REMODELING DESIGNS, INC.
MIKE & SUE FANELLI REMODELING PROJECT
Professional remodelers go to great lengths to avoid surprises. That’s because encountering “the unexpected” usually adds time and money to a project, which can frustrate the homeowner and contractor. But what if the element of surprise was important to the project’s success? That’s what Remodeling Designs faced on a project earlier this spring, which is an unusual and amusing story.
Late last February, Erich Eggers, president of Remodeling Designs and co-owner with his wife Kelly, were invited to the Centerville home of Mike and Sue Fanelli about a basement remodeling job. Mike is a retired engineer from Delphi and Sue is a retired Kettering school teacher who substitute teaches. Mike contacted Remodeling Designs because of newspaper articles about the company and having met Kelly at Centerville Noon Optimist meetings. Sue was substituting the day of the meeting, and while it’s a general rule to have husband and wife both present at important remodeling meetings, Mike insisted that Erich meet him in Sue’s absence.
Mike explained how they wanted to remodel a part of the basement into a comfortable TV room which would also serve as a guest room. Over the years the space had become a catch-all area used mostly for storage. The project that Mike described to Erich was pretty straightforward, except for Mike’s peculiar wishes. He wanted Remodeling Designs to begin and end the project during the couple’s Colorado ski trip starting in late March. What’s more, Mike wanted to keep the project a secret from Sue!
As Mike explained, “I like surprising people, and surprising Sue was the only way the remodeling was going to happen.” Erich learned that the Fanellis had discussed making improvements to the basement for many years, but they never were able to make specific decisions to act upon. A basic wish-list that Mike gave to Erich by the end of the meeting included new flooring, new windows, new lights, new furniture, a big screen TV and redecorating.
Erich and Mike met a second time a few days later – again at the Fanelli residence and again in Sue’s absence! This time, Erich was accompanied by Beth Spegal, an interior designer and owner of House Dressing. While Erich took measurements, Beth assessed the basement for decorating and furnishing ideas. Erich promised Mike a quote in a couple of days. Feeling comfortable about the way things were going, Mike purchased the airline tickets to Denver because he knew Remodeling Designs would need to know their exact itinerary. Mike even extended the trip by two days, giving Remodeling Designs 11 days to complete the project, including weekends. Mike explained to Sue that adding two days saved on air fares.
On March 3, Mike met with Erich and Beth to discuss the quote and review flooring samples, paint colors, window treatments, lighting and fabrics. Not knowing what Remodeling Designs was going to propose, but anxious to move forward, Mike brought his checkbook. His philosophy was “what happens, happens.” Excited about everything he saw and heard, and the prospect of having everything done by the time they got back from Colorado, Mike wrote a deposit check. That was the last meeting with Mike! The Fanelli’s flight left Dayton March 28. That meant Remodeling Designs had just three and one-half weeks to schedule construction, finish the drawings and order materials.
The fact that Mike placed so much trust in Remodeling Designs to make critical decisions without further input, to come-and-go in his house as required, and to complete the project on time is remarkable. Frankly, Mike didn’t have a good understanding of the expected results because so many decisions were left up to Remodeling Designs. Mike remembered telling Erich, “If you have any questions, just do what you think is right. I trust you and I know you will do a good job.” Mike even left the decision about the big-screen TV up to Erich after giving him a Consumer Reports article evaluating different brands. Funny thing is, Mike was more concerned that Sue would find out. So he contacted everyone he could think of – neighbors, friends, anyone who might tip her off or arouse her suspicion. As Sue stated, “I’ve always got my antennas out and it wouldn’t have taken much to realize that something was up.” The trickiest thing to overcome was that Sue wanted to leave their cat at home while they were gone. That would have been a problem for the cat and the remodeling crew. So Mike was determined to board the cat, which miffed Sue. But in hindsight, she knows it was the right thing to do.
Leaving the project entirely in Remodeling Designs’ hands didn’t mean Mike wasn’t anxious while on vacation. “The whole time we were gone I was so excited I was a nervous wreck,” Mike admitted. “I wanted the vacation to hurry up and be over so I could see what Sue’s reaction would be.” But not once did Mike call Remodeling Designs during the entire trip.
Remodeling Designs began work on March 29 at a feverish pace. Scott Pierron, Remodeling Designs’ project manager, later told Mike, “Multiple things were going on simultaneously to get the job done on time.” The scope of remodeling involved removing original linoleum flooring and replacing it with ceramic tile; removing old paneling and replacing it with drywall; replacing outdated florescent lighting with new dome fixtures; installing two energy efficient window systems; resurfacing the ceiling; and custom-building a natural gas fireplace, complete with mantle and ceramic facing to match the floor. Decorating by Beth Spegal included delivery of a sectional/sleeper couch, end table and credenza, as well as custom-made shades, window treatments various accessory items. Installing the big-screen TV that Erich had picked out added the finishing touch.
Truth be told, Remodeling Designs worked right up until two hours before Mike and Sue turned into the driveway. According to plan, Mike called Remodeling Designs from the airport, giving them just enough time to prepare the homecoming scene. When the Fanellis arrived home the stage was set: A large bow was tied to the door leading from the garage into the remodeled room; the new TV was playing a “The March of the Penguins” DVD in honor of Sue’s love of birds; two glasses of Coke on ice, Sue’s favorite beverage, sat next to a bowl of Cheez-its, her favorite snack.
Sue knew something was up as soon as she spotted the bow. When the door opened, she was overwhelmed! “I was speechless for the longest time,” she remembered. “I spent the longest time visually processing all the changes.” Mike was relieved and inspired by what had been accomplished. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he claimed. “It was all new to me too. It turned out better than I had ever imagined.”
The time Mike and Sue spent alone marveling at the transformation didn’t last long. Moments later their neighbors arrived to share the surprise. The scene got so lively that Mike completely forgot to call Remodeling Designs where Erich, Kelly, Beth and Scott anxiously awaited. Unable to handle the suspense, they called Mike who urged them to get there as soon as possible. The celebration lasted for hours!
Sue will be the first to declare it was all worth the effort. “Bottom line, it’s such a mental boost every time I come into the room now,” she said. Mike was quick to agree. But he also was mindful of Remodeling Designs’ extraordinary effort when he stated, “Remodeling Designs said this kind of a project was fun…once! Am I ever glad they did it for us.”