Project Spotlight: Problem Solver

By: Wendy A. Jordan

Dave and Cathy Cooper's home remodeling plans were on the road to nowhere. Having lived in the small, 1949-era San Diego house for a decade, the Coopers had amassed a long wish list of improvements, which an architect accommodated in a fine design.

The problem? The lowest construction bid to carry out the design was more than twice the Coopers' $275,000 budget.

"We had to shelf the project," says Dave Cooper. Two years later, the Coopers consulted several design-build remodelers."We thought the design-build approach would give us the best value for the dollar," Cooper explains, and the economic climate for construction work had become more competitive. But none of the companies wanted the job, saying the project was both too big for the budget and too small for them to undertake.

Jackson Design and Remodeling, San Diego, was different. In his first meeting with the Coopers, JDR staff architect Jim Groen said his company would successfully meet the Coopers' vision for the house if they trimmed their wish list somewhat (without sacrificing their overall goals) and added $50,000 to $75,000 to their budget. Rather than feel discouraged, the Coopers welcomed Groen's frank appraisal, since it showed his understanding of their remodeling objectives and his confidence that JDR could fulfill them. At last they were getting somewhere.

Rerouting the plan

At only 950 square feet, the house was a cramped split-level surrounded by million-dollar views of ocean, mountains and city views it did not capture. The Coopers wanted a larger house with a master suite, a bigger garage, and a new kitchen, living area and upper-level deck that took in the scenery. They wanted to replace the house's small rooms with bright, open spaces featuring clean, contemporary styling. To accomplish all this, the Coopers expected to tear down and rebuild the house.

"We agreed on the big picture quickly," says Groen. To shave costs, though, Groen recommended retooling instead of replacing the existing structure. Working with JDR interior designer Tatiana Machado-Rosas and structural designer Chris Ashby, Groen developed a design that reuses existing space in fresh, productive ways; incorporates a new, top level living-dining-kitchen area; and celebrates the views with an inviting deck and expansive glazing.

At 1,600 square feet, the bright, modern house is almost twice the size of the original. Yet, at $350,000, the remodel met the Coopers' revised budget parameters.

"The design was different than we had envisioned," says Cooper, "but it helped us to get what we wanted at a price we could afford." He adds, the completed project "exceeded our expectations. It's difficult to express how big the change truly is."

In the existing house, a small kitchen, dining area and living room occupied the main floor. Two bedrooms and a small bathroom were over the garage, a half flight up from the living area. JDR left these spaces intact but completely redefined them.

The original two-car garage housed just one car, because a laundry and office filled the other parking bay. JDR moved these inside the house and installed contemporary-style garage doors, providing a new looking, fully functioning two-car parking area without the expense of new framing and concrete.

Groen repurposed the lower level, creating a guest bedroom and bath, a laundry room, bonus under-stair storage, and a gracious entry that merges with an office for Cathy Cooper. In place of the side-by-side bedrooms originally over the garage, Groen inserted a luxurious master suite featuring airy bedroom, walk-in closet, and spacious bathroom.

Another half flight of stairs now leads to a panoramic new floor above the entry and guest bedroom level.

"We've always wanted a living area on top of the existing space to maximize views," says Cooper. "JDR reduced this down to maximum utilization of space with the minimum expenditure for building and engineering costs."

By cantilevering the new floor just 2 feet on one side and designing an open living-dining-kitchen area, JDR enhanced the versatility and sense of expansiveness of the new level without impinging on the lot's tight setback. Oversize windows and glass doors take in the views and natural light.

JDR updated the entire structure with new wiring, plumbing and mechanicals. Originally lacking adequate heating and air conditioning, the house now has high-efficiency HVAC systems that kick on when the California weather slips out of the comfort range.

Maximum mileage

JDR scoured the remodeling plan for ideas to save money and generate maximum bang for the buck. One of the most dramatic innovations involved structural support for the top-level deck. Rather than support the deck with columns that would intrude into the landscaped yard, Groen employed a single, offset, poured-in-place concrete column. The curved, cantilevered deck sits on a laminated beam that juts out from the house at a jaunty 45-degree angle. "We made [the post and beam] a design element," says Groen, as well as a structural composition.

Another clever cost saver was the shallow slope of the new roof.Rising from 8 feet to 10 feet across the span, the gentle incline retains standard plate heights, thus avoiding extra framing costs.

And since the single-slope rooftop is out of view, JDR was able to install economical, lightweight torch down composition roofing that added no extra load; the existing walls supported the new floor and roof without requiring addition of steel framing members. "That kept cost low," says Cooper.

The roof slopes up toward the ocean view, adding both exhilarating loft to the new living area and space-expanding vistas.

When dismantling the original living room level, JDR painstakingly removed the siding nail by nail. Reusing the 1949-vintage shingles around new window openings and to patch worn spots preserved the character of the house and yielded "huge cost savings," says Cooper.The house now sports a classy trio of original siding, complementary new siding at the entry and stucco.

JDR often suggests that clients purchase some products, such as light fixtures, appliances, and flooring, from the company's regular suppliers. Cooper was impressed that, when presenting their estimate, "They listed what elements they could supply more cheaply if we went directly to their supplier."

Groen explains, "We'll help with selection and let the clients work directly with our suppliers, without builder markup." JDR still manages the scheduling and installation. The Coopers ordered their French doors this way; "We saved a lot of money," says Cooper.

To help the Coopers economize, JDR made available to them at a discounted price a kitchen fixture that was being removed from the company's showroom display. The remodeler offered them a large, white-framed sliding door as a gift. In one of their few splurges, however, the Coopers declined the gift, upgrading instead to sliding doors and custom, glass pocket doors with a chic, dark metal finish.

In the end, the Coopers did not build a new house as they had hoped. But the remodeled house represents no sacrifice.

"It is for all intents and purposes a new house," says Cooper. In fact, it's even better than a new house, says Groen. "It retained its history. It has more soul" than a brand new house, "and more meaning for the client."


To assure the fixed price it provides to clients, Jackson Design and Remodeling takes a pragmatic look at project scope up front. The Coopers initially planned to spend $275,000, but Groen told them $325,000- $350,000 was more realistic.

The JDR design team produced a detailed design and itemized pricelist, including a fixed price section based on precise estimates from subcontractors, as well as a list of allowance items keyed to actual models available through JDR supplier partners. The clients received a highly accurate cost guide, and JDR was positioned for efficient, fast-paced construction, with subcontractors clear on their assignments.

Actual cost on the Cooper project, incorporating change orders, came to $350,000. JDR established a schedule of about a dozen progress payments triggered by completion of construction milestones spaced throughout the project. Having many payment points "limits the clients' exposure," explains Groen, and "gives them peace of mind" that they are paying for work as it is accomplished. "It helps us with our cash flow" too, he adds. "The key is that we're dealing with hard numbers, and taking ownership of what we're quoting."

Jackson Design and Remodeling