Into The Great Wide Open

Whole House Remodel

A Southeast Boise home expands its options as well as its horizons

In residential design, many rooms are no guarantee of having room. At the heart of this seeming paradox is functional intent — and in the case of one Southeast Boise couple, the intent was to fill an empty nest with friends and family in an unobstructed space. What stood in the way of that vision were walls whose removal posed less of a structural challenge (after all, we’re good at that sort of thing) than a financial one. As it turned out, a patient design process and a focus on esthetic priorities ended up producing the best sort of compromise: Everyone got what they wanted.

Vision

Our clients had lived in their Lakewood home in Southeast Boise for 15 years, and even after their kids had moved out, its proximity to work, recreation, and downtown life made it a desirable place to continue living. Their change in lifestyle, however, made their home’s design shortcomings more pronounced. To achieve a more open floorpan and a better connection between indoors and outdoors, it was time to either remodel or move.

Challenge

The ground floor of our clients’ home, as with many homes built in the ‘70s, had plenty of rooms…and no room. Walking into the house you confronted a wall from which a staircase led to the private living spaces upstairs, and behind which was the kitchen and family room. A narrow hall leading to those rooms accentuated the cramped feeling. Opening up these spaces to one another meant removing load bearing walls, one of which “carried” the roof and second story wall and floor system. An obvious solution would have been to transfer the load to pillars, but these would have defeated our clients’ esthetic goals, while structural support through added ceiling beams carried a price premium that exceeded their budget.

Accomplishment

Repeated design iterations eventually led to a solution. By switching the floor plan positions of the dining and family rooms, we created a layout that situated the dining room between the family room and kitchen — 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, we took a creative design approach that wrapped the pillars in beautifully finished alder wood, which also tied them in nicely 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.

In solving the problem of relocating sections of the home’s HVAC system after removing the walls they were in, we also brainstormed an equally creative structural engineering solution to better balance the upstairs and downstairs climates without creating a dual-zone system — thus saving what might otherwise have been a more than $5,000 added expense in the interest of more efficient heating and cooling. But that’s another story altogether!

Highlights

Although the design we settled on with our clients after much iteration seemed at best a livable compromise at the outset of the project, the end result proved to be everything they were looking for…and more. In terms of budget, what typically would have been the price of a high end kitchen remodel resulted in what was essentially a main level renovation. While credit goes to STRITE’s structural engineering prowess, even more goes to the patience and willingness of our clients to focus on the end rather than the means. In our business, we understand the value of keeping your eyes on the prize.

Hit here to go to another article with more pictures and the detailed process behind the remodel of this home.

Hit here to go to an article that describes relocating the HVAC system to open up the space.

 Click on photos to enlarge. 

 

Behold the Power of Finishes!

Bathroom Remodel

The most obvious way to dramatically affect the look of a room is to change its layout — whether the goal is functional improvement or simply a makeover.  That said, one should never underestimate the power of “finishes” to transform a living space.

Vision

The master bathroom in this home was already stylish, and its layout worked effectively for our client.  The goal of this remodel was to update that style and give the room a more understated elegance.  We accomplished this with well designed finishes, rather than through reconstruction.

Challenge

Glass blocks have a timeless appeal, but they simply didn’t work with the look our client was going for.  The biggest change we needed to make, however, was the transformation of the vanity, which we wanted to reflect a more contemporary sense of elegance.

Accomplishment

We replaced the glass block it in this room with clear tempered glazing to allow more light, and complimented its transparency with mirrored doors on the closet facing the tub.  We framed the new tub deck with openings for cabinetry behind the tub face panels to be used for towel storage.  We removed the soffit from above the vanity — not only because of how it affected the look of the room, but because the lighting was ineffective.  In its place we installed custom designed mirrors (can you find the one that is hinged for an inset medicine cabinet?) and new light fixtures.  We constructed new cabinets and added a marble vanity top with matching backsplash, as well as new sinks and fixtures.  To tie the look of the bathroom in with the master bedroom, we replaced the carpeting in both rooms with a dark hardwood that complimented the bathroom cabinetry. The visual “flow” between bedroom and bathroom was dramatic.

Highlights

Not long after we completed this remodel, our client put the home up for sale.  It sold within a matter of days, and our client assures us that one of the features that “sealed the deal” was our remodeled bathroom.  We would never encourage anyone to remodel a home strictly with an eye to “return on investment” — but a well designed and executed remodel sure doesn’t hurt a home’s resale value!

Click on photos to enlarge. 

As part of this remodel, we also completed a Powder Room remodel which turned out just as beautiful, visit the Powder Room post here.

 

 

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 for this using the best equipment from the BestofMachinery site online.  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.”

Hit here to visit another post about this home.

Hit on to see larger images

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 Question of Balance

How STRITE returned an HVAC system to its comfort zone

The paradox of remodeling is finding limitless opportunity in constraint. It’s kind of a zen thing — and if you’ve been doing it for four decades, it definitely colors the way you look at so called obstacles. Just ask STRITE president and “field marshal” Bob Mundy — a man for whom challenges are but thinly disguised opportunities.

Take a recent Southeast Boise project, for example. To realize our clients’ vision of opening up their floor plan to bring their kitchen, dining, and family rooms into a more unified space (the better in which to entertain, now that their nest was empty), we had to first remove load bearing walls. While the most obvious challenge in doing this (one we face quite often) was in finding structural support alternatives, we also needed to reroute the hidden infrastructure of wires, pipes, and ducts.

For the most part, finding new paths for plumbing and electrical conduits is a fairly mundane, if not always expeditious, exercise — one in which matters of efficiency typically rule the day. In the case of this project, however, Bob saw an opportunity to improve on the home’s comfort as well as its esthetics. To appreciate the challenge in which that opportunity was embedded, there are some things you first need to know about the world of HVAC. We’ll let Bob explain.

“Most two-story homes built in the ‘70s, as was the case with our clients’ house, have an HVAC design that does a poor job of balancing climate. In short, the upstairs is generally too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Trying to correct this with control units that are typically on the ground floor means making the downstairs, where people generally live during the day, uncomfortable…not to mention driving up utility costs. The answer, in most cases, is to add a secondary system for a dual zone approach — but that option just wasn’t in the budget with this project.”

The HVAC ductwork in our clients’ home — what we call a “3×10” ducting system — went up through stud walls that we were taking out. For Bob, rerouting the ducts was unavoidable, but he wanted to do it in a way that would address the system’s inefficiencies. Following a brainstorming session with our HVAC trades folk, he came up the breakthrough concept of relocating the system’s trunk line, which had previously been located in a downstairs crawl space, to the attic by going up through the floor system via a downstairs pantry and then through an upstairs bedroom closet (both of which we then closed off). From this new location upstairs the system branched off to condition the house through vents we added under the home to replace those in the walls we removed. Since the return air and thermostat wasn’t balancing the upper floor with the newly opened area below, we moved the thermostat to the top of the stairs.

“We ended up with a system that far exceeds our clients’ air conditioning needs,” Bob reports. “Their master suite upstairs is very cool and we got a balance throughout the house without replacing or adding another unit — just by revamping the ducting. We probably saved between $5,000 and $7,000 with that approach, which we’ve since used again in another similar situation. We could have taken the attitude that since the ideal solution wasn’t in the budget, we’d simply walk away from it. As it was, we found an alternative that worked out beautifully.”

As it turns out, there’s thinking outside the box…and then there’s thinking outside the crawlspace.

Hit on this link to learn more about the goals of this remodel and see more pictures.

Hit here to go to another article with more pictures and the detailed process behind the remodel of this home.

Hit on to see larger images

 

 

 

A Kitchen Rejoins the Family

Kitchen Remodel

Somewhere in the evolution of home design, kitchens were relegated to a “separate but equal” status in the hierarchy of home life.  This is especially apparent in the example of this North End home, in which we reunited an isolated and lonely kitchen with a larger family space as part of a more extensive remodel.

Vision

The kitchen of this home was cramped, dark, and separated from the flow of family activity by a wall dividing it from the dining room, and by a hallway of near epic length.  With the help of some 3D designs, we showed our clients how removing a wall and splitting up the hallway would completely change the feel of their home, as well as open up the kitchen to the rest of the house.

Challenge

Given the larger remodel effort we undertook in this home, we wanted to keep the kitchen update as economical as possible.  In addition to opening up the kitchen space, our clients wanted a good sized pantry and a mud room that would create a transition between the garage and the living area.

Accomplishment

By splitting the hallway into three new spaces, we were able to add a pantry to the kitchen, as well as create an entry space and mud room leading from the garage.  We took out the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and gained even more space for the kitchen by removing the upper portion of an existing stairwell to the basement, which had the additional benefit of allowing natural light to enter the basement through two new skylights that we added in the kitchen area.  We kept the sink, refrigerator, and stove top in the same locations, but upgraded the appliances and cabinetry.  We refinished the floors, patching in the hardwood between the newly joined kitchen and dining rooms.  Adding a new color scheme completed the effect of a more spacious and brighter kitchen.

Highlights

This remodel had a dramatic impact on the functionality and feel of this home.  As our architectural sketch demonstrates, removing the long hallway that had divided the house not only made a world of difference to the kitchen area, but also created new points of access to the home’s master suite and children’s bedrooms through a single hall location.

Click on photos to enlarge. 

 

 

 

 

Reimagining the Kitchen

Kitchen Concepts

Do you remember the first time you imagined the ideal kitchen? If this seems a trivial, if not odd, question to pose, bear with me a moment — and think about the role that kitchens have played in your life. I’ve lived in a lot of homes over the years, and while many of the rooms that served as a backdrop to my life story have passed out of memory, I can sketch the layout of every kitchen I ever spent time in with surprising accuracy, going well back into my childhood.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that from an anthropological perspective, our kitchens may tell us more about our cultural values than almost any other room in our homes. Which leads me back to my opening question. Do you remember the first time you imagined the ideal kitchen? Being a child of the ‘60s, the first idealized kitchen I can recall was straight out of Disney’s Tomorrowland. It was space age, chrome, and all about instant gratification with little or no labor.  Meet George Jetson.

It will probably come as no surprise, then, when I confess that my ideal kitchen has come a long way since the space race. I don’t foresee giving up my microwave, but my childhood obsession with automation has evolved into an emphasis on connectivity that goes beyond the digital. If you believe, as we do at STRITE, that form follows function, than my ideal kitchen looks quite a bit like those we have most recently created for our clients: spaces with forms that serve the function of nurture — in ways that go well beyond dishing up healthy meals. They are, in addition, focal points of family life, social hubs, and places of intimacies born of the act of sustaining ourselves communally. While you might argue that the bedroom is the locus of intimacy, it can hardly celebrate that virtue as publicly as the kitchen — not, at least, with similar propriety.

If you need more than just anecdotal evidence to prove the case for the kitchen’s profound transformation over the decades, consider the latest cost vs. value figures from Remodeling Magazine. (The cost-value ratio expresses resale value as a percentage of construction cost. When cost and value are equal, the ratio is 100 percent; when cost is higher than value, the ratio is less than 100 percent; when value is higher than cost, the ratio exceeds 100 percent).

According to the survey for 2014, kitchens were a star performer in the ratio’s strongest increase in nearly a decade. In its trends summary, Remodeling Magazine noted that, “In general, kitchen projects outperformed bathroom projects, regardless of cost. One indication is the Major Kitchen Remodel.”  The article further notes that, “Despite its hefty $54,909 price tag, its cost-value ratio of 74.2 percent ranks it second among the seven K&B (kitchen and bath) projects, just above Bathroom Remodel, which is about one-third the size. And the $109,935 upscale Major Kitchen Remodel project ranked higher than the other three much smaller bathroom projects.”

Our own experience at STRITE over the past couple of years underscores this trend, as you’ve probably discovered in our more recent case study blog posts. In fact, in recognition of the current cost vs. value survey findings, we thought we’d use this blog to share some of our more recent kitchen remodel projects, and what we think they say about the role kitchens play in our lives.

Bring the kitchen out of the cloister

Back when folks were concerned that what happened in the kitchen stayed in the kitchen, it made sense to sequester this working space from the more tender sensibilities of, say, the parlor. Of course, back then you might also have had domestic staff to handle the utilitarian functions for which the kitchen was designed. Increasingly, clients are asking us to reintegrate their kitchens with the other public spaces of their homes, since cooking, rather than simply dining, has taken on a more communal nature. This is a good example of bringing the kitchen out of the shadows and into the family fold.

Walnut bar and bright bar stools

Go with the flow

As more homeowners embrace cooking as a pastime and not just a necessary evil, they are spending more time in their kitchens — and being able to move around easily in that space, as well as between spaces where food migrates, is of increasing importance. We recently finished a remodel that was at the lower end of the budget spectrum compared to some of the other examples in this blog, but that neatly solved a problem our customers had with the flow in and around their kitchen.

New floating island

Focus on the art  

If it seems an exercise in hyperbole to suggest that cooking has been raised to the level of performance art, then scan your cable channels and look at the number of cooking shows we turn to for entertainment. It stands to reason, then, that folks want a well designed stage for their own domestic performances. At the 2013 Tour of Remodeled Homes, STRITE showcased a Boise home whose owners had wanted to transform their interior from a Tuscan theme to a contemporary European style. In the process, they asked us to improve the layout of their kitchen, since both husband and wife enjoyed cooking and didn’t want to be “upstaging” one another. Note that this case study also highlights another kitchen trend: the use of non-traditional materials (think cork flooring).

Being in the present while honoring the past

Given the number of remodels we’ve done over the last four decades that have involved restoring vintage homes, it’s good to see the that so many of our customers want their kitchens to honor the original style of their homes, while fulfilling more contemporary functional needs. Here in Boise you don’t have to look too much further than the North End for great examples of remodel projects that have met that criteria.

kitchen1

Connecting the outside and the inside 

Perhaps this is simply a corollary of our first observation, but just as clients are wanting their kitchens to join the rest of their home, they are also more interested in making light and view as much a part of the decor as decorative back splashes. In this case study from the 2014 Tour of Remodeled homes, addressing this desire started with bringing down the walls.

image001 4

Bring on the drama 

Although it’s hard to keep up with the Jetsons when it comes to a truly “out of the world” design, our clients typically want their kitchens to make as bold a statement about their esthetics as any other room in their home…if not more so. We offer this example of one amazing makeover located in the Boise foothills.

sample1

One common feature that is often hidden below (or above) the surface of a number of the remodel examples we’ve shared in this post is the need for “structural intervention” to pull them off. We like to think of the meeting between design esthetics and engineering know-how as STRITE’s “sweet spot” — and I leave you with one brief example of how these two came together in a kitchen remodel that required the removal of a load-bearing wall.

Cost vs. Value 2014: More Good News for Remodelers and Homeowners

Industry Trends

screenshot

 

So, just what can you expect to get out of a remodel project should you decide to sell your home down the road?  Once a year, Remodeling Magazine publishes a lot of numbers that will give you some idea.  And the results from this year’s cost vs. value analysis?  The envelope please…

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. We undertake remodeling projects on behalf of our clients for the primary purpose of improving the livability of what is, for most of us, our most important asset: our home. Although we don’t lightly refuse any project that makes good creative use of our expertise and experience, it’s pretty safe to say that if your renovation goal is to do a quick flip, we’re probably not the remodeling partner for you. If your motivation is to better align your home with your lifestyle priorities, which are subject to change as time goes by, then by all means let’s sit down together over a cup of joe and talk. We’ll buy.

The Good News

That said, we are always mindful of the ROI (return on investment) factor behind any remodel project. For that reason alone, we are very pleased to share the latest “cost vs. value” data, published by Remodeling Magazine, which for the second consecutive year is up for all 35 projects included in the magazine’s report. As the survey summary notes, “This trend signals an end to the long slide in the cost-value ratio, which began to fall in 2006 and didn’t rebound until last year. For 2014, the cost-value ratio stands at 66.1 percent — an increase of 5.5 points over last year and the largest increase since 2005, when the ratio jumped 6.1 points to reach its high of 86.7 percent.”

Understanding the Ratio

A quick note of explanation for all you liberal arts majors reading this blog: The cost-value ratio expresses resale value as a percentage of construction cost. When cost and value are equal, the ratio is 100 percent; when cost is higher than value, the ratio is less than 100 percent; when value is higher than cost, the ratio exceeds 100 percent. Got that? Good…let’s move on.

The nature of the ratio is important to understand in order to fully appreciate why its latest improvement is better news than last year’s, not only for remodelers but also for homeowners. When you think about it, the ratio can improve either because construction costs go down, or because resale value goes up. Significantly, for the first time in four years, improved resale value of residential housing had more of an influence in the cost-value ratio than construction costs. A modest 2.2 percent increase in average national construction costs was more than offset by an 11.5 percent improvement in average national resale value.

This reverses a trend that began in 2010–11, when construction costs dropped dramatically, but resale values dropped even more, driving the ratio down. The situation began to change in 2013, when lower costs were mainly responsible for across-the-board improvement in the cost-value ratio. While this was good news for the remodeling market, costs remained volatile and housing values had yet to stabilize. In what is perhaps the most positive sign in this year’s data, rising resale value is driving the overall market improvement. We’ll drink to that!

If it Ain’t Broken…

While the cost-value ratio only occasionally exceeds 100 percent nationally, this occurs more often at the city level, where it typically indicates either strong appeal for a particular project, or a strong housing market…or both. This year, the cost-value ratio exceeded 100 percent in more than 300 instances, or nearly 9 percent of the time (by comparison, 2013 saw just  65 instances of projects exceeding 100 percent). As the American economy continues its plodding recovery, homeowners understandably prioritize their home improvement projects based first on what needs to be fixed or replaced. Not surprisingly, most of the top ROI performers are replacement projects.

Notable exceptions are attic bedroom remodels, with a cost-to-value ratio of slightly more than 84 percent, and basement remodels, with a nearly 78 percent ROI at home resale. Remodeling Magazine notes that, “Both of these projects have been trending upward in recent years, possibly because, compared with building an addition, they represent an inexpensive way to add living space to an existing home. But the fact that their comparatively high initial cost is balanced by a higher value at resale than at any time since the peak year of 2005 signals a return of confidence in the value of remodeling.”

K&B a Strong Performer

Although more expensive projects did not fare as well as lower-cost projects, all made significant gains compared with 2013. In the “midrange” and “upscale” categories tracked by Remodeling Magazine, kitchen and bathroom (K&B) remodels showed good ROI — which was surprisingly true of the “upscale bathroom addition” category, suggesting that the market is willing to pay for more square footage and higher-end appointments in the bathroom.

Once again this year, the best-performing K&B project was “minor kitchen remodel,” which includes new appliances and countertops, and a facelift for existing cabinets. At $18,856, the survey comments that “it is not the least expensive K&B project, but it delivers a lot of bang for the buck.” In general, kitchen projects outperformed bathroom projects, regardless of cost. One indication is the “major kitchen remodel”. Remodeling Magazine notes that, “Despite its hefty $54,909 price tag, its cost-value ratio of 74.2 percent ranks it second among the seven K&B projects, just above Bathroom Remodel, which is about one-third the size. And the $109,935 upscale Major Kitchen Remodel project ranked higher than the other three much smaller bathroom projects.” Our own experience at STRITE over the past couple of years underlines this trend, as you’ve probably noticed in our more recent case study blog posts.

What’s it Mean to Boise?

Cost vs. data figures are tracked regionally and by metropolitan areas within a region. On a regional basis, you are more likely to get a 100 percent return on your remodel buck if you live in Honolulu, Hawaii or the San Francisco Bay Area, but we are pleased to point out that we’re doing just fine, thank you, in the Mountain States (just slightly above the national average) and in the City of Trees. If you’d like to see the hometown scores, we invite you to follow this link to the data on remodel projects in Boise. When you compare our figures on the various remodel project categories to their regional and national counterparts, we think you’ll feel pretty good about home renovation costs on a local level.

So…what is the take away from all these numbers? Simply put, from our perspective, it means this: although lifestyle considerations should continue to drive your remodeling priorities, now is a good time to act on them. Costs are still close to their historic lows, while the return on investment should you sell your home down the road is improving, and will likely continue to do so. And while we may have sharp differences of opinion over styles and finishes when it comes to improving the functionality and esthetics of our homes, we can all appreciate good value. Let the good times roll.

 

Remodeling as a Metaphor for Life

Recommendations

“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.” — CJ (a STRITE client in Boise’s North End)

It would be ever so nice if we could have whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted it, with no conditions or compromises attached — but the fact is that we all live in the real world.  And if we didn’t discover this by the time we were two years old, there’s nothing like a remodel project to bring us hurtling back to the reality that life is about trade-offs.

STRITE designer Michael Snow recently shared an online article with us on this very theme, and we thought it worth passing along with some insights of our own.  The article, “Where Should I Splurge and Where Should I Save Money in a Home Remodel,” should be required reading for anyone contemplating a remodel, and the advice mirrors the discussions we have with nearly every client we work with at the outset of a project.  While we encourage you to read the entire article (along with its excellent sidebar links), we’d like to amplify on some of points it raises.

Very few, if any, remodeling projects will return 100% of your investment, so the decision to remodel should be more about your enjoyment of your home and getting more out of it. For any space, think about your family’s lifestyle, and spend more on the areas that support those priorities. — If your immediate goal is to put your home on the market, it certainly makes sense to prioritize those fixes/enhancements that will most likely get you a good offer.  In the case of most remodels, however, our advice to our clients is to always focus on how a project will enhance their lifestyle.  The reason we have always insisted on a design/build model for our business is to make sure that we focus on lifestyle priorities at the very outset of a project.  That said, it’s at least encouraging to note that the cost vs. value ratio for remodel projects has actually improved in 2013 for the first time in years.

You don’t want to overspend and possibly price your home way out of proportion to the rest of the neighborhood. — Following this advice has a lot to do with how long you plan to live in your home…which is a similar consideration you need to make when the question of “over customization” comes up.  This may be a more relevant issue to a young family than to an older couple, especially if that older couple is looking at modifications aimed at “aging in place.”  To get a good perspective on keeping remodel projects in line with logical enhancements to the style and function of a home, as well as it’s value within a neighborhood context, take a look at our blog, “Confessions of a Serial Remodeler.”

Invest in the Most Permanent, Fundamental Items. — One of the great advantages of remodeling compared with most new construction is the degree of choice you can exercise over materials that improve the durability, efficiency, and functionality of your home.  A good remodeler can guide you through those choices and help you weed out the things that are “the flavor of the month” versus those with more fundamental and longer lasting value.

Buy Cheaper Alternatives That Look the Same as Premium Materials — Thanks to the Internet, you can do your homework on how to get the look and performance that you’re looking for, without necessarily paying “name brand” prices.   An advantage we have after nearly forty years in the remodeling business is that we can do a lot of this homework for our clients, based on relationships with a long list of suppliers.

Spend More on Your Room’s Focal Points — Something we always take into account in any remodel design is the ways that “line of sight” and “flow” enhance the experience of a living space.  We find this to very often be the case in updating “http://www.stritedr.com/kitchen-remodel-20/”>kitchens, when taking out a wall can connect a key center of family activity with the rest of a home’s public spaces.

Start Off on the Right Foot — The article recommends creating a realistic budget…and then adding 50% “just in case.”  As a remodeling company that has made “knowing our numbers” an essential part of the value we bring to our clients, our general practice is to allow between 3 and 5% for “additional work requests” (AWRs) that typically arise when a client chooses to add or upgrade something to a remodel project beyond the original scope of work.  In other words, give yourself some “wiggle room” if it means the difference between getting what you want and, as CJ so poetically put it, “ho hum.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Empty Nest to Guests: A Simple Bathroom Remodel

Bathroom Remodel

Not every remodel project has to be a full-scale makeover.  Sometimes the goal is simply to change the esthetics of a space to reflect a different set of circumstances in one’s life — like the departure of children for college and the big world beyond.

Vision

When our client’s children were still living at home, they shared a hall bathroom.  Needless to say, with two growing kids, the emphasis was on functionality.  When the children went away to college, however, the role of the bathroom shifted to accommodating guests — and our client wanted the esthetics of that room to reflect a more contemporary and welcoming design.

Challenge

Because our client’s home was slab on grade, we faced some constraints in the placement of fixtures if we wanted to make this remodel as economical as possible — and since our client’s goal was to “freshen” the look of the room rather than a perform a complete makeover, we stayed within those constraints and focused on the greatest impact for the lowest cost.

Accomplishment

While keeping the plumbing in the same location, we made the floating toilet less obtrusive in a small bathroom by installing the tank in a wall cavity.  We put in a new shower, replaced the old vanity with a larger and more contemporary one, and added new tile and fixtures.  To compliment these upgrades, we went with a new color scheme that better suited a more “mature” audience than a couple of growing kids!

Highlights

Anyone who has ever watched their children grow up and leave the nest knows what a bittersweet experience that can be…but one upside can be refashioning your living space to reflect a newly rediscovered sense of freedom.  Because we were able to accomplish this for our client so economically, we have since been asked to convert the children’s bedrooms into a single living space — proving once again that the highest compliment one can earn in our business is a repeat customer.

As footnote, we should add that this particular remodel project earned our firm a first place award in NARI’s photo competition.  We’re very proud of that!

Click on photos to enlarge.