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.
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.
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.
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.
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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“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, while also using maintenance services for this and people can call Central Penn Contracting to hire these services. 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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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Our clients loved their Southeast Boise neighborhood, and while the Tuscan-inspired exterior of their house was attractive, the carry over of that theme into its interior created a number of issues for the couple from the day they bought it. Although our initial focus was the kitchen, this ambitious remodel soon extended well beyond.
Our clients’ home was certainly large enough from the standpoint of floor plan, but it always felt crowded to them — particularly when more than one person was in the kitchen. Beyond updating the look of their home’s interior to reflect a more contemporary European style, what our clients wanted was a greater sense of spaciousness, and straighter, cleaner lines throughout.
One of the drawbacks of the original kitchen was inefficient workflow, especially between the cooktop, the preparation space, and the refrigerator. Our clients also wanted to improve the efficiency of their cabinetry as well. Besides the kitchen, several other spaces suffered from what our clients repeatedly described as being “cramped” and dark.” For one thing, the home had a beautiful backyard and patio area, but there was virtually no visual connection to it from inside. The house had a separate dining room, but it wasn’t large enough to host the family gatherings they had envisioned — while the dining area next to the kitchen gave the term “nook” a meaning more synonymous with “cramped” than “cozy.” Although it came as something of an afterthought, our clients asked us to address their home’s staircase, which while visually striking, also added to a bulky and dark look that plagued other areas of the home’s interior.
Addressing our clients’ issues resulted in nothing less than a virtual gutting of their home’s interior, beginning with the transformation of their kitchen and dining area into contiguous spaces in which form followed function with a contemporary European sensibility. Although we didn’t significantly change the footprint of the kitchen, we profoundly changed the nature of the space and visually opened it up — partly by adding a bank of windows over the kitchen sink. This effect that was repeated in the former breakfast nook, which was squared off to pick up enough additional square footage to make it a viable family dining room (the former dining area has since become a cozy sitting room alternative to the family room adjoining the kitchen). The bank of windows installed in the reconfigured breakfast nook also had the effect of bringing in views of the backyard to enhance the overall feeling of light and space in the home. This effect was further heightened in the evening, thanks to the outdoor lighting. The flow of the great room/kitchen/dining area was further enhanced by continuous cork flooring.
The staircase redesign took many hours to figure out. The original had a half wall that went all the way up the stairs, and our clients had proposed taking out that wall to create an open bannister with a custom rail to match the curve of the stairs. This would have been very costly, so we instead proposed demolishing the old staircase and reframing it to create the straight, clean lines that the couple was looking for as a consistent theme of their remodel.
In its original layout, guests who wanted to use the downstairs bathroom/powder room had to walk through a narrow passage way that led to the laundry room, and ultimately to the garage. We relocated this bathroom to make it more accessible, then expanded the walls and ceiling of the laundry room area to make it a more practical workspace and quasi-mudroom. We also remodeled the master bathroom, removing the soffits, updating the cabinets and fixtures, replacing the spa tub with a free standing model, and installed a more contemporary looking shower. By removing the space that had been a separate toilet area, we were also able to expand the size of the walk-in closet, while adding to the overall sense of spaciousness in the master bath and giving it a sense of symmetry consistent with the rest of the remodel.
Overall, this was a project that involved not only issues of esthetics and flow, but also a number of structural challenges as well — most notably with the staircase and dining room remodels. Although Strite brought the best of its design and construction acumen to bear on the successful conclusion of this whole house remodel, that success was due in no small part to our clients’ participation in the design process. The old adage in our profession remains true: the best work is engendered by the best customers.
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