Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mid Mod Marvel - Game Plan, Part 1

This is going to be a fascinating project and a major change from our usual approach.  Typically I take out lots of walls to create an open floor plan, but we already have those elements and need to change our focus. So what are our design goals?

First and foremost, we want to maintain its Mid-Century origins.  There is something really special about this house and we want to stay true to the original architect's intent.  Sure, this isn't a house that's on any list of historic buildings, but it's still notable for its time and was designed by a well known architect for his own family.  We want to honor that design going forward.

So as we got started, we were lucky enough to meet with James Schwartz, former editor of Preservation (the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation) and President of the Board of Maine Preservation.  With his extensive background in preservation, we knew he would be a wealth of knowledge and could give us some guidance.

He talked first about generalities of mid century design.  There were several hallmarks of the era that all exist in our home.  First, the emphasis on melding interior and exterior spaces.  The large wall of windows to the deck - with a tree growing right through it - is a perfect example.

Next was the dynamic facade of the house.  The angled siding is unusual and really makes a statement (but I have to note that from a building and water management perspective, it's a nightmare to manage.  As usual, the guys think I'm crazy to want to keep it in our design!)  As does the large bubble window that juts out over the front walkway.  We should keep those elements.

He also talked about how this period saw the kitchen as the center of family life.  Previously, the kitchen was relegated to the back of the house and was really just for the cook. Mid-century design changed all that and this kitchen is a perfect example - it really is the heart of the house.  There is a lot of room for the whole family to cook, eat and spend time together.

Another feature was the use of soaring spaces.  The big vaulted ceilings, the tall indoor fireplace and the open sight lines are all hallmarks of the period.  That's something we love about the house and don't want to change.  Just look at those beams!!!  And the chunky handrail for the staircase!

The sunken bathtubs need to go - a broken hip waiting to happen!
We also discussed some of the changes we want to make - we will add a couple of windows on the front and back of the house to increase sunlight and ventilation.  And switching out the line of bedroom windows to something that meets fire code - 'egress' windows that allow a firefighter to enter the building with a full pack.  We also want to update the kitchen and bathrooms with fixtures that are more energy efficient and meet modern living standards.

He stressed that we need to remain sympathetic to the original design - but that it's expected that houses will evolve over time to meet modern life.  As long as we stay with the original design intent, we will support the style and livability of the home.

With that information, we started playing with ideas and floor plans.  After several iterations, we settled on a go forward plan.

So here's the 'As Is' floor plan.  As you can see, the original design has open concept living, with the kitchen at the center of the living space.

And here is the 'To Be' floor plan.  Not much different!  That's because we are keeping so many of the original elements.  The living spaces will stay the same, including the chunky stained wood trim and the fantastic fireplace.  But we will be replacing all the windows and skylights, to more energy efficient units.

The bar will stay - including this amazing cocktail wallpaper, that I dearly love (I'm pretty sure I can clean it!).  But we will open up the opposite wall of the bar, to give it a bit more light and create a way to chat with the bartender
 (Richard is looking forward to having a dedicated bar!!).

We will rearrange the kitchen a bit, by removing the long, room-dividing countertop and will extend the current center island.  We will also add a tall window at one end, to provide a view to the courtyard garden in the back of the house.  It's a lovely feature and we want to highlight it.

And while we love the idea of an indoor garden, from a building science perspective, it doesn't make sense as we tighten up the building and add insulation.  The moisture from the pond and garden would create opportunities for mold growth.  By removing the garden, it will give us the opportunity to add a staircase from the kitchen to the front door - something the architect said existed when the house was first built.  That staircase will give us great circular flow - perfect for a party house!  But in the meantime, I'm attempting to save the rubber tree plant, which I'm hoping we can transplant with cuttings from the original.

Another area that will see updates is lighting.  The current house doesn't have a lot of lighting.  For example, the long back hallway doesn't have any overhead lights, just this row of path lights around knee height.  We LOVE them and intend to keep them, but we want some additional lighting as well.

Giant, non-energy efficient spotlights are used in the living room.  They throw off an amazing amount of heat when they are on, so they are not the tiniest bit energy efficient.  I'm not even sure we could find bulbs for them anymore, so instead we will be installing LED recessed lighting throughout most of the house.

The bedrooms all have awning windows, which don't meet modern safety standards for egress (a firefighter needs to get through the window with a full pack - requiring 5.7 sq ft of opening window).  As you can see, they only crank out a few inches. We will be updating all the windows to meet building code.
Bedroom awning windows don't meet modern fire codes
The other big change is switching the master bedroom from the center of the house to the large bedroom at the end of the hall.  It has a big sliding glass door that goes out to the courtyard.  And we will add a new master closet and bath.
Future Master Suite
We will also add a powder room for guests and renovate the hallway bathroom and laundry room.
Future Bunkroom for Grandkids!

One of my favorite projects is to repurpose the smallest bedroom to become a 'bunk room' for our grandchildren when they visit.  They're still a bit too small to sleep in a top bunk at the moment, but as they get a bit older, we think the bunk room will be a big highlight for them!  We're also hoping that means they will visit more often!

And of course we will address all the energy efficiency elements.  We'll be replacing the boiler with a new, high efficiency propane unit.  We're also adding a LOT of insulation, new windows, new doors, energy star appliances, etc.  That will make a world of difference from an energy consumption perspective.

Finally, this is the plan for the interior, to allow us to move in as quickly as possible - hence the Part 1 plan.  The exterior (Part 2) also needs a lot of attention, but will have to wait until next year.

So with a plan in hand, we can get started.  Of course we fully understand that a plan is just that - we're bound to find surprises and issues that require modification.  But that's all part of the process.  I hope you'll follow along, this should be an interesting journey!

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  1. We're very excited to watch the updating of this great MCM house, thank you for allowing us to be part of it. Looking at the great bar wallpaper, I wonder if it doesn't clean up well, if someone couldn't identify the repeat and make a stencil of the design for you so you could paint it on!

    1. You could also recreate the pattern and get it printed into wallpaper at Spoonflower.com

  2. This is such a radical and exciting change for you. I can't wait to see how it turns out, it is sure to be fantastic!

  3. Thank you for sharing you process! I love the house, and can hardly wait to see what it becomes!

  4. i do hope all the carpet is being removed :), will you be having wood floor or a nuetral colour carpet laid?

    Btw LOVE the house .


    1. Yes, we will replace the carpet with an engineered hardwood (it will go over a concrete slab, so we can't do solid hardwood). I can't wait!!

  5. Can you have radiant floor heating? That would be helpful with energy efficiency and mitigate the effect of the concrete pad.

    1. I loved the idea of radiant heating, but because of the way the house is built, it would have been tricky to install, with a really big price tag. We decided to spend that money on a new high efficiency boiler, central air conditioning and a gas fireplace in the den instead!


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