Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The World's Biggest Home Show - Trends, Products & Ideas!!

What did I want for Christmas?  A trip to the International Builders Show.  That's right, I wanted to join 60,000 builders to see the latest and greatest products from 1500 suppliers. And - it's coupled with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, which adds another 500 suppliers. (Okay, and it's in Florida which is pretty darned attractive after the brutal cold, snowy weather we've been having!)

And it didn't disappoint!!!  Light fixtures.  Bath fixtures.  Flooring and more.  Lots of what was on display was a bit over-the-top, but that's part of the fun!!!

What were the highlights that I saw?

Well let's start with bathrooms.
Can you say console sink?  Because they were everywhere!!  And with the traditional homes we renovate, they're a fantastic look.  I saw them from almost every supplier - ranging from totally traditional to sleek and modern.  But they carry a steep price tag, all those metal legs add a lot of cost and depending which finish & top you choose, they can be thousands and thousands of dollars.

For faucets, they have some of everything.  I was particularly amused by this $7000 one - made entirely by hand, it is so delicate!  But with that price tag, it's certainly not something you'll see in any of our projects!

I've read a lot of trend reports for 2018 and many are predicting brass finishes will be passé soon.  But judging from the brass tones (ranging from satin to rose to gold), it looks like they're going to be around for awhile.

Every major supplier is carrying them and many are rolling out whole new lines in brass-gold tones.
Moen's new brushed gold fixtures - to be launched later this year
But the other hot finish is matte black.  And I really liked it.  It's a bit contemporary (and perhaps masculine?) but against a white sink (think about all those porcelain console sinks), it's a great look.  And here on a dark counter it looks nice as well.

Not surprisingly, stand alone bathtubs are still the rage.
Of course they require a lot of space, but they're beautiful.  What do you think of this handmade teak example?
Or this one from Toto that has an amazing waterfall that comes from behind your neck (on a height adjustable pillow, of course!).  That's the ultimate for a spa bathroom!

And toilets?  Well it was all about the skirted toilets.  I love this, both from an aesthetic standpoint, but also from a cleaning perspective.  Who wants to clean all those curves and ledges that can hold dirt and whatever.....these are so sleek!

Every toilet needs a remote control, right???
And a big trend was cleanliness.  Whether it cleaned itself after each flush, or cleaned you after using, with this fancy remote control - notice you can choose front or rear J

Check out this one from Toto (and yes, it did seem like The Jetsons have taken over toilets!!)

For kitchens, you could find any style you want - whether it's still traditional or starkly modern.  I wouldn't say I saw anything really unusual, but lots of beautiful finishes.  And the predictions that white kitchens are dead???  Maybe not, still lots of them on display!

And farmhouse sinks were in almost every booth (again, I heard their popularity was starting to fade, but it was hard to tell that at the show!).

I particularly liked this stand alone version from Kohler - not very practical.  But oh so lovely with its vintage styling!

Where I started to see some changes were in appliances.  The black stainless look is gaining traction (although I've heard that if it scratches, it can't be repaired - something to think about!).  But there were other dark metal finishes as well.  And enamel colors for high end ranges remain very popular.

And for countertops, the quartz-marble look was still obvious everywhere I looked.  But I saw some really nice new quartz options creeping in that are darker, with almost a concrete, textural look that were pretty fabulous.

On the homebuilders side of the show, I saw some great products.  The 'Tiny Home' rage was pretty evident.  It was fun to see a couple in person, although for the life of me, I can't imagine living in one!
Tiny House = Divorce Court???
This pull down scissor staircase was fantastic.  I'm not a fan of the big clunky pull down stairs (just more challenges to seal them tight against heat & moisture leakage into the attic).  We see a fair number of them in houses and they are always loose and awkward.  But this compact model only takes half the space.  Designed in Europe, they've got great weather stripping and its only half the size of what you usually see.

In lighting, I was hearing the oil rubbed bronze is out - but brass is in.  There was certainly a lot to look at in all the booths.  And mid-century influences continue to be strong.

I'm such a fan of skylights and I had a great time checking out all the latest offerings from Velux.  This roof window, that doubles as a balcony and egress exit was really amazing!!  That's got some real potential for some of the New England rooflines we do!
Photo:  Velux

Therma Tru Concept Door
I'm in love with this concept door from Therma True.  Sadly, it's not available yet, but isn't it gorgeous?  The nice folks at Hammond Lumber are going to help me figure out a way to try and create one.

And these new 'Extreme' Post-It notes from 3M were really great.  They're supposed to hold up in any weather (see the guy squirting them with water) and windy conditions.  Now I can leave little 'love notes' for the guys all over the place J

There were lots of product demos - this one of a new adhesive from Advantech guarantees floors won't squeak for 10 years!

And can you believe how beautiful some of these tile options are?  I was swooning over some of the intricate marble patterns.

Finally, there was a dizzying array of home automation systems - from big names like Google and much smaller players.  Frankly, this is an area that's changing so fast, I can't say I'm ready to jump in - but as it gets more streamlined, it's pretty intriguing.  

So now I have to figure out how some of these great ideas might get integrated into our projects.  I don't like to follow 'trends' too closely, since they can change so much.  But where it's good, solid design that fits well in a traditional home - then I'm always interested.    And since many of the products I saw are in the process of getting launched, it might take awhile for them to be available.  But I was pretty inspired by everything I saw.

So what do you think?  Do you have any predictions for 2018 trends?

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Demo Changes Everything - Excitement and Trepidation

I'm always excited about demo day. Why?  Well, it's the start of a new project, we get a preview of how the new floorpan will look (because we're always tearing out a few walls!) and there are always some discoveries.  But unfortunately, those discoveries can also be bad news - so I approach it with a bit of trepidation.  It's that nervous feeling you get in the pit of your stomach.....just waiting to see what's wrong.

But we had a lot of work to do to prepare for the big day.  As usual, before we got started, we donated everything we could.  I love it when someone can give a second life to  materials from these houses.

Next, I had to mark up what needed to be demo'd.  And that includes lots of notations about what needs to be saved (aka antique trim) and what needs to go.  The demo guys don't take out any load bearing walls, that will be done later, when we have temporary support in place.  They just focus on removing the plaster and non-load bearing walls and ceilings.

The team from Rainbow International Restorations had their work cut out for them, because this job had some challenges.  The ceilings in the house look really good - no cracks after 80 years.  I assumed that was because they had been replaced at some point in time.  But turns out, there is a layer of metal lath under all the ceilings, covered by a layer of drywall and then two coats of plaster on top of that.  That's great for a high quality job, but I can tell you the demo guys had a huge challenge getting that kitchen ceiling down!

Farewell old kitchen!!

And what did we discover?  Should I start with the good news, or the bad news?

Let's start with the good.  First of all - removing the 3 main walls on the first floor makes a HUGE difference!!  Suddenly the house feels much more open and bright and well.... just better connected.  I had a note from a reader who lives in a similar house, she said she loves the house, but always feels isolated in the kitchen.  That's not the case in this house anymore!
The kitchen is now open to the Dining Room and Living Room
Yup - it's a long, narrow kitchen!
You can easily move between living, dining and kitchen space and see from one room into another.

Can you believe how much nicer the foyer is, now that it's open to the Dining Room?  I can already envision the new owners entertaining with this circular layout.  It's a great party house!!  The house feels so much bigger!  And do you notice how clean everything is - so unusual after demolition.  That's because the Rainbow team brought in a giant HEPA air filter that took all the dust out of the air!

Hidden under that glue is nice original fir flooring!!
Next bit of good news, we have wood floors in the kitchen.  Woo hoo!!!  This is pretty rare - usually we find 4-5 layers of various tile and then the subfloor below.  But this time, there was only one layer of vinyl and then the wood floor.  Oh, and it's fir - not oak like the rest of the house.  That's not super surprising - remember back when this house was built, the kitchen was the domain of the cook - not guests, so you wouldn't spend as much on flooring in that room.  And I love how fir cleans up, so I'm hoping it will be pretty sweet when we get it refinished.
Dining Room with wall opened up to Kitchen

You can see from the living room through to the kitchen and dining room now!!!
Upstairs, I can start to see how the new bathroom will fit in the upstairs hall.  And remember the wall I wanted to remove in the front bedroom - to unify the two center windows?  Look at what a nice change that is!!

Finally, the demo crew said they usually find a dime above the kitchen doorway in many of the houses they do.  Sure enough, they found this mercury head dime!  Pretty cool, don't you think?  But there's a bit of a mystery.  You see, the city records show the house was built in 1938.  But this dime is 1943.  How could they have put the dime in later?  And was this house really built during World War II?  I need to do a deed search, to see if the records are wrong.  In the meantime, I've saved the dime.  It will be nice for the future homeowners.

And as usual, we also had some not-so-good discoveries.

First - the house has NO insulation in the walls.  We saw evidence when we bought it that insulation had been blown in the walls of the attic stairwell - so we assumed it was throughout the house  Bad assumption.
No insulation in the walls!!!  Yikes!!

And since this is a cold climate, we need to figure out how to get this place insulated for the future owners.  It's the kind of behind the wall work, that will really make a difference for energy efficiency and overall comfort of the home.  It wasn't in the original budget, so we need to figure out where to make some other changes to get this done.

There is also a big hole in the wall between the kitchen and the garage.  There was a shelving unit against that wall in the garage, so we never noticed the hole.  Not sure why it's there!!  But once the kitchen cabinets came out, it got really breezy in there and with the crazy cold temperatures we are having, it's an issue.   I've temporarily stuffed some insulation in there, but we need to fix that soon.

And then there are the fireplaces and the flues.  My fireplace expert came out and delivered the bad news.  For heating, they need a lining.  That's particularly important when we'll be installing a new boiler.

The No's have it by a huge margin!!!!
This is good and bad news - because at the Open House, the vast majority of people thought we should get rid of the current wood burning insert.  But I think they wanted it to be just a wood burning fireplace.  Now we need to figure out the best go forward path and the budget for an insert and liner - or other approach.  (On a side note, with the crazy cold temperatures we've been having, a wood burning insert would be nice, even if the current one isn't very pretty).

And then there is the issue with the second floor ceilings.  Although the first floor ceilings look great, the second floor has this 'pillowed' effect.  Evidently, since the house didn't have insulation for decades, the plaster expanded and contracted and created this effect.  It's really solid, so no danger of falling down or cracking, but looks odd.  I'm getting a quote to have it replastered, to see if we can even it out.

So there you have it.  I've got a lot of number crunching to do, to figure out how to do some of these critical infrastructure projects.  But somehow we will make it work and still ensure a safe, energy efficient home for the new owners!!!

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Vintage Colonial: The Go Forward Plan

A few years ago, I wrote a post about how to plan a whole house renovation.  I still use the same criteria on every house.  It starts with looking at all the elements that involve safety and security - and ends with the fun stuff, like fancy fixtures, kitchens, baths and custom carpentry.   And while it’s tempting to start with the fun stuff, getting the fundamentals in place is critical for a quality renovation. 

So here’s the list for the Vintage Colonial - at least as we know it now (we will probably have some discoveries during demo).  You’ll notice there are some big issues at the top of the list, that require big budgets.   And this is work that in most cases is behind the walls, so you can’t even admire how it looks when it's done

Safety & Security

First priority - properly abating the asbestos that’s all over the basement, followed closely by getting the electrical updated.  Most of the electrical outlets are only two prong – and some rooms only have one or two outlets.  Try that in a house full of teenagers!  That means a nightmare of extension cords all over the place and 3 prong adaptors.  In other words, an issue waiting to happen. 

I’m also worried about the chimneys in the house – we have two fireplaces and an oil fired boiler using the chimney.  I’m waiting for my chimney expert to come tell me what shape we’re in.  This has the potential to be a big issue.

Energy Efficiency

We knew from the moment we walked in the basement that the boiler needed updating to something much more energy efficient.  But that’s not going to be enough to improve the ‘Green’ factor for this home.

When you buy a house that has curtains hanging in the foyer doorway and draft dodgers next to bedroom doors, you can guess that it’s not very tight.  The good news is the attic has blown in insulation and there’s evidence in the attic stairwell that the walls were done as well.  That means the windows and doors are a problem – which is no surprise.  The windows are all original, many lack locks and storm windows and of course with old-fashioned sash weights, they’re going to be cold and leaky (and then there are the spots that looks like a dog ate the mullions!!).   And it does feel breezy in the foyer, which makes me suspect the front door could use replacing or some serious weatherstripping

Floor Plan & Traffic Flow

This wall opens up the living room to the kitchen
Since this is a center hall colonial, we can’t get a full open floor plan – but we can do a lot to make it more open and modern family friendly.  A lot of that comes down to traffic flow.  By taking out a few walls, we can dramatically improve the livability of the house.

So here is the initial plan for the first floor.  I’ve learned from experience that this is preliminary, until we get the demo done.  We typically get a few surprises!


Okay, now we can talk about the fun stuff.  As you can see from the before photos – we desperately need a new kitchen.  Since it’s only 8 ½ feet wide, opening up the wall to the dining room will make it feel much bigger.  We also want to open the wall to the living room (see photo below). Of course we need to more the refrigerator, once that wall is gone. So that's something we need to address in our kitchen design. 

I want to install a powder room, but am still noodling over how to make that happen.  I’ve spoken with several neighbors that have the same floor plan and no one seems to have come up with a good, easy solution.  It’s a challenge!

Upstairs, we have an excellent layout to create a master suite.  By moving the sink/vanity to the other wall with a new doorway, we can have a private master bath.  That means moving plumbing, but it's worth the cost to create the suite.  We will leave the existing closet and add two more, for lots of storage space.  One thing I've learned renovating these old houses is that you can never create too many closets!!

Once the current bath becomes the master bath, there is room in the upstairs hall to install a family bath.  It will require us to steal a foot of so from the back bedroom, but won't dramatically change that bedroom. 

So now that we’ve got a preliminary plan, it’s time for permits and a demo crew.  We know from past projects that there will be some surprises once we get the walls opened up,  that might require changes and adaptations.  So stay tuned for updates!
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