The Details That Matter

You may recognize this deck image from our Facebook and Instagram accounts last week. It was a popular post that generated a lot of questions and interest, so we thought we’d share the backstory with you.

We came up with this little railing detail maybe 20 years ago, and we now use it on all of our decks because it’s a superior solution. Here’s why.

When you work on older houses, you have to take things apart as a part of renovating. You see what worked and what did not, and how long it lasted. You see how the people who did a section of work maybe 10, 20, or even 100 years ago thought about how to put something together — and they set you up to be able to fix it easily when it finally wore out. We always notice this, and we think about those people, who may no longer be alive, but we hope they hear us thanking them.

You also see what didn’t last or work at all, like renovation “coverups.” Maybe an old plaster wall was peeling a little paint or had a crack in it, and instead of repairing it properly, workers just layered over some paper or paneling. Then that failed a few years later, and they added another layer of something. Finally, we come in and fill a dumpster with all of the layers we need to remove just to get back to the nice plaster so we can finally repair that little crack or missing section. It’s a wasteful use of resources and time.

Inferior materials and quick-fix solutions simply don’t last. We’ve had to pull out almost every 1980s kitchen or bathroom we’ve ever seen because the materials and construction methods were not of good quality during that time. The big box stock cabinets get wet, swell, and deteriorate very quickly — they don’t even get old enough to wear out. Meanwhile we see 100-year-old bathrooms still working. The wall tile might have a thin settling crack, or the lead drain may finally have given up, but for the most part, the fixtures and finishes are still working. That’s pretty remarkable.

In working on decks over the years, we’ve seen that simple 45-degree corners on railings always open up after a certain point. So we came up with our solution that is a combination of a butt joint and a mitered joint that has more attachment surfaces and less area to open up. It’s not much harder to do than a simple 45-degree joint, but it performs substantially better. It has since become a calling card of sorts for us.

Tamara and I want to be like the builders of those 100-year-old bathrooms. We want to build projects right the first time so they last. Sometime in the future, some other carpenter will come along to replace the worn out railing we put in, and they will thank us for making their job easier for them. And in the meantime, our clients will “spend once.” They won’t have to repair that capping anytime soon.

In the Works: Re-Loving the “Flintstone House”

Our clients affectionately call this home a “Flintstone House,” and that really makes us smile. This charming and well-loved home, which features a schist stone exterior with free-form columns and bluestone front patio — both materials that are native to the Philadelphia area — is located on a quiet street in Chestnut Hill, PA, that is walkable to the quaint and lively center of town. It also has a lot of history, as the homeowners grew up in this house, and they have other family still living on the same street.

While the home has been lovingly maintained over the years, it is currently in need of a new kitchen, pantry, and powder room, as well as some maintenance upgrades — which we were happy to be called in to handle.

In terms of backstory, the current kitchen was installed by our clients’ father decades ago, a project that was clearly handled with a lot of love. Their mother, for instance, sanded and varnished all the pre-existing maple cabinets, and their dad added trim to the old cabinet doors so they looked a little more updated and pretty. He also installed Formica counters and backsplashes that still look pretty good, considering their age. We want to carry forward this same loving, cozy feeling into the brand new spaces we will be creating in this home.

In addition to modernizing the kitchen, we want to direct the layout so that the kitchen maintains views to a nice hidden outdoor patio and garden area, while bringing in more light and making the room feel taller. Adjacent to the kitchen is a room that originally served as the family breakfast room, but more recently became more of a room you pass through. We want to breathe new life into this area to create a welcoming casual eating area that flows right into the kitchen. We will add function by reorienting access to the basement and adding a powder room.

Lots of great ideas on the board — and we love working with our clients to celebrate this Flintstone house and bring it into the next era of its life.

We love projects like these that enhance the passions and integrate the total lifestyle of our homeowners.

New Year, New Home Resolutions

While you’re likely busy preparing for holiday celebrations, festive entertaining, and winter travel, this is also the perfect time to take a closer look at your home and plan for the repairs, maintenance, and redesign projects that need to be tackled in the coming year.

We don’t know a better way to celebrate the fresh possibilities of a new year than to breathe new life into a space that you use every day. Instant quality-of-life improvement!

We’re grateful for the trust our clients place in us, and we make it our goal to exceed their expectations for reimagining the spaces they share with family and friends all year through.

Call us today to discuss your needs. We’ll be happy to create a 2019 plan for your home.

Behind the Scenes: What Our Customers Never See

Being a design build general contractor working any given day on a variety of projects throughout the Delaware Valley means that there’s never a dull moment around here. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities to find creative solutions — and that’s one of the things we love about this business!

At Myers Constructs, our clients’ projects receive the attention of both company owners: Tamara and me. At the outset, most of our clients understand that we will design their projects and also manage the construction, as well as the complex processes that are involved. What they don’t know is that when the need arises, Tamara and I go to the job site to personally handle some portion of a project ourselves to ensure great quality control for clients. In fact, there are important things we do on a daily basis that most clients never see. For example, Tamara could recently be found personally installing knobs and pulls in a kitchen and overseeing the project’s demanding tile installation. A month earlier, I was handling the framing and cabinet installation for the same kitchen because it was a tricky execution in a very small space, and our staff was fully scheduled during the peak of our busiest season.

Likewise, it’s not uncommon for either Tamara or I to have to run to a supplier to get a small item that arrives after a backorder and needs to be on site right away just to keep a job on schedule. Case in point: We recently personally rushed to Ambler to pick up a light fixture we needed to install in a Center City project. On yet another project, there was a 600-lb load of tile for two bathrooms in the back of my SUV that I unloaded myself.

We take a lot of personal pride in the results that come from this kind of attention to detail — and the happy reaction from customers when their projects are completed on time, on budget, and exceed their expectations. As the saying goes, “When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.”

In the Works: Glenside Colonial Goes Art Deco

One of our clients recently purchased this lovely large brick Colonial in the quaint and eclectic Philadelphia suburb of Glenside. His goal is to restore the home in a way that showcases his love for Art Deco styling, decor, and an extensive collection of art, ceramics, radios, and other electronics.

The home was built by a local developer in the 1920s, and it represents the best quality workmanship of its era — in fact, even the laundry room floor has the original aqua blue linoleum floor still in very good condition! However, the challenge presented by this home is that some of its previous owners made adjustments over the years that didn’t fit its style. For example, the large pantry and back hall, where you might carry in groceries from the rear parking area, was converted into a wine bar featuring faux stucco and brick accents applied to the plaster walls. The modest-sized kitchen had a dated pickled pink cabinet stain and a sandy-colored commercial tile floor. Throughout much of the house, wall-to-wall carpeting covered beautiful original fir and oak floors, and almost every room had heavy drapes keeping out the beautiful light coming through large multi-paned windows. Finally, updated bathrooms had vanities, tile, and accessories that didn’t mesh well with the home’s look and feel.

Our client, who has a very strong sense of aesthetics, called us in to restore the house to its 1920s style and include some of his preferred Art Deco finishes and selections, as well. In addition to helping him redesign a new kitchen to fit the house, we are helping him tease through what else needs to be changed and make a plan for updating the bathrooms, restoring the hardwood floors, installing new lighting and hardware, selecting new wall finishes, and even choosing window treatments and placing furniture — the “soft stuff,” as we call it in the business. Keeping the focus on his personal style preferences, we’ll also create solutions for displaying his collections.

We love projects like this whole house update that draw not only on our expertise in design build systems, but also on our unique understanding of art and style history.

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.

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.