Chris and I love to shop local. And the Bay Area is full of places for us to spend our money wisely when it comes to renovation and design. Because we live in Oakland (and love it), we keep most of our money in the East Bay. This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, just some places we’ve found particularly helpful (or NOT), or maybe of a certain interest. And no, no company gave us a discount or perk, we just wanted to give our honest opinion. Here ya goooooo….
Absolute Air (Martinez) – C+
We used these guys to install our much needed heater in our Picardy house and they came recommended by an architect. Their employees who installed the heater and all the ducting were really nice and fast and did a good job (though we would have liked it if they had asked where we wanted the unit installed because it’s in a sort of not convenient place under the house). Their office was in shambles though: the owner forgot our original appointment, they installed the wrong heating unit (though it was a better one than we paid for) and it took over 6 months for them to get our rebate, which involved nearly a dozen phone calls from me and the need to redo our paperwork and lie about the install date because it had been over the allotted time PG&E allowed for their rebates.
Aman Environmental Construction (Oakland) – D
We used to go here to recycle our concrete waste, but then they raised their prices $90 in a year! It used to be $10 for a pick-up load (a steal!) and now it’s $100 (total rip off). Not to mention their employees are kind of dicks.
American Electrical (Oakland) – A
They were SUPER nice and got the job done quick when we needed our service replaced at our Picardy house. Their work was great and they did it for a great price. Chris continues to call Zalman (not sure spelling) from time to time to ask questions about electrical work and he is always helpful.
Annie’s Annuals (Richmond) – A+
Great prices, great selection, great help, great organizing, oh my god I can’t say enough about how awesome this place is.
Arevalo Plastering (Oakland) – A+ (Chris wrote the review)
the owner (arnoldo) came on time to do a quote for a small addition’s worth (about 180 sq. ft.) of stucco on our Picardy house as well as a small patch above a leaky window that was done by a different stucco contractor. we received the quote within 24 hours and it was quite reasonable. we set a date for a week away and they accepted and showed up on time.
arnoldo showed up with his brother (both of whom are fluent english/spanish speakers) and a laborer and they went to work right away. they laid down plastic in the appropriate areas and immediately started breaking away old stucco (to tied into) and laying out the weep screed.
arnoldo was around for a couple hours that first day at the beginning of the work and at the end of the day to oversee everything. they put down two layers of felt papers per the building code, flashed around two newly installed windows, installed metal lath and put on a scratch coat with a fast curing stucco mix.
the next day the crew returned on time and got to work again. they wet down the scratch coat and mixed the brown coat. they applied the brown coat and then sprayed and knocked down the texture coat. arnoldo did the texture coat himself.
arnoldo and his brother do real professional work and it’s obvious they care about their job. not every stucco contractor would be onsite as much as arnoldo was. it was nice that he took pride in his work and responsibility for the final product.
speaking of the final product – it looked fantastic. i really wish we had found arevalo plastering before getting two other contractors patch some other spots. i have no reservations recommending them.
Arrow Glass (Albany) – A-
A tad pricey sometimes, but their customer service is great and they’re really informative. They always get things done on time (frequently earlier). The only bummer is they’re about 20 minutes away from us.
Ashby Lumber (Berkeley) – A-
Really great lumber and building supply store. We went there to get our casement window for the back bathroom at the Picardy house and their window guy was super helpful and spent a long time on the phone with various window companies to help get us the cheapest window at the best size (we needed egress in a very tight space). The window ended up being cheaper than anything we could get at Home Depot that served the same purpose. We continue to frequent this hardware store for work – getting lumber, hardware, trim, you name it.
Bay Area Underpinning (Vallejo) – A+ (Chris wrote this review)
i’m going to write the kind of review i wish i could find when looking for new contractors, it’s going to be long. if you want the short version: use these guys, they’re good.
i’m responsible for hiring contractors for my day job as a handyman on the uc berkeley campus [when Chris wrote this review he was] so i know a decent amount about construction. i used BAU for my personal house, actually my garage [at the Picardy house], which was a few inches out of plumb and had no functioning trusses. the scope of their work was: to support the building, rebuild the trusses per the engineered drawings, install a new header and beam, and pour a new perimeter foundation. working with all of them was an easy process throughout. i met first with clifford who is an engineer and apparently does their initial walkthroughs. i had five total contractors out to look at the same job and clifford was probably the nicest and most prepared of the bunch. he took measurements and took several pictures, unlike the other contractors. he also asked for a copy of the engineer’s drawings which the others did not request. i found this to be wise on his part so BAU could more accurately assess the scope of the work and mull over the details before the job, rather than having to call an audible come the first day of work. one thing you’ll come across from time to time in dealing with contractors is that they might give a low price up front to get the job and then get overwhelmed and try to get more money after they have started work. BAU didn’t do this and i never worried that they would because i knew they had done their homework and could tell they were qualified for the job.
steve was a good communicator throughout the project which is a definite plus. a major gripe many homeowners have is that they don’t hear updates or get calls returned when dealing with a contractor. this wasn’t a problem with steve.
most days steve and his crew (rick and michael) were at the jobsite by 8am ready to work. one day they weren’t able to come in when i thought they were, but for the most part they were punctual and arrived when they said they would.
the quality of the work was good. they got most of the garage back to plumb, with the exceptions of the corners which were a bit more troublesome. our garage has stucco on two walls and shiplap siding on the other two so that may have been one reason why the corners were more difficult. i worked closely with them on at least one of the days that they were working. while they worked on the structure i was working on running electrical conduit to the garage before the foundation was poured. i also dug out the foundation in order to save some money. not only were they flexible on this which allowed me to save a little cash, but i also got to see how they worked which is something most reviewers probably can’t say. i can attest to the fact that they’re real pros and good guys as well. i trusted them at my place alone and they were friendly.
when we had a problem with the steel plates i had made by an outside contractor steve was able to make them work. throughout the job they were able to adapt to the circumstances and come up with ideas to finish the job properly. i changed a couple things on them at the last minute and they never had a problem with it. this kind of flexibility is a real plus and somewhat rare. other contractors might hem and haw over last minutes changes and write up change orders for anything not specifically in the contract, but steve, rick and michael were all willing to roll with the punches and provide constructive feedback on ideas i had.
overall they were great to work with and i wouldn’t hesitate to hire them again or recommend them to a friend.
Berkeley Roof Services (Berkeley) – F
I used to think their workers did a great job replacing our roof at the Picardy house, but now, not so much. First: I really dislike their office and lack of/poor communication, in particular our contact Ki-Soo. He wasn’t very helpful, was TERRIBLE at calling back and frequently didn’t call when he was supposed to. And, he called me while I was at work and made me come home immediately to pick our gutter colors or else we wouldn’t get them for a few weeks – with no previous notice! Get it together. Numerous times I had to call to speak with a manager, which I found very frustrating. Then, about a year and a half later we realized that the workers didn’t prime any of the metal venting they installed before they painted it so all the paint was starting to peel off. It took me 4 weeks of calling before anyone called me back (and it was when I finally turned into a bitch on the phone). Ki-Soo came out to look at it and got his employees to come out to fix it. The first time they came with the wrong color, so they came back a second time. I explicitly said “The old paint needs to be chipped off and you need to mask off so our bricks and shingles don’t get paint on them.” Of course they did neither and our 90 year old brick is painted, the shingles are painted, and the paint on the metal venting looks like shit because they didn’t chip all of it off. What a bunch of idiots.
Best Marble and Granite (San Leandro) – F
Don’t EVEN get me started on this one. From trying to overcharge us for an entire slab we didn’t need (nearly $900) to a shitty install job, having terrible customer service and just being general dicks, I HATE Best Marble and Granite. After they finished their work installing a granite slab at our Picardy house in our kitchen Chris and I found every review site we could and wrote about our TERRIBLE experience with them. DON’T go here.
Classic Glass & Shower (San Leandro) – C (Review by Chris)
A-OK. Brad is the whole business and we always like professionals like that. Contractors who are owners and operators tend to do a better job because they have a vested interest in making sure the customer is happy. He’s real responsive and shows up on time – two things that go a long way in an industry that sometimes has too many flakes. Price-wise he’s very reasonable. Unfortunately it wasn’t all great. I take one star off because of what I consider sloppy caulking and a rather large gap (1/2″ because of a mis-measurement) on one of the panels which had to be filled with silicone in the master of our Picardy house’s bathroom. I take off one more star because the unclean caulking lines led to several leaking spots and required a call back. Brad’s a great guy and reliable. However, in our case it seems like we didn’t get him at his best.
Economy Lumber (Oakland) – B+
Great lumber yard and building supply place that’s been in business nearly 80 years! We go here frequently because they’re really close to us. The employees are nice, prices are decent and they’re the only place in the entire Bay Area that we know of that sells the rounded window and door trim (though it comes in at a hefty price tag) for our Picardy house.
Evergreen Nursery (San Leandro) – C-
Have used this nursery a couple times in the past and was a little thrown by things being a bit pricey, but I like supporting local businesses. However, the last time I went it took me almost 30 minutes to get 2 plants special ordered and it was supposed to take 3 weeks to get them. A month+ rolls around with no phone call, so I call only to find out the person who makes special orders went on vacation (understandable) but then completely forgot about my order (annoying). They promised to place it. Another 3 weeks rolls around, no phone call. I call, one of the plants is in (I didn’t get a phone call for it) but the other isn’t there. They’ll see if they can get it the same week and call me back to confirm. No call back. I call back at the end of the week to ask if it’s come in only to find that the special order person is too busy to get on the phone with me. So I just cancel my order. The lady on the phone was super nice, apologetic and understanding, but it was very disappointing to spend 2 months trying to buy 2 plants from them only to have it not work out.
Flowerland Nursery (Albany) – A
INCREDIBLY informative and amazingly nice. They have a great selection of veggies (which we’ve purchased) but also flowers and plants. They sell local art in the office/register area as well. Prices are great too, we bought 2 tomato plants and bean seeds and it was less than $10.
Heavy Lux (San Leandro) – A
The owner came to do our estimate for a glass enclosure in our front bathroom at our Picardy house. He came on time, was very friendly. He has some great ideas of how we could enclose our tub in glass considering the difficulty of the job (our tub is curved). Our estimate came later that day and was extremely reasonable. Within 10 days the installers were at our house (on time as well) putting the glass in. They worked quick and carefully and didn’t break any of our delicate glass tiles as they were drilling for the brackets (this can occur from time to time). Our enclosure looks great, the company was super polite and professional. We have continued to use them on jobs for our customers as well as projects for my brother’s real estate company. They continue to have fair prices and great work.
Import Tile (Berkeley) – B
They have a great selection and really great prices. Generally speaking, they aren’t the greatest with customer service a the sales table (they can take a LONG time), but their design help is great – they have good ideas and are quick to respond.
Inner City Recycling (Oakland) – A-
We found this place after Aman raised their prices like crazy. You can recycle concrete here for $25 for a pick-up truck load (no environmental surcharge added either). Their employees are really helpful and incredibly nice. They also sell engineered pack for landscaping at $8 a ton! But they don’t do delivery
Juan Garcia Painting (Oakland) – A+
Juan and his wife have painted a few houses on our street and they are super awesome. They worked with us on the price and let us do a ton of prep work to keep the price down. All the prep work they did was impeccable and their paint job was wonderful. They were pretty fast and their price was awesome. We continue to use them over and over and over and over again – both on personal and professional work. We couldn’t recommend them more! (he doesn’t have a website, but if you’re interested please email me and I’ll pass along his contact info)
Larm’s Building Material (Oakland) – C+ (Review by Chris)
This place could be better. Some of their staff is friendly and helpful. Some (one guy who used to always work on the weekends) of their staff is drunk and lost. The last two times I went their for half a yard of 3/4″ drain rock I got way too many fines (small rocks) in my scoop. One time I went there during business hours on a Sunday and they were closed. One time I went there to pickup concrete and the machine was broken so I had to go back later in the day and do the job by myself (my FIL had to leave midday). It’s a local place so I’d like to give a better review, but they’re just not reliable enough for more than 3 stars.
Le’s Golden Floors – to be written
Lowpensky Moldings (SF) – B+
Custom milled moldings at very competitive prices. We couldn’t find any store that carried our baseboards or crown and they custom milled a bunch for us at a good price.
The Lumber Baron (Albany) – A
Family owned and operated since the late 70s, they specialize in redwood (decking, fencing, beams, timbers). Pretty good prices and their employees are nice.
MacBeath Hardwood (Berkeley) – A+
SUPER imformative and helpful. They have a great showroom and great prices. They also have a really awesome exotic wood selection. We go there all the time now for cabinet building materials for our job, as well as for our own house.
Number 1 Hardwood Floors (Alameda County) – F
I could not recommend more NOT to use this company. We wanted 90% of our floors refinished (we had done 2 rooms ourselves) in our Picardy house. The FIRST time they did it, they used the wrong poly to finish it off, got stain all over our walls, trim, doors, baseboards, marble tile floors in our bathrooms, kitchen cabinets,, doorknobs – everywhere. They stained patches in the hardwood terribly so all the new wood stuck out like a sore thumb. They didn’t patch any nail holes. They didn’t clean off the floors before applying poly so the floors felt like sandpaper. There was also dust everywhere. They obviously didn’t clean at all. We voiced our concerns and asked then to redo it. The second time they still got stain everywhere and this time got stain all over our Trex deck as well (ruining it). They also decided to paint our baseboards (we told them not to) and used the wrong color and got paint all over our floor and then put poly over it so we couldn’t even scrape it off. Oh, and they also clogged our toilet. And again, dust everywhere. The floors we redid ourselves look 5 times better than the terrible job they did. We wanted to get “professionals” to do the rest of our home to save us time, but obviously we should have done the work ourselves because every room they did looks terrible. The price was cheap, but I guess you get what you pay for.
Ohmega Salvage (Berkeley) – A
This place has two locations right across the street from each other. They have regular, thrift style stuff (chairs, lights, sinks, windows, etc.) just like other thrift and salvage yards, but they also have amazing period pieces as well that have been restored beautifully. You can tell the owners really care about preservation and restoration, it’s very inspiring. Of course their historically restored pieces are pricey (but that’s also because they are worth a ton of money), but their salvage stuff is cheap and they’re very nice hagglers They also provide rental services.
Renaissance Custom Upholstery (San Leandro) – A+
Jose quoted us a price 1/2 as much as nearly all of the other upholstery places we asked to re-upholster our couch. He also quoted us 2 weeks when most places said 3. And when he called that our couch was done 5 days early, we were beyond excited. He did an amazingly great job and we love our couch. He is also super friendly and great to work with. We’ve continued to use him for personal projects and have also referred clients his way as well.
Russo Glass (Oakland) – B
They’re cheap and in Oakland, but I get frustrated with them from time to time (cuts done later than they said, person up front can get confused easily…)
Streamline Plumbing (Oakland) – D+
They came on time and their price was good, but their workmanship was not great. Luckily we were home the entire time they did the work on our Picardy house because they completely missed BOTH the shower and kitchen sink lines. We brought it to their attention and they said that those lines were inactive. We were pretty sure they were incorrect so we turned on the shower and kitchen sink only to have the whole in our driveway fill up with water. They also started digging a hole in our neighbor’s yard to locate the clean out without asking either us or our neighbor (and the property line is very obvious). Fortunately our neighbors are incredibly nice and understanding. In the process of getting our Picardy house ready for sale we contacted them for our permit for the job they did (they didn’t give this info to us when they did the work), and they had lost it. When I inquired about what the next step was they said we needed to contact EBMUD and if they didn’t have the excemption they would come out to do a pressure test for us so we would pass – but that it would cost us $800. Thank god EBMUD had the excemption.
Style Bath and Kitchen (Oakland) – A+
They helped us SOOOOO much when it came to the debacle of our bathroom sink in the main bathroom of our Picardy house, and when I went back over a year later for resources when I was designing someone’s bathroom they remembered me and asked how our bathroom was. They have great prices, give great design help, are amazingly nice and super helpful. I continue to head there as my go to fixture resource for design work.
Tez Marble (this review for their Oakland store, but they have various Bay Area locations) – C+
They have a really great selection at okay prices. The prices used to be better, but they’ve gotten more expensive. The thing that really gets me though is their sales staff – they’re SUPER salesman-y. Almost to the point of creepiness.
Tulip Flooring (Berkeley) – F
Sold us Red Oak when we ordered White Oak. Then when we brought it in to point out their mistake they blamed it on us and said we must have switched. No. Your post-it that you wrote our order on (because I saw it) said WHITE OAK, YOU entered it in the computer wrong. I know everyone makes mistakes, but I don’t like being blamed for someone else’s fuck up. A client used them for work in her own home that we managed for her. The workmanship was good, but they didn’t complete specific tasks they said they would a our contact was an ASSHOLE about it. As in, at one point we heard him in the background say, “I’m sick of dealing with this walnut dowel bullshit.” Well, you wouldn’t have to have us call you all the time if you would have just installed the walnut dowels in our client’s floor to match her original flooring LIKE YOU SAID YOU WOULD.
Urban Ore (Berkeley) – B-
Eco park. Sometimes their prices are kinda expensive, but you can always haggle them a bit. Their employees can sometimes be a little rude. It always feels better giving something old a new life rather than just going out and buying something new, but this place has some stuff that’s probably better left alone.
White Brother’s Mill (Oakland) – A-
GREAT selection of moldings, trim, period details, etc. A tad pricey, but that tends to be what you get for quality work. Their employees are super nice and helpful.