Murphy Brothers Blog

Wine Room earns Murphy Bros. MN Contractor of the Year Award, Residential Interior Remodeling under $150K

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The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) recognized Murphy Bros. Designers & Remodelers last week as Minnesota Contractor of the Year for residential interior remodeling under $150,000. The veteran Blaine contractors earned the distinction for a romantic wine cellar they designed and built in Eden Prairie for homeowners John Dockter and Cindy Vavra.

Murphy Bros. beat four challengers for the top (Gold) award. It also won Contractor of the Year honors in the Kitchens over $120,000 category last year for another project in the same home. The five judges awarded the winning 2014 project an average score of 57.8 out of 60 points. Two judges awarded it perfect scores of 60 points. Criteria included meeting clients’ expressed needs, aesthetics, evidence of superior craftsmanship, functional improvements, overcoming obstacles, and innovation.

2014 CotY Award

Cherie Poissant and John Murphy with award.

The Star Tribune called the basement playroom remake “Minnesota’s coziest wine cellar.”

It features a triple-barrel vault brick ceiling, stone walls with functional niches, stained glass window, arched iron door, large marble table, special paint effects and mural, a copper bar sink, themed lighting and custom cabinetry for storing and displaying a large wine collection.

Contractors, architects and designers from NARI’s Milwaukee chapter judged the Minnesota CotY Award entries. The panel wrote:

  • Beautiful space. I felt like I was transported to Paris.
  • Gorgeous!2014 cotylogo_color
  • Great idea to use stain glass window to hide the exterior (deck) stairway
  • Great use of outdated, underused space
  • I would like to be in this space
  • The curved brick ceiling looks great
  • The woodwork to stone transitions were well done
  • Nice light fixture
  • The iron door was no joke!
  • HVAC ducts are hidden well

The homeowners were intimately involved in selecting special fixtures and surfaces that reminded them of wine rooms they had experienced in Paris. “Congratulations on winning another award!!!,” they wrote John Murphy following the Awards Gala at the UMN McNamara Alumni Center. “So well deserved. We definitely made the right decision choosing Murphy Bros. for our remodeling.”

The wine room was designed by Murphy Bros. designer Cherie Poissant and managed by Aaron Lenz. It was one of 84 projects Minnesota remodelers entered across 20 categories.

NARI is the only trade association devoted exclusively to the remodeling industry. It has 63,000 members nationwide. The NARI MN chapter is the second largest in the country. Wisconsin boasts the largest.

Server Down!

A needed but unwelcome part of maintaining an office is the need to service and upgrade computer servers.  There are always unintended consequence and various levels of pain associated with a major appliance replacement.  On the positive side, it makes you deal with your archives.  On that note, we came across some “old school” commercials from a different era in Murphy Bros. history that we thought would be fun to share.  This first one “stars” my nephew, Jim Bear disguised as the guy you wish had never called in the first place. More to share in coming months!

Refinish or replace when honey oak cabinets lose sweet appeal?

Honey oak cabinets with cathedral arched doors that were so popular in the 1980s and 1990 are disappearing fast across Minnesota. Some have been replaced with cherry or maple cabinets during major remodeling projects. Others simply retreated behind new coats of taupey gray paint. Bottom line – many people are souring on honey. What’s more, they consider updating the woodwork equally as important as installing granite or quartz counters if they plan to sell.

Oak Cabinets (before)

So how do you decide if you should refinish or replace your old oak cabinets? And just because you’re comfortable painting walls, are you up for taking on a whole room full of cabinets and trim?  Here’s what I have learned while finishing cabinets and trim professionally for more than 30 years.

Refinish, replace or something in between?

If your cabinets are in good condition and you like the quality, layout and functionality, consider refinishing. This would include shifting to a darker, natural finish or changing to a painted finish. Rather than invest $30,000 in new cabinets, you probably can get your current units refinished for about $8,000.  This really makes sense if you are getting your house ready to sell in the next few years.

If you plan to change the layout of your cabinets or if the doors and hardware are in poor condition and extremely dirty, consider replacing the cabinets or at least the most visible parts. One of the most popular options today is to replace the doors and drawer fronts and keep the cases (or boxes).  This not only enables you to update the look. It allows you upgrade hidden euro-style hinges and full-extension drawer slides for improved adjustability and access. In addition, it will be much easier to finish wood on the most visible face of the cabinets. Rather than filling wild oak grain, you can start with a smooth surface.


To do or not to do

Refinishing a room full of cabinets requires time, space, equipment and talent. Most do-it-yourselfers tackle the project with rollers, brushes and materials from the home center. They tend to shortchange the prep, try to complete the process in too few steps and apply the finish too thick. At Murphy Bros., we have perfected a nine step process that ensures the finished surfaces not only look good but also resist cracking, chipping and yellowing.

The Murphy Finishing Method

  1. Remove the doors and drawers, numbering each hinge and pull so it can be reinstalled in the same place. This ensures the doors align without having to readjust each hinge. The doors and drawers will be finished off-site.
  2. Mask and cover every surface that will not be finished.
  3. Install a Phoenix Guardian Air Scrubber with high efficiency HEPA and carbon filters, which will externally vent to filter the exhaust dust and fumes. This keeps the work environment safe and clean.
  4. Clean surfaces with acetone or lacquer thinner to cut through the grease and grime. These solvents are flammable so I wouldn’t recommend a do it yourselfer to try it without careful training and proper ventilation equipment.
  5. Spray on one to two heavy build coats of primer-sealer to fill grain on paint projects to ensure the new finish adheres, sanding after each coat.
  6. Spray multiple, thinned coats of finish with light sanding and dust removal between coats.
  7. For stained finishes apply multiple coats of tinted sealer to enrich the color and achieve the desired sheen. Then protect the finish with a clear topcoat.
  8. Remove the protective coverings and masking and clean up the area.
  9. Deliver and install the doors and drawers with the original or new hardware.  We never paint old hardware because the finish won’t survive the repeated movement.

Spraying vs. Rolling

The secret to applying a durable, smooth finish is to minimize the thickness of the coating material, avoid dust contamination and use the highest quality finishing products. Thick coatings are much more likely to crack and chip and slow drying finishes will collect more dust, so we spray thinned lacquer finishes under controlled conditions in the home and in the shop. Applying a finish with a roller typically leaves stipple marks and the thicker coating will dry more slowly.

We finish doors, drawer fronts and new cabinets in our finishing shop spray booth and dry them on special racks that can hold up to 50 doors.  This setup is ideal because you can only finish one side of the doors at a time and should recoat the same day to lock the layers together as they cure. Completing all of this work off site is a real plus for clients because reduces noise, dust, fumes and disruption.

Refinishing cabinets in a medium size kitchen typically takes 90 to 100 hours. We handle each door at least eight times. We’re fussy because we know cabinets are among the most demanding surfaces in the home and they deserve furniture quality finishes.– Dan Flaherty, Murphy Bros. Finishing

Move or Remodel

Some of our clients live in their “destination” homes and have no intent of moving until they are “carried out”. Others are in their first or second home and are not so sure if they want stay put or if they are thinking that a move might better fit their needs. When I meet with potential clients who are considering a major remodeling project, I always Read More »

Express Your Remodeling Vision with

If you plan to remodel your home or build a new one in the next few years, do yourself – and your designer – a favor. Create a free account on and use it to gather your thoughts.

Before you can begin to explain to a designer (or even a spouse) what you want from your new space, you must sort it out in your own mind.  That requires both inspiration and structure. You’re in luck: Houzz is high on both. Most importantly, it lets you communicate largely through themed photos rather than words.   Think Pinterest for home design. The “I know what I like when I see it” crowd will love this. Forget about stretching for the right adjective. Just show me.  After downloading the mobile app, you can even use Houzz on the go from your phone or tablet.

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Show me, don’t tell me

Houzz enables you to browse gorgeous home design photos by room or subject or to search by keyword (ex.  universal design).  When you see something you like, simply click to add the image to your own ideabook with a little comment about what struck your eye.  For example  “practical mudroom details” or “beautiful countertop” or “tall windows let in lots of natural light.”

Building an ideabook is a dynamic process that evolves over time, sometimes years. Approach it like a tournament fisherman, culling lesser ideas as you land better ones.  It’s a good idea for couples to keep separate ideabooks that illustrate each person’s desires. This helps to identify and resolve conflicts.

At this point, don’t worry about which designers or contractors post photos you like. With more than 300,000 professional Houzz profiles, most will be from outside your area. But local professionals should be able to replicate what you show them.

Choose a Project Partner

Murphy Bros. Houzz ProfileWhen you are ready to chose a  project partner  to work with, use Houzz to search for professionals within 10, 25, 50 or 100 miles of your home. Note which ones have a lot of  reviews and stars.  Read their replies to comments and questions to judge how they communicate. Then check out their profiles, project photos and ideabooks to get a feel for their work.  Finally, click the links to visit their websites.

After you select a company to work with, use your Houzz ideabooks to share with your project designer what you like with the photos and comments you assembled along the way. Caution: things showcased on Houzz can be pricey. Although you like something, it may not fit your budget.

Collaborate with your designer

Many project designers use collaborative Houzz ideabooks with their clients to share ideas online.  If yours uses this approach both of you can contribute images to a shared ideabook and add comments at any hour of the day.

Don’t worry. You can password protect your shared ideabook so only you and your designer see the contents.  And if you are afraid you will accidentally wipe out your designer’s recommendations, those files can be set as read-only.

Don’t Forget the Review

Houzz is all about sharing. It starts with photos, ideas and comments and culminates in reviews.  After you hire a designer, architect, remodeler or homebuilder or purchase buildings materials, fixtures and furnishings, let fellow Houzz members know what you think.  Contractors and products with many positive reviews usually are worth consideration.

And, for bragging rights, encourage your builder to post professional photos of your project on their Houzz accounts. Then share it with your friends on Facebook.  If they provide the media, the least you can do is to be social.