Sneak Peek: Center City Pied-à-Terre Project in Pictures

Here, we share just a few images of the exciting progress being made on our Lombard Street project.

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The Myers Made™ custom cabinetry delivery is in place, ready for installation. These are custom cabinets sized to fit this small house to a “T.”

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Our design team and the clients wanted to make the most of the exposed brick in the kitchen. Instead of hiding this wall with cabinets and drywall, the team came up with a clever method for hanging a custom honed granite backsplash and shelf on this cooker wall. The custom black iron brackets will be hidden behind and below the black honed stone once it’s installed.

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A pretty and updated Eastern mosaic tile in the master bath. The vanity is wall mounted, so it feels lighter in the small room than a standard model that sits on the floor. You can see the vanity goes from one wall to the other but doesn’t interrupt the window. That good design gives the room a nice, well fitted feeling. We will use a trough sink with two faucets and two drains to get the same function as two sinks, which would have required much more space.

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This is a shot of the custom mosaic tile for the first-floor powder room wall. Each color was placed on this sheet of plywood so the “random” pattern could be installed. I joke about how much planning random patterns actually require. Inevitably, handmade random tiles illicit nervous reactions from clients who choose them. Clients often worry that the result will look different than they imagined, or that the handmade quality will be too evident or might need to be adjusted to be “more random,” but they end up loving the final result.

Stay tuned for progress reports on this project.

Smaller Spaces

Tamara Myers measures a spaceAs a design to build remodeling company, our job is to transform our clients’ space to improve their life — and that transformation can go in a variety of different directions. Some clients have moved into larger space as their family grows, while others stay in their current home with a plan to expand or upgrade. More and more, we are seeing folks moving into smaller spaces to simplify their lives. With goals like reducing upkeep responsibilities and minimizing carbon footprint, downsizing can be very appealing. That’s exciting for us because it is an area in which we have lots of experience and love to work.

Less Can Be More: Designing for Downsizing

The shift to a smaller space requires us to create balance through understanding the homeowners’ primary needs and weaving in some specialness. We’ve had a chance to work on a number of recent downsizing projects in which we brought a fresh look, upgraded the functions, and tweaked the space planning. Below are a few examples from among the many ideas and signature design principles we bring to each project.

Old City Condo — Myers Constructs’ Small Space Design Principle #1: Know When to Go Bigger

A complete refresh with all new flooring, lighting, painting, and updated bathrooms. Like most condo owners, our clients had no control over the choice of windows, but we were able to provide solutions that increase energy efficiency and sound dampening by adding solar shades and interior storm windows. In this case, after studying the space and laying it out to scale with furnishings, we recommended a slight increase in the kitchen footprint while working with the fixed locations for the plumbing. These changes added a significant amount of overall storage and counter space, and opened up the living space overall. Here, knowing when to go bigger even in a smaller space was critical.

Small Center City Row Home — Myers Constructs’ Small Space Design Principle #2: Be generous With Alternate Storage Solutions

A whole-house upgrade with a fresh new aesthetic that honored what the clients loved about the house, along with essential fixes and additions. We added a first-floor powder room and utilized a number of design tools to make the room feel more spacious. Even though it may seem that using a vanity to the floor would provide more storage here, we used a floating counter top with a valance leaving the visual space underneath the vanity that will make the bathroom feel another foot or so deeper. We found opportunities for storage in some custom built-in wall shelving and tall broom closet tucked in a corner, and added a floating toilet, keeping the floor more open.

Small Trinity Renovation — Myers Constructs’ Small Space Design Principle #3: Our Clients Are Full-Size Humans; Don’t Give Them Miniature Solutions

Another whole-house upgrade featuring a new overall look, fresh finishes, and a bathroom. Included utility upgrades, including a new smaller on-demand water heater, electrical service, and correction of a newer HVAC system. We also created a small but robust fully functional kitchen in the basement with all principal functions and storage below the counter! Using a downdraft system for the range allowed us to avoid having an overhead hood, and pulling out the counter to add extra depth allowed for increased work space. We used no wall cabinets, allowing the client to enjoy a more curated look with shelving above the counter. The addition of a wet bar in an adjacent room provided adequate room for cool and frozen storage.

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Water Damage Woes & A Pro Tip On How to Avoid Them

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I got a call this week from a man whose home was flooded by a pipe that burst while he was away on a family trip. The water totally destroyed the first-floor finished flooring, as well as the walls in the kitchen, paneling in the halls, and all of the partition walls and ceilings in the basement. I have a feeling we may also have to add HVAC and electrical damage to the list. Once water gets into electrical fixtures, they need to be replaced.

The culprit in this case was the water line to a first-floor powder room toilet. That’s only a 3/8-inch pipe, but it caused hundreds of gallons of water to pump through the first floor into the basement and probably out the basement walls as the system continually kept flowing to refill itself.

This is the second call like this I have taken recently. In the other case, the homeowner was out of town at her winter home in Florida, and the cat sitter came in to a flooded house. The culprit there was a fairly new 1/2-inch line from the sink to the faucet in a second-floor bathroom. While the upper floor suffered some minor damage, the water completely gutted the lower levels, including the basement, the mechanicals, and the personal belongings they had stored there.

In both cases, the homeowners had to go through the misery of dealing with their insurance company to get the damages paid for.

As we head into prime vacation season, here is a simple tip from my plumber: shut off the water main before you leave the house if you’ll be away for an extended period of time. Even if a pipe bursts, you will minimize the impact and only suffer damage from the water that is in the line until it drains out. I do this now every time I leave home for a trip.

While I’ll get fewer calls for restoration projects sharing this advice, I’ll feel good knowing I was able to help prevent the problem in the first place.

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Image: prana@neoprana.net

Adaptive Reuse and the Legacy of Zaha Hadid

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It was with great sadness that we learned last week of the passing of Dame Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect and the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize, the Nobel of the architectural community. Her elegant work and uncompromising spirit inspired so many in the art, design, architecture, engineering, and creative spheres, and she served as a fine example of overcoming the glass ceiling for women in architecture and design. The underlining parabolic curved design that Hadid came to be known for was innovative and groundbreaking, and her legacy includes new approaches to the world of the built environment. Hadid’s groundbreaking work was introduced to many outside of the architectural community with her curvilinear Aquatic Centre built for the recent London Olympics.

While visiting London in 2013, I had the chance to visit one of the smaller but important projects that her firm did — the renovation and addition for the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in Kensington Gardens — and took the picture above. In my presentations on adaptive reuse, I always use this building as an example of a wonderful blend of the old and the new. For an adaptive reuse project to be successful, both the old and the new elements need to serve the overall program. In this case, the older building was built in 1805 to be used for gunpowder storage. Zaha Hadid Architects restored the original building with the utmost respect, and the brick vaulted spaces are now perfectly suited to their new function of displaying art. The connected but distinct new building houses a cafe in the woods, feeling like a contemporary tent with its tensile curved roof and full visibility with floor-to-roof glass, creating the feeling of being in a ground-level tree house. This addition is perfectly sited to create a protected view of the gardens. How wonderful to provide the opportunity to honor an old building, see a wonderful exhibition, and have time to contemplate art and the garden over a meal at the Magazine Cafe.

I celebrate this wonderful example of honoring the past and the future and the new life Serpentine Sackler Gallery has been given. And I thank Zaha Hadid for her unwavering vision for architecture and design and her role as a visionary for us all.

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One Great Project Ends; Another Begins

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Over the next couple of weeks, we will be winding down an extended multi-phase whole-house renovation in a historic twin home in Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood. While the last of the subcontractors are scheduling their trim outs, the painters just finished up inside. We expect the exterior paint, gutters, and roof details to happen soon now that the temperature has warmed up. The deck is complete (see Facebook for photos ) and ready for the homeowners to put plants in the beautiful custom planters. We have our punch list items to complete and are ticking off our list. Meanwhile, the homeowners have scheduled their cleaners and movers and are thrilled to be able to move into their newly renovated historic home.

As that project comes to a close, a new whole-home renovation at a pied-à-terre across town is picking up steam!

Before the demolition phase, we applied for and were granted street space for our dumpsters. This is pricey, but very necessary in the city, where most houses don’t have driveways. While some contractors avoid city projects due to challenges with historic agencies, neighborhoods, L&I, and other agencies, we embrace it.

Demolition is now already underway on the first floor, and the rest of the house will be cleared out later this week. Long-lead items like cabinets have been ordered, and the various subs are scheduled. Stay tuned to our website and FB page for more updates as this project progresses!

New Projects Spring Into Action: Center City Pied-à-Terre

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This week, we began an exciting new whole-house makeover for a lovely pied-à-terre in Center City Philadelphia. This charming 2-story, 2-BR, 2-BA house was recently purchased by a couple who is downsizing from their prior home on the Main Line, where we did renovations with a large addition over 10 years ago.

The home was previously renovated sometime in the 1990s by its owner-occupant, an architect, who did a lot to enhance its good bones. Now, our clients want to really bring out the charm and style of this small house and make it one they can enjoy for decades to come.

The project involves adding a half-bath just off the new kitchen space on the first floor, so the homeowners’ aging parents can visit without having to climb stairs. We’ll also renovate the existing bathroom on the second floor, reconfigure the bedroom with a walk-in closet, and transform the TV-viewing area into an occasional guest room, music and relaxation space. And we’ll also redesign the kitchen so our customers, who love to cook, can do so enjoyably with family and friends. The new kitchen will feature a custom booth with storage, custom table, a sous chef station in the kitchen and, of course, our high-quality Myers Made™ custom cabinetry.

Throughout the project, we will be replacing leaky windows and doors with new, high-quality historically sympathetic units and building in many custom furniture items — including TV and eating areas, storage cabinets, shelves, and walk-in closets — so they fit this space in the most efficient manner possible. Our work scope includes options for furnishings as well as color and fabric selections that will bring the project together.

We always bring thoughtfulness and care to our projects. When we have a small-sized house like this one, everything has to be what we call “boaty.” Just like in the cabin of a fine boat, everything serves double or triple duty, it’s built in, and it’s beautiful.

Be sure to check in on our Facebook page and sign up for our newsletters to receive updates on what promises to be a charming and fun Spring/Summer project.

Basement Theater Remodel Wins NARI Award!

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Most of you will remember the Mt. Airy basement renovation we recently completed for clients who wanted to transform a previously underutilized space into a beautiful theater and entertainment room. We’re thrilled to announce that this project just won a NARI 2016 Regional Contractor of the Year (CotY) Award in the category of Basement $50,000 to $100,000 — Region 1/Northeast! In this national competition, regional awards are presented first, with national winners announced in April at the National Business Meeting of NARI in Austin, TX. We’re really proud to be honored in this way by The National Association of the Remodeling Industry, which sets the standards for quality and professionalism in our industry.

Project recap: Previously an unfinished basement, this space now has lots of different areas to relax, think, be entertained, and play music and games with family and friends — including a library with reading nook and a movie-viewing area that seats 10 in reclining leather seats with cupholders. The viewing room is framed by custom theater curtains, and the lobby features a gallery of large-format photos of our clients’ travels to libraries and theaters around the world. The walls in the new space are painted in deep, rich colors, and we worked with our homeowners to select new carpet, draperies, and light fixtures to pull the entire room together. We called in our A/V pros to set up the TV and audio and tweak the home’s wireless router system to ensure that all of the elements work together seamlessly.

Adaptive Reuse: A Space Fit for a Diva

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Part II in a Series on Adaptive Reuse, the basis of an upcoming presentation by Tamara Myers at the 2016 Las Vegas NKBA Kitchen and Bath Industry Show and NAHB International Builders’ Show.

In moving towards a more sustainable future, we already have a head start with claiming some adaptive reuse successes. Already integrated into our everyday thinking about what type of building can be turned into a home: the loft and the barn. Indeed, some of these transformations are so woven into our current vocabulary of building stock that ironically you will see elements of the form affecting new home design, including “barn-like” great rooms with exposed trusses, and new “loft” apartments with large windows and polished concrete floors.

Like all buildings that were originally built for another purpose, barns and lofts often come with some missing elements that need to be remedied for a successful transformation. Of course, each space is different, but it’s fairly typical to see limited sources of light and air. Understandably, buildings that were built to contain animals or farm equipment, or serve as a warehouse or manufacturing facility typically focused more on being a protective shell with limited openings to the outdoors. Letting light and air into an old building typically requires some creative infrastructure reorganization, enlarging existing openings, adding interior wells and courtyards, and so on. Those critical evaluations make all the difference when determining whether a warehouse or barn can successfully become a comfortable home for the long-term.

I recently was thinking through some of the lofts that I’ve seen in films or have visited over the years — some primitive, some quite lovely and inviting. And I asked myself what made the inviting ones successful. I laugh when I remember the loft space I romanticized from Diva, a French film from the early 1980s. Set in Paris, it had a full cast of wonderful characters, including an opera singer who didn’t believe art could be captured in a recording, and a Vespa-riding mailman named Jules that was obsessed with her. There were bootleg recordings, good guys and bad guys, lots of suspense, and, of course, wonderful arias. What I remember as much as the people are the buildings, the deteriorating opera house, and especially the loft space where the artist lived. The loft was dark with minimal appointments, and the space was open enough that one of the characters regularly roller-skated around, circling the bathtub that sat in the middle of the space. Truth is, taking a bath in middle of a cold loft is not all that fun, having had the chance to give that concept a test run on more than one occasion. Like many young art students, I coveted a space like that, but I came to understand over time that if there isn’t an intervention into these spaces to bring the vital elements of intimacy, some privacy, and essential light and air, that the building will only provide shelter and not sustenance.

We want folks to thrive in their spaces; we want their buildings to thrive. Therefore, we aren’t afraid to take on some strong design work and make the critical changes that will carry those spaces into a sustainable future.

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Sustainable Choices: Critical to Our Collective Futures

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Part I in a Series on Adaptive Reuse, the basis of an upcoming presentation by Tamara Myers at the 2016 Las Vegas NKBA Kitchen and Bath Industry Show and NAHB International Builders’ Show.

Earlier today, I stopped by one of our job sites to admire this stack of reclaimed lumber peacefully acclimating itself to its new home, waiting to be installed as our new finish flooring. How exciting that this lumber is gaining a new life and that we can bring an older material into the renovation of this older home. Great choices that will give both the material and space a new, long life.

Many of you already know about our passion for reuse and sustainable choices. We have built our business on bringing our brain trust of collective creativity and years of experience and relationships to make solutions that really create a difference in our clients’ lives. Woven into our our approach to renovation is the belief that sustainability issues are vital to our collective futures. It’s exciting stuff! The opportunity to transform our clients’ spaces continually shows us that renovation is a great choice, whether it’s on an older or newer home or a building that was originally built for another purpose. Long-lasting design and material choices are critical to our approach, which nets designs and spaces that our clients retain and enjoy for many years to come.

We can look at the sustainability issue on many levels. I often talk about the larger view of how it is critical to renovate and maintain existing buildings to support our blocks, our neighborhoods, and our communities. We all have seen urban blocks that have what we call a “missing tooth,” that blank space within a block where a building has been torn down. Once torn down, the missing building tooth affects the fabric of the whole block and greater neighborhood, and it typically takes much longer to bring that block back up to wholeness. Paying attention earlier and supporting ongoing renovation can help retain strong communities.

On a smaller scale, we can look at the individual components that make up a building. Essentially, we examine a material’s life from beginning to end, including what it takes to create and transform it into useable form. Analysis of life cycle starts by looking at what resources are needed in order to mine, mill, smelt, or use other processes to turn raw materials into a form that can then be used for manufacturing. Then, you add the manufacturing typically on multiple levels, and between all of these steps, you add in the impact of transporting and final installation of these materials. At the end of its use, we can choose to reuse a material or send it off to the landfill. Ideally, we look to extend the life cycle whenever possible.

There are lots of resources out there showing the impact of keeping an existing building vs. building new, and one of my favorites provides a good blend of research presented in both text and graphics compiled by the Preservation Green Lab and National Trust for Historic Preservation with some other partners. Within the report is a study that compares an existing building to a new building that is 30% more efficient, and it found that it takes between 10 to 80 years for a new construction building to catch up and meet that 30% more efficient metric and counteract the negative climate change impact created by erecting the new building. The 10- to 80-year spread came from the wide range of areas and building types. Specific case studies show that a single family residence in Chicago will take 38 years, and one in Portland will take 50 years to reach the equalizing point. A pretty important picture for us all to keep in mind.

Happy New Year,

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What’s Old Is New Again — and Better Than Ever

We have spent decades becoming experts at breathing new life into old structures throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. And now Tamara is busy preparing a presentation on this topic — adaptive reuse — that she will make at The 2016 Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS) at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 21. While this presentation is geared towards industry insiders who will earn continuing education credits for their participation, we are eager to share with you our insights on some exciting and effective approaches to sustainable adaptive reuse that can be applied not only to adaptive reuse projects but also to renovations in your own home. In the coming weeks, we’ll cover the following topics:

  • Why the choice to renovate existing structures is vital to a sustainable future;
  • Examples of buildings and spaces already integrated into our community that illustrate adaptive re-use and what makes some of these successful and others not;
  • Key principles for successful adaptive reuse of buildings, such as former sacred spaces, barns, lofts, warehouses — even gas stations — and how those principles should be applied universally to our renovation projects.