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DIAMOND CERTIFIED EXPERT CONTRIBUTORS IN THE Bay Area – Cabinets CATEGORY

Donna Merritt is office manager of Merritt-Nelson Custom Builders, a Diamond Certified company since 2008. She can be reached at (707) 336-2997 or by email.

Donna Merritt

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Donna Merritt: The Athlete in the Office

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

ROHNERT PARK — Donna Merritt has been managing Merritt-Nelson Custom Builders’ office for more than 20 years, but outside of work, she has an entirely different claim to fame. “I’m a competitive slalom water skier, which is something I’ve been doing for the past seven years,” she explains. “In 2013, at the age of 58, I became a U.S. champion with the tournament group I compete with.”

Donna’s athletic abilities don’t stop there: she’s also a world record-holding powerlifter. “With some encouragement from my personal trainer, I began powerlifting in 2012 and actually set a new world record in my first competition,” she says. “Needless to say, I was shocked at how well I did!” As if that wasn’t impressive enough, she also recently entered her first bodybuilding figure competition and won first place in her age bracket.

When asked her motivation for pursuing these various athletic endeavors, Donna says it’s simply a natural extension of the way she feels. “I’ve always been very interested in health and exercise, and I’ve found that the more I do it, the better I feel. I’m nearly 60 and I’ve never felt better. Some people call me crazy, but I plan on competing as long as I feel this good.”

Long before she became a record-setting athlete, Donna began working for Merritt-Nelson Custom Builders after her husband, Gary, and his partner founded the business in 1993. After two-plus decades with the company, she says her favorite part of the job is helping clients realize their remodeling goals. “I enjoy the process of taking a client’s dream for their home or office and turning it into a reality.”

A resident of Marin County, Donna expresses her appreciation for the natural beauty and diversity of the local landscape. “I’m really grateful for such a beautiful area to live in, as well as having access to so much within such a short distance. The coast, the mountains, San Francisco, the wine country—anything you might want to do is just a few hours away.”

When she’s not in the office or training for her next competition, Donna spends much of her time relaxing at local reservoirs. “My husband and I are avid boaters, and we like to be on the water as often as we can,” she says. Additionally, she enjoys spending quality time with her grown children, Dawn and Nick, and her two-year-old grandson, Peyton.

In regard to both her athletic and professional careers, Donna credits much of her success to her willingness to step outside of her comfort zone. “When my personal trainer first suggested I compete in bodybuilding, I had my doubts, but now I’m a world-class powerlifter,” she says. “I think that just goes to show what you can accomplish when you simply step outside your comfort zone and attempt new things.”

When asked what her future retirement might look like, Donna says she’ll likely split her time between life at home and travels abroad. “My husband’s dream is to buy a big yacht, sail to the Caribbean and just hop from island to island. As good as that sounds, I also want to be able to spend more time with friends and family, particularly my grandkids, so we’ll have to find a compromise.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: Are you a dog person or a cat person?
A: Dog person. We have two dogs: Duke, a little Yorkshire Terrier, and Star, a Bichon Frise.

Q: Ever read a book more than once?
A: “On Top of Your Game” by Carrie Cheadle. It’s a lifestyle coaching book that can also be applied to sports psychology.

Q: If you could travel to any country, where would you go?
A: Ireland. My mom was born and raised there, and I would really love to see the place she came from.

Q: If you had a theme song, what would it be?
A: “Roar” by Katy Perry. My wonderful daughter put together a video of all the competitions I did over the last two years and included that song, which is about never giving up.

Q: What were you most known for in high school?
A: I played volleyball, and I was a really good server. They called me “The Slugger.”

Q: What do you like to eat for breakfast?
A: Oatmeal with fresh fruit on top.

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How to Break the Ice with Design

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ROHNERT PARK — When planning for a remodeling project, many homeowners find design to be the most intimidating aspect. Fortunately, for those who don’t know where to begin, there’s an easy and effective way to “break the ice” when it… Read more

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Video: Designing For Your Remodel

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ROHNERT PARK — Host, Sarah Rutan: When thinking about a remodeling project, there’re a few things you can do before meeting with a designer and a contractor. Today… Read more

David Cook is 19-year veteran of the remodeling industry and owner of Cook’s Kitchen & Bath, Inc., a Diamond Certified company since 2007. He can be reached at (707) 901-7940 or by email.

David Cook

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David Cook: From Restaurants to Remodeling

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource

VALLEJO — Despite having an innate predilection for building, David Cook spent the bulk of his early career working in the restaurant business. Eventually, however, he decided to take a chance and pursue his professional passion. “I’ve always loved working with my hands and building things…let’s just say I had the best treehouse on the block when I was a kid,” he laughs. “Later, I ended up in the restaurant business, where I got stuck for many years until I finally burned out. I decided it was time to follow my heart and do what I really loved, so I went to work for a general contractor in San Francisco.”

It was during this time that David got an opportunity to enter a specialized area of the field, although he initially rejected it. “I was offered a job from a guy at my church who installed kitchen cabinets,” he recounts. “I politely declined, but less than a month later, the contractor I worked for laid everyone off, so I went back to him and asked if the offer still stood. After working with him for a while, I realized that while he was good at installing cabinets, he wasn’t so good at the administrative aspects, so I decided to get my license and start doing my own thing.”

Today, as owner of Cook’s Kitchen & Bath, Inc., David says he enjoys the inherent variety his career entails, as well as the sense of accomplishment he derives from it. “In this line of work, every job is different, which keeps things challenging. It’s also neat to stand back, look at what we accomplished for our clients and see the reactions on their faces.”

Born in Chicago, David moved to California when he was five years old; today, he resides in Vallejo with his wife, Tina. Outside of work, he spends much of his time hanging out with family and enjoying the outdoors. “Tina and I don’t have any kids together, but we have four kids and six grandkids between us, so we spend a lot of time with family,” he says. “I’m also pretty outdoorsy, and I like going camping and skiing. Additionally, since I love my profession, I enjoy working on my house, as well as on developing and improving my business.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he could retire tomorrow, David says he’d spend some time doing charity work before heading out for an extended vacation. “One of my business coaches is currently raising money to build 5,000 homes in Nicaragua for the extremely poor. I’d love to be a part of something like that and use my abilities to help those in need. I’d also like to do some more traveling—at the moment, Bora Bora is at the top of my list.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What’s your favorite sports team?
A: The San Francisco Giants.

Q: What’s your favorite snack?
A: Grapes.

Q: If you could travel to the past or the future, which would you choose?
A: The future—it’s not good to live in the past.

Q: What was your favorite toy as a child?
A: My fishing pole.

Q: Pancakes or waffles?
A: Waffles.

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Selecting a Bathroom Exhaust Fan

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VALLEJO — Many homeowners think of bathroom exhaust fans as a “one size fits all” affair, but in reality, there are several variables to consider. As modern homes are being built tighter to maximize energy efficiency, the need for adequate ventilation has… Read more

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Video: Choosing a Bathroom Exhaust Fan

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VALLEJO — Host, Sarah Rutan: Most people think bathroom exhaust fans are all the same, but there are actually several variables to consider. Today we’re in Vallejo… Read more

Carlos Aguilera is a 15-year veteran of the remodeling industry and owner of A C A Remodeling Design, a Diamond Certified company since 2012. He can be reached at (877) 690-2026 or by email.

Carlos Aguilera

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Carlos Aguilera: Optimizing Spaces

By James Florence, Senior Writer

After several years working as a civil engineer, Carlos Aguilera decided to switch to what he calls a “more interesting” career. “I decided to transfer into the remodeling business after I found out how cool it is,” he explains. “My wife, Anna, was working as an interior designer, and designing houses seemed a lot more interesting than designing streets. There was more variety and opportunity for creative expression, and after a while, I decided to get into it. That was almost 20 years ago.”

Today, as owner of A C A Remodeling Design, Carlos says his favorite part of his job is optimizing his clients’ living spaces. “I love the design part and the creativity that comes along with it. In particular, I like showing my clients different ways to utilize the space in their homes. In many cases, a good design can make their kitchen or living room bigger than they ever thought possible.”

A resident of Pleasanton (where he lives with Anna and their two children), Carlos likes to spend his free time getting out and about. “I like taking bicycle rides and going to beaches and national parks with my family,” he says. “Every so often, we’ll take an international vacation. When I’m visiting a different country, I like to look at the architecture and decor and get new ideas for my own designs.” However, as much as Carlos likes being on the go, he also likes relaxing at home and watching sports or HGTV.

In regard to his life and career, Carlos espouses the importance of achieving a balance between the two. “Running a business is time-consuming and can sometimes get overwhelming, so it’s important to make time for family,” he affirms. “You have to find that balance—otherwise, things can get neglected. Maintaining a balance helps you keep your mind straight and more focused. Plus, when you take the time to recharge your batteries, you’re able to give a little more when you’re on.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he were to retire tomorrow, Carlos says he’d take a nature retreat. “I love the outdoors, so I would probably go to Lake Tahoe or Yosemite and spend a week just relaxing and enjoying the beauty and serenity.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What’s your favorite sports team?
A: The Oakland Raiders.

Q: Reality TV or documentaries?
A: Documentaries.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of food?
A: Italian.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Rare and unique coins.

Q: If you could immediately master a musical instrument, what would you choose?
A: The violin.

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Remodeling to Maximize Space

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When it comes to remodeling, many homeowners underestimate what can be done with their interior spaces. A common assumption is that any changes made to a room have to conform to its existing layout. In reality, a room’s layout can… Read more

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Video: Proper Kitchen Planning

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SAN JOSE — Host, Sarah Rutan: Rule number one when planning for a new kitchen: Don’t rush it. Today we’re in San Jose with Diamond Certified Expert Contributor… Read more

Stan Wahl is a 40-year veteran of the remodeling industry and owner of Cabinets 101, a Diamond Certified company. He can be reached at (707) 927-1024 or by email.

Stan Wahl

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Stan Wahl: Cabinet Connoisseur

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

ROHNERT PARK — As a former remodeling contractor, Stan Wahl used to buy cabinets all the time, until it finally occurred to him to start selling them himself. “I’ve been in construction since high school and spent much of my professional career in residential remodeling—mostly fix-and-flip projects, as well as a few custom homes,” he explains. “Over the years, I purchased a lot of cabinets, and it seemed like a good business to be in. Plus, I always wanted to open a remodeling showroom where contractors could get materials for their projects. That’s basically what I’ve done with Cabinets 101, which has given me the chance to stay involved with the remodeling industry without doing the physical work.”

Today, as owner of Cabinets 101, Stan says his favorite part of his job is interacting with customers. “When you’re installing new cabinets, there are an almost endless number of decisions to make, so I like helping customers navigate that process. I try to set them at ease and make the experience as enjoyable as possible, which I think they really appreciate.”

Originally from Southern California, Stan now lives in Santa Rosa, where he says he appreciates the climate and the people. Outside of work, his favorite activity is winetasting in Sonoma and Napa with his girlfriend, Gerri. He also keeps up with his four grown sons, three of whom live in Sonoma County and one who lives in Alameda County.

In his regard to his professional career, Stan espouses the importance of customer satisfaction. “I make sure each client is happy with the end result, even if it means cutting into my profit,” he says. “Even if you lose money on a job, it’s better in the long run to have satisfied clients, because in business there’s nothing more valuable than your reputation.”

When asked the first thing he’d do if he were to retire tomorrow, Stan says he’d see the world. “I’d probably start traveling. I haven’t done a lot of international travel aside from Denmark and Ireland, so there’s still a lot to see. To start, maybe I’d take a trip to the Caribbean.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: What’s your favorite winery?
A: I have a few: Nicholson Ranch, Ram’s Gate and Gloria Ferrer, all of which are in Sonoma.

Q: Are you an early bird or a night owl?
A: Both—I get up at 5am and go to bed at 11pm.

Q: What’s your favorite kind of food?
A: Hispanic food.

Q: What was your favorite toy as a child?
A: Building toys like Erector Sets, Legos and Lincoln Logs.

Q: What kinds of music do you like?
A: Jazz and oldies.

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Differentiating Quality with Cabinets

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ROHNERT PARK — When shopping for new cabinets, consumers often get confused by the price disparity between seemingly identical cabinet models. This is because the differences in quality that constitute the price difference aren’t always apparent at first glance. Take two… Read more

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Video: Comparing Quality with Wood Cabinets

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ROHNERT PARK — Host, Sarah Rutan: When comparing wood cabinets, it can be hard to spot subtle differences in quality. Today we’re in Rohnert Park with… Read more

Frank Canova is president of Diablo Valley Cabinetry, a Diamond Certified company since 2008. He can be reached at (925) 709-4920 or by email.

Frank Canova Jr.

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Frank Canova Jr.: Long-Term Rewards

By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter

SAN RAMON – While Frank Canova Jr. has been involved in the cabinet making business for more than a decade, it may come as a surprise to learn that he began his career in an entirely unrelated industry. “I started out in technology consulting,” he explains. “After spending six years traveling around the United States doing software implementation, I began to feel a desire for a better balance between work and life. At that point, my father and I started discussing the prospect of becoming business partners. After talking it over for the better part of a year, we decided it was the right move. Today, I’m president of Diablo Valley Cabinetry.” Frank says one thing he appreciates about the cabinet making industry is the enduring nature of the product. “As a software programmer, a lot of what I did tended to become obsolete within a couple years, whereas cabinets are something that people will enjoy for many years to come.”

Frank grew up in Danville and attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo before his job as a technology consultant took him all over the country, from Florida to Arizona to Kansas. His later career transition brought him back to the East Bay, where he now lives with his wife, Kate, and their daughters, Olivia and Natalie. Frank says the indigenous landscape provides a perfect setting for the outdoor activities that he and his family enjoy on a regular basis. “We like outdoor pursuits such as skiing, hiking and mountain biking, and we also love the ocean, so having it all within a short distance is really great. Our girls are just getting to the age where we’re able to involve them in some of the activities we love, so that’s been a lot of fun.” Frank is also an avid triathlete, and he typically participates in one or two events every year. “I was more competitive when I was younger, but now I mainly do them as a way to stay active,” he says.

In his life and career, Frank believes treating others with respect is the best way to build lasting relationships. “How you treat people is key,” he affirms. “At Diablo Valley Cabinetry, for example, we try to treat everyone fairly and with integrity, and that has allowed us to foster long-term relationships with clients and employees alike.”

When asked what he would do if he could retire tomorrow, Frank says he’d invest in giving back to his community. “As a small business owner, retirement isn’t something I think about as much as establishing a long-term work/life balance. But if I am fortunate enough to be able to retire, I’d like to get involved with some community programs, mentoring young people and serving the needs of others.” Additionally, Frank says he’d take the opportunity to see more of the world. “My wife and I really enjoy traveling, exploring new places and having adventures, so we’d definitely like to do a bit more of that in the future.”

Ask Me Anything!

Q: Do you have a favorite sports team?
A: I really like the 49ers, the Warriors and the A’s.

Q: What’s your favorite tree?
A: I’m always impressed with the majesty of Giant Sequoia and Redwood trees.

Q: Did you play any sports in high school?
A: I played basketball, and I was fortunate to be part of a very talented team that went to the state championship two years in a row. I also learned a lot from our coach about things like teamwork, setting goals and having a strong work ethic.

Q: What’s the best gift you ever received?
A: That’s easy—my daughters.

Q: What’s your favorite genre of movies?
A: I enjoy sci-fi and action movies.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
A: A bagel with a glass of orange juice.

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Tips for Maintaining Kitchen Cabinets

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SAN RAMON — If you’ve recently had new kitchen cabinets installed, you’ll want to be proactive about maintaining them. This primarily consists of two aspects: cleaning and repairing minor damage. Cleaning Water, grease and food particles can cause damage to wood cabinets… Read more

How to Adjust Your Cabinet Drawers

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SAN RAMON — If you have custom cabinets, you may find that using them every day can cause the drawer boxes and fronts to become misaligned. Fortunately, most cabinet manufacturers include features that allow homeowners to easily adjust cabinet drawers themselves.… Read more

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Video: Two Steps for Maintaining Kitchen Cabinets

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SAN RAMON — Host, Sarah Rutan: After having new kitchen cabinets installed, you’ll want to protect them from premature wear and damage. Today we’re in San Ramon with… Read more

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