A Trinity Renovation With Artistic Vision: The Bathroom — Part 2 in a Series

This week, we’re taking a closer look at the another space in our award-winning historic trinity renovation: the bathroom. The main challenge for this space was rethinking the modest footprint in a way that did not feel small, and our goal was to retain as much floor space as possible.

In planning the design, we created drawings that considered each elevation of the room at an extreme level of detail. Because we were working with older dimensional lumber sizes, we were challenged to square up and level the room to accommodate the tile and other finishes. Framing this bathroom required highly skilled carpentry craftsmanship, using individually ripped pieces of framing material, in both metal and wood of varying dimensions, and correcting compromised floor joists. Our solution allowed for dedicated space for HVAC ducting, an AC line set, a powerful vent fan ducted to the exterior, and other mechanicals — with enough space left over to gain a few inches in either direction.

The concept for the bathroom design was “reflecting water.” We incorporated beautiful mottled blue tile to provide texture and patterns that blend naturally with the crafted overall concept for the house. Custom glass and mirror add reflection, bounce light, and keep the room feeling open. The space now feels clean and welcoming and functions larger than it is.

Other Noteworthy Features

  • A custom vanity features a recessed toilet paper holder and full-size under-counter sink offset to create a large counter space
  • Two pull-out drawers provide access to an internal outlet that allows a hairdryer to stay in the drawer, plugged in, ready to use
  • A custom-cut wooden screen is used in the door panels, repeating the Moroccan screen motif found elsewhere in the house
  • A crisp white quartz base, shower niche, and curb add to the floating water quality
  • Large-format white tiles used for wainscoting add texture, while making the room easy to clean at the same time

About This Home

Our client purchased this pied-à-terre to create a unique second home that she could retreat to in the city. While located in a very walkable area — close to cultural activities, restaurants, and shopping — it is tucked away inside a shared courtyard with no street access and no legal parking adjacent to the site. The project was a true design build renovation that required extensive planning, with final drawing sets running well over 40 pages. We had regular meetings with our client and the decorator to collaborate on the details to make the finished space appear seamless. The result is a blend of our client’s vision, the decorator’s masterful use of color and texture, and our company’s design and construction experience, expertise, and background in fine arts. We were honored to be the team to execute this complex and unique job.

View the slideshow for this bathroom. To learn more about the project, view the kitchen slideshow.

A Trinity Renovation With Artistic Vision: The Kitchen — Part 1 in a Series

We recently took on an exciting whole-home renovation for this lovely historic Trinity in Center City Philadelphia. Originally built in the mid-1800s, the house footprint is just over 17’ x 13’. As is typical of this type of 3-story house, the kitchen is located in the basement, making this house four floors of occupied space with overall square footage totaling just under 900 square feet.

The homeowner felt the former kitchen was cramped, dimly lit, and inefficiently designed, and she was in search of help in bringing her artistic vision for the space to life, blending both old and new elements through an exciting mix of textures and character. High on her priority list was integrating her wonderful collection of objects gathered from her travels around the world.

We brought our design skills and construction experience to the team, working with the homeowner and the designer to develop a host of creative solutions, including the installation of an Indonesian screen (seen at the right in the photo above) as a sliding door covering a newly reconfigured utility area, which includes a new on-demand hot water heater, mounted next to a new full-size and code-compliant 40-position electrical panel with ample room for service and access.

Other Noteworthy Features and Solutions

  • New crisp drywall blended with original masonry wall textures and original exposed beams
  • Custom-glazed adler wood cabinets, beautiful fusion Quartzite and custom cherry counters, and a copper sink were selected for a wonderful interplay of colors, textures, and Old World feel
  • Small-space efficiencies designed for real-size humans, including built-ins wherever possible, limited free-standing furniture, and no upper cabinets
  • Built-in storage and appliances under the counter (refrigerator, freezer, washer, dryer, and microwave drawer)
  • Additional multi-function storage under stairs
  • Extensive lighting plan with multiple sources and types of light to make this partially below-grade space feel bright and cheery
  • Enlarged window well to bring much more light into the space
  • Insulation added to create sound buffer from the floor above

About This Home
Our client purchased this pied-à-terre to create a unique second home that she could retreat to in the city. While located in a very walkable area — close to cultural activities, restaurants, and shopping — it is tucked away inside a shared courtyard with no street access and no legal parking adjacent to the site. The project was a true design build renovation that required extensive planning, with final drawing sets running well over 40 pages. We had regular meetings with our client and the decorator to collaborate on the details to make the finished space appear seamless. The result is a blend of our client’s vision, the decorator’s masterful use of color and texture, and our company’s design and construction experience, expertise, and background in fine arts. We were honored to be the team to execute this complex and unique job.

View the slideshow for this kitchen project.

Creative Smallness: Thinking Big About Smaller Spaces

Tamara at KBIS/IBS
It’s January, and we at Myers Constructs are super excited about the year ahead. As we all reflect on the past decades and look to the new year, we are grateful for the many opportunities we have had to work on many really wonderful homes.

Of all the types and sizes of homes we work on, we have found that smaller houses often offer the greatest design and construction challenges. And, as is often the case, these challenges make it all the more rewarding when a project is complete!

I have drawn on these experiences to create universal principles that guide not only our design build/projects but also a new #TamTalk called Creative Smallness: Thinking Big About Smaller Spaces, which I presented this year as one of the Voices From the Industry at next week’s Design and Construction Week. Held at the Orlando Convention Center this year, this event is one of the largest gatherings of the trades in the world, combining KBIS – Kitchen and Bath International Show with IBS – International Builders Show. My presentation focused on some of the whys, whats, and hows for renovating small spaces — and looked at how many homeowners are choosing to downsize or live more simply. I reviewed principles, tools, products, and other resources, and I shared some great examples of successful living spaces that Myers Constructs has designed and built.

Traveling to Design and Construction Week each January offers me the opportunity to keep up to date on the fast-moving technology of the construction business, to exchange knowledge with other experts, and to see the latest and greatest products, designs, and technologies from major manufacturers. Stay tuned over the next few weeks to our website and social media feeds (see feeds at the bottom of our front page), as I post photos of these great products and new technologies.

As a real-life example of Thinking Big About Smaller Spaces, we will begin unveiling an exciting whole-home renovation for a lovely historic Trinity in Center City Philadelphia via our website and social media later this month. The Trinity Project is full of creative wonderfulness developed by utilizing my universal principles. I’m really proud of all the work we did on this historic renovation/rebuild, and I look forward to sharing it with you.

Why Project Management Is Not a DIY Job

Substantial home renovation projects come with equally substantial price tags — think new kitchens and bathrooms, updated energy and heating systems, whole home renovations, and the like. These are complex undertakings that involve big-ticket components and cut across many disciplines, including local permitting agencies, the EPA, engineers, a long list of contractors, vendors, suppliers, and specialists. Important details need to be coordinated, planned, and managed. Risks need to be anticipated and avoided. When problems arise, quick solutions need to be found so the project keeps moving along, avoiding time and cost overages.

So who is the right person to manage the details for a project of this scale? In some cases, contractors allow the carpenter or whichever sub is on site on any given day to try to manage your project between their daily tasks. In other cases, the homeowners attempt to handle the job themselves. In our opinion — based on decades of experience — project management needs to be handled by a dedicated project manager (PM) who has experience matching the type and scale of your project. As we’ve seen time and time again, a PM with little or no experience leads to frustration, headaches, or even project failure. Even those who might be experienced with new construction, commercial construction, or tract house construction are not suited to manage a residential renovation for an older home. These are all totally different disciplines with different project goals, complexity, design standards, and quality levels.

A professional and competent PM will handle all of the following vital jobs, and more:

  • Use proven processes and systems to create a tactical plan and construction schedule for building what is in your design drawings.
  • Ensure the subs are on site according to those plans, barring unforeseen events like weather, late decision-making, project scope changes, or illness.
  • Utilize intuition, experience, and knowledge to identify potential risks, pitfalls, and common issues that arise and get them fixed before they become big, costly problems. Generally speaking, the higher the price tag, the more complex the list of products and materials to be managed — and a mis-ordered or damaged item can take 6-12 weeks to replace!
  • Keep employees, subs, and even clients motivated.
  • Set the tone for the work site and direct everyone regarding safety, cleanliness, and orderliness.
  • Approve pay for subs when the work is correct, complete, and inspected (if required).
  • Keep stakeholders updated on progress, problems, and changes.
  • Proactively manage the many risks of a project so clients don’t have to.

When done properly, professional project management goes unnoticed by the homeowner because the project runs smoothly, stress levels are low, and everything feels easy. It’s when project management is absent or mishandled that it becomes a very obvious and vexing problem. Investing your money well in the services of a seasoned pro will pay dividends both now and throughout the life of your beautifully finished project.

Ouch!

Some of you perhaps recently saw that one of our company trucks was crushed by a tree in Wissahickon Park on Christmas day. We are happy to report that no one was injured. The passengers were walking in the park when it happened.

The truck, however, is done. It is something of a testament to the model — a 2008 Land Rover LR3 — that it was not completely flattened. It was a very large tree.

We wish everyone a healthy, safe and successful 2018!

Renovation Procrastination: Getting Ready to Be Ready to Begin

I sometimes tease when someone I know is obviously procrastinating. I say they are “getting ready to be ready to begin.” But teasing aside, many of us can use a little help getting started from time to time, especially when it comes to planning a big remodeling project.

We all know a big renovation will be painful in many ways: cost, time, displacement, noise, disruption, commitment, change, anxiety, and dust all come to mind. I know because I have renovated my own house, and I have felt the same pain my clients have felt. I too have put off making necessary improvements because I wanted to avoid the pains of renovating. What helps to minimize these inconveniences is to actually begin the “getting ready to be ready” part. The following is a list of some things you might do to begin your own “get ready to be ready” to renovate process. And you can feel better knowing that since you are reading this, you are one step closer to BEING ready!

1. Put Your Thoughts on Paper — Write a simple description of the look, feel, and type of renovation you’re hoping to achieve. Divide your list into “wishes” and “must haves.” This helps you organize your goals for the project, and tells us a tremendous amount of important information as we begin designing your solutions.

2. Get on the Same Page With Your Partner — Quite simply, we don’t want to be the arbitrator of conflicts related to your renovation. Make sure you both agree on all major choices ahead of time.

3. Get Packing — Clearing out the space to be renovated is one of the biggest hurdles some folks have. None of us believes we have a lot of stuff until we have to deal with packing it up. You can never start too soon — even before calling us.

4. Manage the Money — Let’s not sugarcoat it: Spending money is an emotional decision. Some remodelers call it “investing,” which is an attempt at making a spend feel like it doesn’t hurt. Yes, you are investing in your family’s quality of life, and yes, your house will gain some measure of value and hopefully be easier to sell down the road. But you have to spend money to make it happen. Establish a reasonable budget and determine how you will pay for the renovation. Are you going to do a HELOC? Use some savings, a bonus, or a dividend? Did your Aunt Sue leave you a large inheritance? You may want to talk to your accountant about how to get your money ready, or the bank or relative who is going to be giving it to you. It often helps to start this process early to take advantage of tax or interest benefits.

5. Manage Your Stress — Is your dog or cat the type who will escape if the door is open? If so, you will want to arrange for pet day care or get him/her crate trained. Most pets hate the sound of construction and constant intruders into their domain, and they will act out with destructive behavior, urinating in the house or worse. And while we can’t blame these animals who are only trying to protect their territory and families, we do need them out of the way so we can be productive and safe while we work in your home. The humans in the house will also be stressed out. Consider booking a vacation or some spa time during the worst parts.

6. Take a Leap of Faith — A big renovation will demand a big investment of your precious time, money, commitment, and attention. Once the design is completed, you will have the necessary trust in both the design and us to move into construction.

7. Move out — If you can, and in some cases you really must, move into temporary housing. This takes time. Explore your options early so you can make the move before construction begins.

The time you spend managing these steps will help you feel ready to get to work with us, even if you’re still a little nervous about the process. It’s OK. We understand because we do this all the time — and we can help every step of the way.


 


Image: Nicolas Huk

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation Across the Pond

This week, I ran across a wonderful Remodelista article featuring an older Danish home restoration that included a stunning thatched roof. It caught my eye because I had just returned from vacationing in Denmark and was lucky enough to spot a few beautiful thatched roofs in my travels there.

There’s nothing like being in a country that is centuries older than ours to notice the choices that are made for older buildings. Denmark has a culture that values building materials that are sustainable and long lasting, and most of the roofs I saw on both old and new homes were in it for the long haul.

Thatched roofs, when maintained, typically have a lifespan of about 70 years — far exceeding the better go-to roofing materials found in the United States. More common and equally as striking home roofing material is the Spanish or barrel tiles, which have a typical life of around 50 years. Usually the flashings fail first, so the tiles can be removed, the flashing and related materials renewed, and then the tile re-installed. These half-circle overlapping tiles create a beautiful textual pattern and work quite well in protecting the building from water. Traditionally, these were made from local materials, often terra cotta, which is why you will see different color roofs in different countries and regions. These days, there are long-life composite versions that include concrete and plastic. And looking to the next generation, Tesla team is bringing to market a new long-life solar roof tile that will include a warranty of the life of the home.

The practice of using sustainable materials is centuries old, and it’s great to visit other countries and cultures to be reminded of the beauty of older buildings and that building well from the beginning will serve the occupants well. Choosing materials and methods to last for generations is the norm — a philosophy that resonates with our company and our clients.

The “Spend Once” Approach: Quality Condo Solutions That Last

Over the years, we’ve worked on many Philadelphia condos in older historic buildings — and we find that many of our clients are drawn to them because they offer nice city views and simple spaces to live in. There isn’t any yard work, and the overall building is taken care of by a building manager.

However, over the years, we’ve seen many developers that have created these units as cheaply as possible to maximize their profits. The buildings often once served as apartments or offices that were then renovated into living spaces, and they typically have some great architectural elements that were original to the building, including molding, big windows, patios, views, steel beams, concrete, beautiful wood floors, and more. But when the buildings were converted, many builder-grade solutions were used, like pre-finished cheap flooring, inexpensive tile, common low-end counters, cabinets and doors, the cheapest lighting possible. None of these things has much character, and they don’t convey the owner’s personality or sense of style or taste. Each unit looks just like the other, and they end up feeling like mid-range hotel rooms. After a short time, the products and finishes look out of date, worn, or worse.

When we approach these renovations, our motto is “spend once.” In other words, when clients are willing to invest in a well planned and executed space, they will enjoy great style that lasts a long time, wears well, and can be used for decades to come with an occasional simple refresh to the paint, perhaps a new article of furniture, pillows, or artwork.

Quality solutions like these come from listening to clients during our meetings, from designing great spaces, and from selecting great quality products and finishes. While projects like these aren’t for everyone, we love them and look forward to meeting new clients who feel the same.

In Praise of the Frankfurt Kitchen

I came across a recent article about a kitchen exhibit at MoMA in NYC that reminded me how much I have always appreciated the efficiency and clarity of the Frankfurt Kitchen. It’s sanitary, attractive, and makes good design sense. What’s not to like?

This room’s design marked the start of modernized 20th century kitchens, with piped-in water, gas, and electricity, lots of easy-to-clean surfaces, and compact use of space. A huge departure from prior kitchen designs, the Frankfurt Kitchen was centered around easing the burden on housewives, who were now doing the cooking instead of household servants — which mirrored the changes in social structures taking form at the time.

The workflow designs for these tiny spaces, created by trailblazing Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, were based on intricate time-motion studies and personal interviews conducted with housewives and women’s groups. They were then standardized and mass reproduced across nearly 10,000 new construction homes in Frankfurt, Germany.

When it comes to modern design and construction, we can still learn a lot from the Frankfurt Kitchen. Understandably, homeowners want to see their kitchens as one-of-a-kind personal expressions of who they are, but ultimately the elements of that expression are combinations of standardized parts like cabinets and appliances and standardized codes for building, wiring, and plumbing.

At our company, creating rooms that are customized to the personalities and needs of each individual client using the industry standards, we work to create optimal efficiency — a challenge we embrace. As members of NKBA, Tam and I both constantly study all kinds of kitchens and living spaces, applying what we learn to better help our clients in their endeavor to create personalized expressions of their homes.