Gregg Steiner needed a new place to live. Recently divorced, he was looking for a fresh start, a place where his kids could feel comfortable visiting and he could relax after long days running his technology services business. A friend's backhouse in Sherman Oaks, Calif. — just a block and a half from where his kids lived — seemed like the perfect place. There was just one problem: It was in serious need of a facelift.
The previous renter had owned a dog, and the carpets throughout the house were old and soiled. What's more, the place was dark, dingy and out of date. But Steiner liked the house's location, along with its private entrance and garage. So he called in renovation expert Laurie March.
To spruce the place up quickly in a way that suited Steiner and also made sense for the property's owner, who was so excited about the prospect of Steiner moving in — his kids were the same age as hers, and he'd be handy around the property with anything tech-related — that she was willing to invest some money in a renovation focused on Steiner’s needs, and his desire for a beach-themed decor.
"From the beginning, Gregg was really into the beach thing," March said. "A beach theme is relaxing, and you can do it in a nautical way that's really good for a guy."
Before she could decorate the place with the sort of coastal touches Steiner wanted, though, March had to deal with the floors. She tore out the old carpeting and lightened the place up with flooring that looked like glossy blond hardwood, but was actually a much less expensive laminate.
With the money she saved on the laminate, March invested in a higher-end underlayment, the padding that lies underneath the laminate. "If you use a less expensive underlayment with laminate, you can hear, when you walk on it, that it doesn't sound like wood," March said. "If you spend a little bit more money on that layer, it muffles that noise the laminate makes."
Once the floors were in, March brightened all of the walls with a fresh coat of bright white paint. She also smartened up a vanity in the bathroom by painting it navy and covered one wall in the living room with thick horizontal stripes in cream and bright white.
Those stripes served two purposes. For one thing, they added to the nautical theme. For another, they played off the white cabinets and cream countertops in the kitchen and made colors that would normally clash "look deliberate," March said.
Once the flooring and walls were finished, March got to work on the decor. She incorporated the theme through color; everything referenced either sand (in white or cream) or water (blue, navy or black). She also featured natural textures throughout the house, using wooden bowls for storage in the bathroom and woven fabrics in the furniture.
In addition, March decorated various areas with brass pieces and installed a navy-and-white striped bath curtain in front of the shower on a simple spring-loaded rod, which added to the nautical look and disguised the unattractive shower door in an inexpensive way.
Overall, March created a more masculine, refined take on the seaside theme. "When you decorate with a theme, it doesn't have to be literal," March said. "You might think something fits your theme, but then you get it into your house and you feel like you’re on Gilligan's Island. You need to widen your viewfinder and find more subtle references, like colors, and in this case, natural elements."
Finally, March and Steiner worked together to find the right furniture for the house. Every piece had to be carefully considered; it had to either contribute to the beach theme or function in more than one way. For that reason, the pair chose pieces like an ottoman with storage space inside, a bed with storage capacity underneath and a sofa that folds out into a twin bed.
The space was carefully considered, too. Instead of putting a desk in the living room’s nook, like Steiner originally proposed, March tucked a drop-leaf table and leather bench in the space instead.
That nook was a prime example of the ways in which the renovation made the house more livable. Now that Steiner’s moved in, it's the spot where his kids eat. But it serves another function, too: If the kids are watching TV or playing video games in the living room, Steiner can sit nearby at the table and work on his iPad, out of their way but close enough to keep an eye on them.
In the end, Steiner got just what he wanted out of the house's makeover. "It feels like I'm on vacation," he says. "And the kids can have fun. They’re comfortable."
After evaluating your budget, scope and needs, you'll be prepared to discuss realistic remodeling goals with a contractor.
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