10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

Whether you’re renovating your very first home or you’re a seasoned veteran onto your 10th property, unexpected projects always pop up. This can be incredibly frustrating–but manageable! And the sooner you work with your designer or general contractor to get these projects out of the way, the smoother the rest of your renovation will be. Here are some of the most common hidden home renovation projects we run into:

Home Renovation: Expect the Unexpected

1 Building Permits

Dependent upon where you live, building permits may or may not be fixed costs. Sometimes they exist on a sliding scale or as a percentage of the overall cost of your home renovation. They can also take time to secure, and time is money!

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

2 Temporary Displacement

If you’re doing more than painting a few rooms, you and your family will likely have to move out of your house for a few weeks or even a few months. Consider these accommodations when evaluating your overall budget. Even if you are able to stay in your home, if your kitchen is being redone, you likely won’t be able to prepare your own meals, which can involve an added expense as well.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

3 The Gross Stuff

If you’ve bought a beautiful older property and intend to maintain it, you’ll be discouraged to learn you may have mold, water damage from plumbing issues, or asbestos. These issues greatly impact the structure of a home and the health of its inhabitants, which is why we always always always insist upon a thorough home inspection prior to getting to the fun projects so we can take care of the necessary evils first.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

4 Shoddy Wiring or Other Code Updates

An older home may be improperly wired, or generally not up to code. Building codes vary from city to city, and though you may not be planning on it, you may find your home needs requiring to be brought up to code. Luckily this won’t take too long and you can move onto more exciting cosmetic projects quickly!

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

5 Outdoor Maintenance

It takes a lot to maintain a gorgeous yard, especially if you have a lot of land. Talk to your landscape architect about yard maintenance so you’re aware of all your options, like automatic sprinklers and water reduction systems that help limit or recycle your water usage.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

6 Clean Up

Construction sites get messy! It can be discouraging to have your beautiful new home finished but have left over materials strewn about. Be clear up front about who is responsible for clean-up and clean-up costs after a construction project or design installation. Cities charge different amounts to have dumpsters parked on the street. And after having installers track dirt around, you’ll likely need new flooring professionally cleaned.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

7 New Walls

If you want to remove a beam or other structural element of the home, that can usually be done, but it will cost you. In order to maintain the home’s structural integrity, added walls or reinforcement have the potential to inflate your overall budget by 15-20%.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

8 Hourly Fees

Use your consultation time wisely! Many (if not most) designers will charge an hourly rate, similar to that of a lawyer. If new necessary projects are discovered or there are delays, it can inflate your overall budget.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

9 Moving Furniture & Storage

During a giant overhaul, you may need to remove any existing furniture and have it placed in storage for the duration of construction. Consider the logistics and timeline that moving and storing existing belongings entails in determining your overall budget.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

10 Changing Your Mind

Once a design/build plan has been decided upon, a clearer picture of how much it will cost will begin to fall into place, closing the gaps in the price ranges designers or contractors give you. Because of that, if you change your mind it will cost you. Your designer will have to go back to the drawing board, implement the design change, put in new orders for materials, which will likely have either longer lead times or will cost more for rush shipping.

10 Hidden Costs of Home Renovations

Our Advice: 3 Tips for Managing Expectations

  1. Your home is never really completely “done.” Accept that. Even with impeccable design and structural integrity, things around the home will always require upkeep whether that’s in the form of replacement or slight upgrade so ask your designer and contractor questions about down the line: 5  years out, 10 years out.
  2. Consult with a general contractor or designer who can give you realistic budgets and timelines for your home improvement projects: if a designer or contractor gives you too firm a budget or timeline, rather than a range, without having first done a deep home inspection into your personal needs, run for the hills and find someone who will!
  3. Take your time! We’ve written before about how overwhelming home renovations can be, especially when you try to do everything at once. Most design projects can wait, so be sure to prioritize. We shared even more specific tips on how to prioritize your home improvement projects in last week’s blog: Read it here.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

So you’re all moved in and ready to renovate your home… but where to begin? It’s tempting to focus on cosmetic repairs, or overhauling the shared spaces of your home like kitchens and living rooms, or starting with what’s most or least expensive, but we have some other tips for prioritizing your home improvement projects:

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Beyond First Sight

You’re going to want to have a general contractor assess the condition of the home’s structure before anything else. Before you start adding new furniture and installing new lighting or even before you slap a fresh coat of paint on the walls, have a contractor assess whether you have any water damage or other non-cosmetic issues to take care of first. These projects are going to make everything else go much smoother.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Access Your Budget & Start With Your Needs

Once you know if there are any structural issues you need to take care of, you can get an estimate as to how much of your budget that is going to consume. From there, you can begin making a to-do list of everything else you want upgraded. You can begin ranking projects by what needs to get done immediately, and what can wait (and truthfully, most projects can wait), and what you need to hire a contractor or designer to do vs. what you can do yourself. Generally what needs to get done immediately are going to be the things you need a contractor for, including:

  • Structural projects, which, if left unchecked, can cause permanent damage (leaky gutters, etc)
  • Safety priorities (child-proofing, alarm systems, etc.)  
  • Energy Savers (Windows/Doors, AC, Water tanks, etc.)

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Developing a Strategy

Once you have your list of priorities, you can begin working with a designer and contractor to develop an efficient timeline. Do you want to tackle one room at a time? Or is it better for your work flow to conquer larger, general projects like painting every room, or reflooring the entire home? Designers and builders work with project managers whose job it is to keep projects running smoothly and answer those questions to fit your specific needs.They can provide you with a lot of excellent advice about the workflow of your home improvement projects.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Energy Reduction

A huge priority of our firm, that is a win-win for everyone and the environment, is prioritizing energy-efficiency in home improvement projects. This extends from the zero-waste processes and sustainable materials we use to the outcome for homeowners: lower electric bills, more temperature-regulated homes, and homes that are built to last! If this is also a priority of yours, consider moving up projects like new roofs, new windows and doors, new water tanks up on your list.

How to Prioritize Your Home Improvement Projects

Remodeling for Resale

If you are remodeling to increase the property value of your home, however, your priorities are going to be different: This is an instance in which you may want to go project by project, focusing on the high-ticket rooms that are going to immediately increase your property value like full kitchen and bath remodels.

We wrote all about home improvement projects for resale value, read it here.

How to Light Every Room in Your Home

Lighting in Layers

Lighting is decorative, yes, but it’s also a practical necessity in every home. When you’re picking out lighting for your home, you’ll want to think like a designer: think of lighting a room in three layers: The first layer is your general or ambient light, this is the source for most of the light in a room. Secondly, think about the smaller sections, or vignettes in your rooms where you’ll need task lighting. These are spaces where you may find yourself reading, cleaning, cooking, applying makeup, etc. Lastly, think about lighting as decorative accents– these are more architectural light sources that serve as much decorative purpose as plants or art, while still illuminating the space. Read on for more specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home:

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home


In lighting your bathroom, it’s best to avoid overhead sconces because they cast shadows on your face making you appear tired, giving you big bags under your eyes. Op’t instead for sconces, which should be wall mounted at the same level as your face, typically that measures 66” from the floor, with one on each side of the mirror. This direct and balanced light on your face which will make you look your best. For an ambient night light, undercounter light strips allow you to see without turning on the lights full blast. This is great for those midnight bathroom breaks.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home


The kitchen is the heart of the home and needs the most variety of light for cooking, cleaning and just showing off, so you’ll want to use a variety of task and ambient lights. This includes under cabinet (at the counter and floor level, recessed lights, or ceiling mounted fixtures like Chandeliers or Pendants above island). While cooking and cleaning, having overhead and under cabinet lighting will help you see what you’re doing. The under cabinet light strip will add more light to the work surface of the counter.  Without them, sometimes the cabinets cast a shadow on the counter making it difficult to see what you’re doing and you could chop your finger off.  (Trust me, I’ve done that! But it was also after a bloody mary, so…. Perhaps that’s a story for a separate blog post on kitchen safety!)  

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

And when you’re not in the kitchen, keeping the under cabinet LED light strip, inner cabinet with glass doors, and Island lights on dim, allows the kitchen to be the highlight of the home: a star even while it’s in the background. A natural approach is to center the sink between 2 windows for natural light along with installing a can light or pendant directly above the sink so you can see what you’re doing when cleaning dishes.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Dining Room

The dining room is where you are encouraged to bring on the drama! This is a room where you’ll want your lighting on controllable dimers. Beautiful lighting from a chandelier will cast gorgeous light on dinner guests so that everyone looks stunning. Wall sconces, and decorative mirrors will also help to bounce dimmed light around the room.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Living Rooms

Although it’s popular, we’re not a big fan of multiple recessed can lights in rooms, because they can make a ceiling look like swiss cheese.  Again, it’s best to think in layers of lighting.  Floor lamps, table lamps, chandelier, ambient like a reading lamp, directional plant lighting, or art lights. Consider how much natural light sources might come from the windows, candles, or the fireplace as well. And much like in the dining room, chandeliers are great for bouncing light up and off the ceiling rather than casting light directly on someone’s face casting shadows.  

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home


Think soft, subtle, and simple in the bedroom: Nightstand lamps or hanging pendants on either side of the bed, a chandelier above the bed. In closets, choose lighting above the rods or inside the cabinetry. Op’t for either a pretty pendant, ceiling mounted fixture, or recessed lighting.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Focal Points, Hallways, and Stairs

In choosing lighting, think like caveman: Light is the source that helped them navigate in the right direction, towards safety. If you have a long hallway, have a light at the end. If you have beautiful art, light it in a way that will highlight its depth of color. If you have stairs, make sure the steps are lit to prevent anyone from accidentally falling.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home


Think of lighting in terms of distance – the house or close to the house, mid range and street level. Don’t forget to light the street numbers so visitors can see your address. Consider uplights on plants and trees, path lights to guide guests from the street to the front door, wall sconces around the perimeter (perhaps, on motion sensor), front door chandelier or sconces on each side of front door.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home


First impressions are everything. Make it big and bold, illuminate the entryway. If you have a tall ceiling with a window above the door, hang a chandelier so it’s completely visible from the exterior.

A Couple Lighting Terms You Should Know:

LED Lighting
Use warm white light, staying away from anything that feels unnatural with a cold blue undertone to it.


Dimmers are great. They save energy and offer flexibility in bright lighting for cleaning and working, or low ambient lighting.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

So you’ve got the keys for your new home–now what? It’s time to get to work renovating your new house, but you don’t know where to begin. Home renovations can be extremely overwhelming, especially to new home buyers. So read on for our top 10 tips to keep in mind when renovating your new place.

  1. Plan Appropriately

Budget, design, and schedule ahead of time. You don’t want to get impatient and dive in head first, or you’ll inevitably find yourself overwhelmed and over-budget! With that said, you do want to be flexible. Various issues often arise throughout the design-build process, which we wrote about in a separate post here.

2. Prioritize

Separate ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ Some home improvement projects are purely for vanity’s sake, which is fine, but don’t prioritize these over those that will improve the function of your space.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

3. Keep a Contingency

Keep a realistic contingency (will vary based on the scope and age of your home) 7%-10%. If you don’t use it, you don’t lose it – buy new furniture or go on vacation from renovating your home.

4. Test for Toxins

Before beginning any home renovation, you’ll want to have your contractor test for lead and asbestos. 

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

5. Think Outside

Don’t forget the outside of your home! Add some curb appeal with some custom landscaping and utilize your outdoor space as a living space. Outdoor kitchens and living rooms are among the most in-demand outdoor renovations. We wrote all about how you can revamp your outdoor space here.

6. Small Facelift Vs. Major Overhaul

It is tempting to want to do everything at once and get a little overzealous in doing so. Realize when something just needs a small facelift instead of a complete redo. Consulting with a designer or general contractor can help you figure this out, which can save you lots of time and money in the long run.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

7. Take Your Time

Do it right – don’t rush things and cut the wrong corners by doing things like buying cheap materials that won’t stand the test of time. Consult with your general contractor who can help you come up with a realistic timeline for your renovation.

8. Add Value

Consider what is adding value to your home. Adding a pool in your backyard may be tempting, but it’s more likely that kitchen or bath renovation will better increase the value of your home, if renovating is all about getting return on your investment.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers9. Think Long-Term

Part of adding value to a home is making sure it’s built to last! You don’t want to be too trendy – think classic in terms of style and materials, especially if you’re renovation with reselling your home in mind.  

10. Hire a Great Team!

Home renovations can be incredibly stressful when you try to do it all yourself. Leave it to a professional but make sure you’re hiring the perfect contractor for the job. We wrote all about how to vet your general contractor before you hire them in a separate blog post here.

7 Landscaping Tips for a Breathtaking Summer Garden

Ahh…Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home. Rather than treating landscape architecture as an afterthought, you want your landscape to live in harmony with the architecture of the home by creating a nice flow throughout the yard or garden. Because our firm is predominantly working on Southern California residences and commercial spaces, naturally lending themselves to indoor-outdoor lifestyles, Summer landscaping is always on our minds. Read on for 7 ways to think differently about your Summer landscaping:

Shannon Beador Real Housewife of OC Newport Coast Home SoCal Contractor + Lori Dennis

1. How is the Space Being Used?

Just like designing the inside of a home, determining the primary use of the space will help guide all of the design choices. So consider how you are going to use the space. A place for kids to play? Pets that need a secured area to run around? A space for entertainment? A more intimate space? Privacy? Sun vs. Shade?

Shannon Beador Real Housewife of OC Newport Coast Home SoCal Contractor + Lori Dennis

2. Start with a Focal Point

Your focal point(s) which can be anything from a large statue to a small bench or gate. From there, work outwards: consider your walk ways. These paths can be a fun place to play with materials and curves.

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

3. Take Your Time

Don’t rush the process. Rushing through landscaping leads to sloppy mistakes, a hodgepodge look, and dead plants. It is better to divide and conquer and do little bits at a time to create a pulled together look. This will allow you to focus on the intimate spaces and create something you really love that works with the environment.

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

4. Listen to Mother Nature

Consider your environment first and know what mother nature will allow you to do. You don’t want to plant a bunch of beautiful shrubs, only to find out later that they won’t survive the climate. Be sure to do lots of research based upon the environment you live in ahead of time!

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

5. Be Strategic

Strategically place plants to provide shade in some areas of the yard or the house to reduce energy use in the hot summer months, provide privacy from neighbors, and hide ugly things like AC units and deck support systems. Make the most out of what you choose! Consider things that will serve multiple functions (like a tree to provide shade, serve as a backdrop for something, and grows fruit!) Divide the yard up into spaces (in planning and incorporate that into the setup with hedges or pathways) to create more interest and intimacy.

Shannon Beador Real Housewife of OC Newport Coast Home SoCal Contractor + Lori Dennis

6. Add Visual Interest

For smaller houses: consider tall trees to draw your eye up. Plant bolder colored plants closer up and lighter/ pastel colors farther away to give a sense of depth. And play with scale! It adds more interest to the eye. Repeat elements (color, texture, shape, etc) throughout the yard to create cohesion. This can be done with flowers, plants, and non-plant materials such as the materials of the patio or deck. Which reminds us…

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

7. Don’t Forget About the Non-Plants!

Most people get carried away with plants when they think of landscaping and forget about non plant materials such as decks, patios, pots, etc. These can make a huge impact. Incorporating lighting so you can enjoy your space at night is also incredibly important as well! Do just enough to guide through the yard/garden and keep with the ambiance. Solar power lights to line walk ways are a great way to do this. And string lights add charm to your gathering spaces.

If you’re more of an inside person, maybe an indoor garden is more your speed: Check out our partners at Lori Dennis Inc’s comprehensive guide to Indoor Plants–find out which are the most low-maintenance and the benefits of each here.

Is Your Home Smart Yet? How to Control Your Home with Your iPhone & Other Game-Changing Home Technologies

From our phones to our homes, technology is an intrinsic part of our professional and personal lives, and that’s not stopping anytime soon. Whether its purpose is sustainability, affordability, or simply luxury, these home technology features are in-demand and changing the way live for the better.

Keeping It Cool

Advancements in home and design technology are making it easier than ever to go green. Window shades like the Lutron Smart Shades are controlled wirelessly and are also sensitive to heat and brightness levels indoor and out for the ultimate shade, which helps keep cooling costs down. Similarly the Nest Learn Thermostat automatically adjusts itself with the season and promises to pay for itself by saving homeowners up to 20% in cooling costs.

For convenience, the iHome ISP5 Smartplug or apps like the Apple Homekit enable homeowners to control the temperature of their home from afar. Your home can be adjusted to the perfect, comfortable temperature before you even get home from work! The Lutron Caseta Wireless system works similarly to lower the shades in your home from your phone.

Safe Smart House

It’s now easier than ever to protect your family and home from invasion with alarm systems like the iSmartAlarm, which comes with window sensors, door sensors, motion detectors, and cameras. Users can control the system via an app that also has the option to monitor and control a home’s lighting, thermostat, and smoke detectors. Or First Alert Onelink systems, which includes Wi-Fi enabled smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, a smartwatch, and a smart tracker for personal items like keys, a Wi-Fi safe, and a Wi-Fi programmable thermostat — all compatible with Apple’s HomeKit system and can be controlled via your iPhone.

Nearly everything in your home can be controlled and kept safe by your phone: the Kevo Smart Lock, for example, enables keyless entry to your home, using your iphone as a key. And with the August Lock and Door Bell Camera, see who’s knocking at your door from your iPhone screen.

Smart Kitchens

Refrigerator technology has come a long way, if you can believe it! The LG Mega Capacity French Door Fridge is aesthetically charming and makes food last longer by sensing humidity levels inside. The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator includes a smart screen for busy family schedules and grocery lists and can even take pics of food on the inside so you know what you need at the grocery store.

Smart Bathrooms

Smart shower features like the Moen Smart Shower allow homeowners to control digital elements from the outside of the shower, including preset buttons enabling more than one homeowner to program desired water temperatures for a personalized shower. New digital tub fillers feature hidden speakers that emit sound waves, which envelop and gently resound within the body to calm and soothe, while a heated surface with three heat settings customize the surface temperature  for spa-like relaxation. Talk about taking your bubble bath to the next level!

Smart Garage

The Chamberlain Whisper Drive with wifi capability has a quiet, motor that can pull all garage doors, control the lights in your garage and is the only all-in-one option on the market! The Lyftmaster MYQ Universal Smartphone Wifi garage door opener is an affordable alternative, but includes less features.

HGTV 2017 Smart Home| Photo By: Brian Rozar/Auto Imaging Inc

Smart Laundry Room

Smart laundry washer and dryers like the LG Smart Thinq or the Whirlpool Smart Washers with Six Sense Live, can control loads from afar, let you know when a load is done, and even detect when detergent is running low.

Smart Controls

Need a butler? Smart home systems like the Amazon Echo, the Wink Hub, or the extremely affordable Google Home all come pretty close! Acting as your digital personal assistant or house manager, these systems can do everything from controlling lighting, playing your favorite music, or sync all of your personal devices.

How to Choose the Right Tile for Every Room in Your Home

Choosing the Right Tile

The materials you choose to install in your home are a big factor in both the aesthetic and function of the design of your home. Porcelain, glass, natural stone, marble, ceramic, all have different advantages and disadvantages that come into play based upon budget, location, and how they are used.

Lori Dennis For Tile Bar - Choose the Right Tile
Click to Shop this Tile

Choosing Tile for Bathrooms: Go for the Grip!

When choosing tile for your bathroom and shower floors, an aspect of tile you should take into consideration is its viscosity (how slippery or not the surface is). In areas like the bathroom (especially the shower) use an anti-slip tile or smaller application tile with more grout lines as a safety measure. The shower floor could use even smaller pieces of tile or mosaic where the grout will offer more grip.

Choosing the Right Tile - Aging in Place - Lori Dennis and SoCal Contractor

In one of our Aging in Place / ADA / Accessible Living projects, we used small mosaic tile on the entire bathroom floor that continued seamlessly into the shower without using a curb, (which can be challenging for those who have a hard time lifting their foot or leg.)

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Choosing Tile for Kitchens: Backsplash and Walls

Backsplash and Bathroom Walls are a great opportunity to have fun and make a statement — Go for color, 3-D texture, rough stone, or antique glass.

Although you’ll still want to be careful about the placement: We had a project where we installed large slabs of antique mirror for a kitchen backsplash. Although the client was careful while cooking, their cleaning crew was not and had banged pots against the wall and broke the glass. We replaced the large glass with smaller bricks of glass and did the same for another project.

Lori Dennis for Tile Bar
Click to Shop this Tile

Choosing Tile for Outdoor Spaces

Something to consider in choosing outdoor tile is its UV resistance. If you’re going for natural stone, a non-polished finish would be a better choice to install around pool deck or a walkway with greater exposure to rain and other elements. Chlorine and salt can do damage to stone tile, so, in general, we recommend trying to avoid this type of tile! Instead of stone, op’t for a porcelain tile.

Glass and glazed porcelain make for awesome pool tile material. Glass is the most popular pool tile, but also the most expensive. If you choose this tiling, be sure to select an iridescent color for the shimmering results! Mosaic tiles are another great idea, as it gives the designers some creative flexibility when it comes to installing the tile.

And don’t forget: When installing tile outdoors and around pools, chemical resistant grout is a must! And to prevent powder staining, you will also want to make sure that your installer is using a grout release.

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Where Does Tile Come From?

Last, but not least, let’s talk about the tile’s country of origin. You can get the same tile at $2/sqft from China, $8/sqft from Israel or $15/sq. ft. from Italy. Most of the time, country of origin is a good indication of the quality of the stone, (and telling your guests that your powder room walls are “Italian marble” can be so satisfying!)

5 Dreamy Swimming Pools that Will Take Your Breath Away

  1. Customizing a Mediterranean-Style Pool

    In this Medditerranean project, we added elements like the pots at the edge and stone coping, to integrate the pool seamlessly with the rest of the home.

    Generally speaking, the style of the pool should match the architecture of the home. But nowadays, any type of pool can be completely customized to match the style of the home. Although zero-edge and infinity pools are more of a modern design, and standard pool is considered more of a traditional feature. 

  2. Mixing & Matching Styles: An Infinity Pool in an Old World Luxe Home

    An infinity pool is a swimming pool that continuously flows over the edge, giving the impression that it merges into the ocean or other surrounding landscape.These pools are more expensive to construct since they requires a few more elements for this design to work: A trough around the spilling edge to receive the water, pumps to fill the pool so it can overflow. And it must be built accurately so it overflows evenly all over the edge.

    Infinity pools are a beautiful application in the correct environment. Some designers might argue they don’t work well in a traditional home but we think that if executed correctly, an infinity pool could be a stunning feature in any style home, like this one:

  3. Bringing the Beach Home: Wading Area/Beach Feature in the Hollywood Hills

    The wading area is another newer pool feature. Reminiscent of a resort pool, the “beach area” or in the professional lingo, Baja shelf is a great feature for parents with little kids or someone who wants to chill out in the shallow water. In this Hollywood Hills home, we added a baja shelf which emphasizes the house’s modern, indoor-outdoor feel.

    Another cool design in the zero edge design which has the water line come up even with deck surface creating a continuous looking surface. This design requires the same elements of an infinity pool and often times you will see both in the same pool.

     A Traditional Pool in Lake Sherwood

A classic pool with coping that matches the hardscape, makes the pool as an integral part of the backyard. Timeless, blue, water-edge tiles and light color plaster will keep this traditional pool looking fresh and refreshing for decades.

Lighting & Sound in the Pool: Real Housewife of OC Shannon Beador’s Newport Coast Home

Pool lights are in important part of the pool design. A pool is an expensive landscaping feature and should be lit properly to take advantage of the beautiful design (In addition to the safety aspect).

Dive much? underwater speakers are all the rage at parties, sound travels well underwater and it is really cool to dive to your favorite tunes. Sites and sounds will amplify your pool design and make it a showcase in your backyard, day or night!

Everything You Need to Know Before Building a Cabana or Pergola

Cabanas and Pergolas are great spaces for entertainment. They enhance your patio and can extends the amount of space in your backyard. Cabanas and pergolas create an inviting area for your guests to relax and lounge and make your landscape more attractive. All of these elements adds value to your house! So you’ve made a great decision to build one, but first, know what you’re getting yourself into:

First: What’s the Difference Between a Cabana and a Pergola?

The definitive difference is that pergolas don’t have walls. Thus, a less enclosed space means less materials, making it a more affordable alternative to a cabana. Pergolas help define the lounge space in an open patio, as opposed to a cabana which sometimes feels more like an add-on to your home, with a full-coverage roof, and its walls may or may not be connected to the home.

Pergola Sale on Wayfair
Click Image to Shop this Pergola!

Customize your Pergola 

Decorate your pergolas with growing vines or plants or add curtains for privacy, shade, or to create an enclosed area that a cabana might otherwise create with walls.

Types of Pergolas

  1. Traditional/ Open Top – These are pergolas in the most traditional sense: They’re cost-effective and are predominantly used to define an entertaining space while enhancing a surrounding garden or landscape. These generally take the least amount of time to construct as well. 
  2. Gabled – A pergola with a gabled roof often mirrors the architecture of the home, making for a more seamless inclusion of the pergola. 
  3. Arched – Exactly what it sounds like, the soft arch of an Arched pergola provides an open, airy, elegant feel.
  4. Promenade – These are most frequently used to highlight walkways, open on all sides, they’re the perfect vehicle on which to add some greenery, grow wisteria or other climbing plants.
  5. Pitched – The roof slants on a downward slope towards the end of a pergola. An advantageous roof because it allows rain or snow to run off.

Click to Shop this Pergola!
Click to Shop this Pergola!
Click to Shop this Pergola!
Click to Shop this Pergola!

Customize your Cabana

Because of it’s structure and better protection from outside elements, there’s more you can do with a cabana beyond creating an outdoor lounge: Add a TV area, BBQ/ Eating area complete with an outdoor kitchen and dining room and/or custom fireplace.

Know Your Materials

As with any design/build project, when building your cabana or pergola, you should know the in’s and out’s of the materials you’re working with:

Pressure-treated wood:

This is the least expensive option with a reasonable lifespan. This type of wood looks best if painted or stained.

Cedar Wood:

In our experience, this is one of the most popular choices. It’s insect resistant and has a lengthy lifespan. It’s more expensive than pressure-treated wood, but well worth it, if you ask us!


Vinyl is very low maintenance, but the downside is that there are limited color options. 


Fiberglass might be the most expensive option, but it can be painted & will hold the color better than wood resulting in a much cleaner look. 


Stop! Ask these Questions Before Hiring a Contractor

You’re about to undertake a HUGE home improvement project and you know you need to hire the right contractor to make it happen. Choosing the right contractor can be a daunting task. It can make or break your design and mistakes can cost lots of time and money. So we’ve broken it down for you: Here are the questions we hear all the time and the questions you SHOULD be asking when it comes to hiring the right contractor for the job.

Scheduling Questions

Q. When can the contractor start and do they have enough resources/bandwidth to commit to your job?

There’s nothing worse than working with a contractor who is too busy to properly handle your job and manage the resources. Make sure that the contractor you are considering hiring has the bandwidth to dedicate teams and time to your project. Being in demand is a wonderful thing, but being too busy can delay your project and frustrate you. And trust us when we say, there are almost always delays. Although there should be a written schedule, be prepared to be flexible, in construction- anything can and usually does take longer than you think it will. Some typical delays include: Items getting stuck in customs, sub-contractors falling ill or going out of business; You could open a wall only to discover none of it was built to code and you have to rebuild the entire thing. Permits and the city inspectors add another layer of uncertainty.

Q. What hours will you work?

Hours will depend on the what the city allows by law. If you work outside of those hours and you get caught, the city can fine you and shut down your job.

Q. Who will be at the job site? Who do I call with questions?

Different days bring different demands. Some days the site will be full and bustling. On other days the site will be in a holding pattern and no one will be there. You contractor wants to complete your job as much as you do, so don’t worry if you don’t see people on the job, it’s normal. The key here is to have a schedule of what will be happening, our firm gives them to clients on Fridays for the following week. If the schedule and the activity start to deviate a lot, it’s time to ask questions.

Key Advice: Be patient and trust your team. They’ve been through this and can communicate what is happening and why and when.

Q. What are the stages of the job?

  1. Design 2. Permits 3. Order Materials 4.Demo 5. Rough Construction 6 Installation of Finish materials 6 Punch list 7 Payment in full 8. Lien (This topic deserves it’s own dedicated guide — so stay tuned we’ll publish one next week!)

Q. Does the contractor see any potential problem areas in your project?

If someone tells you nothing will go wrong, run! Hire someone else immediately. Something always goes wrong in construction and the best defensive is a good offense. If your contractor can think on their feet and feels confident problem solving, they will work it out. Ask them what the most challenging aspect of a past project has been, and how they worked through the challenge. Have they ever worked on the problems they see occurring at your project?

The Contractor, The Person

Q. Do you like this person?

You’re going to be spending a lot of money and time with the contractor. It’s important to feel comfortable with them. They should be someone who “speaks your language.” When they explain things, it should be easy for you to understand. Always start by asking yourself a simple question, “do I like this person?”

Q. Has the contractor attended any type of formal training or continuing education?

Although an academic program is not required and someone with years of field experience can do a phenomenal job, it’s an added bonus if a contractor has more formal education. Our principal contractor, for example, has completed a program in Construction Management from the University of Houston College of Technology and an ASID ReGreen certification. He regularly attends design build seminars, trade shows, and events to stay up to date on codes, trends, technology, building materials, and management techniques. Being deeply immersed in the field gives you a more well rounded and experienced partner in your construction project and can help you rest-assured that you’re in good hands.

Q. How will you communicate with me?

It’s important to decide on the way you will communicate before you begin working. You want to stay informed, but you don’t want to drive your contractor crazy. After each weekly meeting, our firm follows up with an email record of the notes from the meeting. We also like to correspond through text or email so there is a record of what was asked and promised. Quick telephone calls have a way of falling through the cracks or one of the parties not remembering correctly.

Q. Has the contractor been involved with any legal disputes following a previous job?

The answer to this question is probably yes and that’s ok. In a construction dispute, EVERYONE who worked on the job gets called into a lawsuit, whether or not they were responsible. The most important thing here is that your contractor has a valid insurance policy to cover any claims that might arise. Referring back to the contract throughout the process and having a clear understanding of expectations helps to make sure the project stays out of litigation.

Q. Has the contractor previously operated as a contractor under a different name?

If so, ask the contractor to explain why.

Q. Does the contractor plan to work on the project personally or assign a supervisor?

Either a contractor or a dedicated supervisor should be assigned to your project and you should have contact information for both. Before the project begins have a clear understanding of the process and who does what.

Q. How will you protect my property?

Remember that many trades with many different people will be on your site. A sub-contractor could bring someone onto your site that no one has ever met, that’s the nature of the business. When a contractor tells you a locked storage on site or warehouse off-site is necessary, take their advice. If you have something valuable treat it that way and make sure you protect it. Once an area has been completed or finish materials have been installed, your contractor must provide heavy cover to protect from other construction that is still happening on the site. The site should be cleaned, broom swept, at the end of each day and there should never be trash outside of a designated

Q. What is the guarantee or warranty?

Most contractors will guarantee against defective materials and workmanship problems. Most municipalities and states require a minimum period to warranty and address the work a contractor or their subs have performed. If something goes wrong, call your contractor first. Allow them the opportunity to address the issue. If you bring in other subs or workers to address the issue, you risk voiding your warranty.

Q. How do I reach you after hours?

Unless there is an emergency on site, like a broken pipe or a gas leak, you should contact your contractor during business hours that were agreed upon in your contract. However if there is an emergency that must be handled immediately your contractor should provide a contact number to call. If you’re wondering if it’s actually an emergency or not, a good rule of thumb is that it should look something like the aftermath of the plane crash from War of the Worlds:

Q. How often should I be updated on progress?

It’s a good idea to touch base at least once a week with your design and contract team. Throughout the process you may need to be involved more or less depending on what is happening. Communication is key and a weekly schedule helps you understand what and when things are happening.

Q. Who meets with the inspectors?

The general contractor meets with the inspectors and is responsible for setting up the appointments and making sure they or someone from their team is on site to walk the job with the inspector.

Q. Do I need a contract and what should I include in it?

A contract is a good communication tool to make your project run as smoothly as possible, as it is a written understanding of what is expected from each side. It should be referred to throughout the process. Common contracts include elements like: a detailed work scope, line items for materials, the cost, and a termination clause. Any special requests, concerns or agreements should be written in the contract.

Q. How much do contractor’s require as a down payment?

Sometimes contractors charge as little as $1,000, the maximum by their state law, and up to 10% of the estimated contract to be retained. (We’ll write a separate post that goes into more detail, stay tuned!)

Q. Does the contractor need a design or plans? And if I don’t have them, can the contractor do it for me?

It is always best to have a set of plans before you begin working on a project. A set of plans is a road map to success. A contractor can help you put together a set of plans with the help of a draftsperson, a designer, an architect, or a structural engineer. If a contractor says they don’t need plans, hire someone else!

 Q. What is the management style for your team?

You’ll want to know how the contractor works with their team. Is there a weekly meeting for each job. Are the subs given an up to date schedule each week so they know when they are expected to perform. More successful and sophisticated firms have scheduling programs that allow everyone to see where things are at any given time. Our firm uses UDA construction.

After the Build is Completed

Q. Does the contractor stay up to date on trends?

A great contractor will know a lot about current trends and timeless design styles. You can tell a lot about the contractor’s knowledge when you look through the portfolio. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they stay on top of the latest design trends and materials, oftentimes this is through regularly attending design trade shows and events and keeping up on continuing education.

Q. Do I need to let the contractor take pictures at the end of the job?

It’s a nice thing to do. Your contractor is proud of what they’ve done and will use your project to market to other clients. You also get professionally shot images of your home that you can share with friends and family on social media and use if you ever want to sell the house. If you ever wanted to rent your home out for a vacation rental or a commercial or movie set, you’ll have great photos!

Q. Should I give my contractor a review when the job is complete?

Chances are, part of the reason you selected the contractor is because you read great reviews about other client’s experiences. If you liked your contractor, it’s a generous thing to do. Reviews also help you because they eliminate the contractor’s potential clients from needing to call you as a referral.