Final Reveal: The Hyde Park Condo!

We made it. 9 months of work, communicating across countries, coordinating across oceans, and operating over 20 stories high. Have you seen our progress video? Grab a beverage and check it out before continuing!

Before the final reveal, let’s recap our beloved project:

Hyde Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Chicago, boasting a rich history filled with classic architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Hyde Park Condo is no exception. Featuring over 2,500 square feet of space with sweeping views of Lake Michigan, this project is located in one of Hyde Park’s most prestigious high rise buildings. Built in 1928, this unit had undergone limited renovations over the past century. Currently residing abroad, our clients sought to retire from their careers in our world-class city of Chicago. The goal of this project was to create a home that our clients would enjoy for the decades to come – a space which would provide the history and visual interest that the fantastic architecture of Europe has afforded them for the majority of their lives.

Our scope included the gut rehabilitation of the entire unit, upgrade of the utilities, and installation of a high-velocity air conditioning system. Custom, plaster legacy mouldings throughout the unit were preserved and restored. A solid wood, custom arched entry door defining the Living Room and Dining Room was restored to serve its original purpose. Also original to the unit, wooden cornices and columns were revived and repurposed as focal points throughout the space.

The vision of this space was to pay homage to the classic architecture of the building, built in 1928, while incorporating contemporary pieces: Plaster crown moulding and black, Italian cabinetry; A cast iron soaking tub positioned on large format stone tiles; 6-piece wainscoting along the walls highlighting 10” planked hickory hardwood flooring… Hints of the past collaborating with nods to the future.

The primary challenge of this project was long-distance coordination. In addition to maintaining an aggressive schedule for completion, Integro worked remotely with our clients – providing weekly video blogs to showcase the progress of our ambitious undertaking. Understanding the physical limitations of managing a project abroad, Integro coordinated our project schedule to accommodate finish materials from across the globe. The majority of these items required significant lead times of up to 20 weeks and other portions of our Work were sequentially related to the delivery of these finishes – for example, the Italian cabinetry in the Kitchen was designed flush to the ceiling which provided no room for error in the floor height. This meant that we had to level the floors without raising their height and install our ¼” tiles with exactly ¼” of underlayment months after the cabinets were built and weeks prior to their arrival on site from Italy. The level of detail Integro contributed to this project is shown by the seamless transitions from classic to modern design throughout the rooms.

Our final product in the Hyde Park Condo provides a sensory experience throughout the space. Legacy mouldings grace the formal entry and guide your path to a recessed, oval ceiling custom built to invisibily accommodate the new HVAC system. Following dramatic views of Lake Michigan, the Living Room brings you to the fully restored arched entry into the Dining Room. No sooner is one inspired by the stately presence of century-old architecture, than the eye is briskly greeted by contemporary, black cabinetry complimenting professional-grade appliances in the Kitchen and a modern Powder Room showcasing a wall-mounted sink. The bedrooms, featuring built-in bookcases and polished copper radiators revived by the Integro team, lead directly into their private ensuite bathrooms accommodating luxurious soaking tubs, floating sinks, and sleek fixtures. Subtle and confident. Classic and contemporary. The Hyde Park Condo is now a space that has thoughtfully shaped an ambiance of elegant bravado.

BEFORE – Kitchen
AFTER – Kitchen
BEFORE – Kitchen
BEFORE – Kitchen
AFTER – Kitchen
BEFORE – Living Room/Library
BEFORE – Legacy Doorway
AFTER – Legacy Doorway/Living Room
BEFORE – Living Room/Library
AFTER – Living Room/Library
BEFORE – Library/Front Hallway
AFTER – Library/Front Hallway
BEFORE – Office/Guest Bedroom
AFTER – Office/Guest Bedroom
BEFORE – Master Bathroom
BEFORE – Master Bathroom
AFTER – Master Bathroom

Photo Credit: Tom Rossiter

Special thanks to SMNG-A Architects for their support, coordination, and design of this stunning space. We couldn’t have done it without you.

…and, of course, our deepest gratitude and appreciation to our clients – the homeowners of the Hyde Park Condo. Your collaborative enthusiasm, incredible diligence, and earnest commitment to our cause transformed our challenges into creative opportunity. You made this project great.

Thank you.

Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!


Why you shouldn’t max out your construction budget…and a Kenilworth project update!

Oh, July…you came, you went. It was nice knowing you.

The Kenilworth project is underway with demolition complete (Well, we didn’t rip up all of the floors because, y’know, we need to walk on them. Another day, Batman). The carpenters have been working incredibly hard to reinforce the Attic: leveling the floors, laying a new sub-floor, and framing it up. After a particularly humid week, there was a small monsoon in Chicago. As our crews were working, it began raining in the Attic! Looking up to the roof, Sebastian counted: one leak, two leaks…three, four, five…I’d show you pictures except that I was on a sailboat in the middle of Lake Michigan and Sebastian was busy finding buckets.


Did I mention that we had not planned on any roof work?

Of course we didn’t! It’s Murphy’s Law!

Sigh. Okay.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that you should have a contingency budget during construction. Yes, this kind of stuff is what it’s for – especially during a renovation (as opposed to new construction). Here’s a twist to also consider:

We need to do the roof now. It’s going to cost more money. At this time, we’re also finalizing the layout of the Attic and discussing all of the crevices and corners to make sure everything is perfect when drywall goes up. The entire time, we are working around a 36SF skylight: 6′ x 6′. The thing is massive…and it’s low….low to the ground. So, when you’re standing on one side of the Attic, there’s suddenly a barrage of light shining down. I’m always a fan of natural light and we were planning on working with this skylight – now that we need to fix the roof though, the ideas start circling.


What if we remove that big skylight and put up 5-6 smaller skylights higher up in the ceiling? This would allow more light AND more consistent light throughout the space. Then, we can space our collar ties evenly down the Attic without needing a gap to avoid this massive skylight…



Then! Since we can evenly space the collar ties – perhaps we can go from this:


To this:


THIS is what the contingency budget should do – it should allow you to afford the challenges that need to be overcome and ALSO allow you to capitalize on the new opportunities that the challenges present.

Having to replace the roof is a bummer. Replacing the roof, however, has the potential to completely transform the space. This is why you should never max out your initial budget. Give yourself some breathing room – and if you can’t do that, then wait until you can because, more often than not, the challenges turn out to be the dream makers.


Here are some progress photos!


Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!

Introducing the Kenilworth Project!

This week, I am off sailing the Chicago Race to Mackinac Island! A 330 mile trek involving over 300 sailing vessels, this is the largest freshwater race in the world. Unfortunately, the sea state was intense with winds “blowing stink” and waves topping 10-foot swells for over 24 hours straight – forcing 98 boats to retire due to safety, damage to the vessels, sea sickness…and perhaps logic. What can I say? Sometimes I do things that defy logic…such as treating huge rolling waves like a roller coaster instead of evaluating my mortality. Our team, Mutiny, finished the race on Tuesday morning – our fleet started the race with 17 vessels and ended the race with 9. This was certainly a regatta to remember.


Meanwhile, on dry land, I have left Sebastian yet again to manage our projects while I’m away. The Firehouse and the Oak Brook project are cruising towards their finish lines. While we love to stop, reminisce, and admire our transformations – we can only enjoy this briefly before doing what we must: move on to the next.

Allyson Location Portrait_393

Therefore, allow me to introduce you to the Kenilworth Project! This project involves the historical restoration of an approximately 4,500SF building located in the Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historical District in Oak Park. This​ ​building​ ​is​ ​a​ ​Queen Anne​ ​style​, ​designed​ ​by​ ​architecture​ ​firm,​ ​Patton​ ​and​ ​Fisher,​ ​and​ ​built​ ​between 1882-1889 – ​more​ ​than​ ​a​ ​decade​ ​before​ ​the​ ​Village​ ​of​ ​Oak​ ​Park,​ ​itself,​ ​was​ ​incorporated. This​ ​building​ ​is​ ​designated​ ​at​ ​the​ ​National​ ​and​ ​Local​ ​level​ ​for​ ​the​ ​National​ ​Register​ ​of​ ​Historic Places.  

An​ ​American​ ​Queen​ ​Anne​ ​style,​ this en vogue​ ​architectural​ ​aesthetic reached its height of popularity in the late 19th century.​ A traditional construction, ​the​ ​structure​ ​consists​ ​of​ ​a​ ​stone​ ​foundation​ ​with​ ​combustible structural​ ​framing.​ ​The​ ​exterior​ ​features​ ​the​ ​original​ ​wood​ ​clapboard​ ​and​ ​wood​ ​shingles.​ ​The roof​ ​has​ ​a​ ​cross​ ​gable​ ​with​ ​replacement​ ​asphalt​ ​shingles​ ​and​ ​brackets which provides ​a​ ​complex and​ ​creative​ ​opportunity​ ​for​ ​design.​ ​The​ ​windows​ ​are​ ​the​ ​original​ ​wood.​ ​This​ ​building​ ​also consists of ​a​ ​1-story,​ ​open​ ​porch​ ​with​ ​a​ ​gable​ ​clad​ ​roof​ ​and​ ​square​ ​wood​ ​posts.  

Our​ ​scope​ ​on​ ​this​ ​project​ ​includes​ ​exterior restoration of the building, an​ ​upgrade​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Kitchen,​ ​remodeling​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Study​ ​including the​ ​addition​ ​of​ ​a​ ​fireplace,​ ​an​ ​upgrade​ ​to​ ​all​ ​bathrooms​ ​in​ ​the​ ​building,​ ​a​ ​full​ ​remodel​ ​of​ ​the Master​ ​Suite,​ ​restoration​ ​of​ ​the​ ​original​ ​hardwood​ ​flooring,​ ​and​ ​restoration​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Grand Staircase.​ ​The​ ​3rd​ ​Floor​ ​Attic​ ​is​ ​currently​ ​unoccupied​ ​space​ ​which​ ​will​ ​be​ ​transformed​ ​into​ ​a multi-use​ ​recreational​ ​area​ ​featuring​ ​climate​ ​control,​ ​a​ ​wet​ ​bar,​ ​bathroom,​ ​library​ ​spaces, custom​ ​cabinetry,​ ​a​ ​fireplace​ ​hearth,​ ​and​ ​25-foot​ ​gabled​ ​ceilings​ ​showcasing​ ​custom​ ​collar​ ​ties.  

A​ ​​vibrant​ ​family with young children,​ ​our​ ​clients​ ​desire​ ​to​ ​create​ ​their​ ​“forever​ ​home”.​ ​The​ ​goal​ ​of​ ​this project​ ​is​ ​to​ ​maintain​ ​and​ ​invigorate​ ​the​ ​historic​ ​features​ ​of​ ​this​ ​building​ ​while​ ​creating​ ​a​ ​safe​ ​and functional​ ​space​ ​with​ ​modern​ ​amenities​ ​to​ ​improve​ ​the​ ​comfort​ ​and​ ​flexibility​ ​needed​ ​to accommodate​ ​their​ ​growing​ ​family.  


So,​ ​for​ ​your​ ​viewing​ ​pleasure,​ ​here​ ​are​ ​the​ ​Before​ ​photos: 


Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!

How to End Your Workday in the 21st Century

We are quickly approaching Independence Day here in the United States, July 4th. This is a time widely known for grilling out, spending time on the beach, enjoying festivals, and watching fireworks to celebrate the birth of our nation. During this holiday, Integro schedules Project Shut Down. Project Shut Down is the term I use for days during the year where we schedule no workers on site at all of our projects. It is a day off for everyone in the company. No email, no phone, no crews.


I consider Project Shut Down to be one of the most important assets of our firm. Our construction work requires as much, if not more mental capacity as it does physical capacity. Our days are long and our expectations are high. I demand a multi-faceted array of talent from my staff – requiring that their daily issues are not merely addressed, rather that they are resolved. This, of course, all being done with professionalism, humility, and enthusiasm.

This is no small feat. Each person on my team has spouses, children, and personal lives.

When it comes to construction, I have the greatest team in the world. As such, it is my job to ensure that their needs are well regarded. Part of my approach to this concept is Project Shut Down. I cannot expect my team to be 100% 24/7. It’s not physically possible. They need to decompress, they need to relax, they need to spend time doing the things in their lives that are most important to them.


Yes, we love our work. The goal, however, is to work to live and not live to work. The irony in this realization is that our work suffers if our work itself is the sole focus of any given member of our team. In order to be passionate and work with purpose, we have to have a bigger picture clearly in focus – why should anyone care about Integro’s growth and passion if the success of our goals does not positively impact their personal lives?

In the age of technology, generations of workers – from Baby Boomers to Millennials – are fully connected to work all of the time in some capacity. Every person that I spoke to about disconnecting responded with the same sentiment – it’s really hard to do that:


“People still email me with time-sensitive stuff!”

“I check my email so I can prepare myself for what’s coming when I get back. I don’t like to be bombarded.”

“Our team works globally in different time zones.”


We all know these arguments, right? Well, I’m here to tell you – with love – that I think all of them are silly. Our lives are too important for excuses like that.

Here are my ideas on how to stop working in the 21st century:

1.Unsync. No, I’m not crazy! I’m not a hippie! Yes, I do have a job that makes incredible demands on me! I do it anyway – yep, that’s right – I go to “Settings” and I click that button that syncs my email off. Boom. Personal email only when I check my phone! Have a laptop or desktop computer at home? Turn off any notifications from your email. Turn off the feature that automatically loads your email application when you turn your computer on.

I do this for vacations and long weekends. I also do this daily.

Yes. Daily.

When I have completed all of the tasks that I can for the day, I turn off my work email. What am I going to be able to do after 7pm when some random **** hits the fan as I’m spending time with my family? Nothing. All I’m going to do is ruin my mood and ruin my sleep cycle, panicking all night about something that will likely be addressed in some capacity first thing in the morning. This will be more satisfying if I learned about it first thing in the morning after a quality slumber.


2. Set expectations. I work for myself now; however, when it comes to our clients, the buck stops with me. I used to work in a corporate environment, reporting directly to executives. Here’s the deal: set expectations. You’re getting time sensitive emails at night or when you’re on personal time off? I would venture to guess that 9 times of out 10, this is because you’re feeding the beast by responding. Please see Item 1.

Team members contacting you when you’re scheduled for time off is extremely bad behavior. Don’t reward that!

If your team knows that you rarely respond when you’re off work hours, they will typically stop demanding immediate gratification. In my experience, I received the same emails at the same time late at night, except they had more respectful deadlines.

In the same breathe, give them an opportunity to be on good behavior. Give at least a week’s notice to critical team members about your absence. Make sure your team is set up for success while you’re gone. Coordinate any major meetings for after your return so there are few loose ends. You can show that you’re in control AND take time off.

3. Automatic Replies. Turn them on, identify a departure date and a return date. Clearly state that you’re unplugged without ANY email or phone. Period. Leave an emergency contact that IS NOT YOU, if necessary.

This is a simple thing to do and can really alleviate negative experiences. This includes your email and your voicemail. If people don’t know you’re gone, then they think you’re just not responding. This is not nice and creates unnecessary animosity. It’s also unprofessional. Do yourself and everyone else a solid and give notice that you’re gone.

4. Don’t feel bad. Look, it happens to everyone, you unsync, you set expectations, you notify – and there will always be a honey badger who won’t respect your time off. It’s taken me years; however, I have finally made the leap: I’ll deal with it when I get back. Period. Unless someone is having a catastrophic emergency on a project such as fire, water, or theft – I’m out. I love you all, I’m out. People may not like it, don’t make it your problem. You did everything you could to avoid that sentiment.

5. Be consistent. Use Items 1-4 and use them all the time. Inconsistency breeds discontent.

Consider this practice – and, I promise, when you’re spending your evenings, weekends, and vacations work free, your office will notice how your refreshed attitude improves their lives as well.

Happy Independence Day!

Want to see our team? Check us out at Integro Rehab!



The Oak Brook Project: Update!

Once upon a time, we were ready to execute a project in April. Then, the winds changed and a curse fell upon our property – causing us to wade through a bureaucracy of hell (and that’s the nice way of putting it). Weeks turned into months as we continued to ask specific questions that were answered with other questions (if we were answered at all). 5 submittals later and 2 months delayed, we were told that the Village “…thinks [they] have most of what [they] need.”


All​ ​of​ ​this​ ​so​ ​that​ ​we​ ​could​ ​landscape​ ​our​ ​yard…


Okay people, I typically try to be as professional as possible despite the realities of construction. In this case, there is no other term that is a more accurate response to this mess: WTF.


There, I said it. I have communicated effectively.


So, what else can a girl do? Well, let me tell you what she can do. She can call every ********* person in the Village to find out what the **** is going on until she gets an answer that 1) makes sense; AND/OR, 2) is productive.


Chicago has 2.7 million people and can get us a permit through their standard review process for an entire gut rehab within 6-8 weeks. Oak Brook has 8,000 people and we were heading into week 9 – forcing us to face the reality that our foliage worth tens of thousands of dollars is now going to be planted in the extreme heat of summer instead of the cool springtime.  


Here’s my philosophy on navigating bureaucratic nightmares:


  1. Class gets you nowhere. Be obnoxious – not rude, obnoxious. I don’t even pretend to care about anyone else’s time. They don’t seem to care about mine, right? Call, call, call. Walk-in. Demand immediate meetings. Does the person at the front desk tell you “so and so” handles that? Right, where is his/her office? I’ve been known to walk building department offices looking for the person who can help. You don’t have to be rude – you just have to be insistent. Will you get what you want that same day? Maybe, probably not. They will remember you though – and they will want you out of their hair. That’s an ideal situation.


  1.  Communicate effectively. This is a sales pitch, have your elevator speech ready. Be able say what you want in one sentence. ONE SENTENCE. Perhaps something like:


“I’ve been waiting 9 weeks for a landscaping permit and I need someone to give it to me so we can get started.”


Don’t say something like: “…I’m hoping someone can give me an update.”


Uh, uh. No. Bad! That gives whoever you’re talking to a way out of actually answering you. Do you know what an update is? It’s this: “It’s in review”. Boom. They’ve appeased your request.


Be specific, aim specifically for what you want. You want a permit? Ask for your permit.


  1. Be factual. If you’re going to be obnoxious, you had better make 150% sure that you are 100% correct about your arguments. Do not push your way around their offices and then be wrong at the end of the day. You will never get their respect. Check, re-check, have your timeline of events ready, keep it simple, and BE FACTUAL. Facts. Not emotions – NO EMBELLISHING. Facts are extremely difficult to deny.


  1. Don’t be afraid of power. One time, I was in the Chicago Department of Buildings dealing with an acutely painful dilemma. Within an hour, I was sitting with an inspector, his supervisor, and his supervisor’s supervisor at a table in their cafeteria. Action Item 1: completed. I asked them to clear my permit. Action Item 2: completed. Their response? “Well, that’s a common sense argument, but that would have to be cleared by like…the Deputy Commissioner. *dramatic pause and doubting tone*”. Action Item 3: Completed.


POP QUIZ! What was my response?


“Okay, where is his office?”


“Her office.”


“Wait, wait – you’re telling me that the Deputy Commissioner of construction in Chicago is a WOMAN?!”


*awkward pause*


“Okay, here’s her email. Copy us on your email to her and we’ll update her on our meeting.”


July 3rd, the Deputy Commissioner dropped everything she was doing the day before a holiday to meet with these inspectors for over an hour, review my drawings, and resolve my issue. 4 HOURS LATER. She called me with a go ahead while I was waiting at the Alderman’s office to plead my case there.



  1.  Remember your constituents. If you’re the homeowner of the building, bring it up! Your taxes pay the salary of everyone that you are talking to – they owe you respect. If you’re a professional, bring up your clients! They’re the ones the government is accountable to, not you. Keep your ego in check. This isn’t about you, it’s about your clients. Your clients are the ones who are suffering.


  1. Be thankful. If someone gets something done for you, give credit where credit is due. If you’re moving your issue forward, you had people who helped you do that – and let’s face it, those people didn’t particularly want to help you and they did anyway, on your agenda. Thank them, and be genuine about it. No one wants to help a jerk.


  1. Get over it. The government is an incremental part of any construction process. No matter how ridiculous, resolve the issue and move on. Don’t hold a grudge, get over it. De-escalate the issue so you can have a working relationship with your inspectors.


Another thing to get over? These people may not like you after you get what you want. You’ve stepped on toes, you’ve been annoying, you’re obnoxious. It doesn’t matter that they caused their own problem, perception is reality. You were the problem. Get over it.   



So, we met with the Village Manager at Oak Brook. He was considerate, professional, and lended us an earnest ear. Two days later: permit in hand.


The End.



Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!

To Be or Not To Be: Are you ready for a construction project?

This week I am gallivanting in Napa Valley, surprising my sister for her 40th birthday! While Sebastian is braving the heat in Chicago, managing the landscaping at The Oak Brook Project (yep, you read that right!) and coordinating our other projects, we have been driving along the Pacific coast, spotting baby seals, visiting vineyards, and dining to our hearts’ content. We are staying in a beautiful villa in the mountains – complete with an in-ground swimming pool and hot tub. Life really doesn’t get any better.


Such is the life of a business owner that work is never really left at home. I am constantly looking at the scenery around me, visualizing what I would build on these properties – perhaps a stone villa overlooking the vineyards? Or a two-story craftsman style home featuring covered porches and large pergolas by the pool? Or a french country style house overlooking the ocean? My leisure time is consumed with thoughts on the challenges of building these houses and the pacing of our next meal.


While in California, I have had the distinct pleasure of finding a new partner in crime – the owner of our Villa. She has been instrumental in pulling off the surprise trip for my sister and we have become fast friends. The villa is filled with custom antiques, stone tiles, a roman-style shower, a clawfoot tub positioned next to french doors overlooking the property, balconies off the bedrooms, and a large veranda designed for entertaining. As we pulled into our mountainous retreat in 90+ degree heat, one issue became immediately obvious – there is no air conditioning!

If you’ve never tried to fly someone out to an undisclosed location for a week, let me tell you that there is a lot of coordination involved. Specifically, there are a lot of conversations involved – many of which were with my new friend. Over the course of these conversations, she had mentioned that she desperately wants to install air conditioning and simply can’t get a contractor out to do the job. She also expressed some misgivings with single discipline work that has been done over the years. In summary, she stated:

“If I had to do it over again, I would have just saved all of my money up to have a GC do everything at once.”

What a brilliant statement. It’s a statement of experience.

The fact is that there is no easy way to do construction. Both are the “hard way”. If you do the work all at once, then you’re likely saving up for years to do the work – staring longingly at a property without being able to make your dreams a reality. If you do the work piecemeal, you’re seeing instant results; however, the final product will almost always lack the finishing details of a complete project…the work will most likely not be done by the same company from project to project, your tastes may change, your logistical needs may change as you maintain a home of your own over the years…there is no way for any contractor to have the foresight of what you may need in the future and build for those opportunities. That kind of final product requires massive insight, design expertise, knowledge of the trades, and anticipation of potential pitfalls. It requires an architect and a general contractor.


So, here is my advice:

How do you know when you are ready for a construction project? When you have the funds to do everything that you want and the funds to stay out of the house while you do it.

When it comes to construction, play a long game. This is the best way to guarantee that the finish line will be the house of your dreams.

Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!


How To Control Your Construction Budget

Somehow, we have found ourselves in the throes of spring this year – it’s mid-MAY! MAY! Really?!

Spring means construction is ON like Donkey Kong (yes). Early projects are well on their way (except, of course, for the Oak Brook project…) and summer projects are expectantly waiting for us. Another reality of this time of year is that we get inundated with calls for NEW projects – a lot of people ready to put an offer in on a house and want preliminary pricing, investors with land now want to develop it with multi-unit buildings, and homeowners ready for a new look.

All of these projects sound awesome! As always, they come down to one thing: money, money, money.

Whether you have $50,000.00 or you have $5,000,000.00, budget is the single most important factor when evaluating a construction project. Just because a client has $1M doesn’t mean there is another $1M if things go wrong. Yes, we have goals for the project. Yes, we need the space to be a spectacular final product. Yes, we care about sustainability and community. Yes, we care about character and preservation. The fact is, we cannot address any other factors of a project without addressing the budget first.

So, regarding preliminary pricing, you can reference How to Estimate Your Renovation.

I’m going to be talking about a much harder concept – controlling your budget.

You have an idea for a project, you have the building, and you have a budget. How do you maintain your budget? How do you make sure that your $450k doesn’t turn into $600k?

Here’s a few ideas to help:

1. QUALIFY YOUR ARCHITECT. Okay, you’re doing a major renovation so you need an architect to define your scope. ALL ARCHITECTS ARE NOT EQUAL. Listen closely: DESIGN is NOT where you should be cutting costs. I understand, that extra $10-15k could buy your tile! Stop it. Right now. Knock it off. NOT spending that extra $10-15k will cost you $50k. I promise. A good architect will have a strong understanding of construction cost. A good architect will have a strong understanding of construction itself. A good architect will want to work with your GC.

Sebastian and Todd in Action
Our architect working with us at the Hyde Park Condo

A good architect will have DETAILED drawings showing functional installation of utilities (HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing) and structural components. I cannot tell you how many times I have walked into a project where a client is bidding 3 or more GCs with drawings that don’t show what needs to be done. Oh, you want to move that skylight? One GC is going to price moving that skylight, great price! One GC is going to price the purchase and installation of the new skylight window, what’s the brand and cost of the window? Does this including framing? One GC is going to price with the assumption that they will need to re-frame the entire ceiling to accommodate the new location of the skylight, is that necessary? So, now you’ve got a low bid, a confusing bid, and a high bid – which is your best bet? Your job just got a lot more difficult. A good architect will not put you in that position. The details will be there. The bids are apples to apples.

This is an actual structural drawing showing a dot as a major structural beam.

Also, any architect who tells you that they don’t do drawings of utilities or detailed carpentry drawings because the GCs are just going to do it their own way or should know how to get it done without them is an architect you should walk away from. In the same breathe, that level of detail takes time and we know what time equals. An architect’s time is a good use of your money.

2. COMMIT TO YOUR SCOPE. So often, I speak with clients who want an incremental number. “I want to know what we can do for X, and then X+ $50k, and then X+$150k.” or “OMG! That budget needs to come down $100k!” It doesn’t work like that. You’re not buying a cable package. There is no WANT, there is only NEED. If you are doing a renovation project, you’re taking down walls right? You’re taking up floors, right? You’re putting in bathrooms, right? Okay, so once everything is demolished, it HAS to be built back up. The walls NEED drywall, that drywall NEEDS to be painted, the floors NEED a finish material, the bathrooms NEED tile. There is no halfway. Any GC who tells you otherwise is treating their base bid as a jumping off point – a place to START. It’s not a maximum bid. If a GC is telling you something that’s too good to be true, it is. Let’s face it – we are not bringers of good tidings when it comes to budget.

Now, many bids do include Alternates – maybe we install a more expensive hardwood? maybe we add on a deck? maybe we build a custom bookshelf? That’s controllable – those things are not contingent on other things. When we’re talking about major scope items: layout changes, replacing utilities, replacing the roof, these are not mutually exclusive. The most dangerous thing you can do is think you can add that stuff on as the project progresses. No, that’ll cost you a fortune. Know your scope, commit at the beginning. First, if you don’t have a great GC, you’ve now locked in with that GC and now you have very little leverage to negotiate pricing for a change order because you won’t be able to bring anyone else in to do that work. You’ll have to bring someone else in after your project is done and they will need to rip stuff up to do it which will then cost you more. Second, if you have a great GC, that GC has allocated a certain amount of time for your project and adding major scope items that impact other items mess up the schedule: time. You know what time equals…seeing a theme here? It’s a bad deal for you.

Have a martini, go for a workout, take a bath, call a psychic – whatever you need to do, wrap your mind around your scope and commit.


3. FINISHES, FINISHES, FINISHES. Whenever I have a client that needs to reduce their budget, I immediately refer them to finishes. Why? See Item 2: when it comes to labor, there’s no halfway. Lucky for you, we live in the age of technology – at your fingertips, you can find a vast array of finishes to choose from. While I still strongly recommend hiring your architect to help with interior design, if the budget is too high, work with them to change out the fixtures. Perhaps Delta instead of Kohler, perhaps porcelain tile instead of marble, perhaps poplar instead of oak mouldings, perhaps solid core composite doors instead of solid wood doors. These changes can save you tens of thousands of dollars.

See how we installed smaller cabinets and built them up with mouldings? Economy appliances. Ceramic tile backsplash. That end piece of the island is actually an upper cabinet. Thanks to our HGTV designer, Susan Klimala!

4. ESCALATING SCOPE ITEMS. Beware of escalating scope items. These are scope changes during the project that create a domino effect. For example: let’s say we do demo and find that there is an original window from 1888 that’s been covered up and hiding behind the walls. Of course you want to restore it! Here’s the deal: the answer is “yes”, the question is “how much?”. Of course it’s possible to restore that gem to its original glory! Ask your GC to walk you through what it will take to get that done. First, you have to remove the window without breaking it, then you need to get it restored by an artisan, then we need to open up the wall from the exterior to make a window opening, we may need a lintel, we’re going to need to change the size of a cabinet. Do you see what I mean? One scope item triggered many others. These are things that can drastically increase your budget in one fell swoop.


5. CONTINGENCY. Okay, you have a great architect. You have your scope fully defined. You’ve had a martini. You’ve priced your finishes. Now, add on 25%. You may not use this, you need to have it there just in case. There are still a lot of factors that you can’t control: 1) unknowns that can’t been seen until demo finishes, 2) city/village inspector requirements, 3) opportunities for scope improvements that will make a big impact…say, restoring an original window discovered. You don’t want to bypass an opportunity like that because you don’t have the budget.


If you do these things, you really shouldn’t have many surprises. When you’re taking on a major project, you want to be realistic about your budget so that you can enjoy the transformation! You’re spending a lot of money, this should be fun. If you do all of this and you find that your finances are still REALLY tight, then wait. Don’t get yourself into something where you can’t get out – remember, there’s no halfway.

Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!