Construction Surprises

If you have read my blog, you will know that I believe there are no real surprises in the estimating of construction. There is a thing called inexperience… and that usually results in surprise costsJ. I had to stop watching HGTV because the programs almost always result in the designer and contractor meeting with the Owner to let them know about an “unforeseen” issue that was going to break the budget. Also in most cases I would wonder why they didn’t know they would need a beam, that they couldn’t move the plumbing without additional expense, etc., etc.

A hidden cost in construction, that shouldn’t be a surprise is rotting sills. It doesn’t matter how expensive the home is, we are constantly finding wood rot behind the front stoop. So much so, that we already know we are likely to find it even when there are no visible signs; and we can find evidence pre-budget. The primary culprit is typically poor coordination between the builder, the person siding or the mason.

In the picture below we were performing an interior renovation in Wellesley. The client had hired a well-intentioned landscape mason to renew the front stoop, making it wider and using natural stone. Because the mason wasn’t familiar with this type of work (connecting masonry to the home), they left portions of a pine water table in place and were building up against it. They were creating a future rot and insect issue as well as leaving some rot that was pre-existing. Fortunately, they were truly interested in doing the right thing and waited for us to get a carpenter there to remove the water table and install flashing.

I know these are not sexy photos- but hopefully it will help if you are planning to replace the front stoop. Below we moved a large granite landing away from a house in Dover getting a new porch. We and found the rot we expected… about 9 feet of rotted sill plate. No problem! 2 hours, 2 carpenters, 18′ of 2×6 pressure treated lumber and NO INVOICE to the client. I can’t wait to show you the beautiful porch that will be here in a few weeks.

Happy renovating, Ray

http://wiese.com/2489-2/

Designing for Your Lifestyle

I was reading a recent poll that was published by a national trade magazine in which designers were asked a series of questions, with what I thought were disappointing statistics. For instance, 3 out of 4 designers surveyed for kitchen designs are using function before form [a design that fits a client’s living and cooking style]. Three out of four??? I think that means that 25% of design professionals are focusing on how something looks without regard to how you would actually use the space– unbelievable! Imagine a beautiful new kitchen that frustrates the end user because there isn’t anywhere to prep a salad. At least you know you have a 75% chance that your designer cares about how a space will be used, LOL. Even if you don’t cook, you may want your designer to know where you’d like to store the take-out and make it easy to clean-up

I believe that a good home, and kitchen, and laundry area, and every other built environment can be designed to work for your lifestyle and also be beautifully designed. Start with lifestyle and infuse ergonomics with a touch of feng shui. 

Your lifestyle is a really important factor in designing you a space and I love to have the conversation with people about their lives because I know that is one of the most important factors in good long term enjoyment of home. I am sure there are more parts to the make-up of “lifestyle” but I think it is knowing the daily routines of the family now while understanding where the family is heading. How old are the children and what type of interests do they have? Who and how many are cooking at home? What type of down time does the family have as a group? And also the true nature of the neighborhood and how they participate in it. One of hundreds of examples would be the difference in 2 families that love to ski; one family owns a ski home so they don’t have a need for easy access and storage for winter items because it will all be up north. The other family goes every other weekend for day trips and would welcome a solution for packing easier, and unpacking when they get home.

Ergonomics in a home environment is about blending the lifestyle with how you want to “be” in your home, as well as how you will move about. In a kitchen or bath, there are more mechanics about process of course. Good ergonomics in whole would allow the occupants to have the space they need when it is time to get together (dining, talking and relaxing), and when they need space (homework, working from home, or reading while the children trash the basement). Two sets of stairs can aide in this if the home is long and linear- especially if the stair isn’t in the center. But two stairs too close to each other can actually impede on ergonomics if the space used has more value than saving a few steps.

Feng Shui is an ancient form of [tongue in cheek] lifestyle meets religion that has a lot of great information about how architecture should cohabitate with nature, and the people using it. Literally translates as “wind-water” according to Wikipedia. One example of good feng shui in a home design that you can move through your home the way a river would run with least resistance, aka:”ergonomics”. With interior design, it is bad feng shui to open a front door, and be able to immediately see the back door. They refer to this as an avenue for your spirit to leave, and offer a solution of placing rice below a red matt to keep your spirit from leaving. I believe the real translation would be that upon entering home, one should feel first embraced by it, and allowed to take in “home” before moving on. If you have ever enjoyed the seat in the corner of a room where you can see everything around you, that is known as the Tiger position. The opposite feeling would be present if a room was oriented with seating facing away from where others are gathering, with no connection or ability to know what is happening behind you. Many of you know why you have your bed facing a certain direction now, and who sleeps closer to the door :)

Peninsula with bad flow                     Before:  Kitchen in Dover had a bad layout for this family’s lifestyle; having to walk around the peninsula through the kitchen to get to the lower level

Kitchen layout with dining

After: Our Dover kitchen remodel changed the layout and moved the staircase, so you no longer have to walk through the kitchen work zone to get to the lower level

Fireplace Makeovers for a Transitional Generation

You may have a natural brick fireplace like the ones pictured below, or at least may have seen one or two. We are seeing more of them as the 1970’s and 80’s homes they are in become due for improvements. We are often asked what we can do with them, and the answer is that there are endless amounts of ways to re-adorn this gathering spot. I thought I would show you 2 ideas that demonstrate what a little paint can do as well as a more tailored way to dress a raised brick hearth.

The first before and after is a recently completed makeover in Dover, MA. The client had a couple of inspiration photos, and she really liked one that had a more up to date honed stone surround with simple lines. Because her fireplace had a raised hearth, we had the stone fabricator make the base as monolithic as possible instead of a more traditional layering with the hearth top hanging over. Because they also wanted a TV above, we had to frame out the wall above to allow space for wiring.

                                   

The second idea was part of a major kitchen renovation in Sherborn, MA that we completed a few years back. We removed the wall between the kitchen and family room and installed a kitchen that leaned more contemporary than the brick fireplace in the existing family room. We suggested a deeper tone paint to allow the fireplace to remain a focal point and also offer a nice textural, sophisticated and simple accent against the wall.

                                                                                                         

Outdoor Spaces That Enhance Winter Views

Here in our New England area we can experience 20 degrees in December, or close to 70 as the forecast states for tomorrow- Christmas Eve! What doesn’t change is the connection a deck can make (referred to as transitioning in Architecture) between the outside and the inside. Designing a deck is an important part of how it works with the home year round.  For this deck on a hillside home overlooking the Charles River in Dover, MA…. why would we want to spoil the view in December when the beauty of the river changes with every season?

The effect the glass rails have in this case is 3 pronged:

First, I like glass rails for the simplest reason. When sitting outside, that 36″ required rail height is the perfect spot to block the view (since in the sitting position your eyes are about 36″ off the ground)- and as long as there is no top rail, there is not any visual interruption.

Next, from inside this house, the glass rail allows the eye to descend all the way to the river, creating a bigger more impactful view that is like a living view, more than just seeing the river in the distance.

Last, because hillside homes should embrace the drama of the perch, these rails allow the residents to feel that perch- almost tree house like- without any worries about the safety.

 

Pros & Cons of both Gas and Wood Fireplaces

​The fireplace still remains a staple to our thoughts of “hearth and home”.  So much has changed with building codes and fireplaces that I thought it would be great to note a few of these if you are considering adding a fireplace to your next construction project.

Wood burning fireplace in Sherborn

I’ll start with the most popular fireplace we install…. A gas fireplace.  As a side note, if I had mentioned gas fireplaces in our greater NewtonWellesley area of operations 15 years ago, people would have thought I was uninformed or downright low-end :).  Today, the popularity has grown because we have less time to store, stack and start a wood fire.

This option does have a few things to consider.  Today’s gas fireplaces have to be efficient and deliver heat… that can be a bad thing if you put it somewhere that the heat zone is not separate which would either cause the rest of the home to become cold if the thermostat is nearby, or the room the fireplace is in could become uncomfortably warm… or not even start if you are using the temperature setting.  If you are selecting a gas fireplace, be sure to look at the screen options that will be part of the exterior façade.  These used to be recommended by our team to protect little ones from burns, but are now required in our state… this will change the aesthetic so it is an important choice.  One last item to think about is the ventilation of the off gasses.  If you are installing one of these in an existing fireplace, a new stainless steel flu will need to be installed. Another option is to ventilate directly outside, however depending on the location, this can look awkward if not resolved well architecturally.

Pros:

  1. Hit the remote control and “ta da!”

  2. Never run out of wood.

  3. Supplemental heat source in cooler rooms.

  4. Easier to get the popular TV over fireplace because of clearances.

Cons:

  1. May create hot and cold zones in the home.

  2. May be challenging to vent.

  3. Flames not as realistic as the real deal.

  4. Cannot roast marshmallows

Gas Fireplace in Dover

Wood fireplaces are still my personal favorite… but my wife would disagree because she doesn’t like the smoky smell- however; I’ll list that (in small doses) as a Pro.  There is nothing more real than a real fire and after all, this is part of our evolution as a human race.  Fire means warmth, hot meals and togetherness.  In one of my earlier homes I installed a metal hook that allowed a cast iron pot to boil water adding humidity in dry winter months.  I know that wood means a lot of effort in cutting, splitting or even bringing in fresh logs that may have been delivered… I just like the primitive fun of it and I find it easy once the fire has a nice set of coals, I can regulate the temperature and the kids can enjoy s’mores in January.

Pros:

  1. Real flames and crackle noise.

  2. Can roast marshmallows and hot dogs on camping night inJ

  3. Regulate the heat output while maintaining ambient flames.

  4. Supplemental heat source when the power goes off.

Cons:

  1. Inefficient source of fuel, and air leaks from the home.

  2. Can create odor that some folks don’t like.

  3. Requires work to keep wood coming and clean-up.

  4. More challenging to hang a TV over.

     

No matter what your pleasure… there is nothing like the dance of flames in a room to add ambiance, romance or conjure a holiday mood, so just make sure you are getting what you want from your fireplace.