Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Big Luxury Bath Design


Typically, when we do a bathroom in one of these old houses, it's a tiny space and we're scratching our heads to figure out how to squeeze in the basic plumbing fixtures.  So I was pretty excited with this house! By old house standards, this is a huge space and we really want to make it special. We want it to have a spa like feel, with a big soaking tub and separate shower.



Ha ha - see the cardboard toilet!!!!
The bathroom is at the back of the house and includes the original hip roofed dormer.  This gives us lots of funky ceiling heights and angles to work with.  The tricky part was figuring out how we could fit 4 bathroom fixtures in there.  While the footprint seems big, the angled ceilings really limit headroom.  We started with cardboard cut outs and kept moving them around, until we came up with a design that worked.



After lots of experimentation, this design really meets all our needs!!
Final bathroom design
Space before - I bumped my head on that beam many times!
Now we can have the freestanding tub, a separate shower, as well as the toilet and vanity. To do that, we reframed a good bit of the room, to provide ample headroom and structural integrity.  The guys installed knee walls to frame up the room and make the spaces useful.


Reframed to provide headroom
Drywall installed



I'm so excited about the tub - it will look fantastic sitting in the dormer space!  The perfect spot to relax in a hot bubble bath!
One of the biggest design trends out there are hexagonal tiles - and I just LOVE them!  They're a great take on a classic design.  These will be the perfect look for our bath.  I've ordered the large format for the floor.  I'm thinking about incorporating some of the small ones in the shower.....but am still thinking that through.

The vanity has lots of storage with drawers and a large center cabinet.  I love the marble top and the bun feet!


 For the faucet, I wanted a blend of traditional - with a modern twist.  This American Standard set really fit the bill.  Love the tall cross handles!!!   


And last but not least, we're going to incorporate some of our reclaimed wood on the far wall of the dormer.  With all the 'cold' surfaces - stone, ceramic, marble, porcelain - we need some antique wood to warm it up!  

Can't wait to get it done!





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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Walkability - a Major Trend in Buyer 'Must Haves'

Talk to any realtor and you'll hear a new buzzword.  'Walkability' is becoming part of the vocabulary for their buyers.  Maybe it's the crazy lives we all lead, or the desire to be more environmentally responsible, but many people want to be able to walk to shops, parks and restaurants. It's certainly high on the buyer's 'must have' list  for a new home.  And it makes a difference in a home's value.  The Brookings Institute finds that it can have a dramatic impact on the price people are willing to pay.


Do you know the Walk Score of your house?   There is a website that will give you a walkability score.  You simply type in your address and it gives you the walk score.  Not surprisingly, New York City tops the list in the US with a score of 88.  But many cities score much, much lower.

So, I was curious how our neighborhood stacked up.  At first glance, when you look at South Portland, you discover it's not very walkable - it has a score of 40.  It's classified as 'car dependent'.  A walkability that low means you need a car to get around.

Spring Point Lighthouse and Fort Preble at the end of Willard Beach
But when I type in the address for our project, the walkability shoots up to 51.  That's 'somewhat walkable' - and they don't even take into account that Spring Point Lighthouse, Bug Light lighthouse and Willard Beach are all less than a 15 minutes walk.  It's also close to the 'Greenbelt' which is a walking and biking path that runs across South Portland and will eventually connect to the Eastern Trail, providing off road routes all the way to Portsmouth, NH.


Willard Beach on a bright, crisp day
Personally, a walkable neighborhood is incredibly important to us. We want to walk to shops, restaurants, the beach.  We see it as an important quality of life element.  Do you want to live in a walkable neighborhood?  And if yes, why is it important to you?


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Monday, April 18, 2016

Curb Appeal - Door Color

I'm not sure if it's spring fever or this sudden burst of warm weather, but I suddenly want a dose of color on the house.  I had originally planned to paint the front door black - but now I think we need a pop of color.












Front door before - dark purple

Dark orange



The new door is on order, but in the meantime, I painted up the old one with two shades of orange.  What's your vote?  Dark or light orange?  I'd love your opinion!

Light orange

Oh - and once spring is really here to stay, the yard will have lots of color!  Here is a picture of the front garden from last year.  Can't wait to see everything blooming!!!




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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Living the Dream: So You Want to Flip Houses

At least once a week someone tells me they can't wait for the day when they can have a job like mine.  It's a dream job they say - you're living the dream!  It always makes me smile, because I’m not sure they know what is really involved.  Sure, the people on the TV shows make it look fun and glamorous, but I can assure you, that’s not the day to day world.  I’d love to only show up on the job site once a week in high heels and designer clothes – but that’s just silly!  You need to be on the job site every single day and ready to pitch in on a moment’s notice. And yes it’s fun to pick out paint colors and tile and fabrics, but that’s a tiny portion of the job.

So I thought it might be fun to share a few things from my dream life, if you’re really thinking about giving this a try, it might help you to know what you're getting into:







Dirty Jobs – Yeah, typically you get to do the crummy stuff that no one else wants to do.  Toilet stopped up?  It’s your job to clear it.  Backbreaking work of heating up old vinyl tiles till the mastic softens and you can scrape them up with a putty knife?  Yup, that would be you again.  Shop vacuuming 2 inches of water out of a basement when a pipe breaks at 10 pm?  Or when your demo guys forget to turn the water off when they tear out the toilet and it sprays a geyser of water everywhere, before you can find the shutoff?  You again. And wallpaper removal?  I've been come an expert!!  As Richard is fond of saying, there are two types of people in the world - the ones that shower before going to work and the ones that shower after.  I've crossed to the other side with the dirty jobs!!
Never ending days – doing a dramatic renovation of an entire house is a big undertaking. For me, it’s a 7 day a week job.  You’ll find your days are taken up with managing sub contractors, solving challenges and juggling priorities (not to mention the dirty jobs outlined above).  Your nights and weekends are spent paying bills and sourcing products for the house. Oh yeah – and writing a few blog posts!
Stress – there are surprises almost every single day.  That wall that you thought was going to be easy to remove?   Well you discover that the joist above it is cracked and will need to be replaced - a big job.  The dumpster that was supposed to be delivered in the morning?  They took it to the neighbors house instead.  The BIG lumber delivery for the second floor, they tried to deliver it to a different neighbor at 6:45 am (yeah, this is not a way to make friends with the neighbors!).  The big contingency budget, that you thought was going to cover everything you found?  Guess again, it’s not nearly enough and your profit margin is dwindling.  I feel like I have a mental spreadsheet in my head at all times, adding up all the overruns.
Exhaustion – this is physically demanding work.  Even if you hire out all the technical aspects, you’ll still find yourself carrying heavy items, scrubbing up messes and running up and down the stairs (for what seems like a thousand times a day).  I’m glad I didn’t wait until I was a lot older to get started, because I’m not sure I’d have the stamina!


So why do it?  For me, it’s a way to do something really creative, a big change from my old corporate life. There is something so fulfilling about taking a tired old house and transforming it into a home for a new family to enjoy.  Some of these houses have been vacant for years and when they’re updated, they bring a new level of vibrancy to the neighborhood.  The new owners love their home and are
incredibly happy.  At the same time, it provides jobs for people and helps build the community that we live in.  



Is it worth the crazy challenges?  Of course I think absolutely yes!!  But before you make this your dream job, be sure and think about the less glamorous aspects of house flipping.  You'll be glad you did.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Second Floor Bungalow - Sneak Peek

Now that the walls are up, with new electrical, plumbing and insulation, it seems like a good time to take a peek at the second floor.  It's come a long way since the boring, unfinished attic that we started with.

Remember our starting point?  It was a blank canvas - some skylights had been added and some framing - but not much else.

The first big change?  The soon-to-be bathroom.  We did a lot to stabilize the structure and increase the headroom.  I banged my head on that low beam more times than I'd like to admit!  Now it feels so spacious and will be a BIG bathroom!
Bathroom Before 
Bathroom 'During' 
Next change is the master bedroom.  Thanks to a big dormer, this is now a large room with windows looking over the Portland skyline.  Can you believe the difference???
Master Bedroom space - Before the dormer
Master bedroom - new dormer creates  a large room!
We added a window on the far wall, to take advantage of the view.  There are great glimpses of Casco Bay in the winter!


We're calling the space at the top of the stairs the Loft.  It's a bright space, thanks to a south facing skylight that floods it with light.  This will be the perfect place for a desk and bookcases.
The perfect spot for a desk and bookshelves
Finally, we have a pretty fabulous front bedroom.  We raised the ceiling height to really take advantage of all the funky angles.  And we removed the small windows and replaced them with large, egress windows (a building code requirement) that bring in so much more sunlight!  There will be multiple closets and room for a full size bed.
Front bedroom before

Front bedroom after
Next up?  Drywall!  That will really make it look like a house.  But what do you think so far?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sustainable Renovation

One goal on each of our projects is to minimize the amount of material that goes to the landfill.  We are particularly pleased on this project - despite the large amount of demolition on the second floor, we only sent one small dump trailer of debris to the land fill.  














Look at these beautiful boards and joists!  We reclaimed them during demo and will use them for a variety of purposes in the house.  In fact, I have such a long list of projects - we're not sure we will have enough wood for all of it!    Tops on the list of projects are reclaimed wood counter tops for the kitchen island, followed by a few open shelves next to the sink.  And I'm still trying to figure out a way to utilize barn doors from reclaimed wood.

We are also faithful donors to Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.  For this house, we donated the old kitchen cabinets, the appliances, ceiling fans and light fixtures.     

I also love using ReStore as a source for materials like old doors and hardware.  And in one embarrassing shopping trip - I bought a door that I realized I had donated months earlier!!  (I've also been known to buy something I thought I could use, only to donate it back at the end of a project.)

So while renovating old houses does generate some material for a landfill - we're pleased that we can keep it to an absolute minimum!
  
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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Where to Splurge on a Renovation

One of the most challenging aspects of any renovation project is figuring out where to spend your money.  It's tempting to blow your budget on things that future buyers can easily see - but in reality, it's the stuff behind the walls that's really important.  And when you live in a climate like Maine (yes, spring arrived over the weekend along with a big snowstorm!), insulation goes to the top of the list.

This ceiling could have had fiberglass - with minimum R value in the old rafters
Now technically, we only needed to provide high R value insulation in the new construction area of our second floor, aka the new dormer.  Per code, we could just have used fiberglass to fill in the existing rafters throughout the rest of the second floor.  But given our climate, that just didn't seem like the right option.  We want something that will make the second floor extremely comfortable for the future homeowners as well as keep heating costs to a minimum - and it's a much more environmentally sound approach.










So we looked at several different options and finally decided on spray foam.  Spray foam was twice the budget of fiberglass, but it will cover the entire roof, which is important when you have a hip roof with multiple dormers.  This means the space behind the knee walls will be nice and toasty - keeping the first floor ceilings warm as well.   And with an R value of 7 per inch, it gives us the best possible insulation value.



Ed Libby from T.E.A.M Insulation came out to do the job.  It's a messy process with chemicals, so he needed a lot of PPE (personal protective equipment).  



















He suited up and showed me how it was done.  Doesn't it look easy?  I love watching this video - see how the foam expand on contact with the roof sheathing?  And it heats up to 220 degrees!

So I gave it a try with Ed coaching me along.  And quickly discovered, .....it's not so easy.  He was able to contain all the spray into a tight pattern - I ended up with a sloppy mess.  Thankfully he went back and fixed my handiwork  :-)

It was a big job that took two days.  And now that it's done?  We couldn't be happier.  As soon as you walk upstairs you notice the difference.  The house feels tighter and warmer - but also much quieter.  There is a sound insulation effect that is an added bonus.
Foamed Hip Dormer


So yes, we splurged on the foam insulation - but think it was the right decision!  The future homeowners will really appreciate it.  Now we just need to figure out how to balance our reno budget.






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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Vintage Kitchen Design for the Bungalow

It's always fun to start designing a new kitchen.   Our overall goal for the 1927 bungalow?  To create a vintage feel, but with all the modern amenities homeowners need in a kitchen today.  And this one has lots of possibilities, but also some interesting challenges.


So let's start with the challenges:
- 3 doorways
- Monuments (ie. something not easily moved)
   - Furnace flue
   - Cast Iron Radiator that's 4 feet tall
- Narrow-ish room (not wide enough for a big island)

But we have some great things as well:
-  The original cast iron sink!!!
-  Original red birch flooring
-  A wall that can be removed to open up the space
-  High ceilings, so we can order extra tall cabinets

So with those things in mind, we started playing with some ideas.  And of course we had our usual 'must have' list - lots of storage, a place to sit and chat with the chef, and plenty of counter space for multiple cooks.



Here's the working idea for the floorpan.  First, we decided to close the doorway to the bedrooms.  It wasn't really necessary (it's not that long a walk to go around!) and gives us a great spot for a big pantry.  We also decided to remove the wall to the dining room, to open up the space.

I looked at several different cabinet options, but decided to stick with the Martha Stewart line of cabinets.  I really like the painted look finish - that's much more durable than real paint - and they've held up well in my previous kitchens.

We spent lots of time working through the details and finally came up with this design.  Of course it doesn't show the antique sink or the right style of windows or doors.....but you get the idea!  The island will have room for a couple of stools and will also hold a double trash bin.  We will build a custom mud bench next to the giant radiator - a great place for coats and boots to dry off when you come in on a snowy night!  And the pantry will be big enough to hold lots and lots of food.  We are also going to install a custom stove hood.

Cabinets and layout are important.  But, what really makes a kitchen a 'wow' are the finishes.  And we've spent a lot of time working through all the finish design details.  We want to reuse many of the vintage elements that came from the home.  First and foremost is that fabulous sink.  But we also want to use a lot of the reclaimed wood from the attic - for some open shelves and a beautiful top for the island.  And of course we'll refinish those beautiful antique red birch floors.


The pantry needs a special door - and none of the existing doors in the house would fit.  So we scoured local antique shops and salvage yards until we found this unique 5 panel glass door.  We also discovered a small glass doorknob for it, that came from a local hotel that was torn down.  It's almost a perfect match to the others in the house.  It will make a really nice design statement!

Of course I won't be able to show you the completed kitchen for awhile.  The cabinets are on order. the electrical needs to be done, and a few walls need to be built as well.  But we're pretty pleased with the design!

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