Wooden frame construction

How to Navigate the Skyrocketing Cost of Building Materials

The Importance of Permits: What are They and When are They Required?

Whether you’re considering renovating your kitchen or bathroom, expanding your home’s living space, or adding a new addition to your home, having the proper building permits is essential.

There are times homeowners undertake improvement projects without pulling a permit. Some aren’t aware that a building permit is needed, and others may not want to wait for approval or pay the permit fees. While some minor home improvements don’t require a permit, many others do. The bottom line is, conducting a remodeling job without the necessary permits can spell trouble down the line.

What is a Permit?

A permit is an official approval issued by the local Building Department that guarantees that the work being performed to a home adheres to state and local code requirements. Permitting ensures the future occupants’ health and safety along with the building’s structural integrity.

A complete set of construction documents must be submitted to the Building Department to obtain the permits necessary to begin a remodel or addition.

Depending upon the project’s complexity, the permitting process can be straightforward or require multiple agencies to review and approve the plans before being approved for a permit.

These agencies may include:

  • City or County Planning Department
  • Public Works
  • Fire Department
  • Environmental Department

Larger projects such as additions may require structural engineering plans, soils reports, property surveys, energy compliance reports, and arborist reports as individual requirements based on the complexity of design or special site conditions. Harrell Design + Build’s Design team works with team consultants and specialists early in the design process to address these requirements before submitting project plans for permit approval.

The Role of Green Building

CALGreen, California’s green building code, also impacts the permitting process. Created to improve public health, safety, and general welfare, CALGreen targets five key areas:

  • Planning and design
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water efficiency and conservation
  • Material conservation and resource efficiency
  • Environmental quality

Based on project size and scope, aspects of CALGreen must be addressed to obtain permits.

What Home Improvements Require a Permit?

Most home upgrades will require a permit. Aesthetic improvements such as painting, carpeting, tile, adding baseboards or crown molding, replacing interior doors, replacing lighting or plumbing fixtures (in existing locations) don’t require pulling permits.

Other improvements that don’t require permits include:

  • A shed or small separate building 120 square feet or less without electrical, plumbing, or mechanical services
  • Neighbor fences 6 feet high or less
  • Roof repairs of 100 square feet or less
  • Retaining walls 4 feet or less measured from the footing (below the ground)
  • Replacing existing light switches and outlets in their current location
  • Level 1 EV chargers

When it comes to adding on to your home, building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) or undertaking a major kitchen and bathroom remodel, permits are required.

When altering, removing, or adding to any electrical, plumbing, mechanical, or structural aspects of a home, getting the proper permit is a must because these crucial systems directly impact the homeowner’s health and safety.

The Role of Research

Knowing what’s involved in your city’s permitting process before embarking on the design process saves time, money, and frustration.

Understanding each project’s unique requirements at the outset is essential, which is why Rafael Gomez, Harrell Design + Build Designer and Code Specialist, launches a thorough analysis of every client project.

“This feasibility study not only helps inform our designers, but it also better defines each project’s permit process based on scope, and helps minimize or eliminate surprises,” Rafael elaborates.

This thorough research process determines which principal building codes apply to the proposed remodel or addition. It also outlines the project’s permitting process and provides an idea of the timeframe for permitting, construction, and budget.

Harrell Design + Build always obtains the proper permits for every one of our projects. Rafael stresses that it’s wise to work with a Design + Build firm, architect, or contractor who has experience in your city, understands the varied codes and permitting requirements, and will help you apply for and obtain the necessary permits.

Permits Maximize Home Value

The goal of a remodel, improvement, or addition is to improve a home’s livability, its residents’ lifestyle, and ultimately increase a home’s value.

Unpermitted work can negatively influence home value and can end up costing considerable time and money. Homeowner’s insurance covers permitted projects. If an insurance claim ever needs to be filed, the insurance company may deny unpermitted improvements. Should local taxing authorities eventually discover work has been conducted without permits, the homeowner may be liable for significant back taxes, fees, and penalties.

As an example, suppose a Building Department official realizes no permits have been pulled for a project that’s already underway. In that case, explains Rafael, they will most likely red tag the job, resulting in an immediate “stop work” order that involves going through the proper channels to obtain the necessary permits. This avoidable scenario entails considerable lost time and penalties, and meanwhile your home will remain a “construction zone.”

Rafael cautions that the violation will not disappear unless the homeowners work directly with building officials to remedy the permit situation. If the work is discovered after completion, officials could order the project to be brought to code, potentially involving a partial tear-down of the home and a costly rebuild.

And should you decide to sell your home in the future, potential buyers may ask to see permits. Some buyers steer clear of unpermitted improvements altogether, while other buyers may request that the affected areas be brought up to code or might request a reduced sales price.

In the long run, doing it right at the outset by meeting state and code requirements and obtaining the necessary permits saves time, money, and many homeowner headaches.

Permit Requirements Constantly Evolve

State and local codes are updated every three years, which leads to a more intricate permitting process.

“Staying in front of the information and knowing all of the parameters leads to a better Design + Build process,” Rafael stresses. “Although obtaining permits can be a rigorous process, local city and municipal Building Departments want to help create beautiful, healthy, safe homes.”

Remodeling or adding on to your home is equal parts exciting and overwhelming. At Harrell Design + Build, our goal is to provide a seamless full-service Design + Build experience, which includes initial project research and managing the permitting process.

To learn more about the Harrell Design + Build Design + Build experience, we invite you to attend one of our complimentary workshops or meet with a Designer to explore your home remodeling needs.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Top Tech and Trends From KBIS 2021

Harrell Design + Build Designers Barb Wingo and Brooke Nicholson virtually attended KBIS (The Kitchen and Bath Industry Show®), the preeminent and highly anticipated kitchen and bath design event. In association with the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), KBIS offers an inspirational, interactive platform showcasing the latest industry products, trends, and technologies.

The topics and products presented at KBIS confirmed that homeowners seek to repurpose and reimagine the spaces in their homes. It came as no surprise that outdoor living, smart home technology, cleanliness and hygiene, and Universal Design continue to gain traction.

“Harrell has seen firsthand how spending so much time in their homes has clients exploring new ways to improve it inside and out,” affirms Barb.

“The environment and eco-friendly renovation was another hot topic,” Brooke contributes. “Luxury kitchen upcycling is a trend that is also gaining a foothold.”

Here’s a quick peek into our Designers’ top KBIS take-aways for 2021.

Taking Life Outside

The pandemic and ensuing stay-at-home orders have upped the ante for indoor-outdoor living. Travel restrictions have homeowners seeking to design memorable experiences in their own homes. Barb points outs, “Rather than traveling to resort destinations, the trend is to transform yards to create a multi-functional retreat atmosphere at home.”

Through expanding usable outdoor square footage, homeowners also extend the value of their homes. Families are looking for covered outdoor areas that offer protection from the elements with all the comforts of inside spaces. They want amenities that allow them to cook, dine, relax, entertain, work, study and learn al fresco.

Pergolas and cabanas expand outdoor space by creating exterior “rooms” that can be fully equipped with a myriad of conveniences, including outdoor kitchens, pizza ovens, surround sound, WiFi, lighting, and outdoor furnishings that rival their interior cousins in comfort.

Watching TV outside, participating in Zoom meetings and social hours, and family movie nights under the stars have all given rise to the popularity of projection. The anti-glare technology enables a vibrant, clear image even in full sun, and it rolls up and hides away when not in use.

“Outdoor living has been a hot trend for years, but the trend now is to design exterior spaces that serve as a destination, offering many of the luxury amenities of travel locations. Homeowners want a multi-functional area they can use as an office, movie theatre, learning environment, and staycation escape all in one,” Barb points out.

Smart Kitchen/Smart Appliances

Smart appliances that are part of the connected environment in a home bring additional value to the owner. With the ability to update wirelessly and customized with enhanced capabilities, this technology is a future-proofed investment, continuing to provide value over time instead of becoming obsolete.

In addition to dedicated displays on the appliance, many appliances can be voice or touch controlled by smartphone apps. “Your connected washing machine can notify you when the cycle is complete; your oven can ping you when it’s preheated; the dishwasher will alert you when the drying cycle is finished,” Barb elaborates.

Smart food storage technology helps reduce food waste and expense. These devices track what’s in your refrigerator and pantry and informs you when items expire. They can even suggest recipes with the ingredients you have on hand. Brooke explains, “Your smart phone can show you what is inside as well, so if you can’t remember how much milk you have while you are at the store, you can just turn on the camera inside your fridge and have a peek!”

Another top tech appliance touted at KBIS is the LG Washtower. This full-size, full-capacity washer/dryer takes up half the space, stacking neatly in a kitchen, closet, or other location, eliminating the need for a dedicated laundry room. The centrally located control panel for both the washer and dryer makes it easily accessible. Built-in artificial intelligence detects fabric texture and load size, automatically selecting the proper wash motions and drying temperatures. The turbo wash setting with five variable sprays thoroughly cleans a load in under 30 minutes. LG also has a Styler steam closet that fits perfectly tucked up against the Washtower. The WiFi-enabled steam closet is ideal for sanitizing and reducing odors in sporting and fitness gear, reducing wrinkles, and gently refreshing delicate fabrics.

The GE Kitchen Hub provides access to all Android-based devices from your kitchen microwave, including other smart appliances, lighting, etc. The Hub can access the internet, streaming services, email, and offers video chat capability. Oh, and it can help you cook, too! The Hub’s scan-to-cook capability reads package bar codes and programs the proper cook time and temperature. The touch screen allows users to search guided recipes, and a built-in camera tells you if you’ve missed a step or if what you’re cooking is cooked appropriately.

Bold Fixtures and Finishes

New offerings in kitchen and bath fixtures allow for even greater personalization of the home as a reflection of the homeowner’s unique lifestyle.

Kohler offers new hues from calming to vibrant for kitchens and baths. Kohler’s Iron/Tone sink comes in a dozen shades, including Lavender Gray, Black Plus, and Indigo Blue.

Stunning, statement faucets and plumbing fixtures are available in Matte Black, and Vibrant Brushed Moderne Brass as well as Vibrant Ombré effects in Rose Gold/Polished Nickel or Titanium/Rose Gold.

Hygiene and Hands-Free

COVID accelerated the popularity of personal hygiene toilet seats, both for cleanliness in the face of the virus and self-reliance from those infamous toilet paper shortages. The once separate functions of toilets and bidets have been combined into one fixture, sometimes referred to as bidet seat or washlet.

A bidet seat can be part of a new toilet or added to an existing toilet. Equipped with auto on/off and auto-select single or dual flush capabilities, these intelligent toilets offer a completely hands-free experience. Many people find this appealing from a cleanliness standpoint.

While most toilet/bidet fixtures require a nearby electrical outlet, some, like Kohler’s Purewash™ manual bidet toilet seat, require no electricity or batteries. The Purewash installs in minutes, connecting to the toilet’s water supply line.


Also in high demand are touchless or hands-free faucets. Motion-sensing and voice-activated fixtures, like Delta’s TRINSIC VoiceIQ™ kitchen faucet connects to voice-enabled platforms like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Homeowners can turn the water on and off, pour specific amounts, and warm-up with spoken commands. The TRINSIC also has a hand wash feature, providing the proper length of time pre-set for lathering, scrubbing, and rinsing, a great feature for households with kids.

Luxury Kitchen Upcycling

Sustainable and eco-friendly products and services continue to be on-trend. For homeowners who plan to remodel their kitchens, upcycling is a way to give kitchen cabinets, countertops, fixtures, and appliances a new lease on life. Organizations like Renovation Angel receives donated high-end kitchens and, in turn, upcycles luxury cabinetry and appliances in other homes. They have partnered with Miele, Sub-Zero, and Wolfe, along with numerous other high-end brands.

The Renovation Angel Upcycling process:

  1. Renovation Angel conducts an inspection
  2. They provide a net value estimate
  3. They carefully remove/demo the kitchen
  4. A third-party appraisal (Approximately $450) is conducted
  5. Tax deduction paperwork provided upon appraisal completion
  6. For those purchasing a upcycled kitchen, you’ll need to hire an outside party for installation

Brooke explains more about this unique take on upcycling, “Renovation Angel takes donations of kitchens and offers significant tax credits. People buying the used kitchens receive a deep discount on elegant kitchens and appliances while also reducing recycling and landfill tonnage.”

Universal Design

Universal Design is an evergreen trend that gained more attention as families sheltered in place. The process of creating products and environments accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, Universal Design applies to people of all ages and in all stages of life. Independent design principles and products benefit those who live in the home and to those who come to visit.

In addition to sleek and stylish Universally Designed products, voice-activated smart technology makes life easier for those with varying abilities. Voice commands turn on and off lights and appliances, including activation of a pre-set morning or evening routine. Verbal instructions or motion sensors activate faucets and fixtures. Water sensing systems monitor and send alerts regarding water leaks. Smart thermostats can adjust the ambient temperature with an app or via voice command. Smart keypads allow doors to be locked upon command and unlocked with an app. Personal hygiene bidet seats allow for independent self-care.

To discover more about the latest technology and trends for your home, we invite you to attend any of our complimentary virtual workshops.

To explore the remodeling possibilities your home has to offer, connect with one of our talented Designers.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

exterior of house with driveway

Living in Your Home During a Remodel

Deciding to remodel your home can be thrilling. It’s exciting to see the design of your future home come together on paper, and even more so when the renovation work finally starts. But then, how do you live through the disruption until your newly remodeled space is complete?

In addition to having detailed design conversations about a client’s home remodel, Harrell Design + Build Senior Designer CKD, UDCP Gloria Carlson says discussing “disruption tolerance” with homeowners is also crucial.

Gloria explains that every client has a different tolerance level when living through what can be an upending experience to your daily routine. “It’s a very personal and individual decision that we work through collaboratively on a case-by-case basis.”

Some people don’t mind the disturbance, while others can’t function in a disrupted environment, especially with many people now working and learning from home. Still, others decide to move out because they have small children or pets that wouldn’t fare well in a home construction zone.

Gloria recommends that those who choose to stay in their homes create ways to function smoothly. For example, clients undergoing kitchen remodels will benefit from setting up a temporary kitchen space that may include a table, refrigerator, microwave, storage, and access to water.

Whether homeowners choose to stay or leave, there remains some level of disruption. The time and expense of securing and moving to an apartment or rental property are worth it to some, allowing them to have a relatively normal place to call home during their remodel. Other homeowners would rather save money and stay in their homes despite the inconvenience.

Informing clients of worksite protocols and the project’s overall impact on their residence can help guide homeowners in deciding to stay or find alternate accommodations. This includes how living and work areas will be contained and cleaned, and how dust, noise, and disruption will be minimized. During COVID-19, mandated health and safety protocols also determine how employees, tradespeople, and family will be kept safe.

Because we “never forget it’s your home,” Harrell Design + Build has strict company guidelines regarding keeping every client’s home free of dust, debris, and excessive noise. Says Harrell Site Manager Mario Rivera, “Our team goes above and beyond to keep our clients’ homes clean and safe.”

This extensive list includes:

  • Using air scrubbers equipped with HEPA filters to mitigate dust and airborne particles
  • Sweeping and vacuuming work areas daily
  • Daily removal of debris
  • Protection of areas from the point of entry to the work location
  • Containment using zipper walls
  • Minimizing excessive noise

If the job and space allow, the air scrubbers remain on-site from deconstruction to completion. All walls, floors, and other areas are protected throughout the project, and zipper walls remain as long as containment is needed. Harrell takes into account the needs and safety of family pets on the jobsite as well; this has included not just dogs and cats, but tortoises, birds, amphibians and reptiles!

Especially now, keeping clients, tradespeople, and employees safe and healthy is of paramount concern. Harrell has a comprehensive written policy based on state and county COVID-19 protocols.

“We have heightened cleaning requirements in place that meet or exceed state and county specifications. At the end of each workday, we disinfect countertops, door and cabinet knobs, as well as other high-touch surfaces,” Mario reveals.

Signs are posted on each job site, clearly outlining the necessary health protocols. These include wearing face masks, maintaining at least six feet of distancing, and other vital safety measures everyone on the property must follow. This includes requiring isolation of anyone who has traveled out of the area before returning to the job site, per the current local County’s requirements.

Harrell Design + Build routinely undertakes complex home improvement projects while clients continue living in their homes. We also understand that just as each client has distinct lifestyle needs that inform their home remodel design, they also have unique circumstances that impact whether they stay or find other living accommodations. When remodeling a bathroom that was the only bathroom in the house, a separate, locked port-a-potty was on site for solely the owner’s use. Whether you stay at your residences or move out for your remodel, the Harrell Team always remembers it’s your home and strives to ensure that you and your family are safe and comfortable from start to finish.

To learn more about the Harrell Remodel Design + Build experience, we invite you to attend one of our complimentary workshops or talk with a Designer to explore your home remodel.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

The Harrell Design + Build Promise: Quality Work, A Strong Warranty & Proactive Follow-Up Process

At Harrell Design + Build, we pride ourselves on understanding and exceeding our clients’ lifestyle needs through exceptional design and quality construction. Once a project is complete, Harrell backs its work with a one-year warranty and a proactive follow-up process.

Before the warranty even begins, the team works collaboratively while the project is in production to identify and resolve issues upfront. This includes any feedback received from the homeowners along the way.

“Our ultimate goal is a zero-item punch list at our Celebration Walk-Through, which takes place just prior to turning the completed project back over to the clients. While not perfect, we strive to be as flawless as possible,” shares Assistant Project Manager Kelly Burnette, Harrell’s warranty program point person.

Considerable planning and communication go into achieving what Kelly calls a “clean job close.” While a project is in progress, an on-going project punch list is physically posted at the job site.

“This on-site list is a central repository designed to encourage homeowners and our Lead Carpenter working on the project to add items that they discover. This process allows our tradespeople to continuously resolve any issues rather than waiting until a job is nearly complete,” Kelly clarifies.

As the final inspection approaches, a small Harrell Team conducts a preliminary walk-through with “zero punch list” as the goal. During this comprehensive inspection, the project is viewed in its entirety, carefully inspecting each room and all its elements. The team ensures the resolution of outstanding items, identifies and manages new issues as they are discovered, and communicates this information to the homeowners.

A few weeks after the preliminary walk-through and shortly after the Final Inspection, the Harrell Team holds the Celebration Walk-Through. Attended by the homeowners, Designer, Lead Carpenter, Project Manager, and Kelly, this event showcases the finished project.

“Our goal as a Design + Build company is to present a pristine project during the Celebration Walk-through,” says Kelly enthusiastically.

During the Celebration Walk-Through, not only do the homeowners get to see and experience their newly designed home, but they touch and test everything. They turn on appliances and faucets, open doors and drawers, and look closely at every surface. This process helps uncover any issues that the on-going punch list and preliminary walk-throughs may have missed.

Once a project is complete, should any punch list items remain, Kelly tracks the progress, manages material backorders and the replacement of defective items, and schedules the work. She also routinely communicates status updates to the homeowners.

To guarantee homeowners are secure in knowing that any outstanding punch list items will be resolved, Harrell Design + Build has the client hold back a proportional amount of funds until these items are completed. The hold back amount isn’t due and payable until the punch list is complete and the client is satisfied.

After the project is completed, Harrell Design + Build’s robust one-year warranty goes into effect. The warranty covers National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) standards but often goes above and beyond.

The Harrell Warranty Program is outlined in writing, and every client receives a copy after the project conclusion, which also clearly states the warranty start date and duration. Every Design + Build client is presented with their warranty documentation in a binder that also includes product manuals, warranty cards, and final permits. The project file also includes a complete list of model #s, brands, finishes, paint colors, and custom materials along with care instructions, and a 24/7 Harrell emergency contact number.

The one-year coverage warrants against workmanship and defective materials of the following:

  • General warranty covering labor and materials
  • Plumbing and heating
  • Electrical system
  • Sheetrock
  • Masonry
  • Structural components

Clients are encouraged to reach out at any time with questions, concerns, or to report any problems they encounter. “We are here for our clients even after the project is complete. If they have a question or concern, the Harrell Team is always here to help.”

A month or so before the warranty’s expiration, a Harrell Designer reaches out to the homeowner to schedule a one-year warranty walk-through. This on-site visit includes basic maintenance, adjustments, and touch-ups to grout and paint. “We also want to find out if their remodel is living up to their expectations,” shares Kelly.

At Harrell Design + Build, our motto is, “We Never Forget It’s Your Home®.” We also understand that “building a good customer experience does not happen by accident. It happens by design.”

To learn more about the Harrell Design + Build Design + Build experience, we invite you to attend one of our complimentary workshops or meet with a Designer to explore your home remodel.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Quality: An Investment for the Long Haul

Your home is one of your most significant investments. Increasing its value and livability with a remodel is a worthwhile endeavor and a considerable undertaking. One of the most important decisions a homeowner must make before embarking upon their remodel journey is choosing which professionals to enlist.

So, how do you make that critical decision? To make a fully informed choice, homeowners should consider quality, expertise, and customer service says Harrell Design + Build Designer Barb Wingo, Allied ASID. And of course, cost is a factor.

Materials, Fixtures & Finishes

Barb emphasizes that when homeowners remodel, choosing materials and fixtures that stand the test of time and use is crucial. Materials like flooring, tile, and countertops receive heavy use. Homeowners should also consider frequently used items that perform their function multiple times a day like faucets, door and cabinet hardware, and light fixtures.

Although store-brand or brand-name products are available for a lower price at big box stores, they are often of reduced quality compared to those purchased from reliable vendors and showroom sources.

For example, faucets from big box stores may have plastic parts versus metal components; paint can provide less coverage and durability; flooring materials can be thinner and less durable. There are also fewer finish and function options, not to mention product warranties that are more limited in scope.

“The lower price point of these materials may be attractive initially, but they will not withstand high usage and will need replacing much sooner,” Barb warns.

Design Services

“There are many ways to approach the design of your remodel,” Barb explains. “There are in-house or complimentary retail design services, independent designers and architects, and firms that offer full-service design + build solutions.”

With in-house retail design services, the designers’ knowledge may be limited to the products they offer; they have a vested interest in selling homeowners the lines they carry such as certain cabinets, and plumbing fixtures for example. Working in interruption-driven environments, these designers are often unable to provide clients with the attention necessary to consider distinct needs and lifestyles, and to then create beautiful and functional solutions.

An independent designer or architect can create a design and the draft floor plans, elevations, and complete sets of build-ready drawings, but many designers and architects leave the permitting process to the homeowner, which can be extremely complicated if this is not your expertise. Additionally, once permits are obtained, homeowners must vet and select a contractor for the project’s construction phase.

Depending on the designer or architects’ experience, the project may go smoothly, or the client may experience unexpected problems implementing the design as construction evolves.

Barb explains, “Often, what appears to work well on paper may not work in reality.”

One approach is where the homeowners collaborate with a cohesive, dedicated team from conception to completion. The result is a design that merges function, aesthetics, and the unique requirements of the client. Design + build incorporates function into the design from the outset. Experienced designers dedicate time getting to know their clients, asking detailed questions about how they use each space in their home.

Barb says that asking clients specific questions helps formulate a solid design that encapsulates the homeowners’ requirements.

Examples include:

  • How do you use your kitchen: Is there one or multiple cooks at a time?
  • Do you entertain? How many people? Are they formal or informal gatherings? Where do you like to entertain or gather?
  • Do you want smart home technology and appliances?
  • How long do you plan to live in your home?
  • Do you have specific storage needs (sports, hobbies, display, etc.)?
  • Do you need a multi-function space for a desk or workstation?
  • Does anyone in your home have mobility needs?

This comprehensive and collaborative design and construction process ensures the newly remodeled home creates quality, workable solutions that reflect your needs, lifestyle, and aesthetic.


Whether a homeowner’s project is large or small, it should be built to last. As with the design phase of a project, there are several ways to have your project built. The craftsmanship and level of detail can vary dramatically depending upon the type of construction service chosen.

Big box stores may offer installation services, but they may not provide the best talent and craftsmanship. “And hiring a handyman may seem like a cost-effective choice, but you may wind up with someone who has limited knowledge and experience with certain aspects of your project,” explains Barb. Some handyman-type services will not work on projects that may or should require a permit.

Employing a licensed contractor is a good choice. Licensure provides safeguards for the work being performed. Typically, licensed contractors have a greater depth and breadth of experience on remodeling projects.

Hiring a design + build firm enables homeowners to benefit from an entire team of experts at each stage of the remodeling process.

These experts include a full “production” (construction) team whose job it is to keep all work on schedule. A comprehensive feasibility study is conducted before work begins, keeping the project within time and budget constraints. Design + build firms will also typically secure the required permits, and schedule/oversee all inspections.

Customer Service

The time, attention, and communication level offered by in-house retail design services is another essential aspect that can vary greatly. They work in a very interruption-driven environment, which can result in rendering distracted client service. With the design + build model, design and production professionals work together for you as a team, under one company and one contract.

Look for a company whose goal is to have transparent and collaborative communication throughout the entire planning and construction process. Ask if you will have 24/7 access to an online project calendar, ensuring that you know what tasks are happening at your home and know what is coming up next.

Upon completing each project, ask what length of warranty the contractor’s work will adhere to, and what is their proactive follow-up process.

Excellent design and construction take time, talent, dedication, and expertise. In the words of Aldo Gucci, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten.”  

To learn more about the Harrell Remodel Design + Build experience, we invite you to attend one of our complimentary workshops or talk with a Designer to explore your home remodel.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

A textured fireplace offers an organic feel in this Palo Alto living room.

Turning Up the Heat with Indoor & Outdoor Fireplaces

Biophilic Design Brings the Beauty of Nature Indoors

People are innately drawn to form connections with nature. We seek natural surroundings and green spaces to help us relax and unwind. A large body of research has proven that being exposed to elements of, or viewing scenes of nature has a profoundly positive impact on our physical and emotional well-being. Nature offers a host of benefits for children and adults, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and heart rates, increasing immunity, and elevating our mood.

From this extensive research a trend called biophilic design has emerged. “Biophilic design is all about bringing the outdoors in,” says Harrell Design + Build Designer, Divya Vijayanandakumar, LEED AP ID+C, UDCP. “It is founded on scientific evidence and fused with aesthetics that draw upon our need to have a connection with nature and how that relationship benefits our health.”

Initially applied in commercial spaces such as offices (check out Amazon’s Seattle biosphere workspace) and health care, biophilic design has now entered the residential realm.

“Achieving indoor-outdoor flow has been a highly desirable trend for many homeowners,” Divya shares.

To make the most of these biophilic benefits, Divya recommends enlisting an experienced professional. “A designer will create a cohesive aesthetic that fits the homeowner’s unique lifestyle while properly applying natural elements.” Not all materials lend themselves to all uses and purposes. For example, certain natural stone is too porous for kitchen counters, while others are too slick for flooring.

Biophilic design incorporates various natural elements into our indoor spaces, encourages positive personal responses, and creates a direct connection with nature. These include:

  • Views of nature
  • Light and space
  • Airflow and air quality
  • Organic materials and textures
  • Colors and hues found in nature
  • Non-linear, curving shapes
  • Greenery

Views of Nature

Seeing panoramic landscapes, ocean or mountain views, or even a view into our front and backyards are essential biophilic tenets. Large picture windows that look onto attractive green spaces are soothing and invite nature in. Photographs, artwork, and wallpaper are other ways to introduce natural settings and scenery.

Light and Space

There is nothing quite like natural light to illuminate a home. Skylights, plentiful windows, and expansive glass doors imbue a home with this important component of nature. High ceilings and spacious, open floor plans and furniture placement provide an airiness to a home’s spaces.

Air Flow and Quality

Cross ventilation achieved from windows and door allows natural, fresh air to flow throughout a home. HVAC units provide high-quality air when natural ventilation isn’t possible. Houseplants also play a role, removing carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other airborne toxins, including VOCs.

Organic Materials and Textures

Wood, natural stone, materials, and fabrics such as sisal, jute, bamboo, wicker, cotton, and silk can be included in numerous ways. Wood is one of the most versatile materials, with both structural and aesthetic applications. The texture, aroma, and warmth of wood, along with its myriad of uses, make it an ideal finish for use in biophilic design. Beam ceilings, reclaimed wood accent walls, hardwood floors, live-edge shelves, wooden furnishings, and cabinetry are just a few of the ways in which wood can bring the beauty of nature into a home. Sisal and jute are highly textural materials often used in area rugs. Cotton, birch, silk, and bamboo are luxurious for bedding, bath towels, draperies and pillows. Wicker accessories and furniture lend yet another layer of textural appeal to a space. Unique and varying textures add another distinctive aesthetic element to this environmentally-based design.

Colors & Hues of Nature

Consider a sunrise or sunset. The array and depth of colors are astounding. “Just about every color can be found in nature, but some are more common and soothing,” shares Divya. “Selecting the appropriate tonality and hue to achieve the desired mood for the space is important. Nature offers an incredible collection of colors from which a homeowner can choose, ensuring their unique style shines through.”

Non-Linear, Curving Shapes

Straight lines aren’t found as frequently in nature as they are in human-made environments. Integration of flowing, non-linear shapes soften a space, figuratively “taking the edge off” and making it more pleasing and comfortable. Round, curving, and otherwise organic shapes can be incorporated in artwork, furnishings, wallpaper, and door hardware.


In all that research we mentioned it has also been shown that living, green plants in a home improve concentration and productivity along with elevating mood and reducing stress. According to a NASA study, they also help remove up to 87% of airborne toxins. Lush and verdant, colorful and textural, plants merge so many biophilic bonuses. Place them throughout your home, including your bedroom and home office, to reap the rewards. “There are houseplants that thrive best in different indoor environments, so be sure to ask an expert for advice,” Divya advises. A living wall can create an incredible focal point, especially in a two-story entryway. A living roof, though not inside, is another way to embrace biophilia.

Each room in a home is a canvas for biophilic design. For example, a bathroom can include a raised or flat pebble shower floor, a teak shower bench, natural stone countertops, plants that flourish in high-humidity, and luxurious organic cotton towels. A kitchen might have gleaming French doors overlooking an abundant backyard landscape, a small countertop herb garden, rich hardwood floors, a butcher block island, and marble counters.

Are you intrigued by the idea of biophilic design? Discover how this aesthetic based in science can beautify your home and benefit your health by connecting with one of Harrell Design + Build’s award-winning designers.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and on the mid-Peninsula since 1985. Our Design + Build Team is here to help you reimagine your home inside and out.

Repurpose Interior Spaces to Meet Your Lifestyle

After almost six months of spending a lot of time in our homes, many of us have discovered that our interior spaces may not be fully functional. We could use a dedicated office, a quiet area for our children to do schoolwork, a place other than the kitchen table for our 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. You might want to repurpose interior spaces in your home to better meet your needs.

“Families normally don’t spend such an extended period in their homes,” shares Harrell Design + Build CEO and Senior Designer, Lisa Sten. “Now is the perfect time to walk through your home with a fresh perspective to determine how you can reimagine and repurpose interior spaces.”

Lisa highly recommends starting this “room reimagining” at the curb. “We are all feeling disconnected from everyone outside of our immediate household and are searching for ways to socialize safely. Having a connection to others and the outdoors is something many of us are seeking.” For many homeowners, that means people-watching or holding physically distanced gatherings in their front yard. Front yards are an underused space ripe for repurposing. (We will be exploring repurposing front yards in an upcoming blog!)

Once inside your home, look with fresh eyes and analyze every room, every niche, nook, and storage space. Think about your lifestyle needs: how could these various big and small spaces be reimagined to meet those needs? Maybe those lifestyle changes are short-term, like an area for children to attend school online, while others, like dedicated game rooms, might be ones that your family will enjoy for years to come.

Living rooms are an excellent example of an area that many families don’t utilize frequently. Consider dividing large rectangular rooms into two sections, such as a seating area and game or study space. Rearranging the layout or adding multi-functional pieces of furniture can result in a quick transformation. Get creative – clear off that sofa table and use it as a desk. If your family is all about game night, turn your living room into a “tricked out” game room with areas to work on puzzles, play and store board games, engage in a round of foosball, pool, or other favorites.

Many newly-constructed homes don’t have a formal dining room, but if you have one in your home, seriously consider how often you use it. Do you plan to entertain often, and, if so, are they sit down meals or more informal occasions that occur around a kitchen island or in the backyard? Formal dining rooms can easily be transformed into a game area, play or study space, or a hobby, craft or music room. Installing glass or barn doors is a simple way to provide a barrier against sound or create privacy.

There are many wellness services that we’ve been unable to enjoy over the past six months. Getting a haircut or massage, enjoying a workout at our favorite local fitness center, going to a spa for some self-care, all of these are wellness luxuries we’ve gone without for a while. If you’d like to have these personal care services close at hand, you could remodel your master bath to include a steam shower, soaking tub, sauna, or a dedicated hairstyling space. “Harrell has a longtime client who has a specially designed location in her home where she has her hair cut and styled,” Lisa shares. “Many others love creating a spa-like experience in their master bathrooms or designing a dedicated space for yoga, lifting weights, or cardio fitness.”

What spaces or locations in your home could be revitalized? Consider all areas, large and small.

  • Living rooms
  • Formal dining rooms
  • Guest bedrooms
  • Under-stair or other storage spaces
  • Walk-in or large closets
  • Landings
  • Lofts
  • Open niches or nooks
  • Flex spaces
  • Large entry or hallways
  • Great rooms
  • Backyard sheds

One client’s airy great room was reinvented simply by adding doors. “The open space was ideal for keeping an eye on her young children, but when they got older, everyone wanted more privacy. Dividing the great room with artful frosted glass doors created a sense of separation between the kitchen and seating areas without diminishing the home’s natural light or overall flow.” 

There are many ways to breathe new life into your home, meeting your entire family’s needs, hobbies, and lifestyle. Some creative spaces include:

  • Game room
  • Home theatre
  • Hobby or craft space
  • School/study space
  • Playroom
  • Home office
  • Home gym/yoga studio
  • Meditation room
  • Music room
  • Art studio
  • Home library
  • Wine room

There are many opportunities to recreate under-utilized areas in your home. An open landing may be just the right spot for playing board games or a reading nook, and a guest bedroom can double as a home gym. Under-stairway spaces can become wine cellars or quiet study areas for distance learning or fun, cozy play areas for younger children. Spacious walk-in closets may have enough room for clothes as well as a home office set-up.

When deciding on the new purpose of a room or space, Lisa recommends considering the room’s lighting, size, and shape, and the privacy required. How many people will use it? What type and size of furniture are needed? Is natural light a necessity, or will other light sources suffice? Do you need visual or sound privacy?

There are numerous ways to reinvent and reclaim your home and repurpose interior spaces. Rearranging furniture, flipping a room’s purpose, and reimagining a space can breathe new life into your lifestyle. If none of these ideas work for your residence, consider constructing an ADU, an addition, or remodel. The Harrell Design + Build Design + Build Team is always here to help you reimagine your Silicon Valley or mid-Peninsula home inside and out.

Woman Founded and 100% Employee-Owned, Harrell Design + Build has created distinctive homes in Silicon Valley and mid-Peninsula since 1985. We invite you to attend one of our virtual workshops or schedule a complimentary appointment with a Harrell Design + Build designer to learn more about how we can help you achieve your perfect lifestyle.

Green Building Explained

What is Green Building

According to the World Green Building Council, a green building is one that, “in its design, construction, or operation, minimizes or eliminates negative impacts and creates positive impacts on our climate and natural environment.” Green buildings preserve natural resources and improve our quality of life.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) provides a framework for efficient, healthy, and cost-effective green building. Spearheaded by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is the most widely recognized green building rating system in the world, LEED certified buildings are a symbol of the highest level of sustainability.

Any building can be green: a shopping center, an office complex, a school, hospital, library, and a residence, provided they include and meet specific requirements and features such as:

  • Efficient use of energy, water and other resources
  • Renewable energy (i.e. solar)
  • Reduction of pollution and waste along with recycling and re-use
  • Use of non-toxic, sustainable, and ethical materials
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Consideration of the environment and the inhabitants in design, demolition, construction, and operation

Harrell Designer and Code Specialist, Rafael Gomez, explains that after World War II, housing was built very rapidly to meet demand. “These post-war homes were not necessarily healthy or durable. They used materials that not only stripped our planet’s natural resources but also could unknowingly expose residents to lead paint and other toxic chemicals. With the increased global awareness of the importance of environmentally sustainable practices, green building has emerged as an all-encompassing process with the mission of creating long-lasting structures that take the health of the Earth and humans into account.”

When building a home, or remodeling in California, there are green building guidelines that must be followed, as California has its own green building standards, called CALGreen. The first state-mandated green building code in the nation, CALGreen measures are applied to planning, design, operation, construction, use, and occupancy of all new construction as well as remodels and additions.

CALGreen addresses five areas of construction and remodeling:

  • Planning and design
  • Energy efficiency
  • Water efficiency and conservation
  • Material conservation and resource efficiency
  • Environmental quality

Every city must comply with CALGreen code standards and can also choose to enforce a higher level of green building requirements. “Palo Alto has been pioneering the green building movement in Silicon Valley for years,” says Rafael. These enhanced local city ordinances create “reach code” standards that go above and beyond those required by the state.

To encourage homeowners to upgrade to more energy efficient appliances or materials, many cities offer rebate incentive programs for installation of green alternatives such as solar panels, electric water heaters, and electric vehicle charging stations.

Palo Alto is spearheading California’s mission to have zero emission buildings by the year 2045. Many other cities and states are taking the same initiative, joining efforts with contractors and developers to make remarkable progress toward this mission of a carbon neutral future. Energy efficiency in new construction is exceeding the 2020 target of 33 percent.

“At Harrell Design + Build, we integrate the mandatory green building measures into each stage of a project,” states Rafael. “Depending upon the size and scope of the construction, there are also prescriptive measures we must take into account, such as roofing, insulation, and windows.”

Recycling construction material plays a significant part in green building. “Harrell Design + Build pays close attention to the recycling rules for all our projects,” Rafael explains. “It is our responsibility to meet the recycling requirements, and to salvage and repurpose materials for a second life.”

Rafael shares that some homeowners want to go even farther with making their residence environmentally friendly. Studies show that one in three Millennials want a home that is sustainable and eco-friendly. “Whether our clients simply want to meet the minimum green building standards, or want to make their homes as environmentally friendly as possible, Harrell Design + Build is here to help facilitate that.”

Myths about Green Building

There are a lot of misunderstandings and falsehoods surrounding green building. Below are just a few of the misconceptions and explanations dispelling those myths.

Green building is more expensive

According to Gina Rodda, principal owner of Gabel Energy, the upfront cost of an eco-friendly building is indeed more expensive but after year ten, the return on investment kicks in. The energy efficiency of a sustainable home results in considerable savings over time. And, because of the use of non-toxic materials and enhanced indoor air quality, the occupants enjoy better health and reduced medical costs.

Green building is not as efficient as traditional construction

Construction using green building is still a new process but when applied properly, which is where CALGreen and other code mandates come in, it can be exceptionally efficient in all phases.

Green building is just a fad

With our reliance on oil, escalating fuel costs, and the negative impacts we’ve made on our planet, we’ve reached a point where we need to pivot. And a large part of that pivot is the implementation of global green building practices. The green approach to construction is constantly evolving and requires diligence but this environmentally responsible and responsive process is here to stay. It saves resources, energy, and increases the health and wellbeing of occupants.

If a product has the Green label on it, it must be green

Unfortunately, this label isn’t an indicator of a product’s sustainability. It simply means the manufacturer complied with minimal criteria. Often, these are also less expensive options that lure consumers with the label and a lower price. To determine if a product is truly eco-friendly, ask a professional for advice.

If you are considering a remodel, addition, or construction of an ADU on your Silicon Valley or mid-Peninsula property, green building practices will come into play. Having been in the Design + Build industry since 1985, Harrell Design + Build understands the process and importance of these sustainable practices. We invite you to reach out and schedule an appointment with one of our award-winning designers to discover how we can make your home healthy and beautifully sustainable.