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.