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

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.

What’s Under That Old Siding?

In the picture below, this is a typical 1940’s home in a Wellesley neighborhood we have done a few projects in. As part of a whole home renovation, we are going to put on a new roof, new siding and replace all of the exterior trim and windows. When we are done, it will be better than new!

Our firm has removed and renovated siding from homes that are CIRCA 1760, and unfortunately; also homes that are only a few years old because of faulty product or installation. I often get asked about what to expect once the siding comes off, or hear that someone told them they won’t know until after the siding comes off. 

The reality is that it is very predictable with an eye on a few items. A good exterior inspection will shed light on repairs that were made or if there was a lot of deferred maintenance. If the home is on the historic end of the spectrum, it will look close to the photo of the 1940s home except the boards will be less uniform and there will be larger gaps. On a home like that, as long as the wear and tear are typical we expect to replace about 10% of those boards before re-siding and if the home is in rough shape, we will be re-nailing the sheathing and probably some of the framing. The renovations of the homes that fall in the 1940 category are about the same. These homes were built post war with pride and are not really that old in the renovation business. If a previous owner neglected the home, we would probably find some insect or water damage (about 2-3 days of labor from a carpenter to repair).

It’s the 1975 to present day houses that are the more troubling ones to work on, mostly because the issues are born more from a dollar driven new home construction and use of poor materials. It will likely be plywood below with rot from leaking assemblies and rotted trim. The sheathing will need to be re-nailed because there were not enough nails to begin with and larger sections will need to be uncovered.

One of the questions most asked is whether the siding under vinyl or aluminum siding will be salvageable. Although I am an optimist, the reality is that these homes were usually over-sided because of an issue with the original siding. Additionally, there will be nail holes all over the original siding. If you are planning for a full exterior renovation, my advice is to budget for the original siding to come off so you don’t end up in worse shape when the vinyl comes off. Happy renovating! Feel free to contact us if you are in need of exterior remodel to see how we can help!

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!