02 Apr 2017

Rest Assured

Whether you are planning a full bathroom renovation or making small improvements to an existing bath, shower seating can increase the safety and comfort of your room. Installing a shower bench decreases the amount of time you stand in the shower which eases the strain on your body but most importantly, as part of aging-in-place design, it reduces the chances of slipping and falling.

The majority of falls within a house result in relatively minor injuries, but falls in the bathroom are often more serious. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost 200,000 Americans a year are treated in the emergency room for bathroom-related falls. This is because bathrooms present a number of additional hazards over most areas of the home; the surfaces are slippery and there are very few well-anchored items to grasp. While it is certainly possible that anyone can slip and fall in a bathroom or shower, the elderly and disabled are particularly susceptible. Having poor balance or muscle strength makes it harder to catch oneself when falling, increasing the risk of injury.

At any age, a shower bench is an affordable and functional design feature. In addition to its safety benefits, a shower bench provides space to store extra accessories, a place to sit to wash feet, lather hair, or shave legs or simply a place to sit to relax and recharge.

There are two options for shower seating — Freestanding or Built-in — and your choice will depend on the size of your shower, the style of your bathroom, and your budget.


The easiest and least expensive option is a Free-standing bench that may be purchased through various bath retailers. Typically, they are made of kiln-dried teak which is sanded to a smooth finish and then treated to maintain its color. However, left untreated, teak will weather to a beautiful silver-gray color.

Alternately, various plastic and corrosion-resistant metal benches are available, and while functional, they typically have a medical look and feel. This rectangular teak shower stool in the photo to the left is from Frontgate and retails for $200.

Additionally, free-standing benches can be found in local stores and online at retailers including Bed Bath and Beyond and Home Depot as well as higher-end designer showrooms such as Signature Hardware.

This corner shower stool from Signature Hardware saves space and provides functional seating as well as a storage shelf for bathroom accessories. It is ADA compliant and runs approximately $175.


Built-in benches are the second option for shower seating. We offer three different ways to incorporate built-in seating in your bathroom design.

  • Built-in, tiled, and permanently attached to the wall.

    • In this master bath HCI recently completed (photo 1 below), the bench is incorporated as part of the shower enclosure and extends the width of the shower (4ft) providing a generous seating area. It is finished with the same bronze-matte 24’ x 24’ tiles as the shower walls for a seamless, integrated look.
    • Some homeowners choose a contrasting accent color for the bench top such as the black marble bench top shown in photo 2.
  • Built-in “Floating” Bench

    • A floating bench (photo 3) is securely attached to the wall but is open underneath. It can be made of waterproofed wood, a solid surface material like quartz, or natural stone such as marble, granite, or limestone.
  • Folding Bench

    • For a small space, a folding bench (photo 4) provides the convenience of easily folding the seat down while showering or dressing then folding it up and away for extra space when not in use. Folding benches are typically made of teak or other water-resistant wood. Another advantage of using wood is that it isn’t as cold to sit on as tile. Both floating and folding shower benches require additional blocking in a stud wall and anchor hardware. Installed with the proper supports, seats can hold from 250 to 400 lbs., but in any case are only as strong as the walls and mounting hardware used.

Size and Location

Placement of the bench will most likely be determined by the size and configuration of your shower. It’s best to place the bench within reach of your shower controls, install a hand-held shower head and install grab bars for safety and ease of use. To meet most guidelines, shower benches should be mounted between 17 and 19 inches off the finished shower floor. An aging-in-place designer or occupational therapist may be consulted to customize your shower to meet your specific needs. There are also many reference books available such as Residential Design for Aging in Place that provide specific guidelines for aging-in-place bathroom design.

HCI Project

In 2013, we helped transform a cramped 70’s era master bathroom into a sleek, contemporary bathroom with an open configuration and curbless shower to allow for wheelchair access. The curved shower seat provides an accessible place to sit for showering and keeps toiletries in easy reach. Fabricated from a single quartz slab, the seamless bench seat with a bullnose edge is more comfortable against the skin than grouted tile with squared edges.

Photos courtesy of: Dave Edwards


For inspiration visit architecture art design for 30 irreplaceable shower seat design and ideas, like this Teak Shower Seat Collection from Jack London Kitchen Bath

Visit Teakworks4u for a variety of ADA Compliant Teak Seats, Wall mounted, fold down or Freestanding Benches and much more.


Moen products like this folding seat can be found at Home Depot and Lowes



The fodder of cocktail party conversations, everyone has had, or knows someone who has had, a horrible experience with a contractor and is happy to share it. What homeowners often don’t realize is that the traditional Design – Bid – Build process is inherently flawed and that they may have inadvertently contributed to creating their own horror story. When Lynn Hammerschmidt moved from the corporate world 18 years ago to join John in his booming remodeling company she set out to learn more about construction and before the end of the first week, she said it became clear that something was terribly wrong. Read more of Lynn’s account and find out how to download a PDF Guide on how to avoid your own remodeling horror story.

“Shocked at how poorly we were treated, we found that many customers and potential customers assumed that they were smarter than we were and gave no value to our experience in remodeling. They assumed we were trying to rip them off and that they could decide, even after they had agreed on a price, that they did not have to pay the amount to which we agreed, and that we did not need to make a profit to stay in business.

While most of our relationships with customers were not stressful, there were enough to warrant a review of how these came to be and in so doing it became clear that the whole process of remodeling was broken. Continually presented with beautifully-drawn sets of plans and asked to estimate them, we spent countless (unpaid) hours creating accurate estimates only to see the look of shock on the homeowners’ faces as we presented the estimate. They told us that they discussed their budget with the design or architecture firm who drew the plans. They asked why we were “so expensive.” When we explained that our estimate was a reflection of the cost of constructing the plans as drawn and it was not what they wanted to hear, one of three things happened:

  1. the customer tried to find a contractor to do the work within their budget
  2. the plans were redrawn (with a smaller scope) at additional cost and rebid or
  3. the project was abandoned.

We even found statistics that showed 75% of plans are not built as drawn or never built.

We often lost projects to companies that we knew were underbidding to get the jobs – knowing they would try to make it up throughout the job with change orders, or who had bid jobs lower than we could because they did not carry appropriate liability or workers’ compensation insurances. As the “Bearer of Bad News” we were in a no-win situation. More than a few times, we got a call from a homeowner, after the fact, who said: “We wish we had chosen you, you told us the truth.” While it felt good to hear that someone realized we had been straightforward with our quotation, it didn’t change the paradigm. And, it just didn’t make sense for everyone concerned.

Download a free PDF copy of the entire article by clicking on this link 10 Lessons Learned.

If you would like to learn more about our design-build process, visit our website.


For a step-by-step consumer guide to remodeling visit NARI 

Be Inspired and collect design ideas at these home tours in August & Sept

Saturday, August 6th

Open to the public, this self-guided tour showcases the finest residential architecture in Silicon Valley. Each house on the tour is designed by a local area architect and was completed within the last five years. Houses are chosen to showcase a variety of design styles demonstrating that excellence in design is not limited by size or dollars. The dwellings feature cutting edge, modern environmentally sensitive residential design, with a focus on sustainable features that demonstrate the wealth of talent possessed by our area’s best architects.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Back by popular demand, the always-popular Dwell Home Tours makes its way back to Silicon Valley this year. This home tour provides an opportunity for design seekers to immerse themselves in “Dwell-like” domestic spaces found along the peninsula. These unique homes are specially selected by Dwell to reflect the rich diversity of livable, innovative modern architecture and design in the Silicon Valley area.

06 Nov 2015

Beyond Beige

When it comes to selecting tile for your home remodel, the abundance of options is daunting. While the material, shape, and size of the tile may be an issue of functionality, the color and texture of the tile can set the tone of a room. An unexpected source, The Wall Street Journal, recently offered an exciting and informative overview of emerging tile trends. As they profess, “No home renovator wants to get stuck with a lousy tile decision, but that doesn’t mean the only choice is basic, boring beige.” See The Complete A-Z Guide to Tiles: 26 Ways to Go Beyond Beige for an alphabetical survey of the new tile landscape, from Arabesque to Zellige.

Not only does the article give provide information on the full range of materials available to homeowners today – many of the new ones driven by technology innovations such as digital printing – it offers ideas from design experts on ways to mix the various A-Z elements. For example:

1. Combine complex patterns with plainer patterns
2. Offset textural effects with smooth tiles
3. Consider playing with scale
4. Besides pure aesthetics, consider a theme and how pairings can be a narrative.

For additional help on choosing the right tile for your home, consider the following factors and see the associated online guides:

Ceramic and Porcelain
Both ceramic and porcelain can be rated for wear using the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) scale, which classifies tile surfaces from 1 to 5. A PEI 1 rating is for “No foot traffic, for wall use only”, while a PEI of 5+ can handle “heavy traffic and is most resistant to abrasion”.

Natural Stone
Natural stone is not man-made and therefore does not follow the PEI scale. The natural stones used most often in tile are marble, limestone, travertine, slate, and granite.
There are both subtle and significant differences between the types of stone as to appearance, water absorption to durability. For more information on choosing ceramic, porcelain, or natural stone tile, see National Kitchen and Bath Association, Homeowners Tips for Choosing the Right Tile

COF Factor
Especially important in choosing floor tile, the Coefficient of Friction (COF) is a measure of traction andJune photo 4 tile slipperiness. See Interiors and Sources  to learn more.

Color, Texture, and Style
The color and texture of the tile helps set the tone of a room. Before deciding on a tile color, take note of existing colors in the room, the mood you want for the room and the amount of foot traffic the area receives. Today’s digital technology, has transformed the process of creating tile with new and intriguing possibilities. For example porcelain look-alike tile is sized to resemble individual floor planks and ceramic and porcelain “marble” tiles look almost exactly like real marble but they do not crack and scratch as easily.

See Daltile Tile Trends to read about their Four Top Tile Trends for 2015: Glass mosaic tiles in updated colors and shapes, a softer color palette, with lots of gray, softer textures, and subway tiles in updated shapes and colors.

Stark Residence Wolf Range 72 FINHere is an example of the subway tile trend in this recently-completed Palo Alto kitchen remodel. The homeowner selected Heath Ceramic’s Stretched Hexagon tile for their backsplash. It’s a handmade tile that feels like classic subway tile but with a twist. See the Heath Ceramics website for a complete selection of their offerings.

A Man Cave can be defined as a room, space, corner, or area of a dwelling that is specifically reserved for a male person to be in a solitary condition, away from the rest of the household in order to work, play, and involve himself in certain hobbies and activities without interruption. This area is usually decorated by the male, without interference from any female influence. Technically, any space a man can go to be alone can be defined as a Man Cave. It can be an office, basement, garage, or shed out back. It is a room free from other themes or style of the home. A Man Cave is where a man goes for sanctuary.

It’s all in the Accessories
While the location can be almost anywhere, there are classic amenities found in many Man Caves including a pool table, bar, refrigerator, dart board, TV, sound system, a pinball machine, and very comfortable furniture. Often the wall décor emphasizes the man’s interests – sports, cars, movies, etc. Dependent on the man’s interests, they can also include a writing desk, a painting easel, a collection of sports memorabilia, or a garage wall filled with tools.

Comfort & Quality
The lounge chair is a man room necessity. While an old La-Z-Boy might immediately come to mind, take quality into consideration and buy things that are crafted with care. Invest in a good leather chair that is water & spill resistant and eternally stylish. A great chair is more than just a fabric bag stuffed with as much cotton as possible and a built-in cup holder. All good furniture has been designed with both form and function in mind. Here are 3 classic chairs with timeless appeal

The Barcelona Chair
by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe which was designed for the World Exposition in 1929 and still continues to be an iconic masculine piece.

The LC2 and LC3 Armchairs
http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/105174/list/modern-icons-corbusiers-lc2-and-lc3-armchairs designed by French designer LeCourbusier

As far as lounge chairs are concerned, many consider the classic Eames Lounge Chair, http://www.hermanmiller.com/products/seating/lounge-seating/eames-lounge-chair-and-ottoman.html made by Herman Miller, to be one of the most comfortable chairs of all time. When you sit in it, it literally conforms to your body.

eames-lounge-ottomanAs far as lounge chairs are concerned, many consider the classic Eames Lounge Chair, made by Herman Miller, to be one of the most comfortable chairs of all time. When you sit in it, it literally conforms to your body.
Eames® Lounge and Ottoman


Audio — Visual

The right viewing portal is absolutely essential to every Man Cave. Equally important is a kick-ass sound system — not just good speakers — but a complete surround sound system. This will enhance your movie, music, or sports experience to the fullest. To create an in-home audiophile experience we offer two resources who are both NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) members who have worked with many of our clients to create integrated home theaters or high performance audio systems.

Century Stereo
The Integrated Lifestyle

Authentic You

authentic-youThe key to designing the ultimate Man Cave is to create a personal retreat to surround oneself with things that are meaningful. It is the perfect space for that lifelong collection of (fill in the blank) that your spouse doesn’t understand. The cave provides the perfect space to organize and display the collection and keep them safe. See for example, this modern Man Cave by Benedict August where a G.I. Joe Collection is creatively displayed and childhood toys are the focal point of the room.

Mancave Resources

Find a wide selection of sports memorabilia from local and national MLB, NFL, NHL teams at Man Cave Memorabilia. www.mancavememorabilia.com Shop locally (Foster City) or online.

big-daddybig-daddy-logoLooking for the one-of-a-kind antique for your man room? Big Daddy Antiques Inc. is a retailer of one-of-a-kind antiques and reproductions from European, Asian, and North American markets.




art-of-manliness-logoTake a look inside the “Man Rooms” of 14 famous men from history on The Art of Manliness website.


art-of-manlinessFamous Man Caves
In reading about the lives of history’s great men, one thing the author noticed was that many of them had a place they could go to be alone with their thoughts. Some of these men had a study where they would retreat to think, read, and write. Others had a garage or workshop where they would tinker and experiment. But what all these rooms had in common was their sheer manliness. They were man spaces, places a man could call his own. Within these rooms ideas were formulated that would change the world and books were written that became classics. Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Edison are some of the featured

mancave-at-homeMan Cave at Home

A Manly Superstore, Man Cave a Home sells everything necessary to build the ultimate Man Cave, whether it’s a pool table, a bar, beer neon signs, Harley-Davidson bar stools, a stand up arcade game…you name it, they have it or can get it.

Game On!

Click on the team logos to find their 2015/2016 Season Schedules







The Not So Big Life

Sarah1We can all be designers and architects…that is, architects in the process of our LIFE remodeling, according to Sarah Susanka, a bestselling author, architect, and cultural visionary. She was named a “Top Newsmaker” by Newsweek magazine, an “innovator in American culture” by U.S. News & World Report and has shared her insights with Oprah Winfrey and Charlie Rose. Sarah is well known for her book The Not So Big House, a guideline for remodeling with the approach of “build better, not bigger.” Her main approach to design is that if we look at the way we truly live, it’s not the size of the house that makes us feel comfortable, but the flow and function and attention to detail that makes us feel “at home.”

Her book The Not So Big Life, is an extension of this Sarah2philosophy and uses the home as a metaphor to discuss more peaceful and centered ways to live our lives. As she puts it, “Your life is a lot like the house you live in. It has some things that you like and some that you find irritating.” Some problems are more difficult to identify, articulate, and resolve because they are less visible. However, just like remodeling a house, “you don’t need to change a lot of things in order to shift the character of the house, but you do need to evaluate what isn’t working and determine what you would like to have room for but don’t. Then you need to compose a good design solution that uses what already exits but modifies it here and there to accommodate the new functions. After that you must develop a thorough set of blueprints that record all the decisions made. And finally, to live the changes, you must build.”

To explore resources to simplify, prioritize and slow down, Sarah’s book offers a comprehensive tool for evaluating your life and redesigning it to fit who you really are and to reflect your core values.

Here are the 12 steps that go into the making of a The Not So Big Life

  1. Developing a Blueprint for a New Way of Living
  2. Noticing What Inspires You
  3. Identifying What Isn’t Working
  4. Removing the Clutter
  5. Listening to Your Dreams
  6. Learning to See Through the Obstacles
  7. Improving the Quality You Have
  8. Creating a Place and a Time of Your Own
  9. Proceeding Through the Construction Process
  10. Moving into Your Not So Big Life
  11. Maintaining Your Newly Remodeled Life
  12. Being at Home in Your Life

A detailed explanation of the above 12 steps can be found in an excerpt from her book Not So Big Life. “Learn How to Restructure and Simplify Your Life”

sarah3A master in the use of metaphor to help explain new dimensions of understanding, Susanka unveils a process for changing the way we live by fully inhabiting each moment of our lives and by showing up completely in whatever it is we are doing. Through this process of self-discovery, described in The Not So Big Life, readers uncover more meaningfulness and vitality in their own lives.

The Not So Big House book series by Sarah Susanka brings to light a new way of thinking about what makes a place feel like home – sarahbookcharacteristics many people desire in their homes and their lives, but haven’t known how to verbalize. How big is Not So Big? Not So Big doesn’t necessarily mean small. It means not as big as you thought you needed, but designed and built to perfectly suit the way you live.

   sarahTedTalk Possibilities—Life’s Invisible Feast Sarah Susanka at TEDxSanDiego 2013

There are many elements that drive a design: structural requirements, costs, and functionality, to name a few. However, there is an easy rule, used by many designers to create an aesthetically-pleasing, well-pulled together room. The Rule of Three is a principle used in many areas of design: architecture, graphic design, and photography (though, in graphic design and photography, it is referred to as the Rule of Thirds).

The basic idea is that details and objects that are arranged or grouped in threes (or odd numbers) are more appealing, memorable, and effective than even-numbered arrangements. According to Cecilia Walker of Cecilia Walker Designs, “While it is easier to create symmetry by balancing elements in twos, odd numbers create harmony and force movement and visual interest.” Consistent with Feng Shui principles, odd numbers give Yang energy and even numbers, Yin. Yang expands and moves, Yin contracts and condenses.

With interior design, the Rule of Three not only applies to architecture, but to lighting, color, and interior accessorizing.

Color and the Rule of 3

This simple diagram from The Interactive Color Wheel represents one of the designer’s basic tools: The 60-30-10 decorating rule, which is decorating with a selection of three different colors, each with its own pre-defined function, produces pleasant visual impact.

Dominant color: Roughly 60 percent of the given space should be the dominant color. In interior design terms, this color is for walls. Neutrals are the good choice for painting walls.

Secondary color: The next 30 percent should represent secondary color.

Accent color: The remaining 10 percent of the color scheme is for accent color. Accent color should be attractive. Warm vivid colors are good accents.

Design and Aesthetics

Margaret Everton is one of the many wonderful writers for Houzz. She is an arts and culture writer and explorer of how and what people create. Her work spans the disciplines of architecture and design, art, lifestyle, history, and literature. In her article, Using The Rule of Three In Your Home’s Design, she created an Idea book on the theme of threes and how, as a design tool, the rule in creative variations works in many ways.  Here are a few examples:

Rule of 3 photo2 “The three sets of French doors creates a center point for the room without overdoing symmetry. The chandelier flares out from the center, creating both a groundedness and lightness in this space.”

In this home by Taylor Lombardo Architects, “the larger center arch not only Rule photo3 accentuates the room’s center, but its raised height gives the room a loftiness that isn’t literally there. The room not only has added depth, but the illusion of added height.” Read More


With interior design, the Rule of Three can be implemented in progression and spatial composition. Consider the work triangle in kitchen design, color and fabric schemes, arrangements of furniture, and groupings of accessories.

For more inspiration, see Freshome Design and Architecture Magazine’s recent article “10 Designs That Incorporate the Rule of Three”

They demonstrate how to arrange furniture, tabletop objects, and artwork and provide examples of why the Rule of Three is not a hard-and-fast rule. There are times, such as in a small space, where it may make more sense to successfully “break” the rule.

Rule photo4 Rule photo5 Rule photo6

Article courtesy of Plamar USA, Inc.


So you’re remodeling your kitchen or bathroom and have decided you want engineered quartz for your countertop. What now?  With the many quartz products available today, how do you choose the best one for your countertop?

As countertop experts, we have been asked this question many times and can confidently answer that there is really no how-to-guide in choosing the right engineered quartz material. Our advice is to look at the range of products available in the market – Caesarstone, Silestone, Cambria, Pental Quartz, Color Quartz, Hanstone, Zodiaq, Icestone, Vetrazzo, and LG Viatera to get an idea of the range of choices. Educate yourself by visiting their websites to learn the features of each brand and how they differ from one another. In doing so, you’ll be able to identify each brand’s its composition, the range of colors and patterns available and how each brand compares to the others.

Read More

By Mark Lesnick
Founder, Mark Concrete

When I dream about remodeling my bathroom, I think about the new tub, maybe a steam shower, and certainly a gleaming new showpiece-of-a-vanity. I start the planning in my head – the textures, colors and styles. And then the demolition, the chaos, the mess! You may ask yourself, “How can I get the bathroom I’m envisioning with the least amount of mess and stress?” One way is a “Turn-key” bathroom vanity. It is a remarkable concept we developed to create a gorgeous work-of-art in a bathroom vanity that is simple to install and impresses the most discerning eye.

The “Turn-key” vanity system features a concrete surround with integrated sink and pre-installed cabinetry. All that is required is to set the complete vanity structure in place, install the fixture of your choice, and hook up the supply and drain lines and you are done with that portion of your new bathroom. One example of these turn-key vanities is pictured here with an “Erosion” sink mold.

Read More

This year the International Builders Show (IBS) and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) joined forces for one fabulous Design and Construction Week in February. Co-locating in Las Vegas, the building industry trade shows attracted more than 75,000 attendees. Remodelers, kitchen & bath designers, and builders crowded together in the aisles, anxious to see and experience all the new product introductions from cabinet and appliance manufacturers, etc.

Read More

Style for today’s residential interiors is all about contrasts and mixing it up, instead of matching everything perfectly. Old is mixed with new, modern with primitive, industrial with rustic, rough with smooth, round with square, soft with hard, blocky with leggy. The old adage about “opposites attract” is more obvious than ever.

As a helpful guideline when you remodel, first review the following basic style categories. Choose your favorite style as a backdrop for the spaces in your home, and then spice things up with some contrasts that express your own personal style. Pay careful attention to detail, giving consideration to how the colors, shapes, and patterns interplay with one another.

Traditional is refined and elegant, associated primarily with furniture from the 17th-18th centuries in England, and often referred to as “classical.” It usually incorporates both curved and straight lines, intricate details, inlays, and decorative trim in symmetrical and balanced proportions. Dark stained cherry wood is often used for Traditional kitchen cabinetry, but the cabinets may also be painted.

Contemporary has its roots in 20th Century Europe and the Modern architectural movement.
This movement sought to meld form and function, utilizing straight lines and simplified shapes. Evolving from the Modern style, Contemporary includes curved edges and spherical forms. A blend of natural materials, including soft leather and sleek metal, glass and stone, lends the Contemporary style a subtle elegance.

Transitional is a seamless blend of Traditional and Contemporary styles, combining straight lines along with gentle curves.
It takes a fresh approach, mixing furniture pieces, finishes, materials and fabrics from both styles. A soothing, neutral color palette and soft shapes helps create a comfortable balance. Adding gold, silver and mirror finishes brings elegance to the room.

Shaker originated with a religious sect known as the “Shakers” that arrived in America from England in the 18th century. Their unadorned, spare furniture designs reflected their beliefs in efficiency, usefulness, and honesty. Cabinet doors were either stile-and-rail recessed panels with a plain inset, or flat panel. Shakers primarily used maple and cherry, with items either painted, waxed or oiled.

Arts and Crafts was a movement in late 19th Century Victorian England that reacted against the mass-production of home furnishings. The style emphasized the beauty of natural materials and featured artisan-made accessories of ceramics, textiles, metal and glass. In America, Gustav Stickley designed oak furniture that was often called craftsman or mission style. His furniture was solid and rectilinear, with minimal decoration and flat panels.

Cottage is a sub-category of Country style. Typically it carries a timeless old barn or farmhouse vibe, with exposed wood beams and wood floors. Distressed wood and heavy copper or iron are frequently used. Worn country antiques may be used as décor, along with natural materials from the outside that add texture. The color palette is warm and soft, with light-colored cabinetry. The look is lived-in and cozy.

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