CEDAR RAPIDS — Some home-remodeling projects mean more than updated appliances or countertops. Heather Hammer recalls an older woman in Iowa City who “needed an ADA-compliant shower because she wanted to stay living in her home and just have in-home health care.
“Nobody else could figure out how to make it work because her bathroom was quite small.”
So Hammer and her structural engineer devised a plan to move a bedroom wall and relocate a closet.
“We had enough room to put in a walk-in shower,” she said. “She can stay in her home.
“Her husband had died, she has no children, she just wanted to stay in her home. She loves it.”
Hammer opened Definitive Home Design in August in a New Bohemia neighborhood landmark — a former service station at 1390 Third St. SE.
“I really love being part of this neighborhood,” Hammer said.
As part of the makeover into her new office, Hammer insisted the building’s owner return its classic neon Skelly sign to the property.
“My husband said, ‘A gas station? What are you going to do with that?’” she recalled. “But I didn’t see a gas station.
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“It’s just like customers’ homes. I don’t see what everyone else sees. I see the potential. It’s part of the heritage of the neighborhood. What kind of a remodel business would I be if I couldn’t design my own building?”
Before launching Definitive Home, Hammer worked for home-remodeling and construction companies and for a big-box home improvement chain, coordinating its product installations.
“Customers should have the ability to live in the home that they love for a reasonable price,” is Hammer’s philosophy. It’s found a market.
“Before I ever opened my doors, I was booked out three-and-a-half months,” she said.
“I have a lot of established clients I’d worked with at other places, and they followed me. Some of them were the ones who pushed me to open my own business.”
Business has been strong enough that Hammer hired her first employee, office manager Lori Buzynksi, Jan. 20.
“I never thought I would need to hire an employee my first year,” she said. “It’s been very good to me.”
Definitive Home Design has managed the construction of two new homes in its first six months, but that’s not Hammer’s focus.
“It might be a 100-year-old home, it might be a six-year-old home,” she said. “Kitchens, bathrooms, basements, exteriors, decks, landscaped areas. Some people want design help with nurseries.”
Hammer enjoys helping homeowners navigate potentially fraught home-improvement situations.
“In remodels, you’re expected to coordinate everything yourself, and that’s a headache,” she said. Clients “have better things to focus on than calling up the electrician and making sure they’ll be there.”
Hammer draws on a roster of 16 subcontractors, contacts she’s developed in her years in the field.
“As long as you treat each other with respect and everyone does what they’re supposed to do, it’s a great working relationship,” she said. “Keep them on schedule — the Google calendar looks like a Christmas tree with all the different colors.”
Hammer’s clients come from as far afield as Muscatine, Waverly and Des Moines, and one prospect wants her to remodel a vacation home at Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.
Clients’ ideas range from basic concepts to the very definite.
“I’ve had people come in who knew exactly what they wanted, and they wanted to pick every little thing,” she said. “I’ve had some that come in and said, ‘I know what refrigerator I want. Design my kitchen.’”
Hammer reviews sample countertop materials and cupboards with her clients and can create custom renderings with architectural software.
In her years in the business, Hammer has seen trends come and go.
“People wanted dark, dark, kitchen cabinets about 10 years ago,” she said. “Now it’s trended more to the grays, the whites. A lot more people are open to multiple colors.”
The “farmhouse chic” look plays to Hammer’s strength.
“I love repurposing,” she said. “We live in such a throwaway society, and that’s one reason I love remodel as much as I do. We’re using reclaimed trim from 100-year-old homes, and it’s gorgeous.”
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Hammer’s business is mostly residential projects, but she’s done an office, conference room and lobby for one longtime client.
“People are trying to get away from the sterile entryways and sterile offices,” she said. “That client loves coming to work every day — it’s like a second home.”
Not all clients live in Hammer’s projects. She’s done significant business rehabbing rental properties in southeast Cedar Rapids, helping bring stability to neighborhoods not far from the old gas station.
“People who bought properties and want them restored for rental properties,” she said. “If the landlords know tenants are going to take care of the property, they’re willing to invest.”
Hammer’s agenda for 2020?
“I don’t want to daydream too much,” she said. “I want to help grow the area. I look forward to working with my crews and helping people love their homes.”
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At a glance
• Owner: Heather Hammer
• Business: Definitive Home Design
• Address: 1390 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
• Phone: (319) 521-5465
• Website: facebook.com/definitivehomedesignllc