30 December 2012

Let me vent a little about Houzz

I used to write for Houzz. I'll be forever grateful for the exposure and dealing with the editorial side of that site was nothing but a pleasure. Would that all online forums were as well-run as Houzz. That's due almost exclusively to the hard work of editor Sheila Schmitz by the way.

There are few editors I've worked with who've made real assignments, appraised delivered work and provided much needed direction as well as she did. All hail Sheila Schmitz!

Houzz.com started out just a couple of years ago and has since grown into one of the go to places on the internet for designers and Architects to show their work. At the same time, it's become a place for homeowners and potential customers to interact.

This is great.

However, it's been nearly two years since I stopped writing for Houzz. Yet every day I get at least one e-mail from a Houzz reader who's asking a question about something he or she saw in one of my Houzz posts.

When I have time I answer those e-mails but as often as not I ignore them because they're moronic questions.

As I repeated constantly on my blog and on Houzz, there are no standard names for granite slabs. What's Uba Tuba in Florida is called Labrador in New York.  Natural stone is a natural product and even stones that come from the same quarry change radically over time. You cannot order a natural stone counter out of a catalog and you have to pick the slabs your counters will be made from in person.  Deal with it.

If you  want a stone that's gray-ish brown with little movement or if you want a schizophrenic blue, just describe what you're looking for to your salesperson. He or she will set you up with the stone you're looking for.

Contrary to what you may believe, sales people in kitchen and bath showrooms don't exist to extort money from you. It may sound counter intuitive, but these people will actually save you money. The budget you have set for yourself shouldn't be a secret. Walk up to someone in a showroom and say something along the lines of "I have $25,000 to re-do my kitchen, go!" That's a much better use of your time and their time than leaving them to guess how much money you have to spend.

The idea of getting three bids is crap too. Find someone you trust and who can work with your budget. If he or she has a good reputation you're done. Except for writing checks of course. Be sure that anybody you hire is licensed in the state where you live.

If you're concerned about staining, don't get counters made from natural stone. Granite will stain and marble much more so. In my mind those stains are like the wrinkles around my eyes. Stained counters and my wrinkled face show the world that we've lived a full life. One of my favorite stories about marble involves a wonderful, former client named Margaret. Margaret had triplets who were ten when we re-did her kitchen. I designed a bar at the end of her counter so her kids could do their homework as she put dinner together,

I went to see her a year after we re-did her kitchen I saw that her bar was covered with crayon and smudge marks. When I mentioned it she said "For the rest of our lives, my kids will always be ten when I see the marks they left in my kitchen."

That's why people get natural stone counters. If you're not prepared for your kids' crayons or your own dough kneading to leave a mark, than don't get a natural stone counter.

Beware the yahoos who claim that they can put a granite counter in your kitchen for $20/ sq.ft. That's an impossibility and it guarantees you a miserable experience.

When a cabinet's billed as "cherry-stained" it's not cherry. The people who make wood stains use the colors and tones of natural wood as model when they formulate their stains. Oak called "walnut" isn't walnut and heaven protect anybody who puts a stain on actual walnut. Maple is naturally blond, cherry runs between blond and brown, hickory has nearly black streaks on a blond background, birch is an iridescent gold and oak is oak.

Finally, colors on your computer screen aren't real. Between the distortion of your non-calibrated monitor and the non-calibrated camera of the source, nothing looks the same as the photo you see on the web. Don't ask what the wall color of a photo you see on Houzz or Pinterest is. Whatever color it is for real won't look anything like what you see on a website.

The smart thing to ask for (preferably from a designer) is a color that approximates what you see in an internet photo.

I enjoyed my experiences at Houzz.com and working with Sheila was a treat, but many of the questions I field could be answered by a) thinking and b) clicking on the "more information" tag on every one of Houzz's photos.

Think people, think!


  1. Informative post, thanks for being to the point, as a homeowner working towards a master bath redo and then onto a kitchen redo it helps tremendously. I get on Houzz all the time, I discovered the work of a local designer on it and although I liked her very much right off the bat, I felt the need to get other estimates just "because." She was rather blunt about the look and materials I covet are expensive and what was my budget which I couldn't seem to nail down and she very succintly told me I had to have a number or we were both just spinning our wheels. I think most homewoners need a firm voice of reason. Happy New Years!

  2. Oh Paul! I soooo relate. I commented on one of your posts (about laminate flooring) twice (10 months apart) --the last about six months ago. I'm still getting notices about subsequent comments too. It seems after a point all of the intelligent statements have been made and the the remainders are just moronic! I finally just quite reading them.

    ON THE OTHER HAND- this scenario says a lot about the quality and timelessness of your posts. That even after a year or more, new readers are finding your old posts by happenstance and finding the content current and inspirational. So (you know what I'm going to say)--Please keep writing (even if not for Houzz.)

    As for your comments on budgeting... I'm standing right next to you (in spirit) on that soap box! I think we can thank HGTV for instilling the belief that if you state the high end of your budget out loud, that all designers will instinctively use that as a starting point for spending it for you. Does no one ever stop to think that if such a designer did so as a typical business practice that they would soon be out of business.

  3. Don't worry Pam, I'll never stop writing. Design-y stuff will end up here and non-design-y stuff will go onto my other blog, Back where I started. For now the link to that one is http://paulanater.wordpress.com/ and it'll be at paulanater.com as soon as I get motivated enough to set up the reroute.

  4. Good to know! I'm following both. Have fun in Cologne at IMM! Looking forward to the new stuff you're going to tell us about when you return. =)

  5. I've posted this via a couple of my TwitterPapers and I'll do it again tomorrow. Thumbs up for good work!

  6. Thanks again Paul for your frank and honest comments! I will add a little perspective from the remodeler's perspective if that is OK with you.

    2012 was a tough year for our company and I guess for our clients too. It felt like many projects ran on square tires and NOT because of our design or build teams.

    Home owners were very up tight and stuck in 2012. I would say their fear and anxiety were the source. They were scared of making mistakes in selections, but didn't want our skilled designers, who they were paying, to direct either. I can't remember a year where home owners were so up tight about projects. I have been in the business almost 30 years.

    Even simple easily changed selections like a paint color were sources to stymie their decision making process. Hey come on, a gallon of high end low VOC paint costs about $80. Live a little!

    I think your post shows too how you can only learn SOME of what needs to happen on a design build remodeling project from on line sources like Houzz. But your design build pro understands the big picture. So work with them!


    That door you shopped on line at the big box store costs $350.00. But you forgot a few things; the old door has to come out and be dumped, the brick around the old opening and the framing needs repair, you forgot to order the knocker and knob-set and SOMEBODY has to repair the rough opening, and install all the new door and related door parts, warranty it and make a small profit so they can stay in business. And really, do you want a cheapo $350 door on your house or something a little or even a lot nicer for a couple hundred bucks more?

    Our best projects, thank goodness we had a bunch of them in 2012, are with customers who have the stomach to do the project. Are they nervous, sure! But they stick to the decision making deadlines because they know that helps keep costs for us and price to them down AND they get their project done in a reasonable amount of time so they can enjoy it.

    Great customers have "game" for the design build process. They are capable of trusting a pro. They communicate effectively and politely when things get hairy for them. They understand that surprises happen. Even tightly planned, remodeling is an ADVENTURE!

    I think more stories about where people need to be emotionally for renovation would be helpful for homeowners who are considering it. It's stressful and costs money, a lot more than they tell you on TV shows which all BS about project prices and stress levels.

    I hope your readers who will be renovating in 2013 reach out to NARI members in their area. Find a great professional company they feel they can trust. Then hang in there for the rough spell and try to have some fun. It will all be worth it in the end!

    Diane Menke
    Myers Construct Inc.

  7. Great comment Diane, thank you. By the way, I'll be in Philly on Thursday.

  8. To prove my point, read this thread: http://www.houzz.com/discussions/28859#addAnswer

  9. Paul - So very happy to have discover this post -- I was most pleased to read your comments on "color." There is such disappointment when clients find THEMSELVES disappointed on how untrue their "electronic" color choices can be. As designers, it seems our second biggest color challenge is when a client, after choosing their favorite "color", and spending top dollar to have their room of choice painted, they THEN ask that we design everything else around it -- not terrible, but a bit more effort is required certainly when a strict budget needs to be considered . . . I look forward to following your sage observations and advice . . . Happy New Year!

  10. Perfect article. I could not have said it better!
    I get hundreds of emails per week asking for granite color names and even paint and cabinet information.
    I try to be a good blogger/ salesperson, but these emails (and Houzz emails) are KILLING me!!!
    From now on I think I'm just going to respond to those emails with a simple link to this. ;)

    1. I usually don't answer them anymore, I just can't. I feel bad about that sometimes.

  11. This is a great post, Paul. I like that you say it like it is!


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