Designing Minds: Retirement Rightsizing

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.”

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A Bathroom Remodel that Played Well with Others

Bathroom Remodel

We love a good collaborative effort — which is how we typically think of our relationships with our clients.  But we also enjoy working with other industry professionals.  One such professional is Gina Wegner, a talented designer with Seed Interiors.

Our client had hired Gina for the interior design of their bathroom update, which was carried out as part of a larger remodel effort, and we were pleased to be the partner that was entrusted with bringing Gina’s vision to life.

Vision

Our client had decided to convert a child’s room into the master bedroom, and in the process convert the existing bathroom into something befitting this transformation.  Seed Interior’s design for the room included a frameless shower that required some structural changes to the floor, as well moving a lot of plumbing.

Challenge

To fulfill the vision of the interior designer, our biggest challenge was structural.  To create the frameless shower, we needed to slope the bathroom floor.  This meant notching out a floor joist that went down about three inches.  Fortunately, we had a partition wall with a full basement underneath that served as a load bearing wall for the space we created.

Accomplishment

By sloping the bathroom floor to the shower we were able to keep the same tile as the rest of the bathroom.  By taking out a wall and shortening an existing vanity, we were also able to add sufficient space to put in a huge walk-in closet, a double vanity with counter top, and a powder room.  Additional designer touches included the use of hanging pendants that provided more precise lighting for the wider mirror we installed.  We also added a window for additional natural light and airiness.

Highlights

What started as a kid’s room and adjoining bathroom became a beautifully designed master bedroom and bath combination that flowed attractively together into a more private space for the parents.  This was a great design that was fun to work on, despite the structural challenges that had to be overcome to pull it together.  Of course, one of the hallmarks of a great remodel project is to make it appear effortless — no matter the reality.

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A ’60s Kitchen Gets With the Times

Kitchen Remodel

Good design has a timeliness that remains long after other homes from a similar era become “dated.”  Unfortunately, this isn’t generally the case with kitchens — which are usually one of the first rooms in a home to get long in the tooth.  This architect designed and built home from the 60’s had the bones of a great house, but it was high time to update the kitchen — and in the process create an impact that extended beyond just one room.

Vision

For its time, the kitchen of this home was quite advanced, with amenities you typically wouldn’t have found in homes of its vintage.  It suffered, however, from a lack of access from the “public” spaces of the house.  Beyond just creating a more contemporary look for their kitchen, our clients wanted a layout with an openness consistent with their love of entertaining.

Challenge

The approach to the kitchen was through an area that had been designed to create a dining “nook,” but ended up forcing traffic along its edge rather than a more direct diagonal path.  In addition to being “out of the flow,” the kitchen suffered from a light imbalance, which could be helped in part by not only replacing the existing windows, but also by incorporating a bank of windows that was currently blocked by the dining room wall.

Accomplishment

Removing the dining room wall not only made a dramatic difference in the flow of traffic to the kitchen, but also allowed us to tie in the new and enlarged windows in that room with the bank of windows in the dining room.  To further balance the resulting light, we added two skylights to the kitchen ceiling, along with can and pendant lighting.  In addition to a long marble topped island that served both as a counter and cooking station, we framed in half walls on the left and right in the area between the kitchen and the newly modified dining area, which helped further define the space as well as create an entrance to the room.  We also installed new cabinets, painted the walls, and laid down a cherry hardwood floor.

Highlights

As you look over the before and after photographs of this remodel, it may be hard to believe that they were taken in the same house.  More than just a dramatic kitchen remodel, this project affected two rooms, and improved traffic flow through the entire home.  Notice also that we kept the existing teak wall.  Some things are just timeless.

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Designing Minds: A Foothills Home Rediscovers Itself

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.

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Meet Smokey Ensey

“I’m just one of those ‘handy, do anything’ type of guys…and that’s what I like.”

Smokey Ensey officially joined STRITE design + remodel in 2015, but we’ve worked with him for 25 years — long enough to know that his skill as a craftsperson, attention to detail, and all around good nature are a great compliment to our organization, and especially to our customers. This is his story.

I’ve been known as “Smokey” since I was born, which was along the Northern California coast near Santa Rosa, in a town up in the mountains called Annapolis. It was basically not much more than a store — but it was a gorgeous place to live.

Back in the ‘70s I was building electronic digital scales — high precision instruments ranging from pharmaceuticals to trucking. The recession in the ‘70s hit our industry hard, so I opted for a voluntary lay off and took up tile work, thanks to an acquaintance who was a tile contractor and worked throughout the Bay Area.

My family and I left California in 1988 and went to Montana. Montana is wonderful for hunting, fishing, back packing…and that’s what we do, along with riding motorcycles and dirt bikes. But it’s hard to make a living in Montana…and the winters get pretty long. We came to Boise on the 4th of July 1991, back when it was about the size of Santa Rosa, but with four seasons. Everything we want to do is a short drive away.

I became a tile contractor in 1992, and STRITE was always my number one customer. STRITE and I were always on the same scale when it comes to cleanliness, detail, and keeping the job site clean. I also preferred remodel projects to new construction, which I quit doing around 2001. They want you to do an entire house in one week when you should spend two to three weeks to do the job right. They had crews back then who would knock these jobs out, and that is a lot of what is getting redone today: leaking showers, tile falling off the walls — not quality work. You get what you pay for, and I’m very quality-oriented. I don’t think I’m anal, but it’s either right or wrong. There is a line you cross between efficiency and quality, and I refuse to cross the line on quality.

Since joining STRITE, I don’t set tile anymore. I’m one of those “handy, do anything” types, and that’s what I like — but what I am primarily is a “punch list” guy. I go in at the end of a job and make sure everything is detailed, and I work with the clients on their accessories. It’s right up my alley — it’s the quality end of the job, making sure that every detail is the way the client wants it. I keep them in the loop, and every evening or morning I let them know what has happened and what is going to happen next.

I’m having a great time, doing what I want to do. We get some great projects to work on, and we’re the number one remodeler in Idaho. I’m on my first remodel as the project manager — but the best part of my day is still coming home to my wife. She is my best friend, and we both enjoy the outdoors and cooking. I look at food the way I look at music and clothes: variety is the spice of life!

Read Smokey’s Team Bio.

Designing Minds: Confessions of a Serial Remodeler

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.”

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Retire…Reflect…Remodel

Whole House Remodel

For an active Boise couple, retirement meant re-examining their lifestyle and priorities.  It also meant rethinking their home’s suitability for the next chapter in their life story.   

Vision

For our clients, retirement didn’t mean slowing down — it simply meant having more time to pursue other interests beyond their professions.  Given their active role in the non-profit sector, these interests included entertaining, and they wanted to make sure their home was up to the task.  This meant improving the functionality of their kitchen and expanding their outdoor living spaces to take advantage of a beautiful vista.  While addressing the issue of public space, they also decided it was time to give their private space a much needed facelift.

Challenge

Situated on four acres of mature trees and stunning views, our clients’ two-story home, built in the early 1900s, had plenty of entertainment potential.  The kitchen, however, had not been updated since the couple bought the home thirty years earlier.  With worn out formica and linoleum, and appliances that barely worked, it needed a serious update — and during the demolition phase we discovered that it also needed new floor joists.  Turning our attention to outside entertaining, we needed to address both the creation of a gathering space as well as improving the esthetics of the home’s east-facing facade.  Meanwhile, on the private side of their home, we focused our engineering on a master bedroom untouched, save for the addition of a six dollar light fixture, since its owners acquired it, and that suffered from a sense of claustrophobia imposed by attic-like angularities.

Accomplishment

Other than rebuilding the floor joists, the main work in the kitchen had to do with updating rather than reconfiguring.  To make the room a more pleasing gathering space, granite replaced formica, and slate replaced linoleum.  Our clients liked their existing cabinets, and elected to add to rather than replace them.  We worked with a local cabinet maker to customize cabinet facades that blended the new with the old.  To enhance our clients’ culinary interests, we added a prep sink and an under-the-counter refrigerator, along with something they had long wanted: a gas range — then installed a window above it to bring in another necessary component to great cooking: light.  To provide more room for outside gatherings, and to take greater advantage of the view from the east side of their home, we worked closely with our clients to design a patio roof that doubled as a rooftop patio, and connected that space to their ground floor patio via a custom spiral staircase that they helped design.  We also connected it to an existing rooftop space on the other side of the master bedroom.  In this room, we reengineered the ceiling joist system to remove constraining angles and open the room up to become a place of space and light that invited one to do more in it than go to bed.

Highlights

Over the course of a five-month remodel project, the changes to our clients’ home transformed it from a place whose drawbacks they had learned to live with for some 30 years into a home that elegantly and efficiently supported their evolving lifestyle needs.  Getting to that point was made possible by a very close collaboration between our clients, who were very detail oriented and clear about their remodel intentions, and a STRITE designer, project manager, and construction lead.  The result of this collaboration for our clients was not just a home they wanted to live in for the rest of their lives, but the satisfaction of having played a major role in its creation.  For STRITE, the satisfaction was not only in a job well executed, but in knowing that we had the people and processes in place to accommodate the level of involvement our clients desired.

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.”

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An Amazing Addition

Addition

We approach every remodel project with the intent of having a dramatic impact on the lives of our clients.  You might say that we are in the business of amazing.

Here is an example that takes such a statement out of the realm of hyperbole and into the realm of the day to day.

Vision

Our client wanted a dining area that would fit her entertainment aspirations, but her current dining room was just too small to meet her needs.

Challenge

Rather than try to expand the size of the dining room within the existing footprint of the home, we saw an opportunity to create an addition that would not only serve as a dedicated dining space, but would also transform the backyard.  One thing we needed to be sure of, however, was that we protected the gorgeous catalpa tree was a key feature of the backyard.

Accomplishment

With its high ceiling and multitude of windows, the new room made for a dramatic setting for entertaining.  This was especially the case at night, when the landscape lighting made the windows instantly transparent — to beautiful effect!  To protect the catalpa tree, we exposed its roots and hired a tree preservationist to cut and treat the root following his evaluation of the construction’s impact on the tree.

Highlights

Besides adding a beautiful dining area for our client, the new addition gave a courtyard feel to the back patio.  Since the kitchen had looked into the backyard before the addition of the dining room, we added a skylight to preserve its source of natural light.  Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.

Click on photos to enlarge. 

Here is a link to see a before – during – after sequence from one point of view of this dining room addition.

 

 

 

 

 

A Healing Remodel

Bathroom Remodel

The most usual challenge with remodeling old homes is dealing with infrastructural wear and tear.  Sometimes, however, an equal challenge can be found in dealing with previous remodel efforts.  In the case of one North End home, we were faced with both!  

Vision

This North End home had a long history, beginning with an original farm house structure that underwent several additions between the 1950s and 1980s.  While these additions provided much needed living space, they resulted in an incoherent floor plan that left no central gathering space for the family.  Our client’s vision was to turn this house back into a home.

Challenge

The net effect of several additions over the decades was to move the “public” area of the home farther to the rear of the site, which included the home’s primary entrance.  As you can imagine, this caused many first time visitors to try and enter the home through an unused porch entrance.  Our goal was to keep the home basically intact, but make the structural changes (including the removal of the home’s middle structure) necessary to create a dining space, rebuild the area for a living room, and create a well defined entry to the home.

Accomplishment

If a picture is worth a thousand words, the photos below could constitute a novel the size of War and Peace.  As it is, the narrative they portray is the real story behind this project.  The short version of that story is that as we began our work, we discovered  that the original foundation was disintegrating.  As a result, one wall dipped by almost an inch and a half.  Although it hadn’t been a part of the original plan, we proposed removing the old foundation as the first step to building a full second story to replace the former master bedroom/bathroom space.  We’re happy to say that we shaved the budget to make this an affordable, albeit unexpected, alteration to our scope of work.

Highlights

It never fails to amaze us just how much a remodel can change peoples’ lives.  With the previously fractured plan for this home, the family room was located at the opposite end of the home from the kitchen.  With the remodel completed, the public spaces of the home flowed into one another with a clear line of sight between the living room, dining room, and kitchen.  This was a fun project to design, and to this day we get rave reviews from the owners whenever we bump into them.  Word travels fast in a small city, so in our line of work, you’d better deliver!

Click on photos to enlarge. 

The following tells more about what is going on in various images:

After. Before -The former house had many design issues, primarily due to several additions over the past few decades, which moved the ‘public’ area of the home to the rear of the site – along with the primary entrance. The former entry porch was no longer used – confusing many first time visitors to the home (the real entry is behind that bush on the left). The next 3 pictures will give a brief history of the home.

Home history (1 of 3): The home prior to a remodel by the previous owners in the early 80’s. What you see here is the original structure, and behind are two additions completed sometime in the 1930’s – 1950’s. Confusing? The new remodel will be the fourth major remodel to the home. Home history (2 of 3): The rear of the home showing to the right addition #1, what appears to be possibly a former Family Room addition. In the center, addition #2, a later remodel adding a bathroom and possibly a Kitchen. In the foreground, the 80’s addition foundation is recently poured. Note the location of the small window as a point of reference for the next photo. This little bump out is incorporated in the 80’s addition, visible in the next photo. Home history (3 of 3): The Master Suite and Kitchen addition (the 80’s addition) by the previous owners. The small window now in the covered entry. A nice addition featuring a full richly detailed Master Suite on the upper level, and a spacious naturally lit Kitchen and Laundry Room on the lower level. This was not an addition completed by Strite design + remodel.

Before – Here is a picture before our start. This portion of the home, for the most part, remained intact. We did include this former covered area into the home to provide a space for Dining. Note the bathroom window, still there, but not for long. During – The first bite.

An 800 lb steel beam to span across the kitchen, being lifted in place. We use steel to allow a continuous flat ceiling in the Kitchen and new Dining space. Note the plywood under the white wall at the right of the picture, this is protecting a cabinet that was saved. More on that later. Dining space framed in featuring direct access to Patio. The entry is now well defined from the entry to the property, and more importantly connects directly to the public area of the home.

After – Installing the paint grade trim work, very detailed and labor intensive – resulting in a dramatic impact. All the wood work mimics the existing home’s details. Note how the hardwood floor is protected during the last stages of the remodel. Before –  Lets take a look at the fractured layout of the former home. The Family Room was located at the opposite end of the home from the Kitchen. To reach the Kitchen from here, there were 3 spaces to walk through. Before – Continuing to the Kitchen, the Dining space with stairs to the Master Suite. The Hall ahead steps down and you must step up again to enter the Powder room on the left. This is the room with the small window mentioned earlier. Watch the red wall… During – Removing the bath, a difficult task due to the old and the new completely encasing it. Backhoe + chain = power.

During – Same view, door removed off of stairwell. Note the stairs were reconfigured to ‘land’ in traffic flow, not in the middle of the room. The space to the left of the stairs contains the Pantry (accessible from the other side) and the Mechanical room. The new hardwood flooring is being installed at the time of this picture, the flooring ties into the existing Kitchen floor. Note the flat ceiling in the Kitchen – evidence of the steel beam doing it’s job. During – The white door was installed to block access to the Master Suite, which remained intact. A temporary insulated wall was installed in the Kitchen to keep the Kitchen warm, and to provide security. The new Family Room wall on the left is newly framed. Note the former mechanical space at the right, this was slightly relocated to accommodate a new walk-in Pantry.

After – Looking into the new Family Room from the existing Kitchen. Note cabinets to the left, with art wall above. The new Patio is accessible through the door at the right. The owners enjoy many of their meals outside, direct access from the Kitchen ideal. Before – One last look at the before, this time from the Kitchen looking down the hall into the former Dining space. Note the step in the hallway. The cabinets in the Hall were saved, and feature lighting will be installed to light the wall above them, as this space is now part of the new Dining area. During – Same view, note cabinets are protected by OSB at the left side of the picture.

A Kitchen Sees the Light

Kitchen Remodel

In reading our stories about kitchen remodels, you’d be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that we have a thing about drop ceilings.  Suffice it to say that we’ve removed more than a few of them in our career.

It’s not a bias per se, it’s just that they generally serve no other purpose than housing florescent light fixtures — and we think there are better alternatives when it comes to bringing light into a living space, as this case study demonstrates.

Vision

In this remodel project, our client wanted to not only update the look of their kitchen, but address an issue unique to its original design: the quality of the light.  In the process of improving this aspect of the kitchen, we also suggested a change that enhanced the flow of activity in the adjoining room.  In our business, the obvious is quite often hidden.

Challenge

While the original kitchen was spacious and well designed overall, it suffered from one particular drawback.  Because it faced east, with a wall almost entirely of windows, it received early morning sun.  With no other windows to balance this out, there was a lot of contrast.  To address this, we removed the drop ceiling and added a skylight along with strategically placed can lights to achieve the balance we were looking for.  An additional challenge in this kitchen was that it had only one wall to serve as both the location for appliances and storage.

Accomplishment

To update the overall look of the kitchen, we added new cabinets and stained a built-in bench to match them.  We also replaced the existing linoleum with hardwood and put in new windows with a raised sill height to reduce the amount of splash clean up.  To give folks the option of standing at the kitchen bar, we raised the height of the counter.  In addition to improving the light in the kitchen, we also improved its functionality by taking out an existing double oven, which we replaced with added counter space and cabinets.  We then added a range and oven in the center of the kitchen wall, along with a stone tile back splash.

Highlights

Before undertaking this remodel, we noticed that the existing placement of the sliding door to an outside deck in the adjoining room resulted in wasted space.  We suggested moving the sliding door further along the wall.  Our client’s trust in letting us do this created a more logical pathway outdoors, as well as a better seating layout.  When you look holistically at the relationship between one space and another, good things happen.

Click on photos to enlarge.