Dwayne Butler and a potential client were discussing her renovation plans. But he could tell something was wrong.
“Eventually she opened up and said, ‘I’m just afraid,’” says Dwayne. “I’m afraid that we’ll start renovating my home and then it won’t get finished.”
It’s not an unusual response to a major renovation, says Dwayne, who owns Master Edge Homes with Anne, his wife. After all, we’ve all heard the horror stories of the renovation that didn’t get finished, or the project that had a raft of additional charges once work was underway.
Those stories are one of the reasons Dwayne and Anne decided to do things in a very different way when they launched their company in 2005.
“We are renovation specialists. So are our in-house design team and our construction crews,” says Anne.
“Our entire business is built around ensuring everything goes as smoothly as possible, with a fixed budget and a solid timeline.”
They also focus on keeping the clients fully informed, partly through comprehensive project management software. “The client can log in from anywhere, and see the status of the project, the timeline for next phases, how much they’ve paid to date – even what materials have been ordered,” says Anne. “They are fully informed every step of the way.”
That’s not always the way when it comes to major renovations. After all, by its very nature a renovation can be a voyage of discovery, with a few contractors uncertain what they will find until they start removing walls and tearing up floors.
“We don’t do that,” says Dwayne. “Before we begin work, we want to know exactly what we’re working with, from structural and mechanical right down to the finishes.”
A carpenter by trade, with many years’ experience, Dwayne has built and supervised thousands of new homes. He shifted his focus to renovations because he was becoming dispassionate with new homes.
Renovations, on the other hand, are always interesting. “They can be super challenging, and we love a challenge,” he says with a grin.
Know before you build
One of the keys to renovating a cottage on time and on budget is to ensure you know what you’re going to find before you begin work. Or in three simple words… details, details, details.
“I’ve heard of people spending as little as half an hour measuring a house and then preparing a quote,” says Dwayne. “It takes more time than that to get the details right.”
Before any new designs or layouts are presented, the design team will do a thorough inspection of the cottage or home. They use electronic sensors and even specialized cameras to see within and behind walls, floors, and ceilings.
Every aspect of the home will be measured. “We’ll spend four to six hours on site. By the time we’re done, we’ll know where the chimney goes, what direction the joists run, whether there are hidden vents or odd electrical setups – everything we need to know that may impact the design, and later construction.”
“Our designers tell us they’ve never seen anyone else spend this much time on this part of the process,” says Dwayne, “but it’s time well spent.”
That information lets the team prepare a preliminary scope of work and a preliminary budget first, and present that to the client to ensure they are moving in the right direction. Once this is agreed upon, the construction contract is set up with a detailed scope of work, guaranteed fixed price and schedule. “Each phase of the project has a date for completion and the payment schedule is laid out,” says Anne. “There’s accountability and predictability.”
Of course, long before that part of the project begins, Dwayne and the design team have already had extensive conversations about what the client is hoping to achieve with the renovation.
“For some clients, a renovation is a chance to put their own mark on the cottage, to personalize it and really make it their own,” says Anne.
For others, the renovation is a way of bringing a building up to 21st century functionality. “Most cottages that were built in the 1970s and earlier weren’t built to be year-round homes,” says Dwayne. “They were designed to be seasonal.”
They also tend to have poor insulation, smaller rooms, and often smaller windows. “It’s so satisfying to be able to open up the space, bring in the view, and really take advantage of the glorious Muskoka location,” says Anne.
By dividing their time between Markham and Muskoka, the Master Edge Homes team is able to meet clients wherever is most convenient.
And, as cottagers themselves, they understand the time at the cottage is precious. “Our goal is to have the designs completed so that the construction work can be completed in the off season,” says Dwayne.
“That way the project is complete and ready for the family to enjoy another fabulous summer in Muskoka, but in a cottage that is truly their own.
TEXT A. WAGNER-CHAZALON
PHOTOS SCOTT TURNBULL, CJPhotography, & Valerie Wilcox