Pardon My Dust - LA Times Remodeling Blog

I recently "met" (in a cyber sort of way) Kathy Price-Robinson, author of the blog, "Pardon Our Dust", seen in the LA Times. I was immediately struck by Kathy's "voice." It is a voice of reason in this wild and crazy world we call remodeling. It is a voice of knowledge about the remodeling process, which is exactly what Kathy Robinson-Price specializes in...the process. How to put one step in front of the other, to survive the remodeling process (intact.) Kathy talks about what consumers need to know, and interestingly, what they don't. I like Kathy's take on the process. She knows her stuff, and she pulls no punches! It's my pleasure to introduce you to Kathy Price-Robinson. Thanks, Kathy!

1. OK, I'm curious, why remodeling? Where did your knowledge or experience come from?

I started writing about houses as a fluke when another reporter at the Santa Barbara News-Press hated his assignment to write about a house a week and he asked me to take over the assignment. I love, love, love going into people's homes and writing about them. I wrote a weekly series for the News-Press for seven years (that's 350 houses!) and then moved my series to the L.A. Times in 1997. As for my experience, I'm a writer first, and a remodeling specialist second. I did grow up around construction as all my relatives were in “the trades,” such as plastering, lathing, masonry and carpentry.

remodeling.jpg 2. What do you want consumers to know about remodeling kitchens?

As you mentioned in your intro, I'm into the process of the remodel and helping people get through it. While an expert like you can help with layout and product selection, I like to help people understand that remodeling a kitchen is the most difficult, complex project there is. Perhaps because I am so into food, I want people to take more care when they figure out how they will survive without a kitchen for weeks or months at a time. How will they cook? How will they clean? Where will the refrigerator be? You cannot live on granola bars for two months. You need to eat fresh, nutritious foods, especially during the stress of a kitchen remodel. I think if people took better care of their needs during a remodel, they would have fewer emotional, mental and physical meltdowns during the process.

3. How should consumers put together/hire a team...architect, contractor, kitchen designer, interior designer?

For a kitchen, I suggest that the architect, contractor and kitchen designer work hand-in-hand from the very beginning. So many problems start during the “hand-off” from designer to contractor, and it doesn't have to be like that. The worst way to go about it, in my opinion, is to get bids on a completed design. What you could end up doing, if you are looking for the lowest bid, is hiring the company who left the most things out of the bid, only to add them in later as “change orders,” which will increase the costs. The better way is to decide the team you want to work with, and work with them from the beginning.

4. How can conflicts be avoided?

Communication is the key. Every meeting and phone call between homeowners and their team should be documented. Take notes. I also like the idea of a jobsite notebook where all notes are kept and the team members can leave notes for each other. Also, I suggest that homeowners get out and see all the materials they can in advance. Go to tile stores, and carpet stores, and kitchen shops. Plus, get a stack of magazines and ponder which kitchens you love and which you don't. You'll start to notice common denominators. From my experience, the homeowners who are happiest with their finished kitchen remodels are the ones who did the most upfront research.

Kitchen%20Remodeling%202.jpg 5. How involved should the homeowners be in the process, once it gets going? Can/should they just leave it all up to the experts?

That's a tricky question. It depends on how many issues remain unresolved when construction begins. A kitchen remodel typically requires so many decisions, and homeowners are not usually able to make all of them up front. If there is a well-thought-out list of deadlines for those decisions to be made — color selections, fixtures, etc. — and the homeowner sticks to the schedule, the job goes smoother. Some homeowners like to be involved and some want the pros to take over. I’d say it depends on the team.

6. What are your thoughts on green design/building?

I love this topic and we all must figure out a way to live sustainably. That means that we meet our own needs while not compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. Obviously we cannot continue to pour pollutants into the air, water and land forever. We once thought the planet could take whatever we threw at it, but now we see that's just not true. Even in the farthest reaches of the wilderness, we find human-created pollutants have a negative effect on wildlife.

In kitchens, there are many ways to design and build green. We should probably not take as many items to the landfill, so items in the old kitchen should be retained when possible, or reused (old cabinets used in the garage are a great example), or recycled or given away. Then, you want to design the kitchen in a way that cuts down on the need for artificial light in the daytime, and that conserves water. And the materials that are “resource conservative,” as some in the green building field like to call it, are growing in number all the time. You can get some exciting counter materials, flooring, cabinets. And of course, we should all be using compact fluorescent bulbs, if only because they need changing so infrequently. I'm all for that.

7. What other projects are you involved in? Where else can we get a little bit of your wisdom?

Thanks for this interview, Susan. It has been fun. I think my blog is the best place to access my work. I do have a website,, but I don't update it as often as I should. But that's my goal for 2008!