Choosing The Right Wood Floors For You

Times change, and wood flooring in today’s homes is no exception. I know that including pre-finished wood floors in the discussion will spark some doubt in my Old Yankee-purist area of operations, New England :).  However, just like the popularity in the once shunned gas fireplace, there are situations that make pre-finished floors a good choice even if the tried and true finished on site floor is still in wde use.

I would like to start off by saying – nothing offers more choice than a hand selected and finished on site floor. The Owner who works with a true wood floor specialist can have floors in any width, specie and then customize the finish from natural, distressed, dyed and other opaque options. This is ultimately the only way to achieve a completely custom floor. In remodeling, this is almost always the choice because we are either matching something or need to compliment something that exists. My top choice in site finished flooring is 8 inch quarter sawn oak- glued and nailed with a beautiful walnut stain and satin finish. It is my top choice because it is extremely durable and stable, true to local building materials and history, and is a timeless material that can be re-sanded and stained.

This hardwood floor in Needham was installed onsite to match existing flooring throughout the home

The earliest versions of pre-finished wood flooring left a lot to be desired. There is a bevel on each flooring strip that is the first and most obvious sign that a floor is pre-finished, and earlier versions had a much larger bevel. Enough of the down sides- here is why prefinished flooring has gained momentum: 1- prefinished floors have a tougher finish due to materials that can only be applied in a factory setting, 2- prefinished floors are now available in a wide variety of widths, species and finished that cannot be duplicated on site, 3- engineered products with natural wood finishes are ideal over concrete subfloors in high rise and basement applications, 4-prefinished flooring can be installed virtually odor free.

This is a prefinished floor we are currently installing in a Dover basement remodel

A few things to ask your designer or contractor will include: what to do with stairs that are in the space, if the floors can be refinished at a later date,  and whether the thickness is OK for adjoining flooring. I should also note that one of the most common mistakes I see is walking into a home with multiple finishes, probably because of all the choices…..consistency in flooring has always been important, so narrow it down to one!

Open Floor Plans

Open floor plans are certainly a concept that has been a strong trend with our modern lifestyles. This is brought on by many factors such as cocooning and the desire to be in the same space with our children for whatever time they have when they are home. This type of living is great for our busy lifestyles and should come with a few considerations before jumping full steam ahead and knocking down all the walls in your home.

Before– the kitchen was separated and cut off from the family room and dining room

After: The new openings join the kitchen with the dining room and family room allowing for converation and gathering.

One of the biggest benefits of an open floor plan is improving the flow of the house. This is an important distinction between open space and making the plan work well. What I mean is, that if you had a ballroom, certainly you could walk wherever you want- but you would not have a cozy corner for conversation, or a kitchen area that served the cook and those gathering. A home has very different spaces that serve different needs and tasks, so moving from place to place should be effortless while each space maintains its unique feel and use.

In addition to ergonomics, think about your lifestyle. Most folks in their 20’s would be happy with a compact loft that is open- but when our home has people of different ages and individual needs- you will want more space and want to tweak that open floor plan. A table makes a great bridge or transition in this lay-out- so if you want wide open, place the table between the kitchen and soft seating area. If you would like more definition of space and/or the kids to do homework at the table away from the TV- use the table in a space off to the side of the space.

Either way, open is here for a while! Here is a recent Wellesley kitchen we completed that was so different when the wall came down that it felt unnatural for me to walk from one space to the other today.

The Importance of Mock-ups in Home Remodeling

Many times in the construction process there are details that can benefit from a template, mock-up or pattern. Often we mock-up decorative window pediments so the client can feel comfortable with the scale and how it looks on the house. This can also help keep the construction moving along if we need to have a coppersmith create caps for those pediments- they can be made while the carpentry is happening so they get installed right away instead of being delayed by waiting until the pediments are all built for measuring.

Sometimes one of our designers may ask the carpenter create a pattern to see the detail if there is any question about making it more optimum to the project. I know that I am someone who likes to see these so that I can make sure things look as good from our real vantage point as they do in the 3D rendering our architecture software produces. Details are the part of the project that make difference.

In the photo below, this rough mock-up at a project in Dover helped the client see the overhang of the roof, it helped the carpenter lay-out the final bracket installation and also allowed the designer to make a minor modification to the ceiling materials, rafter layout and little end detail. All of which will make standing up to this pool side bar a much more quality experience for everyone when it is done.

Roof mockup in Dover

If you are a visual person like me, don’t hesitate to ask for some tools to help understand your space better- maybe even drawing the built-in shelves on the wall before the carpenter starts will make you feel less anxious about the end result!

cabana roof in Dover        Copper roof overhang in Dover

 

 

 

 

 

Uncomplicated–The new word in luxurious home remodeling

This week I met with a couple I have worked for in the past- we did a beautiful kitchen remodel in their current Wellesley home over 10 years ago, and now they have decided to buy a home that they can transform completely. This project entails a whole home remodel with a pretty good size addition, complete with a larger kitchen and master suite. Fancy-right? It will be beautiful I am sure and of high quality also, but while we were talking about what the couple wanted to include- the word “uncomplicated” was used.

It dawned on me that this is really where our busy lives are headed, and the word “simplify” that became popular in the Great Recession looks like it will be replaced in the improving economy with uncomplicated. I believe this is trending because one of the significant changes in the recession was that we had to work as a society even harder to keep moving forward, and that busy lifestyle isn’t slowing with improved economics- it may be the new normal (another phrase coined in more difficult times). So here are the items that we are going to focus on, in the clients own words, which we have also heard from many clients all year:

  1. I want a pantry- so I can have everything convenient, and not in another room or closet or downstairs… nearby. The working space in the kitchen does not have to be huge- no need for a large amount of cabinets, but the space should be large enough for entertaining- maybe some soft seating.

  2. A large mudroom that multi tasks would make life easier coming and going with all the sports and other activities. I would like to add a second smaller laundry to take care of the things on the first floor… and we would also like a powder room off the mudroom as well so the kids don’t traipse across the house with muddy shoes if they are playing outside.

  3. A proper dressing room with everything in it so we can get ready without walking into the bedroom for socks in a drawer and back to the closet for the pants. It would be great to have everything together- and one side for each of us.

When the client used the word uncomplicated in the meeting- I told them it would be my next blog, because I really do get to see firsthand the influence of our busy lives dictating todays household. The luxury in all this is more time to focus on what is really important- and that is today’s real luxury.

Watching the weather, converting one story to two

We do many projects that involve opening a home in a way that could make it vulnerable to the elements. I am often asked if we do large home renovation projects in the winter season, or how we protect the home against the elements. Believe it or not, I have actually done a few projects where we removed the entire roof structure to add a second floor in the middle of winter while we had clients living in the residence- here is how we plan for it.

The first step is to have a scalable plan. It is important to know how long certain assemblies take and what the resources are. This is construction so contingency is needed in case we have some ebb and flow to certain pieces. Step one, do not remove the roof first without knowing what the next steps are-even if it seems like the obvious first thing to go. We know in advance if we are keeping the ceiling (and if that is a viable floor structure), we may also have some items that require or benefit by pre-cutting or building some of the walls. Step 2, we live in New England so the weather can change without much notice, so it’s crucial to be watching the weather daily. That may sound obvious, but in the construction business our planning is so vital around the weather that we are almost as aware of the dew point as the time of day.

In the case of this current project, it rained a bit every day the week before this photo was taken, so we were busy cutting all the roof rafters and wall studs so that we could make progress this week. We also built a 2 story wall inside that we will lift tomorrow morning, and built a couple of the interior bearing walls as well as prepped the steel beam. The weather called for possible showers this Wednesday so the project lead decided to remove only half the roof in case we had to cover- that forecast changed yesterday :) so we continued to move forward… and watch the weather. Every project is different and every week offers different weather- so plans will change, but our customers will always stay dry.

 

Punching Out– not as perilous as it sounds

When we finish a project for a client, we want to give the client the final say that they are happy with the way things look before they make the final payment.  This is known as “punching out”- or the “Punch List”.  Not to worry, there are no punches being thrown.   The term punch list comes from an era when a card was punched in the margin to show it was used- like the train conductor does to your ticket to Boston to show the ticket had been used.

Different companies use different processes for this, so it is really important to make sure there is a provision in your agreement that allows you to make final payment upon satisfactory completion of the project.  Because humans are involved in the process, don’t be shy about pointing out any concern you have to your contractor even if it seems small.   Some of the obvious things that may show up are a string holding up the dining chandelier- and the contractor has it to prevent everyone from running into the chandelier. If we see this on our punch, we offer to remove the temporary brace or show the Owner how to do that post delivery of the dining table to avoid any post construction mishaps.   If there is a spot of paint on the floor, put it on your list for removal.

 

Punch list items are for deficiencies due to craftsmanship, breakage, or incomplete work.  If a railing didn’t get installed- it is incomplete, if a light fixture has a broken glass, it needs to be replaced.   There are margins of acceptance and we consider ourselves, the contractor, to be fussy- so we really can take care of the smallest detail. But if the contractor you are working with forgot a screw- it isn’t for lack of trying.

 

The human element I mentioned earlier has a few factors.  First, the people working on the project are sometimes too close to it to look back and see every minor imperfection.   The carpenter can remind themselves they are one cabinet knob short every time they see it only to be distracted by a more pressing issue before ordering that.   If there is a minor scratch on the wall, someone may have done that without knowing just after the remodeler looked over the area. To combat this we use an internal punch out system before we ask the client to make their own punch list.   We call it designer punch because the project designer takes the onus of making 3 visits. A couple of weeks out, the designer convenes with the project lead carpenter to make sure all the fixtures have been delivered and inspected.   This helps reduce the back order problem if we need a part.   The next week the designer does a walk through with the project lead to get the obvious list of completion items together.   That helps the carpenter prioritize for what is usually the busiest week of the project- the last oneJ.   Then, right before we hand it over to the client, the designer nit-picks the project for minor blemishes and delivers any small parts that were sent express to the showroom.

The owner now gets to make their overview- and that is always important to give them time- ideally the weekend to walk through, settle in and see what needs some love.  Maybe the cleaning lady overlooked cleaning a set of drawers out or a hinge was loose we didn’t spot.   Not to worry! If you didn’t catch it on the day you sign off on your list, any good contractor will return because they know the value of your referral. 

 

 

Synergy of Design Collaboration

I have often discussed the synergy of Architecture and interior design, and the great value of our design and construction professionals working together for a better client experience. There is another important part of the built environment where you may want to consider a collaborative approach (project depending of course).

We are currently working on a project that is benefitting greatly from the collaboration of Residential Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Pictured below, left- Allan Wright (our in house Architect), and Wes Wirth, (Landscape Architect of Thomas Wirth Associates, Inc) work on the best approach (no pun intended) for a vehicle to enter a garage addition. This project is the perfect example of the value of a talented Land professional providing important insight in grade change, and the views from inside the building and how we can together provide our client with the best outcome by taking advantage of these synergies during the design process instead of the landscape working to correct deficiencies the architecture imposes.

In this project alone we were able to move the garage slightly to improve the owners experience from the interior of the home, provide the opportunity for a pedestrian way to a new side entry that won’t feel like a walk beside the garage, and reduce the elevation challenges inherent to the lot. Stay tuned on more about this fabulous addition and whole house remodel in Brookline as we move from design to construction!

Project Management for Residential Remodeling

Project Management in home remodeling has a bit more to it than scheduling- many items involved are tacit in nature.  At The Wiese Company, we know that having a diversified skill set from unique and friendly teammates is the right mix, but “why” is it important to have this diversity?   For starters, all of us humans have interests and strengths- and why not capitalize on that. The opposite is sure fired disaster and letting people do what they love always helps deliver excellent results.

Here are a few insights into what we do:

  1. Designers and architects meet with client and design a project that meets the need and budget. This process is usually 1-2 months for an average home addition with kitchens and baths- and usually doesn’t have all the “details” worked out, such as tile selection or maybe the final design of an architectural element such as a portico.

  2. The design and production staff have walked through the property early on in the design program and now re-convene to discuss construction staging and working around the family. (have pets, kids, relatives visiting, vacation? I think the Latin is “life interuptus”J)

  3. The project is in full swing, the plumber informs us that he has a family emergency and he will be delayed 3 days…!!! The inspection is set and we have been anticipating starting the insulation on the following Monday- in jumps the production manager to hit the reset button (without changing the end date). It can also happen that the custom bath that we ordered in advance has arrived with a defect… The designer that is wearing the project coordinating hat is on the phone with the distributer working all the magic possible and the project manager is on the phone with the plumber to see if we can get an inspection without it.​​​​

At our firm, we have a weekly meeting with all the field staff and have a designer present so that everyone is familiar with the stage of every project.  The carpenters get questions answered, the designer gets to share and distribute needed paperwork and if someone here needs a sick day- you’ll never notice a hiccup in your project.

The result of solid project management is making it look easy. The benefit of having the designers integral with the project allows for quick solution oriented changes or corrections.   The synergy of a great construction manager working with a craftsman who loves his trade and a designer who has great vision keeps all the pieces running smoothly.   I would tell you about the other billion scenarios that make this important but I haven’t seen them all yet! And- that is the great fun of our endeavor.

 

Cocooning Meets Entertaining

According to Wikipedia, “Cocooning is the name given to the trend that sees individuals socializing less and retreating into their home more.” The term was coined in the 1990s by Faith Popcorn, a trend forecaster and marketing consultant:

Cocooning has been in our bank for thirty years. That’s how early we discovered cocooning, and cocooning is about staying home, creating a safe place around you, the gardeners being the barrier, between the garden and the alarm systems being the barrier, filtration systems for water and air, working at home (…) every inch of it you have, you have some of this (…) how many days can I work at home? That’s cocooning.

 

While I have witnessed the remodeling trends that followed the cocooning lifestyles we embraced (more family space and kitchens that are part of the gathering area), entertaining and more socializing seem to be a current shift based on many of the requests our clients have asked us to design in recent months. I think that folks just want to have the opportunity to entertain without having the chore of setting up, and they want space that works for a quick and casual invitation that can bring 2-10 people over.

We just started a very cool “dual purpose” cabana bar and bath house that will make entertaining easy- and add great fun when the family is enjoying time together or when friends stop by. This project will be done in advance for next spring/summer to ensure everything is all set in time for the pool opening. Since we can tie the space into the existing game and media rooms, this will be a year round hit! And on top of that the existing porch will receive 3 season upgrades to open up the second floor- Stay tuned on Facebook to see the progress!

 

 

 

 

 

Historic Homes in New England

We are very fortunate in our local communities from Holliston to Boston, where we can be an eye witness to some amazing antiques lining our main roads. I enjoy seeing a town’s church steeple before the town itself is visible, and always feel grateful to live in a place with so much early American History. I am a preservationist to some extent – I am a remodeler after all, and so I see and understand a lot of value in existing structures where others may want to simply demolish a home and start over. The caveat is that I am not a purist when it comes to preservation; first, because I am a property rights advocate, and there are too many people trying to take some of your rights away under the guise of preservation, and second, because once something reaches the point of being a safety hazard or reaches the end of its serviceability, it is ok to make progress to some extent. After all, isn’t that what the people who originally built the existing building were doing when they built it?

That said, there are many reasons to preserve some of our past, such as educational value, a sense of history, as well as the comfort in the community having a great foundation. That is why I was heartbroken today when I drove by one of my favorite homes- built circa 1774- during our country’s Revolutionary times. In the photo of the home still standing, you can see the classic salt box architecture, the period stile windows and the very small dormers in the attic to capture the southern sunlight. Imagine that every piece of this was struck by hand and that there was a farm all around it producing food to be consumed in the Boston area.

As I looked over the chimney that was still standing, I couldn’t help but be in awe of how elaborate this marvel of masonry was – 4 sides to provide heat in the cold winter months. The fireplace facing the street had an oven above the main firebox for baking. When you look at period architecture, that oversized central chimney was a product of that important piece of the building. I wish I had the opportunity to go through the home before it went down…. I will probably always expect to see it when I am driving through Dover.

May the new home being built on the lot be made half as well as this one- and provide history for a future generation 250 years from now.