ON THE JOB Stephen Fanuka says expensive items are not necessarily of high quality.
ARCHITECTS seem to get all the glory. Their work is published in glossy magazines, where they wryly and confidently discuss the transformation as if they themselves had picked up hammers and smashed the remnants of those scary ’70s bathrooms.
But what about the contractor, the character in the renovation drama who knows that if you rip out an inconvenient wall, it may expose pipes that can’t be moved — yes, the very wall the architect has just zapped from the design with one mouse click.
Some contractors are made, others are born. Stephen Fanuka, who grew up in Fresh Meadows, Queens, said that at an early age he followed his father, a cabinetmaker, on jobs. “My father would take me and sit me on a paint can,” he said.
After graduating from college and working in advertising briefly, Mr. Fanuka went into his father’s business and in 1994 renovated an apartment for a member of Imelda Marcos’s family, and that started his contracting career.
Working for celebrities as well as schoolteachers, he runs around the city in his summer attire of choice, shorts and a T-shirt. He is never without the BlackBerry he uses to manage his 22 jobs (with an average price of $350,000).
At social gatherings — he lives on Long Island with his wife, Lisa, and their two children — people always want to know what’s hot. He agreed to share a list of materials frequently called for in high-end Manhattan renovations these days, along with a few caveats.
First, he said, expensive materials do not guarantee high quality. Some high-end appliances and plumbing fixtures need repair in the first week.
Nor does style equal function. A prime example is the honed Carrara marble so coveted for kitchen counters. One client who installed Carrara marble had friends over for margaritas and, not surprisingly, went to sleep before cleaning up. The next day, “There were 22 rings from 22 glasses.” The marble had to be sanded and resealed.
Sealant isn’t as strong as polish, which is removed when stone is honed, and if acidic liquids are not wiped up immediately, they leave a stain. (Mr. Fanuka’s own kitchen has polished granite surfaces, which stand up to abuse.)
Glass is hot everywhere, especially in bathrooms, where clients ask for glass tiles or with white milk glass laminating walls. But if not done properly, the glue will show through the glass. “You have to have a good installer,” he said.
He is often asked how to find a contractor. He suggests calling several candidates, taking note of how fast they return calls and whether they are punctual.
Don’t choose rashly, he said. “A contractor is like a cold: you’re not going to get rid of it.”
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