Homeowners happy with pain-free process, beautiful results

Five years ago, Marty and Nancy Mazzanti purchased a multilevel 3-bedroom house In Bodega Bay, overlooking Doran beach with views to the south and west. The house, which the Danville couple bought with partners, was used as a vacation rental property and they would stay there occasionally. Married for 40 years and recently retired, they now intend to spend more time at their coastal home. They bought out their partners and gave the house a makeover to modernize it and bring it in line with their own needs.

“This is where we come to relax and get away from responsibilities,” said Marty Mazzanti.
The couple wanted a comfortable, beautiful space to welcome family. “They knew what they liked, but we helped them through the process of choosing materials so they got the biggest bang for their buck,” said David Leff of Leff Construction in Sebastopol, who worked with the Mazzantis to complete their vision. “It was mostly about the finishes. We made only minor wall changes, reconfiguring the master bath and kitchen layout.”

What drove the kitchen design, according to Leff, was creating “a place for Marty to have his morning coffee and work on his laptop while enjoying the view”—so the reconfigured kitchen has a breakfast bar along a large west-facing window overlooking the ocean for Marty’s daily morning ritual.
Throughout the house, old lighting fixtures were replaced with new LED lighting, with a spectacular mesh chandelier illuminating the entryway. The old tan carpeting in the living room and bland geometric tiles in the kitchen were removed and replaced with wide plank Palladio French Oak-engineered flooring in whiskey finish. Dated oak cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms were replaced with DeWils’ contemporary-style Capella maple, in sandstone stain with a black glaze finish. All the countertops are granite.

The color scheme through the house echoes the soft tans, grays and creams of the beach, with repeated use of textured split-faced stone tiles on several walls in the living room and surrounding the fireplace in the media room. The main floor bedroom and two more bedrooms on the lower levels have unifying Karastan loop carpeting in corkboard color. Glass, ceramic, marble and stone tiles are used in the kitchen and bathrooms in unique combinations, some set vertically, some set horizontally, and some diagonally, with matte and gloss finishes interspersed to add texture.

Bits of color come from the owners’ art collection and furniture, including a rustic, restored wooden china cabinet in the living room, and the ever-changing colors of the sky and ocean that are visible from every room.

On a lower level, a reconfigured wall in the media room houses a large flat screen TV above a glass-faced gas fireplace where a raised hearth used to be. An angular entry space to the outdoor deck now includes a Murphy bed to accommodate additional overnight guests.
What has really made the house, exposed as it is to the coastal elements, much more comfortable are the state-of-the-art heating and plumbing systems. When it was built in the 1980s, the house had two large furnaces, but the poorly designed heating system didn’t heat the house very well.

The Mazzantis are very pleased with the new energy-efficient system suggested by Leff. “We had some ideas—we knew how we wanted it to feel. We thought we’d replace the old furnace with something newer but similar. Dave made suggestions that we hadn’t thought of. The European heating system that he suggested is 30 percent more efficient, and that’s a real advantage in Bodega Bay where we use propane. It’s clean, quiet heat. And it acts as a dehumidifier as well. And I can operate it remotely from my phone when we’re on our way!” Marty said.

In the new system, a ductless mini-split heat pump serves the “air handlers,” small rectangular units mounted on the wall near the ceiling in several of the rooms, or in the floor in others, that provide both heating and cooling. Some of the rooms share an air handler. A Takagi tankless water heater with a recirculating system provides instant hot water to the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room. Both systems take up minimal space.

The couple first contacted Dave Leff in October 2014 to discuss their needs. Then they went on a cruise, and, on their return, worked with Leff Construction’s kitchen designer James Blair to complete all their choices by February 2015 before they left on another trip to visit their daughter and new grandchild in Hawaii. “James Blair was amazing. He not only designed the kitchen, but was a great sounding board for other areas of the house, with wonderful ideas,” said Mazzanti. “The kitchen is aesthetically beautiful; the functionality matches the way we use it. It works when it’s just the two of us, or when we have a group of eight or even for a larger gathering of 30 people,” like the house-warming party that celebrated the completed work last June.

To update the security of the home, the exterior doors were fitted with keypad locks. “If someone needs to get in while we’re gone, I can give them a one-time code that’s good for a day. The landscaper has a code for the garage door,” said Mazzanti.

Remodeling an existing home or building a new one is a complex and expensive process. To make sure that the process is as smooth and successful as possible, Leff and his design/build team spend more time working with the client before any demolition or groundbreaking than on the actual construction.

“The only opportunity for saving money is during the design and planning stages—after, all you can do is spend it,” said Leff. “We want to understand the pains, the problems [with the existing house], so we ask, ‘What do you actually need? Why do you want a new bedroom? Why do you want to move the wall?’ Clients can get a fresh set of eyes on the problems and only then can we suggest an alternative. And maybe we can come up with something different, or better, or less expensive. It’s essential to design to the budget. Money is always an object; it’s just a matter of degree.”

Leff’s goal is to make the pre-construction process as complete, streamlined and all-encompassing as possible—with no surprises once the work is happening. That’s why his organization has designers, engineers, craftspeople—an entire compatible team ready to go—so the client doesn’t have to deal with hiring design and building professionals and scheduling subcontractors, and refereeing potential conflicts between all of the participants.

Deciding on finishes and fixtures for a complete makeover can be daunting, especially for a 3-bedroom, 3½-bath home. Selection Coordinator Sarah Adams guided the owners through the process, and she prepared an 11-page spreadsheet detailing the over-150 final choices of fixtures, flooring, cabinetry, countertops and tiles before the construction began.

Fifteen years ago, Leff developed his comprehensive design/build approach—to first identify the problems, then determine a budget, then create a design concept, and accurately estimate the costs—after many years of experience in the construction business. “We’d have clients come in with a plan fully worked out with an architect, and it would end up being twice what they expected it to cost. There needed to be a stronger and earlier connection between the budget and the design, while it was being developed. As part of the preconstruction process, the project coordinator is keeping up to date on any changes to building regulations. Because we are so familiar with the requirements of the local building agencies, we are not designing in things that can’t be permitted,” said Leff.

“The full wish list of a client almost always costs more than they have in their remodeling budget, so it comes down to managing compromises and being clear about their priorities,” said Leff. “We want to be the provider of information. It’s helpful for people to really think about what they have to have and what they can live without. The infrastructure components need to be a top priority because they determine the safety and comfort of the home. Remodeling is an opportunity to make the house really yours and function for the way you live, to make the space exactly as you would like it to work.”

Since Leff’s approach is geared toward clear communication with his clients, to creating balance and making decisions painless for them, we asked him if he had studied psychology. He laughed, “Actually I have a degree in psychology and English [from Sonoma State].”

Leff Construction was a one-man operation when he started more than 30 years ago. Now that the staff has grown to 25, he’s in the process of his own remodel—moving his offices from Sebastopol’s Main Street to the old C&W Ford building at the east end of town on Highway 12 (across the street from Guayaki and Community Market). Half of the new space, powered with solar energy and heated and lit with the best current technology, is expected to be completed in February 2016.

“Our latest focus is on the finish materials selection process for the client,” said Leff, so he is excited that the new location will feature an interior design showroom. Clients will be able to work with the designers right there to make the process of choosing door styles, types of wood for cabinets, plumbing fixtures, accessories, countertops, and surfaces for kitchens and baths as simple and effortless as possible.

Leff’s approach was a perfect match for the Mazzantis, who had built several houses and remodeled several more over the years.

“This was the smoothest,” Marty said. “Dave shows up with a team of people. His connections with the trades are deep, and he partners with the good guys and has built great relationships with subcontractors. We weren’t even in town for most of the remodel, and Leff handled everything securely, immaculately. They locked up every day when they left, and sent videos and photos to help us make decisions while we were out of town. I wouldn’t have even considered that in the past with other remodels. I take my hat off to Dave. I’m a very detail-oriented, picky person. Dave passed all my tests.”   SD