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.

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.

Myers Constructs Q&A: Planning the Perfect Custom Bathroom

planning a custom powder room storage cabinetThis week, Tamara offers her thoughts on planning a bathroom renovation that fits the very personalized needs of every home.

Q: What are the most important considerations for homeowners planning a custom bathroom renovation?

A: “Bathrooms are one of the most personal spaces in any home, and they should be designed as such. Starting at our first meeting, we work with clients to get an understanding of what the visual and aesthetic goals are for the project. We often say that we like to create a blend of what the house says, our clients’ personal taste — which may differ from the style of the house — and our team’s experience and resources.”

“A house typically already speaks a particular design language, and we need to have a conversation about whether to keep the same palette or introduce a new style. Sometimes, if the home is newer, it may have many off-the-shelf treatments, such as builder-grade moldings, so one of the project goals will be to establish a new style of molding treatments that will elevate the home and support the new vision. If the home is historic, it may have had some renovations that ignored the history so perhaps we need to bring back some more historically appropriate treatments. And sometimes our clients have personal tastes that are different than the original house aesthetic and are looking to perhaps blend both old and new. In this case, this needs to be done skillfully from concept and planning through product selection and execution.”

“Spending time understanding the visual goals up front informs some of the more functional decisions. It’s one of the great advantages of working with our team: We are looking at the whole picture throughout the entire process.”

“When considering possible layouts to determine the best solution, we learn about the people who will use it most. That might include your children, older parents, or houseguests. While locating basic fixtures like a shower, tub, toilet, and vanity and choosing fixtures and finishes, we delve deeply into how the space will be used. We ask important questions like:

  • How many people will use this room, and what are their ages?
  • Do any of them have special physical needs that should be addressed?
  • Does the room offer ample overall square footage?
  • Is there currently a place for storing towels and larger toiletry supplies, will they be located in an adjacent room, or can we split the difference? The storage needs will affect the aesthetic direction and vice versa.
  • Is a custom vanity the right solution, or will a free-standing pedestal sink better serve the overall project goal?
  • Do you need a bath tub or just a shower?
  • Do you need one or two sinks?
  • Do you have any water usage concerns?
  • Is there anything about the current space that makes it awkward or uncomfortable to use? Does it offer enough privacy?
  • Where will you place your clothes and hang your towel while bathing?
  • Do you need more electrical outlets?
  • Where will the electric toothbrush and other countertop items live?
  • Do you need a pull-out drawer inside the cabinet that allows a hairdryer and other electric appliances to stay plugged in, easily accessible, and neatly stored without fussing with the cords?
  • What other types of custom cabinetry are required?”

“With these answers in hand, we can get to work creating timeless and unique spaces for each client that help make everyday living easier and much more enjoyable.”

Center City Trinity: Small Space Expert Design Solutions

pied-a-terre_small spacesWith the advent of the tiny house and sustainability movements, and the popularity of books like Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and Sarah Susanka’s Not So Big series, many folks are looking to reduce their footprint and renovate smaller spaces. Here in Philadelphia, we have lots of modestly sized older homes and among them is no greater example than the original “trinity” — a small townhouse built in the 1700s or early 1800s with one room on each of three floors, typically configured with a first-floor kitchen/family room, a second-floor bedroom/bath, and a small third-floor living space. Sometimes referred to as a “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost house,” these modest but charming homes usually feature a fireplace with a pocket staircase tucked behind the chimney and overall square footage of well under 1,000 sq ft. Many of the city’s original trinities, especially those found in neighborhoods like Washington Square and Society Hill, have been modernized, expanded and sometimes combined into larger dwellings that accommodate families with larger kitchens, bathrooms, and additional bedrooms on upper levels. However, you can still find many authentic trinities in the city, commonly as rental properties in areas like Fishtown, Chinatown, and Northern Liberties.

We have been working with our clients on a genuine trinity in the historic Pine Street section of town, on what used to be Antiques Row. For our trinity, we have been asked to develop creative and efficient small-space solutions to make it comfortable by modern standards without expanding its footprint, because it’s bound on three sides by other houses. This takes strong design skills, discipline, and experience. While many features have to be specified to perform double- and triple-duty functions, any built-ins and furnishings must be scaled appropriately for the proportions of the home. But one needs to be careful to not treat the house as a miniature, as the finished space needs to serve real-sized humans! Each system needs to be specified to bring efficiency while only occupying a small piece of the overall footprint, and understanding how to use some of the options that were popularized by the sustainability movement, such as on-demand hot water heaters, has served us well. Looking for multi-function solutions can bring great value and sometimes, contrary to what some might think, we sometimes specify larger fixtures that offer multiple functions, which can net a higher functioning space.

In the end, the best design is always design that you don’t notice, but this is especially true when working with very small spaces.

With demolition starting this week, we’ll keep you in the loop on updates to this project!

tam.sig small spaces

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.


Adaptive Reuse and the Legacy of Zaha Hadid


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.


Design: A Pet Project

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At Myers Constructs, we love animals of all kinds, and we enjoy when our designs benefit our customers’ four-legged friends.

As part of any design-to-build™ project we undertake, we spend some time in the beginning learning about our customers’ goals and priorities, what problems will be solved with the renovation, and, of course, who will use the finished space. If our clients have pets, we want to know that information so we can keep it in mind from the outset and plan for it. In designing kitchens, for example, that can be as simple as making sure there’s a place for the dog’s food bowls to avoid being kicked, a place to store those big bags of food, the leash (and, these days, the dog’s sweater!). Sometimes, we find that folks have gotten so used to working around their pet bowls that they don’t even realize that they are in the middle of their pathway.

But each house — and each pet — is different. Knowing the specifics about how people and their pets use spaces helps us to develop creative solutions that, if considered in the initial planning, does not necessarily increase the overall price. One of my favorite designing with pets stories was a multi-bathroom project for a great stone house in Chestnut Hill. The homeowners had four cats, and one of the main bathrooms housed two litter boxes. Like many older bathrooms, the room had two entrance doors. Our goal was to figure out how to build them a wonderful new bathroom that felt right for the humans and made sense aesthetically for their house but kept the litter boxes tucked away in the beautiful new space. I love the solution we created for this bathroom – without changing the location of the walls. Using the same bathroom footprint, we increased the shower size and added a bench and with convenient storage for toiletries in the shower. We also created lots of additional storage space that wasn’t there before. We used just one entrance door for the humans, but we kept two entrances for the cats since we didn’t want to disturb their habits too much. Tucking the litter boxes under the storage unit kept them out of view, but allowed plenty of room to pull them out and clean them. And, just as important, we made a point of not running the radiant heating under the litter box area. A win-win for everyone — humans and cats alike. We love making the whole family happy with projects like this.

When the Designer Becomes the Customer

I am a design to build remodeler. That means that I renovate other people’s homes for a living. But when it came time recently to start my own living room remodel, I started the process the same way most of our clients do: by looking at magazines, websites, and other sources of inspiration. I knew the direction I wanted to take with the room, but was having some trouble with furniture selection. Sorting through these resources helped to narrow down my choices and get a feel for some of the textures, styles, and options out there.


After taking some measurements, I then had to choose a professional who would be the right fit for this project. While I had the advantage of being able to wear two hats — that of the homeowner and the designer of the space — I still knew I’d want to bring in a pro to help review the final options and make recommendations. Just as when our company remodels a kitchen or other large project room, I rely on my suppliers to keep up to date on all the latest options, colors, and finishes, asking them to team with us as we design projects specially for each of our clients. And I know from many years in the business that the furnishing end of a project is just as critical as the design and construction phases, and it can be what brings a room together or takes away from the whole intent.

I met with our friend and design colleague, Doug Reinke, who had recently opened a third location of his home furnishings store HOST in Midtown Village. Since the space for my new sofa is a narrow, longer room, I wanted to make sure I kept an eye on scale and worked with someone who understood this concept. I knew Doug and his support staff would be familiar with a wide range of types and sizes of houses and have a broad selection of products to fit my needs. Sharing my room information with Doug, we were able to narrow the playing field down to a sofa with a cushionless upholstered back that helped to keep the overall visual size down. Next, it was on to the arm style. In trying to find the blend between comfort and style, there was lots to think about, but testing out some variations in the showroom made it easy to follow my initial instinct, which was an upholstered, short arm. We then looked at fabric samples and leg styles. Working with a pro, you know that the fabrics have already been vetted to match the demands appropriate for the function of the piece. A sofa intended for everyday use, for example, has a different demand than one used only occasionally in a formal living room. In the end, HOST had all the tools I needed — fabric samples, stain colors, catalogs — to make the right selection for my space in less than an hour.

This experience of shopping for interior furnishings for my own home reminded me why clearly communicating what I wanted, including my expected price range, was important. It allowed me to use the great resources of HOST efficiently and effectively! We love it when our clients do the same, and we have lots of great examples of the end product featured on our website. As you can see, really great projects start from these really great conversations.

Follow HOST at

Lighting: It’s All About the Plan

Lighting: It’s All About the Plan
As is the case with many aspects of our work, if we do our job well when planning the lighting scheme for a project, the solutions become almost transparent to the homeowners and their guests. That’s because they simply blend naturally into the overall landscape of the room, completing the circle of design. For kitchens and dining areas, in particular, we always aim to bring in multiple types of light to allow opportunities to change its effect, depending on the time of day, the task at hand, the number of folks in the kitchen, and, of course, the preferences of the different people in the household.

Behind the scenes, we work with one of the most basic design principles: the layering of light. There are three layers of light needed for a successful project, and this is one of the things that can really make a professional project stand out.

A quick overview of the three basic layers:

General — Overall, ambient light is very important to set the overall tone and create a safe environment in any home. This can be achieved in lots of ways by using recessed light, chandeliers, and so on, with light that can be soft or strong. We find that creating a room’s character through the use of lighting is a really cool part of our job.

Task — This is critical to make sure homeowners can do their best work in any given space. Whether they are cooking a meal, paying their bills or doing homework with their children, we bring in enough options so that all of these tasks can be achieved without stress.

Accent — Sometimes we call this the “jewelry” in a room. These pieces can sometimes be fabulous objects in and of themselves. We had one project where we used some wonderful handblown glass ceiling lights that appeared to be grouped randomly, but we planned very carefully to achieve the random look. They became a focus for the room, tying the whole design concept together. Accents can have hidden sources, so there are lots of fun ways to approach this.

Need help with your home’s overall lighting scheme? Contact us to set up a consultation. And visit our Facebook page for your chance to enter our George Nelson Bubble Lamp Giveaway!

What does the Oscar greenroom and our clients kitchen have in common?


Awards for everyone! Check it out, Designer Waldo Fernandez has created some relaxing spaces for all presenters and honorees at this year Oscars. The Architectural Digest Greenroom at the 2012 features quartz counters that we have also used in some of our wonderful kitchens. See the Greenroom and the Casearstone quartz counters here: