In 25 years working in the residential remodeling business, Glen Borkowski has turned ordinary kitchens into culinary showplaces. He has transformed old, dysfunctional bathrooms into new living spaces that meet the needs of homeowners aging-in-place.
Borkowski founded Kraftwerks Remodeling in 1991. He is now doing business at DreamMaker Bath & Kitchen in Orland Park. He carries impressive credentials.
He earned the Certified Graduate Remodeler designation from the National Association of Home Builders in 1996. Later, he added a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist designation to his resume.
Never has he carried a more satisfied look on his face than after responding to a call for help from his friends and neighbors dealing with a life-altering event.
Rick Petty and his wife, Sue, were thrown off their motorcycle and badly injured when their rear tire blew out in a freak accident on Interstate 90/94 nearly a year ago. The two were returning to their Tinley Park home following a trip to Michigan.
Remodeling Part of the Recovery Process
Emergency responders said the Pettys likely survived the mishap because they were wearing helmets and other protective gear.
“We got thrown to the side,” Rick Petty said. “According to the witnesses and the forensics report, we slid 463 feet before we came to a stop. During that time, we both suffered a brain injury.
“Mine was minor. My wife’s is severe. We’re both going to recuperate 98 percent or better. For my wife, it’s going to take a couple years of her life.”
For now, Sue remains disabled. She uses a wheelchair to get around and requires assistance on even simple tasks such as brushing her teeth. Rick has recovered and returned to work as an electrician.
Borkowski lives a couple blocks from the Pettys. He first crossed paths with Sue in business circles. She sold insurance, but always liked to talk about a pet project of her own, the restoration of her 99-year-old home. The two hit it off immediately.
“It reminded me when we bought it of the house from the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ” Rick Petty said. “It was so run down, it was scary. I’m in construction. So, when we found it, my wife fell in love with it. She said, ‘You can do this kind of work, right?’ I just rolled my eyes and said, ‘I don’t think you realize what you’re asking because there are a lot of zeroes involved.’
“We fell in love with the idea of doing the restore. The house is 99 this year. Our goal was to be finished by the time it turns 100 in 2013. Our intent was to restore it to as close to its original luster as possible. Then, we ran into this injury. And this injury kind of steered us to this decision to make this bathroom as safe for our situation and growing old as we possible can.”
To accommodate Sue Petty’s needs and to meet the requirements of the American Disabilities Act, Borkowski rolled up his sleeves and went to work with Rick. The two erected a ramp for her to get in and out of the house on her wheelchair. And, on weekdays, they often plowed on well into the night to complete the project, not to mention adding hours of labor on weekends.
In the bathroom, the first order of business called for the removal of an old ball and clawfoot bathtub. Borkowski installed a roll-in/walk-in shower with a pitched drainage system. His goal was to go beyond simple remodeling. He wanted to craft a space that would allow Sue to push forward in her recovery with the assistance of her care team.
More to the Job Than Simply Remodeling
Borkowski wears many hats on his job—construction supervisor, problem solver and psychiatrist. He has come across cases like this before—where injuries or the natural aging process can cloud judgment or affect plans in mid-stream.
“It’s very sensitive,” he said. “You never know how people are going to react. These people, like I said, it happened in a snap of the fingers. They were perfectly healthy. You get brought into their lives. Suddenly, they are confronted with questions.
“Insurance—financially, they may not have the money to properly do (the job). You’re literally brought into their world. There is denial, family in-fighting. You’re working with people at possibly the worst time in their lives. And you’re part of it. You are immediately immersed into their soap opera.”
Borkowski’s work with the Pettys came without any of the drama he has witnessed elsewhere, due in no small part to the close relationship he maintains with the couple and the admiration he has for their determination to carry on in life and with the restoration of their home.
“Remodeling is not a one-size fits all,” he said. “You’re working in most cases—the size is fine. But why do you want to remodel? What are you trying to get accomplished? That’s what we have to do in spending time with our clients up front. Answer those questions.
“What’s going to satisfy your needs? It’s not about what their neighbors did. That was appropriate for them—hopefully. It may not be appropriate for you at all. Before we ever start talking about products, we have to dig in and ask, ‘Who’s going to use this bathroom? What are their ages? What are they going to use if for?’
“The obvious, of course. But is it used once in the morning before you go to work? Or is this just something that one person uses basically and everyone else stays out? Is it possible that anybody might be moving back in the house later one? One of your parents, maybe? So, are they going to be using this bathroom?”
Borkowski conducts interviews with clients, listens and takes notes.
“Before we can offer up a solution, we have to know what it is they are trying to accomplish,” he said. “With most of the people, it’s, ‘I want to remodel because it’s blue. I’ve got a blue bathtub, a blue toilet.’ That’s part of it. When you start digging down, little nuggets start to fall out.
“Sometimes they’ll touch on things they haven’t expressed before but that are rolling around in their subconscious. People make decisions based on some emotional response. But, then as humans, we go back and we rationalize in an intellectual fashion.
“Rarely do you go out to buy a car because your old car just finally quit on the side of the road. Usually, there is some emotional attachment there. Then, you go back and rationalize.”
At that point, Borkowski goes to work. He is, after all, a DreamMaker.