Our newest client, Jackie, walks out of her Los Gatos home, past her carefully-kept garden, and approaches us, smiling. My colleague, Mika, introduces me — but immediately notices the absence of somebody named “Duke”.
“I had to take Duke to day care,” she says. “Puppy daycare.”
Ah, Duke’s a dog. And, with that knowledge alone, I figured Duke to be one of those big, lion-sized dogs that wouldn’t hurt a fly but loves people, something I’d later confirm with Mika.
“He likes it over there?” Mika asks, surprised.
Jackie grins and says, “He gets to play with all the other dogs! What’s not to like?”
The morning air is crisp with a touch of heat — and it’s only 9 AM. It’s that strange morning humidity welcome (or, perhaps unwelcome) in places such as Texas, Florida, and Hawaii. But, we’re in Los Gatos, California, where Jackie has hired Blues Brothers Construction to remodel two of her home’s three bathrooms as well as the French doors which lead to their backyard.
Our construction crew is well on their way to taking care of those doors as Jackie walks us through her home which she and her husband, Alan, have lived in for the past 15 years.
“We started this whole project six years ago and have a beautiful bathroom.” She says. “It’s time to finish what we started.”
In 2015, Jackie and her husband had their master bathroom renovated. The new look included mahogany cabinets with silver metal handles, a marble countertop, and blue glass vessel countertop sinks. The shower was also redone with new tiling. The room now has a oceanside resort feel to it. This design inspires Jackie’s thinking going into this current project.
The house features hardwood floors, a beautiful kitchen with an island counter in the middle complete with four red bar stools which are installed into the floor and nice fireplace next to a big, circular window frame. Under that window, on a table, sits various trinkets that are mostly sea-themed with an Asian flair: several glass marine creatures, shells and coral, sandwiched between two gorgeous collector’s plates showcasing The Great Wall of China. She even keeps a fish in a small aquarium near the hallway entrance.
On the other wall is a gorgeous cuckoo clock which is so intricately designed, it’d be hard for somebody like myself to pinpoint its origin without coming across as either too insulting (Solvang, California) or too safe (Switzerland). Above the doorway, is a Koa Wood sign which reads “ALOHA”, the Hawaiian phrase which is used to greet guests, wish them farewell, or profess your love for somebody special. Most of all, “Aloha” is a way of life.
And it’s very easy to feel at home here. Whether I get that feeling from the fact that Los Gatos is the city in which I was born, or whether it’s the vibe from Jackie’s easy-going, welcoming presence, or from the unwritten stories of their family voyages by way of souvenirs and keepsakes is unknown. There’s just something about this place that feels like I’m viewing a snapshot of the Los Gatos I knew when i was a kid.
As we get into the scheduling process, Jackie lets us know who will be home to let builders in and out and mentions that Duke will most likely be in “puppy daycare” during the process, but not “Princess”, their other dog.
“Princess doesn’t like to play with other dogs,” says Jackie. “She’s a little bossy and will actually growl at other dogs who get in her way. She doesn’t even like Duke. It’s sad because Duke doesn’t like bigger dogs and loves smaller ones!”
Mika starts to go over the process with the French doors at this point — until the large fish in the small tank catches her eye.
“He’s huge!” she says.
“He can actually bite your finger…” Jackie says. “I’m serious! If you stuck your finger in there, he’d bite your finger.”
A fish, two dogs, and no cats. Being in Los Gatos, a city named for the abundant indigenous feline population of bobcats and mountain lions living in the mountains surrounding us, the irony of the situation is not lost on me.
“How long have you had him?” Mika asks.
“Eight years,” says Jackie.
“And he’s not in a bigger tank?”
“We used to have a big tank for him,” Jackie says. “but the water leaked out of it…” She points to some water damage in the wood. “…so we bought him this one. He’s a strong fish.” She details the time she and her family went on vacation and her husband unplugged the oxygen and filter. They came home to find the fish still alive and swimming around. Jackie says, “He’s very strong.”
“What happens if he keeps growing?” Mika asks.
“The store told us to bring it back, but I said ‘How do you even grab a fish like that if it bites?’ It’s too big!” Says Jackie. “I know we’d need a bigger tank but we just like to see how he adapts to his environment. We gave him a new tank here, so let’s see how he does. He’s a survivor!” Jackie proclaims.
Jackie applies that method of adaptation to the current situation.
“I want to save the sinks and the toilet,” Jackie says, then points upward. “And the mirror, I would really like to save.”
Jackie is all business and Mika and Beto are there, matching her every step. Jackie’s dual bathroom makeover is not without some careful thought: we’re to spare anything marked with small strips of blue painter’s tape.
Mika motions toward Beto, who leans up against the wall, outside the bathroom and says “The mirror is the most important thing.”
“Ok,” says Beto, nodding, papers in hand.
“And I would like to keep this frame,” Jackie says. “But if you can’t, I understand.”
From here, Mika and Jackie are so on the same page, they’re practically finishing each other’s sentences, running ideas and plans off one another in quick succession, overlapping, starting, and restarting sentences like it’s an Aaron Sorkin movie. And, very much like a Sorkin film, we even get a “walk-and-talk” to the next bathroom as Jackie quickly asks if we’ve all been vaccinated due to the fact that we’re all together in such close quarters. All of us have been vaccinated, we assure her.
“I’m all about communication,” Jackie would later tell me. “Communication is key.”
In the second bathroom, Jackie wants the towel hooks temporarily removed — but only because we’re going to re-paint. The shower is to be replaced. Down on the floor, Mika notices that the tiling outside the shower pan is cracked.
“Is it cracked from the inside?” she quickly asks.
“No, just on the outside…” Mika breathes a huge sigh of relief here and Jackie says, “But you can see why we’d like to have this replaced now.”
Alas, the broken shower and plumbing is what pushed Jackie to finish this project half a decade later.
We have one more stop to make: the master bathroom — if only we can get past Princess, who comes out of the bedroom, full of energy, and lovingly jumping up to meet us when we enter the master bedroom.
“She’s a good dog,” Jackie says. “But if we let her go, she’ll try to run outside.” From here, Jackie calls Princess back and she dutifully comes running — only to fall into another trap and end up behind another closed room in the hallway next to the bedroom.
After doing this, Jackie tells us that, as much as she likes the sinks they have here, they need to be replaced with something else. We can keep the faucets, she says. It’s the glass that isn’t working for her.
As the walkthrough winds down, Jackie told me why she’s happy with the decision she made to go with Blues Brothers Construction.
“We called six different contractors,” she says. “The difference, I think…” she pauses here and then says, “Mika…[she’s the best]. She was willing to work with me. Other places just gave me a price but Mika talked to me and I realized that I could go with somebody else — but the quality would be different, not as good. Mika was there, waiting to work with me.”
Jackie has done her homework and it shows.
“I said it before: it’s all about communication,” she looks back into the house at the workers sawing away at her door frames, then looks back at me. “Mika was right there, waiting to talk with me, waiting to communicate. She understands the business, understands why you do this or wouldn’t do that, the choices we have to make. It’s just like my family: communication with my son, my family…even our dogs!”
“I think you’ve made the right choice,” I tell her. “I think your house will turn out better than you think.”
It’s at this point, I immediately defer to what Mika had facetiously told Jackie earlier in the walkthrough:
“You have the 3D mock-ups we gave you…if you ever have an anxiety attack, just go and look at those.”
“I will keep my fingers crossed!” Jackie says, smiling and then laughing. “But I am confident because I know how things are. I was an engineer for sixteen years before I became a realtor. I did it because I needed more time at home. We’re parents, me and my husband, we’re very busy. That’s where you communicate. It’s teamwork. And that’s what I like about Mika and Blues Brothers Construction: teamwork.”
(This is Part 1 of 2. We will be back with the second half once the job is finished so we can give you before and after shots. Stay tuned!)