Indoor/Outdoor Living 

For centuries, civilization has collectively cheered the advent of spring and summer and the promise of being closer to nature. For a nation that spends 90% of its time indoors, the call of lush gardens, light breezes and rich earth is irresistible. Whether you desire a year round relationship with the out of doors or prefer high intensity use during the warmer months, having an outdoor “room” to enjoy your home’s natural environment can not only increase the size of your living area, but can enhance your home’s appeal as well.

How do you determine what type of outdoor living environment is right for you? Certainly budget and size constraints matter but even simple changes can produce dramatic results. As you plan the look and feel of your own outdoor paradise, consider 3 simple tips to insure that you will be happy with the results.

1. LIST your top 5 outdoor activities and when they occur.
Start by considering what time of day you will use your new outdoor space the MOST…early in the day…evenings or both? Do you need a place to play soccer with the kids after school or a quiet spot for sipping morning coffee? Do you enjoy cooking outdoors for large groups or retiring with a refreshing adult beverage and a friend after dinner? Is a Koi pond among your wishlist items or a moss garden with a Japanese lantern?

2. PRIORITIZE your list by frequency AND emotional importance.
Identify the activities most consistent with how you and your family live now—as well as what you would LIKE to do (if you had the place to do it!) Would you eat breakfast and dinner outside daily? Are you a weekend warrior, a sunbather or someone who just wants to throw open the French doors and expand your view of the garden? Place your preferred and more frequent activities at the top of the list and plan your space needs accordingly. Consider longevity concerns while you’re at it…..will this be a temporary play space for youngsters….? or do you want a space that will remain a part of your home life for the next 15 years? This will affect both the upfront budget and your design goals.

3. ANALYZE the opportunities that your house and lot provide.
What is the orientation of your home on your lot? Which rooms in your house do you wish to access directly from the outside? If your new outdoor living space needs to be located on the west side of the house to connect with the family room, creating shade may be important to avoid the afternoon sun. If you want to read the morning paper off the kitchen, eastern sunlight in the cool of the day may be important. Are there existing natural features you can leverage or particular outdoor views and elements you want to include --or screen out? A busy neighbor’s driveway may not offer the ideal juxtaposition for relaxation.

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Happy Thanksgiving from the CDB Team! 

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Meanwhile... Back at the Ranch 

As you begin thinking about what changes you would like to make to your own home, carefully consider what to do with your existing square footage BEFORE planning to add on. More space is often less the motivation for altering a home than just wanting it to work better. Consider the case study of this 1953 brick ranch home.

The entire house dials in right around 1900 square feet. The owner’s biggest frustration was the lack of available space, light and elbow room in the kitchen located in the middle of the house. Looking at the original floor plan above, the problem becomes evident.

The kitchen is not only isolated from the living and dining rooms but it is the main thoroughfare from one side of the house to the other. Views and light from the backyard were non-existent and access was funneled through a small door by squeezing past seated guests at the dining table. Whether entertaining or living day to day, family and friends found themselves crowding into the kitchen, disturbing work flow and being jostled.

The owners dreamed of an urban, ‘kitchen centric’ concept. They longed for an open floor plan, more space, a protected cooking area and the flexibility to accommodate both large and intimate gatherings.

An analysis of the existing space above showed that two circulation paths could be combined into one main corridor---allowing the other to be “repurposed” as uninterrupted work area in the kitchen.
Parts of the old main “hall” through the kitchen were reborn as additional cabinet storage at one end and a new pantry and closet at the other.

Similarly, wholesale removal of the center wall provided needed visual connection to the spacious yard and main social areas. By introducing a large multi-purpose island and modifications to the ceiling plane, the living, dining and kitchen area coalesce into one unified great room with clearly defined activity zones. The long interior views expand the sense of space and the open flow creates elbow room for each function, allowing greater flexibility. The kitchen serves as the center of gravity and guests and family can congregate freely at the raised bar to interact with the cook. Combining circulation space and removing a wall effectively create a larger kitchen WITHOUT enlarging the footprint.

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A smaller footprint literally means, well... A Smaller Footprint! 

Nearly a quarter of our nation’s annual energy use (approx. $700 billion dollars) is spent on our homes each year. Utility and material costs continue to rise due to competing demands for our dwindling natural resources.

In an effort to reduce costs and consumption, the race is on to develop high performance homes (green) and to make sweeping changes to our public policy. But there is another story emerging, one that shakes the very foundation (no pun intended) of American culture. Many homeowners, architects and builders are rethinking the obvious: HOME SIZE. A smaller footprint literally means, well…. a smaller footprint.

The beauty of this concept is that it doesn’t take a building scientist to understand that less square footage can substantially reduce energy and resource use, not to mention maintenance long term. That a cultural shift of this magnitude could match or exceed the benefits of science and policy makes it even more appealing from a financial perspective. Downsizing may well be the wave of the future.

It has been widely accepted in the U.S. that bigger is better. Case in point: home prices are typically based on square footage calcs and the number of bathrooms and bedrooms a property contains. Exceptional design, the quality of a home, how well it functions or the energy it saves seldom factor into real estate value. The McMansion era saw oversized “white boxes,” tricked out with strategically placed chandeliers, big roof lines, high ceilings and a maximum number of rooms that “counted” hit the market in unprecedented numbers.

Unlike countries where available space is scarce relative to population density, we have always had the luxury of living LARGE. As energy prices rise and home values fluctuate however, more and more buyers are rethinking the value of “more is better.” A burgeoning cultural shift is underway to “reduce, reuse, and recycle” to conserve resources and cost throughout the life of a residence. The choice to remodel dovetails nicely with this approach, as does re-purposing the materials and resources of an existing home and site. Emphasizing skillful design is critical to making renovations with smaller footprints work to provide the luxury that sheer size affords us.

Good design principles certainly apply to any size residence. In terms of “not so big” homes however the stakes are higher for the homeowner since there is less wiggle room. In a larger footprint for example, a poorly designed kitchen may be less noticeable because spillover space can compensate for weak planning. On the other hand, distilling a home to its simplest form with proficient planning methods not only avoids waste but it can offer more freedom and flexibility than size alone, as well as clues to maximize use.

To live large in a “not so big” house we can employ time honored design precepts to outwit spatial circumstances. Utilizing borrowed views, efficient circulation, the integration of shelter and activity, organizing principles that optimize locations for each function, removal of obstructions and treating the interior and exterior as one continuous element….these are just some of the ways we can “expand” how a home lives. Our experience of a space is really not so much determined by its physical dimensions as by how it feels and flows when we are in it.

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This is a great explanation of some of the "Not So Big" House precepts that we like to use when designing homes, spaces and additions. Thank you to Sarah Susanka! 

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Thank You! 

Thank you to everyone who came to see us during the Remodelers Home Tour this past weekend. We had a great turn out with close to 700 people coming to see our Two-Story Addition featuring a Master Suite, Kitchen, Powder Room and Mudroom.

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The Hardworking Bath 

High Impact Meets Small Spaces

With the slowdown in today’s housing market, it’s an ideal time to remodel that tiny, outdated bathroom that has been bugging you since you bought the place. (It probably has some cracked tiles, leaky fixtures or rotting drywall that may need repair anyway.) As you think through the options for your new space, you may want to consider the following.

Bathrooms are unique compared with any other room in the house. Your bathroom has the highest degree of detail and requires more integration than any other room in your home. Why? Because the confluence of style, function and infrastructure required for a successful bath all typically happens inside 15 to 90 square feet!

Consider that the average kitchen runs 180 to 220 square feet and up. It has adjacent openings and spaces. Baths usually have a single entry point, and are used more times a day, by more family members, in more detail. While we work in feet and inches when designing a kitchen, a well planned bathroom can require us to think in increments of an inch to utilize every bit of available surface as efficiently as possible.

Add to this the fact that our expectations for today’s bathrooms are changing. Shifting away from utility alone, bathroom spaces are now expected to:
•Have a high degree of emotional appeal -from romantic retreat to personal oasis
•Be more spacious and provide more amenities
•Anticipate our personal needs from lighted magnifying mirrors to sound systems
•Provide efficient and detailed storage systems that organize clutter
•Interact more with the out-of-doors
•Be well lighted for each discrete function
•Contain “aging in place” options from “curbless” showers to walk-in tubs
•Operate differently than in the past for our fast paced lifestyles, including easy clean up, no steamy mirrors, improved water containment, and little or no maintenance

Whether you are cosmetically updating your existing bath or gutting, expanding and reworking it into a new configuration, you should expect that the time to design and construct your new bath can be as extensive as larger projects. Depending on the type of bath, your wishlist, budget and personal tolerance level, a new bath can take as long to build --and even cost close to as much as a new kitchen!

Sound daunting? It’s not as long as you follow a few simple tips:

Be honest about the time you’ll need to get the result you want. Take your time in the planning phase. “It’s just a bathroom,” will not serve you well. A higher impact, small space means more planning, not less.

Unless you have the time and inclination to educate yourself on the latest technology and products or to learn what type of infrastructure is required, consider enlisting the help of designer. Be sure they have experience in bathroom work. Even professional builders and designers are not necessarily familiar with the ins-and-outs of the unique features and construction issues required for a bathroom that is meant to last. Small spaces require more design expertise not less -and an ardent attention to detail.

Now is not the time to find out how handy you are, especially if your home has only one bathroom! Going without a functioning shower, tub or toilet for longer than needed because you’re learning on the job can add big stress to even the most congenial of families. (and cost you more in the long run). DIY is not for the faint of heart when it comes to bathrooms so be sure you have a real passion for this and that other family members are on board before you decide to go it alone!

Before you start, get a general overview of what is out there. Ask friends, visit showrooms, use the internet, look at your neighbor’s new bath and locate professionals that fit your needs. Be realistic, plan on making compromises to get your wishlist and budget to meet. With regard to details, don’t be afraid to get specific -if you want a new tub, sit in the one you like before buying it. If you desire strong water pressure from your shower head be sure to clarify the gallons per minute that your ideal fixture provides BEFORE it’s installed. For overall styling, look to trends, not fads to increase the value of your investment.

Great beauty is built upon the solid foundation of great function! If something does not work, you won’t use it no matter how pretty it is. Decide what is and is not working in your current bath to help plan your new space. Need more room? Look for borrowed space from adjacent closets or eaves. Want more daylight? Consider adding a skylight or using a frosted glass door to grab light from the window across the hall. Is wheelchair access a must? Make sure the size of the doorway opening you need is adequate.

If you plan to stay in your home, consider the quality of fixtures and craftsmanship you select, especially for this hardworking room. Higher quality will add dollars up front, but if you factor in the time, cost and emotional energy spent on maintenance and repairs down the road, quality will actually save you money and headaches. Consider what it takes to cut open the ceiling in your dining room under the shower to fix a leaky drain pipe two years after you’ve remodeled, or the cost to replace a faucet that was attractive but poorly made. If your infrastructure and fixtures are not built to last, your bathroom won’t either.

It’s no accident that bathrooms are the most frequently repainted rooms in the house. The high frequency of use and the constant presence of moisture create a unique environment that you will want to carefully manage with good preparation. Be sure to include a good fit and finish to avoid nooks and crannies that need to be caulked and maintained. Be sure all undersurfaces are flashed and treated for proper drainage to avoid water infiltration behind drywall, flooring and tile. Make sure the structure of the room is adequate to support your goals -whether it is a large whirlpool tub or an expansive custom tiled shower. This will help avoid deflection and cracked tile later. Consider using vapor barrier paints to help keep the moisture inside the bath AND under your control.

The average bath fan moves anywhere from 40-80 CFM’s (cubic feet per minute) of air. Using a higher end exhaust fan (150-300CFM) with a good timer control is a key component to protect not only your bathroom investment from the long term damage caused by moisture, but other areas as well, like the attic above it or adjoining walls.

Consider the journey to your new bath a process that will reward you each time you walk into it! Your careful planning will pay off whether you want low volume fixtures to conserve water, better lighting, a steam shower for your allergies or just a faucet that doesn’t leak. A bathroom sets the tone for our days and sends us off to bed at night. It’s the small things in life that reap the greatest rewards and allow you to personalize your home for the way you live!

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Join us for the 2011 Remodelers Home Tour! 

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Best of the Best Award Winners! 

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Your Front Entry 

More than just a first impression.

Ironically, despite how much we like the idea of a beautiful front entry, most homeowners today do not actually utilize their front entrance on a daily basis. Unless living in an older residence that has an no attached garage, no decent back or side entry or where parking is closer to the front door, most folks in newer homes come inside through the garage. The age and design of a house has everything to do with how the front entry was originally intended to function - and good design solutions should vary as well, especially when you factor in specific homeowner requirements like handicap access or in-home offices. Regardless-- for any age house and with any client, there are some consistent key organizing principles to consider when remodeling or building a front entry that make it attractive to use. While first impressions are critical, it is important to note that these spaces serve multiple functions and can improve the “feel” of your house dramatically in ways that you might not even be aware are affecting you and your guests.

A handsome, well designed entryway does more to welcome your friends and family than a perfect paint job or a freshly clipped lawn. Depending on how it is developed, an entryway can add or detract significantly from the value of your property; it can even make or break a sale. When done correctly, a main entry should make you smile every time you drive –or walk¬- up to your house. It should also complement the interior space just inside the door giving you hints about how to circulate into adjacent rooms. On the exterior, an entryway is far more than just a door to get in and out or a “look” to enjoy. It is intended to provide clear visual signals about how and where to enter the house and should provide a clear sense of invitation. Finally, your front entry can act as a valuable buffer zone between you and the outside world from street noise or for visual privacy – adding to the sense of intimacy on the interior.

The front door of your home is a public point of entry into your private domain. If man’s home is his castle, then the front entry is the drawbridge! It is the key point at which energy and all things from the outside world flow into your private inner space. Often overlooked -or overblown- today, the front entry is THE key signature of your home’s personality. Unfortunately, too many entryways are boring portals, serving only as a way to get in and out of the house, increasing the likelihood that they will never be used at all. How many times have you walked up to the front of a home with two doors, uncertain as to which way to go? Depending on how it is developed, an entry can be welcoming or off-putting, intuitive or confusing, a pleasant experience or a chaotic one. Some even appear non-existent if left covered with vegetation or dwarfed by an attached garage.

Along with your roof line style and other exterior architectural elements, entryways are part of the architectural fabric of your home. A well designed front entry provides clues to the period, age and character of a house, the interior and its occupants. For older homes this is particularly significant. If you take a drive through a historical neighborhood, you will find entrances and porches in various shapes and sizes that served as outdoor gathering spaces for neighbors and families to sit and talk and which quickly identify the house as a Victorian or a Bungalow.

With the advent of the automobile and attached garages, entryways too often become subordinated by the private entry through the garage. The entry experience unceremoniously dumps homeowners into rooms with cleaning products and dirty laundry. Imagine how this affects you each day as you come home after work! In earlier periods, houses stood alone with detached garages that set the house apart as distinct, commodious architectural forms. As the demand for bigger attached garages has grown -especially those facing the street, one of the biggest challenges designers face is to try to set the public front entry apart as the natural focal point on a pleasing façade and to downplay the large and looming garage massing.

So what are the key components that make a good entry? A great way to think about the main entrance of a home is to regard it as a process, not just a door. It is really a sequence of places and spaces that start at the street. These small but important experiences bring visitors carefully from the public arena into your private domain in a sequence of planned events. These events provide clues that direct the viewer to the proper entry location and create an inviting and intuitive way to get there.

If you are remodeling or building a new front entryway to improve the look of your home don’t forget to carefully analyze the surrounding site and vegetation, the contours of the land, orientation to sun and wind directions, and the fabric of the neighborhood in which you live. Is the main entry close to the driveway or the more private side door? Are they both visible from the front of the house confusing the viewer as to the proper approach to your home? Does the path to the front door take full advantage of a best view of the home’s façade as you walk up to it? The shortest distance to the door is not always the best if it takes you tightly alongside the house wall with views of the hose, foundations and air conditioning equipment.

Once reaching the face of the house, the exterior space -usually a porch or stoop in front of the door- is equally important. Does this “outdoor receiving room” give visitors permission to be there even before the door is opened? Is there a sense of shelter and arrival? If your home is located high on a hill in the path of prevailing winter winds that blow mercilessly across the porch, you might consider an architectural detail or landscape solution to provide snow and wind barriers. A small roof or overhang can offer protection from the elements and additionally reach out to welcome visitors. If done, this element should extend out beyond the face of the door at least 2’-6” and should direct rain water away from the stoop below. Once on the stoop, can visitors hear the doorbell when pressed or see movement within to reassure them that someone knows they are there?

Additionally, a well planned entry is designed from both sides. An “outdoor receiving space” can also be invaluable if indoor space is tight and it can serve some of the same functions as an inner foyer. Once inside the door, is there a good staging spot to drop coats and boots? Does it dump you directly into the living room (or laundry room if a private entry) or is there ample space to remove your outer garments and orient yourself to being home? An inner foyer is typically the final stop in a proper entry sequence from the outside world to your inner sanctum. Adding a favorite piece of art, a photograph or furniture can make it an enjoyable experience. It sounds odd, but borrowing space from even a small living room to create a modest foyer can make the living room feel bigger and enhance the entry experience. A small foyer can be defined with architectural elements like interior archways, a floor material change or smartly placed furniture, cabinetry or hooks. No matter how lovely a space is, it must function well or it will not be enjoyed by the user and therefore not fully utilized.

Some thought should be given to the look of the private entry as well. It will work best if designed in tandem with the front entry so the two do not conflict if both are seen on the exterior of the building, especially if in close proximity. Landscaping, design variations, size and prominence help the visitor to know where to knock and wait. Private and public entries serve different functions but the same principles apply for both. If you are planning your mudroom and daily entry spaces, be sure to allow enough space for two to three people to stand comfortably, avoid door swings in the direct path and keep storage of supplies and equipment out of the main travel area.

Overall, whether you are remodeling or building new, consider the details required for a pleasant and functional entry experience as a key part of good home design. These are spaces that are utilized many times a day. Proper composition and proportion on the exterior as well as an intelligent use of space and light on the interior are additional qualitative components to enliven an entry design and create good chemistry between house and homeowner. For simple upgrade options, trim accents or decorative elements can help an otherwise bland exterior if all the other organizing principles are in place. A new door with glass,(frosted for privacy or clear for viewing) can change the character of the interior dramatically. The use of color and even something as simple as a new storm door can transform your home’s entry in unimaginable ways, update an outmoded home, and provide your home with a character and personality that is tailored to you.

By: Debra Moore
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