Kitchen Organization

Want an Organized Kitchen?

Here are some tips and insight into kitchen organization that will hopefully be helpful. To go along with this handy set of tips are some photos to use as a guide to find your inner organizer. As a caveat to this blog, these photos belong to a kitchen we just remodeled in Newton for our bookkeeper, and as you may know, bookkeepers are supposed to be methodical and organized… or somewhat anal retentive, (sorry Lauri, but we share that trait)- so if you’re an artist, just wing it and throw some spices in the same drawer you put the Tupperware :)

1. Don’t fall for every cool thing you see. In our showroom, we actually have many of the “add on” items throughout our displays- however, unlike some showrooms, we display many of them to talk the pros… and cons of each item. The first photo is for the kitchen aid mixer. This kitchen belongs to a master cook- and she uses the mixer all the time, and OBVIOUSLY doesn’t want to see things like mixers on the counter top. This mixer lift keeps it out of the way and easy to access. Remember, I know most of you own a mixer- so be honest about how often that thing makes an appearance before you dedicate a space. If it’s less than twice a month- throw it in the pantry.

2. We all have spices, and some folks collect spices (remember to look at the expiration dates… they are on almost every one and they do expire). I am old school and love to cook, so the salt and pepper grinder never get put away. I find that almost anyone (even the best chefs) does not need more than one cabinet door near the cook and prep area for all the main spices. So before you think you have to have room for 300 bottles- take a mental inventory of everything you cooked in the last season and make room for it. If you have a friend that likes all the labels facing front- turn a couple of them around, shoot a photo and then write a blog post… Monday should be interesting!

3. Appliance garages are terrific and we have a lot of clients who are of the neat and tidy crowd, so before you just add one, find out how the doors open, if they can stay open without interfering with anything and if you really need one. I loved finding the food processor in this photo because I use mine about once a week and wish I had it in a more convenient location like this.

4. Drawer organizers are great. We recommend holding off on this item initially and using an inexpensive organizer until you are all moved in and satisfied you like where you have put the silverware and utensils… these can migrate a bit until you get in the groove of your new space. Once you have them though… I challenge you to open the drawer at random… as we did, and find everything looking so tidy… I mean really!!! Look at the knives, Lauri.

When you are designing your next kitchen… the most important thing is to work with a professional who thinks in advance about all the items you have and where it will work to have them.
Happy cooking!

Architectural Confusion

You know that feeling something is wrong… but you can’t put your finger on it? Unfortunately I see that a lot in my line of work. In the renovation and remodeling business, we get hired not just because people need more space, but often to correct what’s “not right”.

These exterior Architecture projects are some of my favorites. I love the challenge and reward that comes with helping a home find its true potential. In the case studies I have here, the beautiful Wellesley Dutch Colonial we re-designed in 2003, and the current design we are working on was a former “4 square” home that received a new garage designed by a different Architect in 1999. What they both had in common before the design work started was façade confusion. The Dutch looked as though the home was facing sideways on the lot, and the Four Square looks a bit like someone forgot about the front door… deep on the left side which creates a dilemma for first time visitors about where to arrive.

The solutions for many architectural projects come by seeking resolutions to why they feel the way they do. The Dutch home before pictures show the porch railing facing the street. That is the first que someone gets that this home may have a door there, but perhaps you’re not welcome. (I assure you the Owners are very nice… it was the house talking). The second issue was the slight “shed like” office that sits on the right… which looks like something someone might put on the back of their house. To resolve the issue, and create a true front façade, a second floor and porch were added, providing girth and strength to the right side and balancing the existing lonely gabled front. Then we moved the front stair and placed a new walkway. This allows newcomers to feel instantly invited, and removes any doubt about how to approach the home.    







In the project we are in the early stages of designing, you can see all of the emphasis is placed on the garage… the least appealing part of the home is forced upon the street. In 1999 when this was added, if you installed a more formal looking entrance, it was expected that anyone arriving would gravitate to that entry…. Even if it meant walking all the way to the side yard. Today, most folks arrive at the old service entrance… A.K.A. the side door, so this really needs a shift. What we are proposing is to remove the existing front door and pull the right side forward with a welcoming porch and a semiformal foyer. By adding a small addition to the upper right, there will be balance with a stepped façade, and more weight on the side of the garage. A brow roof over the garage will also provide some relief to the large flat surface.

I’d like to note that the Dutch project started as a request for an additional bedroom and bath, and the current design work started as a discussion about how to reduce recurrent water infiltration that has been exacerbated by the last addition in 1999. But hey, if you can get 2 remedies while you are fixing one, why not.

Dust Control- Protecting Your Family During Construction

I know dust protection isn’t the eye candy most consumers are looking for in remodeling; however, it is one of the most important parts of your project. Today, remodelers are required to adhere to the Renovation and Repair Act that abolished ignorant practices such as fans in a window blowing hazardous material into the air- and possibly right back into the home.  What the act doesn’t prevent are the same poorly monitored or poorly managed practices that can effectively keep harmful and annoying dust out of your home.

Our first line of defense is to avoid drop clothes where possible. They contain dust- and if used improperly could bring harmful dust from an older home into your newer lead free home.  We use a protectant that can be vacuumed up regularly like a carpet protection on stair runners and Ram Board on hard surfaces.

In the photo below is my favorite form of protecting our clients from dust… the “alternate means of travel” also known as staging or temporary stairs. You will see we have installed a locking temporary door until the new window goes in near the end, and we were able to close off all access points to the home making this Newton remodel 100% dust proof.  Because the cost of protecting the finishes inside the home and dust proofing need to be part of any project, this option also was the least expensive to the client so it was a win all around.

Happy Renovating, and stay safe!

Planned Obsolescence

Obsolescence (or reduction of serviceability) is something, that in and of itself, is why I have a renovation and construction company. In addition to growing populations, we have structures that are aging as well as lifestyles and designs that are changing. Even the well built homes constructed in an era when craftsmanship was more a standard than an exception eventually need repair and updating. It is the new era, that I believe has become an era of “unplanned obsolescence”, that we need to pay more attention to.

According to Wikipedia, the phrase “Planned Obsolescence” was first popularized in 1954 by Brooks Stevens, an American industrial designer. By his definition, planned obsolescence was “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” By the late 1950s, planned obsolescence had become a commonly used term for products designed to break easily or to quickly go out of style. 

I do believe that there is a place for planned obsolescence… just look at the new swing set and club house I made for our 6 year old little girl. She loves the windows that make a face and can’t wait for her first tea party! You’ll notice it is a bit crooked in places because 1/3 of the materials were salvaged from the old ranch house roof we removed to add a second story, and 1/3 are leftover lumber culled because it wasn’t straight enough for the home under construction. This crooked nature makes things not bind together as well, and I didn’t bother adding water proofing and flashing to prepare for decades of solid building… Why? Because Charlotte is the last little one until grand parenting begins years from now… and I will probably want to build a playset my older body can move around in better- so I planned the obsolescence of the structure and spent less than $1,000 in materials to build the best ever 15 year playhouse my nieces and nephews can enjoy when our daughter has out grown it.

It is easy to find new homes, and renovations that are put together either forsaking sound practices for short term financial gain or taking advantage of a consumer’s lack of information to pitch a lesser cost. Even the consumer is driving this with thoughts of moving more often (a reality according to census), and not wanting to spend money that benefits the next guy. I call these practices, unplanned obsolescence, because many of these defects are born from short term thinking that will have a longer term impact on our housing market. One obvious thing I see are homes that are less than 5 years old that look like they need a new paint job. It looked great with one coat the day they bought it, and because people think it should last about a decade, they are surprised when the trim starts rotting in place. I have been called to look at 3 kitchens this month that are less than a decade old because a developer put in something poorly made that checks a kitchen box. My last rant is the disregard for buying quality windows… many new homes have generic windows with a serviceable life of 10 years installed incorrectly adding to the pain because they leak and create more damage… and surely we can’t be planning on these homes to be tear downs in 10 years.

As proof in the pudding, and me showing I put my money where my mouth is, here is a Halloween treat (and a picture of my house in Sherborn). Simple-yes, smallish – yes. But behind that higher grade siding we recommend to our clients is a layer of exterior foam and cedar breathing material, then a high R-value foam insulation. About 30% more cost than an exterior on any new home in the neighborhoods we work in. However; I will benefit because I won’t be painting for at least another 10 years without rot, my home will be more comfortable in the winter and summer even if I don’t get back all the investment in the insulation that was added, and hopefully no one will tear it down in 20-30 years when I am done with it.

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