Designer Spotlight

By Johanne

Get to know the Project Guru designer - Johanne Poulin - in this Houzz Pro Spotlight featuring specifics about the design process as well as tips to consider when remodeling.

1. Talk about your process for beginning a project. How do you ensure that you understand what the clients want and need?

We always do a phone intake to understand the scope of the project, budget, and expectations: a pre-qualification to ensure going forward makes sense. From there, we establish a communication stream, often using Houzz, where I ask for a quick collection of desired images with comments, in preparation for an in-person meeting. "Before" photos are taken then. After approval of the project proposal, actual design work begins, with two and three-dimensional illustrations, and actual materials selection. With final plan approval, the project is then put to bids and followed through completion. Information is exchanged both in person and in writing, with supporting illustrations, to ensure the client's needs are understood and met at each step.

2. How do you help them discover the right scope for their projects? Also, tell us a bit about your philosophy—the way you approach your work. What sets you apart?

The primary concem is understanding the client's motivation for the project and offering a great solution. The critical " sore spots" that are driving the remodel, are our primary focus, but understanding building requirements and budget then often will help identify priority levels for the the various aspects of the project. We see the potential of a space, the steps needed to get there, often beyond what the client might imagine. Then we can present it in such a life-like way that the fear of making the wrong choice is taken away.

3. Identify a specific problem or challenge homeowners face.

A challenge that is commonly seen is the inability to see beyond what is there. Often times clients cannot see the possibilities but rather think in terms of what is existing. Lack of vision can create roadblocks that limit functionality and esthetics. This is particularly true in work spaces like kitchens. Good imaging can go a long way to help our clients " see the light". In many homes we see kitchens separated from the main living space. But today's families often desire the greatroom concept we achieved in the Fremont kitchen. Within the same kitchen footprint, adding a nice island doubled the usable work space. With the secondary sink and in-counter composting receptacle, two cooks can easily work in what used to be a cramped dark space.


Below are three tips and solutions Johanne believes are helpful to homeowners:

Tip #1: Identify storage problems: consider drawers wherever possible as an optimal design

This helps to maximize storage options while creating ease of access to sometimes unused space; i.e. below sink cabinet space. For this Castro Valley home, the client wanted to improve the walk-in closet, keep the dual sinks in the vanity, keep their great bay view, natural light, and replace the tub with a large luxurious shower. The priority here was to create a unified clean and orderly look- inspired by the many luxury hotels they travel to, while maximizing organized storage. A key element of the design is the two sets of deep double drawers in the vanity. Other than the space reserved for the plumbing chase, the entire vanity became actual storage, a huge improvement over their original cabinetry. Adding doors to some of their organized closet components also tamed the chaos and unified the finishes.

Tip #2: Consider removing existing walls

Removing non-essential walls can add lots of additional natural light and make a space feel much larger. For the project pictured in the photo for this tip, tell us your client's needs and describe how you met them; include the neighborhood where the project in the photo is located For this guest bathroom in San Mateo, the client did not require a privacy wall between the needed more natural lighting coming into the space. Removal of a non-essential wall was critical in doing so, as well as using light colored materials for horizontal surfaces.

Tip #3: Prefabricated stone countertops: high end look and function for much less.

Solid stone countertops top the long list of must-haves for most of our clients. For many, the cost of purchasing slabs, then paying almost as much for fabrication is prohibitive. With a range of materials, including quartz, and sizes suitable for standard counter depths, islands and peninsulas, prefabricated countertops can make that choice possible. For the project pictured in the photo for this tip, tell us your client's needs and describe how you met them; include the neighborhood where the project in the photo is located. These clients in Orinda, CA, were taking on a whole house remodel, including enlarging the kitchen and remodeling the bathrooms. They had a limited budget and were very clear on their priorities. The kitchen was expanding into two adjacent rooms, new cabinets, long work surfaces,maximized storage and a large seating island were planned to fit their busy life with three growing boys. We used prefabricated quartz countertops for the main kitchen work space, bar and desk area, and a prefabricated carrara marble top for the island- as they were willing to have it patina with their use over the years.