What is a Master Builder?

Some light reading for the summer.

I had a job recent applicant use the phrase “Master Builder” to describe himself during an interview and wasn’t sure how to take it. Not that I was questioning this person’s ability to lead, manage and work on our projects, but because I had spent a lot of time in my younger days trying to find out the criteria for this title. Other than architectural history classes, I remember this term being bounced around a couple of decades ago and used in advertisements by self-proclaimed master builders. I never did find any courses or criteria, or special licensure that would make one a “Master Builder”.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines a master builder as:  a person notably proficient in the art of building, the ancient Egyptians were master buildersspecifically:  one who has attained proficiency in one of the building crafts and is qualified or licensed to supervise building construction. Average modern construction (much of it in my opinion) wouldn’t hold a candle to the ancient Egyptians. Nor would holding a Massachusetts Constructing Supervisors license make one “proficient” based on the criteria our state requires to obtain one.

Wikipedia, provided sources that were contemporary. In 1887, full swing of the Victorian period: A master builder is recognized as such, not only for his ability to rear a magnificent structure after plans prepared by the architect for his guidance, but because of his ability to comprehend those plans, and to skillfully weave together the crude materials which make up the strength, the harmony, the beauty, the stateliness of the edifice which grow in his hands from a made foundation to a magnificent habitation.” The Inland Architect and News Record (1887), Volume 9, p. 43. The same source also identifies a Master Builder as “the central figure leading a construction project in an Amish Community”. Now that is something I could get behind :)

On a recent road trip across Europe, I stayed at Le Place d’Armes in Luxemburg.  I had the fortunate experience to have a room in the old attic of the building. It was this experience that compelled me to think of the skill used to build the large structure that dates back to the 18th century. Here is an old photo of the exterior, where I stayed in the corner attic room, along with the beams that were likely hoisted up by pulley’s.

Le Place D'Armes

Modern times have certainly changed the way we build, more notably for efficiency rather than longevity. Because the origin of the master builder was the precursor to the modern architect according to most historic sources, I think it is safe to say that currently on all large scale projects, there are many experts involved to dream up, engineer and oversee a project. For your remodeling needs, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have an experienced team that consisted of professional designers and craftspeople…. just saying.  

Decorative Open Ceiling

What are the Costs vs Value of Remodeling?

Every year, Remodeling Magazine publishes a Cost vs. Value report and tries to estimate the return on investment to different home projects so consumers will have an idea of what the total investment is.  While I am obviously not going to look like an objective source in these matters, I would like to point out a few flaws with the report, as well as provide you with what I know makes our clients glad they renovated.

The primary factual concerns I have with the report are that the cost is averaged out in very different geographic and economic areas. Our higher end projects are typically a bit more expensive, and if you live in a community where custom fixtures are not part of the spec., you get lumped into the “New England” market anyway. I have done $25k bath renovations in Holliston and $150k master baths in Chestnut Hill. I have installed $10k tubs in Holliston, and $500 tubs in Newton…. you get the idea.

Next, the source of the report is a survey of realtors. Nothing against the Real Estate Community; however, about 10 years ago a very distinguished realtor in my area told a prospective buyer her master bath renovation in Wellesley would probably cost $25k. We ended up helping the buyer with the project they wanted for $59k, and needless to say they had to shop around a bit to get to the bottom of the discrepancy.  Additionally, the Realtors Association is large, and the average experience delta from new agent to seasoned pro is pretty big.

Wellesley Bath Remodel

Here is the other part of the cost/value equation.  Imagine you live in a house and the bath is about 60-70 years old and has to be renovated due to “catastrophic delayed maintenance”.  You have a few choices:

  1. Patch the leak and sell low!
  2. Do a substandard renovation and sell with a bit of guilt, or re-do the bath again in 5 years.
  3. Repair it properly, enjoy the new space the way you want it.

The other major value changer is in the savings of staying where you are. Homes need maintenance, and eventually renovation. If you like your neighborhood and lot, and you can have a space tailored to your family; you will save the realty commission and the moving expense and get to live where you love. As an added bonus, the longer you stay in your home (I recommend a 5 year minimum) the monetary cost/value delta shrinks. The actual ROI, not the hypothetical return as if you would sell your home the day after completing a renovation, is the appreciation of the real estate at the new home value.

The real danger is for the serial career movers out there.  If you change states often for greener job pastures, perhaps buying a new house in each place is a better idea. Happy Remodeling!

boston bath remodel

A Tale of Two Front Doors: A Look into the Past and Present Architectural Odyssey

When I first started visiting homes for an appointment 25 years ago, most of them were traditional colonials with a main front door and a side “service entrance”. It would have been odd for me to knock on the service entrance door back then. That was a door designed for the dairy delivery cooler to be stored, the dry cleaning to be dropped off, and where the housekeeper would enter and exit. In these circa 1950 homes, the kitchen would be just inside so it was easier for the homeowner to retrieve their milk and eggs. But back then, a package delivery, vacuum cleaner salesman and even a close friend would go to the main door to be greeted in the foyer. This all changed as our lives became more hectic and casual and now if I ring the front doorbell I’ll hear from inside, “Can you go to the side door? This one is stuck closed.”

So, why have two front doors on a home built post the invention of the mudroom? I am not suggesting removing one if there isn’t another way into the mudroom or ripping down half the house because you currently have the common side entrance. However; I am still unsure why new homebuilders haven’t received the news that the service entrance needn’t be the welcoming space, and it certainly doesn’t need to be designed in a way that makes it unclear where to enter or redundant.

Below is a home we remodeled last year (before and after). The doors are literally feet apart and I have never been more confused about where to knock. In the re-design, the family enters 3′ farther away than before, still has an entry from the back and garage, and the house looks so much better! Mostly because the Owner has a great taste and picked a great new color! :)

Happy Door Shopping! Ray

new home exterior wellesley

Before

exterior remodel wellesley

After

What Types of Technology Should you Incorporate into your Remodel?

It was only 8 years ago that I did a very major renovation/addition for a client in the financial field. We wired the home for everything from a network to entertainment, at a hefty cost :). We had CAT5 wiring for secure network connections in every room, coaxial cable in a dozen locations, pre-wiring for a future home automation system, and more questions about what to do “while we had the walls open”.

Not long after we completed the project, everything began going wireless. Since then I have witnessed change in home technology products happening just as fast as any other tech market.  My opinion is that you should try a bit at a time instead of overinvesting in what is the next obsolete gadget.

I believe when it comes to home technology, less is more because the new product list is not about to slow down. There are a ton of scalable products available you can add to your home one at a time. My garage door opener and home alarm system have apps that tell me when the doors open, or if there is an ajar door, and also let me control and interface with these items while away from home. The Ring Doorbell Company just released an added item to their product list with a camera on a floodlight that spawns the next question….. what about the rest of my house for cameras?  The first Nest thermostat we installed a few years ago worked great for the tech savvy client who introduced me to it, but would have been a disaster for someone like me to get it working well and get the value out of the products ability to “learn you”. The Nest Company has made improvements in their interface, and is now trying to get a share of the camera and alarm market to provide a one company purchase and give Ring a run for their money.

tv in kitchen

Today; Google, Apple, and Microsoft are very interested in the home automation technology market, and are trying to figure out how to bundle devices and control systems so they can manage the software platforms. It isn’t surprising with the growth in the industry that the common complaint I hear from folks is that they want to control everything from one interface. The down side of any single source is that no company does everything well (currently) so you may have great security, and awful Audio/Video control with one provider. I recommend buying the piece of tech you want and using that company’s app on your phone. The Sonos music in our showroom is easy to use, and so what if I have to open another app next to the garage door and home alarm, my single interface still fits in my pocket and doubles as a phone.

 Happy shopping! Ray

Design Information at the Speed of Light

When I opened the doors of The Wiese Company 25 years ago, the way people communicated about their needs was very different.  I would visit with potential clients and be greeted with a binder full of inspiration photos cut from the pages of Better Homes and Gardens or kitchen idea books. I think the fact that we had to spend more time together to communicate the need and look benefitted the prospective client.  It gave them the opportunity to understand more about the person they were talking with, and gave me more time to understand the full desires of the client. We would then spend even more time confirming we were making deliberate changes because it isn’t easy to erase 6 hours of work that was hand drawn to move something 6 inches. :)

Today when I show up, most people have done a lot more research.  With Pinterest and Houzz , everyone can collect a file of ideas and solutions to see if they will work in their design, making it easier to convey their desired look without having to spend as much time communicating with their prospective contractor. Another change in technology is that we don’t have to wait for a cocktail party to find out who’s renovating. Your friends are on Instagram and you know who is doing a project like the one you want, or you can ask for referrals on the local neighborhood sites like Nextdoor.

Design Instagram

With all the great new ways to obtain information about what we want and where to find it, I still believe that the best projects begin when we have a chance to talk with our clients after looking through their inspiration pictures.  Post-conversation we can create a design that is cohesive to their lifestyle and taste.  And while CAD software expedites the speed of the drawing, we end up with better results when we take the time to think through the unique space that is your future home.

Happy online shopping! We hope to have a chance to talk, Ray