Meet John, Kitchen Designer

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John Mozena in the showroom at Mutschler Kitchens.

I first heard of Mutschler Kitchens during our house hunt. The sales blurb about one particular home included a “beautiful Mutschler kitchen!” or some such. The photos showed a dark brown kitchen that was dated and very much not to my liking. I didn’t know what a Mutschler Kitchen was, and I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to see one again.

After we purchased our home and started putting feelers out for kitchen builders, the name Mutschler kept coming up. Even though the word, “expensive” was usually spoken after “they’re the best,” the praises were hard to ignore and after perusing their website, (online presence here is SO different from San Francisco, where even the tiniest company has a website. Some businesses don’t exist anywhere online here – inconceivable) I decided to give them a call and was put through to John Mozena.

IMG_8758 (551x800)I had a pretty good idea about what happens during a remodel and a ballpark idea about financial commitment, but I knew nothing about how to get to that point – the process, the planning, the length of a project from start to finish, etc.  John gave me an overview of the process and answered all my questions.

I also learned that most specialty kitchen designers/construction companies only use certain cabinet brands. Mutschler happens to deal with the high-end Woodmode and Brookhaven (custom and semi-custom), made-in-the-USA cabinet lines.

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Image on Mutschler Kitchen website featuring WoodMode cabinetry

At the end of the call, John said I was welcome to stop by their showroom on the Hill (main shopping district in Grosse Pointe Farms) to look at cabinets and grab a few brochures (which I did do shortly afterwards).

During the quote process, I stopped by the office again to view the proposed designs (plans can’t leave the building without a signed contract). At the meeting, I was shown the scheduling board. It was a calendar of sorts, with each project assigned to a different color (I think) and labeled with the client’s last name. The entire project was mapped out from beginning to end, showing everything from inspections to deliveries to which vendor would be doing what on which days. Swoon.


Mutchler Kitchen and The Blake Company offices (just beyond the purple flowers) on the Hill.

Ultimately, we chose Mutschler because of their reputation, experience, their promise to get the job done for the dollar amount agreed upon and yes, because of that OCD to-the-day scheduling board. When I ask John what sets the company apart from others, he echos the same – they have good designers, they can get jobs done faster (than other builders) without sacrificing quality, their level of detail and their honesty (in regards to pricing).

John’s parents started Mutschler Kitchens in 1954. Back then, Mutschler was a brand of cabinets made in Indiana. At that time, he says, cabinets were usually done by carpenters. The kitchen wall served as the back of the cabinet, you put some boards up and you’re done. Grosse Pointe in the ’50s was the perfect place to introduce a high-end line of custom cabinets, and the company thrived.

Image credit: Flickr

In 1969, John started working there in the summers. It was the path of least resistance, he says, and adds that he’s never had a job interview (imagine!). He did a little of this and a little of that – tear outs, odd jobs, office work, sales – and eventually learned the art of kitchen/bath design through a woman at the office who became a mentor to him.

John sold the business to The Blake Company (who kept the Mutschler name for obvious reasons) in 2001 and continued working there as a sales rep and designer. Today, the company does roughly 50-60 remodels per year (mostly kitchens and bathrooms, but also house additions and corporate projects), and works on five to six projects at any given time.

I asked him about strange requests or unexpected construction stories and he told me about a client who requested a whelping box in the kitchen and a guy who stuck his bowling ball in the oven to warm it up (um, okay) and accidentally set it to broil instead of bake. He said most construction surprises are the result of poor construction or shoddy work (cutting corners and what not).

Grosse Pointe mansion dazzles as Designer Show House

John and Chris Blake, owner, in the 2010 Designer Show House (it’s a thing. I’ll tell you about it sometime). Image credit: The Detroit News

When I got to the question of trends, John says that Grosse Pointe is kind of in a time warp. Meaning, it has remained a very traditional, classic community (in terms of design) and hasn’t ebbed and flowed with design trends.

People here prefer white kitchens….wait, really?, I say. What about all that dark stuff I saw when looking at houses? Well,according to John, their clients do prefer the white kitchen (guilty as charged). What about opening kitchens up to other rooms, like what we’re doing? Some people are starting to give up formal dining rooms in order to have one big room, but he wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a trend.

Rendering (661x549)We’re halfway into the project and so far, working with Mutschler Kitchens has been worth every penny. Not just because of the job they’re doing (at this point, I honestly wouldn’t know. Thank goodness for husbands who do), but also (and mostly?) because I don’t have to stress out about any of the technical stuff.

Which means I have more time to ponder other matters such as what color to paint the family room (oh my gosh you guys) or the first meal I’m going to cook in my new kitchen. Things are really starting to take shape and we’re super looking forward to the home stretch!





Meet Javier, Hardwood Floor Guy


Master Bedroom, before.

When we put a bid on our house, we weren’t thinking about the floors. Let me rephrase. We were trying not to think about the floors. I asked our realtor if she could find out what was underneath the upstairs carpeting. Without hesitation, she said there was no way there was hardwood. She was quite confident that when we lifted up the carpeting, we’d find  plywood, typical of homes built in the 1960s.

But our home wasn’t built in the 1960s, it was built in 1960. This is what the little voice inside my head said. So I held out hope. When the sale went through, we didn’t have possession of the house right away, as the owners requested a rent-back to give them time to solidify the purchase of their condo. About a month later, we finally had a chance to get inside and look around. And to put an end to the hardwood floor question.


Guest Bedroom, before.

If you’re anything like me, you love a good home renovation show (my personal favorite, Rehab Addict). Which means you’ve seen the episode where the camera follows the host to (insert room here), and zooms in on the filthy, stained and/or hideously dated carpeting. We then watch as the host reaches down to pull up the carpet and reveal what’s underneath and….oh my goodness, original hardwood floors, can you believe it!?

Yeah, it was kinda like that.

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So we had oak floors. Now what? Our first thought was to find someone to come out and sand and stain. Easy peasy. Or not. The one place that was recommended to me (by several professionals. All these home improvement guys know each other), would be happy to do the job. In November. For $7100. Seeing as we weren’t interested in waiting three months to move in, nor had we anticipated having to pay that much, we decided to go a different route.

I called pretty much all the hardwood floor people in Grosse Pointe Blue Book, requesting a quote for cleaning and sealing (no sanding, no staining) of our floors. Three people got back to me (seriously?) and one of them was Javier (pronounced Xavier. That’s what he said. I do what I’m told) of Exotic Floors & Designs.

IMG_7901 (708x800)Like I’ve done with my other trade interviews, I started by asking Javier how he got into the business. About 19 years ago, he was working for an environmental company (didn’t say what he did and of course me being the amateur interviewer that I am, failed to ask) and although it paid well, he was due for a raise and had a small baby at home. He asked for that raise, they said no, and he decided to look for work elsewhere.

Here’s where my facts get a little sketchy (see what happens when you wait too long to try to decipher your very scribbley notes!?).  I do know he is mostly self-taught. In order to learn the techniques of hardwood flooring trade, he bought a video and watched it about 1000 times (for real). He was honest with his first client about his inexperience, and said he would give them a great price if they gave him a chance.

Things obviously worked out (last year, Javier worked with that same client on another job). In 1997, he started Exotic Floors & Design, and at one point, even had a storefront on Mack (a main thoroughfare that separates Grosse Pointe from Detroit) before the building was sold.

IMG_7902 (600x800)As his company name implies, Javier specializes in exotic woods (he was approached by a client who owned a lumber company at some point in his career, and that’s how he got turned on to the exotics). What are examples of exotics? Bamboo and African woods, like the deep red padauk (which can be so poisonous that it can’t be sanded in the home).

What trends is he seeing? He still does a lot of designs – borders and inlays. And says the Grosse Pointe area continues to be traditional and clients here prefer an authentic and/or antique look, whereas newer more fast-paced communities like Birmingham (Detroit suburb) prefer flashier styles. Like what? Jet black floors. I’m sorry… black floors? Yep, finished to where they look like a lacquered piece of furniture. I get the impression he thinks the effect is kind of cool. Perhaps it is.


Javier and one of his designs (not our house).

Our floors look amazing, considering we didn’t have a huge budget. Javier’s guess is that they were never used, never walked on (can you believe it?). There are some bad scratch marks where razor blades were used to install carpet, and several water marks that won’t come out unless we sand and stain.

But that’s okay with us, we feel fortunate just to have them. They remind us a little of our old place (and I want to add “back home” but I’m trying to stop doing that) in San Francisco and I find myself wondering how long it will take for this place to feel like home. As always, I’ll keep you posted.


Meet Tim, Wallpaper Remover Extraordinaire

IMG_7843 (600x800) It’s hard not to talk about our new house without bringing up the wallpaper. It was the first thing you saw when you came in. If it didn’t take your breath away, it certainly surprised you. And it was everywhere. Throughout the entryway, up the staircase, down the upstairs hallway. There was no question we were going to get rid of it. And there was no question who we were going to use: Tim Heidt, wallpaper removal extraordinaire. (There are people out there whose only job is to remove wallpaper? If you have to ask, you’ve never been to Grosse Pointe).

homes.wallpaperI begin my conversation with Tim by asking how he got started. He looks at me curiously, wondering what I mean. I say I’m sure as a little kid he didn’t dream about someday owning a wallpaper removal company. He smiles (as he does many times during our short interview) and says, “well…and I don’t tell everyone this…”(I hold my breath, waiting for the juicy details) “…I used to be a special ed teacher.” Oh. The old, I didn’t make enough as a teacher story. We’ve all heard it before and too many times.

So Tim the special ed teacher with two masters degrees needed to make some extra money. He started working for a painting contractor, removing wallpaper (of course). There was so much work to be done in the world of wallpaper removal that eventually he quit his teaching job and branched off on his own.

IMG_7845 (600x800)Twenty-eight years later, the business is still going strong. I tell him everyone I talk to knows who he is. Realtors, painters, builders, friends. Whenever the subject of wallpaper comes up, people say, “You using Tim?” or “You have to use Tim Heidt. He’s the best.”

He smiles, nodding in agreement. He tells me why he has such a good reputation. “Three things,” he says. Timeliness. Cleanliness. Fairness. He could probably raise his prices (he could. I’ve done online comparisons), but he’s always tried to be fair and it’s clear he’s proud of that. Also, even though he could expand the business, he wants it to stay small. Being an absentee owner is not on the agenda.

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Matt, working on the first floor bathroom.

We continue talking as he and his assistant Matt prep the walls with glue-eating enzymes (or something). The solution breaks up the wallpaper paste and turns it into what it was before – “icky gooey stuff,” in Tim’s words. Am I going to interview Matt, too?, Tim asks, chuckling. He’s getting a kick out of this interview thing. Um, sure. This is Matt’s third year working for Tim’s Wallpaper Removal. What he enjoys most about the job is traveling around the Detroit area and getting to see a new environment every day.

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My final question for both of them: What’s “in” for walls? Matt says he’s seeing a lot of florals and earth tones. Tim says wallpaper is out. But he’s quick to add that wallpaper is much like miniskirts and bell-bottom trousers – it’ll come back. People choose wallpaper because it’s a medium that creates an effect you just can’t duplicate with paint. As I take a last look at the big, bold flowers covering the entryway, I have to agree. Part of me is sad to see it go (but not to worry, I’ve kept the remnants in the basement. Just in case).