Victorian Kitchen Renovation Provides Structural Surprise

Our firm always has a few hurdles to jump when we meet perspective clients. First, we have to perform the process of due diligence where we prepare detailed specifications based on what the client wants. Then, we get the budget drafted with painstaking detail and closely look at the existing conditions to understand what sort of trauma we will find when we open up those walls, or truly close in on the level of finishes desired for the project. Before we get the honor of working with our future fans, we have to present the budget, which requires showing people what it will cost in reality- and not some estimate full of errors or omissions. Since most of our clients are laypersons to the remodeling industry, education is the key component when you are looking to renovate your home, and that should come in the form of a number.

Poor quality carpentry is usually evident on the outside; however, we just opened a renovation project in Newton to find that walls in the rear of the home were removed that were actually structural. On the inside, the kitchen cabinets were dated, but pretty good quality… and the home was loved by the former occupant who was elderly and wanted to stay, so a bath was added in the 90’s with the kitchen renovation. What we found when we did the demo was appalling. In one room where an undersized beam was located we had already planned “surgery” because we could see the dipping floor. The area where the new kitchen is being moved to, the previous workers had actually just arbitrarily removed a bearing wall to make way for a shower and the only thing holding up the bedroom floor above was a nonstructural wall below. While arguably this wasn’t an imminent danger issue, the floor and ceiling had settled 2 ½” because someone wanted to save $500 on a major renovation (probably not the owner).

If you look at the picture you can see that all the lightly colored floor joists are brand new and all we have to do is connect the old and new. This was at no additional cost to the owner because we had anticipated this when we opened up the ceiling in a few spots to see what we would have to deal with before they signed the agreement. While having a permit won’t guarantee a quality job (building officials are zoning enforcement agents and public safety officials), it would have saved this structure and potential disaster because building inspectors wouldn’t have allowed this to pass muster.

Coming soon….… we are going to jack up this ceiling in Sherborn and see what happened to cause a 3 inch dip in the ceiling- look at the crown molding.


Quirky Bath in Wellesley Gets Design Tweaks

                               Before                                                                                     After

From time to time we encounter a remodeling project that begins with a more head scratching than usual. We don’t have any choice but to find a solution when we are invited to help….. we are the professionals after all! This is a story about a bath renovation in Wellesley we completed recently that went from a bit too tight, to a wide open space with a series of minor tweaks that made for one major difference because of the synergy of 4 changes.

  1. We moved the wall: In the existing plan above, the toilet is placed on a sloping wall… this is always a great place to put a toilet because the user either stands back from the toilet, or while sitting lowers their body (sorry for the visual) and the slope does not affect the use. In this case we were able to push the knee wall back a bit more without affecting the use of the toilet, and that provided more room in front of the tub for bathing the young children.

  2. We moved the door: Another small change we made was moving the door into the hall entering the bath- you can see that this removes the need to enter the bath and close the door before the bathing begins, which sounds like less of a hassle until you have to go in and out of the bath or have the door swallowing more valuable floor space.

  3. We enlarged the tub and the vanity: Moving the knee wall created an opportunity for more vanity space and a larger tub as well.

  4. We saved the dormer and heat: The small, unconventional area between the tub and the window allowed the heat to remain undisturbed and provides a great hideaway for the kids’ bath toys.

Check out our gallery of the “after” photos below!


Trends in Home Additions


In the 90’s I filled much of our company’s schedule with family room additions. Everyone rushed to attach a room to the back of the home that was bigger than the living room and would be more casual and have a stronger connection to the back yard. That family room extension has morphed over time in towns like Newton and Wellesley, where there is a large stock of housing dating between the 1920’s and 1940’s. These smaller homes with good architecture, but fewer amenities, popularized the family room, kitchen renovation and master suite boom- known in Wellesley, Massachusetts remodeling as “The Wellesley Special”. That trend in home additions continues but it seems that homes without these rooms are targeted by builders looking for teardown opportunities for neo-classic new homes. (There is an official definition for this I found on the web, so funny- but true)

Mc·Man·sion məkˈmanSH(ə)n/ noun: a large modern house that is considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity.

In the last few years, we have spent more design effort on existing space in large and small homes. Often we may add on just enough space to enhance an existing space to accommodate the perfect kitchen, family room or bath. People want their home to work and want it to work for their lifestyle, not necessarily a trend like the family rooms presented in the 90’s. This is seen with clients that share similar demographics with different needs and desires. I am not saying that larger homes are out, we are certainly seeing the economy return to normality and that means we will all have more choices. But I do think that many people have shifted their thinking to “what do I really want”.

A small addition in Newton, just large enough to add a mudroom and get it out of the family room :)



A Child’s Perspective on Remodeling

Most of the renovations we do are to help families with their growing pains (from a space point of view), along with updating. I encounter many children in my business and always want to know what the kids think. I have 5, from 6 to 25 years old, and that helps me understand the phases families will go through, but not the real desires of the family unit. I have witnessed the extremes of complete lack of care (insert stereo type of high school male here) to children who have their own idea book on The important things I think that parents can benefit from are tools on how to address the desire for a hot pink room, and how to know what is in it for their children so the during process is easier to navigate.

I asked my daughter Rachel to write a blog on what remodeling is like from her perspective. I read through it, and started editing the content, but then I thought- let me just put it out there and read between the lines for you after you read the unabridged version. Keep in mind; a typical project of this size (I took a 1,000SF ranch and turned it into a 2,000SF contemporary) would take 2-3 months to design and 5-6 months to construct.

I’m Rachel Wiese and the past year my dad has bought a house and it was very small. I was super excited because I couldn’t wait for it to get out of the small red house that was behind the office. When he showed me and my family the plans on renovating the house we were all so happy. I couldn’t wait for it to be done! After about a month or two through the renovation both the first and second floor were built and the kitchen cabinets were being put in, by this time it was January or February. By April and May, me and my step sister’s rooms were painted and the closets were installed. The kitchen and the lighting were almost done. By this time I was so anxious to move in because everything seemed perfect! Then finally in June we moved in. But some things still needed to be done like sanding the deck and painting the outside of the house.

The timeline went like this: June 4, 2014 – make offer. August 4, close on house, design and go through town approvals (this takes longer when you are the cobbler). October 2014- begin construction… framing done and weather tight in December. I probably don’t need to remind you about the winter of 2015… but our company was busy helping with our clients disasters… so we move in in June.

The important part of my children’s experience was that as a family, we went through the plans and discussed the changes as well as their hopes (including some additional space!), we toured the construction site regularly so they understood the progress since a year to an 11 year old might as well be a decade, and when it was time to move back, my 6 year old step daughter had already become familiar with our new home, certainly removing any anxiety about the move.

As for color decisions- when you hear “I want a pink room”, have a choice of 3 pinks that will work and be OK with saying that hot pink is not an option- your children would never go to sleep with a color that bright. Happy renovating!


Specialty Rooms

Specialty rooms are on the rise with more of us wanting to have more “off time” without being able to find the time.  This trend is strong and looks like it will continue to be on our clients list of changes they want to make in their home, and thus, their lives. Specialty rooms aren’t about picking a theme, it is more about making a space is where you would go if you had the time to leave your home for some R&R.  Featured this month (because we are in full swing of summer) is one of our favorite projects this year; an indoor/outdoor bar in Dover.  This mini snack and beverage room has all the features you would expect from your favorite poolside (or fireside) bar… and this one is family friendly.  Built out of an idea the Owners had to enhance the experience of the pool, they soon realized that this space would also elevate the once less adorned basement playroom, and add value as the perfect slumber party pizza station, or a short walk from the theatre room for popcorn and a soda.

Most of us can relate to wanting to exercise, but exercising loses some of the luster when you are in your unfinished basement looking for spiders before you mount the elliptical machine.  Even an unused bedroom is no substitution for the experience of the local athletic club, strong with all the gymnasium connotations of “getting a work out”.  A couple of years back we actually brought the professional gym experience to a basement renovation in Wayland complete with a steam shower for 8 (large family), a spa like towel and water station as well as a glass door to the equipment room.  When the owner enters this space, it most definitely feels like a trip to the gym… if only a trip downstairs.



Indoor/Outdoor Kitchen in Wellesley


Of course we all think about our outdoor spaces more when the weather is at its best and we find ourselves outside. Because we live in New England, it is easy to frame our outside time into 3 short months. The good news is that we actually have 3 great seasons to enjoy in our beautiful part of the country and when it is time to renovate the outdoors… think about stretching that a bit with inside/outside space that can offer protection from the bugs in the mid-summer and work when temperatures start with warm Fall days, and slowly ease into crisp fall nights.

This client in Wellesley was frustrated by having inadequate ventilation to grill inside during the winter… that is difficult to do even with the most powerful fans.  Because he already had been planning a major back yard project, he asked about using an existing covered porch for a 3-4 season kitchen/lounge that could make grilling convenient all year round; rain or shine.

Having recently purchased the home, one of the additional places that needed attention was the “too small” master bath and closet. We leveraged the work on the first floor to help make more space on the second floor to enlarge the master. This second floor worked well to provide some relief to the rear of the home, as well as provide some sense of sheltered court to the patio area.

Some things to consider in a similar project include:

  1. Make sure the floor surface and finishes feel good when the space is open to the outside and to the inside.

  2. If you are going to have refrigeration to keep the food items close by and do prep- make sure you have a sink handy so you can keep on working.

  3. Think about a possible heat source if you think you would enjoy hanging out on a winter day. We have used Infratech heaters when the application is right, and they work fast and only need to be on while you are in the space.

  4. Plan the indoor and outdoor spaces together…. The synergy of the project shows in the architectural backdrop to the patio seating

Before- Exterior Shot


Kitchen Remodel in Wellesley Gets an Open-Minded Opening

When this couple relocated from Washington DC to Wellesley, they knew the Cliff Estates neighborhood was great, the architecture outside was excellent and everything about the house met their needs…. except the weird galley kitchen that doubled as a hallway to the family room.  Before they committed to the purchase, a local realtor recommended they have us look at the space to see if we thought the dual purpose thoroughfare had any hope.

Before & After Floor Plans

The Owners wanted the kitchen and family room open to each other, and wanted to make sure the new space was going to work for a growing family.  We suggested taking the space from the adjacent library (not a priority space for them) and finding a way for the current space to be an added value to the kitchen, while allowing the traffic pattern to the family room to be unimpeded.  At first, the clients were concerned that they would not get a kitchen that was part of the family room, and skeptical that they would love a less direct sightline.

We devised a plan for the existing kitchen space to provide additional storage with a dinette.  This created a great bridge from the kitchen to the family room that provides casual dining, a craft and game space, as well as a place for future homework.  We discussed the fully open concept and the benefit with smaller homes where this open space is more important; however, we felt sure that the spacious family room combined with this much larger kitchen and an indirect opening would serve the family better in this case.  Even an almost silent dishwasher can project an unwelcome noise in a large room with a vaulted ceiling.

I often tell our clients that we have the benefit of not trying to resolve a design challenge while we are occupying a space.  This was another great experience for us to learn about what was ultimately important to our customer, and offer them solutions that are designed in the best interest of their lives when the project is done.  While the initial desire was to have the family room and Island more open to each other, the client loves the way the spaces work and can now enjoy open living with defined space that gives the whole family a casual “together” environment.


                              Existing Library                                             New Kitchen Location


            Existing Galley Kitchen                                     New Opening to Kitchen



Cool Modern Kitchen Remodel in Holliston

We are often asked to remove walls to help with the open concept many people are after today. This is a project that benefitted in so many ways by doing this; I am really very excited to share it with you. When I met the Owners, they were more than tired of being greeted by the refrigerator that was imposing a space constraint on the kitchen; as well as standing guard to ensure no one could see past it to the family room. The couple was hopeful there would be a solution to keep a fair amount of storage space and improve the work space, they just couldn’t see beyond the paradigm of the bearing wall.  

The requests by the Owners were that they wanted a clean modern kitchen that would still feel warm and relaxing because they wanted to open it up to the family room. The Mr. also loves to cook from scratch, and wanted a kitchen that worked hard without a big mess being part of the family room.

The Challenges were:  1.How open could the space be with the structural challenges? 2. Where would everything go and still have a good working environment when the wall was gone?  3. How could we make the space feel part of the living environment and satisfy the Owners professional level cooking style?

We started with the wall, and because of the load we needed a piece of steel that was wider than the wall itself, and we wanted the opening to be as tall as possible. This posed a bit of a dilemma because it is a pet peeve of mine not to have an obvious statement in a design that says “a wall was removed here”.  Alexandra came up with a great idea to build out the trim as wide as the beam on the walls, and this created a fantastic frame for the kitchen from the family room; a beautiful modern definition statement without any blockage of the space.

Early in the planning stage we showed the owner a few locations in concept form for placing the refrigerator. We decided to tuck it in to the corner where ingredients could be accessed easily from the work space and not be a bulky part of the view in. Refrigerators are usually best off to the side because they act as architectural anchor (good and bad). Additionally, we moved all of the storage for dry goods to the wall opposite the sink.

As for the solution to bridge the cooking and relaxing spaces, we started with a few iterations of typical ways to mask the mess on the prep counter, and when a waterfall edge came up in the discussion- we pushed the idea of this stunning high top counter that encompasses the cook and draws the eye to a spectacular furniture like piece of contemporary art and craftsmanship.

Before Images (click on images to enlarge):

After Images(click on images to enlarge):


Kitchen Cabinetry Trends

Trends in cabinetry are as important as fashion trends, and present in every part of home and décor. The main difference other than the obvious… you don’t wear cabinets… is that we seek long term trends for these capital improvements so that we have a longer period of enjoyment for our investment. A recent report from our Custom Line, Plato Woodwork, shows that nationally white still represents over 50% of selected finishes. Plato is the oldest cabinet manufacturer in the US and offers products from a semi-custom line through a fully custom shop making them a great source for the direction of the industry.

One of the longest running trends has been the white kitchen with the wood island. This white cabinetry is most prevalent in the North East. About 75% of our kitchen installs are some version that includes white, and that is pretty significant considering all the wood species available as well as other colors. This trend of white started out with baby boomers like me, waxing poetic about “mom’s” kitchen and the nostalgic feeling it provided. Kitchens were white in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s because they were often built in place and often painted to match the trim. White is also very classic and bright which makes people gravitate toward what feels like it will last.

Before you give up on breaking the trend, it is important to note that any defined architectural style doesn’t lose it beauty or timelessness when it is designed well. There will be times when contemporary is in more favor than traditional, it is usually the finishes that were poorly selected that may look dated, like the wallpaper or fixtures… or avocado appliances :)

Here are a couple of kitchens that may make you think about what color is for you.

Inset Kitchen Remodel in Wellesley

White Shaker Cabinets in Wellesley Kitchen Remodel


How Natural Light Can Affect Your Home Renovation

There are a few more things to consider besides the kitchen lighting and where the tomatoes will grow when it comes to sunlight at your home.  I thought I would list just a few so that you can incorporate this into part of your planning and make considerations for the materials or lay-out of your next project.  One of my designers pulled up a useful online tool, and you can use this tool to get a real time look at your lot- try and make adjustments for trees and your grading slopes etc.  It is very simple to use and after you put in the address, it will let you see the typical sun angles for any time of year!

  1. Decking- For decking we see the 3 most popular choices as; exotic hard wood, composite (Trex mostly), and PVC which is a newcomer to the “reduced maintenance” products. Today I was chatting with a client who didn’t want to use wood because of the maintenance issues. The deck is in a mostly shaded area of the home. In the shade, many composite materials contain wood fiber and will spot with mold and look less than new quickly- especially in the shade so that was out. PVC decking condensates- and if you want to have your morning coffee overlooking the Charles River- you wouldn’t like the deck to be soaking wet every morning until that dries, and last- many of the issues with today’s mahogany are extreme sun. In this case, a good hardwood deck would require less maintenance than you would think to keep it looking new. Keep in mind that if you have a south facing deck that is all sun, PVC may be the right choice.

  2. Windows- Did you know you can order windows that have additional tinting for your southern exposures and less tints for your northern exposures? This will help with temperature control as well as fading that can occur on your furniture. There can be a noticeable difference when viewing from the outside, so understanding the sightlines of the home should be in the plan.

  3. Tree placement or removal- Before you remove trees to create that mini sport complex- make sure you consider the location with the inclusion of the sun angle instead of a spot that may look good because it is already flat. It might pay dividends in less water use if you remove trees on the north side of the lot and allow some shade during the day to keep the turf and the people cooler. Deciduous trees are also a great way to plan for shade in the summer and sun in the winter when the sun is lower and in more demand. Planting trees in critical sun zones will make every season more enjoyable.


The sliding window allows for more/less natural light to enter the cabana to suit the current need