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.”

Hit on any of the following images to see larger versions in a gallery.

 

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