Mercer Island Reporter


Sam Alhadeff and Renee Antezana stand together in the kitchen of their latest Mercer Island remodel project, the residence of Barby Cohen, Oct. 1. — image credit: Rebecca Mar/Staff Photo

MIHS class of ’94 grads team up to remodel Mercer Island homes

by KATIE SCHMIDT of Mercer Island Reporter
October 4, 2010

Ever since their names always showed up next to each other in roll call at Islander Middle School, Sam Alhadeff and Renee Antezana have found themselves thrown together. Now that they’ve graduated from college and started their own companies, it’s happened again — this time as they work together to remodel the Mercer Island house of one of Antezana’s best friends from high school.

Alhadeff, who owns a construction company, said he and Antezana, an interior designer, connected on Facebook, got together for drinks and ended up partnering together on the Mercer Island project that Antezana was already working on. Now, both said they have big plans for doing future remodels and housing developments together.

“We work really well together,” said Alhadeff. “So far we haven’t yelled at each other at all.”

Having someone who you know you can rely on to work with, both said, is a big advantage, especially given that tough economic times over the past few years have hit the construction industry particularly hard.

“From my point of view, the knowledge of how something is going to be built helps you design it better, so having someone to call and run things by is really crucial,” said Antezana, who recently moved back to the Seattle area from New York and started a company called Pineapple Design.

Alhadeff, meanwhile, said he appreciated the level of detail that Antezana put into her drawings.

“I’ve worked with a handful of designers and architects, and they can really make or break a job for a builder,” he said.

Alhadeff and Antezana said their connections on Mercer Island from having grown up here add a complex dynamic to working in the area.

On the one hand, Antezana said it is a good way to get introduced to people interested in remodeling, and it helped for getting referrals. She said she remains close friends with the daughter of Don and Barby Cohen on the Island, whose house she and Alhadeff are working on now.

“For me it’s been a bit of a chuckle because I’ve spent so much time in the house as it is,” she said.

Both said they did not get the job because they were from Mercer Island, though, and Alhadeff said he thought they had an extra burden to prove to clients here that they are all grown up now and good at what they do.

“People knew us when we were 18 years old, and I think it’s hard to understand that little Samuel has a big construction company and knows what he’s doing now,” he said.

Antezana and Alhadeff said they started construction on their current Island remodel project at the end of June, and they did about a year of planning before that.

Barby Cohen said it has been fun to work with Antezana and Alhadeff, who graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1994 along with one of her own children.

“I think it’s kind of funny that we’re letting the younger generation have their chance,” she said. “I feel kind of motherly.”

Overall, Cohen said, she was glad that she had decided to hire people whom she already had connections with to work on her house because she knew they felt a certain loyalty to the job, having known her for years and visited the house as children.

“To me it’s just more fun to work with someone that you know, so it’s not just a work relationship,” she said. “It’s a more personal thing because a house is a very personal thing.”

Cohen said the opportunity for these kind of relationships to develop was part of what drew her and her husband to Mercer Island.

“I think it’s probably one of the unique places in Seattle,” she said. “It’s an island, so we’re kind of stuck together.”

Both Antezana and Alhadeff said they hoped to do more work on the Island, and they thought there was a lot of opportunity here.

“As the generations change, people are finding a lot of older houses that need work,” said Antezana. “I see a lot of diamonds in the rough here I would love to work on.”

Antezana said she got into interior design after graduating from Vassar with a degree in art history, working at a modern art museum and eventually going to design school in New York.

Alhadeff said he went to the University of Washington and majored in construction management. After working in the industry for a while, he started Alhadeff Group, which specializes in high-end remodels and new construction, a little over three years ago.

“It’s kind of amazing, after you hear everything she’s done, that we’re the same age,” he said, laughing. “I just went to school and then started swinging a hammer.”

For the near future, Alhadeff said they have a major remodel lined up in the Seward Park area and plan to start a development project near Rainier Country Club in South Seattle. In the long-term, both he and Antezana said they hope to continue working together.

“We’ve had an honest heart-to-heart in hopes that this is a relationship that just keeps growing and growing and growing,” Alhadeff said. “It’s just a great business plan.”

Sam Alhadeff