Photo updates to follow
First, I should say that for a big project like this, I would hire John again, bottom line. That is probably the most straightforward way to assess the renovation as a whole. We hear nightmare stories all the time about significant (and even minor) home renovations and, while we had our frustrations, we went through a big job with few significant complaints.
Initially discussing the project, John was extremely receptive to our budget needs: we had saved up a very specific amount of money, and needed to complete two big projects in order to make the house more appealing to future renters (as we plan to move to a home with my wife's parents for the foreseeable future). The house had only one bathroom, even though it was approximately 1600 square feet. We needed to fix that if any families were going to rent. John understood and very clearly explained where we would be able to save money, what he would charge us for his work, for materials he bought vs. materials we provided, the realistic areas we could go cheap and the areas we couldn't scrimp on.
John's price was not just competitive, but frankly made the difference between us being able to have these two complete and dramatic projects vs. one that would have left us feeling wanting. However, it was the price along with the fact that his clients indicated he was flexible and budget sensitive through the whole project that made the decision for us. (We've certainly dealt with people who claim to be able to work with "x" budget, and then everything somehow inflates dramatically over time.)
We had a laundry/utility room that was separated from the main house by a breezeway. John connected it to the main house with brick in the same style as the house. He converted the room to a full bath and laundry room with a large shower. Simultaneously, he opened up the bare backyard wall of the main house, installing larger windows and glass french doors.
Quality of work/cleanliness:
John completed a great deal of the work himself, using a subcontractor to perform most of the brick work and the drywall. The quality, functionality, and look of the work overall was simply fantastic. Day after day they meticulously cleaned up their work, leaving as little footprint as possible on our day to day lives throughout the process, which, frankly reduced the stress that I believe tends to naturally accumulate during such projects.
Once we paint it I believe the new brick will be entirely indistinguishable from the old. The brick has extremely clean lines in the same pattern as the existing work, and the finishing work around the windows and doors is excellent. We did have a brief ordeal flushing out a clog that seemed to result from construction debris, but ultimately the plumbing is excellent. Similarly, the shower tile work ultimately is terrific, but we did have a problem with the layout due to an error that John corrected, and it looks wonderful.
In the bathroom, he took what was basically a junk/laundry room and installed an elegantly laid out vanity, toilet, laundry hookups on one side, and a massive shower, and utility/cleanup sink on the other, with room to spare. He added a simple half-wall to divide the toilet from the washer/dryer that works perfectly to separate the space.
The shower he created for us is enormous and beautiful. Every time we go in the room, we are impressed all over again. The whole room could have appeared like a necessary appendage stuck on to the rest of the house, but that large, bright tile shower makes the room look elegant.
I hated to lose my very functional utility sink from that room and hadn't planned for a replacement; however, John helped by coming up with a clever solution to put a sealed brick sink in with the water heater closet. which works perfectly. It's a clean, and very functional solution that I constantly appreciate having, though it was certainly a significant adjustment for him.
When we requested adjustments, it felt as though John quoted a bit high to accommodate time and materials (and his added stress). But all in all he was fair and up front about the work, his time, and our options.
That being said, there were some frustrations:
Our frustrations all come down to communication and documentation. I don't fault John for all of this - his talent lies in the work he does; had we been more on the ball, we would have been more clear and organized ourselves.
We had any number of preliminary discussions with John, and agreed to three or four major things up front, that satisfied us the work could be done in a way that would meet all of our needs. But as the project began and progressed, numerous details were forgotten. Specifically, the layout of the utility room and the physical requirements for the french doors to be installed. John repeatedly asked how we wanted to accommodate something as if we had not already come to a conclusion on the matter and we would essentially have to re-figure it out. Specifically, he forgot the layout that best accommodated all of the elements I mentioned above, and he forgot that he would have to "float" the bathroom wall, requiring a different (pricier) toilet than originally planned. Additionally, when he went to start work on the french doors, he had to take extra time to order a lintel that would span the entire length rather than two separate lintels - but, of course these were dimensions he'd known since originally planning the project.
Things like this ultimately got worked out to our satisfaction, with one frustrating exception, but if either of us had documented what we'd agreed upon, it would have saved a great deal of hassle and debate, as my wife and I had to re-discuss everything ourselves as well, which reinforced John's feeling that we'd never come to a final agreement to begin with.
Time/documentation: While we believe John was more than fair in his billing, the lack of clear, consistent documented days/hours prevented us from having a clear, concrete idea where we stood financially during the project. This impacted us when, in a couple of instances, we did ask for changes (such as installing the utility sink) and he quoted us for the change, though we had no idea whether we were in the high or low end of the overall planned project.
All of this is to say:
John worked it all out, and he did so in a way that was affordable, excellent, excellent, quality, beautiful work. But, in order to avoid frustration, agreements as to planning should be documented and ongoing days/hours worked should be documented. This would help avoid revisiting complicated plans and would allow for adjustments without having to be in the dark about the bottom line.
Day in, day out, we are grateful for the work John did, and that it didn't eat us alive financially, because he did come in right in line with the budget. We love looking through our fantastic glass doors every morning. We have guests stay with us for a day or two, and love having a beautiful distinct bathroom they can use when they stay with us. We love knowing they won't feel they're entering into some dark corner of the house tacked on because it had to be, but that there's a beautiful bath with plenty of space that they can make themselves feel at home in.