Fireplace Makeovers for a Transitional Generation

You may have a natural brick fireplace like the ones pictured below, or at least may have seen one or two. We are seeing more of them as the 1970’s and 80’s homes they are in become due for improvements. We are often asked what we can do with them, and the answer is that there are endless amounts of ways to re-adorn this gathering spot. I thought I would show you 2 ideas that demonstrate what a little paint can do as well as a more tailored way to dress a raised brick hearth.

The first before and after is a recently completed makeover in Dover, MA. The client had a couple of inspiration photos, and she really liked one that had a more up to date honed stone surround with simple lines. Because her fireplace had a raised hearth, we had the stone fabricator make the base as monolithic as possible instead of a more traditional layering with the hearth top hanging over. Because they also wanted a TV above, we had to frame out the wall above to allow space for wiring.


The second idea was part of a major kitchen renovation in Sherborn, MA that we completed a few years back. We removed the wall between the kitchen and family room and installed a kitchen that leaned more contemporary than the brick fireplace in the existing family room. We suggested a deeper tone paint to allow the fireplace to remain a focal point and also offer a nice textural, sophisticated and simple accent against the wall.


First Floor Bedroom Suites

I found it interesting that just last week: I met with a former client that put in a first floor master in 1999, I met with a couple that downsized to a beautiful home with a first floor master (post the children moving off to college) and I started construction of a first floor bedroom suite at my own house. This is probably more coincidental than it is proof of a big trend; however, it does point out the diverse reasons this type of space can be beneficial and how it can help the evolution of home.

In the case of my forward thinking couple that built theirs in 1999, they wanted to add on a master suite. At the time, their children were old enough to be upstairs without them… and they knew they would likely be staying in this neighborhood for a while. The first floor suite offered an easy lifestyle then… and now offers the option to stay comfortably for as long as makes sense. We are currently designing a bigger kitchen for them to provide better entertaining and family gathering areas when they have guests. They intend on staying for the next decade or more, as they are conveniently located near work. Their foresight then and now will provide them with a collective quarter century of a better lifestyle, and who knows, maybe they will retire right in Wellesley someday? 

The couple I met with to re-designing the public rooms of their home had a 1st floor master when they moved in. They really enjoyed having the layout this way even though it wasn’t on their list of must-haves when they moved in. Because their children are older, they too are looking to redesign the first floor for a more updated open floor plan, as well as make the master suite and bath more comfortable. This home is a 1950’s cape that is relatively untouched, and it has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths on the first floor as well as 2 bedrooms and a bath upstairs. I am curious in this established neighborhood who built the home this way about 60 years ago.

So why am I… the designer, adding a first floor bedroom suite to my Sherborn home? The first most relevant reason is that I am currently short a bedroom I have a 3 bedroom home with 2 girls and a boy still there. Luke is 13 years old, Rachel and Charlotte are 12 and 6 respectively. It will make life easier if they are not all sharing a bath when we need to get ready for school. In the evolution of family, here is a list of things I have or had in my life where a first floor bedroom suite like this will pay dividends:
1. The au pair (not a need for us anymore- but a life saver for working families)
2. The guests (Then, now, and in the future)
3. The teenage boy will get some space away from pink everything, and long gazes in the mirror.
4. A room for aging guests (short or long term) without a trip up the stairs.
5. A room for my wife and I to age in place if our children settle down close to us. (One can hope!)

Just another reason to give your renovation plan (whatever it is) some thought beyond the current need. Happy Renovating!

Join Us For Our Annual Fundraising Event!


With your help, The Wiese Company and our friends will install a much needed powder room at A Place to Turn Food Pantry in Natick. A few years ago, we transformed their upstairs clothing donation area to make it welcoming for all guests. Now, we will provide design work and labor to renovate their existing powder room, which currently doubles as storage space for overflowing toiletry donations. We will be holding a fundraiser at our showroom on Thursday, April 7th to help raise money for the materials & services to install a new powder room. This year our Chef Kurt Von Kahle will return to provide some wonderful food and wine pairings. We hope that you can join us for a fun evening and a great cause! If you are unable to attend, we also have a fabulous raffle prize available: A dinner party for 6 cooked in your home by Chef Kurt!

Follow the links below to donate or attend! 

Raffle Tickets $25
Attend Event $50
 Includes (1) raffle ticket
Silver Sponsor $100
 Admission for (1)
 (2) raffle tickets
Gold Sponsor $250
 Admission for (2)
 (6) raffle tickets
 Donation will go towards electrical, plumbing, paint, and tile labor
Platinum Sponsor $500
 Admission for (2)
 (6) raffle tickets
 Includes 2 hours of handyman service provided by The Wiese Company
 Donation will go towards lighting fixtures, toilet, sink, and tile

Existing Powder Room at A Place to Turn

Omissions in Renovations

When you are budgeting for a renovation, it is just as important to know what is not included as much as what is included. It can be very difficult for a layperson to identify all of the details, especially in larger projects. The most important reason to know what’s in and what isn’t in the budget is that you want to avoid any surprises either financial or in the scope. Omissions in the scope of work can hide up to 20%-30% of the true total budget requirement.

Let me start with some low hanging fruit, landscaping. In our line item budget sheet, the first major category is “Site Work”. We list about 20 items such as: Excavation, concrete work, foundations, underground utilities and landscaping (walks, walls, planting, and driveways), etc. As part of projects like additions, landscaping can be a significant part of the budget, especially if you need a new driveway for that new garage. Since most building plans don’t address this, it is often overlooked and by the time the owner gets to that stage there are often budget restraints. My personal recommendation for folks is to hire a landscape architect and landscaper if there is more than remediating the disturbed area involved. The main reason we have those line items in our budget is for the client so they can understand the projected cost they will incur while deciding what resources to use. In the example of landscaping, I can also point to the scalability of deferring this component since it wouldn’t interfere with or cost more to do it later in order to get the initial construction underway, and to also use your favorite landscaping contractor when the construction crews leave. 

A few less obvious things that are important to understand in the initial planning include:
1. Design/engineering or survey work costs and timeframe.
2. Cost and time of permitting and/or zoning issues.
3. Who buys the fixtures and if provided, what quality are they?
4. Will any utilities require upgrading such as a larger electrical or water service?

While it can be challenging to feel like you have everything covered, there are ways to better understand some of the “unknowns”. In the case of hazardous materials like asbestos, we can often know that a particular neighborhood has duct work in the walls that are wrapped in it. In this case we typically carry an allowance if we have seen this before so it isn’t a huge surprise… and if it is not present, the client gets a refund! In the initial excavation, while you cannot be certain of what lies below the ground, the builder should be able to discuss what type of issues you may find and how they would be remediated if uncovered.

Remember the 5 p’s, Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance Happy renovating!

Decorator or Designer

It’s not always clear to a consumer who is really qualified to help with design projects, or what sort of design assistance they may need. In the interior design category, it is typically an interior designer (not a decorator) that will put together a comprehensive plan with interior architecture, color, contrast etc. to make the addition of the final touches (fabric and paint) have a big impact. The next level are those who also specialize in kitchen and bath design with the requirement of mechanical knowledge and the vast array of product specifications that make the difference between swapping out tile or changing the lay-out.

Recently, a woman came into our showroom and she was very frustrated that her kitchen renovation did not to have the high impact she hoped for (based on the fact the investment wasn’t small). She thought the solution was just different color cabinets, new counters and appliances because the contractor she has always used directed her to the lumber yard for new cabinets.  Now she was on to her next project; the master bath. The same carpenter that did the kitchen recommended that she return to the lumber yard cabinet designer with her bath plan and receive a new lay-out.  This resulted in a new vanity idea, but not a new bath idea.  In a lot of 90’s homes they are big on space, and short on creative thinking.  Unhappy with the new vanity idea, she had asked another local “design-build” company for advice and they sent a decorator out to talk about tile color and cabinet lay-out and maybe moving the shower where the tub went.  As she explained the 3-4 conversations with others to me, I too became frustrated.  I don’t know why someone thinks that knowing the color wheel and having a business card allows them to provide advice where they have little expertise.

So what’s the difference between a decorator and a professional interior designer? The difference is wide and usually unknown to people when presented a card with an ambiguous title.  Watch out for the design/build title, it has become cliché and almost never means there are certified designers on staff.  I may be more frustrated than most because on the rare occasion we are hiring for an interior designer I receive (not kidding) hundreds of e-mails from folks with the following comments in their resume’s;

  1. “I have had my own interior design business for years, and though I have no formal training, this has been a passion of mine and I am sure I could benefit your clients with my expertise”.

  2. “My many years at (fill in the blank of some furniture store) have proven that I know what people want and can put things together with exceptional results.”

When you want a designer, think about what it is you need. For instance, our firm would not be a fit if you wanted a cosmetic change in your living room that involves a new color pallet, and a whole new look with window treatments, rugs and furniture- perhaps a new mantle and access to custom furniture and drapery at the design center.  That would be best performed by a firm specializing in that type of work.  If you need help measuring to see if a sofa fits in a room, then of course help from a decorator at the furniture store will be well suited.  When you want to change the way a single room or your entire house works for you, then it is time to hire someone who understands architecture, ergonomics and plan details- otherwise you could end up with a plan that either misses a few marks, or is downright unpleasant.

My suggestion is to first interview. A design consultation should provide you with a designer’s philosophy on process.  Most professionals won’t come out and solve the design problem on a visit; they know that mindful solutions require thoughtful and vetted principals.  When you contact references, ask what type of design help set the designer apart, and if there were creative solutions that helped.  A good design firm in my opinion will have a team approach with all the staff collaborating on your project, a list of credentials for the design team and some proven experience with awards and or being published.

I can’t possibly point out every pitfall that can be encountered in a project that needs a professional eye; however, a great example that supports the story came via e-mail today in a project where the team noticed in advance that the slope of a new tub design would have the tub filler spilling water on the tub drain lever. After product review, the designer determined that; a. the tub filler would cause a splash that put water on the floor during fill, and b. the gasket would eventually fail and cause a leak below the tub and leak into the kitchen.  After the project designer pointed this out and made a new part suggestion, I received this:

Good Morning!


Thank you for finding the new tub spout. I think it looks like a great replacement.  


John and I are so impressed with how proactive you and the team are with issues like this.  It is such a difference from our last remodel experience.  We are so happy we found the Wiese Company!


Have a good weekend!



Happy renovation!