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Copyright © 2006
Express Publishing Inc
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The Sun Valley Guide magazine is distributed free three times a year to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area communities.

Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express newspaper will receive the Sun Valley Guide with their subscription.

The remodel AFTER

23 days to rehab your habitat:
a homeowner's diary
Cornelia Russo, a decorator and interior designer, remodeled her Ketchum condo in three weeks. The following is her diary of the process, full of useful tips and handy hints for any aspiring remodeler. Photos by David N. Seelig

When are you going to start my remodel?” queries the excited homeowner.

“Not until we are ready to finish,” declares the crew leader.

The startled homeowner is taken aback, but according to the Journal of Light Construction, this answer is right on. Make decisions, order materials and coordinate scheduling before remodeling. During a whirlwind 23 days, Cornelia Russo acted as her own general contractor. She directed the middle phase of a structural and cosmetic remodel of a 1980s townhouse on Trail Creek. Blackened lava rock, small closets, textured sheetrock along with 25-year-old painted paneling, hollow doors and drafty glass were just a few of the items on her demolition hit list.


Great room, dining area, foyer and storage closet.

Demolition: Increase natural light with a 6-foot glass panel and museum white paint. Create and outfit a walk-in storage closet. Redo slider and heaters to save energy. For a larger room feel, redo fireplace in low profile, light-colored stone; install eight recessed lights plus in-wall heater; remove baseboard heaters, smooth new sheetrock plus existing walls/ceiling. Reconfigure kitchen cabinets until final phase. Update: Replace doors, hardware and trim work. Set kitchen track lighting and plumbing and electrical groundwork for next phase while sheetrock is demolished. Design elements: Mobile color board, faux wood beam, mantel panel.


Master bedroom, closet and balcony plus hallway.

Demolition: Update with energy-saving heater, doors and new hardware, new sheetrock and trim work plus stain and paint. Expand and outfit walk-in closet/dressing area. Create a bigger feel through smoothed walls/ceiling, in-wall heater, paint closet door and repeating room color within, plus relocate new, wider double-entry doors. Add natural light in blind bath (etched transom) and in expanded closet (window).

The remodel BEFORE

Week 1 Demolition and Framing

Prepped site. Protected shrubbery, carpet, etc. Furniture went outside.

Demolition begins, long overdue. Hammers pound. Broken sheetrock and dust are everywhere plus an obstacle course of tools and materials.
I love it!

Set up my work area on site. Walked through job assignments; explained overall plan to workmen, sometimes in written specifics.

First major problems. Tracked down doors and windows with company supervisor; they had never been ordered. (Thank heavens for Carole at Sawtooth Door). New keys don’t work, and the dumpster is wrong.

Phoned mason to adjust fireplace and extend patio step (I forgot that the slider handle reversed).

Last-minute city insistence on engineer drawings for master closet. Thankfully I had reserved an engineer, just in case. Immediate pow-wow. No delay. Go Jay!

Decided to insulate first floor ceiling and faux paint beam. Unforeseen.

Performed end-of-day site checks; collected progress reports.

Plumber and electrician returned Saturday to stay on schedule. Love that!

Passed framing inspection.

Reviewed week; planned ahead: calls, goals and lists for crew.Cleaned site.

Week 2 Framing, insulation and sheetrock

Inspections: passed electrical, plumbing, insulation and sheetrock.

Building rules changed. Remodels now subject
to more inspections. Keep asking questions and listening.

Wake up happy and hopeful each day, but by sunset feel the weight of the world. Thank heavens for sunrises.

Door delivery problems. Reevaluated; changed specs.

Four snowfalls in five days played havoc with schedules. Nervous as the furniture is still outside under tarps. Falling behind. De-stressed at gym.

Electrical inspector Larry Wharton’s warning: “Homeowners lose time, control and money by not being on site for instant decisions and to handle roadblocks.”

Adjusted mantel stain technique and faux base coat for beam. Reluctantly postponed beam artist, who was painting the beam to look like wood.

Existing kitchen cabinets reconfigured until phase III.

Sheetrocker duo, dedicated. Lunch, my treat. Added more ceilings to smooth.

Trims/moldings need to be special ordered. They are needed in 36 hours! Idaho Lumber came through.

Logged workmen and progress. Reviewed expectations. Completed daily site visits.


Planned next segment: calls, schedules,

Week 2 Sheetrock, painting/staining, install doors/windows and finish carpentry

Beam painted like wood. Wow!

Mike and Doug painted/stained through the weekend. Outstanding. Changed my mind on the bedroom colors, due to some twelfth-hour
inspiration at the paint counter!

Refurbished mantel and had fire screen installed, including salvaged wood panel I broke in two—
time for a redesign.

No place to park. Carpenters and more returned to outfit closets, add trim work and install doors,
hardware and windows.

Wrong hinges and missing hardware and windows. Ugh, a full-plate. Eliminated need to wait for one window problem by doing etched glass transom—a piece of glass directly above the door, as wide as door and about eight inches high.

Everyone is cranking out, catching up. Lunch on me.

Stop. Four-day weekend plus cell phone network down for three days. Challenges…

Lost both painters unexpectedly. Scrambled. Joe and Humberto Jr. to the rescue.

Discovered fence not on property line, blocked new window. Carpenter (Rod) saved the day. Mason needed back.

Daily site visits. Reviewed expectations. Went over punch list (a list of everything that needs to be finished before they leave and get paid) with crew.

Irma and staff—final cleaning. Lucky me.

Preparing to leave, I paused proudly at the job site’s front door to admire everyone’s work. I couldn’t help but reminisce on how the crew watched out for me. In turn, as their general contractor, I tried to make sure that job assignments and materials were ready.

My project-tested parting advice to any aspiring remodeler is: Rejoice in what goes right and don’t lament what doesn’t. Remember you are dealing with individuals. Large or small, a project that personalizes your habitat and expresses your spirit is an ordeal, make no mistake, but it is also a wonderful experience with its own rewards.
Despite weather and holiday delays, the project, including the add-ons, was completed on time except for a short punch list and two small, problematic glass panels. (But we are framed, painted and ready to go for them.) Including the unforeseen items, such as engineer drawings and those done-by-choice extras—insulated and smoothed ceilings, faux beam, mobile color board, electrical parts swapped to white, etc.—we came in at just under our budget of $25,000.

Remodeling Tips
Plan your work; work your plan
Lay the groundwork for your project in advance: goals, designs, permits, orders and schedules. Have your specific goals and simplified overall picture of the entire project understood by each work person. You alone can direct the crew to your final vision. Sketch and graph changes including the placement of furnishings and forgotten items like which way doors swing and outlets. Consider form (design) and function (practicality). Repeatedly walk through the future space mentally and physically. Ideas evolve; some change. Is there enough counter space? Is the cable in the right places? Door to open left? Terry Allsop, a homeowner/contractor, advises, “Check and recheck before construction, then again every day on site.” Also remember to plan your daily de-stress strategies, such as exercise or a movie.

Educate yourself
Read and ask questions of inspectors, architects, engineers, craftsmen and homeowners who have remodeled. There are no stupid questions. Encourage all to share their expertise on how the system works. However, the final decision is yours.

Working with your crew
Check references, work ethic, insurance and licenses. Walk through the agenda on site with the workmen. Reserve dates far in advance. Structure the project so you feel comfortable. Check out construction Spanish-language courses. Set up a work/desk space on site. If you’re your own contractor, get the legal assurances you need in writing. Learn names; provide water and snacks; relate to the crew. Always have your project file with you.

Know yourself
Acting as construction general contractor is more than a full-time commitment. Anxiety, frustration, exhilaration and satisfaction go with the job. Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Can you rise early, execute lists, make it to meetings, run errands, do site visits, make phone calls and complete other related tasks? Then, at day’s end, make final site checks, handle the day’s twists, and complete your homework along with new lists and schedules for the next day and beyond? Be brutally honest. Your answer affects the project’s success.

Allow extra time and extra money
Build in catch-up days and reserve extra money. Any construction project will take longer and run over on costs by at least 10 to 20 percent.

Maintain construction areas
Protect your belongings. Clean up as you progress. Provide a dumpster and restroom.

Local companies/people who worked on the remodel King Electric: Brad King, 788-5013. 5B Plumbing: Justin McKenzie and crew, 721-2101. Sheetrock/All Purpose: Gary Henderson, 720-0850, Joe Thornton. Framing/Carpentry: (Lead) Rod Hawkins, 481-0285, Travis Scott, Pete Jenner. Columbia Paints: Tony Polichetti and staff, 726-8030. Painting: Doug Neff, Mike Porter, 721-1558, Humberto Carillo Jr., 721-0145. Sawtooth Door Company: (208) 734-7770. Christensen Engineering: Jay Christensen, (208) 654-9911. Artist: Jeanne Knott, 726-1917. Idaho Lumber: Mike Brunker and staff, 788-3333. Stained Glass Studio: Hermann Lirk, 726-8141. Stock Building Supply and staff: 726-3364. Cleaning Service: Irma Regal and crew, 788-7775. Furnishings: The Open Room, 622-0222 and Cornelia Russo Design & Decorating, 788-2194. Flowers: Primavera, 726-7788.