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.

Updates From the Art Deco Homefront

Many of you will recall our ongoing project for our client’s lovely 1930s-era Glenside brick Colonial. As we move through various phases of renovating this home, which the client calls his “Art Deco museum,” it continues to be a lot of fun both for us and for him.

In the image above, you can see the home’s newly finished library and a sampling of his vast black, white, and chrome Art Deco picture frame collection — which includes about 170 in all — filled with photos of his favorite actresses from the 1930s-40s, including Ann Sothern, Lauren Bacall, and Myrna Loy.

“I started collecting the frames in the 1990s, not long after I read the book Picture Perfect by Steve Starr, who owned a store in Chicago that specialized in deco frames and other collectibles,” he explains. “I bought quite a few from him and other dealers, mostly at antique shows in New York, Maryland, and other places.”

In addition, he has a vast array of furnishings, radios, lights, and other electrics, and fun figurines from the same era to display.

From a big picture perspective, we helped this client come up with a plan and budget for tackling a series of projects in the house. It includes everything from roofing to gutters, chimney, landscaping drainage problems, refinishing beautiful wood flooring, and unsticking and repairing the great original windows. We are planning the renovation of two of the bathrooms and a future kitchen to Art Deco-style specifications. Our first phase included removal of finishes that didn’t match the original house features, followed by a top notch paint job with a carefully curated group of new paint colors that highlight his collection. Behind the scenes, we updated electric, and then added more finishing details by changing all of the switch and outlet covers and replaced the outdated lighting with Art Deco fixtures the client has collected.

We love projects like these that enhance the passions and integrate the total lifestyle of our homeowners. We hope 2019 is getting off to a great start for you and your home.

P.S. It is not lost on us that the “power ladies” theme represented in this collection is a nice nod to all of the new Congresswomen sworn into office last week. (Rock on, ladies!)

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 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.

“Big Picture” Renovations: Pulling Together the Pieces to Make a Grander Whole

Sometimes, we take on project homes where the individual main rooms are in good — or even great — condition, but the house needs an overall upgrade. That was the case for this 1980s-era stucco single English manor-style house in Chestnut Hill.

While it’s an attractive structure that includes a two-car garage and a lovely gated backyard with lots of mature plantings, the home had been a rental for a while, and was a bit worn and somewhat outdated when our clients bought it in order to downsize. It had a lot of builder-grade trims and doors, as well as plain drywall throughout much of the lower level. In addition, the house, which is rather sizable at 3,000 sf, felt rather choppy and not at all as grand as it could be. Our job was to give the house character and definition, particularly throughout the first floor.

Here are the solutions we implemented on the lower level:

  • Created and applied an appealing trim, door, and panel program that created a cohesive look and feel that added interest to the walls.
  • Reorganized and upgraded the kitchen range and hood to modernize the appliances and provide better functional space. (Proportions rule! When you have the right proportions, everything feels right.)
  • We will also replace a dated brown glass tile backsplash with new simple running bond tile that has a handmade feel.
  • Installed a new vanity sink, counter, and toilet in the powder room.
  • Installed new oak flooring throughout the kitchen and powder room to blend with the existing flooring, and stained all of the floors in the house a medium-dark brown.
  • Upgraded the lighting fixtures, switches, and outlets. This includes the removal of a Gothic chandelier hanging over the kitchen island and a builder-grade “Italianate” tray ceiling with lighting, which left the whole ceiling simpler and cleaner.
  • Helped select colors and finishes that tie the various rooms together and complement the homeowners’ furnishings, including a mix of new items and things moved from their previous home.

And on the second floor:

  • Created new “his-and-hers” walk-in closets in the master bedroom. We drew up the floorplan of the room with the furniture our clients wanted to use, and then identified the logical placement of the closets. We also moved and upgraded the lighting outlets and switches so they made more sense. By adding inches to the width, a foot to the length, and installing pocket doors, we freed up floor and furnishing space, and netted our clients a walk-in closet more appropriate to a master bedroom. The previous closets, while somewhat large, were not originally laid out for the sizes needed to get the maximum hanging and storage space.
  • Helped refit the clients’ existing custom office furniture into their new office space. Again, we drew a floorpan to determine where their belongings would best fit.
  • Assisted with selecting colors, lighting fixtures, and accessories.

In the end, we didn’t move any walls (except for the master closets), and we didn’t do full renovations of the kitchen or bathrooms, but we did make this house feel a lot grander. Now, when these clients entertain or return home from their work travels, they can feel their house wrap around them with solid comfort and long-lasting style.

Appliances: Which Package Is Right for You?

Appliances: Which Package Is Right for You?Choosing an appliance package is always a complex decision for a homeowner. Interestingly, a single appliance purchase can often provide the “tipping point” for an entire kitchen renovation. In fact, we routinely get calls from people who have put off redoing their kitchen for 20+ years, but suddenly their stove, refrigerator, or dishwasher breaks, and they jump into addressing the overall problem of the poorly designed or worn out space they have put up with for decades.

When we help clients make appliance selections, we first help them determine their overall kitchen renovation budget — this tells us what price point they should be at for both appliances and cabinets. And while the available selections run the gamut from the most basic to the very posh, here are some important things to keep in mind when making your selections.

Entry-level packages: There are many affordable, attractive, and serviceable stainless steel appliance packages from KitchenAid, GE, Frigidaire, and other manufacturers that include the four main elements that most homeowners need: a microwave/hood, refrigerator, dishwasher, and range. If you prefer a hood separate from the microwave, keep in mind that will add to the cost of the package, as will the extra wiring and ducting it requires. The biggest drawback at this price point is that the appliances sometimes have fewer bells and whistles and flimsier construction, such as feet that are prone to bending and breaking, and they can sometimes be harder to level and install.

Mid-range packages: This price point is appropriate for homeowners who are more serious about cooking and appreciate the finer elements of a well-appointed kitchen. Manufacturers targeting this range include Bosch, Viking, and JennAir — but before you invest in a mid-range package, it’s important to determine whether the items are in fact made and branded by the same company. When it comes to resale, future prospective homebuyers will appreciate that you have invested well in your kitchen.

High-end packages: You are likely looking at Sub-Zero, Wolf, Miele, Thermador, Gaggenau, or La Cornue appliances at this level. High-end appliance packages include highly sought after items like state-of-the-art, oversized, professional-grade refrigerators and dual-fuel ranges, double ovens, dual-drawer dishwashers, and other high-tech gadgets like warming trays and steamers. The upside of these appliances is they last many decades, provide exceptional performance, and have superior and impressive brand name recognition if and when you sell your house. The downside? Higher end appliances are super heavy and unwieldy to deliver and install. At one recent project, the fridge was so large it did not fit through the front door and had to come through a window. This was no small feat! Higher performance ranges will require the use of commercial-grade gas lines. And locating the electrical, water, and gas lines properly during planning and rough-in phases is crucial to the appliances fitting in their spaces later.

No matter what level appliance package you choose, it is important to understand that this purchase presents substantial logistical challenges. Aside from careful kitchen planning and design, someone has to deliver the items in perfect condition, install them, and ensure that the proper wiring and plumbing and ducting is all in the right place so everything fits and works as it should. What’s more, all of this must be done without damaging the project house or the surrounding cabinets and floors. For these reasons and more, we tend to use factory-certified installers on high-end packages. While it costs a bit more, these subs know the units, they get their work done efficiently, and the homeowners receive a better warranty in the process.

As with so many things in life, when it comes to appliances, you truly get what you pay for.

Planning the Ideal Kitchen Renovation

Planning the Ideal Kitchen RenovationThe kitchen. Everyone has their personal take on what this space means to them. For some, it serves mainly as a source of food and comfort, a gathering space for family and friends, or a central place to begin and end each day. For others, kitchens are show places, aspirational spaces, power rooms! Whatever the case may be, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the kitchen is easily the most important room in any house — and it’s our job to help our clients achieve their goals for this vital room in their homes.

We appreciate kitchens that are efficient, well planned, and designed with consideration to serve specific purposes. We have cooked in very small boat galleys, on camp stoves, in fireplaces, on wood stoves, and in lots of commercial and residential kitchens of many vintages and price levels; and we find that all of them can be great kitchen work spaces as long as they reflect the needs of the person using them. For that reason, when approaching a new kitchen renovation, we spend considerable time learning about how the homeowners like to use the space to cook, work, and live. For example, if a client bakes a lot, we plan for a great convection or wood-fired oven. If they hunt or fish and prepare game, we incorporate the special equipment and space needed for that. And if they need a lot of refrigerator, freezer, or dishwasher space, or two fridges to keep kosher, we work that in, too. We can even customize a kitchen for very short people, very tall people, or people who require wheelchair or walker accessibility.

No matter what your specific needs are, here are some of the most important considerations when planning the ideal kitchen renovation:

Cabinetry — We have a true appreciation for cabinetry that is designed specifically for the purposes it is needed to serve. For that reason, we tend to steer clients toward styles and long-lasting cabinet solutions that fit their style, optimize the flow of the room, and provide enough storage in the right places for all of the tools in the homeowner’s cooking and serving collection. We also focus on issues related to long-term maintenance and upkeep. For example, for clients who do a lot of sautéing or frying, we strategically configure cabinets in relation to the cook top area to minimize the buildup of grease and simplify cleaning over time.

Countertops — While standard counters are 36”, they can be customized to be hip height for the homeowner or main cook in the house — ideal for getting the best action from a knife or a rolling pin while you cook. If you bake, you may also want a lower and deeper stainless or marble counter so you can use your back and shoulders to roll out your dough. These non-standard heights and depths can be achieved with custom cabinetry and sometimes even with expertly planned stock units.

BacksplashPantry — We don’t know how people function without one! You can fill them with specialty items you use for seasonal baking, dry goods you found on sale, baking chocolates, liquors, herbs, spices, even oversized countertop appliances. We can create anything from a dedicated cabinet pantry to a large walk-in butler’s pantry.

Lighting — Careful consideration of ample lighting is essential. You’ll want to include general, task, and feature or decorative lighting that is sized to the space being lit, and geared towards the needs and age of the user. Keep in mind that most lighting types can multi-task for different uses. For example, under-cabinet fixtures on a dimmer provide nice mood lighting on a winter or dreary day, a soft night light for the evening, or task lighting while working. In fact, installing dimmers on all kitchen lights is a great way to get more uses and subtlety from your fixtures.

Ventilation — We find that the best hoods for proper ventilation are slightly bigger than your cook top with dishwasher-safe filters and an external motor that keeps noise in the kitchen to a minimum.

Windows — So important, not only for natural light — which makes any room nicer — but also for creating a connection with nature while you work in the kitchen. You can check on your children, the weather, or the neighbors, and then get back to the business at hand. A well-designed kitchen will include either existing or new windows in its overall design and plan.

Planning a new kitchen in 2017? Visit our Houzz page for inspiration, and then reach out to us for help!

Best,

Operation Organization — Everything in Its Place

Fall is the perfect season to think about nesting, de-cluttering, and organizing your home to make sure all of the odds and ends you accumulate throughout the year have a proper home. To that end, we’re offering a roundup of some the special customized cabinetry insert options that are available in the Myers Made™ cabinetry line to help you. See the slideshow below for some of our most popular solutions, along with details about how they can assist with your needs.

How can you choose which options are right for you? You’ll need to clearly define your goals and wishes in order to create a beautiful and well-organized space that matches your home and taste. Of course, we can work with you to cover all of the basics you’ll need — whether it’s a kitchen, bath, library, or entertainment/media room — and add value with these and many other internal solutions that help make everyday living a bit easier and happier.

Narrow but tall spice storage drawer: easy access for cooking, and out of the way when you are not.
Simple flatwear drawer with attractive maple dividers — eliminates the need for cheap, plastic flatwear organizers.
Wooden peg storage drawer with dishes.
Wooden peg storage drawer with dishes.
Just one of many recycling and garbage pull-out combinations available.
Wooden peg storage drawer with dishes.
This 2-tiered cutlery drawer organizes everyday and special-occasion flatwear and takes up no more space than a typical flatwear drawer.
A deep drawer with moveable pegs that can be configured as desired to accommodate many pots, dishes, and serving bowls without the risk of edges banging together or heavy dishes being dropped from an upper cabinet.
Drawer base cabinet with standard top drawer. The middle drawer is divided into general use on the right and storage for utensils on the left in cans, which come out for easy dishwashing and keep the countertop free from clutter.

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