Michael Palladino, FIAA

March 2003 through November 2003

six thousand, four hundred square feet


A comprehensive remodel of a 1954 residence located on seven acres in the hills of Montecito, California. The home’s plan was substantially redesigned to include a large master suite as well as a nursery. Eighty percent of the interior finishes were removed to allow replacement of the elecrical/mechanical systems. Improvents include new Black Terrazzo and quartered oak flooring, integral colored plaster throughout, new exterior plaster, teak and copper trellises and pool spa. RJC Builders completed the construction documents and permitting.

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In the fall of 2007, Andy Alper from DesignARC, called to ask if I could lend some pre-construction advice on a major addition and refurbishment of completely dilapidated house on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. I was initially hesitant. Trying to save the existing, modern structure, seemed overly labor intensive, but I soon agreed after seeing the site and meeting the client. The land had to be in the top one hundred best parcels in all of Los Angeles. The views extended west over Stone Canyon Reservoir to the Pacific Ocean and north to the San Gabriel Mountains. The client, Hyon Choy, who owns the furniture store Blueprint, had a clear vision of what she wanted but was wise enough to allow Dion McCarthy of DesignARC complete latitude in the design.

As builders, the first challenge was to save the existing walls, structure and much of the floor plan while essentially inserting a new building within the old envelope. The city’s planning rules forced us to maintain the footprint of the original house, otherwise we would have lost the right to put a new building on the site in its current location. The city’s planning rules forced us to maintain the footprint of the original house, otherwise we would have lost the right to begin any project on this spectacular site. It was also critical to Hyon that we operate with a fixed price from start to finish. We had no problem meeting her desire to stay on-budget. At the outset, I convinced Hyon that we could save money, and shave a few weeks off the schedule, by doing demolition first, during the design phase. This served us well financially over the long run too because with the walls stripped bare we could see exactly what had to be replaced and how and where we could insert the structural steel. We limited the unknowns so, for instance, when our rough carpentry went to open bidding, not only did we get a fair price, but we got a bid that incurred no additional costs during that phase of the work.

Andy Alper (he and I graduated SciArc together in 1984) gave me development drawings through the design and construction document phases. This proved vital to the successful outcome of the project. Not only was I able to develop a detailed cost outline that met Hyon’s expectations, but I was also able to integrate some of my “means and methods” suggestions into the design detailing. This saved more time as we were literally ready to start the day the building permit was issued. Nailing down construction costs and strategies with the architect had the added benefit of letting subcontractors weigh-in on critical systems such as electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.

As construction progressed our weekly meetings with Hyon and Andy virtually eliminated the need for the formal mass of paperwork that can be generated in these litigious times. We could tackle a problem in the field, with the Andy, often dragging the subcontractor into the discussion and solving the issue on the spot. To Dion and Andy’s credit, formal drawings and specifications followed, but usually as a matter of record, not information that left us (and the schedule) lagging behind.

As a business person I found Hyon easy to work with. In the past, she had employed DesignARC, so was no stranger to the give-and-take of the design process. Her business experience also served her well during the course of construction. She could make immediate decisions on subtle design questions and was adept at horse trading costly choices. For example, Hyon could quickly see that the electric roller shades in each guest bedroom were worth forfeiting in order to add exterior stonework – without adding a penny to the overall project.

In the end, we completed the project on time and on budget. This achievement is always the product of a team effort among designers and builders. Designers are wise to exhibit some agility in the field and to favor reasonable solutions over rigid concepts. Builders, for their part, need to show a firm commitment to their bids and to avoid viewing every conflict, or minor detail not denoted in plans and specifications, as warrants for added costs.

As a contractor with a background in architecture I like to think I have the ability to understand the design vocabulary the architect is striving to articulate. For example, a ¼” reveal in-between differing materials will establish a set of rules as it traverses the planes and edges of a building, not all of which can be drawn. By understanding the intent of the detail, good builders can keep building. There’s no reason to halt construction and instead hammer out a week’s worth of memos. The old adage, “time is money,” is as true on a job site as anywhere else, and if we have to stop and send memos for every little question it will surely be reflected in the final cost.

The only better feeling for a builder than knowing we’ve completed a well-crafted, beautiful building is having done the job on time and on budget, always a team effort.