Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Seizing Opportunity As Walls Open Up

 It is best to remember that as your project begins and your walls open up, you must remain flexible.  Sometimes pipes need to be moved, other times walls are load-bearing and often there is an opportunity for fast and effective improvements.  

For our project, the Master Bathroom provided the most change and opportunity from the original plans.  Rolling with those changes and approving those additional expenses was difficult but the results are well worth it.  When we first began the project, we planned to replace the closed-off shower walls with glass and replace the tile, tub, and vanities. 

We began demo on the shower stall.  As the walls came down, the need to change our original design became clear.  Our cave of an original shower was actually disguising fake walls and cathedral ceilings.  As we pulled back the layers, the entire bathroom opened up to the rafters and we immediately took a step back to discuss the new possibilities.  

Many sketches, calls to Susan's team and oodles of measurements later, we had adjusted the plan and were ready to create the even-more-improved new master bathroom.  We went over the plan many times until we had it just right for the contractor to continue. Making these adjustments with the walls open was easier when working with an expert space planner, like Susan, and an experienced contractor.

As the project moved out of the Master Bathroom and into other areas of the home, we found it very helpful to solicit the advice of our lead project manager and our contractor.  Their experience proved to be very helpful when making decisions about switch placement, lighting location, and material needs.  Smaller projects like swapping canned lights to LED, adding dimmers and even changing a junk area into a functioning closet were invaluable changes throughout the project.   

Finding the perfect balance of keeping close to budget while making intelligent improvements is no simple task.  Be sure to remain open to the possibilities that the demo can bring and listen to the experts - it will be worth it in the end. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Renovators, Start Your Spreadsheets!

When I spoke with Susan about the massive undertaking that would be our current renovation, her best piece of advice was to "be organized".  In working with a contractor, Susan advised, it is best to have your materials chosen and ready in order to avoid delays.  With that, making sure that the crew knows exactly which materials go where and to have a plan for each room.  

The first thing I did was make a spreadsheet with a list of items needed for each of the areas we were planning to renovate.  As I did that, I assigned a budget to each item to help me better understand where the spending was allocated to.  I reviewed the lists with Susan and she gave me some ideas of fixtures but mostly of color schemes and patterns. 

When it came to ordering, I did my best to order multiple items from the same retailer.  As an example, it made it easier to order tile for all of the floors and walls from one store.  This way, when I needed to change out one of my accent tiles, I was able to go back and compare the new mosaic against the tiles I had already ordered.  It sounds like a simple thing, but keeping things simple, certainly made them less stressful overall.  And I would highly recommend apps or sites that allow you to save favorite items. 

Once items came in, I printed out my lists per area of what I ordered and bought some different color index cards.  I spent an evening in the garage with a marker, some masking tape, and a goal of making sure there was no question as to where any of the items went.  I labeled every box with an index card with a specific color designated to that space along with any specific notes about that particular item (i.e. tile will be in a herringbone pattern, etc).  IMPORTANT NOTE: I found out from a retailer that they will not return items if you have written directly on the box.  

Once I had all of my boxes labeled and my lists together, I went back to the webpages of the items that I ordered.  I searched for the installation guides and detail pages on each of the items.  It took some time but I printed them out and put everything into an accordion file organized by project space.  It was an extra step that allowed me to review the items I had ordered with my contractor without having to open up boxes until I was sure that we could use them.  

Major renovations can certainly turn your house into a chaotic mess.  Organizing your materials is a great way to take control of the chaos and it will keep you sane in the process. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

Why I Chose a Virtual Interior Designer

Find contractor

Early in 2020, we decided to finally conquer the interior home projects on our list.  These were not weekend-warrior type projects, so we knew we needed to find a contractor.  But after speaking with a few that rush of "overwhelm" hit hard.  

I have admittedly seen many home improvement shows - where a family's problem of years is solved in a quick 60 min (with commercials) - but I knew that this was not a "Made for TV" situation.  The reality is that we, like many, both work full time, and with 4 active kids, there was no way we could tackle this on our own.  We needed professional help.

I immediately called Susan and my entire body exhaled in relief.  Enlisting the help of a virtual interior designer was the best tool for the job.  I knew instantly that I would not be alone in any part of the project - I now had a resource, a director, and a sounding board who would advise me every step of the way.  

Initially, we discussed the style of our home and what we were looking to accomplish.  Susan helped us create an overall plan for each space and armed us with a strategy for discussing the project with contractors.  As prices came in, Susan was there breaking down the estimates and fine-tuning the ask. 

In the end, we were able to choose the best contractor for the job - one whom she had worked with previously.  Every step throughout this process, we are so grateful that Susan helped us choose this contractor.  Because she had worked with him before, she knows his crew and his subs.  She was able to work with him to assign a specific tile person to the job based on the tile we chose, a certain project manager based on the jobs we had, and was able to verify contacts before sourcing specific items like entry doors, glass, etc.  

As we began to design the rooms, Susan and her team helped with spatial planning while I sourced materials.  I chose to source my own materials as part of this project under Susan's guiding eye.  She and I made time to "go shopping" at the tile store, where between FaceTime and photo texts we choose tile for the bathrooms and entryway.  Susan advised on size, shape, color families, and patterns as I navigated the once overwhelming aisles of tiles.


Once Susan and I had settled on the flooring, we worked up from there - vanities, toilets, hardware, lighting.  Every detail was reviewed and discussed to make sure it was the right fit for each space.  Susan was there to keep me focused on what was needed at that particular moment as we prepared for the contractor to start.  

The experience that an interior designer brings to the table is invaluable.  And with the drastic time that 2020 brought us, Susan and her team pivoted to bring a virtual design eye to this project.  The overwhelming nature of home projects is so much less stressful with a trusted professional advisor.  

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ladders for Leaders to Lollipops

In one of the largest intern-driven project from Susan Arann at American & International Designs Inc comes “Ladders for Leaders to Lollipops”.  L4L2L became an office makeover like no other - it cost less than $100 and raised over $1100 for charity.

Interns Hana Kassem, Sadhana Pakala and Jessica Kukin were lead by veteran intern turned employee Meena Selvan to embark on this remarkable redesign of their office space.  They needed to come together as a team and incorporate everyone's ideas into the design and fundraising project.

The first step was color planning - starting with the office walls. After choosing Youthful Coral (SW 6604 by Sherwin Williams), the Lollipop Ladies set off to planning their space and their resources.  Not only were they on a $100 budget and a tight time frame, they were also tasked with using only recycled materials found around the office.   

Each intern added her own ideas and style to the space - from turning floating shelves into colorful awnings to the color swatch lollipops and the hand-crafted L4L2L framed artwork complete with inspirational memories from their experience.

Hana, Sadhana, and Jessica were also challenged to create one-of-kind chair designs for the space that mimic the lollipop theme.  It is amazing to see their creativity shine through these once black acrylic chairs by Concord Seating.

In the end, the Ladders for Leaders to Lollipops project raised $1,142 to donate to the General Research Fund of the American Cancer Society.  A check was presented on Monday, July 30th in the office building lobby where they were selling actual lollipops as part of the fundraising efforts.

It is amazing to see the creativity and inspiration that comes from our interns.  It was quite an office transformation and we hope that they will carry the lessons they have learned by working at American & International Designs in their future schooling and careers.



A Special Thanks to:

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Susan Arann's Sweet Summer 2018 Internship Program

We are just wrapping up another amazing summer internship program at American & International Designs, Inc. and Susan has surely made this summer a sweet one for these young professionals.

American & International Designs, Inc.

Working with New York City Department of Youth and City Development's Ladders for Leaders program and the Summer Youth Employment Program, Susan hired three interns with various jobs at the company.

  • Hana Kassem (Staten Island Technical School) was hired as the Interior Design intern.  
  • Sadhana Pakala (Staten Island Technical School) worked as a Graphic Design intern.  
  • Jessica Kukin (Tottenville High School) was the Social Media intern.

With help from Meenu Selvan* a former intern turned employee who supervised the interns on their amazing 6-week journey, Susan has created yet another mentorship session for budding business women.

This summer the interns were mentored in real world business and design.  They learned everything from office ettiquite to proper business interaction with clients to the nuts and bolts of interior design. Most importantly they learned what it takes to run a business and how to be part of a team.

As an extra challenge, the interns were tasked with redesigning their office space and organizing a fundraiser.  From this, the Ladders for Leaders to Lollipops project was born.

*Meenu started as an intern for American & International Designs, Inc. in 2016 and became a part-time employee in 2017 working with Susan on school breaks until she graduated Notre Dame Academy in 2018.  This fall, Meenu will participate in a 5-year accredited Architecture program with a concentration in Sustainable Design at the University of Notre Dame.