Which Design/Build Firm?

Parent Q&A

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  • Made Renovation

    (2 replies)

    We're considering using Made Renovation for a bathroom remodel/reconstruction. Anyone have any experience or feedback about them? Thanks! 

    I’m very curious about this too. We got a quote from Made and thought it was pretty pricey compared with what others said a bathroom remodel would cost, but that may just be Bay Area construction. Would love to know if others have had positive experiences.

    Hi, I signed a contract with Made and it was a disaster. Design came in 3 months late at double the estimate. Eventually they returned our deposit. This was 2 years ago, so things might have changed, but I would definitely get a few other bids.

  • I'm looking for a licensed contractor that will take a small job. I'm on fairly tight deadline so someone who will complete a job on time would be great. I am also looking for someone with drafting skills to draw up plans for an existing cottage. Any recommendations are greatly appreciate! Thanks!

    Without any hesitation, I recommend Alin with Eco Home Remodeling for any projects. I am impressed with not only the quality of their work, but the quality of their character. Alin was thorough, respectful of our needs and delivered as promised. His estimate was detailed and thorough. The workers sent in were respectful and did fantastic work. EHR did a total remodel of our master bathroom and kitchen, as well as a number of smaller projects in our house in Lafayette. We couldn't be happier with the results. Alin can be reached at 510-697 0679 or by email admin [at] ecohomeremodel.com

  • Hi- Has anyone had any experience with New Avenue Homes design/build firm?  It seems like an interesting model but perhaps too good to be true?  Does anyone have a sense of the quality of their work and if their prices are in line with other contractor bids?  Thanks!  https://www.newavenuehomes.com/how-we-work/

    Hi I’m an actual, current New Avenue client. We’re doing a pretty major renovation and a bit of new construction on our house in North Oakland. With full time jobs we don’t have the time to do much of what it likely takes to project manage at this level so that’s one of the first ways New Avenue has been an incredible partner - the software and the way the project is managed is intuitive and easy to keep all stakeholders on the same page, keep all docs in the same place, simple billing, and probably more that I haven’t needed to use yet. Another was working with New Avenue has been a huge help to us is that our designer and builder are both extremely vetted and we don’t worry for a second about their respective experience and expertise. I don’t know that we’d find them without tapping into New Avenue’s network and I take a lot of comfort in knowing I’m working with people and a system, combined, that are going to be transparent and consistent- informed by lots of data - and keep the surprises to a bare minimum. It’s a LOT of trust to literally tear your home up with someone and while I can’t say it’s as cheap as piecing everything together yourself if you have the time for that (and managed to get good people) it’s actually cheaper than another architect/builder quote we got and I’m very happy with the trade offs that leave us feeling very confident in our bids and schedules.

    I am a designer with my own residential design practice since 2015, and I have been a New Avenue design partner since 2016, as part of my independent architectural practice. I can say that from my own experience, New Avenue does not charge more for my design services than I charge my own clients that are not introduced to me through New Avenue. So I disagree with this person’s assessment that New Avenue prices are higher; New Avenue prices are competitive.  New Avenue is not a "middle man". New Avenue is a network of architects, designers and builders who offer clients a design-build team to deliver a quality design and finished end product, on budget and on time, much like any other design/ build firm works. The team is integrated and collaborative which makes the design and construction process as smooth as possible.  I tell my clients that part of the New Avenue service is having access to reliable construction cost comps, and access to the New Avenue builder network who will provide construction cost estimates early on in the design stage. Too often when designers and architects design without builder cost feedback during the preliminary stages, they get so far into the process, or even complete the Construction Documents, only to find out that the construction cost kills the project altogether. I know this from first hand experience working in architecture firms that did not collaborate with builders early enough in the design phase. Beyond having access to builder cost feedback at any point in the design phase, the New Avenue builders with whom I have worked do excellent work. The builders are professional, care greatly about the end product and that care shows in their high level of craftsmanship. I think it would be worth giving them a call and talk with some of their designers and builders. I cautiously tested the New Avenue system for several years before switching all of my projects over to New Avenue. I now use New Avenue's web-based application exclusively for all of my projects, because it is more efficient for both me and my clients. New Avenue’s Bay Area team is made up of talented and community minded professionals, who are interested in helping create beautiful, livable spaces and are committed to addressing our state’s housing crisis, one ADU at a time.   

  • Have you recently build a new small home (600-700 sqft) in berkeley? How much did it costs for the Planning and design, permits, and construction?  Do you have a trusted contractor you would recommend? 

    I can highly recommend Eric Sterken. He is a licensed and insured General Contractor and has done a LOT of work for me. Excellent craftsmanship ... and he's also a delightful person and wonderful to have around. 

    His company is E&J Builders, and their website is here:  http://www.ejbuildersinc.com

    His email is ej [at] ejbuildersinc.com

    Good luck with your project!

    You can trust Levitch Associates Inc. They have been around for more than 60 years in Berkeley. They do design-build.  I met different contractors but these guys do a good, clean job and have a heart. ❤️

    There was a NY Times article recently about a start-up in Berkeley that sells and installs prefab tiny homes. I am looking at this for my mother, as she gets older. The company looks pretty cool, and they have a lot of details on their website about cost options. http://www.avavasystems.com/

  • Affordable design-build firm?

    (5 replies)

    Any recommendations for an affordable design-build firm? We're looking to do a fairly large remodel on our house, and our focus is really just on getting the structural stuff done (moving walls around, electrical, plumbing, lifting the house if possible) than nice furnishings. Problem is, most of the design-build firms I see out there have fancy-looking projects and the ones that list their sources are ones that have really nice finishings. Honestly we'd probably be happy with barebones generic home depot or IKEA. Anyone have any referrals for more down-market design-build operations?

    Alternatively, would people recommend going the more traditional architect and contractor route instead?

    I highly recommend Levitch Associates www.levitch.com. They're a family business operating in Berkeley for about 50 years. I saw several of their projects and when the time came for a remodel, they were the first ones I contacted. They were great to work with, very amenable to budget, changes, and generally walking us through our first time at this. Maurice Levitch is a great guy, very easy to with and a wonderful designer.

    Design and build is great if you can afford it, but you may save money going the architect/contractor route, depending. We had been through 2 major remodels before we started our most recent (lifted house, new foundation, built out new level and more), so we knew much of what we were getting into. My husband was able to essentially act as the GC, managing subs and the building dept. We used a great architect and structural engineer and found our own contractors (foundation, framer, plumber, electrician and handyman). This is a major time suck - it's like a 2nd full time job, BUT if you know what you are doing and are able to manage it you will save big $. Anytime you hire a GC or design/build co. to manage it all for you, it will cost you. The furnishings are the LEAST of your expenses, honestly, so you need to be practical about how much you will need to spend. A project of your description (lifting house and assuming that means building up or down plus moving structural walls and electric/plumbing plus updating old, architect, engineering and city permits and fees) will likely start around $200-300k, and that's doing it yourself - add more to hire a GC or design/build co. to manage it for you. Feel free to message me offline if you'd like more details.

    We used a design-build contractor to do our 2nd story addition back in 2005 and while I feel like they did a great job for what they were tasked with, my deepest regret is not having used an architect.  Fast forward 12 years and we did a kitchen remodel with an architect and are SO happy we did - the space is so much better used than our upstairs.  The "savings" of not using an architect the first time has also been lost in subsequent remodeling (mainly of closets) to use the space more efficiently, but even worse is that certain things about the design are not changeable so we're stuck with them.  Not the contractor's fault - he worked very closely with us and followed our lead, but neither of us had the experience or spacial sense of an architect, which I just really think is different.  Most contractors won't have a problem using Ikea or Home Depot materials, so no down side in that respect for using an architect.  Good luck!

    I would recommend an architect plus a contractor, not a design/build firm. I worked with a big contracting firm for a bathroom re-do that had a designer on board. I picked the contractor first based on neighbors' work and I knew I wanted to go with them. Their designer created a plan that wasn't anywhere close to what I wanted. He got stuck on a look that I didn't want, despite a number of detailed conversations. So I ended up working directly with the owner of the contractor firm, using my own research (photos of what I wanted). I loved the outcome. On a later project with the same contractor, I paid an architect to draw up the plans first. I picked an architect who had experience with the style of my house, and who had also worked with my contractor. It turned out really well. I think that if you find a really good contractor, it doesn't mean their designer will be great. So if you are spending lots of $$$ you are better off doing the design and build separately.

    Erik Chan in Orinda does a ton of new construction and remodels. I know one house he did he used IKEA kitchen cabinets and they look fabulous.

    erikchan2 [at] gmail.com

Parent Reviews

If you're looking for a talented and reliable contractor for your home renovation project, I highly recommend Post & Beam. They recently remodeled our mid-century modern home in 2021 here the Berkeley Hills, and we couldn't be happier with the results.

Paul has an excellent eye for detail and was able to bring our vision to life while staying within our budget. He was always available to answer our questions and address any concerns we had throughout the renovation process. His team was professional, courteous, and always left the job site clean and tidy at the end of the day.

Overall, we were extremely impressed with Paul's expertise, and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend him to anyone looking for a contractor in the Bay Area. If you want your home renovation project to be in good hands, give Paul Warren with Post & Beam a call at 510-812-2032.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Design Build Firm for Basement Remodel

Sept 2012

We are looking for a design/build firm that has experience remodeling a basement and mudroom. The basement is currently unfinished. Any recommendations for contractors that have finished a basement space into a simple family room/kids playroom? Thanks Needing More Space...

We just had our basement remodeled and I can highly recommend William Patrick Builders. Will, the owner, came up with a plan turning the 'dungeon' as I often referred to it and made it into a small studio. What once was dark and gloomy is now light and airy with a nice flow. I couldn't be happier. Will is reasonable, personable and takes the time to really make sure things are done on time and with ease. Will can be reached at 510-812-5515. Happy Client

We have been thrilled with Tom Parenteau and his company Carr Custom Building. He did our kitchen remodel and subsequently some work on our neighbors house who were equally happy. Tom is a details guy - well organized, has excellent subs, and is above all reliable and efficient with his time. You could not ask for more in a building project! carrcustombuilders [at] gmail.com anna

Ryan Rusler at FDR Construction would be my first choice. 303-249-6070

I highly recommend Mike Pourzand of Gehl Design/Build. He is a certified green builder who is not only a talented designer, but is incredibly honest and straightforward. He spent a number of years with Levitch Design/Build before venturing out on his own a few years ago. Contact info: www.GehlDesignBuild.com 510-812-1039 Larry

Design/Build firm for major remodel

August 2012

We are about to undertake a major home renovation - new kitchen, baths, and some other things, and we would like to use an all-in-one design/build firm. The three we've heard about are Berkeley Design Build, Levitch, and Mueller Nicholls. Has anyone had recent experience with these firms and if so, were you pleased with their work? With the overall experience? With the cost? EastBayMom

I would very highly recommend Ron Bogley Builder/Architect. He did a huge remodel on our 1912 Craftsman house that included bedrooms, stairways, closets, finishing the basement, adding a master bath, etc. Not only is Ron supportive and fun to work with, but he is incredibly good at listening to what we need and then offering excellent options. He is professional, fast, very cost efficient, reliable, responsive, and frankly takes care of everything extremely well. He seems to know and work well with all the subcontractors one could need and his own crew is fabulous in every way. We are currently working again with him on our kitchen and bath remodel. Anyone who is able to work with Ron will be a thrilled client! Nina

I recommend Friedman Brueggemeyer (fbdesignbuild.com). They had great ideas, and their work was extremely high quality (my fussy contractor friend was very impressed). And even with a few extras we thought of along the way, they did the project for less than budgeted. They -- and the numerous different craftsmen who were involved in doing everything from painting to fabricating a custom-made stair rail - were also very pleasant to deal with. I actually missed them when they were gone, and hope to dream up another project for them soon! Fran

I have not had experience with the other firms, which I am sure are great, but we have done a couple of significant projects with Levitch, and I would not personally use anyone else! We did interview a couple of firms for a major kitchen/backyard deck remodel and went with Levitch. We loved working with them so much that when we decided to remodel our bathrooms and reconfigure our upstairs, we just went with Levitch; and we recently did a water heater project with them as well. A couple of things that were important to me: they are so easy to work with -- Maurice is incredibly responsive, enthusiastic, helpful and creative. He proposed such creative solutions in our kitchen and bathrooms -- we love how everything works and how it fits with our house. He deeply cares about the quality of the work - he raised issues (and fixed them) that I didn't even notice. If something goes wrong (and if it is a big project, something will), he makes it right, no matter what. They are not the cheapest (though I think they would be price competitive with the others you mention), but worth it. kerry

Hi there, Here's another one to consider - Friedman Brueggemeyer Design Build in Berkeley. We used them a few years ago and they were fabulous. Our project was similar to yours - kitchen/dining room, master bath/bedroom/closet, basement rumpus room, etc. We know several people who had used them (how we found out about them), all were very happy. Matthew and Amy are the principals and are terrific - down to earth, approachable, lovely people (we are still friends and they come to our annual Christmas party!). Give them a call. I think that they are probably comparable to the people that you listed? Also, they finished on time and budget... Check them out on yelp, and on their website. Happy remodeler

We are currently working with Berkeley Design Build. So far so good. They are great at communication, emailing, and have been super timely with getting designs back to us. Also they have a really nice craftsman/vintage design sensibility that works well for our old (1906) Berkeley house. - excited to move to the 'build' phase

Building and design for house addition

Nov 2011

We're planning to add another bedroom and a bath (more like a master suite) to our house, and we are looking for a skilled contractor who can provide the design and building as a package. Has anyone worked with such a contractor?

McCutcheon construction is a contractor I have experience with who does design and build and is extremely well respected, highly regarded and has professional, clean and skilled workers employed. They are very talented with design and quality construction and Michael, the owner is a long time Berkeley resident and graduate of Berkeley. He is also the president of a green building association and very conscious of green design and builds with a beautiful aesthetic. Contact either Alex or Dan at McCutcheon Construction www.mcbuild.com,(510)558-8030. Laura

Initially, we made the mistake of hiring an expensive architect to redesign our house, outside and in. We spent nearly $60K for drawings before firing him and largely scrapping his plans. We changed direction and hired a contractor, (who contracted with a designer for drawings/ ideas). We are 9 months into our project--the exterior, kitchen, living room, dining room, and entry are complete and after a break, we are onto phase 2 -- bathrooms and bedrooms. Our contractor, Ben Radutiu (EuroAmerican Construction- 925- 260-4303) and designer (Sherry Hope Kennedy, Eco Building and Design- 925-890-5619) have transformed our house with their clever ideas for use of space, artist eye for what looks great, and their exceptional craftsmanship. I can't give them high enough praise! What is also apparent in working with them is their eagerness to please the homeowner. A building inspector that came over to sign off on the permit told me that Ben's work was some of the best he had seen. Beyond that, Ben also builds custom furniture-- he's built us a walnut slab dining table, a modern walnut buffet, and zebra wood vanity. I could go on and on. Ben and Sherry are simply the best around! You can hire them individually or in tandom. bh

I worked with Dorrice Pyle http://dorricepyle.com 510-316- 2757 and her team which included Dan Martinez of Martinez Construction www.danmartinezconstruction.com. They were very helpful and professional during the whole process of building out our addition. I particular was impressed with there knowledge and understanding of the building code. It was a real pleasure working with them. Randy

My wife and I recently had our Albany 'McGregor'-style home totally renovated by Marius Construction. This extensive build included new electrical, plumbing, kitchen and bath redesign and an 860 sq.ft. addition. The design of the new addition was handled by local architect Tom Beil of Goring and Straja architects. We were extremely pleased working with both and found Marius and Tom to be professional and thorough. The house turned out beautiful! I am pleased to recommend Marius Construction and Tom Beil for any building project- large or small. Michael W.

Call Sorin Feraru at 510-228-7366.He is head and shoulders about the crowd, and can help you with the design as well.He just finished a project at our house which involved design.He provided us with the full package of design, plans and construction, which is great because it really makes a difference when the contractor, designer and engineer are a team and communicate one with another.It sure saves you the headaches.As for the construction, every single detail was great. The greatest part was that we could reach Sorin whenever we had questions, he always picked up his phone or called us right back. You can check some of his work at www.feraru.us

If you need a responsive contractor, you should call Sorin Feraru at 510 228 7366. We went through our second remodeling with him and we could not thank him enough for the work he has done. He was recommended to us by some dear friends last year when we wanted to remodel our kitchen. We were so happy with everything that we hired him again this year to remodel the rest of the house.We really appreciate the extra effort he has done so that we could have the home we had always dreamed of. Sorin helped us with the design and what we liked best it was that he's very good with organizing and planning the work ahead just to make sure everything is on schedule. Also, he really easy to communicate with and he always picks up the phone and returns calls on time. So if you want someone who can turn your home into a dream home, call Sorin Feraru. You can check out his website www.feraru.us to see some of the work he has done, and maybe get an idea about how you might want your house to look like.

Design/Build for home renovation

Oct 2010

We are renovating our old craftsman home and want a business that will handle the whole project-design and build. We've talked to Berkeley Design Build and liked them and have seen good info on them from BPN. We'd like to talk to other design build companies as well. Anybody out there have a good referral? need all the help we can get

We absolutely loved our design-build firm - Levitch Associates - for a major remodel four years ago. Maurice Levitch has such extensive experience (is a licensed architect and contractor) and so great to work with. People may caution you against design build because of the perceived lack of a checks and balance between an architect and the builder, but we found it was so useful to have the high level coordination and attention to detail that Maurice brought to the project. When we wanted to change the design, he knew what was possible and made it happen quickly without any cost or time delays. Our major project ($400K+) came in on time and on budget. I would work with them again for sure. We found them through friends who also had positive experiences, something you don't hear a lot in major remodels. www.levitch.com happy with design build

I would recommend Kevin Riley at Riley Design Partners. They are excellent, and Kevin great ideas. You can look at their work at: rileydesignpartners.com or call him at 510.390.6231 Kevin is innovative, a good listener and gets you want you want. And he's knowledgeable about greening solutions. (You should see what he does with salvaged materials.) Good luck! Michelle

Check out Canyon Design Build based in Oakland. They have a great reputation with excellent designers and builders on staff. Jay Cravagan is their new president; he has 30+ years experience in construction, and is incredibly customer-service oriented. Jay oversaw our home remodel prior to joining CDB and we are very happy with the results, as are friends and family when they visit. Contact Jay directly at 510-482-0300 or jayc [at] canyonconstruction.com. Happy homeowner

We worked with Levitch Design/Build a couple of years ago to do a major renovation to our kitchen, as well as adding a deck and a second bathroom. They were wonderful. Maurice Levitch has seemingly infinite patience and attention to detail. He worked through an exhaustive initial design process that was bigger, only to start all over again when we decided that it was just too much. They are a family business, and the build team is just wonderful. They did the demolition while we were on vacation and sent us regular pictures of the progress and of our cats enjoying the excitement. They kept everything as clean as was possible, and I think they even finished on time. I'm sure that they aren't the cheapest game in town, but the quality of the workmanship is excellent, and they treated us like a part of the family through the whole thing. Maurice even rushed over to our house on a Sunday once when our old washing machine started leaking on the floor and we just didn't know who else to call (and yes, he fixed it). I'm happy to discuss more if you like. Diana

I can recommend a great person for Design/Build. His name is Bob Root. His company California Rebuilders can do just about anything you want. Basically, his estimates include labor, materials, overhead, his profit and everything but what he doesn't charge you for is the thought process that goes into his work. Once he gets a job, he thinks about it continually and will draw and redraw designs for your project until you have a good idea of what you want. He does meticulous work, he is very personable and is very reasonable for the amount of work he does that you don't see him doing. He has a very good eye for design. If he has to tear into a wall and discovers dry rot and mold he will tell you it has to be taken care of and how to fix it and how much it will cost. If something needs to be done, it will be done right. His email address is calrebuilders [at] gmail.com. His phone number is (510)853-1800. He has a website: calrebuilders.com that has a few pictures of finished work he has done - as well as a lot of photos of the actual contstruction process of a couple of his projects. He is a certified green builder as well and takes great care in separating the debri so that each type of material goes to the proper recycler. cindy

I would highly recommend contacting both Sogno Design and Lawrence Construction Inc. they do great work together. Lawrence Construction not only was great to work with but have their own cabinet shop and can do all sorts of custom woodwork & cabinetry which gave our project a real custom feel at a reasonable cost. www.Lawrenceconstruction.biz www.Sognodesigngroup.com, Satisfied Client!

I highly recommend Jesse Rozay from Zeus Design Build. I used him to remodel my kitchen, bedroom and living room...I'd just bought my first home and was impressed by his down-to-earth manner and straight- talking assessment of what I needed.

Having him involved in the design process meant that he had a deeper ownership and understanding of the construction phase. This really helped in choosing details and design options, and keeping a more accurate projection of costs. I felt he was not only knowlegeable about construction methods, but he also had a great sense of style and attention to finish/detail that meant his rennovations were exactly what I imagined. He worked directly with my architect so I didn't need to be as hands-on until it was time to review plans.

His crew were great too...very capable and clean. Jesse tends to get booked up, but he's worth the wait. His website is www.zeusdesignbuild.com and email Jesse [at] zeusdesignbuild.com. Happy Homeowner

I recommend Allegrotti Construction, Inc. Small design/build company who specialize in craftsman and victorian home remodels for those who are interested in keeping the integrity of their homes. They are only word of mouth in their advertising, but reliable and do quality work and are not inexpensive, but not unreasonable in their fees. Allegrotti Construction 510-848-0520 Shirley

We highly recommend Nicholas Christ Construction, Inc for any remodel and/or design/build projects. For our recent remodel and addition, we had used an architect who later introduced us to NCCI, a family-owned construction business specializing in green residential remodeling. From the beginning, during the bidding process, we were very impressed by the crew: they gave us very detailed and informed bids (vs. generic computer-generated bids that we got from other contractors which made it difficult to believe they were accurate), great problem-solving skills when discussing ways to tackle difficult design issues and ways to save money, good communication, professional and easy to work with. We are now extremely pleased with the final product, an actually can say we enjoyed the process of undergoing the remodel! And at the end of the day, we were also impressed with their very detailed and accurate accounting and tracking of budgets which can also be another source of stress or trouble. We really can't say enough positive things about the crew and their work.

We didn't use their design/build services because we started with an architect, but from watching the staff in action, we can recommend them highly and are confident they would be fantastic in this regard. Check out their website nicholaschristconstruction.com for other references, but do note that the site is a bit dated and doesn't include their new design/build services, which they offer for smaller projects like bathroom or kitchen remodels, decks, room modifications and additions. They are always willing to meet with clients to discuss their projects and see if the fit would be a good one. Definitely worth a call to find out. 510.525.8931 Very Satisfied Client

We've been through two major projects with Peter Hirano (510-543-8659) and we strongly recommend him. We bought a fixer in 2007, in part because we knew we'd have Peter do it. This was a huge job; the whole house was taken down to the studs and rebuilt, including bumping out in the back of the house and adding an additional 600 sq ft. New electrical, plumbing, kitchen, bathrooms, you name it.. It came out great and very close to being on schedule.

In 2003, he did our major home remodel of our previous home. The remodel included extensive structural upgrades, electrical, new walls and floors (this part of our house was semi-finished or not finished at all -- dirt floors..), a new deck, new windows and stucco, new heating system and ducts, a skylight, a new bathroom...

Peter was excellent to work with on both of our projects. Terrific workmanship, honest and ethical, and a nice guy! He did a lot of the work himself and his subs were all great. He was on the site almost all of the time for the duration of the projects. He was also flexible with us, letting us take on some parts of the project (ie, demolition, painting..) to avoid his overhead. Change orders were very reasonable.

Before deciding to hire Peter the first time, we also met with a couple of larger companies in Oakland and Berkeley. They both seemed very good but the price would have been considerably higher for us and we're very happy we went with Peter. Peter did not do the design for our projects, but he has done so for other projects which we've seen. He has also been adept at recommending changes to our plans, and has a good sense of design. Hopefully, we'll never do any more major remodeling, but if we did, we would use Peter once again. Dan H.

Anyone use Berkeley Design Build?

Oct 2010

We are buying a house that needs a major kitchen remodel as well as smaller remodeling projects down the road. Has anyone used Berkeley Design Build and can recommend them (or not)? It seems that a design build firm might be easier and more cost effective than a separate architect and contractor, but I'd love to hear any opinions on this matter. Or if you'd like to recommend someone, I'd appreciate that as well. Thank you! confused

Berkeley Design Build finished converting our attic to 3 bedrooms and a bath about a year ago. They are fantastic. Mike and Chris were wonderful to work with and finished on time and on budget. We really liked the design build philosophy and BDB did a great job at presenting us with options that made sense and worked together harmoniously. We have plans to have them redo our kitchen when our finances allow, they drew up some preliminary plans when we were setting the scope on our upstairs and we look forward to working with them again. I can not recommend them highly enough. Please feel free to contact me if you'd like more information. Aaron

We had a great experience using Kathy Rodgers as our Architect and Lawrence Construction as our Contractor. They seem to work together a lot and worked out details and cost saving solutions thru out the project. Lawrence Construction built our cabinetry which is beautiful and were great to work with overall. You can talk to Severin at 237-3421 If you look at their website you will see our kitchen! Anonymous but happy

Seeking New Design/ Build Recommendations

Oct 2010

Hi, I am looking for a design/ build recommendations for a basement and kitchen remodel. Hoping for a small firm with good people skills plus excellent design skills that include green upgrade ideas. Prefer a computer savvy firm that will produce multiple visual options for each project. Thanks, Natasha

I posted this for an earlier question, but the same applies here. I would recommend Kevin Riley at Riley Design Partners. They are excellent, and Kevin great ideas. You can look at their work at: rileydesignpartners.com or call him at 510.390.6231 Kevin is innovative, a good listener and gets you want you want. And he's knowledgeable about greening solutions. (You should see what he does with salvaged materials.) Good luck! Michelle

Design-Build recommendations for remodel & attic conversion

May 2010

Hi, we're interested in remodeling our kitchen and converting our attic to livable space, and hoping to find recommendations for architect or design-build services. The project would consist of reconfiguring existing kitchen, stairs to attic, develop attic space, potentially dormers, new roof, maybe foundation work. Any thoughts about working with either Architects or D-B? Recommendations? Katrina

Matthew Stromberg in Berkeley is amazing. Not only is he talented, but he is really easy to work with. He's a great listener and has incredible integrity. His website is: www.StrombergArchitecture.com. KCS

Mark Hajjar is an architect with years of experience. He has designed many remodels which are similar to your scope of work. His experience also includes designing new construction in the Bay Area, in Berkeley and Oakland, as well as Sonoma and the East Bay. He works well with Berkeley Planning and Bldg Departments. Mark enjoys working with clients to provide a well thought out livable and attractive spaces with an eye toward economic and ecological issues. References avaliable. Give him a call..925 683-7645.

I have recommended Greg Watson to several people on the BPN. He has done tons of work for us, and I often refer to him as the last honest contractor (maybe because we've had so much trouble with other contractors in the past). He's honest and he's licensed, bonded and insured (which was important to my husband -- an attorney). He always has good ideas to save us money. Other contractors will come in with a low price, and then change order you to death. I understand that sometimes there are reasons for change orders, but some stuff they should know about when they write their estimate. Well, Greg is great. I hope he isn't too busy to help you. You can tell him I recommended his VERY HIGHLY. His number is 510/453-5638 (cell). Marilyn

For the person or persons looking for a Design Build firm recommendation, I can recommend California Rebuilders. Phone # is (510)853-18000. EMAIL is calrebuilders [at] gmail.com. I think the website is: calrebuilders.com. Bob Root is a certified Green Building Expert and has designed and built many fine structures including a project in San Franciso that raised a small 1 story home to 3 stories and included adding new earthquake resistant piers and beams and a complete new drainage system and remodeling of the interior of the home. He has a very good eye, is a skilled craftsman and a perfectionist. saitisfied client

We had a 45 year old house in Albany that defined ugly. Small rooms, a mishmash of styles, dark hallways, low ceilings, poor flow, tiny kitchen. After meeting with several architects we decided on Lindy Small Architecture. She did everything from concepts to detailed design to babysitting the final punch list. Lindy and her team are professional, very high quality, and thorough. Plus, she's extremely personable and a real partner in the end result. She transformed the ugly duckling into a contemporary ''swan'' with excellent design sensibility, gracious dimensions, incredible light and thoughtful flow. Not a day goes by without someone stopping as they walk by and commenting on the transformation. (Its been 8 months since we've moved in!) She was an advocate for us with the contractor throughout the process and made changes as necessary to keep the costs within budget. Check out her site and look at the quality of her work. http://www.lindysmallarchitecture.com/ Max in Albany

The issue of Design-Build v. Architect / Contractor was a question last time around. It got a lot of responses. Here is mine: It seems the usual reason people opt for design-build is to control costs. I have worked out a system for doing this by bringing a contractor into the mix early on in the design process. The advantage to the homeowner in this scenario is that your architect has more creative freedom and there is no obligation to hire this particular contractor. S/he gets paid to do a cost analysis when it seems appropriate. There are a few Design-Build firms that produce consistently excellent design results, but I would say the main reason to hire them is not to control costs, but because you like their work. The downside is if the D-B firm you select is little more than a contractor with a sharpened pencil. You'll control costs, but the stereotypical contractor's design is mainly utilitarian and lacks the architectural acumen you might like to see for your home. . AB

Hi,I am an architect and builder. Assuming you will have to go through local planning review, your project will probably take 15 to 20 months from start of design to completed project. I think finding people you think you can work with creatively and for an extended period of time is the most critical ingredient to the success of your project, whether you hire a design builder or hire a separate architect and contractor. The conversion of the attic is considered a change of use in the CBC, and will probably trigger some structural upgrades to the existing house. I'd be happy to talk to you more about your project if you are interested. I can be contacted through my website at www.hyerarchitecture.com FH

I'm an architect in Oakland who specializes in residential projects. I have 17 years of experience and have worked on many renovation projects in the Bay Area. I'm working on a project very similar to yours right now - converting attic space, adding stair, renovating entire main floor, including kitchen and bath. A project like yours can be quite complex and can benefit greatly from a dedicated design person. An architect, working TOGETHER with a general contractor can provide many of the benefits of design-build, while providing greater focus on the design of your project. BH, Architect

I'm an architect and Berkeley parent. The best combination is to have an architect and contractor working together as a team with the homeowner, in a design- build relationship. Architects are trained to apply a broad and integrated approach to problem solving, that considers aesthetic design, code requirements, structure and systems, and needs of the family for function, comfort and elements of ''home''. Having the contractor involved as a resource during the design process allows discussion and collaboration to occur, and the testing of design ideas against cost and constructability, with possibilities for cost saving construction and innovative solutions. I've worked for a number of years as a designer in a design-build construction firm, and am a strong advocate for this approach. MT, Architect

I am writing to recommend Building Lab, a unique design- build company. The principal Stephen Shoup received his graduate degree in architecture. He and his team of designers and experienced carpenters offer a full range of services from concepts to construction to cabinet fabrication.

Last year, I contracted with Building Lab to build two bathrooms I had designed for our home in Piedmont. Stephen and lead carpenter Chris Rogers transformed a windowless crawl space into an elegant master bath retreat. Our teenage son got a stylish new bath of his own. The results in both cases far exceeded our expectations.

Our family is now excitedly beginning a kitchen remodel, again under the excellent management of Building Lab. Our new kitchen will incorporate sustainable materials and employ high-efficiency space and hot water heating and 100% high efficacy lighting. They are helping to create a luxurious and practical space for cooking and entertaining while being cost effective and sensitive to the environment.

Full disclosure: An architect by training, I recently joined B.L. as a design and client support consultant. Website: www.buildinglab.com HC

I would like to recommend G+S Architect.They are located here in Berkeley and they are a wonderful team for design and build projects.We've got the best deal ever for our project and I could say that we saved a lot by doing it through them.Ed and Sunny are both licensed architects and they worked around the Bay in various and difficult jobs.It was a pleasure for me to work with them.Highly recommend them. www.studiogsarch.com

My wife and I had the best experience with Andy Frasheski. He just finished building a new bathroom in our El Cerrito home. He converted our closet, expanded it, and turned it into a gorgeous bathroom with a skylight. He also did major electrical and plumbing work. He handled administrative issues with the city planning office too. Regarding price, he gave us the most competitive bid and stuck to it. At every point along the way he did whatever he could do to make us happy. A member of his crew is his son, who did a lot of painting throughout our house for - by far - the most competitive possible price. Andy has a great sense of humor and he makes himself available at any time throughout the day and week. (510) 644-3711 bg

Design-build vs. architect/contractor

March 2010

We're thinking about a second-story addition and wondering if hiring a design-build firm makes more sense than the traditional hire-an-architect-then-hire-a-contractor route. Any advice from people who have been there? Or design-builders, architects, or contractors who can make the case for either approach? Dave

We just converted our Attic to 3 bedrooms and a bath with Berkeley Design Build(http://www.berkeleydesignbuild.com/), it was a fantastic experience and I would recommend BDB very highly. While I'm sure you can get good results with an architect and contractor. There is something very appealing knowing that the guys who are designing your project are also going to be building it. Mike and Chris from BDB have been great, I'd go design-build again in a heart beat. Aaron

I have some architectural plans for a second story on my house in Berkeley but they just aren't right and we never had the second story added on because there were foundation issues that had to be addressed. Plus the staircase that was drawn in took space out of one room making it really small. The space that was added on to the second story overwhelmed the smaller living room of the house meant for a 2 bedroom home. I would work with a design-build team first ( probably less expensive as well) but you need to find one with a good eye as well as knowledge of the building process (sometimes a problem with some architects) Also, architects may not always have hands on knowledge of the most efficient way of building and remodeling as far as materials, etc. I can recommend a green builder for you who will spend hours working with you on what you want. He will be able to tell you if it is even possible to build within your budget. He will also make every effort to use sustainable materials whenever possible and takes the effort to seperate everything that is torn out or torn down so that it goes to the proper recycle program. Calfornia Rebuilders (510)853-1800 leave a message for Bob Root. Their web address - Calrebuilders.com happy customer

mixed bag; for the record - we are on the architect/designer side of the fence so perhaps biased. - but.

The allure and promise of design build has always surpassed the actual results. In theory, based on economies of scale, embedded knowledge and better coordination one should get a higher quality product for a better price. While I do think this is largely the case with respect to traditional wood frame construction and design - for projects which are either more complex or adventurous often there is often little real economy. Personally, I have found that design decisions in design build projects often are led by the ''what can be done'' school of thought as opposed to ''what should be done''. So, if your project has complex construction / design or approval issues - there may be little real advantage. But if the project you are considering is fairly straightforward then it may be desirable.

Also It should be noted that in a typical construction process the architect is supposed to serve as the advocate for the client / project - In negotiations with a contractor, and overseeing construction. This type of relationship is essential on a large project [eg:hospital] but is less critical on a smaller project. In a design build project these entities are the same.

I know that many design/build firms will disagree with my statement on this - But this has been my experience.

That being said, I would not want to tarnish many of the high quality design build entities out there with such a broad brush and just add that the selection of any combination requires that you as the client are comfortable with the selected team - and that it is a good fit for the scope of your project. robert

I am an architect and contractor and I have worked both as a design builder and as the architect in the ''traditional'' owner-architect-builder relationship. I think design-build is a great way to go for a lot of reasons, but you have to be comfortable ''putting all your eggs in one basket.'' I think the decision depends as much on how you, the owner, think you will be most comfortable working. i.e. do you want to shop around for construction pricing, or are you willing to stick with one outfit for the duration. Depending on the scope of your second story, the project could take 1.5 to 2 years to go through planning and construction, so my recommendation is to focus on the people you will work with more than the process, because you will be working with them for a while. fred

Hi, I am an architect weighing in on this perennial question. It seems the usual reason people opt for design-build is to control costs. I have worked out a system for doing this by bringing a contractor into the mix early on in the design process. The advantage to the homeowner in this scenario is that your architect has more creative freedom and there is no obligation to hire this particular contractor. S/he gets paid to do a cost analysis when it seems appropriate.

There are a few Design-Build firms that produce consistently excellent design results, but I would say the main reason to hire them is not to control costs, but because you like their work.

The downside is if the D-B firm you select is little more than a contractor with a sharpened pencil. You'll control costs, but the stereotypical contractor's design is mainly utilitarian and lacks the architectural acumen you might like to see for your home. AB

Go with Feraru & Associates Building and Design. They have a wonderful team and they have their own architect the work with, so you'll get the full package. It's really different when the contractor and the architect worked together for a long time and communicate. Of course they'll run everything through you, but it's different than being the messenger. We have worked with them and it turned out to be the best choice ever. Call Sorin Feraru at 510 228 7366 and let him do the magic after.

Hi, I am a residential architect based in Alameda (http://www.struthersdias.com). Your question about design/build vs. architect/contractor is a good one, and my recommendation is something of a hybrid.

The problem I see with design/build is that your designer now has an incentive to see your project become more expensive, because they will also get the construction contract. This is the same problem with architects who base their fee as a percentage of construction budget -- you don't want your designer to have any reason to want the project to become more costly. If anything, their priority should be to minimize costs.

The advantage of course to design-build is that coordination between the designer and builder is seamless. You definitely want the designer to be submitting drawings for quality control and cost containment to the contractor at regular checkpoints, and so with design-build that communication is built-in.

My recommendation is that you select your contractor early. We generally will have a ''conceptual design'' phase with a homeowner client, where we will together come up with one or multiple design ideas. These are concept drawings and you can't get a hard bid based on them, but a contractor can certainly give you a ballpark at this stage. Then pick the contractor based upon not just their ballpark dollar figure, but also how well you get along with them and feel comfortable with them. With the contractor already on-board, you have now facilitated direct communication between the designer and the builder. The builder can comment on design updates, can suggest less expensive alternatives, and can be well- informed about your expectations for the final product. We find this process results in the lowest overall cost, and the smoothest construction phase. Here is a blog post I wrote about this topic: http://www.struthersdias.com/sdarchi-blog/2010/1/19/its-one-thing-to-decorate-the-nursery-but-its-another-to-act.html Best of luck! Theresa

I would like to recommend you talk with Sherril Jackson of SeJ design. I talked with her recently regarding interior design work but she also showed me beautiful work she had done on 2 remodeling jobs. We have considered a 2 story addition and if we go that direction, she will be the person we work with. She would be able to give you the pros and cons of choosing a designer/architect as herself as she incorporates many space and flow issues inside that many architects don't take into consideration. I was impressed with her work--she does both corporate, commerical and residental. Her number is 415-377-1247 or email sherril.jackson [at] att.net Kathy

Design build firms!

Sept 2009

Does anyone have recommendations for a good design build company? Anyone ever worked with Lorick Construction? Berkeley Design Build? Others??? We'd like to finish out our basement as economically as possible. I suppose we could go the architect/contractor route too but design build seems so much more straightforward. Thanks for any recommendations.

Berkeley Craftsmen is a great outfit! satisfied in Potter Creek

I had never heard of design build firms until my friend recommended the one we are using now - Friedman Brueggemeyer 924 Carleton Street Berkeley, CA 94710 (510)848-3390 They are terrific! Smart, responsive, practical, and really nice to work with. Our project is very similar to yours -- which I think is smaller than their typical job, but they are handling it just as if it was the most important item on their plate. Also, it is coming in under budget. We couldn't be happier. Fran

I recommend you get a bid/plan from Altera Designs. Jim Vivrette, the General Contractor who owns Altera, has a really creative eye when it comes to making the best use of space, and he has terrific designers on staff as well. I recently engaged him to help my elderly parents with their bathroom refresh, and his ideas were interesting and innovative. He can be reached at (925) 766-7070. Julie G

We worked with Lorick Design on our rebuild (added approx. 1000 sq. feet and redid our kitchen completely). THey did both the architecture/drawings and construction. We were happy with the end results of both, but during the design phase, we had to constantly be the ones to push forward - otherwise, there were lots of delays. They do have new people now, so things may have changed, but I would still urge that if you go with them that you stay on top of them and make deadlines at each phase of getting blueprints completed. When we got to the construction phase, we were amazed by both the efficiency and the skill of everyone we worked with. Pete, Brian, Miguel are all excellent at their craft and our project - originally estimated to take 10- 15 months was mostly completed in 6-months. We've been living here for 10-months since the work was complete and still can't believe the meticulous work that was done and how well everything was completed in 6-months time. Best of luck with your project

I highly recommend you call Kevin Slagle Design Build. They did an addition remodel for us a few years ago (not designed by them) and also some interior work later on (designed by them). Kevin and his crew are pretty great. They're nice, mellow friendly guys who were very respectful of our space (we were living at home during the construction), cleaned up every day, responded quickly to problems that popped up, and were very professional and ethical. They take great pride in their craftsmanship, which is outstanding. If I had more money I'd just hire them to keep them around :-) Seriously, you can't go wrong with KDSB. http://www.ksdesignbuild.com/KSDB/home.html Kevin Slagle Design + Build 1734 13th St., Oakland, CA 94607 Phone: 510-893-0428 Fax: 510-893-2920 kdsb [at] ksdesignbuild.com

Just wanted to say how amazing our experience has been with Berkeley Design Build. We are in the process of completing the conversion of our attic in to 3 bedrooms and a bath. BDB has done a fantastic job. We wanted to go with a design build firm and interviewed 3 different ones. BDB was easily our first choice, MIke and Chris are first class craftsmen, they are great at presenting options with out overwhelming you. They are great at managing the other subs and have really kept our job humming. In addition to our hose they did an addition to a house 3 doors up from us and seeing their finish work really impressed us. Again I can't recommend them highly enough, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Aaron

You inquired about experience with local design build firms: We contracted with Berkeley Design Build (BDB) (in 2007) to remodel our 1917 Berkeley bungalow as well as add an additional bedroom, bath and laundry room. We could not have been more impressed with the process and could not be happier with the result.

We opted for BDB because we wanted one firm overseeing both the design and implementation process, and we liked what we saw of their work. In addition, we found Mike Pond, Chris Linvill, and their colleagues very responsive, flexible, and professional. Once the project got underway, they remained easy to work with, the process was transparent and educational, and the final result is exactly what we wanted. For these reasons, we recommend BDB whenever we can.

If you have more questions or would like to learn about our project and see evidence of their work, we'd be happy to show you our home. Lisa

Adding a second floor - Architect or design/build?

Feb 2009

I am planning to add a second floor to my small house in central Berkeley. Nothing fancy. I would like to save money by using a design/build contractor. Is this a good idea, or are there compelling reasons to hire an architect? Any recommendations? Out-growing our house

There are good reasons to go with either route: a design / build contractor, or hiring a separate architect and contractor. A design / build contractor might charge less on design fees than an architect, which are typically a small fraction of the construction cost. There are some terrific design / build contractors in the Bay Area. However, there are a greater number of traditional contractors who do not offer design and permit drawing services. Hiring a separate contractor and architect gives you a wider choice of contractors, and you can choose an architect who can best incorporate your needs and design aesthetic with the architecture of the house, who might bring a broader range of ideas and expertise to the project, and who can offer services that a design / build contractor may not be interested in; such as extra Design Review drawings and presentation, or just alternate design schemes you want to explore. Berkeley will require your second floor addition to have a Title 24 energy report and probably structural calculations, so be prepared to also hire an energy consultant and a structural engineer or architect with structural expertise. The architect serves as the coodinator of these consultants during design, can assist you in review of contractor bids, and can observe the construction process, serving as your advisor. You can find ''Consumers Guide to hiring an architect'' at this address, http://www.cab.ca.gov/consumers/index.shtml. A third option is to hire an architect and contractor who can work together in a design / build relationship. By hiring an architect and contractor who have developed that level of trust and communication, you benefit from both the expertise and services of an architect, and cost savings from having less / more informal drawings needed and being able to work things out in the field. As an architect, I'd be happy to give you more specific advice, and to offer architectural services. I offer design and construction / permit drawing services. MT

Hi there, we just went through your same situtation. We had a very small one bedroom and then I had twins! We didn't want to move and decided to add a second floor. We are both teachers and were really looking for a deal, which we finally found (met with a few overpriced/under qualifieds before finding our guy)

We used architect Mike Poorzand 510 333-3524 gehldesignbuild [at] gmail.com (he's in Kensington) We found it was cheaper to go this way instead doing the contractor as designer option. He charged us $6,000 for the entire drawing job which included even taking me to the county personally twice when I was 8 months pregnant, attending special meetings (we're in Kensington on a creek and there were extras to do), setting up our contractor for us (we did an entire 2nd floor for about $125, pretty basic), plus endless support and advice during the project (he got us all of our workers for the job). His drawings were passed the very first time they were submitted to the county and we never had any complications with his side of the job. He's a pro and a great human being-- he understands budgets and will give you options that you can work with. Good luck to you! If you want to ask questions of someone's who's been through it- - bluesquare

I know from my own experience that in your case you need to hire an architect. Because it is a second floor addition it needs engineer calculations and the engineer stamp has to be on the plans. The architect will provide everything. I worked with a contractor that was teeming with an architect and because of that everything worked smooth starting with the design part going through permits and ending with the construction itself. The contractor that I worked with is Constantin from C G Builders. He will recommend you the architect that he is working with. You can contact him at info [at] cgbhome.com or at (510) 305-5680. Jessica

Hi, You need an architect for a second level addition. The best way to do it is to find a contractor that works with an architect or the other way around. For my project I had a contractor that recommended me an architect. They worked as a team for the last four years. This makes your life a lot easier. You can contact my contractor, his name is Constantin Gott, at 510-305-5680 or info [at] cgbhome.com. They both did a very good job. diana

In response to your question about adding a second floor, I would recommend hiring an architect as opposed to a design/build firm. Typically I would recommend speaking with several architects to find someone whom you will feel comfortable working closely with to achieve your vision. After the drawings get to a certain stage (before getting a building permit, but including structural schematics) I would recommend doing a preliminary bid with several contractors. This is the only way to get an idea of how much your project may cost. A design/build firm will give you an idea of how much they would charge for your project, but you have no idea of the fair market cost and effectively would be paying time and materials which can easily get out of hand. Sandy, Architect

As a design engineer who used to be in the contracting business, I can say that a design-build contractor is the quicker cheaper way to go, and there are standard construction designs allowed by code which he can use to facilitate the project. I can recommend Andy Columna of Columna General Contractor (925) 698 0813. Andy is a good draftsman as well as a small project builder. Rabel

We just completed a remodel in El Cerrito and I wanted to recommend our architect, Sunny Grewal from Studio G in Berkeley (510.548.7448). A few years back we had hired a different architect for a second story remodel and by the time we went into bid, the estimate of the construction was way over our original budget, so we had to scrap the whole thing. The second time around we wanted an architect who was very informed and also honest about what we could afford as well as someone who was upfront with their fees. We found that Sunny satisfied these requirements very well as he charged a flat fee which was included in the contract so there were no hidden/hourly costs and we ended up with a very nice remodel that fit into our budget. I think the main difference between an architect and a design/build firm is that you have more flexibility when the plans are done as you can bid out to many contractors who compete for the lowest bid. If you do choose to go the architect/contractor route, I would also like to recommend our contractor, Marius Construction (510-828-6551) as they did an excellent job with the remodel for a great price, all while we were still living in it. Good luck! Sarah

Hi, In response to your question, I would highly recommend Sandy Chan, at curve design. I have found her work to be excellent, affordable, and better yet, 'green' or sustainable. She is also very fair and easy to work with. I can't say enough positive comments about my experience as using her for an architect on my home improvement projects. She can be reached at curvedesign [at] yahoo.com, or 415-819-4811. anonymous

We have used Vit Salvo of Arcistruct, 510-517-7151 here in Berkeley. He is an architect and builder and wonderfully resourceful and creative. Since he is familiar with all aspects of designing and building, as well as local Berkeley building codes, it is totally worth it to get a free consultation with him. He works with a great team. We have used him extensively and are overall very happy with his work. pleased client of Arcistruct

My recommendation is to hire an architect and a contractor. We recently completed a remodel to our upstairs. We started the project with a design/build contractor and after about 2 months stopped. We did not feel like we were getting what we wanted nor the attention. We re-started the project with an Architect. Not only was he good to work with and helpful, he has remodeled his own house himself and that was what sold me on him. When it came time to select a contractor, he helped us along the way and even came to the interviews. He was a nice balance and gave us some insight to each of the contractors. One of the things that I realized at that point, was how important it would be for him and the contractor to work well together.

Our contractor did a great job and really took the time to make it what we wanted. Our project is complete and I am really happy about it. Our Architect was: Bill Englehardt Engelhardt Architect 415-572-8895 Our contractor was: Jeb Bunker Jeb's General Construction 925-260-7579

Sept 2008

We are in need of a design/build architect to 1) create a foyer 2) add dormer 3) reconfigure kitchen/living/dining room space Speed and professionalism are of the essence. Thanks, Max

We had a very good experience with Maurice Levitch. He did a master bedroom remodel of a old sun porch on the back of my husband's house which included a bathroom and closet. The results are incredible and he was on-time every time. The final costs were slightly more than what was originally estimated, but that was because we, the clients, changed things. I would say we worked from an ''80% design'' approach - high in creativity and LOTS of input from us. Please contact me for further information and a possible tour. bobby

2004 - 2007 Recommendations

2003 & Earlier

Oct 2003

Re: Kitchen contractor for remodel
We went through a lengthy process of interviewing both architects and design/build groups to do a MAJOR kitchen remodel that includes moving interior stairs. While we found the architects' work to be generally more creative and unique, we opted for design/build because we would not make very successful project managers and wanted to avoid conflicts between the architects vision, the builder's understanding of structural soundness, and the City of Berkeley's arcane building codes. That said, the architect from ''our'' design build firm is very creative and an expansive thinker. We chose Federal Buiding Company (http://www.federalbuilding.com) Larry Hayden's group is expensive for good reason: Many clients continue to return to them for further remodels because they do what they said they would do, when, and for the estimated cost. Their reference pack is 2 inches thick! Amy and Dorrice, the interior designer and architect are very creative and work with Larry as a seasoned team. They are also fun.


Re: Good design/build firm for kitchen remodel?
I would like to recommend Shure Design and Construction (510) 540-1952. Marc Shure is a designer, finish carpenter and cabinet maker who specializes in remodeling kitchens. He recently remodeled our basement for us (unusual for him to depart from kitchens), and I can't praise his work enough. He transformed a funky, creepy, jumble of slap-together carpentry into a beautiful, usable space. I've seen some of his kitchens, too, and his excellent craftsmanship is evident in them as well. Carl


To the person inquiring about a kitchen/bath remodel, I highly recommend Mueller Nicholls Inc., a full-service, design-build company that specializes in kitchens and remodels. They have a wonderful kitchen designer, Michael Waxman, who owned House of Kitchens in Berkeley for 20 years before merging with MN. My husband is an MN lead carpenter and I can certainly vouch for the quality of their work. You can reach MN at 444-5000 and ask to speak to owner Steve Nicholls, or designer Michael Waxman (or check out the website at www.mncabinet.com). If you decide to contact them, you can mention Travis' wife Mary (that's me!). As for moving your project along regardless of the company you pick, it is essential to have a good set of plans to work from. The fewer along-the-way decisions/changes you have to make, the faster things will go. Good luck!