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Why You Need a Great Team for Home Construction – And How to Build One

By KLAFFStyle Editorial Staff
Photography Courtesy of  Neil Landino, LandinoPhoto

Anatomy of a Successful Dining/Kitchen Expansion

Recently, KLAFFS Kitchens Manager/Designer Nick Geragi, CKD, CBD, ASID, did a beautiful kitchen re-design for a long-time client. The project is featured in East Coast Home and Design’s latest issue. Nick was part of a professional team tasked with updating the kitchen/breakfast room area of the home, which had been almost completely rebuilt about 10 years ago. In addition to Nick, the team included:

  • Chris Pagliaro, a partner at Pagliaro Bartels Sajda Architects, Norwalk
  • Kathleen Cragan principal of Kathleen Cragan Interior Design, Wilton
  • Steve Shoals of Shoals Contracting, LLC, Wilton
  • Jayne Howard, a Fairfield County artist specializing in faux finishes and murals

This hugely successful home renovation project offers a great case study of the importance of putting the right team in place and offers insights to building and working with your team successfully.

The homeowners built their team for this project organically, beginning with architect Chris Pagliaro, a known and trusted resource. Each of the others joined the group at different times as the project progressed. They never sat down and had a meeting to decide what to do. However, hearing about the project from each of their perspectives provides a primer about how top professionals operate and collaborate.

It All Began with the Homeowners’ Vision

In this case, the homeowners had a good initial idea of what they wanted to accomplish. As their lifestyle evolved, they found themselves enjoying more and more time in their outdoor spaces – swimming and relaxing at their beautiful pool, gardening, grilling, dining. The house began to feel too dark and closed off from light, nature and these activities.

They determined to open the space up with a glass enclosed dining addition that would connect the indoors and the outdoors both visually and with better access. With that goal, they reached out for professional help.

Team Building Starts

Said architect Chris Pagliaro, “The homeowners are friends. We’ve known each other for a long time through our kids. They know my work and I’ve spent time socially in their home. They were clear at articulating their objectives and I was able to find a solution to meet their needs.”

They engaged him to create a plan. He said of the project, “The homeowners had the right idea to unite the kitchen and breakfast area with the outside. To do this we had to extend the rear wall and define how the space would be used. The home was typical of how many houses are designed – where mudrooms and bathrooms actually create a barrier to the outside. We changed that completely and also provided a covered area outdoors for the grill, per the owners’ wishes.”

The Team Grows

With plans in hand, the homeowners next called upon their longtime friend and designer Kathleen Cragan. They had worked with her on the earlier renovations and décor updates over the years.

“The wife of this couple is a yoga practitioner and wanted to bring the light in, but in a soft, more spiritual way,” Cragan said. “She did not want a white kitchen but the idea of a light color scheme appealed to her. In addition to wanting help defining and applying the colors, as well as adding other design details, the client asked for a recommendation on a builder to implement the plan. I’d worked with Steve Shoals on similar projects in the past and knew he’d be an excellent partner on this one.”

Shoals came on board and begin to add his skills to implementing the addition. “I never met Chris Pagliaro,” he said. “But when an experienced builder is handed an excellent plan and specs from a talented architect, you can just run with it. Kathy knew the client’s desire for precision and my dedication to on-time, quality work so my firm was considered a trusted resource from day one.”

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The Project Expands – And So Does the Team

As the addition began to take shape, and, in fact, was well along the way to completion, the existing kitchen, which featured dark wood cabinetry, began to look at odds with the light and bright new space. Cragan and the homeowners turned once again to KLAFFS Kitchens’ Nick Geragi, who had designed the original kitchen. They requested that he re-do it in keeping with the look of the addition.

According to Cragan, “They had been so impressed by Nick’s work on the old kitchen. It was very thoughtfully rendered and they knew they’d have great selection at KLAFFS. In fact, we found the inspiration for the color scheme in a kitchen vignette there.” (You can learn more about this fortuitous discovery in the East Coast Home and Design story.)

“The kitchen was still beautiful and functionally in very good shape, but it was evident that they needed a far different aesthetic,” Geragi said. “It was also a good chance to give them the latest in kitchen technology. In the original kitchen, we had created a wonderful stone cooking hearth and we were able to update it to make a softer, yet still impressive statement in the new environment.”

In addition to the professionals on the team, Geragi considered the homeowners to be key members. He appreciated that the professionals received clear feedback from them, which enabled the pro’s to perform their functions at a high level. This was true even in an instance where something didn’t go completely smoothly.

“When we’re doing a custom cabinet color, we always provide a sample before going ahead with the order,” said Geragi. “In this case the third sample was the charm. The owner’s ability to steer the adjustments helped us to get exactly what she wanted.”

Cragan agreed, “If a team is functioning at peak performance there’s no ego in it. The idea is to get a result that will delight the client day in and day out for years to come. Nick was great at making sure we got the color right. He was completely patient and really cared that we translate the owner’s vision to the final product. I’d work with him again in a minute.”

When kitchen installation began, Steve Shoals, returned to the project to complete it and do the final touches. Kathleen Cragan brought in Fairfield artist Jayne Howard to add faux finishes to various surfaces throughout the kitchen and the breakfast room addition.

According to Cragan she chose the artist because, “…she’s marvelous with color. Not too matchy-matchy. She gave us wonderful and subtle color variations from room to room. We even went into the living and dining rooms to bring them into the new, lighter look.”

Geragi agreed with the choice of Howard: “Jayne’s work speaks for itself!”

Building Your Own Team

He also offers a few tips for building and working with your own construction project team:

  • Home additions, renovations and new construction projects are very complex. At the risk of being cliché, they’re not candidates for a DIY approach. There are too many areas of expertise necessary to get a great result. Find experienced, knowledgeable professionals.
  • If you don’t know an architect, builder or designer who you trust, get recommendations from trusted family, friends or colleagues who know you, your taste and your quality standards.
  • When deciding on an unknown team member, ask to see past projects. If they don’t have past customers who would be delighted to let you see their work, run, don’t walk, away!
  • Ask about sub-contractors. Quality finds its own level. A quality professional tends to only work with other quality tradespeople.
  • Your team members should exhibit mutual respect and trust. In the case study project, we communicated with and through each other as needed and allowed each other to do our jobs. We didn’t second guess each other. Of course, we all were happy to provide ideas and assistance when required for the good of the outcome.
  • If you’ve done your homework and put a top team in place, communicate freely and directly with them, but listen to their expert advice. That’s what they’re there for.

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