Home Renovations, A Tale from Start to Finish

A project is in process from the time you start to think about it, until you move in and start enjoying the finished product. Starting and going through the process can be fun, so why shouldn’t the completion be as easy and without the stress before that final check is written? It dawned on me about 20 years ago that we would work with some clients that were extremely fussy and some who would just move right in without even looking for any issues beyond an obvious item that hadn’t been installed. I realized a few truths:

  1. The carpenter managing the project was too deep into the items to see the project objectively at the end. After all, all those hours of hard work have created a lasting and quality project and they were living in the job. 
  2. The lighting in the project changes from the beginning to the end and makes it difficult to see any blemishes until all the finish lighting is in.
  3. The clients who used a magnifying glass were not doing it to be difficult, and maybe the clients who didn’t bring up minor issues just didn’t want to come across as high maintenance.

We use one of the most published charts in the construction industry to help clients with how they will be feeling. See “What To Expect Emotionally” below. The one big missing item is “punching out”. A terrible term that sounds like the time the Owner and the Contractor come to fists over what is done and what isn’t. It actually means going through a final checklist and using a paper punch to note what had been remedied.

It finally dawned on me that I could reduce the stress for the client (and everyone else) if we added designer punch to our process. About a week before we offer our client the time to pull out the fine tooth comb, the project designer spends some time with a flashlight and post-it notes. Now that our subcontractors are familiar with this, they love making sure it is perfect. Additionally, our own carpenters know they are less likely to miss something and the client doesn’t have to spend the time they did before and still has a chance to be that second or third look.

There will inevitably be some minor issues that come up during or after move in. Most warranties offer hardware adjusting type of things up to 90 days to fine tune items that will later become part of normal maintenance, or perhaps a small nick is put in the floor by the furniture delivery company. If your remodeler doesn’t have this scheduled automatically, then ask for a 90 day review- and all the little adjustments of other small finds can be rectified at one time. 

The idea for this article came to me on a site visit when Lisa was busy marking paint touch-ups….. if you don’t have a designer, don’t be afraid to make your discovery known with the post-it! Happy remodeling!

 

 

Architectural Confusion

You know that feeling something is wrong… but you can’t put your finger on it? Unfortunately I see that a lot in my line of work. In the renovation and remodeling business, we get hired not just because people need more space, but often to correct what’s “not right”.

These exterior Architecture projects are some of my favorites. I love the challenge and reward that comes with helping a home find its true potential. In the case studies I have here, the beautiful Wellesley Dutch Colonial we re-designed in 2003, and the current design we are working on was a former “4 square” home that received a new garage designed by a different Architect in 1999. What they both had in common before the design work started was façade confusion. The Dutch looked as though the home was facing sideways on the lot, and the Four Square looks a bit like someone forgot about the front door… deep on the left side which creates a dilemma for first time visitors about where to arrive.

The solutions for many architectural projects come by seeking resolutions to why they feel the way they do. The Dutch home before pictures show the porch railing facing the street. That is the first que someone gets that this home may have a door there, but perhaps you’re not welcome. (I assure you the Owners are very nice… it was the house talking). The second issue was the slight “shed like” office that sits on the right… which looks like something someone might put on the back of their house. To resolve the issue, and create a true front façade, a second floor and porch were added, providing girth and strength to the right side and balancing the existing lonely gabled front. Then we moved the front stair and placed a new walkway. This allows newcomers to feel instantly invited, and removes any doubt about how to approach the home.    

Before:

                                      

 

After:    

     

 

In the project we are in the early stages of designing, you can see all of the emphasis is placed on the garage… the least appealing part of the home is forced upon the street. In 1999 when this was added, if you installed a more formal looking entrance, it was expected that anyone arriving would gravitate to that entry…. Even if it meant walking all the way to the side yard. Today, most folks arrive at the old service entrance… A.K.A. the side door, so this really needs a shift. What we are proposing is to remove the existing front door and pull the right side forward with a welcoming porch and a semiformal foyer. By adding a small addition to the upper right, there will be balance with a stepped façade, and more weight on the side of the garage. A brow roof over the garage will also provide some relief to the large flat surface.


I’d like to note that the Dutch project started as a request for an additional bedroom and bath, and the current design work started as a discussion about how to reduce recurrent water infiltration that has been exacerbated by the last addition in 1999. But hey, if you can get 2 remedies while you are fixing one, why not.

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!

 

Trends in Home Additions

 

In the 90’s I filled much of our company’s schedule with family room additions. Everyone rushed to attach a room to the back of the home that was bigger than the living room and would be more casual and have a stronger connection to the back yard. That family room extension has morphed over time in towns like Newton and Wellesley, where there is a large stock of housing dating between the 1920’s and 1940’s. These smaller homes with good architecture, but fewer amenities, popularized the family room, kitchen renovation and master suite boom- known in Wellesley, Massachusetts remodeling as “The Wellesley Special”. That trend in home additions continues but it seems that homes without these rooms are targeted by builders looking for teardown opportunities for neo-classic new homes. (There is an official definition for this I found on the web, so funny- but true)

Mc·Man·sion məkˈmanSH(ə)n/ noun: a large modern house that is considered ostentatious and lacking in architectural integrity.

In the last few years, we have spent more design effort on existing space in large and small homes. Often we may add on just enough space to enhance an existing space to accommodate the perfect kitchen, family room or bath. People want their home to work and want it to work for their lifestyle, not necessarily a trend like the family rooms presented in the 90’s. This is seen with clients that share similar demographics with different needs and desires. I am not saying that larger homes are out, we are certainly seeing the economy return to normality and that means we will all have more choices. But I do think that many people have shifted their thinking to “what do I really want”.

A small addition in Newton, just large enough to add a mudroom and get it out of the family room :)

 

 

Indoor/Outdoor Kitchen in Wellesley

 

Of course we all think about our outdoor spaces more when the weather is at its best and we find ourselves outside. Because we live in New England, it is easy to frame our outside time into 3 short months. The good news is that we actually have 3 great seasons to enjoy in our beautiful part of the country and when it is time to renovate the outdoors… think about stretching that a bit with inside/outside space that can offer protection from the bugs in the mid-summer and work when temperatures start with warm Fall days, and slowly ease into crisp fall nights.

This client in Wellesley was frustrated by having inadequate ventilation to grill inside during the winter… that is difficult to do even with the most powerful fans.  Because he already had been planning a major back yard project, he asked about using an existing covered porch for a 3-4 season kitchen/lounge that could make grilling convenient all year round; rain or shine.

Having recently purchased the home, one of the additional places that needed attention was the “too small” master bath and closet. We leveraged the work on the first floor to help make more space on the second floor to enlarge the master. This second floor worked well to provide some relief to the rear of the home, as well as provide some sense of sheltered court to the patio area.

Some things to consider in a similar project include:

  1. Make sure the floor surface and finishes feel good when the space is open to the outside and to the inside.

  2. If you are going to have refrigeration to keep the food items close by and do prep- make sure you have a sink handy so you can keep on working.

  3. Think about a possible heat source if you think you would enjoy hanging out on a winter day. We have used Infratech heaters when the application is right, and they work fast and only need to be on while you are in the space.

  4. Plan the indoor and outdoor spaces together…. The synergy of the project shows in the architectural backdrop to the patio seating

Before- Exterior Shot