky in terms of not knowing what you’re getting into.

[3 Lights Design] could have made us a design that was a $150,000 kitchen. But you knew that we needed to stay within our footprint, is would be very cheap, as much as possible.

Thomas: I don’t know if this is the time to speak to it yet, but I think when you came into the… process, it was really great, because of the psychology and the [Full-Spectrum Client Intake] interview that you brought to it, right? It was, I think in terms of any sort of customer service, you want to work with people who understand [what’s] between the lines, below the surface. And some [architects and designers] get to it through roundabout ways, but you guys had a process in which you very intentionally got there. And I think that was what helped us say, “Okay, now we have … at least we have the trust that the person we’re working with understands us from a very fundamental level.”

And that allowed us [the husband and wife] to start communicating better in more of a grounded way, because we knew that each of us had the opportunity to say what we really wanted. And that took away a lot of the fear that was holding us back.

Austin: Thank you. And it was interesting in terms of what came out from [the Full-Spectrum Client Intakes] is that, how to say, when you start to get into the project, especially as a homeowner, because you live there, there’s all these other factors on it. Finances, how’s life with two kids going work [without having a functioning kitchen] when we’re actually building the whole thing. But it’s interesting what I got out of the interviews.

Jill works professionally and she cooks professionally out of her kitchen, but [the previous kitchen] it was divided into two halves and there could really only be one person in there comfortably at once.

But what I got out of interviewing you [Jill, the wife] is that cooking to you is really about family, because [it was one of the main ways] you spent [quality] time with your mother. And so not being able to … on the one hand, wanting people in there sharing the experience of cooking [with you], but there not being enough space made it suddenly a problem in terms of here’s something you love but you’re isolating yourself just because it wasn’t working that way [because there wasn’t enough room].

And then Thomas [who works as an artist and professional photographer] the thing that you were talking about really that struck me was this idea of “stopping time”, or extending a life through beauty, that [the kitchen] had to have that transcendent quality to it, that there’s something that as a photographer, you’re looking to [express]; it’s not just capturing reality, it’s going a step beyond. Whereby, you’re not only getting a sense of the image there, but the intention or the bigger picture that’s being expressed behind that image. And so, hearing those different ways of that [you and Jill] we’re experiencing this kitchen, [Jill wanting a more functional kitchen where she could share her love of cooking and Thomas wanting a kitchen that would “stop time” with its beauty], suddenly you gave me a deeper sense of what you wanted.

The other thing is this is not my house, so I’m not emotionally attached to it. [And though I want to do the best job I can for you and your family], in being an outside observer, it makes it easier for me to help you make decisions that [are in alignment with your intentions] because I’m not as emotionally tied to it.

Jill:   I do have to say that I think the biggest point of the entire process is when the first round of documents are sent. And that can either be a great shock and disappointment or a great eye-opening aha moment.

So several of my friends have had this, “Oh f!#k, this designer didn’t me..” because designers email these files and we open them alone on our computer, right?

So, several of my friends have gone through this process have been like, “He didn’t get me. This is the biggest disappointment!” Or, in our case, it was just like, “Oh, wow. Holy sh#%! this is amazing! Something’s here! We’ll tweak it, but something’s here!

Thomas:  The shock and awe of when we first got the first round of plans [from 3 Lights Design and after a year of working on the design on their own] was, “Wow, I never thought of that!” And then, as we studied them, we realized that the fundamental of what each of us wanted [as expressed during the Full-Spectrum Client Intakes] was heard.

So, the designs addressed our needs, but they were completely out of the box in terms of what we’d originally thought. And so, we had a reaction of like, “Oh, I get why the architect, the designers chose to show us this option, because they addressed some particular need that my wife and I had.” And we never would have thought of it because, for whatever reason, [we were locked into the only design that we’d thought possible over the last year] So I think that was a pleasant surprise.

Then from there, I think another strategy [3 Lights Design] employed was, there were three designs that they sent, but each one had components that you could say, “Oh, can I have that component over here? And this one mixed with this?” So it was like showing you [lots of different] possibilities are within [the three initial] floor plans.

What did the Home Owners think about The Full-Spectrum Client Intake?

Austin:  What did that process feel like for you guys to have me come in and want to get to know the real stuff that’s important to you both [via the Full-Spectrum Client Intake]?

Jill:  Well for us it was kind of normal because like we’ve been in [workshop, seminars, and other classes] and like we’re versed in that, so that was completely normal. I’m not sure if that would be completely normal for most people.

So for us it was fun and not new. We knew where you were going.

Thomas: I was excited because I know how that stuff works so.

Jill: Yeah.

Thomas: It was cool to see, to see it happen.

Austin:  So for some people who don’t really connect with it or click with it, sometimes the conversation is literally like ten or fifteen minutes. I think for us it was an hour and 45 minutes or something.

It was interested, too, going through the interview with you, Thomas. One of the things you said was that you grew up in a harsh environment [in Taiwan] and even though your artist heart has always been a part of you, it wasn’t always honored. As a result, it was sometimes difficult to get Thomas to say what he actually wanted. Because you were so used to not saying what you wanted.

Thomas:  Yeah.

Austin: And so it was really interesting to get that level which may be. I want to know you more because he is like you are so immensely talented. But it was really. All those things they just develop a sense of who we are as people.

Thomas: It was fun, yeah it was really good. It’s a great deepening process

Austin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jill: Yeah, that’s interesting it is a very deep process in getting to know somebody’s family and life, but the design of someone’s home is an incredibly personal process. Not everybody wants their kids in the kitchen. Not everybody wants it open, whatever you know what it is so it’s kinda-

Thomas: And you know it’s hard to know what we want when we need to. Like I think we’re so distracted in this day and age of inundated with media.

But yeah, actually knowing what we want, you’ll probably get to work with clients or probably already have worked with clients who they come in and they have an idea, a vision of what they want but, really it isn’t. They’re trying to fulfill some standard that isn’t their own. They are trying to keep up with the Jones’ or look good to whatever and if your clients actually engage fully in the [Full-Spectrum Client Intake] process they get to the core. And then they may realize that some of the stuff they thought they wanted wasn’t what they wanted at all.

Austin: Yeah, so much of the stuff that people think they want is based on advertising, magazines, what’s in vogue, the designer shows, the Ikea catalogs, I mean everything and so it is … but in terms of a framework, designs is often judged on function on the one hand. If your kitchen doesn’t work is that, if you can’t get into the refrigerator, there’s no flow, it’s just not functioning.

Thomas: Right.

Austin: Which is that Jill was carrying that component. It’s like “I need this sized pot to be able to fit in here and it needs to work as a professional kitchen.” And then there’s the form piece. Which is how do we make it beautiful? How do we make you want to actually be in here and have this kitchen extension of your life. Like you can just settle in here.

Thomas: Not only is our kitchen beautiful, it functions super well. We’ve had [professional] food shoots. And we’ve had other professional chefs use the kitchen.

Austin: That’s amazing.

Thomas:  And it’s literally like everything we need to do is two steps away.

Austin: Yeah.

Jill: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Thomas: And everything is where it should be. You know you’re doing something you can get to the garbage can in one step.

Thomas:  You go to the fridge, two steps.

Austin:  Yeah.

Thomas: You go get oil, it’s not even one step.

Jill: I know, I don’t have to tell anyone where things are-

Thomas:  It’s intuitive. You’re like where would this thing be and you’re like oh it should be right here, oh there it is. So the function and flow of this is you know so ideal.

Austin: And that was all Jill’s doing, like she was saying, “Is this cutting board gonna fit in there?” That kind of thing, and that all comes from listening. Just listening.

And then there’s the third component driving truly great designs, which was probably always present 100 years ago. It’s only recently that we stopped doing it. And that is the project’s underlying intention. For example, if we were living in a homogeneous society typically there would be some sort of core shared values. There would be some sort of shared cosmology.

And the shared cosmology, be it a religion, or a philosophy, or some other driving factor, would be automatically infused into the buildings design.

But in this global, multi-cultural world, and the highly diverse [San Francisco Bay] area where we live, we don’t have just one shared cosmology. There are literally thousands of them. And so part of the fun and beauty for us with each new project is that we get to uncover the client’s unique cosmology through the Full-Spectrum Client Intake.

Because when you are able to get a felt sense of what’s most meaningful to the client, that’s what brings the magic.

Thomas:  Right.

Austin:  And the beauty of it is that each project can be drawing from a lot of different cosmologies,  so it’s always an interesting process.

What Does This Process Have to Offer You and Your Kitchen Remodel?

Austin:  If you were to tell somebody else that they needed to work with 3 Lights Design what would you tell them about why they need to work with us?

Thomas:  We’ve done this multiple times and we’ve said to other people is basically, it will save your marriage… Whatever project you think you’re doing it’s like all is not worth it unless you work with somebody who is as passionate and who’s soul is into it as 3 Lights.

Yeah… much of what the roadblocks of what we thought we wanted, because of advertising, because of “whatever” and individually we want things and then the communication breaks down within the family, between the mom and dad or whatever, husband and wife.

Once the communication breaks down it can be … it can actually … I’m not kidding, it will save your marriage because little bits of these kinds of resentful things build up over the years and most of us just will swallow it or brush it under the rug but then 10 years will go by and neither has let it go. And it’s just this thing that keeps you from being closer.

And so, if you can eliminate that and go through the process, not only did we reconstruct the home but we reconstructed our relationship as a couple. I joke and say it’s like relationship counseling through design. I fully believe that.

If you are inspired to begin a kitchen remodel but are having challenges agreeing with you partner or establishing your project’s “true north”, please reach out to us and let’s explore what we can do to help.


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