What is a Master Builder?

Some light reading for the summer.

I had a job recent applicant use the phrase “Master Builder” to describe himself during an interview and wasn’t sure how to take it. Not that I was questioning this person’s ability to lead, manage and work on our projects, but because I had spent a lot of time in my younger days trying to find out the criteria for this title. Other than architectural history classes, I remember this term being bounced around a couple of decades ago and used in advertisements by self-proclaimed master builders. I never did find any courses or criteria, or special licensure that would make one a “Master Builder”.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines a master builder as:  a person notably proficient in the art of building, the ancient Egyptians were master buildersspecifically:  one who has attained proficiency in one of the building crafts and is qualified or licensed to supervise building construction. Average modern construction (much of it in my opinion) wouldn’t hold a candle to the ancient Egyptians. Nor would holding a Massachusetts Constructing Supervisors license make one “proficient” based on the criteria our state requires to obtain one.

Wikipedia, provided sources that were contemporary. In 1887, full swing of the Victorian period: A master builder is recognized as such, not only for his ability to rear a magnificent structure after plans prepared by the architect for his guidance, but because of his ability to comprehend those plans, and to skillfully weave together the crude materials which make up the strength, the harmony, the beauty, the stateliness of the edifice which grow in his hands from a made foundation to a magnificent habitation.” The Inland Architect and News Record (1887), Volume 9, p. 43. The same source also identifies a Master Builder as “the central figure leading a construction project in an Amish Community”. Now that is something I could get behind :)

On a recent road trip across Europe, I stayed at Le Place d’Armes in Luxemburg.  I had the fortunate experience to have a room in the old attic of the building. It was this experience that compelled me to think of the skill used to build the large structure that dates back to the 18th century. Here is an old photo of the exterior, where I stayed in the corner attic room, along with the beams that were likely hoisted up by pulley’s.

Le Place D'Armes

Modern times have certainly changed the way we build, more notably for efficiency rather than longevity. Because the origin of the master builder was the precursor to the modern architect according to most historic sources, I think it is safe to say that currently on all large scale projects, there are many experts involved to dream up, engineer and oversee a project. For your remodeling needs, it probably wouldn’t hurt to have an experienced team that consisted of professional designers and craftspeople…. just saying.  

Decorative Open Ceiling

A Tale of Two Front Doors: A Look into the Past and Present Architectural Odyssey

When I first started visiting homes for an appointment 25 years ago, most of them were traditional colonials with a main front door and a side “service entrance”. It would have been odd for me to knock on the service entrance door back then. That was a door designed for the dairy delivery cooler to be stored, the dry cleaning to be dropped off, and where the housekeeper would enter and exit. In these circa 1950 homes, the kitchen would be just inside so it was easier for the homeowner to retrieve their milk and eggs. But back then, a package delivery, vacuum cleaner salesman and even a close friend would go to the main door to be greeted in the foyer. This all changed as our lives became more hectic and casual and now if I ring the front doorbell I’ll hear from inside, “Can you go to the side door? This one is stuck closed.”

So, why have two front doors on a home built post the invention of the mudroom? I am not suggesting removing one if there isn’t another way into the mudroom or ripping down half the house because you currently have the common side entrance. However; I am still unsure why new homebuilders haven’t received the news that the service entrance needn’t be the welcoming space, and it certainly doesn’t need to be designed in a way that makes it unclear where to enter or redundant.

Below is a home we remodeled last year (before and after). The doors are literally feet apart and I have never been more confused about where to knock. In the re-design, the family enters 3′ farther away than before, still has an entry from the back and garage, and the house looks so much better! Mostly because the Owner has a great taste and picked a great new color! :)

Happy Door Shopping! Ray

new home exterior wellesley

Before

exterior remodel wellesley

After

Developer Vs. Custom Kitchen

Wellesley Kitchen Remodel

Wellesley Kitchen Remodel

It seems that the West coast method of determining home value (by the square foot) is reaching the East coast. I hear it referred to more and more lately without regard to location or land, and even more important; quality. I am often asked what I would charge for new home construction and typically get immediate feedback…..”that it seems high”. Below we will show you kitchen examples, but I would like to note that I have re-sided, retrofitted and replaced windows on many homes only a decade old because of poor material selections.

Featured below is a fine home in Wellesley that had the original kitchen as provided by the developer. The home was about a decade old and the cabinets were not in bad shape, but the design forced appliances that were oversized for the space. That translated to too many appliances and not enough room to cook, gather or move around the house. The original builder did what they thought was required to be competitively priced in the higher end market, and many buyers won’t know whether the design will work until they move in and start using the space. Call me silly, but when you are building homes in the $1m-$3m market, discount cabinets and marginal design shouldn’t be part of the value proposition.

Our first challenge was figuring out how to make the kitchen work well with the rest of the house. After a few discussions with the owners, one of the concepts we provided (and went with!) meant moving the kitchen to the family room, the family room to the dining room and the dining room to the kitchen. Yes, really.

A few custom touches meant actually lowering the vaulted ceiling to have a more purposeful and beautiful oak coffer (suggested by the client). We eliminated the gas fireplace to create an anchor and focal point with the range. And more important than giving this family the quality their home deserved, we made the space work better for their everyday life!

Kitchen Remodel

Before

Wellesley Kitchen Remodel

After

Tailored Bath Design

         Chestnut Hill Bath Remodel

I often use the term “tailored” when describing some of the parts and process we use in kitchen and bath design.  Even though tailors have little to do with renovating, it is a good metaphor for the difference between a generic developer’s bath circa 1995, and a fully developed plan.

A fully developed, or “tailored plan” uses interior architecture as well as interior design to create a plan where the details have a multi-prong synergy.

  1. The first step is drawing an improved and maximized space that takes full advantage of the real estate available. The existing bath in this study only fit one sink and vanity because of an arbitrary installation of a large tub deck The new bath has his and hers vanities with a larger shower, and still fits a large tub for soaking.
  2. Designing details that create a safe and lasting design is often an unnoticed aspect of the big picture. The existing plan in our example did not have tempered glass (required by code) near the tub. An important safety factor near a slippery surface. The design should also account for small items such as running tile high enough in a shower if the client is extra tall so the walls plaster and paint don’t deteriorate at an accelerated pace.
  3. Where one design element starts and another begins is just as important. If you look at the marriage of the tile floor inlay, how the tile climbs to and above the shower threshold; as well as the continuity of the horizontal planes with tile and crown molding, they all work equally effective at the sink, in the shower and around the tub.

Contact us here for more details on our bath remodeling services!

Happy Tailoring!

                                                                                          

 

How to Improve Your Home’s Efficiency

Energy performance should be a discussion in any home renovation where there is an opportunity to make improvements in energy consumption and improved comfort. While it should be part of the conversation, the outcome may be that additional insulation in a small sub-component of the home could actually be a bad thing to do.

Good building science works well when different components are assembled with synergy. In the 70’s during an energy crisis, insulation factors were significantly increased without simultaneously modifying the components it worked with. This resulted in premature exterior paint failure from vapor trapped in the structure, and required ventilation retrofits to make the system work “better”. 

I have also seen the “green movement” in building science morph into a few camps based on ideology instead of a simpler health, and energy science. If you want to improve the energy performance of your home, start with increased insulation value while accounting for the rest of the building system. Second, change all the lighting in the home to LED.  This will reduce excess heat in the summer and will reduce your electric bill right away with a short term payback. The third place to look is the heat plant. If you have older low efficient heating and cooling equipment, the change in efficiency from 80% to 94% will show up right away. Last but not least… if you are doing an entire exterior make-over… replace the windows. One at a time this doesn’t really change things. If you want to know what to do next… INSULATE MOREJ!

Here is a project we just completed in Wellesley. As part of a kitchen expansion, we did a complete exterior (and interior) make over. With blown in insulation in the budget along with all new windows, we discovered that a less effective insulation (about R9) had been installed by the last owner when they installed aluminum siding. We couldn’t get more insulation in the cavity so for the price of the blown in budget (about $5k) we suggested a one inch foam board to provide a thermal break. This pretty metallic red board does more than add 25-40% more to the insulation factor, but delivers a contiguous external thermal blanket that reduced hot and cold spots. This project with attic insulation and a new high efficient gas boiler shows the proof is in the pudding. Check out the comparison of last year’s energy report that came with the EverSource bill and the recent report!

The pictures of the home show the 3 phases of the exterior renovation (paint starts in a month or so).

Step one, strip to bare sheathing boards.

Step two, install a vapor barrier with 1” of foam board (they did finish the whole house… I showed up during that for the photo).

Step three, we sided with Hari Plank siding and Azek trim for a long lasting and beautiful low maintenance exterior that can be painted every 10-15 years.