Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Creating Our Own Dream Kitchen

We have renovated many kitchens over the years - everything from minor updates (new hardware & appliances) to major gut jobs.  And we've always done them with an eye for resale, trying to balance our needs and desires with what a later buyer might want.  But for this house, we decided to focus on us.  We probably won't live in this house forever - but we wanted to design it with just our needs in mind.

So, I wanted to do a custom kitchen with custom cabinets.  For years, I've lusted over inset cabinet doors - but could never justify the cost.   So instead, we had always gone with semi-custom cabinetry in our own remodels. But this wasn't a giant kitchen and this seemed like a great approach for our new house.

But first a quick lesson on cabinet door styles.  The least expensive cabinets (and a traditional style found in many older homes) is a standard overlay.  It has a door or drawer that partially covers the cabinet.  That means that the cabinet has a frame on it, which shows around the edges of the door and drawer.

Full overlay (sometimes called European) is put on a frameless cabinet and the door covers the entire cabinet.  This is much more popular and gives you the maximum amount of access to the cabinet space behind it - because there is no frame to get in the way and the hinges are mounted at the very edge of the cabinet.  It also provides a more seamless, cohesive look.

Inset cabinets are custom made and fit inside the cabinet frame.  There is no room for error, they need to be perfectly square and fit exactly.  Because of this, they are also more expensive.  And in my mind, they have a more traditional style, particularly suited to a New England home.

If you're going with inset cabinets, you need a very good cabinet maker.  I wanted ours to be made by Cook & Cook Cabinetry.  They are a small, family owned business in Scarborough Maine.  We made an appointment with them and fell in love with their approach and process, as we toured their cabinet making shop.  We were ready to sign on the dotted line, when we discovered they were so booked with other jobs, we would have to wait several months for our cabinets - putting our whole construction schedule in serious jeopardy.

So, while I was extremely disappointed, there was also a bright spot.  They had introduced us to Robin Amorello, owner of Atmoscaper Design.  Robin is a top notch kitchen designer and has become a good friend.  The first time we met Robin, I brought along my dog eared folder of magazine clippings. I pulled out my favorite kitchen - and discovered it was a kitchen she had designed!!  How cool is that???  She had a client that wanted a kitchen that looked like the one in the movie 'Something's Gotta Give'.  And the photo below was what she came up with.  Isn't it a gorgeous kitchen?  We used it as the inspiration for our kitchen - but on a much smaller scale! (want to see what the 'Something's Gotta Give' house looked like in the movie?  Hooked on Houses did a great post about it with lots of photos!)
Photo:  Atmoscaper Design
We made an appointment, sat down with Robin and our blueprints, and got to work.  We wanted a big island, with plenty of room for working, as well as seating to chat with the chef (that would be Richard - he's a much better cook than I am).  We wanted a 'hutch' to provide attractive storage as well as have a furniture look, reminiscent of old style kitchens and similar to the one in the photo above.  And we have a lot of cookbooks, so some bookshelves would be great.  We have a big stove (seriously, when you have a husband that loves to cook, he can have any kind of stove he wants), so I wanted a display area above it, to try and hide the giant exhaust fan.  And finally, I hate the look of microwaves, so we needed to try and find a place to hide it.

We sketched out a couple of ideas and then Robin came back with two options.  The house was just getting started at that point (only a few exterior walls were up), but we laid out two by fours and did a mock up of the island with sawhorses - much to the neighbor's entertainment!!!  And we finally settled on this design.  

The back wall has the hutch (including glass cabinet doors) and a big farmers sink under the windows.  The dishwasher will be hidden behind a wood panel, to the left of the sink. The hutch will feature glass doors, shelves and a bead board interior.
The side wall has the range, the refrigerator and the door to the pantry. We are also going to include small awning windows between the counter and the upper cabinets.  This is something we had done on a house when we lived in Phoenix and loved how it brought daylight onto the countertops (and they provide some nice ventilation as well).  We included big drawers - we love them for pots and pans!  And we'll disguise the vent hood with a mantle style wooden hood, that gives me lots of room for decorative pieces.  Finally, we had room for a small pantry to the right of the refrigerator.

We played with different ideas for the island and settled on this approach.  We loved the curved edge for the butcher block top - and wanted to make it big enough to seat four.   And since the butcher block would be 42 inches tall,  it gave us the extra bonus of providing a taller spot to hide the microwave - with a lot less bending over to use it (see elevation B below)!  The back of the island will be covered in bead board (which can be easily painted, since it will inevitably get scuffed from people sitting there).  We also included a small prep sink, roll out trash/recycling cans and a bookcase (elevation D) for our cookbooks - even though they are becoming obsolete as we start using an iPad instead!  Robin was great to work with throughout the whole process, she helped us find another cabinetmaker and we got everything ordered.

For the backsplash, I wanted to use white subway tile - but dress it up a bit with this Walker Zanger recycled glass and marble mosaic.  Since our house is close to the beach, I wanted to use colors and textures that blended with the beach - shimmery and sandy.  I included some iridescent glass bars from Oceanside Glasstile to heighten the effect.  

For the island, our contractor planned to make a custom cherry butcher block top, including the beautiful curved edge.  And we wanted black granite for the rest of the counters - that will imitate soapstone, with much less maintenance.

Does it look like the kitchen from 'Something's Gotta Give'?  Well there are probably some similarities.   But when we get it done, it will be all ours!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What Kind of View do We Have?

Let the rebuilding begin!!!

We were excited to get the building started, but Mother Nature didn't want to help out.  We had record breaking rain, that kept dumping water into our giant hole of a basement.  Once the guys finished pumping it out for umpteenth time, we finally got to start.

First step was to pour the new footings for the foundation where the old kitchen had been (remember in the previous post?  The old one literally fell down!).

Then they started framing.  Which is usually a very quick process.  But in this case, it was a whole lot trickier than they thought!  The original foundation wasn't exactly square and created a lot more challenge to build on than the guys anticipated.  But after lots of adjustments, the building started to go up.

First Wall Going Up!
Richard was dying to help out with raising the walls.  But it turned out to be a pretty simple two man job (aka, they didn't want his help!).

What we really wanted to see, was what our views would be.  We knew we had a peek of water on the first floor ( between the islands through Whitehead Passage) and had planned the windows to capture it.

But we were more curious about the view from the upper floors.   I was never brave enough to stand on the roof of the old house, but Richard had been up there and thought they would be really nice.  Once we build up to the 3rd floor, we were pretty sure it would be an unobstructed view.

So when the day came, we couldn't wait to get there.  We even brought lawn chairs to sit and enjoy the view!  And it didn't disappoint.  Insisting on a design that included a 3rd floor deck was worth it - look at that view!

View to the south east

Or course there was still a long way to go, but we were thrilled with the progress and couldn't wait to enjoy the view!!

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tearing Down the House

The first step in starting the new house was tearing down the old one. It gave us a lot of anguish, but it had to be done.

We had struck an agreement with our contractor Joe, to reuse the original antique beams that were in the house.  This meant they couldn't come in and bulldoze the house down - they needed to take it apart carefully.  And somehow, that seemed to give it more respect.
Down to the studs
We wanted to reuse anything that we could.  But unfortunately, all the original mouldings, doors, and trim work had been replaced with 1970's style materials (blah ranch molding), so there was nothing of antique value.  We donated the kitchen and bathroom cabinets to Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.  One of our contractors took all the doors.  And the windows were in pretty bad shape, so they just went in the dumpster.

So weird to see the sunlight streaming down the old staircase

It was still hard to see it come down.  Lots of neighbors came to take pictures.  And we just felt guilty, because we couldn't save the house.

It was a sad, sad day.

We had hoped to discover something exciting during the demo.  But other than an old can of tobacco and a couple of broken bottles, there wasn't much to be found.  But we did get a surprise.  We had thought the foundation under the kitchen addition was a good one - but one of our contractors leaned against it and it came tumbling down!!  So now we have more foundation work than we expected!

And once it was gone, all we had left was a big hole in the ground.  It was time to start rebuilding.  New construction is quick, so there was something to look forward to!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We Fired our Architect....or the Oh So Painful Design Process

We have worked with architects in the past and were familiar with the process.  You talk about what you want to do with the house, how you live, draw lots of sketches and finally come up with a design to move forward with.

Our goals?  Pretty much what we started with when we were house hunting.  1)  Take advantage of the water views - in fact we had seen our neighbours roof top deck and had moved that to the top of our 'must have' list.  We also wanted 2) an open concept first floor and 3) 3 bedrooms for us and our future houseguests.

But it was a big challenge with this house.  Because we were trying to keep the original post-and-beam structure as much as possible, we were constrained by the footprint of the existing house.  The existing house was L shaped and the only change we wanted was to fill in the rest of the L with a small 11' x 11' addition.

On the exterior, we wanted to keep a very traditional facade, in keeping with the neighborhood.  Simple clapboard siding and traditional windows were important to the design.

We kept looking at design options, and because of the design-build approach with our architect and builder, we could look at estimates as well.  After a few iterations (and many months), we came up with this.
We really loved the gambrel roofline and the multiple decks, that take advantage of the view.  But the bedrooms were awkward.  And when we got the final estimate from the builder, we were flabbergasted at the cost proposal.  His recommendation to reduce costs? Get rid of the decks - particularly the 3rd floor one with the great views.  Oh, and tear down the house.

Tear down the house?  Eliminate the decks?  Well that made us a bit crazy, since the multi story decks were such a huge design requirement.  And we had talked about saving the house from day 1!  After looking at their drawings and estimates, we realized this was a non-starter.  So, with $12,000 invested in design fees, we fired them both and went back to the drawing board.  

Lessons learned - do a lot more of your legwork up front and don't lock yourself in with a design-build contract.  We now had a design that we didn't like a whole lot, but we also couldn't take it anywhere else to work on it.

So...... I downloaded a CAD program and started designing (I'm a mechanical engineer - so this isn't quite as crazy as it might seem!).  And for the first time, we started thinking about tearing down the house.  It was painful, but after so many rounds with different contractors, we were starting to realize it wasn't feasible to keep it.  At least not at a cost that made logical sense.   It had seen so much damage over the years, it would cost far too much to save it.  But we were devastated at the prospect.
The only bright spot?  With this new approach, we had a lot more flexibility on the design.  And we quickly came up with some great new ideas. 

Once we locked down the design that we liked, we worked with our local building supply company - Hammond Lumber.  For $400 they will draw up your design, including all the structural elements and will give you a price for all their components.  (sorry for the quality of the drawings - these are blueprints that have gotten a bit dog eared from lots of use!).  I'm not sure other lumber companies will do the same, but this has worked beautifully for us on multiple projects!

And we were pretty excited about the new design.  It takes the idea of Open Concept to the extreme, with just one large room on the first floor.  We do lots of entertaining and this is perfect for a big party!
We also added a deck on each level, to take advantage of the water views.  The design includes 3 bedrooms - not large, but certainly big enough.  The master bedroom has a half bath and there are two other full baths in the house.  

And we have a full staircase going up to the 3rd floor deck.  The original design showed this as a storage area - but we were already trying to decide if that could be a nice spot for a home office!  
Now that we had a new design in hand, we found a new builder.  Our new contractor - let's call him Joe - was a very nice young man.  He'd done lots of work in the area and was highly recommended.  He'd never built a full house before, but was confident he could handle it (his father was a contractor, so he grew up learning the trade).  So we signed the contract and got started!

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Can This House Be Saved?

The story we heard about our house is that it was built in Cape Elizabeth (the town next door) in the late 1800's and was barged up the bay.  How it was then rolled up to the top of the hill is a mystery, but that's the story.

The beams in the basement were logs, that had been flattened on one side.  The other framing members that were visible don't seem to be that old (you can tell by the type of saw marks on the wood), so we're still not quite sure about the true age of the house.  It has a stone (aka rubble) foundation, with about 3 feet of brick added to the top of it.

So with this interesting history, we were determined to keep the house and renovate it.  We've renovated many houses over the years and have never torn one down.  We didn't want this to be the first time.

But it wasn't easy.  It wasn't exactly plumb and true - in fact it was obviously leaning in some areas.  But we knew that could all be fixed.  However, we had multiple builders come take a look and they all left shaking their head, with the advice to take it down.

And we had to admit, it was in tough shape.  It hadn't been painted in many, many years and the siding had all shrunk and cracked, allowing water penetration,   Remember photos I've posted about water and wood?  That's not a good combination.  The water will destroy the wood in short order.

In some places, the siding had simply rotted away.  In fact, when we had the place appraised for a home improvement loan (so we could pay for the renovations), Richard was frantically trying to put some of the pieces back up......but the best he could do was glue them in place, because the slimey wood wouldn't take a nail!

The window sills were rotted and that also allowed a lot of water penetration.

Leaks around the roofing trim had created the same issue - and caulk wasn't enough of a fix!

There were big cracks and mystery chunks missing from the 'new' foundation under the kitchen addition.

This place was in bad shape.

But still we kept trying.  After the first flurry of departing contractors, we called a builder that had done some work on our previous house and he agreed to give it a try.  Hooray!  He wanted to use a 'Design - Build' approach for the house.  This means you sign a contract that says you'll work with the builder and the architect.  The concept: it saves you money in the long run, because the builder and the architect are working together to come up with a build-able plan.  All too often, the architect and builder end up arguing with each other throughout the project.  So this was a logical approach.  The only drawback?  When the design is done, you can't take it to anyone else for a bid.  You have to use that builder and that design.  But that seemed like a risk worth taking.

So we signed the contract and starting designing a major renovation.  Fun......or so we thought!

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Sunday, March 22, 2015

Encaustic Tile

I recently posted this photo on Facebook - I took at a fast food restaurant.  It shows some of the most brightly colored encaustic tile I've ever seen.  And actually, I'm starting to see a lot of encaustic tile around.  But the response to my post was interesting - people seemed to love it or hate it.  There wasn't much middle of the road!

This isn't a new trend.  It goes back to medieval times - it was very fashionable during the reign of Henry the VIII.  And again during the Victorian period.  The design on the top of the tile isn't stamped on, it's actually the top layer of the tile, so it can't be worn away.

These new, modern designs are made with concrete, creating a very durable surface.  But they mimic the ancient styles.

And it's seeing a resurgence in the 21st century.  I'm starting to see them in lots of places, including the big box stores.  And if you go online, there are a myriad of choices.  This one from Granda Tile, gives you the ability to pick your design, color combination and then view it in a room!  And there are lots of style and colors to choose from.

Apartment Therapy recently shared this beautiful, rustic kitchen with an encaustic tile floor.  Isn't it a beauty?  The floor really sets the stage for the rest of the room.
Photo:  Jessica Helgerson

And what do you think of this bathroom floor?  The simple grey and white pattern really makes a statement.  And it seems contemporary and a bit traditional at the same time.

Photo Houzz

Or, if you really want something with a pop, what about this one from Houzz?   (and I really want that tub!)
So love it or hate it, it's pretty versatile and I think it's a style we'll start to see more of!  In fact, I'm tempted to use it in the bathroom of our next project.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Our SoPo Cottage - The Before Photos

While the cottage was homely on the outside, it was pretty cute inside.  And we decided to live in it, as-is for a year or so.  In fact, we followed advice that I've always given:  live in your house for awhile before you make any changes.  See how you use the space.  Discover how the sunlight comes through the windows during the course of the day and the seasons.  Learn how much time you spend in different rooms.  After 6-12 months, you'll have a much better idea of what kind of changes you'll want to make.

So we moved in.  We painted and decorated, but didn't make any major changes - and really started to enjoy our cottage.

The floor plan was simple - although a bit awkward.  There were two bedrooms upstairs.  And a centrally located bathroom and staircase  - that presented all kinds of challenges for our future plans.

When you entered the front door, you stared at a blank wall (the staircase was hidden behind it).  To the right of the front door, we had a nice sized living room and adjoining kitchen.  The kitchen was a later addition - with a very low ceiling (tough for tall people!).  But we had nice southeast facing windows for the sun to come streaming through.

The bathroom (only one in the house) opened off of the living room and also had a washer and dryer.  It was big, but divided the house in half and made an open concept floor plan impossible.

The dining room was to the left of the front door.  It was a long room, with space for a desk at one end and a table on the other side with a french door out to the deck. BTW - are you starting to recognise some of the things I use for staging houses???

A big design flaw?  The staircase.  It's hard to show how steep it was in these photos.  Let's just say that 'ladder' is a word that comes to mind when you're going up and down!  A typical staircase has a 'rise' (the height of each stair) of approximately 7".  These were closer to 9"!  And the treads were very narrow.

Upstairs, the staircase landed in the middle of the first bedroom (you can see the newel post in the bottom of the photo).  It was a decent sized room, but also served as a hallway to the other bedroom (awkward when you have guests - just ask our daughter's boyfriend when he came to visit!!!).  And see the closet?  It was the only full height closet in the house, but it was so shallow, you had to put hangers on an angle.

The ceilings were very low - and we are tall.  The only place we could stand straight up was along the centre ridge and in part of the dormers.  Richard said I looked like I was from Land of the Giants when I stood near the windows, where the ceiling height was the lowest.  To look out the windows, we had to crouch down to see the water view we were so excited about.

See bedroom 1 through the doorway?  No hallways and very little privacy up here!

And with no bathroom upstairs, you had to navigate the scary staircase if you needed the facilities in the middle of the night.  Another design challenge for us!

But it was a fun, cozy little house to start off with - and gave us time to start planning the renovation.

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