Unique Design Challenges

We are often asked to come up with a solution to a unique problem during the design phase.  As a designer forward group, we love the challenge and brainstorm together to make sure the client can walk away with a great solution.  It is a good team building exercise and helps keep our creative juices flowing!  Below are a couple of fun requests and the end result.

During an entertainment remodel in Dover, one of the requests was to add a “cabana” area for a newly installed pool.   It was important that the cabana bar was open in the summer months and a fun space to enjoy off the game room in the winter.  After some initial concepts, we altered the layout to include bar seating both indoors and outdoors with a folding glass window between the two.  This allows for the cabana to be completely open to the outdoors without compromising the use during winter months.


Always think outside the box! One of Ray’s pet peeves is sitting on a deck and not being able to see past the railing, which is installed at the eye blocking height of 36 inches when you sit down. We have come used to different solutions for this, from glass, cable, and even received samples of Tiger Mesh- though we only need a 200lb. lateral force to meet code :), but for this new home with a style we like to call “vacation contemporary” we wanted a more unique feel. We enlisted a commercial fabricator in Ohio to use their safety guard/grid and fabricate these galvanized panels to use as rails. Powder coating would have been possible- but we think the zinc coating pushes the casual nature of the residence. The mix of exotic and North American wood with the industrial metal also offers an interesting fusion- even if it isn’t your taste.

While remodeling a bathroom in Wellesley, the client mentioned that she was going to paint the dinette where it was a tight for space, especially when the door to the basement door is opened, to allow the cats to come and go from the kitty powder room in the basement.  By switching the out-swinging door into a gliding door we solved the space issue… and after contemplating adding a typical opening or cat door, we all chimed in… “How about a mouse hole like in a cartoon!”, “how about a hobbit hole?” then someone said- “how about a cat”?  We re-used the original door with some structural modifications, added the sliding door kit, and used a custom cutout template to create the cat access.  As you can see from the image below, Max is a big fan!



The Argument for Open Dining Rooms

I get less and less push back when I suggest opening kitchens to the dining room than I used to.  I also get more requests to take that barrier down because of the open concepts that many people want for today’s lifestyle.  As popular as open concept living has become, there are still many sceptics out there- you know who you are… so I put the top 3 objections down that people use to deny the need for open dining.  If you have a home with ample room to keep a separate formal living space- and you know you will use it, you are not the focus of this week’s blog.

One of the first objections I hear when people do not want to consider this is, “it will hurt re-sale value”. That couldn’t be farther from the truth (insert caveat) if you plan an open concept that allows the dining table to work for family meal time, and give the furniture a defined area that looks just as purposeful when the long candlesticks are glowing with ambiance. In a good design, the definition of space tells everyone- “this is where we will dine”.   And if you were selling your home today, wouldn’t you want the open plan that everyone else wants?

Another reason people tell me this will not work for them is because it is “trendy”.  If you read my blog, you know there is a difference between trendy and trends… and this is a long term trend, just like stainless appliances that were supposed to go away 15 years ago, and open kitchens that were surely a bad idea… I mean, who will really want to hang out in the kitchen, RIGHT? Open dining is just another part of casual living, which is a result of our busy lives blending with our desire to make being together as simple as possible.   When we entertain, even our friends love being part of the entire food experience.

The other (and third most common) objection I hear is that the open concept is a contemporary idea, and will not work with a traditional style.  Lately, we have done a few very beautiful contemporary kitchens, and our prospective clients have used this as ammunition against us to prove it is only for modern kitchens! :)  So we went and photographed this traditional Wellesley kitchen yesterday…. And look at how easy it is going to be for that traditional Thanksgiving Day feast, and to put some of the food on the counter in the dining room.  That counter can also work if you have the entire lacrosse team over for breakfast and need a spot for overflow muffins.  You also have a well-designed space that is easy to sit at and enjoy some family time with the open concept living you really wanted.

Please take a look at our portfolio, and see the traditional and modern kitchens that have open dining!

True Cost of Bath Remodeling


Bathroom renovations are more than cosmetic make-overs that include a new counter and a coat of paint.  It is common for folks to ask if I can just replace the tile and fixtures too.  Since make-overs are not my specialty, I can only comment that if you are looking to sell your home soon- that is probably the way to go.  If you need a renovation though- be warned that trying to go halfway will likely result in finding yourself in no-man’s land and you’ll have to fight your way through anyway.


I use the term no man’s land a lot when someone asked to replace tile and fixtures because if you start peeling the bath onion, it will usually involve uncovering all sorts of issues that need to be addressed anyway- and you end up spending more money.  The challenge is that when you remove tile, you remove the substrate, when you remove the substrate, you expose old insulation-wires-framing and discover issues that are supposed to be upgraded due to code regulations.  If you try to install only new wallboard below the old wallboard (where the tile was removed) that will cause a cold joint where you can count on a crack appearing in the near future aided by the warmer board below with new insulation meeting the less malleable board above that still gets the new England winter blowing in from outside. That is why I believe in either finding a make-over specialist for a new top and paint, or doing it properly the first time.


Baths are expensive for 2 primary reasons.  First, you are using more expensive and durable finishes in most of the space.  Second, the project is “small” and requires all the same players, working without economies, and being managed and dust protected as it does if you are building a whole house.  I developed a spreadsheet that won’t identify exactly what you will spend, but it will help you understand the matrix of cost variations as they relate to age of home, quality of finishes and size of project.  Many of the small family bath remodels in Wellesley/Newton from the 40’s require full gut renovations and mechanical upgrades and these baths average $35,000 while the same bath built in the 1980’s will average in the mid to high $20’s.




I hope the chart helps! If you are planning any type of renovation from a small bath to a large addition, call us to set up a site visit and we can help you get started with some great information on your project.


Join us for a Food & Wine Pairing!

 WHEN:  APRIL 30, 2015



With your help, The Wiese Company and our friends will install a much needed powder room at the Wellesley ABC house.   Wellesley A Better Chance is a great organization helping academically talented young women from underserved communities through enrollment at Wellesley High School.  We will be holding a fundraiser at our showroom on Thursday, April 30th to help raise money for the installation of a powder room.  This year our special guest is Jen Ziskin, who is the co-owner of La Morra in Brookline and recently purchased the former Sherborn Inn.   Jen and her team will be providing us with some tasty treats paired with some delicious wines and will be mingling to chat about the future of the new restaurant “Heritage of Sherborn”.  We hope that you can join us for a fun evening!  If you are unable to attend, we will also have two fabulous raffle prizes available:  One roof clearing redeemable next winter and a dinner for 2 at Heritage of Sherborn after the opening.  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)

  • (12) raffle tickets

  • Donation will go towards lighting fixtures, toilet, sink, tile, and window treatment



Benefits of Using Steel Beams in Residential Remodeling

I am often asked the question during a site consultation; “Is this a bearing wall”? What people want to know is, “can this wall be removed or a new entry installed”?  Most of the time it is very easy for an experienced builder or designer to determine which walls are bearing in a home and which ones are not. While it doesn’t always require a structural engineer to figure out where the bearing walls are, in Massachusetts any opening larger than the beam, header or girder sizes located in the code book require a structural engineer to specify the beam size, connections and load path.

Enough of the boring engineering (sorry engineers).   In residential remodeling we are constantly asked to open walls and it is a huge pet peeve of mine to install the easy low hanging beam that announces; “I am where the room used to end”!   Because of my penchant for better design and a stronger end result, our firm uses a lot of steel beams and therefore we often need to involve a structural engineer.

Benefits of steel:

1. Steel beams are always more compact than engineered lumber or typical lumber headers.

2. The deflection (how much the beam will bend under stress) is easier to dictate.

3. Steel can offer larger openings that other beams cannot.

Cons of Steel:

1. Cost is a little more to pay for engineering (about $500), and the material itself is a bit more pricey depending on the size.  

2. Steel should be installed by very experienced workmen who are familiar with the equipment, weight of lifting this into place, and the connections.

3. Steel installs require more hands on deck for safety and alignment.

The reason some contractors shy away from steel is that it can be intimidating to work with steel because it requires some heavy duty tools like a welder or drills that are commercial capacity. It also requires more hands on deck and is not the job typically for a carpenter and helper.

The real bottom line is that when you are going through the design phase, make sure you understand the result aesthetically of when a wall is removed and that you are comfortable with how your home is going to be held up.

Happy Renovating!

Prepare for Rain!!!

I know that many of you are already having difficulty with ice dams- the worst isn’t over and with rain coming this weekend, you may be in for a double whammy.  When the rain comes and the snow melts, the volume of water will increase and may also be looking for a way into your basement.  If you have a sump pump- check it now!  If you want to be prepared- go buy the back-up pump before they are sold out.  Unfortunately, our firm does not offer ice dam removal or flood remediation because we are already committed to projects that we guarantee will be on time and the weather has been a terrible burden logistically.  We have heard from some landscaping and paving contractors that they still have room to add a couple of roof removals so do your best to get that snow off the roof before the weekend!

Best wishes and good luck to everyone! I know we are all New Englanders and we will surely be talking about the winter of 2015 for some time.


Ice Dams, Again!

We written about preventing ice dams in the past, but given the number of calls I’ve been getting recently, I thought I would write about it again.

Whenever someone calls with ice dam problems, my credibility initially depends on whether or not I was the one who provided the roof. I hear people tell me that the person who installed their roof probably did something wrong and the truth is, that even the best roof installations are no guarantee against ice dams. For a look at what is happening under the ice, check out buildingscience.com. http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-046-dam-ice-dam

There are things that help prevent ice dams, and the key word is “help”. The reason is, all of these things can contribute to better performance against ice buildup and water intrusion- they just won’t guarantee against it for one simple reason; Roofs are constructed to shed water- not hold water. Ice dams create pools of water- and only pools are meant to contain water. Here is the list of things that will “help”:

  1. Install ice and water shield when your new roof is installed- as long as this is above the freeze line by 18″ (it is sold in 3 foot sections for this reason), when water penetrates the first layer of protection, it will stop water from entering under the shingles as long as the roofing nails self-sealed the way the product is supposed to work. Request Grace Brand ice and water barrier in your new roof- it is the best.

  2. Make sure the roof is well vented (unless you have a modern, foam insulated, non-vented assembly-see pic. below). Allowing a good flow of air will help keep the temperatures more consistent on the outside eve and where the heat starts to melt the ice.

  3. If you can- use metal roofing- because it has the best chance of sealing out water, and I don’t remember ever seeing water from ice dams make their way in.

The best prevention is removing the snow… if you remove the snow too late and the dam forms, you will still be susceptible to the water intruding on the next round. I know that many of you that found this article on our blog are probably frustrated because you want to know what you can do now! The best chance of hiring someone is to drive around and speak personally with the roofer. In our area right now even our roofer has put a message on his phone line that he is unable to take on anymore, and hopefully this will be helpful for the next round.

Example of non-vented assembly in Sherborn

Trends from Design and Construction Week 2015

The most relevant word in home design for 2015 is simplicity. That was the resounding theme at this year’s Design and Construction Week, so let’s look at what this means for what I believe will forge the next trend cycle in home design, and the kitchen and bath styles for some time.

First, the word simplicity or simplify was used in many contexts during so many different conferences and product displays; from consumer needs to have an easier process when seeking help in home renovations, to the design styles that are more in favor today with less “fuss”. We all recognize that our schedules are getting more filled, but it isn’t all bad news. We attend more sport events that our children are involved in, visit with family, or donate more time to our community in search of balance, not necessarily looking to do less- just living more full lives.  

During an advisory board meeting I sit on, I chatted with a major player for DuPont North America. He shared that their group just wrapped up a major study to understand every step of the consumer’s decision matrix from thinking about a new kitchen or bath all the way through the completion of the project. It was remarkable that the most valuable things we are looking for is an enjoyable experience that is “simple” and easy, and that we can have a space done with as little effort as possible so that we don’t become consumed with. Of course there are other things we all want such as value, service etc., but we all want things to be easier.

Bathroom remodel in Wellesley

On the design side of all this is the continued trend for “transitional”.  What started off as a buzzword marking the mix of modern/simple design with a splash of traditional has evolved into what resembles “postmodern meets 2015″. If you go online to look at products you can confirm that transitional is more than established as a design style by finding it in the filters on most sites right next to contemporary and traditional. Soft color palettes, white bedding, sleeker cabinet styles with a touch of classic marble are all things that have lasting design value and resonate with what we are looking for right now, “simplicity”.

One of the things I pride myself on is that our team is never complacent about the changing needs of our customers. This winter we are challenging ourselves to make our process even more enjoyable and easier for you… because there is always room for improvement.



3 Takeaways From the Kitchen and Bath Show

Kitchen and Bath projects have a great deal of product choices involved in the process. It should be no surprise that the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS), held annually, has a great deal of vendors vying to impress the attendees, and influence them; as well as the consumer on their goods. I just returned from KBIS and there were a lot of new and interesting things to see, but I emerged with something more valuable for you than a new product- knowledge :).

One of my pet peeves in my industry of design is the designer that hides behind the cloak of the product. It can be easy to impress some folks with your design savvy if you can rattle the names of famous designers and suggest only “the finest” wares. Just as annoying is a masterpiece of a tub, Maybe hand struck from a solid cube of copper, then gently (or not) placed into a space without consideration of the user, the ergonomics or the entirety of the design aesthetic. Remember the Kohler ad? “Design my house around this.” The client says, holding the faucet out to the architect.

A word of caution to anyone embarking on a renovation involving a kitchen or bath; the suppliers want your choices to be product driven, and a good designer knows that your choices should be lifestyle driven. Here are the 3 lifestyle choices I think hit the mark with a good explanation.

Ergonomics on lifestyle

When it comes to selecting a bathtub, the first question should be: Who is the tub for? You and the children? Just the adult runner in the family who trains annually for a marathon, aging parents who the new suite is for. Those questions result in narrowing the sizing and utility of the right tub.

Quality of the lifestyle

There are tubs available from $250-$20,000 and more. If you have 3 boys and the oldest is 4… cast iron is in your future :) so plan on spending $1-$2k. If you are building your dream retreat that you have been waiting for to be your sanctuary that you have earned the right to be “selective” with, then maybe it is a volcanic ash tub, that maintains a terrific consistent heat, even if it retails for $5,000 or more without the tub filler. Understanding your needs, your value proposition and the time you’ll use something are the right next questions for the designer.

Your Style in your lifestyle

After you and your designer discuss the top 2, then it’s time to put the “look” together, and a knowledgeable designer knows what brands meet the requirements while putting all of these together (Ergonomics, Quality and style) without designing around a faucet.

Happy shopping!

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!