By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Undertaking your first major home remodel can be a daunting task. It’s not always easy knowing where to start and what to look out for when deciding on which home remodeling company or general contractor is right for you.

We’ve all heard the renovation nightmare stories. As a professional home remodeling company, the last thing we want is for any homeowner to end up in a situation where their remodel is dragging on and on with no end in sight, or to hear that the initial estimate given has now doubled and the total cost is growing by the day. So, this month, we’re looking at a few red flags and things to ask to help you pick the perfect remodeling partner for your project!

Red flag #1

A general contractor or home remodeling company tells you they can start construction in a few weeks. This should cause you to pause and ask why.

We’ve heard from a number of homeowners in the area recently who have told us they can’t even get remodelers and tradespeople to return phone calls. As with the housing market, the construction and home remodeling industry is still booming. There is no excuse for an unreturned email or phone call, but the reality is many companies have no bandwidth to start any new construction projects until later 2022/early 2023.

At Synergy, we can start the design process within the next six months, but construction start dates for new projects are now booking in early 2023. So, if someone comes to your home with promises of being able to start construction ‘in a few weeks’, ask questions why they have availability.

When it comes to how long it takes to complete a remodel, we’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: no major home remodeling project is going to be completed within a couple of weeks (and at minimal cost) from the time you sign on the dotted line. Any company or individual who tells differently is setting you up for disappointment. Design thoughtful remodeling takes time. Design comes first, construction follows. We have a saying at Synergy “materials wait for construction, construction doesn’t wait for materials” meaning you should have made all of your design choices with most of them ordered (especially things like cabinetry and appliances which have extensive lead times — especially in recent times due to supply chain issues) before anyone comes anywhere near your home with a sledgehammer.

The point is, if you’re thinking of a home remodel, have realistic expectations about how long the process will take. Start the conversation now and don’t call in the early fall expecting to have your new kitchen by Thanksgiving!

Red flag #2 

The contractor gives you a cost on their first visit.

This one makes us crazy! We know you want to know on the first visit, but asking a professional remodeler how much a remodel costs is like asking, “How much is a car?” The make, model, engine size, alloy wheels, leather seats, heated steering wheel and that third row you really want to ferry the kids around all increase the price. The same thing applies to home remodeling. Providing a free estimate for a simple pull and replace powder room remodel or to paint your main level is one thing, but totally different for a full kitchen or other home remodel.

A number of things impact the cost of your remodel from changing the footprint (which usually requires plumbing, electrical and/or mechanical changes), to the cabinetry line you want to the level of finishes you expect. No one wants to be change ordered at every turn during the remodeling process when you have no option but to pay more to get the job done. Not every remodeler takes the same approach, but we’d rather be realistic about cost with you upfront so you know what you’re getting yourself into rather than get to the end of the project with your budget blown and costs twice what you’d been told initially.

Read more in Square Foot Pricing for a Home Remodel: What Every Homeowner Should Know.

Kitchen Remodel in Fairfax (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). At Synergy, we pride ourselves on coming in on-time, on-budget for every home remodel!

Red flag #3 The contractor hasn’t worked on a project of similar size and scope to your project before.

This one is a recipe for disaster. Before you meet any potential remodelers, poke around the contractor/remodeling company’s website and take a look at project examples to get a sense of the size and scope of a typical project they work on. Read testimonials and Google reviews — they are a great way to get a sense of what a company is all about from real clients.

A cautionary tale! One of Synergy’s project photos turned up in the marketing materials of another company who had just started out and they didn’t have a portfolio of their own. If something doesn’t seem right to you, trust your gut and ask to see photos from actual projects they have completed.

Basement Remodel in McLean (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). See more of our projects here.

Red Flag #4

You’re told you don’t need a permit for your remodel.

If a contractor tells you this, one of two things is happening. You are doing a small, simple pull-and-replace type remodel and just replacing cabinets or countertops or they are not telling you the truth. Why lie? Because permits take time and cost money. The bottom line: If you are undertaking a remodel in any part of your home that requires moving or adding mechanical, electrical, plumbing or even walls within your home, you need a permit.

Reputable companies will submit permits and get approvals on your behalf. Read more about why it’s important to permit and what the longer term consequences are if you decide not to apply for a permit here.

Kitchen Remodel in Vienna (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). Was this kitchen remodel in Vienna permitted? You bet it was — it’s one of ours!

Red Flag #5

The contractor outsources all of their work to subcontractors.

Not all remodeling contractors or remodeling companies are set up in the same way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they source carpenters, designers, project management and specialty trades (think plumbing, mechanical, electrical, drywall, tiling etc). Are they in-house or subcontractors?

When you work with a full service design-build firm like Synergy, there will usually be an in-house team who work on your project. The benefit of this is continuity and a single point of accountability with less likelihood of things being forgotten or dropped during handoffs. At Synergy, we have a team of carpenters, interior designers and project managers who work on your remodel but we partner with trusted speciality trades who we manage on your behalf. Read more in Life Under Construction: Who’s in Your Home?

And lastly, don’t assume the contractor is licensed and insured. Ask!

Thinking of a home remodel and not sure what’s possible or where to start? Give us a call! Our consultations are free and we’re happy to help you get started!

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Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

We’ve been in the home remodeling business a long time. We know it can be overwhelming when you start thinking about a kitchen remodel and all the decisions that have to be made. We’re here to help make life a little easier. Here are five design tips when it comes to remodeling your kitchen to get you started!

 1. The Kitchen ‘Triangle’

This one is a BIG one. We often say a great home remodel starts with figuring out how you actually use the space. Function first, form follows. When it comes to kitchen design, one of the first considerations is the kitchen ‘triangle’. Simply put, this is the most effective layout between the refrigerator, stove and sink, usually loosely based on a triangle. It’s not a hard and fast rule (and one that has undergone some changes with the addition of multiple kitchen ‘zones’ over the years), but it’s a great place to start with your dream kitchen remodel.

Got a galley kitchen or other layout that doesn’t lend itself to the triangle rule? No problem! The main consideration is to think through the best flow and energy efficiency of your space to minimize the back and forth between cooking, cleaning and storing areas.

In this kitchen remodel in Reston, the redesign of the kitchen included the sink and refrigerator along one wall with the stove on the left forming the third point of the ‘triangle’. This remodel also highlights another kitchen design issue to consider — cabinet height! Read on for more information…

The Kitchen Triangle (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

 2. The Kitchen Island

The kitchen island has made it onto the “must have” list for many homeowners. Kitchen islands are great in large kitchens and provide tons of prep space, storage and a gathering place when everyone inevitably ends up in the kitchen! They also work great in smaller spaces where walls are being removed to open up a kitchen to a dining area or family room, for example.

A growing trend in recent years has been the addition of not one but two kitchen islands. Two islands allow you to have one dedicated to prep and/or cooking and another for casual dining/entertaining. This kitchen remodel in Herndon features two islands and shows how the kitchen now seamlessly blends into the family room and dining area.

Double Kitchen Islands (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

The general rule of thumb is that aisles in the kitchen should be at least 36″ wide. Ideally, the aisle in a cooking zone should be 42″ to 48″ depending on your cooking configuration. Island and peninsula sizes should be adjusted accordingly.

Lastly, if you have a small or galley kitchen with no room for an island, fear not! There are LOTS of really great versatile options for moveable islands that double up as dining tables or bar areas that won’t break your remodeling budget.

3. Cabinet Height

Nothing says “wow” more than kitchen cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling. Adding  cabinets that go to the ceiling WILL add cost to your remodel, but if look outweighs budget considerations and it’s something you really want, go for it!

Ceiling height cabinets look at home in all types of kitchen designs from transitional to contemporary. If your aesthetic leans more transitional, a good way to break up cabinet “blocks” is with the use of smaller, glass fronted upper cabinets. This allows for the storage and display of treasured, but infrequently used, items. A great example of this can be seen in this local home remodel. The interior cabinet lighting is the final touch to this elegant space!

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

In more contemporary homes, slab fronted cabinets that run all the way to the ceiling create a sleek, ultramodern look that oozes a designer feel and keeps the lines clean and crisp. In this home remodel in Reston, a “cloud” ceiling detail was added that dropped the ceiling height creating the illusion of a much bigger space. The contemporary white cabinets are warmed up by the contrasting wood tones.

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

Many mid-century homes in this area have sloped ceilings that don’t lend themselves to ceiling-height cabinets. If you work with an experienced kitchen designer, they will help you figure out the layout that works best for your home. Our in-house Interior Designer, Emily, not only partners with all of our clients on the actual kitchen cabinet type and color, she also produces realistic 3D images that help give clients a real sense of what the finished space will look like. The image below shows a 3D image for a local home remodel in Reston with a sloping roof that is currently under construction. Watch this space for the finished product!

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

Looking for more cabinet inspiration? Check out project Before & Afters on our website.

4. Let’s Talk Trash

OK, so it’s not one of the most glamorous or exciting things on the home remodeling checklist, but don’t forget about your trash location! Nothing ruins a beautifully remodeled kitchen more than a large free-standing trash can stuck on the end of a cabinet or beside an island. Incorporate your trash receptacles into a cabinet somewhere near the sink or main prep area. You won’t regret it! These days, most quality cabinet lines include options for both regular and recycling cans to be contained within one pull-out cabinet, either on the kitchen perimeter or kitchen island.

Can you spot the location of the trash in this home remodel in Vienna? These homeowners decided to locate their trash and recycling cans to the left of the sink. This photo also provides a preview of our next design tip — the microwave drawer!

Hidden Trash (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

 5. Small Appliance Consideration: Microwaves

There was a time when there were only two microwave options: a hung microwave at eye level installed above the stove or a free-standing one sitting on a countertop. There is a third option: the microwave drawer. They’ve been around for a long time, but they’re often not top-of-the-list when it comes to kitchen design considerations. They should be! Microwave drawers can be integrated into your kitchen design and tucked away in an island.

What we love about them is that they are not only stylish, they are safer when it comes to lifting hot containers/bowls. Instead of having to reach up to take out hot liquids at head and shoulder level, microwave drawers allow you to lift hot food up onto a countertop. Microwave drawers are also a great universal design consideration. Growing children, older adults and those with mobility considerations can more easily reach a drawer independently, and the drawers typically open on their own with the touch of a button, making them easier to use with less strength.

For most of our clients, once you’ve had a microwave drawer in your kitchen, there is no going back. The photo below of a kitchen remodel in Oakton shows a microwave drawer installed in a beautiful blue island.

Microwave Drawer (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

What design tips or questions do you have? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for a local home remodeling company to partner with on your dream kitchen remodel? We’ve been in business in the Reston area helping local homeowners renovate happy for almost 15 years! Get in touch! Our consultations are FREE.

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By Mina Fies, Soulful Living Guide & Founder, Synergy Design & Construction

Let’s face it… we all live busy lives and are often stretched way too thin — and yet it’s our homes that help us come back to ourselves at the end of every day. While it’s always been important to me that our home remodels go beyond gorgeous countertops and new flooring, it really is all about the creation of ‘home’ however that shows up for us.

Everyone deserves to feel good when they walk in the door everyday, which is why I created a dedicated way in which I could help others create personal, meaningful spaces that support them in day-to-day life (even when they’re not ready for a full remodel). Although I don’t have a magic potion for achieving a perfect equilibrium, I have realized finding time to renew and recharge, even if it’s just for a few minutes, is the single most important part of my day.

Imagine a space created just for you, to restore your energy, provide a sense of calm and restoration, and bring you back in alignment with your true nature.

As a Soulful Living Guide, I like to call this the “Zen Zone”.

Personally, I use my Zen Zone as a place to meditate and to be present to how grateful I am for the blessings in my life. I love to journal, so this is where I find time to write. Some of my clients use theirs as a place to read a few pages from a book, flip through a magazine or cool down after a long week.

Your Zen Zone can be anywhere you’d like. The key is feeling relaxed and calm when you’re there.

So, how do you create your own Zen Zone?

Identify Your Zone — Start to visualize your home and ask yourself where you feel your zone should be. Use your intuition to choose a spot that feels right. If you have an extra bedroom, that’s fine, but all you really need is a little nook, corner of a room, even a portion of a walk-in closet.

Prepare Your Zone — It’s time to shift the energy. Remove any nearby clutter from your new spot so the energy feels light and calming. Do a thorough clean of the area.

Zen Your Zone — Cozy it up! Add objects that activate your senses and give you a positive vibe! THIS finishing touch is what makes it such a powerful addition to your self-care routine.

Have fun with it, incorporating natural elements like plants and flowers, calming scented candles, music, or your seasonal journal.

Looking for design inspiration and more pointers to create your own Zen Zone?

Watch my free Zen Zone masterclass here. Our homes serve as access to our highest awareness and yet we rarely give them the attention they deserve. Learning to tap into a deeper understanding of how your home can support you and your evolution is the first step in shifting everything and creating your very own sacred space in time.

Are you ready to love your home again? Learn more at

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Kitchen Remodel in Leesburg

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

We’ve all been there. We have an idea in mind about what we want in our home remodel, but the sheer number of decisions needed and the options available for everything from cabinets to appliances can quickly become overwhelming. Will that floor go with those cabinets? Will that light fixture compete with the other finishes? This month, we’re here to help with one decision point: countertop color! So, let’s dig into the various options and take a look at some examples of how countertop color brings a look together.

Photos courtesy Synergy Design & Construction.

Lightly Veined

This has been THE go-to choice for countertops in the last few years. No matter what countertop material is used, lightly veined countertops are versatile and add design detail without overwhelming the rest of the finishes. For some, they also make the perfect choice if there is a concern about every single little water splash or stain showing on the countertop surface, as veining helps to subtly camouflage specks that inevitably end up on countertops from day to day.

Kitchen Remodel in Vienna

The look of this kitchen remodel in Vienna is pure perfection! The lightly veined countertops complement, not compete with, the blue and white mosaic accent tile behind the range.

Kitchen Remodel in Fairfax

Lightly veined countertops are equally at home in contemporary remodels! This gorgeous waterfall island makes a statement in this kitchen remodel in Fairfax.

Kitchen Remodel in Reston

Our clients selected this lightly veined countertop for their blue and white kitchen remodel in Reston. Although a pure white countertop also looks stunning against blue cabinets, this countertop is perfect for pulling the blue, gray and white tones of the rest of the spaces together. 


What we love about gray countertops is their versatility. Gray goes well in contemporary spaces and can (which may surprise some) be used with dark cabinets.

Basement Remodel in Reston

Contemporary, but not cold! In this basement remodel in Reston, the gray countertop is right at home with the black cabinets. The look is kept light with the use of the lighter colored geometric backsplash tile and light wood floating shelves. Cheers!

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Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

The beginning of another year brings the opportunity to start afresh and rethink our living spaces. We’re turning our attention to ‘what’s new in ’22’ when it comes to home remodeling and interior design. In the last few years, we saw a huge shift in what homeowners want when it comes to a home remodel, from calming spaces to multifunctional rooms with enough space for dual home offices due to the demands of virtual work and school. Some of these trends are here for the long haul, but there’s also a few surprises we think will gain in popularity this year. So, join us as we take a look at our team’s top picks for home remodeling and interior design trends. 

Moody Vibes 

Feeling moody? You’re not alone! It’s the first thing on the list for Synergy Founder, Mina, who says, “I feel people are feeling a little ‘moody’ (at least I am). Be it the lingering pandemic or just a yearning for more color in their lives, A big trend will be to darken things up a bit (darker blues, greens, and, yes, even grays) on walls and in cabinetry.” In her own home, Mina used this specially mixed paint color on the walls of her home office and added another on-trend design feature to lighten things up; the beautiful floral wall decals. 

Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction

Organized Mudrooms

Not a new trend, but mudrooms are now packing a design punch in their own right. The multifunctional mudroom is now a top request for both newly constructed homes and home remodels, with everything from dog washing stations to home gyms to storage solutions being high on the “must have” list for homeowners. It certainly was for Nicola, Synergy’s Director of Marketing, who made sure there was not only a dog shower, but a built-in dog crate for her doggo in her new home. Likewise, in this home remodel in Vienna, our clients wanted a space that pulled double duty as a family-friendly mudroom and pool equipment storage area as well as a gym separated by a cool custom-built wooden slat dividing wall.

Photos courtesy Synergy Design & Construction

Geometric Tile

We called this trend way back in early 2020 and for Emily, Lead Designer, and Barbara, Project Coordinator, this one is still on the hot pick list. This is especially true when it comes to kitchen backsplashes. Emily says, “Classic-shaped subway tile is giving way to more fun, wacky shapes.” You don’t have to go too ‘out there’ to get the look. In this recent home remodel in Reston, the geometric backsplash adds a touch of modern design in a transitional kitchen. The floral window treatments are also on-trend. Floral wall and window coverings are making a BIG resurgence.

Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction

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Photo courtesy Glidden

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Nothing gives your home personality or creates a mood more than paint. Last year’s trends were all about colors inspired by nature to help calm and soothe after the stresses of lockdown and our need to leave 2020 behind us. With many of us still working from home and spending time in our nests, paint remains high on the priority list of changes homeowners want to make in their space. This year, it’s all about renewal but keeping a sense of warmth and home as the central focal point. So, grab a coffee and let’s take a look at what some of the biggest names in the industry have chosen as their color and/or color trends for 2022.

Benjamin Moore

We love Benjamin Moore paint and use it in most of our home remodels, so they get our first color shout out for 2022! This year, they’ve named October Mist (1495) as their top pick. We like the delicacy of the description, “Evocative of the stem of a flower, this gently shaded sage anchors and uplifts.”

According to Nivara Xaykao, Associate Manager of Color Marketing and Development at Benjamin Moore, “We homed in on October Mist because it felt so fresh in the moment, but it also has a timeless quality. It’s distinct enough to make an impression on its own, but then it’s subtle enough to pair with so many other colors.”

Photo courtesy Benjamin Moore

Farrow & Ball

For their 2022 picks, Farrow & Ball have chosen five different colors: Breakfast Room Green, Stone Blue, School House White, Babouche and Incarnadine. We never get bored of their creativity when it comes to naming paint!

According to the company’s long-serving color curator, Joa Studholme, “There is something inherently human in the colors that we are attracted to for 2022 as well as in the way we use them. They are an eclectic mix of the pure and the humble that evokes the warmth and harmony of a more innocent age while celebrating life today. Function goes hand in hand with ornament, using colors and finishes in unusual ways to celebrate the principles of utility, kindness and honesty.”

In simple terms, that means they are scaling things back to a simpler time but with a fresh twist that celebrates present times.

(from left to right) Breakfast Room Green, Stone Blue, School House White, Babouche, Incarnadine. Photo courtesy Farrow & Ball.


In keeping with the botanical inspired tones, Sherwin-Williams has chosen Evergreen Fog (SW 9130) as their Color of the Year. According to the company, Evergreen Fog is “soothing, subtle and a perfect shade to freshen up any space” that is “a versatile and calming hue, a chameleon color of gorgeous green-meets-gray, with just a bit of blue. It’s a simple but sophisticated wash of beautiful, organic color for spaces that crave a subtle yet stunning statement shade.”

We say, “Yes, please!”

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By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Love it or hate it, the nights are getting darker and winter is on it’s way which means you are either looking forward to cozy nights in or are already thinking about the best places to go to catch some sun.

Either way, it’s the time of year when our attention turns to getting ready for the holidays and entertaining once again — and there’s nothing that creates ambience and a feeling of ‘home’ during the long winter months more than your fireplace.

It’s often one of the things that’s last on the priority list, but updating your fireplace can make or break how a room ‘feels’. So, if yours is a bit tired and you’re ready for an update, let’s take a look at some easy updates that will help your fireplace shine!

Wood Accents

It’s amazing the difference the use of natural elements can make in the design of a room. Wood brings the outside in, helps ground the space and, when used in the right way, is the perfect way to blend finishes together. Wood feels right at home with both transitional and contemporary design.

In this recent home remodel in Reston, the fireplace in the family room was nice but, with nothing to break up the floor to ceiling height and bulky look, the stone overpowered the room. By making a few simple changes such as adding a new wooden mantel and adding a custom niche with wooden shelves (seen on the left on the ‘After’ photo below), the fireplace now takes on a whole new feel and provides visual interest. The original wood-burning fireplace was also converted to gas.

Before (left), After (right)


For their recent home remodel, Synergy’s owners, Mina and Mark Fies, were ready to upgrade the old fireplace in their primary bedroom suite. They opted for PrecisionFit™ Onyx stone by ProVia to cover the former plain brick exterior for a linear, contemporary look.

Although ProVia stone may be better known for exterior applications, it is a great option for indoor projects like wall accents and fireplaces because it installs easily and quickly.

Watch this video as Mina explains how easy using ProVia stone is and read more about ProVia stone here.

Before (left), After (middle), After (right)

Electric Fireplaces

Don’t write off electric fireplaces. Personally, we LOVE the look and flexibility an electric fireplace can provide. In this basement remodel in McLean, the basement rec room previously felt cold and the off-set fireplace was awkwardly placed. Enter the “Sideline Elite” recessed electric fireplace by Touchstone! The fireplace now provides a cosy central focal point with the T.V. placed above it — complete with theater chairs for family movie nights!

Before (left), After (middle), After Close Up (left)


The use of tile on a fireplace facade is a simple and effective way to easily update your room without having to replace everything else.

As part of this home remodel in Vienna, we updated the fireplace in the family room for a more transitional look. The old stone which, in this case, dated the room was replaced with marble tile in a herringbone pattern. The wood burning fire was replaced with a Heat & Glo gas fire from Fireside Hearth & Home. The bookshelves and cabinets were not replaced, but the new fireplace gives them a whole new lease on life.

Before (left), After (right)

Get Creative!

Fireplaces don’t always have to be in the Family Room or Basement. As a unique design feature, Mina and Mark Fies decided to remove an old gas fireplace in their family room and install a Touchstone “Sideline Elite” electric fireplace in their kitchen island instead. This allowed them to reclaim space in their family room and change the overall flow of the entire space.

In addition to providing visual appeal, electric fireplaces are practical, too. They are a great way to effectively and safely heat a room. Read more about Mina and Mark’s design choice here.

3D Rendering (left), After (right)

A word of caution: if you are going beyond updating your fireplace facade, ALWAYS hire a professional to install or remove both gas and electric fireplaces.

If your next home remodel needs more than just a fireplace update, we’re ready to help you rethink your space! As a local full service design build firm, we’ve been helping homeowners in the area create dream spaces for well over a decade. Find out who we are and what we’re all about here.


By Mina Fies, Founder & CEO, Synergy Design & Construction

It’s almost here! The transformation of our mid-century Lake Anne home is in the final stages, and we’re getting ready to showcase its complete transformation as part of The Reston Home Tour on Oct. 16!

With deep gratitude, we’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge THANK YOU to the Reston community (and beyond!) for all of the support and encouragement you’ve sent our way in recent months.

Now it’s our turn to give something back in return. This is your chance to win TWO RESTON HOME TOUR TICKETS on us!

Missed our previous posts about the top to bottom transformation of our home? Read more about our journey here.

All you have to do is click on the image below to go to Synergy’s Facebook page and like/comment on our Reston Home Tour giveaway post to enter the draw for your chance to WIN!

The closing date is Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. Make our home the first stop on the tour and pick your tickets up there. Details will be sent to the winner on Friday, Oct. 15.

Didn’t win but still want to go on the tour? No problem! Reston Home Tour Tickets are on sale through the Reston Historic Trust & Museum (RHT) now. The event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. RHT is a non-profit organization, and all proceeds from the tour go toward their mission of preserving the past, informing the present and influencing the future of Reston.

Learn more about the other homes featured on this year’s tour and buy tickets here.

A sneak peek at the open-concept kitchen at the Model ReModel. See the finished remodel on this year’s Reston Home Tour.

By Mina Fies, Founder & CEO, Synergy Design & Construction

“New Beginnings” is the theme of this year’s Reston Home Tour, and it couldn’t be more true for me and my husband! After decades of moving around (including in our childhood years), we were drawn to Reston because of the sense of community, diversity, and, of course, the lakes and sense of nature (all the while being right on the doorstep of Washington, D.C.). Now, we’ve finally carved out our own little piece of Reston to call home and are delighted to be part of this year’s home tour and share it with you.

Last month, we shared the story of how our new-to-us Lake Anne neighborhood home was chosen as the 2021 Pro Remodeler Model ReModel. The remodel of our Reston home is in the final stages, and we couldn’t be more excited to include the big reveal as part of the home tour.

Every year, the Reston Home Tour provides us the opportunity to see what’s possible in our community’s homes and to get inspired by the design choices others have made. Fortunate to work with a number of well-known national product sponsors as part of the Model ReModel experience, it was important to us that we used the same products in our own home as we would recommend to homeowners who are working with our remodeling company, Synergy Design & Construction.

We invite you to come and tour our home and see for yourself how we used these products to transform a dated mid-century house into a contemporary home as part of the Reston Home Tour on Oct. 16!

Highlights include:

Reston Home Tour tickets are on sale through the Reston Historic Trust & Museum (RHT) now! The event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. RHT is a nonprofit organization and all proceeds from the tour go towards their mission of preserving the past, informing the present and influencing the future of Reston.

Learn more about the homes featured on this year’s tour and buy tickets here.

Mina & Mark Fies, Synergy Design & Construction

By Mina Fies, Founder & CEO, Synergy Design & Construction

After nearly 13 years of helping Reston homeowners renovate happy, it’s finally our turn! My husband, Mark, and I have always loved Reston and bought our new-to-us home in a Lake Anne neighborhood in 2020. The midcentury house felt like home the minute we saw it. However, although it was much loved and cared for by the previous owner, it was ready for complete transformation from top to bottom.

As the owners of Synergy Design & Construction, we’ve always dreamed of undertaking a whole home remodel for ourselves. Mark and I moved consistently throughout our childhood and our professional careers, and we were finally ready to settle down in Reston for the long-term. The prospect of turning an older house with great bones into a contemporary home while showcasing the work of our talented Synergy team made it an easy decision for us. We knew it was going to be a big undertaking, but we were ready to create our little piece of home to share with family and friends.

Our enthusiasm must’ve been catching because upon hearing our story, Pro Remodeler Magazine contacted us and selected us to be their 2021 “Model ReModel”! Each year, Pro Remodeler selects a house that is undergoing a complete remodel and follows the progress from demolition all the way through to the big reveal of the totally remodeled home. We were thrilled to be chosen as this year’s featured home! The Pro Remodeler team has been working closely with the Synergy Design & Construction team, documenting every step of the process. Our Reston home was the perfect choice as many of the original 1960s features were still in place from the time the house was built.

See what’s planned for the primary suite as I take you behind the scenes!

Work on the remodel began back in April. As we are remodeling the entire home, we knew we needed to allow time for a detailed design process before construction started. Although Mark and I have been in the remodeling business for many years, we’re finding ourselves experiencing the same things our clients do from debating design preferences and picking out appliances to budgeting and living in a construction zone! We’ve also learned a lot about ourselves (and each other) with the conflicting demands of managing a whole home remodel and a business at the same time!

Even as seasoned home remodelers, we still get excited about appliances! Read more here.

There will be a special feature of our newly remodeled home at the end of the year in Pro Remodeler Magazine. However, we’re delighted to announce it will also be featured on the Reston Home Tour this year. We invite you to purchase tickets and come take a tour! We’ll be there with a warm welcome and look forward to showing you around.

Follow our journey on Synergy’s YouTube channel and at

Reston Home Tour tickets go on sale soon! Check the Reston Historic Trust and Museum website for updates.

We love the variety and uniqueness of the mid-century homes in Reston (courtesy of Charlotte Geary Photography)

By Nicola Caul Shelley and Alison Rice

Ahh, the mid-century home! There are lots of them in Reston, and many homeowners are drawn to them because of their cool architecture, solid construction and unique charm. However, when it comes to remodeling a mid-century home, that charm may also be hiding some underlying issues when it comes time to remodel.

This month, we’re taking a look at some of the more unpleasant surprises that might bust your remodeling project’s budget and/or timeline. But, fear not! We’re also sharing insights into how to plan for and remediate the most common ones.

1. Asbestos. One of the biggest concerns for any homeowner is finding asbestos once demo begins. Be prepared: You or your chosen home remodeling contractor will need to send samples for testing if you find any material that might contain asbestos. If testing shows it does contain asbestos, a specialized abatement company will be needed to remove the material before your remodel can continue. Our advice? Better safe than sorry. Always take action if you uncover any unknown material or substance.

When the parquet flooring was removed in this local home, we discovered it had been stuck down with thick, black mastic. Thankfully, testing revealed it did not contain asbestos.

2. Subfloors. When it comes to the subfloor required for today’s tile and hardwood, three-quarters of an inch thick is ideal. Five-eighths of an inch is acceptable. However, most older homes have subfloors that are a half-inch thick, which can be problematic. You may have to install a new subfloor such as tongue-and-groove plywood. This is a thicker product that doesn’t move between joints, which also eliminates those annoying squeaks. Money well spent.

3. Unknown ducts, electrical or plumbing behind walls. The reality TV home make-over shows would have you believe that finding unexpected ducts, electrical or plumbing behind walls in the middle of a remodel is a given. Not so! If you are using a reputable home remodeling company, there should be no surprises once construction starts. At Synergy, we often cut exploratory holes before construction starts and use small, flexible cameras to get a better view of what’s hiding beneath before we get started. If you are doing a DIY home remodel, do your research upfront. If you do find anything unexpected once you demo your kitchen, it will take time and money to resolve. Not fun for anyone.

Matt, Synergy’s Assistant Project Manager, takes a peek at what’s going on behind the walls with a small camera.

4. Questionable wiring. We see it a lot. The older the home, the more likely it is the wiring is not well done or has aged to a point it needs to be repaired or replaced. Older homes typically have fewer outlets, too. The demands of today’s appliances (and the number of them) mean you may need to add a new subpanel and/or install ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets (referred to as GFIs or GFCIs).

5. Inefficient ductwork. Back in the late ’60s and ’70s, it wasn’t required by code that the joints between ducts were sealed. To save you money on your utility bills and maximize your home’s energy efficiency, we highly recommend you seal any ductwork exposed during your remodel with tape or mastic whether it’s running through the floors, ceiling or walls.

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By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

By now, it’s not new news that the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly resulted in an increased demand for home remodeling services.

Summer may be here, but even as we start to enjoy a little more “normalcy,” demand remains high. The pandemic sharply refocused minds on the importance of “home” and the desire to get what we want in our houses for our own enjoyment — and to put every square foot to good use. And there is one place in the home that is especially true: the basement!

It’s not always easy to know where to start, so here are five tips to help you plan for your basement remodel.

1. Make a list

What is it you want out of your basement remodel? Throwing up drywall and a coat of paint is much easier and less expensive than a design-thoughtful basement transformation. Make a list of your “must-haves,” “like-to-haves” and “pinch me” items. Here’s what this might look like.

  • Must-haves:
    • Refinish/finish rec room
    • Create guest bedroom
    • Add guest bathroom
  • Like-to-haves:
    • Custom bar and beverage center
    • Add walk-out
    • Add space for separate home gym
  • Pinch Me List:
    • Sauna
    • Temperature-controlled wine cellar

This will help you get your priorities right and give you a starting point for discussion with any contractors. As you begin to define the scope of your project and understand costs, it will also help you to focus on the things you can live without and can compromise on — or to make an informed decision to splurge on the things on your “pinch me” list!

2. Think about the best way to create “zones” in your space

One of the biggest mistakes we see homeowners make is not thinking through how they’ll actually use the space once it’s finished. If you entertain a lot, you need lots of places for guests to sit and convenient places to rest drinks and food. Separate zones mean guests can relax at the bar, watch the latest movie in a comfy chair or just find a quiet corner.

If your teens are going to be hanging out down in the basement the most, plan for the additional space you need for a pool or billiards table (and make sure there is room to take a shot without the cue banging into a wall!), that much coveted foosball table or anything else on their wishlist. A full-service design-build home remodeling company like Synergy can help with all of the above, but if you use a general contractor, help with furniture placement and layout may be outside of their scope of services.

3. It’s all about lighting!

Occasionally, folks comment on professional home remodeling photos: “It only looks much better because of the lighting in the ‘afters’ the professional photographers take.” While there is some truth to this, the camera, in this case, doesn’t lie! We put a lot of focus and attention on how to maximize lighting in the home remodels we work on. Nowhere is this more important than in a basement, which tends to be darker than the rest of the home.

Make a lighting plan and add recessed as well as pendant lighting if you can afford to. We also love under-cabinet lights if you have upper cabinets in the bar or integrated lighting under floating shelves. This helps provide functionality and/or ambiance while the rest of the room is in darkness for movie watching. Even better? Put dimmers on all your lights so you can easily create the mood you’re looking for.

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By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Split-level and bi-level homes became popular in the 1950s and 1960s when the suburbs began to expand. They were the perfect solution for the sloping plots of land often found in new developments. They were also (at the time) reasonably priced and a great family-friendly option. Although architectural styles have changed for new builds these days, split-level homes still make the perfect home with the right design choices and a fresh, updated look.

There are lots of split-level homes in this area, so maybe you’re living in one right now and are thinking of a home remodel. Or maybe you’ve seen one on the market and need a little design inspiration to see how you can make it yours. Let’s take a look at a case study to show you how it’s done!

1. The Home

Our client’s home was built in 1963. They loved their home, the big backyard and great neighborhood but were ready to completely rethink and redesign the main living level. The original footprint comprised a small U-shaped kitchen, closed in with hanging glass cabinets and sandwiched between a dining room at one end and a large family room at the other.

This layout created a lot of separate rooms and a chopped-up floor plan. As a family of four, they had outgrown the small kitchen and were ready to open up the floor plan to better suit the needs of their family. In addition, the patio doors to the backyard were not directly accessible from the kitchen. Although there was a pass-through ‘hatch’ (seen below), it didn’t allow for convenient al fresco dining or entertaining outside.

2. The Design Challenge

Split-level houses are great as they allow a natural separation of space, but if there are too many walls on each level, it can make the space feel cramped. By removing walls, you can create great lines of sight and make better use of the available square footage on each level. The key is to create spaces that still maintain a connection and flow from one to the next.

The added challenge when remodeling a split or bi-level home is what to do with the space as you come up the stairs from the main entrance. The ‘foyer’ of our client’s home at the top of the stairs had become a drop-zone for kids’ toys and other items. Creating a more welcoming and open concept was a “must-have” on our client’s wishlist.

Family time and entertaining were also a top priority, but in the existing layout there wasn’t enough room for everyone to be in the kitchen at the same time and it was difficult to keep an eye on the children when they were in another room.

The overall design goal, therefore, was to create a more open concept and larger, more functional kitchen. We started by removing the wall separating the kitchen from the dining room. This gave us the space needed to create a much larger kitchen with a beautiful large island — but still have enough room for a family-sized dining room table and chairs.

3. The Flow of the Space

In addition to creating a more open concept kitchen and dining room, we also added a second entrance off the kitchen to the family room at the opposite end. This created better flow between these two rooms and improved access to the patio doors leading to the yard.

However, we didn’t go with a completely open concept. Part of the wall separating the kitchen from the family room was retained to create a separation of space, but the new prep sink/bar area and additional cabinetry provide both functionality and a real design ‘wow.’

4. The Staircase

Stairs and railings are one of the easiest things to change to update your split-level home. Many homes built in the 1960s have painted metal railings, which instantly date the space. The staircase leading up to the main level from the entrance foyer of our client’s home was no exception. Removing and replacing the dated metal stair railing was another “must-have” to ensure continuity of the new modern design.

5. The Result

It now feels like a completely new home! With the walls and glass-fronted hanging cabinets removed from the kitchen, we had ample room for a large island which not only provides plenty of prep space, it also creates the perfect place for family and friends to gather.

Ready to remodel but not sure where to start? Synergy Design & Construction is a full service design-build firm which means we partner with you from the design of your new space all the way through construction. No hand-offs between designers and contractors and all professionally project managed along the way. Get in touch. Our consultations are free and there is no obligation!

Mina Fies, founder and CEO of Synergy Design and Construction

By Makaila Oaks

Mina Fies, founder and CEO of Synergy Design & Construction, recently collaborated with Redfin and a number of remodeling experts from across the country to compile the most important questions to ask before you hire a home remodeling contractor.

The following is an excerpt of the top five questions we think you should ask before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Ask yourself if the project calls for a full-service remodeling contractor or if a handyman can do the job.

Using a glorified handyman to take on a complex project can be disastrous. The difference is professionalism. If your project involves more than just minor repairs or you’re doing more than just updating finishes (such as tile or paint), you want a bona-fide remodeling contractor.

Ask the company you’re considering, “What type(s) of work do you specialize in? Are you registered/licensed, and do you belong to a professional industry group like the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) or BBB? Show me your work, give me some references, and tell me about your processes.”

Adding these items to the list of questions to ask a contractor will help you decide if they’re a good fit for your project.

— Michael Hill, owner, CCH Design | Remodel of Meridian Idaho

Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction

2. Do you handle all phases of the project — from design to construction?

You’ll want to hire someone who can walk you through the entire process, from helping with the design and renderings, to acquiring necessary permits, to executing the work professionally. Working with the same company throughout the entire project keeps the process smooth and seamless, as opposed to hiring different people throughout every phase.

Yourson Contracting

Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction

3. How many projects do you have going on, and what is the timeline for our project?

This is an important question to ask a contractor to make sure they aren’t too busy to take on the homeowner’s project. The homeowner will also want to know when the contractor will start and complete the project, and what the project schedule will be. This way the homeowner can be prepared and plan around the construction. This will also help the homeowner be ready for any materials they are providing to be on site for when the contractor needs them, avoiding delays.

AGA Construction Inc.

Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction

4. Can you tell me about an issue you’ve dealt with recently where something went wrong on a project and how you handled it?

Interview your contractor as you would interview a prospective employee by asking open-ended questions. Hearing stories about how they’ve overcome obstacles in the past will provide valuable insight on how they would handle issues on your project. It will also open up a discussion around expectations for communication going forward.

— Mina Fies, Synergy Design & Construction

Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction

5. Will there be a dedicated team working on my project?

As we navigate home renovations during COVID-19, this might be one of the most important questions to cover with your contractor. When it comes to who will be on the job, consistency is key. It’s normal for contracting companies to be working on multiple projects at once, so make sure to verify that there will be a dedicated team on your project. If this is not an option, make sure the company goes over the safety precautions that have been put in place due to COVID-19.

Penn Construction & Design

Photo courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction

Ready for a full service design-build home remodeling experience with a company right here in Reston who can help you answer these questions? Get in touch!

Image Credit: Synergy Design & Construction

You’ve been thinking about a home remodel for a while. You know the type of design aesthetic you like, have figured out your “must-have” list and have started to research the different types of contractors and companies you could work with. But one question still remains: How do I pay for a home remodel?

We understand undertaking a home remodel is a big step that requires significant financial investment. It can be a daunting task knowing where to even start the process, so we’re here to help make life a little easier and walk you through the options of how you can pay for a home remodel.

Before you get started, do your homework and have open conversations with your chosen home remodeler or general contractor about how much your home remodel is going to cost. Any reputable contractor should be able to give you guidance on what you should expect to invest in your home if you use their services early on in the process.

Note: Synergy Design & Construction is not affiliated with any companies or services that provide home loan products or services. We do believe, however, that helping inform and educate homeowners is all part of the job. If this information helps relieve some of the stress homeowners feel when it comes to thinking about a home remodel, then that makes us happy!

1. Cash

If you are one of the fortunate few, maybe paying for your remodel isn’t an issue. One of the questions we often receive, however, is how payment can be made. Many homeowners would like to pay by credit card so they can accrue points or other benefits. This sounds like a great idea but, unfortunately, credit card fees are applied (usually 3%) that are, in most cases, passed on to homeowners. No fun. The same applies to debit cards and electronic check payments via PayPal Invoice. Our preferred method is the good old-fashioned check.

Image Credit: Synergy Design & Construction

Word of caution: Never pay the entire cost of your home remodel upfront. We do not even ask for 50% as a deposit. Your chosen home renovation company or general contractor should be able to provide you with what is called a “draw schedule” that aligns payments with the completion of significant milestones on your project.

2. Home Improvement Loans

Image Credit: Synergy Design & Construction

Unless you’ve been planning for your remodel for a long time and have been saving up to pay for it, you may need to take out a loan to pay for all or part of it.

Home renovation loans are often the smartest way for homeowners to finance their entire renovation project, but many people don’t know they even exist or how they work.

If you are looking for a bridge loan between your savings and the total cost of your home or you would like to borrow the entire amount, then a home improvement loan may be right for you.

Home improvement loans are personal loans, not equity loans, so the loan options are based on your income and creditworthiness. Companies that provide these types of loans give the money directly to the homeowner upfront, not the contractor. This makes life easier for both you and the contractor when it comes time to get paid.

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