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.

Generic Home…Don’t Let a Paradigm Dictate a Home Renovation

I just returned from a most brief discussion about a potential renovation project in Wellesley. The meeting was a full 15 minutes. After a quick introduction, the home owner said “so, what should I do? I’ll walk you around and then you can tell me.” I shouldn’t have been confused, I am the professional in the mix and that is why he called me, right? I had to ask though…”What is it you need?”

He went on to tell me that he was going to have some repair work and painting done- but wanted my opinion on whether he should add on to his house before he did that. After a few questions about the lifestyle in the home, it was clear that he didn’t need any space, but thought if he could build something that had value for the future- why not, maybe a new master suite would improve the value? As we looked at some of the additions in the neighborhood- including a couple that I had done, we discussed the benefit of a while-you-are-at-it project and I had to tell him- “Don’t do a thing!”

In the 90’s, I built a lot of family rooms without doing anything else to the home. I like to think of that period in my building education as “generic home- just add family room”. The family room gained so much popularity that folks didn’t even consider what happened to the rest of the house and the family just abandoned the living room. The bottom line is, when trying to find the benefit, calculate the cost and then see what items are for enjoyment that are worth it to you.

Think about the value you get from new furniture and drapes… a nicer-looking, well-maintained home sells for more than a home with deferred maintenance issues and no interior design…but how much money do you make on a new couch at re-sale? I would have to think it isn’t an investment in cash; furniture is an investment in comfort and pleasure. While added square feet and a new bath will add to your home, my suggestion is that if it makes your life better, do it, and if you want an investment- call your stock broker.

Happy Lifestyle!

Don’t Dump Your Designer When Construction Begins! (the Benefits of a Design/Build Firm)

As long as I have been involved in construction, it has been more common for customers to ditch the architect or designer as soon as they believe they have the drawings to get the building permit. I think that for some folks they feel like they need to stop the bleeding on design investment…lol, or they fell out of love with the architect after the bids came in higher than the budget they communicated. There are a few great reasons to keep your design team engaged with the build team on a regular basis- and most of them will save you money, hassle and time. As part of our process, we have a designer present at the weekly construction meeting wearing a “project coordinator hat” that keeps selections, catalogues, and administration finely tuned… and when the design questions arise as they will, there’s a rapid response to any issue.

Here are a few examples of where this helps:

  1.        Scheduled site visits save money. First and foremost, if there is no schedule for site visits by the designer, they may have to be reactive to an issue without understanding the current tempo of the production, or what the existing conditions look like post demo or framing. Not being part of the team means that the new client they are designing for may not have the command of their time, and they may not be able to make an unscheduled visit if there is an urgent item that requires immediate attention.
  2.        Working together on the project during construction creates the “team”. If the designer participates in a meeting with the construction manager during the process, they have a better chance of creating a good working relationship that is more team focused on the best outcome for you rather than advocacy driven. Another benefit is the ability to make changes or resolve design or construction issues faster and without animosity… not that that ever happened!.
  3.        The same thoughtfulness that goes into the planning of your dream space should continue during the construction. You may have an opportunity to make a change that is very beneficial, and if you want to change something, the design professional can offer the same experience to ensure some other item does not come up as a result of the change.

As a great example, we are currently working on a project with a very talented interior designer that the clients wanted to use. We collaborated on the best use of time and resources because we offer overlapping services. She helped select the tile and we drew the tile plan in our office so we could get the plan approved faster, while she went shopping for other items with the client. Because this project was fast tracked to be done before the owners close on their current home, it is making the clients experience less stressful. Simply being involved in the e-mail threads keep all the designers and construction staff working together and keeping the clients best interest at the forefront. 


Construction Project Permitting has a Third Party – Your Municipality

In Massachusetts, our lively political environment creates added “fun” for our clients when navigating the exciting world of zoning, planning, board of health and wetlands commissions, to name a few. This is because our Government wants to have law- and fees on the law, and leave the individual towns with enough leeway to have their own laws on top of the state rules. In most cases, as long as the town/city adopts a stricter standard. Energy conservation may be the easiest one to use as an example, so if the state requires an insulation value of R19 for walls, the town can up the ante to R-21.

The biggest challenge for consumers and contractors is that almost every town or city operates differently, and some towns have great public servants that put the customer (taxpayer) first, and some departments have the other bureaucratic style. For fun, I found this definition online and was surprised that it is either great or not-so-great by definition.

adjective: bureaucratic

Relating to the business of running an organization, or government.
1. “well-established bureaucratic procedures”
2. “overly concerned with procedure at the expense of efficiency or common sense.
“the plan is overly bureaucratic and complex”

Don’t trouble yourself too much with learning the different laws- they seem to change often. The most important information for you to first understand is the length of time it will take to get approvals for your project to start. If your builder doesn’t know approximate times/issues…. find a new builder!  Below is a list of typical waits based on the current environment.
Current days from submission of permit – Boston to Holliston before you get the permit. (Based on my experience and not scientific research).

                        Bath      Kitchen        Deck          Roof       Dryer Duct      Addition w/ Zoning        Addition

Boston               1              1                     ?                 1                 1                              75                                     10

Brookline         7              7                     7                 7                 1                             75                                     10

Newton             1              1                    14                1                 1                             75                                     14

Wellesley       21            21                   21              21                21                          110                                    21

Natick                3              3                      3                3                  1                            75                                       8

Sherborn           3              3                      3                3                 1                            75                                       4

Holliston           3              3                      3                 3                 1                           45                                       4

Most of the surprise is if you would need a special permit or variance, and that is most common with new homes or additions- so ask that question first.  And as I always say, plan properly and avoid as many surprises as possible- Happy Renovations!


Time Frame for Planning a Home Renovation – A Stitch in Time

Home renovations are exciting! When someone calls us to discuss an improvement to their home, they are very excited to get things moving forward once they have a good idea of the cost and what the scope will involve. That excitement and desire is important to get the selections made on fixtures and finishes- so what is the caveat to moving full steam ahead?

I speak to many homeowners who have been through a rough experience with past projects and it isn’t always just a case of a bad contractor. Sometimes an inexperienced contractor may allow a quick start to meet the demands of the owner or because they need a project to start for cash flow reasons. When that happens, it is common that too many changes in time and scope lead to an unpleasant renovation process.

Here is an average timeframe of what takes place in our firm (this example uses a home addition with interior renovations):

1. From field measure (measuring your space) to concept delivery – allow 1 1/2 weeks.
2. From concept agreement to budget (subcontractor walk through and number crunching) – allow 2 weeks.
3. Construction documents (plans ready for municipal review and use by the field staff, including any structural engineering.) – allow 3 weeks. If zoning is involved, we typically wait on the engineering and framing plans post approval by the municipality, but may work with our clients on some of the aesthetic interior items ahead of time that won’t change much if we need to tweak anything.
4. Finalizing the aesthetic (cabinet plans, tile and lighting plans, and all the finishes that need to be selected) – allow 5 weeks, if you can meet weekly and make a selection. This varies the most in time because you are probably as busy as everyone else, and getting to the plumbing showroom may not happen as planned.

Keep in mind that once a few of the larger items are selected, and everyone has a good idea of what they need to do, everything doesn’t have to be completed before you enter permitting etc. The best part of doing much of the homework in advance is that the project will be much more enjoyable and predictable. Happy renovating! 

Home Renovations Should Suit Your Lifestyle

Home Renovations Should Suit Your Lifestyle

What is important to you in a home?  I currently find myself in the same place as many of my clients because I just purchased a “handy man special”… yes, a complete gut job, lol.  I was also thinking about our needs as humans, for more than the shelter near the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, but for the need for home that is closer to our actualizing.  It is a place that not only offers safety, but also presents an expression of ourselves and works in tandem with every aspect of our life and lifestyle.

The interesting part from a designer’s perspective is the similarities in two recent design challenges – one for a couple moving from the Boston suburbs back to the city into a stunning flat overlooking the Greenway, and the other for a couple with young children who just suffered a fire (thankfully no one was injured- and please have your dryer vents cleaned), and are discussing the needed renovations with the hope of making the aftermath home again.

Greenway Home Remodel

Remodeling a Flat Overlooking Boston’s Greenway

Home Renovation After Fire

Renovating After a Fire

These design projects couldn’t appear more different, and certainly, one will involve creating more space for all the kids’ needs, and the other will focus on creating a fit and finish that will work seamlessly into the couple’s new lifestyle.  The dichotomy is obvious; however, I am struck by the similar way both couples talk about their needs… the need to be “home”. A place that “does” what they need, provides what they need, and expresses who they are…not just a place to live.  The similarities can be found in two completely different discussions, and hopefully, it will help you when you sit down with your designer to know what in the conversation will make your home and house better.

In the Boston high-rise appointment, we walked with the couple into the master bath and had the Mister stand in the existing shower- large by modern standards, but small compared to their Wellesley bath.  He said he could work with it if it meant getting his wife a cosmetic area where the tub is currently located, and making the closet larger.  Here we meet the need of things, but after time to digest, we discussed a couple of paradigm changers about moving the laundry, shifting walls and in the discussion realized, it was not just the size of the shower, but more of an open concept that would make the bath feel more open and airy… and a desire to provide his wife with a better solution that wouldn’t make her feel cramped (something possible by using space in another bath that isn’t part of their current need).  So it’s not really whether the shower is bigger or smaller.

In the house fire project, as I walked around on the second appointment to do the field measurements, the Mister was quick to let me know the parts of the home his wife loved…not just “my wife loves the porch”, but “we love sitting out there almost every night and it is a great spot to watch the kids come and go from outside and feel like we are really enjoying the outdoors”.  We talked about making a few changes to the current layout, because there were a few things that didn’t really work as well since they first bought the home awhile back.

That is when I came up with the idea for this article.  I had just been in Boston the day before, but I could sense the same exact feeling from both clients – the need to know that they would be in a good place when they moved in!  And none of it had to do with brands of appliances, colors of walls and all the details we would take care of in the coming design meetings, only the need to have a home that works just for them when the long days of work are over.  So before you embark on your next bathroom remodel or home renovation, give some thought to your needs first, and the rest of the design will unfold easily in the next steps.

Home Renovations Should Do More Than Appear to Appeal

The cost of a home, it’s what doesn’t meet the eye.

Flipping property seems to be the new TV hit in home shows.  I was eager to talk to an appraiser to get some information about where the shift in value is from Home A to Home B at a recent professional event.  I had a vague understanding of what appraisers do because of the real estate transactions I have had, but there were two words that I heard in my discussion with an appraiser that were very informative… and disappointing.  The words were: appears and appeal.

I know that not all expense on remodeling can be fully appreciated (dollar-wise) upon completion.  I also know that if an unscrupulous developer wants to slap up a Band-Aid, that an unsuspecting buyer may only see “granite counters”.  My frustration is that the words “appears” and “appeal” are inherent in what’s wrong with the way our society and economy view a home’s value.  If the best and worst case scenarios require a lifetime of maintenance costs, on similar size homes, that could range from $50k to $300k.  Shouldn’t we know that in the value of the property?  If a kitchen that will get five years of use before needing to be replaced has the same “appraisal” value as one that will provide 20 years of good service, shouldn’t the home change in value (plus the cost of interest over time)?

With automobiles, this is easier to get our arms around.  We learn early on that some brands have better service history; maintenance costs are readily available, and luxury is easier to see when we compare it by brand.  With real estate, there is the value of the location, lot size and living space… but the minute the cost or quality of goods added inside, compounded by the quality of installation or building science get introduced, a consumer is much less prepared.

Without throwing the entire appraisal community under the bus, it is evident that a home that has an older kitchen with a quick make-over that gives it more appeal can have a value similar to a newer, better constructed kitchen that has less appeal… if they both “appear” to be recently done!  One of my personal pet peeves is the quality of goods on new homes.  I have seen some large and expensive new homes with sub-par wood siding – then slap a coat of solid stain on it and see failing siding in less than a decade.  Yes, you can buy red cedar clapboards from $.70 to over $2 per lineal foot, and the appraisal will “appear” new, with workmanship-like install, and “appeal” to people because they’re unaware of the difference between finger jointed clapboards and CVG clapboards.  I have one client who actually had to re-side their expensive and newly constructed home when it was only 6 years old… shouldn’t that change the value?

The moral of the story, I guess, is to look beyond the appeal before diving in – and think about the reputation and history of the builder as one of the value propositions, before you end up with remodeling projects you didn’t anticipate.

Kitchen Countertops as Architectural Features

Kitchen Countertops as Architectural Features

Can you imagine a kitchen without counter tops? It wasn’t that long ago that the kitchen table was used as the main prep space- with minimal counter clean up space reserved for the sink. Once the marvelous concept of preparation and clean-up space was introduced, there wasn’t much call for improvement. The kitchen counter has evolved based on a few very important reasons:

1. Times change and so have the materials available – (stainless, laminate, solid surface, natural stone and glass, concrete and wood) so we can change the look as well as mix things up.
2. Times change and so have our lifestyles- Mom is not cooking alone in the kitchen anymore – the duties have been split and the children are more involved. Because of our busy lives it is one of the activities families do together now so the layouts of the counter tops have changed (islands, peninsulas, L and U-shaped kitchens as well as the most current use of multiple triangles of task-connecting stations for prep, clean-up and cooking… and the all-important homework while being in the same room with each other)
3. Times change and the kitchen is not just the nucleus of the home, it is the center of our life at home. This creates a need to blend the best practices of what the kitchen needs to do while making the kitchen a beautiful part of our family area… “wait, I think this is how the pioneers did it”

In the following examples are a couple of counters that have more than one purpose:

Butcher block countertop

Butcher block countertop

The chopping block above faces the family room and dinette and provides relief by not being on the same plane as the main counter.  The warm color of the wood offers a casual change of definition, and the lower height is actually more conducive to cutting and chopping.  The butcher block also means no more bringing out a cutting board at prep time.

Large kitchen island

Large kitchen island

The length of the counter above allows two accomplished foodies to work side by side.  There’s more! The extended casual dining is scalable and was designed to help manage the client’s invited guests and create more “gathering space” to keep the work zone free of unwanted participation. The extension is also scalable in that it can be used to bring little cooks in on some cookie making, be used for casual dining, or allow homework or other projects to be done while a meal is being prepared. One more benefit of this design is that the extended dinette is an architectural bridge helping transition the adjacent family room into the kitchen.

The moral of the story? When you are designing your next kitchen, imagine all the things you want to accomplish in the space and use that as a creative start to your counter space.

Windows Yield High Returns in Remodeling

During many design projects, one of the best opportunities to make a high impact on the design with the best return is often by moving or adding windows.  The typical aversion includes cost, but is usually associated with a paradigm about the way things are or the impact that they will have.  Of course, installing windows where they do not exist has associated costs other than just the window.  In our market, a 36 inch wide by 54 inch high window typically costs between $500 and $1,000, depending on the quality and energy efficiency.  There is carpentry to frame it, plaster to repair, as well as painting inside, and usually some painting outside with some patching of the siding.  So if the cost to add a window would be an additional $1,500-$2,000 and you are doing a significant renovation, the new window(s) may actually be the star of the show.

kitchen windows before renovation

Before windows…

Kitchen windows after renovation
…after windows

Kitchen windows before renovation

Before windows…Kitchen windows after renovation…after windows