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.

How To Properly Install Shutters

Exterior makeovers are nothing new to our company.  One item that always adds a quality and charming feel to a home are authentic window shutters.  I am not talking about the screwed to the house variety-I mean the shutters that sit on offset hinges and come with an assortment of hold backs, properly known as “shutter dogs”.  The difference in the aesthetic is easy to see when you drive by a home that has authentic hardware.  The shutter stands off the home enough to see the relief in the siding which will produce a shadow line that adds extra elegance.

Something I am often asked about when we are ordering or installing shutters is the durability. My preference in New England is the historically common louvered shutter.  They’re constructed with cedar and pre-painted by the shutter maker.  Cedar will make the shutter last much longer than pine. Unfortunately pine is often used, in case you are wondering why you have to paint your shutters every five years, that’s probably why.  Another reason I prefer cedar shutters has to do with the more authentic appearance they have close up compared to composites and their ability to accept the hardware installation.

We are also often asked if the shutters are backwards when we install them.  You may notice that most homes have the bottom of each louver sloping away from the home which is usually a selection the painter makes when screwing shutters back on the house; and commonly found in the vinyl variety.  However, shutters were once a necessity and had to work properly.  Back when glass was so fragile and windows not so watertight, the shutters needed to be closed in advance of the storm and the louvers needed to shed water away from the window.  So when opened, shutters should display with the louvers in the opposite direction draining toward the siding if you want an authentic installation.

There are some composite shutters that look nice and claim to be lower maintenance. The ones I have seen are best used for a paneled shutter- not as common in our area because the wood ones take on water at the joints easier.  If you’re looking for that style, which is more appropriate on an English or French Country style home, I would suggest using composite.

If you are looking to buy shutters and are not renovating, we recommend contacting a company that specializes in this, and locally that is New England Shutter.  When we are installing ourselves, we like to buy from Exterior Solutions where we can order them easily with the finish, size and hardware all in one spot. If you’re wondering what they cost, each pair will set you back about $600-$800 installed, pre-painted and with cedar.

Happy shopping! 

Remodeling and Renovation Planning- Where to Start

When preparing for a large renovation it can help to have a plan; to start the planning :). The first step is to think about what it is driving the project.

Is it just the “something new” or is it motivated by a changing family need? Of course, if the cabinets and appliances are breaking down, it is probably a combination of things. You need a new kitchen, but you would also like it to work better and have an improved lay-out. If it is the hall bath that has the same lay-out, it is a new stuff and style issue. And lastly, if it is a major renovation and addition, then we need to spend time getting to the bottom of what life will have in store for at least the next decade.

Once you have zeroed in on the need or objective, it is time to interview. Right, I said interview! The interview process will help you discover what the right fit is for you and your family. Of course it is very important to like the person you hire but you also need to have confidence in their expertise and their ability to perform the work. As well as believe in the integrity of the firm.

You also have choices to make about the process that works for you. The structure of construction companies and the way they do business is almost endless. Most processes are based on 3 generic models:

1. The hire everything yourself approach. Here you could take a simple bath remodel, hire all the needed specialty subs and maybe even do the design work yourself. This process can get a quick upgrade to include a one person show that does some coordinating for you. The only pro to this method is cost saving since you will not have to pay someone to manage the project. The downside is that there are many cons if you are new to renovating. It isn’t like a repair you would hire a handy man for. Picking one sub-contractor at a time can lead to finger pointing and delays in the project.

2. The design-bid approach begins with hiring a designer or architect and then seeking companies to bid the project. Hiring a designer who has a good stable of contractors will help keep the process moving. The pros of this approach include having a design professional to work with you, getting a good understanding of the project scope during the interview stage with contractors and having some design oversight during construction. The cons are typically self- inflicted. Many homeowners want to fire the designer as soon as possible because of the cost, leaving a less design savvy person making many of those choices. Believing the plan is evenly understood or the scope will be followed by the contractor may make using the lower bid contract a poor decision. Without people to bid, it can take months to get pricing back from companies. This process also has a design/build tweak available by working with a separate design firm that has relationships to construction companies. This approach most common in the custom homes over $5m area.

3. The design build approach is of course the one I believe in most. So read the following knowing I have a difficult time being objective in this arena. There are companies that do design in house and even designers who act as a GC without any construction staff- a thought that appeals to me sometimes when I think of the challenge of hiring all the folks we need. A pure design build company has a full design department that can handle architecture, interior architecture as well as solid kitchen and bath work. Insert plug for Wiese Company here. The cons are needing to make some sort of initial investment in the project study and some light design work, and also making a very solid choice since this one firm will need to be responsible for the whole enchilada. The pros include one stop shopping, no finger pointing since the design/build firm has the onus of everything, and the involvement of the design team every step of the way. The modifications of this approach are scalable in how involved the designers are in the shopping process as well as how long the project will take and whether there is a designated project lead.

To answer the question about where our firm fits in, we are a full service operation. That means that we help our clients articulate the need and desire early. We use a full design process that includes a dedicated design professional to be the project coordinator from start to finish. They will catalogue and help with every selection (even personal shopping if needed) as well as provide the project with an administrator to help the owner and project lead. On the construction end, we put a lead carpenter in charge of the construction from beginning to end. They work closely with the client and designer while keeping the work on track and managing all the people and parts of the project while being hands on at the project daily.

Once you find the right person, they should help you go from there! Remember, if you don’t like the handy man, they are only in your home for an hour or 2 but when you embark on a major renovation, you’ll need to like someone past the honeymoon phase. Click here to contact us if you live in the area and are interested in using the design build approach.

Happy remodeling!