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The Design-Build Approach to Custom Kitchens: An Interview with Lisa Signoff of NBR Design-Build

By Lisa Signoff

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

NBR is a San Francisco design-build firm with a unique offering integrating a designer's perspective and a builder's skill set in remodeling projects in and around San Francisco. We provide a one-stop-shop from initial concept through final construction for residential and commercial renovations, remodeling and additions. Services include design/drawings, permit/planning, engineering, construction and project management - all integrated with a single point of contact for the entire project. Our process is unique as we have two steps for every project: 1) a design engagement, a 3-12 month phase, depending on the size of the project, which focuses on the design/planning only and results in a well-defined budget, and 2) the construction - the actual project work overseen by the NBR which has its own contract of guidelines governing the construction (per the state of California).

Alex Nerland, the founder/principal of NBR Design-Build, has been buying and remodeling houses in San Francisco for more than 14 years. Alex got his degree in architecture from UC Berkeley in 1990 and his contractor license in 2002. After 10 years working in technology in Silicon Valley, Alex chose to couple his business management experience with his degree in architecture and construction background into the firm NBR Design-Build. Alex has hands-on experience and is personally skilled in all aspects from city permits to finish carpentry, from AutoCAD to plumbing, giving him the expertise to manage projects, employees and subcontractors efficiently and to deliver projects on time. Alex's wife, Lisa, is the co-designer and project manager for all projects. Lisa has been designing projects with Alex for NBR for 10+ years and is a licensed California real estate broker.

When people want to design a new kitchen, what's the best place for them to start?

Best place to begin is Houzz.com, Pinterest and other online resources. Good old fashioned magazines are great as well. With the unlimited number of free online resources, I always recommend finding a kitchen you love with the shape you have or want. Also, I recommend figuring out your style by selecting and saving the kitchens you love. Your natural style will come shining through during this process.

What are the major decisions homeowners will need to make during the kitchen design process?

Appliances, countertops and cabinets are the three biggest and hardest parts of any kitchen. Once you figure out these three pieces, the rest of the kitchen comes together pretty easily.

How is the budget typically set?

Our clients determine the budget. And actually the client's choices of appliances, cabinets and countertops tell us what approximate budget the client needs to have for a kitchen. NBR has a $100k minimum which sometimes involves only a kitchen, but it usually also includes a more extensive remodel (removing walls between the kitchen, dining room and/or living room, etc.).

What are some ways that working with a design-build firm affects staying on budget?

The designer is also the builder. During the design phase (pre-construction), it is easier to steer a project towards a targeted budget. If a client begins selecting designs/products/layouts that are out of budget, we can catch it early and take a different course. Also, there's no finger pointing between the architect, designer and contractor during the construction process which is a common complaint and a leading cause of extra costs and delays in remodels. Design-build is the best way to achieve the highest value while still meeting schedule, cost and quality goals.

What are some of the most popular products and styles/features that Bay Area homeowners want in a custom kitchen?

Products that are currently popular and in demand: Quartzite. It's a nice fresh granite countertop alternative; it's a natural stone and just as durable as granite. Also, custom hoods (inserts vs chimney style) are desired. It's a great way to put a custom touch to any kitchen.

White cabinet kitchens are still very popular. Two-toned cabinets and islands are also all the rage. And classic never goes out of style. At NBR, we like classic and long lasting. We avoid trends if possible, while still keeping our designs updated and fresh.

Do you have any tips to help homeowners during the construction process?

If possible, have fun during the process. And accept upfront that construction is not perfect. We spend a lot of time trying to set the right expectations before construction begins. Because we do so much of our work in San Francisco and in older buildings, we like to explain to our clients that we rarely find straight ceilings, perfectly framed walls or flat floors. It is part of the charm of San Francisco. Creative, elegant solutions from a designer who understands construction is the biggest reason for success of design-build and a fun part of the process. The most important thing to remember is that there is always a solution to every obstacle.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

NBR, Lisa Signoff, lisa@nbr-designbuild.com.

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