Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It's Starting to Look Like a House - With a Surprise

Once the walls were up and the roof was on, it really started to look like a house.  But we were a bit surprised when we pulled up one day and discovered the roofline was flat at the top.  What?  That wasn't in the plan!

Our builder Joe calmly told us that he was measuring the height and when he got to 30 feet, he stopped.  And capped the roof there.  The building code is 30 feet and he figured that's where it should stop.  

Did he think about giving us a call?  Or chatting with the city (they had already approved the plans!)?  Because the determining the height is a bit complicated, since you need to account for the elevation at various  spots on the property.  Not just the one spot where he measured.  His answer - No.  And at this point it was already roofed, so it would be a lot of work to change.  So....... we ultimately decided it adds character, in an odd sort of way.   Even though it wasn't part of the original design.

Once framing was completed, we needed to install the windows.  One of our guidelines from the start, was to try and use as many local materials as we could.  And a key element were the windows.  We decided to go with a local window manufacturer - Paradigm.  We visited their offices and they helped us come up with a design that gave us the vintage look we wanted - with all the high efficiency elements we need in our harsh Maine climate.  One of my favorite stories after the house was finished:  the first Halloween we were in the house, one of the craftsman that made our windows stopped by to trick or treat with her kids.  They live in the neighborhood!  How cool is that?

A trick to remember if you're focused on views - don't finalize some of the window placement, until the walls were up.  That lets you capitalize on the views and think through things like furniture placement.  For example, on the north side of the house, we never planned on a lot of windows.  But when we saw how nice the view in the guest room was, we moved it to a different spot, that still allowed a nice wall for the bed.

Rear Elevation - lots of windows for the water views!
And once they framed in the front porch, it really started to come together.

Our dog Daphne certainly approved!

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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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