By Gordon Wornoff
Creative Eye: Contemporizing CalgaryCanadian Contractor calgary creative eye editor pick home renovation
Calgary’s Reborn Renovations recently earned a stampede of recognition from the Canadian Home Builders’ Association for their exquisite kitchens and bathrooms. At the 2021 CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence, Reborn Renovations was awarded the country’s Best Bathroom Renovation for its project “Modern Makeover.” Reborn Renovations was also a country-wide finalist for the best kitchen under $70, 000, on a different project.
Canadian Contractor spoke to Reborn Renovations owner, Danielle Matthews.
This build is an incredible trans-formation of a typical suburban bungalow into a stunning modern design, inside and out. Please tell us about this award-winning bathroom, Modern Makeover, that secured the win at the 2021 CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence.
We were very lucky. The clients had an extensive Pinterest board and lots of ideas about what they wanted to do. My coordinator, my assistants and I fleshed out the design. It took about a month and a half, meeting with the client once a week.
We had to absorb a spare bedroom to make room for this bathroom, which was okay because they still had a guest bedroom downstairs.
I was really excited about the moodiness of this project, as we do a lot of white here in Calgary. Every surface of this bathroom is covered and draped in different types of tiles. There are big charcoal tiles surrounding the bathroom, jewel slabs behind the mirrors, corrugated matte black tile behind the tub, and a mixed-pebble mosaic in the floor of the shower.
The under-vanity strip lighting has become quite popular. It’s a nice clean white light, you don’t have to change any bulbs and these ones are on motion sensors – so when the client enters the bathroom in the middle of the night, they just turn on
Is it challenging to be cohesive in your whole-house design when the client brings many different ideas to you?
You’ve got to keep the size of the home in mind. A lot of inspirational photos from clients are from large homes and mansions. We are trying to translate that into something suburban – something with nine-foot ceilings versus 10- or 12-foot ceilings in the photos. That translation can get lost sometimes.
To effectively design with such a sleek and modern look, we layer many textures to create interest without a lot of profile.
For example, in this house, we have a lot of flat surfaces – tile, countertops, drawer fronts, boxes, paint, no casings around the windows for the most part – very little detail – all flat. But, there are a lot of layers and textures in this job when you really dissect it. We’ve introduced mixed metals throughout: from the appliances, to the sink, to the plumbing fixtures, to the lighting. The mixed kitchen cabinetry is highlighted against the bright quartz slab countertops and backsplash. We used a mixture of lacquered MDF and a product called Uniboard to achieve a grain-matched look throughout the kitchen. I love the juxtaposed contrast of the warm, vertical grain-matched wood against black charcoal cabinetry. I think it’s outstanding. It gives it some life and some punch.
We added some dark wall paneling behind the master bed for that wow factor but also to carry some moodiness from the bathroom into the bedroom while still maintaining an overall bright space in there.
We make what we call a “selection form” which identifies every material – where it’s going, what it’s doing, all the information, the grout colour. At the time, this renovation had the longest selection form we’d ever had on a job, due to all the materials. Since then, we’ve had even longer ones.
How do you keep up with kitchen and bathroom design trends?
I think design is something you either have in you, or you don’t. After years of doing this, I realize it’s just like dressing yourself. Nobody teaches you what’s current or what’s not. You just see people doing it or you read magazines and literature and you start to understand what’s new and what’s coming.
I’ve been through multiple trends. I’ve been through maple cabinets, then espresso cabinets, well into white cabinets. Now we’re into flat-slab blacks and colours. Keeping on-trend means looking for what’s next, being able to dissect it, understand it, and recreate it.
How big is your company and what are you working on now?
We started out as Reborn Kitchens in 2008. Back in the day that’s all we did – kitchens. A lot of successful renovators do that…start with one thing and get really good at it before you take on another thing (basements, additions, etc). That’s how you get good growth. Most builders or renovators that try to take it all on from the get-go end up crashing and burning. I have watched tons of renovators come and go, and that’s usually the reason.
We got good at kitchens and then we started expanding to the next thing. We move slow and we make sure we’re masters of what we’re doing before we take something on. We didn’t even start with additions and expansions until six years ago. Here we are, 13 years in and we’re doing our first development.
Our design centre is currently attached to our wood finishing shop, which keeps the quality controlled. Reborn Renovations has the longest warranty in the city of Calgary at five years, so quality is overly important to us.
Our company is pretty large. If you’re counting our trades and subcontractors, we employ well over 200 people. In management, we’re a couple dozen.
In this company, no one is more important than the next person because every job depends on so many key individuals. Each job goes from estimating, to design, to project management, and then it can go to warranty if there is a deficiency. A lot of hands touch these jobs, and we’re only as good as any team member.
Good trades are so hard to come by these days. When we get a good tradesperson, we are good to them. We make sure they’re paid on time, have upfront money for materials, and are always provided proper information through our software – addresses, contact information, customer requirements, drawings and material selection forms. All of this makes for a very loyal relationship.
I’m really lucky. I’m one of the few women in this industry. I feel like all of the men I work with are always very respectful – which I can’t say is always the case across the board.
Did you always intend on this career path?
I wanted to be an architect when I was young. My dad was a project manager for commercial high-rises. I loved his blueprints, and I loved that idea. And then as I got older and became a teenager, instead I thought, “How do I make the most amount of money in the quickest amount of time?”
That is what led me into pipeline design in oil and gas. At that time, that sector was booming so that’s where I went. You were allowed to fast track school for those things during the boom, so I did that.
But I hated it. I hated every minute of it. I’m a social butterfly. I like people, I like my clients. I like working with people, I like my work. Every job is like Christmas to me when we get the transformation photos. Sometimes we get small gifts, or a thank you card, or hug for all the blood sweat and tears. I love that because I know the client is truly happy.
What are some challenges you face?
Hours. I work a lot. I’m never off the clock. I’m in my truck right now. That’s what I do. I’m either at the design centre with clients or I’m at job sites.
I’m a mom with a five-year-old son with autism at home. That mom guilt is real.
We went out and assisted with the rebuilds in Fort MacMurray (after the fire). My son was a few months old as I was traveling back and forth doing that.
We didn’t get to where we are without a lot of hard work. I’m hoping within the next couple of years I’ll be able to sit back and enjoy – I keep saying that – but I’m too much of a control freak to not be involved in all the jobs.
What’s next for Reborn Renovations?
We are doing our first ground-up development right now, on the outskirts of Calgary in De Winton. We do a lot of additions and expansions, but this is our first development. It’s great because there’s no unforeseen structural challenges. Its refreshing to build everything new.
We’re really crushing the timeline on it. We’re very very proud of ourselves to be able to keep things moving in light of everything that’s happening with the pandemic and materials shortages.
I’m not sure where it will take us. We already have a busy workload. We do what we’re good at and when someone trusts us to do something else, we do that. It’s been a fun, refreshing adventure: always something different, something new.