Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kitchen Design - Colonial with a Twist

The kitchen has been many, many weeks in the planning, but we are all pretty excited about it.  In keeping with the rest of the design, we are going with an 'old world' feel to the space.  I created this mood board to highlight some of the key elements.  But it doesn't reflect everything, for example, it will have high ceilings, hand hewn beams and tall cabinets.

Our kitchen isn't quite as big as the inspiration photo above, but thanks to moving the scary staircase, it has a great layout - with a nice work triangle, lots of counter space and an island for the family to gather around.  I'm particularly excited about the island.  We're going to use a walnut stain on the butcher block top, which we think will tie nicely with the hand hewn beams that we're installing at the ceiling line.
Here's a stylized view, but you have to use your imagination a little bit.  We're going to have cream colored cabinets, tapered wood legs to add some character to the island and glass doors next to the stove hood. We're using the Martha Stewart Pure Style cabinets again - with the upgraded Ox Hill door style.  They have a great combination of quality, styling and durability that adds a lot to look and feel of the kitchen.

And it's a little hard to tell, but we'll have a pantry through the doorway to the left of the stove wall.   The door is frosted glass to let light through.....but hides all of the mess in case your pantry is disorganized like mine!!!

Best of all, we're going to have these deep drawers on either side of the stove.  We have them in our own house and they're fantastic for holding big pots and pans.  No more getting down on your hands and knees to dig out your favorite pot!

So what do you think?  Is this a kitchen that you'd want in your house?  Is it something that will appeal to our buyers?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

And as always, 'Like' us on Facebook for more updates!!

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Monday, February 25, 2013

How to Break the House Flipping Rules

I recently chatted with Dan Link of Accurate Home Inspection, LLC.  Dan is not only a home inspector, but also a veteran home flipper.  Through his experience doing many houses over the years (and as he’s quick to say, learning through some mistakes!), he created his 10 Rules of House Flipping.  And they’re pretty darned good.  In fact, if they were carefully followed, you’d probably do very well financially as you flip multiple houses.

So as we started looking through this list, some really resonate.  And we know we should be following them, but after all, rules are made to be broken, aren’t they???

Truth be told, we really, really break some of these rules.  So I thought I’d start there:

Rule #4 –Don’t get emotionally attached to the house.  This is probably our biggest offender.  Since we spend days and weeks in these houses, we tend to fall in love with them. I’d be perfectly happy to live in any of them (and Richard still talks wistfully about the 2 car garage on the last one – particularly with all the snow we’ve had this year!). 

Photo - Jamie Salomon
Which takes us right to Rule #3 – Don’t over improve the house.  When you really love a house, you start to think about all the things you want to do it. And you sometimes lose perspective. So, should we have put marble floors in these houses?  Couldn’t we just have minimally updated the kitchen/baths & safety issues and put the house on the market?  Well, maybe. And maybe we would have a better profit margin.  But our goal is to create a beautiful home for a new buyer.  So we just don’t want to get by with the minimum.

Which leads us back to Rule #1 – Know where you are and where you are going before starting.  Now, we always start with a very detailed plan.  We use a detailed plan as the foundation for every project we've done.  Before we even make an offer, we know the investment level we plan (with a healthy contingency that we always need), the carrying costs, and the anticipated sales price for when it's finished.  And thus far, it’s never worked out that way.  We run into surprises (or we change our minds on something) and our investment is higher than planned, so it takes us longer to complete. Go figure!

Now we don’t break every rule, some of these we really try to follow.  For example, Rule # 6 – Be involved in the process everyday.  We are on site 7 days a week (and with the frequent furnace breakdowns on our current project, that means late night and early morning ‘check ins’ when the outside temperature dips into the single digits).  And no matter how detailed our planning, there are decisions that need to be made on the spot – every single day!   For example, we had planned several recessed lights in the house.  Well surprise, surprise, 2 of them ended up being right under an engineered joist – so we needed to come up with a different plan quickly, or delay getting the electrical done. 

Rule # 5– Look in the dumpster to know where your expenses get out of hand.  Wow, is that ever true!!!  We are on dumpster #4 on our current project and it’s filled with all kinds of things we didn’t expect – the bathtub that couldn’t be saved, the plywood flooring that we had hoped would be hardwood under old linoleum.  Can you hear the cha-ching, cha-ching sounds????
Dumpster #4 on Our Current Project

The final rule that really hit home for us – Rule # 7 – Plan on putting it on the market below competition.  I don’t know if we price below market – but we think our homes are very fairly priced. It really doesn't make sense to price high, the market knows what a house should sell for and will figure that out for you.  In our case, our houses have sold in less than a week and over asking price.  So while we ‘set’ a price, the market determined what it should be.

So what do you think of the ‘rules’?  Do you break them or follow them?

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nursery Design - Part 2

Hooray, the nursery is done!  With 6 weeks to spare!  As a reminder, we had already finished painting the nursery, but needed to complete the furnishings and decorating.

Some furnishings were easy.  Do you recognize this dollhouse bookcase? We already used it to stage our last couple of houses.  Now we're happy to give it to Adelyn!

Love these!

The other key pieces were a changing table/dresser and rocker.  Doesn't that look like a cozy corner to snuggle with a new baby?

For the other elements of the room, we spent lots of time shopping at the Pottery Barn Outlet, IKEA and HomeGoods.  We mixed and matched different items to pull eveything together.

Grandpa (or whatever he decides he wants to be called) installed the new curtains as part of the finishing touches, while Mom-to-be looks on.

Princess & the Pea Growth Chart

The last finishing touch - a growth chart to track Adelyn's height (we're a tall family, so it will be fun to see how quickly she shoots up!).

Now we just need a baby!

Crib & Changing Table:  Boori Regency from Bye, Bye Baby
Pink Striped Rug - Pottery Barn Kids (Outlet Store)
Quilt & Bedding - Pottery Barn Kids Hayley Design
Lighting - IKEA
Rocker - Pottery Barn Outlet
Bookcase - Pottery Barn Kids
Mirror, Piggy Bank, etc - HomeGoods

Dewey is ready for the new arrival!!
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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Creating the Design Plan

So now we get to the fun stuff!  As we started thinking about the plan for our latest project, I tried capturing some words and images that help set the 'mood' we want to create for the whole house.  Here's what it looks like:
The house will have Colonial styling and we really want to play up an old world feel to the home.  So we'll be adding some hand hewn beams to the ceiling and will use oriental rugs and antiques throughout.  And because I seem to spend a lot of time drooling over Pottery Barn catalogs, that got thrown in there too!

From this list, I started working through design thoughts and applied my usual approach for starting a new design plan.
These oriental rugs will be perfect for our new project!
1) Inspiration:  Pick your 'inspiration' to set the color scheme.  This can be a piece of artwork, a favorite pillow, or anything that has a color palette that excites you.  For this project, I want to utilize some oriental rugs that we've had for years and that I dearly love.  They help define the palette for the entire first floor (with our open floor plan, it's important to have consistency throughout).  These rugs have rich reds, warm beiges, blues and sage green.  And there are a couple of punches of a golden orange that could create an exciting accent.
P Kauffman Fabric 

2)  Fabric:  Find a fabric that builds on your color scheme.  I went to lots of fabric stores and saw lots of great prints.  But I kept coming back to this P. Kauffman print.  It has a coarse texture, almost like burlap.  I loved the rich print and the broad color palette and it echoes the mood that's been established for the house.  Best of all, with the open floor plan,  we can play on the broad color scheme in different areas of the house.

3)  Paint Color:  Now you can start to think about paint colors.  Decide how to use your colors in different rooms.  This is the time to pull out your paint fan decks (a very worthwhile investment from your local paint store) and started choosing colors.
In our case, the creams, khakis and greens look great.  If I was going to live there, I'd probably go with green, but since we need a neutral palette for a potential buyer, I'll probably go with a pale khaki on the walls.  What do you think?  Does that make sense?

For more suggestions on choosing paint color, check out our blog post from our first project.

What's next?  Well,  now I can take this foundation and start on the kitchen design.  It's time to get the cabinets ordered, so we'll be ready for install.  Stay tuned for the kitchen plan!

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Birds and the Bees......and the Ants

When we found these beautiful little robin's eggs in the wall, we thought they were charming (although we wondered why they had been abandoned).  So tiny and delicate, such a beautiful shade of blue, and they don't weigh anything at all, so we think they've been there a long, long time.

But then we found a wall full of bee/wasp nests, and that wasn't charming - it was downright creepy.  Thankfully, they had been abandoned as well!

Don't they look kind of artsy stacked up like this!

The next day, we lifted back a piece of kraft paper and discovered the carpenter ants had done a number on this beam.  Ants love moisture and we think the awning on the other side of the wall must not have been draining properly and gave them a great place to build their tunnels.  It's amazing how their tunnels can turn a big sturdy beam into something that crumbles to the lightest touch!

The only bright spot in this parade of backyard infestation is nothing did any real serious damage.  But it does give you pause to think about how much these critters want into your house!  What kind of critters have you found in your place?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

We Bought a Business on Facebook

So maybe I shouldn't be surprised that this happened.  After all, we use Facebook to help us sell houses.  But to help us buy a new business?

We've talked for years about opening a dog market in our neighborhood.  This is the ultimate dog loving area.  You see people out walking their dogs all the time.  They're out romping on the beach every day.  People LOVE their dogs!

The Whole Dog Market - Atlanta
And we are a bit obsessed about dogs as well.  We've always had dogs - 2 at a time.  Our youngest daughter's life has revolved around dogs (when everyone else was taking their kid to sports, we were going to the 4H dog program and dog shows).  And she's part owner of the very hip The Whole Dog Market in Atlanta.  Whenever she visits, we keep saying we need a Whole Dog Market in Willard Square.

So fast forward to a Facebook posting I saw that mentioned a Willard Square storefront was coming on the market.  Really?  Hmmmm.....well maybe this was the right opportunity to move forward.  

So we made the offer and closed on the store last week.   We plan to open sometime this spring.  We'll carry everything you need to make your dog's life fun - toys, treats, high quality food, leashes, beds, etc.  We hope it will be a gathering place for dog lovers in the neighborhood (of course we'll have cat products as well).  Oh, and we'll have a self wash so you can get your pooch nice and clean without making a mess of your own bathroom!

SoPo neighbors - please 'friend' us on Facebook - The Whole Dog Market SoPo - where we'll share store updates, neighborhood dog pics and dog news/videos/photos.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Blizzard......and Why is it Snowing in the House?

We broke a record up in her Maine with 32 inches of snow this weekend.  The worst of the snow hit during the night, so we were anxious to see how our project held up with the 60 mph winds and record snowfall.  And with that kind of wind, some areas had drifts 6-7 feet high!

The good news:  Everything was fine - the furnace was chugging away, keeping the downstairs warm.  The roof shingles stayed on and thanks to lots of storm prep, nothing blew away or caused any damage.  And it's just beautiful with graceful drifts all around the property (okay, so maybe a big dumpster in the front yard isn't so beautiful, but you get the idea).
It's a tough walk up to the garage!!!

Snow sculpture on the bushes
The surprising news:  It snowed inside.  As soon as we opened the door to the steps, we saw a light dusting of snow.

 And when we got up to the new area, we found an inch or so all across the floor., we have a roof, walls and windows.  How could that happen?

Well, the soffits are still open, waiting on insulation.  And with the strong winds, the snow came up, over the walls and blew around to create a soft white carpet across the space.

No harm done - it was easy enough to shovel out the window.  But it was strange!

And guess what tomorrow's forecast is?  2 more inches of snow!!  Ya gotta love winter!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Windows and Walls and Plumbing and Electrical and More....

First Window Goes In!!!

And the speedy progress continues!  We have walls throughout the upstairs and you can see the rooms starting to take shape.  And in one quick morning, the Waterhouse Builders team cut all the window openings and popped the brand new energy efficient windows in.  It's so light and bright upstairs - what a difference!  So what do you think, doesn't it look like it was supposed to have a second story???  We think it looks like it was always there (although it will look much better with some siding!)

The Master Suite has lots of windows, flooding the space with light.   I got a big laugh when I discovered that Elldee Electrical Associates decided the large wall across from the bed is perfect for a big screen TV (you probably already guessed that they're guys!  LOL).  They ran the cable connection there and added reinforcement in the wall for a giant flat screen TV mount.  That wouldn't be the highlight of the room for me - I like the walk in closet and en suite bath, which will feature a marble tiled shower and a bench to sit on while shaving your legs (let's face it, it's the little luxuries in life that sometimes mean a lot!).

Front Bedroom
The other two bedrooms look great, with lots of natural light flooding through them.  But I think my favorite feature of the 2nd floor is the big, wide hallway.  We still need to get the landing staircase completed, but it's a big improvement from the little hatch that we've had for the past several weeks.

Back Bedroom

Center Hallway

The kitchen is also getting lots of focus.  Remember the rot in the back wall?  That's all been torn out (hence the gaping wall in the back of the house), new studs tie the first floor to the new second floor and everything is nice and tight.  We also have new plumbing for the kitchen and 2nd floor baths.

We have new plumbing!!!

The basement staircase is on its way out.  See how big the kitchen is now!

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Help Needed - Please Vote!!

This is what I think of as 'Award Season'.  Movies, television, music, etc all have major award programs.  And guess what, there is an award program for home improvement blogs, known affectionately as the Homies!

SoPo Cottage has been nominated for the second year and I'd be so thrilled if someone that isn't a relative voted for us this year!!!  LOL - maybe we can score higher than last year!  I'm sure we can't win, but it is fun to complete!  Just click this Homies Link to register and then scroll down the list until you see the voting button for SoPo Cottage.  Voting ends soon - midnight EST on Friday, February 8th.  Thanks so much!!!

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

How to Start a Full House Renovation : Creating the Plan

I'm frequently asked how to get started designing a new project.  After all, it's pretty daunting to think about renovating an entire house.  I don't know that there is a 'cookbook' of what is required to create the perfect plan.  But here are the things we keep in mind whenever we look at a house.  I hope you'll find it helpful:

-  Style - What style works well for the architecture of the house & the neighborhood?  Many of the homes in our neighborhood were built in the early 1900's.   It's a New England beach community with small houses on small lots - victorians, cottages, capes and bungalows.  So we try to stay true to their origins.  I would never want to take one of these houses and turn it into a super contemporary home.  Instead, we try to work with the architecture that's already there and enhance it.  It might be something as simple as cleaning up siding, or it might require the addition of architectural elements to enhance the the style of the house.  

-  Evaluate Floor Plan and Traffic Flow - Old houses typically have clearly defined rooms.  While this might have worked well in the past (although my poor mother always felt like she was sequestered in the kitchen cooking!), today's lifestyle has a more interactive lifestyle.   Whenever possible, I try to make a circular floor plan on the first floor.  It allows people (and in our house - pets!) to easily move through the house.  Think about how the house would work if you were entertaining.  Is there space for people to move about and interact?  Or are there 'pinch points' that make it hard for the cook to work or people to gather around the dining room table?  If you look at the example below, from our second project, you can see that by removing a few walls, we dramatically changed the space.  It helped the traffic flow and made the overall house feel much larger.  Click here to see the difference!
Diamond in the Rough - Before Floor Plan

Diamond in the Rough - After Floor Plan with walls opened u

-  Economics - It's incredibly easy to over spend when you're updating a house.  You can fall into the 'while we're at it' trap.  Such as: While we're moving the plumbing, let's go ahead and add an additional sink/bath/tub/etc.  Or, while we're adding a new back door, let's build a new deck too!  Keep thinking about your total budget.  And remind yourself that you don't want to over-improve the house.  Real Estate doesn't go up in value the way that it used to, so it's critical to carefully weigh the investment for all of your changes.  You might even want to prioritize your list, so when something unexpected crops up, you know what you would be willing to sacrifice to pay for the surprise.

See the nail going through the wiring?  Yikes!!
-  Safety and Security - You need to put things that add to safety and security at the top of the list.  Old wiring, such as knob and tube, or unsafe outlets are a 'must do'.  Remember this post from our first project?  Someone had put a nail right through the wiring - major fire danger!  You may also find structural problems, insect damage or rot that needs to be repaired.  Unfortunately, that might mean the new bathroom you're dreaming of needs to go on the back burner for awhile.

'End of life' furnace in our current project
-  Energy Efficiency - In our part of the country, keeping a house warm in the winter is a critical issue (I know it's hard for many of you to believe that we don't have central air conditioning in many homes here!).  Insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, and an efficient furnace are must haves.  The inspector called the furnace in our current project 'at end of life'.  That made it pretty clear that it was time for a new one (and at the moment it keeps shutting itself off at least once a day - tough to handle with our frigid temps!)

Once you've evaluated these 5 priority areas, create a list with what you've learned.  This will   start to shape your plan.   And once you understand these elements - and what they'll cost you - then you can start working on the really fun stuff - design!!!!

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