Tuesday, July 28, 2015

And the Surprises Just Kept Coming......Bankruptcy

As we neared the finish line on our house, we noticed that progress had really stalled.  Of course finish work takes a lot of time, so we weren't overly surprised at first.  But since we only visited the project on weekends, it started to become obvious that there wasn't a lot of progress.  And we were having trouble connecting with our contractor.

Finally, Richard went to check the project during the middle of the week and our contractor Joe was on site, working alone.  After some prodding and questioning, he learned the full story.

Evidently, Joe had started to run out of money quite a bit earlier.  He didn't want to tell anyone and just kept plugging away.  So, he let his workers go and was trying to finish up the last of the work single handedly.  At this point, he was already in the process of declaring bankruptcy and had lost his house.  And the experience had obviously taken a toll.  He had decided this was not the right career choice and wanted to go back to school and get an engineering degree.  But he was trying to honor his commitment to us and complete the house.

Well, we felt terrible.  Joe had never given us any clue that there was an issue.  And he had never charged us for a single design change (and I can assure you, we made lots of those!).  Most contractors charge for every single one!  So we weren't really surprised that there were budget overruns.  We knew this was the first time Joe had built an entire house, so the level of scheduling and budgeting was a lot more than he was accustomed to.

We tried to do what we could to help.  Richard worked with him to see which sub contractors hadn't been paid and we took care of that.  And we worked with Joe over the next few weeks, to get the last few punch list items taken care of - so he could start the school semester.





And the lessons learned from this?  Well, we knew we took a risk when we started with a contractor that had never done a project like this before.  And we're still grateful that he was so conscientious and didn't just disappear from the job, like some of the stories we've heard from other people.  We ended up with a house that's well built and we love.  But I'm also glad that we've teamed up with Waterhouse Builders for all of our regular SoPo Cottage projects!


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Monday, July 20, 2015

Master Suite

Of course now that we’ve lived in the house for several years, it’s easy to look back and think about what we would have done differently.  What's the saying - hindsight is 20/20?  It's easy to think about what you would have done, after it has happened.  And at the top of the list is to change the master bedroom.

Not that it’s a bad room!  We really only spend time in there to sleep, so we didn’t want one of those giant master suites.  But if we had known that a new foundation was required under that part of the house anyway, we would have extended the house by 3 feet.  That would have given us a bigger closet and a full master bath.  (although to Richard’s way of thinking, it’s actually a good thing we have a small walk in closet – because it means I’ve had to purge a lot of clothes!)

And the room is great.  It's got plenty of space for our needs.  We installed 3 awning windows above the bed, which bring in the sun and provide nice ventilation on summer nights.  We also have a balcony off of the bedroom – with a French door that brings in lots of light – and water views.

I wanted to play up the room with bright, beachy colors.  So we just left the walls white and added brightly colored artwork.  I found this patchwork quilt that I love and added some accent pillows.  I’ve been in search of the perfect fabric for window treatments for years…..but I have to confess I haven’t found anything that’s quite what I want, so I have just left the white cellular shades.   And by the time I find something, I'll probably be ready to redecorate!


Our half bath is small, but also simple.  We installed a marble basketweave floor, beadboard paneling and very traditional fixtures.  The retro style medicine cabinet was on clearance at Restoration Hardware and I found the sconces at Pottery Barn.  The pedestal sink is from Kohler and I really like the fact that it has lots of space to with soap, cosmetics, etc. while you're getting ready in the morning.

Again, we left the walls white, but punctuated with lots of bright color.  And when I get tired of it, it’s easy to change to a whole new color palette.

But my favorite touch?  The Summer Cruising wood plaque in the bathroom (HomeGoods - $19.99) and these fish plaques I found at Dwellings in Falmouth.  I just love the pops of color!  

So while a bigger closet and bath would have been nice - this actually works very nicely for us!



Sources:
Rug - Dash and Albert
Sink - Kohler Bancroft
Faucet & Mirrors - Restoration Hardware
Bed, tables, blanket storage - Crate & Barrel
Dresser - Pottery Barn
Fish - Dwellings
Striped Lamp - Simply Home


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Thursday, July 16, 2015

SoPo Cottage: Our Own Dream Kitchen Goes From Plan to Reality

We couldn't wait to see how our kitchen would come out.  We had spent months planning it, getting every last detail defined (click here for the original plan).  So we waited with baited breath to see how it would all come together.

And we weren't disappointed!  We love it!

The custom cabinets, with their inset doors, were fabulous.  We  finished them off by installing black hardware with a satin finish - to play up the New England style.

The countertop installation was probably one of our worst experiences of the whole project - but once the tile was in to hide the contractor's mistakes, they looked beautiful.  We've done a Shaw porcelain sink in several of our kitchens, they are always a great addition.  I love the idea that the same factory in England has been making them since the 1890's.  






















And the tile?  I couldn't be happier with the custom glass and marble tile that we installed.  We did a focal point behind the stove, but installed marble 'dots' in the subway and also across the back of the island.  The marble tiles are random thicknesses, which gives it an interesting dimensionality (is that a word??).

Our contractor Joe custom made the curved cherry butcher block top for us.  Half of it came from some cherry that his dad had stored away for about 40 years.  The rest was new cherry from a local specialty lumber yard.  But within 6 months, the colors had all deepened and you couldn't tell the old from the new wood!

The island is big and provides an amazing amount of functionality.  It hides the microwave on one side (and I do hate the look of a microwave!).  It has a prep sink and the trash/recyclable bin on the other. side.  The extra counter space is really helpful, when we have multiple cooks in the kitchen.  And of course the butcher block top gives us seating and lots of serving space for big parties.  Adding the chunky legs on the corners and the built in bookcase gives it that true custom touch.


The lighted cabinet is one of my favorite details.  Robin Amorello, our designer, insisted that we raise the height of it a little bit above the countertop.  That was a great point - it helps make it look like a piece of traditional furniture, rather than a regular cabinet.


The lobster weathervane was a Mother's Day gift from our daughter.  I love that special Maine touch that it provides.  


















And the custom mantle cabinetry that we had built to hide the vent hood provides some nice display space for a bit of color.  

Speaking of color, the basic elements of the kitchen are very neutral.  White cabinets, white subway tile with beachy glass and marble insets.  The color is all done with accent pieces.  So when I get tired of the color scheme (and that happens a lot), it will be easy to transform this kitchen with just a little investment!




And I guess we weren't the only ones that liked it.  Shortly after it was completed, Robin called to say that a magazine wanted to use it in their premier issue.  How cool is that?  

So what do you think?  Was it worth all the detailed planning?  

Sources:
Faucet - Newport Brass
Sink - Rohl Shaws Sink
Stove - Wolf
Tile Backsplash - Walker Zanger Waterfall Oyster and Oceanside Baby Bars Iridescent
Counter Stools - Maine Cottage
Weather Vane - Ballard Design
Pendants - Hudson Valley Randolph


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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Just Say 'No' to Matchy Matchy!!

I'm always fascinated when people say all the metal finishes need to match in an old house.

Think about how an old house evolves.  Light fixtures get changed out over the years.  Kitchen pulls get changed.  Styles change.  New trends emerge.  An old house always has a mixture of finishes.










So, when HGTV published this infographic on Facebook, I was a bit startled.  What?  Everything has to match?

When I'm renovating a house, I have a couple of general rules.  I try and match all the doorknobs (although I'll change them first floor to second floor, if I can't find enough that are the same, which can be tricky with an old house.  I've spent many hours rummaging through boxes of doorknobs in salvage places).  Kitchen cabinet knobs can be different from the light fixtures.  And the faucets don't need to match.  Same is true in the bathroom.

In our own house, we were trying to make a new house look like one that has aged gracefully over the years.  So it was even more important to have a mixture of finishes!

For the doorknobs, I used natural brass traditional knobs (so not quite as shiny as this photo).

For the kitchen island,  I chose these brushed brass pendants.












And since the cabinets were a traditional New England white with black countertops, I went with black pulls and latches for the cabinets.













And the faucets - I went with traditional polished chrome.  I love how they all come together!

What about you?  All the same finish?  Or do you mix and match?

Sources:
Lighting - Hudson Valley Randolph
Faucet - Newport Brass
Cabinet Latches - Top Knobs




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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Small Space Decorating Tips


With all the work we've done on small houses over the last few years, I've learned a few things about decorating these spaces.  In a small house, every inch counts.  But if you follow just a few simple guidelines, you can make small rooms both attractive and functional!

Furniture Scale - Buy small sized furniture.  I know, I know, it sounds simplistic!  But when you get into the giant furniture store with the tall, open ceilings, it's easy to fall in love with the big comfy couch.  And when they deliver that big couch, you might be appalled to discover it overwhelms your living room.

A typical couch is 84" long.  But the depth can very dramatically.  So be extra sure to check - some are as deep as 48".   For many early 20th century homes and cottages, that's just too big to work.  Instead, find a smaller version or consider a loveseat.  Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel and Restoration Hardware have all realized size is a factor and now offer 'apartment' sized furnishings.  Or if you want something a little more affordable, check out IKEA.  I'm a big fan of their EKTORP sofa and loveseat.  Look at this one from our 2nd project.  At 70" long and 35" deep, the loveseat is a versatile option (it's only $379).  And it comes in a variety of washable slipcovers. (Click here for more photos)
Project 2: IKEA EKTORP Loveseat  (Wicker Chairs and Chest -  Pottery Barn)
SoPo Cottage Project 2 - Pickwick Pine Dining Room

For the Dining Room, get a table with leaves that can extend the size when you need to.  Of course if you have 4 kids - you probably need a big table all the time.  But for many households, you only need to add leaves to a table when you have guests.  And the rest of the time, the dining space will seem much bigger.  I've dragged this Pottery Barn table and chair set to 3 of our own homes and every one of our staging projects.  With it's round shape and classic style, it works every time!  But if you add the leaves to it, it can seat a crowd!












SoPo Cottage Project 5
In the bedroom, forget about that sleigh bed that you've always wanted.  It will take up a lot of extra space in your small bedroom.  Consider instead, a wall mounted headboard.  You can easily make a padded one in almost any shape and they are especially great with low knee walls.  Depending what fabric you use, it can add lots of color and interest to your decorating scheme.  Oh, and they're easy to make!  Click here for simple instructions.

Tufted velvet headboard, custom made to fit under the windows
Project 2 - Guest Bedroom
Another suggestion for a bedroom.  Use small side tables.  All you need is a space for a pair of glasses and maybe a glass of water for the night.  So give yourself more space in the room with a smaller table.





























You can wall mount a light fixture - to provide even more table space!













Project 2 



















Storage, storage, storage - in a small house, you need all the storage you can get.  But it's helpful to make it attractive as well.  Bathrooms can be particularly tricky.  In this example, we had an awkward space behind the toilet (with the vent pipe going up to the roof).  But rather than wall it off, we added some mosaic tile and a shelf to provide a little more storage, with a decorative flair.






Baskets are another big help.  You can hide lots of clutter in a basket and yet it looks great.  We had a skinny space next to this bathtub and filled it will shelves, baskets and a cabinet to give the homeowners a myriad of storage options.







Project 1









I also frequently incorporate a china 'hutch' in the kitchen.  It provides a way to display attractive dishes and saves space from using a big hutch in a dining room.
Project 4 - New Englander

Light - More light makes a space seem bigger.  Look for ways to use mirrors.  They reflect the light - but also make a room seem bigger as they visually expand the space.  And there are so many attractive mirrors out there.  These mirrors were all from  HomeGoods - and I've used them many times!

Project 5 - Dining Room
Project 1 - Victorian Foyer

In the same way, try to use all the daylight from your windows that you can.  Heavy window treatments can make a room look and feel much smaller.  You can still have a nice pop of color and pattern with a valance or a narrow panel - you don't need to cover the whole space.  And blinds can be added inconspicuously to give privacy at night.

Project 6 - Bungalow Breakfast Nook
Paint Colors.  I'm a big fan of a light color palette.  You can always do a 'feature wall' to make a color statement.  Look at the far wall in this breakfast room.  It's a deep shade of green - but compliments the cream on the other walls.   And it's hard to beat pale wall colors with white trim to make a space feel bigger and brighter.





















In the room below, the walls are a neutral Sherwin Williams color called Rice Grain.  The light color gives the room an open, airy feel.  But with the navy accents, the room has lots of color!
Project 5 - Light color palette with navy accents




So as you think about decorating your small house, keep in mind Scale, Storage, Light and Color to help your home feel bigger and more organized!




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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Crisp Blue and White Guest Room

We are lucky to have two guest rooms in our house.  One is pretty large with a great view.  But the other guest room is a little on the small side, so I wanted to make it a really cozy space that guests would enjoy.  

The original plan was to have closets on either side of the front window, with a window seat below.  But once we started framing up the room, we decided that would make it too cozy!  So we settled for one closet. That leaves room for this chest with basket storage.

A key design element was to install wainscoting.  I wanted bright white woodwork with bright color above it.  But I was a bit worried that installing narrow bead board would be too busy in this room.  So to give it simpler lines, we did something a little different.  Richard and I installed simple 1x3 strips of wood around the room, added a plate rail above and then painted the entire space a white semi gloss.  It makes the room seem nice and bright – but adds some architectural interest as well.  And it give us a shelf for artwork, to provide pops of color in the room.  

Speaking of color, inspiration for this room started with the multi colored rag rug.  I loved the different hues of blue, green and orange and thought it would make a great starting point for the rest of the design. I found the comforter and shams on sale with their bright green dragonfly motif.  I bought an extra king sized sheet and made the coordinating roman shades for the windows.

The headboard was a bright 80’s style brass, with lots of tarnish spots on the finish.  I picked it up for a song at a second hand furniture store, sanded it down and spray painted it this bright blue.  I love how it pops against the white wainscoting.

The chair in this room started life at IKEA.  And after my DIY upholstery experience, I learned my lesson and hired an upholsterer to recover it for me in this custom green polka dot print.  That cost a lot more than the chair, but I’m pleased with the way it came out!


I added this curved cabinet - one of my favorite pieces!  And it gave me the opportunity to add some colored accents that compliment the rug.

Living in Maine, we get a lot of houseguests.  And I think they really enjoy spending time in this cozy room!






Sources:  
Rug - Crate & Barrel
Chest - Pottery Barn
Chair - IKEA - Ektorp Tullsta 
Curved Cabinet - Ballard Designs - Chilton Cabinet
Pillows:  Company C and HomeGoods
Shams and Comforter - Company C

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Police and Contractors are Never a Good Combination - Especially at 3 am

Granite countertops shouldn't be the most challenging part of a project.  But somehow, that's exactly what happened on our house.

We are big fans of granite countertops.  We've installed them in four of our own kitchens and love the functionality and low maintenance.  We wanted that again for this kitchen, but in keeping with a classic New England style, we wanted a non-shiny finish.  So we decided on a honed finish.  It has that classic satin sheen, but still lets you see the texture of the stone.

As we quickly discovered, granite is usually shipped right to the end fabricator already polished.  So they need to grind that finish off, to create the honed finish we wanted.  Many fabricators won't even attempt this - it's tricky and they don't want to deal with it.

We had used one of the big local granite places on a previous kitchen and ran into some challenges.  So for this kitchen, we wanted to find a different place.  We heard about a small place nearby and went to visit them.  The owner was very enthusiastic and showed us some examples of his work.  We agreed on the plan and set a date for templating the design.

In the course of planning the work, we discovered that the owner wouldn't be doing the work himself, he was sourcing it to his brother - 'the only other person in Maine I trust to do the work'.  Ah huh.

After waiting a couple of weeks, we heard that the brother was ready to do the install.  Oddly, they wanted to do it on a Sunday afternoon.  Since we could only get to the house on weekends anyway, that was fine with us.  We agreed on 3:30 Sunday.  It shouldn't be a big deal - usually the granite install takes 1-2 hours.

3:30 Sunday came and went and no one showed up.  After repeated phone calls, I finally got in touch with the brother's wife around 5:00.  She said they were just packing up and were heading to our place.  6:00 came....no show.  7:00 came....no show.  We kept calling his cell phone and he finally answered and said they decided to stop at Applebee's for dinner, before coming to our house.  So we waited.  And waited.  At 10:00, we decided they weren't coming and started packing up to leave (we were camped out with beach chairs, a cooler and take out Chinese food while we waited).

Just as we were headed out, they showed up.  We suggested that they reschedule, but they said no, this was the only time they could do it.  So, against our better judgement, they got started.  Big mistake.

They brought in the first piece of granite, a small rectangle to fit over a 36" cabinet.  It didn't fit.  It was short, by about 4".  Geezzz......not even close!  They would have to cut a new piece.

Next they brought in the big L shaped piece that fit along the back wall.  It was big and extremely heavy.  They had to turn their truck around and back it up to the front porch, so they could use their boom truck to move the piece in.  It was midnight now - and the truck made the big beep beep beep noise as they backed up.  Then there were all kinds of additional machine noises, as they lifted the granite with their boom.

After multiple cans of Red Bull, they tried to slide the big piece into place.  But they couldn't figure out how to get it in.  The angles were admittedly complicated, but we finally had to help them remove a cabinet, in order to get the granite in place.

And that's when we discovered they didn't pre-cut anything.  Typically, a granite installer has already cut the holes for the sink and faucets (and we had 2 sinks and lots of faucet holes).  But these clowns waited until they got on site.  So now they proceeded to get out their high speed drills and saws and make a noisy mess.

That's when the doorbell rang.  Richard was appalled, the couple across the street had just had a baby and he was sure they were coming to complain.  Instead, when he opened the door, he found a petite policewoman on the doorstep.

The policewoman said they had received a phone call that we were being robbed.  Ha, our neighbours were so polite they didn't want to complain about the noise - instead they suggested we had very noisy burglars!!   But she looked around the house, in its state of construction, at our beach chairs and the left over chinese food - and commented there wasn't anything to steal :-)  (seriously, I think only a woman cop would notice this.....true?)  She wrote down everyone's license info and asked us to keep the noise to a minimum.

And they kept on working.  With a few more trips out to the truck to drink a Red Bull and ingest who knows what else.

The installers didn't finish until 3:30 am.  And the other granite pieces didn't fit very well. For example, there was a gap ranging from 1/2 - 3/4 inch along the back wall.  (Thankfully,  I was able to use some tiling tricks to help hide the issues.)  It was obviously not quality work!

The next day, I bought a bottle of wine for each of the neighbors and delivered it with a note of apology.  It was the least I could do after disturbing their sleep!

And we still had to wait another couple of weeks for the final piece to be installed.  They got it right on the second try.  But even after all the craziness, we're still not happy with the granite.  The finish doesn't have the satin texture we were looking for.  It's blotchy in some areas and is a pain to clean.  I called to have the business owner come out and look at it - and big surprise, he never came.

Lessons learned - sometimes it's better to go with the big companies.  They have a trained crew of experts who can handle challenges.  They also have new equipment (the folks I use now have laser systems and don't even do old fashioned templating for a perfect fit), using the latest techniques.

At least we learned our lesson!



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