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Remodeling demystified

Designer equips homeowners with knowledge and know-how

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Mollyanne Sherman spends most of her time designing people's homes and living spaces, getting those plans approved and then building them.

Somewhere along the way she also realized that if she spent time teaching homeowners how to manage their own remodeling projects, they would be better informed and maybe have fewer headaches and better outcomes.

Sherman, whose MAC Design Studio is based in Fremont, does many projects on the Midpeninsula, and is a regular Palo Alto Adult School instructor in a course called "Managing Your Remodel."

In her six-week class, she goes over every aspect of a remodel, from technical to emotional to financial.

"I enjoy teaching and sharing my experience to help people feel more prepared for their projects. It is good to work with a client who is prepared for what they will be experiencing through the process," she said.

Most of her students are in it for the nitty gritty: How much is it going to cost?

Sherman's answer: "What changes the cost of a project in the middle, is changing your mind."

If you go into a project with your eyes open, your measurements accurate (one week is devoted to tape measures) you should come out of it unscathed.

What exactly is considered a remodel?

"It's as small as a reconfiguration of a kitchen, to tearing down most of a house to rebuild it," she said. What a remodel is not? Paint, wallpaper or flooring. Anything else, if it involves removing something from a home and replacing it, generally requires a permit and therefore can be construed as a remodel.

Sherman tries not to sugar-coat the process for her students, outlining everything they should expect during the planning, permitting, remodeling and construction process.

One week, she invites a contractor to speak and answer questions. One week she teaches how to speak the language of building as well as what questions to ask.

"It's unfortunate that people feel like they can't ask questions," she said, recalling a husband who kept admonishing his wife for asking questions.

Sherman uses real-life examples from her own company to show students how to plan and how things can change. She goes over timelines, budgets, how to find professionals and even why labor costs so much.

She emphasizes that people have a choice. They can choose a design/build firm, which will subcontract all the work (and therefore have less flexibility on labor) and will just bill the customer, or they can essentially be the "owner/builder" on their project, filing the paperwork for the permits, hiring contractors, buying all of the materials and appliances themselves and hiring installers.

The main thing, she points out, is a contractor can't give you numbers until you have a design. One whole class is devoted to design, teaching students how to measure accurately, using standards from the National Kitchen and Bath Association. She teaches things like how wide work aisles should be, and how much storage is a reasonable amount for most kitchens. She goes over the difference between a home designer and an architect, and an interior designer. Often a remodel does not require an architect.

If homeowners choose to use a kitchen/bath showroom or a big box store, Sherman said it's important to know what you're paying for. A showroom usually has full service, with designers and products to order right there. A big-box store can offer a free design, but often this doesn't end up costing any less than if you hired a designer to come to your home to design the space. Most designers, she said, apply their design fee to the purchase of the products.

"I find I'm competitive" with big-box stores, she said, citing a recent example. A customer had gotten a design from a store using measurements provided by the homeowner. The store plugged in cabinets and drawers into the kitchen space accordingly and wrote an estimate. Sherman went over that estimate and found that the store had measured the sink cabinet area incorrectly and also had put a larger cupboard there than was needed. Instead, she designed a drawer bank and made the space more useful for the owner. The store gave them a cheap schematic of their kitchen, but "I gave them a workable kitchen."n

Elizabeth Lorenz is the Home and Real Estate Editor at the Palo Alto Weekly. She can be emailed at

For information on the Palo Alto Adult School class which will be offered again in the spring, go to and search under Home and Environment courses.

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Like this comment
Posted by Phil Wandrey
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2018 at 6:34 am

Molly is an excellent professional in the cabinet world. I have known her and her husband for many years. You would never go wrong having Molly on your team for any home remodel work.

Like this comment
Posted by David Wagner, CID
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2018 at 10:50 am

I've had the privilege over the years of watching Molly become the fine designer she is. Having designed and built over 2,500 high end kitchens in my over four decade career I feel more than qualified in endorsing the attributes of Molly Ann Sherman.
The highest compliment I could give her would be to say....If I lived in the Bay Area, I would have Molly design and supervise my own remodel!
David M. Wagner,CID
Senior Designer
Go Green Solutions
Pasadena, California

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