Open Concept Remodel
Is it really a compromise when everyone involved gets more than they bargained for? Based on their experience, our clients Paul and Becky would probably tell you that when you trust your remodel partner and keep your eyes on the prize, no one has to settle for less than everything they wanted. It’s an experience that reinforces a fundamental tenet of the STRITE culture: keeping your clients’ best interests at the center of any negotiation is the best way to get what you want.
It’s not as though Paul and Becky didn’t know what they wanted. They had lived in their Lakewood home in Southeast Boise for 10 years — long enough to know that its location fit their lifestyle. That lifestyle changed, however, when their children left home. While Becky wanted to scale down to a smaller home without a yard, Paul really wanted a yard. “It was either move or remodel,” Paul recalls.
The couple looked at a lot of homes but couldn’t find the lot size that matched the price they were willing to pay, and both loved the proximity to the Greenbelt and work that their current location offered. In the process of house hunting, Becky had compiled a notebook of ideas that inspired her, and that she and Paul eventually decided to incorporate into the remodel of their existing home.
“The biggest issue was to create a more open living space,” says Becky. “We love to entertain, but the way our house was set up was just not conducive to having a bunch of people over.” The couple chose STRITE based on the experience of friends in their Lakewood community. “We’d noticed STRITE signs over the years,” Paul recalls, “and we can probably name three homes we know of that were remodeled by them. If you have little kids and you’re going through a remodel — and it’s going well — there must be something to that.”
What Paul and Becky most wanted from a remodel was to create a more open floor plan. “There was no line of sight,” says Paul. “When you looked into our house, you looked right into a wall. The house was segregated by a living room, dining room, kitchen, and den.” Guests were confronted with a short, narrow hallway that further contributed to the sense of constriction created by their home’s layout. On the front page of her notebook, Becky had highlighted “better flow, counter space, lighting, and access to outdoors and patio space.”
In discussing their goals with designer Michael Snow, the challenge quickly became one of removing load bearing walls without obstructing the line of sight the couple wanted from one end of the house to the other. Initial design concepts envisioned steel beam supports, but this approach was untenable within the budget framework. Snow developed design options that made use of posts and half walls, none of which met the clients’ approval. “He would draw something, and I’d say that it wouldn’t work. It took some time,” Becky recalls.
The design phase in fact took several months to work through, during which time it was decided that the kitchen would be moved and the original budget would be increased to find the best compromise between adequate structural support, openness, and cost. Although Becky admits to being “a little nervous when we went into it,” she and her husband agreed that if STRITE couldn’t do the project, they would opt for a new home rather than a remodel. We should here note that we don’t take this sort of trust lightly.
Ultimately, the agreed upon remodel design switched the floor plan positions of the dining and family rooms to create a layout that situated the dining room between the other two rooms — in essence treating that space as a secondary part of the family room. The resulting floor plan was more in line with how we live in our homes these days.
To address the challenge of structural support versus visual appeal, STRITE took a creative design approach that wrapped carefully placed pillars in beautifully finished alder wood, which tied them in with the finishes on the floor and cupboards of the remodeled kitchen. By adding windows and sliders where there had been solid wall space, we not only brought the backyard into the reconfigured living spaces, but also created a horizon that stretched from the clients’ back patio to the front of their neighbor’s home across the street.
“I can sit on the patio outside my kitchen door and see all the way through my house to my neighbor’s front door,” says Becky. “I love this neighborhood, and it’s great to be able to see so much of it from my backyard. It is one of my favorite things to do. I wanted the outdoors brought in, and that’s what we got.”
In addition to integrating previously divided rooms, the remodel resulted in a kitchen that better met Becky’s ambitions as a baker. “I love everything about the kitchen. What I love the most is something that I came up with, which is the long baking counter underneath a long window that faces the garden and has all my baking stuff with it. It is a working space that is absolutely gorgeous and accommodates all my baking goods. It is beautiful and light.”
In tackling the rerouting of the HVAC system that was necessitated by the demolition phase of the project, STRITE designed an innovative way to better balance the climates of the two levels of the home, without the expense of adding an additional zone. “I was really happy with this compromise,” says Paul, even while admitting that “STRITE might have left some margin on the table.”
During the twelve weeks of the remodel, Paul and Becky had their share of patio grilled steaks, microwave eggs, and coffee in the garage — although Becky admits that, “It was nothing a couple of bottles of wine couldn’t fix.” What most impressed the couple, however, was the overall order that STRITE maintained in their home while they continued to live there during the course of the project.
“They were so organized,” Becky recounts, “particularly (project manager) Ed Lee. I can’t say enough about that guy. He would see things and take care of them before I even had to ask, and we saw eye-to-eye on things that didn’t work as we went along. He was here day after day, and after awhile he became like a part of the family, and everyone of the trades people we worked with were so polite and so hard working and professional. We would walk in after something major was done and just be amazed by it, and by how well the clean up was done.”
Paul recalls that although there were challenges to getting past the design phase of the project, “we knew that once we got going everything would be fine, since we knew how strong STRITE is on the back end of things.” Looking back on the realization of their original remodel vision, Becky adds, “The notebook I put together is almost identical to what we actually ended up with! We sit in this dining room every night — at the epicenter of our home — and look at each other and say, ‘This is so great.’ We’ll be here for awhile.”
Empty nests tend not to stay empty for long. Children grow, they leave for school or jobs — or simply to chart their own course in life — and homeowners adjust their lifestyles accordingly. When we combine these changes with retirement, a new set of dynamics drives how we look at our homes. And while the most logical response may be to “downsize,” the more challenging response is to “rightsize” — to look at our living space not as a nest half full or half empty, but as one that accommodates change while also providing an environment in which our children — and their families — can feel as much at home in as we do.
Our clients Don and Irene found that balance through a remodel project we completed with them in the Boise foothills. It was a project that took six months to complete — not because it involved major structural changes (which STRITE remodels are noted for), but because the couple chose to feel their way through the entirety of their newly purchased 4,000 square foot home, room by room, to make sure it felt right. For this project, STRITE joined forces with local designer Amy Snow.
Don and Irene certainly had “downsizing” on their minds when they sold a foothills home with six bedrooms and purchased another with half as many, and 1,500 fewer square feet. They were fortunate enough to fall in love with a brick home with a great floor plan and foothills views, which their previous home had enjoyed as well. The downside was that the interior of their new place had not been touched in the nearly 30 years since it was constructed.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted,” Irene admits. “One of the things I loved about our previous home, which was designed by a devotee of Frank Lloyd Wright, was not only its views, but its excellent natural light. Our new home also had great natural light, and I wanted color and accents that would take advantage of this as well as compliment the antique family furniture we wanted to incorporate.”
From this starting point, Irene and her husband trusted their project manager, Matt Mundy, to listen to their concerns and ideas as they went room-by-room, translate these into a description of work (DOW), and put together a team to execute it. Irene wisely concluded from the outset of the project that one member of that team should be a professional interior designer. Based on recommendations from STRITE, Irene ultimately chose Amy Snow Interior Design.
“Our new home was basically gutted by the remodel, which completely changed the look of it,” says Irene. “Amy worked with me to select primary and accent colors for our walls, and found an upholsterer to create new furniture coverings that tied our existing pieces together with the new ones we’d picked out. We replaced bathroom fixtures, kitchen appliances, and added lighting. Together we also selected new carpets and countertops, as well as pillows and fun accent pieces. Amy even helped incorporate my husband’s hunting trophies into the design of his study.”
A guiding vision for the remodel, based on their new home’s layout, was its division into “daily living” and “family” spaces. “With the exception of the exercise room, we could live entirely on the main level of the home,” Irene explains. To create a focal point for the main level of the home, STRITE and concentrated on a makeover of the kitchen and living room. Since Don and Irene liked the existing tiles in their kitchen, as well as its layout, the remodel effort focused on fixtures, appliances, and cabinetry that tied the color scheme together. The only other change was to modify the island counter to provide more optimal seating. The most major structural change in the course of the project was the demolition of the previous living room fireplace, which was a cozy little brick structure with a white wooden mantel, and the creation of a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace that added a sense of drama to the great room area, and did justice to the its foothills view.
By the end of the project, there was virtually no room of Irene and Don’s new home that hadn’t been touched in some way. This included the ground level exercise room, where a wall was opened up to allow for more light, and resulted in a custom stained glass window replacement that depicted a scene from Irene’s Basque heritage. “Once you start replacing things that have worn out, you naturally want to replace other things as well, even if they are still functional,” Irene explains.
Although we often think of remodeling in the context of adding space or correcting structural or esthetic aspects of a home that are incompatible with how we choose to live in it, imagine instead having a design and build team that could accompany you through each room of your home and render it exactly the way you’d like it to be — right down to decorative finishes. “That’s actually what we did,” says Irene. “That is what we were able to do at this point in our lives. It’s a dream home for us and our family in retirement, and it’s as though we were coming into a new home in the way STRITE finished it. They did a great job of picking up on our aspirations, and now that it’s finished, we miss working with all of them.”
Whole House Remodel
However little we may credit our powers of visualization, there are spaces we encounter that whisper to us just what they were meant to be. Sometimes they shout. In the case of our clients Keith and Deborah, one home’s intention was loud enough to be heard during a jog through the Boise foothills.
“We loved to recreate in the foothills, but we thought that a home there would be out of reach,” Keith remembers. “Then one day I was running in a neighborhood we had our eye on and saw that a ‘for sale’ sign had gone up. The house needed a lot of work, but the location was just what we had been looking for.”
What Keith and Deborah most liked about their foothills home was its view location, and also the unique triangularity of its architecture. Unfortunately, neither of these aspects were exploited to their full advantage in their carry over from exterior to interior.
Functionally, the most immediate feature of the home’s interior that the couple wanted to change was the kitchen, which was sequestered from the rest of the main floor living area by three-quarter height walls. Another problem area was the master bath that, thanks to a remodel by a previous home owner, protruded awkwardly into the adjoining master bedroom. Because they recognized that their home’s ultimate reconfiguration would involve much more than one or two isolated fixes, they also had the foresight to realize that it would be better to engage in a more holistic approach than in a series of piecemeal projects.
Because of their longterm view, and the fact that life happens while raising a family, eleven years went by before Deborah and Keith began working with STRITE on the realization of their remodel vision. During this period, however, they thought continuously about the fundamentals of layout and flow, and how best to bring lightness, brightness, and a killer view into closer proximity with their interior life. Toward these goals, Deborah had been collecting design ideas and inspirations with which she filled graph paper and sketch books.
Despite a decade’s worth of homework, Deborah and Keith chose not to put all their cards on the design table at their initial meetings with STRITE. “At first we were more focused on architecture and floor plan than on design specifics,” says Keith. “We also wanted to see what (STRITE designer) Michael Snow would come up with. It’s always good to see what a fresh eye can contribute.”
It didn’t take Michael long to grasp not only the vision that Keith and Deborah had in mind, but more fundamentally, the vision the home’s very architecture suggested. “The original architect obviously had a great vision, based on the rooflines, and a good floor plan,” Snow explains. “This was a very dynamic space to begin with — we just needed to take it to the next level.”
“STRITE’s design sketches were pretty much in line with our ideas,” says Keith, “since we had already decided to remove walls. The most notable exceptions were Michael’s idea to rotate the kitchen (to improve the line of sight as well as flow), and add a new window to the bedroom, which opened up a view as you walk down the hallway as well as creating another point of light.”
While some features of their home, such as its triangularity, served as design “anchors,” new ideas suggested themselves to Keith and Deborah during the ensuing 20-plus weeks of the remodel process. Among these were replacing “clunky” wooden staircase railings and removing an existing fireplace. The latter inspiration, Keith explains, came much later in the remodel process. “It was actually our decorator who first suggested getting rid of the fireplace. At the time, we were just thinking of remodeling it — but we were also struggling with the flow of the furniture in the room, and taking out the fireplace and fireplace pit ultimately reclaimed a lot of wasted living space. As it turned out, removing the fireplace cost less than updating it.”
Another inspiration that came to Deborah and Keith was the installation of a glass backsplash wall. As Keith remembers, “STRITE was both a bit nervous as well as excited about installing this feature. The glass had to be tempered, and all the electrical cutouts had to be done to customize it for the wall — but it ended up being one of my favorite elements of the remodel for a reason I hadn’t anticipated.” As it turned out, the glass wall made their kitchen and living space look larger by reflecting the trees outside the opposite wall window.
““Not too many people could have pulled off the installation of that glass,” says Deborah. “We didn’t really appreciate at the time just what we were asking from STRITE, since that single sheet turned out to be the size of a truck and weighs a ton. This really demonstrates where STRITE’s abilities show through — the high end skills involved in what they do.”
In addition to the interior remodel, Keith and Deborah wanted to replace an exterior deck system that was not only aging, but functionally irrelevant. STRITE suggested that the couple hire a company whose expertise they could vouch for. “STRITE was good enough to recognize their strengths and coordinate with another provider who had competencies they didn’t,” says Keith. “Their value add was their huge level of expertise in the details, their eye for things, their finishes, and managing a budget based on what we needed rather than add-ons other than our own.”
Looking back, Deborah and Keith see the sheer complexity of the project’s schedule, and its impact on their family life, to have been the most challenging aspect of their remodel. “It’s hard to second guess,” Deborah admits, “but if we had it to do over again, I would have brought the decorator into the process earlier, which Michael suggested. I would also have looked more critically at the project timeline at where there were gaps that could have been more tightly compressed.”
Despite the trauma to daily routine that any extensive remodel entails, there were moments in the process that were truly enjoyable. As Keith recalls, “It was fun to see the walls come out and things opened up. You can’t really understand what a space feels like until it’s empty, and things like the removal of dark, worn out ‘70s carpet and its replacement with light colored wood floors throughout the home, and seeing new windows getting cut out, was really exciting — the feeling that our home was finally going to be what it should be.”
Nearly twelve years after a chance run in the foothills, its reassuring to know that the end of a remodel does much more than justify its means. It validates them.
Hit on to see larger images
Whole House Remodel
CJ and Melissa hadn’t intended to live in their North End home for more than a few years when they purchased it back in 2005. At the time, Melissa recalls, there just wasn’t much on the market — and when homes did come up for sale, they were often snapped up on the first day. “We bought our house as a ‘fixer-upper,’ and thought at the time that we would just do some upgrades and then sell it when we found something we liked better.”
As it turns out, the “better” home that Melissa envisioned was just a remodel…or five…away.
Melissa and CJ’s home definitely had some challenges. Built in 1915, the Craftsman-style house was large (3,500 square feet), and had undergone a number of modifications that lacked a sense of cohesion — including having been divided at one point into a two-bedroom basement apartment. But the home also had its strong suits, beginning with its North End location, which was situated halfway between the couple’s two families. “It was kind of a diamond in the rough,” Melissa recalls. “It had been mistreated, but you could see the potential. It was a beautifully shaped home, and the woodwork inside was lovely. It had a nice history, and a nice feel — especially now that we’ve been restoring it.”
The first of what would be a series of projects stretching from 2008 to 2013 began with a full kitchen remodel — precipitated by a DIY gone wrong. “I got in over my head with the demolition before we had an actual plan,” CJ admits sheepishly. “The old kitchen was dated and an eyesore. It had lemon yellow laminate counter tops, and hadn’t been designed to maximize the counter space, so there wasn’t enough room to properly prepare a meal. The appliances were old and placed in free standing positions that were inefficient.”
When it came to getting some professional back up, the couple doesn’t remember exactly how they heard about STRITE, but they were immediately impressed with the company’s problem solving skills. “We were disappointed with the lack of creativity we found in looking at other remodeling resources,” says Melissa, “but STRITE came to us with very specific ideas on how to maximize a small kitchen space and make it work for two people to be in at the same time.”
One of the constraints that STRITE worked around was the couple’s desire to preserve a beautiful built-in buffet on the other side of the kitchen. “We didn’t want to take it out and destroy an important piece of the home’s history,” says Melissa. “STRITE came back with a plan that accomplished this, especially with storage ideas for spaces that would otherwise have been difficult to use. As it is, I love the kitchen — it was thoroughly thought through.”
Three years after the completion of the kitchen, Melissa and CJ expanded their remodel efforts to an area just behind it. “It used to be an open porch where there was a back door,” says CJ. “At some point the porch was closed in, and it still had the original exterior siding. There were some really funky drawers that had been built in but were unusable, so we added a pantry, which meant that all the appliances that we had been storing in the basement now had a place to live.”
One of the features of the room that CJ and Melissa wanted to preserve was its large windows. “They were done in the ‘50s or ‘60s by a former owner,” CJ recalls. “They were really well done for back then, but they leaked a lot of air and made the back of the house really uncomfortable. STRITE did an amazing job of replacing them while keeping the original look, and they trimmed the new windows in with woodwork that matched the rest of the house. They literally took a space that was an outdoor deck providing entry to the downstairs and back door of the house and converted it into what looks today to be part of the original construction of the house.”
One year later it was the turn of the basement and laundry room to go through a metamorphosis. This was an area that CJ describes as, ‘an awful, ugly room” that was just below the kitchen. “It had all kinds of electrical and plumbing issues — exposed pipe and wiring that was an eyesore. It got a lot of traffic because it was the only way from the back of the house that you could go between upstairs and the downstairs basement without having to go outside. It was not functional in the least, so the remodel was about making it a functional mudroom. Again, STRITE made it seem as though that was how it always was.”
In addition to their two children, CJ and Melissa’s household includes her grandmother, who originally moved into the basement where she could have her own kitchen (a feature dating back to when the basement was an apartment, and one that greatly helped the couple get through the inconvenience of their main floor kitchen remodel). As she aged, however, Melissa didn’t want her grandmother to have to go up and down stairs. “We moved her to the main level, but the bathroom was really antiquated, so we did a remodel with a walk-in shower.”
It was during this project that CJ vividly recalls an example of STRITE’s flexibility. “We had done a plan, and we were working diligently to manage our budget when I realized that a stud that would be used to frame the shower would impede the line of sight and make the bathroom appear even smaller than it was. I raised the issue with (STRITE designer) Michael Snow, and he came up with the idea of using pony walls and glass walls at the top of the shower, then tiling it in. This made a huge difference.”
Although CJ and Melissa claim to have “about a dozen projects in mind at all times,” the most recent remodel to their home took place in the basement, where CJ works from home. “It was always cold because the original windows were single pane,” says CJ. “Even with space heaters I could never get the temperature up to 70 degrees in the winter.”
Integral to the success of their remodel efforts has been the couple’s relationship with STRITE — something that Melissa especially appreciates given her background as a graphic designer whose current work with a local hospital is aimed at the creation of “healing environments” through the use of color and art. “My profession makes it more challenging for me to approach a design in my own home — there are just too many options. You get too close to it, so it’s nice to have someone else come in and give you their opinion.”
While some of the couple’s design inspirations came from DIY shows and “tons of booklets,” they credit their collaboration with STRITE as key to preserving the original character of their home and the cohesiveness they knew would be important if they eventually put it on the market. As CJ explains, maintaining this cohesiveness was a distinct challenge that STRITE was able to manage.
“The most challenging aspect of the projects was the upfront design,” says CJ. “STRITE’s execution was always great, but they showed tremendous patience in getting the concept correct in the beginning. Their process is really different in terms of their design development — bringing in schematics, using software to simulate what the final product would look like, and then moving things on the fly as we discussed options. Of course, the hard thing is that by making anything possible, you could let your imagination run a bit too wild,” he adds, “and there ARE practical limits to how much you upgrade a house before you upgrade it right out of the neighborhood.”
At this point in their remodel odyssey, upgrading out of the neighborhood seems like less of a risk to Melissa and CJ. Whether functional, esthetic, or utilitarian in nature, all of their remodel projects have combined to change their attitude toward the longer term livability of their home. Says Melissa, “The remodels have changed the length of time I see us in this space and my overall view of the home. You could say we are invested in the changes, and I attribute much of that to the collaborative working relationship STRITE helped foster.”
Adds CJ, “The most rewarding aspect is having people over and seeing them experience the ‘wow’ factor when they see what we’ve done. STRITE took such great care to ‘map into’ the historic nature of the house, and people are always so impressed with the final outcome.”
CJ adds one parting note regarding “final outcomes” and their relationship to managing a remodel budget — one that he believes everyone contemplating a remodel should take to heart. “I appreciate that everyone wants to manage a budget, but I’ve learned that the last 20 percent you don’t want to put into it is the 20 percent that really distinguishes it in the end. You can decide not to go there and end up with something ‘ho hum,’ or invest it and be glad you did.”
Hit on any of the following images to see larger versions in a gallery.
Whole House Remodel
Like so many homebuyers, Janet and Russ had to carefully weigh the allure of their ideal home against its affordability — and like so many homebuyers, their decision was to stretch their budget to accommodate a house they knew they could live in and love for many years.
There was indeed plenty to love about their north Eagle home. Built in the early 1900s, the two-story house was situated on four acres with mature trees and a beautiful view, and it was close to Hewlett-Packard, where both Russ and Janet were employed. But after 30 years, they were ready to rekindle the love affair with their home, and that meant addressing its imperfections — some of which dated back to when they first moved in, and some that simply reflected the toll of passing years.
It wasn’t as if Janet and Russ hadn’t made home improvements along the way. Twenty years earlier they had put in an office/closet/bathroom addition, and in 2005 they added a full basement, bringing their house up to 2,600 square feet of living space that better accommodated guests and hobbies. A few years ago they created a large patio with pavers, leaving additional footers for an eventual roof.
Unfortunately, their initial remodel project created an exterior appearance that didn’t match the rest of the home. As Russ describes it, “It left an ugly wall on the east side of the house that clearly looked like an addition.” For Janet, one of the biggest drawbacks to her aging home was its kitchen. “We had redone the kitchen when we first bought our home, but hadn’t touched it since. We had formica and linoleum that was worn through, and the appliances were getting very old.” The couple was ready as well for some changes to their bedroom, which Janet described somewhat charitably as “old and dark.”
“It was faded and dingy,” she states more bluntly, “and the only source of light was a fixture we bought for $5.99 when we moved in. It was just not a place you wanted to be.” Clearly, it was time to make some improvements — and time was an additional concern of the now retired couple, who wanted to spend the rest of their lives loving their home as much as they had three decades earlier.
Russ and Janet had first talked to STRITE when they considered doing their patio addition — but this was prior to the economic downturn that caused many would-be home renovations to be put on the back burner.
“We ran into STRITE every year at the Tour of Remodeled Homes,” Janet remembers, “and we thought they were very nice people, and we admired the quality and creativity of their work. They clearly know how to remodel challenging spaces.” By the end of 2013, however, Janet and Russ were ready to do more than just talk to the nice people. They were ready to make some major changes of their own.
Russ and Janet’s remodel project, which began just before Christmas 2013, started with the master bedroom. Constrained by odd angles that made the room feel more like a cave (Russ’s description) than a living space, STRITE set about solving some structural challenges — challenges that the couple could especially appreciate given their engineering backgrounds. As Janet recalls, “In every spot STRITE had to do some pretty miraculous figuring — and figuring out how to make all those angles come together in a nice cohesive look was a lot of hard work.” To bring additional light into the room, STRITE replaced an attic vent with a window.
Moving into the kitchen, the project hit a delay when it was discovered during the demolition phase that the floor joist system would have to be replaced. “It was a mess,” says Janet. “We were putting in a slate floor, and you want that to be well supported. The more layers of old house we got down to, the worse it was.” Ah, the charms of an older home.
Other than rebuilding the floor joists, the main work in the kitchen had to do with updating rather than reconfiguring. Russ and Janet liked the existing cabinets made with quarter-sawn white oak, and elected to add to rather than replace them. “The biggest changes to the kitchen were going from formica to granite and from linoleum to slate,” says Janet. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the kitchen remodel was choosing the appliances. “We wanted to avoid the stainless look,” Russ says. “Big surfaces of cold stainless steel don’t go very well with the warmth of natural wood cabinets.”
The couple painstakingly detailed their appliance options in a 20×30 spreadsheet, and eventually decided to hide their refrigerator and dishwasher behind wood panels, while choosing burgundy for the color of a new stove and range. “Nobody wanted us to do this because they said we’d get tired of it,” Russ recalls. “Instead, we get amazing compliments.”
Janet had long wanted a gas range and an additional oven to facilitate entertaining, which the couple loves. To enhance their culinary pursuits, STRITE added a prep sink and an under-the-counter refrigerator, both of which Janet describes as “invaluable.” To further improve the kitchen’s functionality, STRITE removed a built-in desk (these typically serve better as clutter magnets than work spaces) and replaced a countertop microwave with a built-in model. STRITE also installed a large window as the backsplash above the gas range to bring in another necessary component to great cooking: light. “It is wonderful to look outside while cooking and it’s very easy to clean,” Janet notes
As their remodel project progressed from indoors to outdoors, STRITE worked with Janet and Russ to find a single solution to a twofold problem: improving the esthetics of their home’s eastern facade and maximizing the view from that perspective. The breakthrough was in rethinking the couple’s original concept of a patio rooftop, and instead creating a rooftop patio.
“Short of putting a tower out in the field, there was no way to expand our view,” says Russ, “and I had a dream of being able to sit up on the roof with a glass of wine and look out over the valley — so Janet suggested making the roof a patio.” To better understand the esthetic impact of this option, STRITE prepared a set of engineering drawings for the couple to review. As Russ recalls, “We were able to look at it from different elevations, and it really helped us to make decisions.”
Helping with decisions turned out to be one of the benefits that Russ and Janet valued most about working with STRITE. For Russ, navigating the universe of options (“there are an amazing number”) proved to be the most challenging aspect of his remodel experience. For his wife, the challenge was less daunting. “Decisions weren’t so hard for me because I found that I could rely on the STRITE people to make the right call,” Janet says. “We spent a lot of time with (designer) Michael Snow talking through what we wanted, and I really appreciated the degree of process involved — which appealed to someone with my management background.”
Conversely, interacting with the STRITE team and participating in the decision making process was also the most enjoyable aspect of the couple’s remodel experience. Notes Russ, “The value they provide is the insight and expertise to ask, ‘Have you thought about doing it this way…or if you want to do it this way, have you considered this approach?’ They bring a wealth of experience that gets you to a better place than you would by having someone do exactly what you wanted them to do.” Janet sees her experience with STRITE through a slightly different prism. “For me, the most enjoyable part was just getting to know them. They just have such a nice way about them. They were present, responsive, helpful — everything you could want.”
As pleasant as Russ and Janet’s experience may have been during the five months their remodel project took place (which included a requested hiatus for the holidays and an out-of-town vacation), it is overshadowed by the pleasure the couple now takes from a home they have again fallen in love with. Looking at the master bedroom, Russ talks about “sleeping in a room that is much more open and inviting.” The downside? “It’s hard to sleep late with the morning sun streaming in now.” In the kitchen, Janet no longer borrows her neighbor’s oven when company comes over. “It’s a really nice space, and I love working in it.
Thinking back to Russ’s fantasy of sipping a glass of wine from the rooftop patio on the east side of their home while taking in a vista that includes Bogus Basin, Stack Rock, and sunsets worthy of a Maxfield Parrish print, you can think of his and Janet’s remodel experience as literally a dream come true. “We love it! We’re ready to stay here for a long time,” Janet says. In our industry, that assessment is the equivalent of 10 point scores from all judges…and sticking the landing to boot.
Hit on any image to see larger ones
When Don and Patty moved from California to Boise, it wasn’t with the goal of either upsizing or downsizing their household; they moved to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
They rented a home in southwest Boise with idea of eventually finding a more permanent place to live. Although the kitchen fell short of their expectations, they loved the location of their rented home and its view of the New York canal, which was clearly visible from their dining nook and backyard deck. When the opportunity to purchase the home presented itself, the couple decided that it would be far easier to remodel the existing kitchen than it would to find a new home with a location and view they liked as much.
While both homeowners felt that the kitchen in their home was dated, a more serious issue was its size and the amount of storage space it offered. “Our kitchen in California was much larger,” says Patty, “and a lot of our kitchen stuff was still packed away because we didn’t have room for it in our Boise home. We definitely wanted more cabinetry to use for storage.”
Another issue with their kitchen was its sense of isolation from other rooms in the house. It was available to the formal dining room only through a door, while a bank of cabinets above the kitchen counter obstructed the line of sight to the dining nook and its view of the backyard beyond.
The couple learned about STRITE from a lady that Patty was swimming with at a local health club. “She had used STRITE twice, and she recommended them when I told her about our plans for the kitchen remodel.” Although they had intended to get three bids for the project, after their initial meeting with STRITE designer Michael Snow, Don and Patty decided to look no further. As Don remembers, “After meeting with Michael, we were both convinced that STRITE would be the best choice for us. He was so professional, and we’d heard so many horror stories about flaky contractors. We trusted STRITE could do a quality job on time and at a fair price.”
Looking back at how they approached the design of their new kitchen, Don recalls that he and Patty focused in on a couple of things beyond increased storage in their discussions with Michael. “We wanted a more open kitchen,” says Don. “The cupboards that were hanging from the ceiling blocked the view. We wanted those gone, but we still wanted an island in the kitchen…and we wanted a more modern look like the newer houses that we had seen when we were originally shopping the real estate market.” At the same time, Patty remembers, they recognized that they faced some constraints in design options. “We were limited with the space in which we could do this remodel. We had thought about moving our appliances to other places, but it just didn’t work out, so we had to keep them pretty much where they are now, with the exception of the dishwasher.”
Like most homeowners, Patty and Don faced the challenge of visualizing how a kitchen that would meet their needs would actually look once it was finished. Once STRITE came back to them with drawings, however, their confidence rose immeasurably. Says Patty, “How do you visualize this? Until we had the drawings, I wasn’t really sure. But once STRITE presented them, we could see it was going to be a beautiful kitchen when it was all done.”
As STRITE prepared for an August demolition of the old kitchen, Don and Patty went shopping for appliances and finishes. Somewhat to Patty’s surprise, the granite they decided on as the replacement for the existing counter tile was “Cosmic Black,” for which they selected a matching tile backsplash. They combined dinners out with visits to suppliers STRITE had recommended, which included local partner Chapel Hill for the creation of the cabinetry, which would be extensive given the expansion of the kitchen storage area. With Don’s handyman skills as a commercial carpenter, the couple decided they would take on the installation of new laminate flooring, while Chapel Hill would produce and install baseboards with a wood and stain that matched the cabinets. In choosing a new set of kitchen appliances, Don and Patty were particularly pleased to be able to replace the existing electric range with one using natural gas, which the couple preferred to cook with.
During the remodel process, STRITE created temporary walls to partition off the construction area from the rest of the home, and set up a makeshift kitchen in the couple’s family room. By the end of September, however, Don and Patty were once again cooking in their kitchen — a kitchen that bore little if any resemblance to the one that STRITE had demolished a month earlier. Gone were the extended counter and overhead cabinets that blocked the line of sight into the dining nook. In its place was an island with raised counter top and seating on one side, and additional prep space on the other. Says Don, “The island makes the kitchen look bigger, and it definitely makes it more functional. In addition to the line of sight being opened up, there is a walkway between the kitchen and the dining nook, which we didn’t have before.”
To further enhance this line of sight, STRITE created an opening in the wall between the kitchen and formal dining room and living room — which meant that a person standing at the stove could see and communicate with people at either end of the home. The kitchen was further opened up by extending it along the wall of the dining nook, which now comprised the additional counter and storage space that had been Patty and Don’s goal at the inception of the project.
The Castles couldn’t be happier with how their kitchen turned out. Says Patty, “It was hard to envision what it was going to look like on the plans, but as it all came together it opened up the kitchen tremendously, and there was no point in the process that seemed overwhelming because we did things at our leisure.” The Castles were also able to do things according to their budget. “We started with a figure that we gave STRITE right off the bat, and which they stuck with,” notes Patty. “We got everything we wanted for the price we wanted.” It didn’t hurt, of course, that Don was able to do some of the work himself. As a result of the remodel, the Castles also had the opportunity to get to know some really great trades folks. “We were really impressed with the people that STRITE hired,” Don says. “They were very responsive, professional, and easy to work with. I was really impressed with the quality of their work. Since then we’ve hired the plumber to do some other repairs around the house.”
Looking back at their remodel experience, Patty is particular struck by the difference the feeling of openness makes to her new kitchen, and the way it connects to the rest of the home. As to the biggest challenge the project posed? “Having to eat in the family room and wash the dishes in the laundry room sink,” she recalls. “It was like camping…but nicer.”
Click on photos to enlarge.
Whole House Remodel
There’s not a bit of hyperbole in saying that David and Pat’s home truly reflects all the best of what we associate with the southwest Idaho lifestyle. Nestled into five acres of the Eagle foothills, it’s an ideal setting for horses, dogs (David trains hunting dogs as a pastime), as well as appreciating sweeping vistas of the Treasure Valley below and the Boise mountains all around.
It may seem surprising, then, that the couple would want to remodel a home that was custom built — but their motivation was familiar to STRITE design + remodel: a change in lifestyle and a corresponding re-evaluation of how their space accommodated that change. Since the couple had retired, they were able to spend more time at home, and they wanted to spend more of that time entertaining and enjoying the beauty surrounding them. Unfortunately, the original configuration of their home was less than ideal for either of these pursuits.
It was very apparent to both Pat and her husband that the best views from their home were provided by outside decks — a nice place to be for part of the year, but not so practical during the hottest and coldest seasons of Boise. “I really wanted a more pleasant place to hang out inside, now that I was home pretty much 24×7,” Pat explains. “Although our home was 2,800 square feet, it was divided into rooms that weren’t a practical size for entertaining. I also wanted to be able to take advantage of the view and open the home to more light.”
Pat and David discovered STRITE through a NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry) Tour of Remodeled Homes. They were immediately struck by STRITE designer Michael Snow’s design approach, as well as examples he showed the couple from a book he had written on the design of decks, patios, and porches. “The way Michael takes advantage of light drew us in immediately, and we had confidence in STRITE from the very beginning,” Pat recalls.
“When you consider the placement of the kitchen, the separated dining room and the family/living room, it seemed obvious that Pat and David’s house was more or less oriented to look back,” notes Michael Snow. “Even though it was situated on a site lot, the original design did not take advantage of the view — in fact, the only public view was from a rarely used front office off of the entry, and from the upper master area, which of course is private space.”
Working with STRITE, the couple decided to add roughly 800 square feet adjoining their kitchen that would serve the combined functions of sun room and casual living room. STRITE also took out a bearing wall between the dining room, kitchen, and new living room/sun room, which opened up the whole interior of the house. The room was further designed to open to a covered patio, which STRITE included to compensate for a rear deck that the couple seldom used it because it was situated in such a way that the hillside and house funneled winds through the space.
“What we were looking for was basically all windows, with sufficient sliders to allow for good cross ventilation,” says Pat. There was a deck that came along the side of our house, with a bay window where the addition begins. We had used the deck quite a bit, but it was so sunny that we wanted something that was partially covered. We also had a beautiful Japanese Maple next to the deck that we were sure we would lose as a result of the remodel construction, but STRITE found a way to save the tree by digging down under the foundation without damaging it.”
The key to the addition’s design is its understatment. Like any good remodel, walking into this new section of the home leaves the impression that it was always there, but its impact comes from the vistas it opens the home to, rather than from the architecture itself — a simple elegance that Pat puts quite concisely: “The drama comes from the setting.”
Along with the new addition, Pat and her husband had STRITE address other features of their home that they wanted to improve. These included a kitchen update, a reconfiguration of the family room that allowed the couple and their guests to no longer choose between a television and a fireplace as a focal point, and even an attic modification above their garage that not only created a more usable living space, but also added a roofline that improved the homes “curb appeal.” The net effect of these changes, Pat explains, was to make their home more livable.
“Because so much of our living area was chopped up, there just wasn’t much space to spread out when we wanted to entertain larger groups of people. We can now take advantage of the whole interior of the house, as well as the outside areas when we host larger events.”
Despite the scale of the remodel, the entirety of the projects took under four months to complete. “We began in the fall, and were back to normal around Thanksgiving,” Pat remembers. “(STRITE president) Bob Mundy gave us good suggestions on what things to store and how to store them during the remodel, and STRITE was great about partitioning space so we could still use our home. Their team was great to work with and gave us excellent ideas as well as being extremely good about supporting my concerns.”
With all the added glass, one might expect that along with killer views the new addition would have included higher energy costs. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been the case. “The added space hasn’t affected our gas bill,” says Pat. “We are on a level pay, and it is low. We’ve seen some increase in our electric bill, but that’s happened since we both retired.”
What has increased for Pat and David since finishing their remodel is their affection for their home. In thinking over the most rewarding result of their work with STRITE, Pat summarizes it this way. “It’s added a lot more serenity and appreciation for the outdoors in our lives, and we enjoy having people over so much more now. There are so many spots where we can just sit and enjoy the outside while reading a book, and it’s nice in the winter to be able to look at the snow and still be comfortable. We still have some work we’d like to do on our upstairs bathrooms, but at this point we’ve changed our home from something that was plain but had a dynamite view, and turned it into something we’re really proud of.”
Hit on any of the following images to see larger versions.
“Outgrowing” a home is a common motivation for remodeling it — especially as households expand with the addition of children or extended family members. When it comes to aging, however, the concept of outgrowing a home takes on an entirely new meaning — a reality that our clients Pete and Diane discovered with regard to their West Boise residence.
“We both had bad knees and some hip arthritis, and our master suite was located upstairs,” says Pete. “We considered options — moving, elevators, etc. — and in the end we decided instead to expand the house and put a master suite on the ground floor. Our kids came home often enough that we knew we could still use the one upstairs as well.”
In approaching the design of their remodel, which would involve the conversion of two existing rooms (a laundry room and a downstairs bedroom) along with the construction of an additional space, the couple drew on past experience.
Says Pete, “We had been involved in the redesign of places that our parents lived in, and we had also observed my brother as he built a home that he designed himself. We merged the best ideas from those experiences and brought them to our meeting with (STRITE designer) Michael Snow, who contributed more ideas as well. The final product was a compilation of good ideas.”
Among this compilation of good ideas were certain “must haves” for Pete and Diane. These included combining a downstairs bathroom and laundry room to increase the functionality and convenience of washer/dryer/storage orientations, and adding a large walk-in shower and a urinal. On this last item, Pete wryly comments, “Any family that has young boys or an older man should have a urinal. It’s much easier to clean and use — and it makes living easier with the wife.”
Along with the Pete and Diane’s design preferences, Michael Snow came up with a plan that would also give the couple the larger bedroom space they were looking for, while only adding around 500 square feet to the total space of the home. As Pete recalls, STRITE came up with some other enhancements as well. “At first, we were more focused on minimizing cost by placing the plumbing close to the existing fixtures, but Michael showed us a better way to locate them that didn’t really increase cost, but created a much better flow. He also included skylights and a sun tunnel that really added a lot to the space. The biggest contribution he made, however, was with helping us see the best overall layout for the rooms.”
While the middle of winter might not seem the ideal time to start a residential remodel/addition project in Boise, Pete and Diane’s project began in January. Although the cold weather presented challenges, the new master suite was ready that summer. “The weather caused us some grief — I remember trying to get the backhoe work completed before the ground froze, and there were rainy days that complicated things, but there weren’t many issues that extended the completion date for the project.”
Pete and Diane’s patience with the construction process was more than rewarded by its results. “The remodel is the best thing we’ve done — it’s just phenomenal,” Pete says. “As you get older, there is a greater ease of living with having everything on one floor. At the same time, we have an expandable part of the house upstairs for when the kids come. We can have both our children’s families stay with us, and there’s plenty of room. We can take things out of the dryer and put them in drawers or hang them up — that’s a real convenience — and our new bathrooms are safer with the walk-in shower instead of the tub shower.”
Flush from the success of the master bedroom addition, Pete and Diane decided to take on yet another project aimed at further accommodating children and grandchildren: a family room remodel. As Pete explains their decision, “Our motivation was simply to have enough room for five grandsons to be here and romp and stomp and enjoy themselves, while allowing us to participate in whatever is going on.”
The couple’s home had a great room where their kitchen and family room met, with an eating area in between the two. The original family room was a too small for five boys (who are now between the ages of 18 and 8), so STRITE added about 200 square feet to the area by repositioning a fireplace and windows, then putting in a couple of sliding glass doors to allow access to the back and side yards.
“It was a fairly straight forward remodel,” Pete explains. “The biggest issue was the positioning of the windows and moving the fireplace, which was in the center of a wall that had to go in order to open the space up. It either had to move, or be converted to a walk around, which conflicted with having the open space for the grandkids.” In addition to relocating the fireplace, STRITE converted it from wood burning to gas — another lifestyle convenience that the couple appreciates every winter. “The area we spend most of our time in is warmed enough by the gas fireplace that the furnace doesn’t come on unless it gets really cold,” says Pete, “which saves us from having to heat all the other rooms. I wish I had put one in the bathroom!”
Looking back at the modification of the family room, Pete still marvels at the way it complimented the existing design. “Michael did great work on blending the rooflines, so as with the main suite extension, you can’t tell that it was added on — it just looks like it was built that way from the get go. STRITE has an unbelievable talent for this.”
Having experienced home construction and remodeling on a first hand basis, as well as an interested bystander, Pete succinctly sums up his lessons learned: “You get what you pay for.” Another especially applicable piece of advice that Pete offers anyone considering a remodel is to “be involved from start to finish — you’ll end up with a much better product in the end.” And since living with the remodel process for six months can be trying, Pete also advocates patience.
“You know its going to be a mess — it’s going to be noisy, it’s going to be dusty — but all that will eventually be gone and you’ll be happy with the results. STRITE is very conscious of the impact of a remodel on your life, and they isolate the work area from you as much as they possibly can. In our case, they totally isolated the construction area with false walls. They protected the house, even while still making the laundry room accessible. It was more like living next door to a construction site than living in one.”
Thinking about the most enjoyable aspects of his and his wife’s remodel experience, Pete describes it in two words: Michael Snow. “Doing the design was a lot of fun, and Michael made it that way. Diane and I had our little square footage models and cut outs that we played with, and we had the enjoyment of actually seeing our ideas come into being. Michael would do anything for us, and we know that STRITE will stand by what they say. If we called them today and said that something needed to be fixed, they’d send someone over to do it.”
Thinking about his home, post-remodel, Pete can’t imagine that he and Diane will ever want to leave — and thanks to their remodel, there is no reason they should have to anytime soon. Which begs a question going back to Pete’s earlier comment on cost: How do you amortize peace of mind?
Whole House Remodel
In considering the scope of their remodel project, Laura and Steve soon came to the realization that when the issue of “spaciousness” has little to do with the actual amount of space, the only viable option is to “reconfigure.”
Steve and Laura moved into their Southeast Boise home fourteen years ago. They loved the neighborhood, and while the Tuscan-inspired exterior of their house was attractive, the carry over of that theme into its interior created a number of issues for the couple from the very beginning. There was a cramped and dark feeling to some of the rooms that just couldn’t be alleviated with new paint or flooring — particularly when it came to the kitchen.
“The kitchen was large from the standpoint of floor plan,” Steve explained, “but it always felt crowded. If you had more than one person in the kitchen, you would run into each other.” Laura loves to cook, and as a venue for expressing her culinary passion, the space just didn’t measure up. “It was very inefficient,” said Steve. “There wasn’t a good workflow between the cooktop, the preparation space and the refrigerator, and the cabinetry was neither efficient nor sufficient.”
The description, “cramped” is a recurring adjective in the litany of dissatisfactions that Steve expressed regarding the original layout of his and Laura’s home. “The house felt smaller to me than it really is,” said Steve. “I’m a tall person, so I like tall ceilings and open space. The ceiling felt low, and the spaces felt small just by their design. They felt chopped up.”
Besides the kitchen, several other spaces suffered from the afflictions that Steve and Laura so keenly felt. The house had a separate dining room, but it wasn’t large enough to host the family gatherings that the couple had envisioned — while the dining area next to the kitchen gave the term “nook” a meaning more synonymous with “cramped” than “cozy.” And then there was the home’s decor.
“None of the decor was anything that we would have picked out,” Steve said. “We did some minimal stuff when we moved in — changed out some flooring, did some painting to put a little of our signature on the place, but nothing else. The house was in need of an overall update, so we held off until we decided to do a full remodel.”
In considering the scope of their remodel project, Laura and Steve soon came to the realization that when the issue of “spaciousness” has little to do with the actual amount of space, the only viable option is to “reconfigure” — which in their minds clearly made it a project for Strite.
Laura had spent years looking through remodeling magazines and websites for inspiration. As Steve recalled, “She had a stack of remodeling magazines about three feet deep, and she would go through them and mark the things that she liked. There was a lot of hard work and years of thinking that went into considering what we wanted.”
Along the way, however, Steve noticed a profound evolution in their attitudes toward design. “Over the years, we found that we’ve changed our view of things. Earlier in our marriage we probably would have never looked at a house with a great room or a contemporary European feel, but that is where we evolved to — simpler, cleaner lines.” It didn’t hurt that Steve’s brother and his wife, who live in Seattle, had recently completed a kitchen and bathroom remodel with a similar sense of esthetics. “It is more contemporary than the look we wanted, but we really liked the feel of it.”
How that feel translated into the remodeling project that Steve and Laura undertook with Strite resulted in nothing less than a virtual gutting of their home’s interior, beginning with the transformation of their kitchen and dining area into contiguous spaces in which form follows function with a contemporary European sensibility.
“The kitchen is completely rearranged from what it was originally,” said Steve. “Even though we didn’t significantly change the footprint, we changed the nature of the space and visually opened it up.” This was achieved partly by adding a bank of windows over the kitchen sink — an effect that was repeated in the former breakfast nook, which was squared off to pick up enough additional square footage to make it a viable family dining room (the former dining area has since become a cozy sitting room alternative to the family room adjoining the kitchen). The bank of windows installed in the reconfigured breakfast nook also had the effect of bringing in views of a beautiful backyard to enhance the overall feeling of light and space in the home.
The flow of great room/kitchen/dining area was further enhanced by continuous cork flooring throughout, where it eventually met with another interior design issue that had increasingly troubled Steve and Laura as they began the remodel process: the staircase.
“The staircase ended up being a bit of an afterthought,” Steve recalled, “but as we talked through the design meetings, one of the things that really came up was that it was unattractive: bulky, dark, ugly. There was a half wall that went all the way up the stairs, and we wanted to take it out and create a more open bannister. (Strite designer) Michael (Snow) said that a custom rail that would match the curve of the stairs would be cost prohibitive, so we began to look at other options.
The option that Strite designed for Laura and Steve involved the demolition of the old staircase, and its subsequent reframing to create the straight, clean lines that the couple was looking for as the consistent theme of their remodel design. This was a theme that continued to carry itself out, under Strite’s supervision, to the updating and reconfiguration of almost every other space in the downstairs area of the home, including the laundry room, guest bath/powder room, and master bathroom — subjects of separate Strite case studies.
If the thought of a whole house remodel as extensive as the one Laura and Steve embarked upon with Strite seems overwhelming enough to warrant considering the purchase of a new home, look at it from one couple’s perspective: how else could you get the personalization of a custom build without having to leave a home and neighborhood you’d come to love over 14 years? Think of it as the remodeling equivalent of having your cake and eating it too.
Click photos to enlarge: