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

Sustainable Choices: Critical to Our Collective Futures


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,


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.

Adding a Shed: The New “It” Project

Saltbox Shed and Chicken RunBuilding a shed at our home has been on our “Honey Do List” for some time now, so we were happy when we were able to find some time last week to tackle this project.

Sheds are all the rage right now, it seems. We’re seeing them used as micro offices, creative studio spaces, children’s play rooms, adult meditation areas, pool cabanas, and teen hangouts. Personally, I love the idea of a small, quiet space to remove myself to — a place where I can reflect and ponder a bit. But the purpose of our shed is to store gardening supplies and house our flock of hens. We wanted to make space in our garage, so moving the garden tools and supplies out to a shed was a good first step. And while the hens were comfortable and warm in their existing small hen house, its small size made it hard for us to get in to collect eggs and clean.

This shed will have a human-sized door and hen space we can walk into, and we’ve built them a new run that is also tall enough for us to stand in. (L-to-R) Pumpkin, Electra, and Blackie It’s a saltbox-style building measuring 8′ x 8′ with an 8’ tall ridge beam and long, sloping roofline that was designed to face the main source of the wind. The framing is standard 2×4, and the siding is CDX plywood with some ripped #2 pine for trim and batons. The door and windows are stock items from the home center. Because this shed is so small and unfinished, we opted for piers instead of a cement foundation.

Sheds are a nice way to add useable space to your property, and they can be as finished or simple, and as serious or playful as you like, depending on your needs. Call us for more details on completing a shed project for your own home.

Diane Menke, VP/Operations Manager
Myers Constructs Inc.

Tamara Myers on The Value of Adaptive Reuse

Concrete Windows
Concrete Windows!

This past week, I was honored to visit The Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA, to present a speech on Adaptive Reuse to the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Kitchen and Bath Association. The museum, which houses an enormous collection of tools and products from pre-Industrial Revolution American artisans, provided the perfect venue for this event. Henry Mercer — a true “maker” — was an early pioneer of sustainable practices who conceived of and built that museum for the LONG term! Unusual for its time, the building is made entirely of concrete, including not only the foundation and walls, but also the roof and windows. As a window expert, I just had to smile when I saw those concrete windows again.

Myers Constructs was founded upon the philosophy that renovating existing structures helps folks raise the quality of their lives in their homes, businesses, or institutions. Over the years, we have worked on scores of adaptive reuse projects that include church renovations, transforming a former Catholic convent into a home, and an award-winning major window renovation and repair project at The Fleisher Art Memorial , a historic Philadelphia-based art institution. We have always understood that good design is critical to sustainability. It’s a simple equation: good design, coupled with well chosen materials and methods, will net a successful renovation that will be used for the long term. Renovations with poor layouts, poorly considered or inferior materials, and ignoring underlying space issues can easily trigger the need for another renovation within a short time. As stewards of the environment, we want to use our resources wisely and look to create renovations that will last for generations to come.

Mercer certainly embraced that philosophy. We’re thankful for a long and loyal list of clients who do, as well.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday on behalf of the Myers Constructs Team,

Tamara Myers

Your Home: Playing It Cool When Temperatures Rise


Older homes tend to get a bad rap for being energy inefficient, but the truth is, many older homes have built-in energy-saving systems that homeowners can use to their advantage, particularly at this time of year.

The vast majority of older homes are built from stone or brick with thick walls that retain heat in the winter and cool in the summer by way of their mass. Often, these houses also have small windows on the third floor or attic that are meant not only to allow light into the house, but also to allow hot air out during the summer. Opening these small windows creates negative pressure inside the house, which then draws cool air from the basement, where temperatures hover between 60 and 70 degrees at this time of year. This cooling air convection, combined with the thermal mass of the brick or stone, means many of these homes can go several days at a time during a heat wave without requiring any artificial air conditioning or cooling. This is natural cooling at work!

If you do need to resort to turning on the A/C, you’ll want to assess how well your cooling system is working for you. Here are some symptoms of poor performance to look for:

  • Your air conditioner is running non-stop.
  • Humidity levels inside your home remain high, even though your air conditioner is running
  • You can feel “hot spots” in your home, especially near the ceiling, doors, or windows.
  • Certain rooms don’t cool as well as others.
  • You never seem to be able to achieve and maintain a comfortable temperature.
  • Someone in your home has asthma or other respiratory problems that aren’t relieved indoors./li>
  • Your energy use for cooling is high, resulting in expensive utility bills.

Of course, when windows are closed during the warmer months, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your house has good, healthy air quality, with controls for moisture, allergens, and fresh air exchange.

There are many affordable solutions to these and other problems you may be experiencing. Call us, and we will help you sort out the issues and come up with a plan that will help you feel more comfortable and save money at the same time.

For a much more in-depth look at this topic, check out this great article from Mother Earth News: Forget AC! Cool Your Home Naturally.

Image: cat’s_101

Renovation Challenge: Flood Zone

Myers Logo & HurricaneWe recently received a call from a homeowner in an area of metro Philadelphia that is a notorious flood zone. In fact, this property owner told us his Schuylkill River waterfront property has been flooded out three times during the past five years alone! This homeowner called us after learning that his insurance company was going to “total” his house unless he could find a way to renovate to flood-proof it. His goal is to be able to power wash the debris away after any future flooding and quickly get back to living. That kind of solution is common at the shore, where we see houses on pilings and with blow-out walls on the first floor. However, the following elements are at play here:

  • This house is in a historic area, so The Philadelphia Historic Commission will need to approve the homeowner’s plans.
  • The home abuts neighboring houses, so engineering a solution has to take into account the neighbors, as well as the load when the water and mud come through.
  • The zoning/use allowed for the building requires plan approval from the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
  • Because it is a waterfront property, the Environmental Protection Agency is going to want a say in what solutions are developed and approved for construction.

This is one of the most complex projects we have seen in recent memory because so many disciplines need to be on the same page at the same time in the same space. Adding to the intricacy of this renovation are any potential government regulations for lead, asbestos, watershed protections, neighborhood, city, and engineering issues for structure or unusual circumstances, and so on. This is in addition to the usual various systems that have to be designed and worked into the residential space — such as electrical, water, sewer, and HVAC — and, of course, it has to be a great-looking design that stays on budget.

During our 30 years in this business, we have learned that we like complicated stuff like this because we find it interesting and exciting. This is exactly the type of puzzle we enjoy solving.

Related reading: Fairmount Historic Whole-House Renovation

Want to Boost Your Home’s “Warm & Dry” Factor? Think Windows and Doors

A subcontractor for Myers Constructs works on a window replacement

This week, we are replacing several outdated, leaky windows and doors for a local artist who lives and works in a carriage house in Philadelphia’s Callowhill neighborhood. We are installing color-coordinated, metal-clad wood windows and doors that will be much more energy efficient and low maintenance for our client.

In this case, the exterior grade is higher than the inside of the home — a common condition that can cause moisture issues. So, we selected a high exterior door threshold to help keep water out of the building. However, in winter months, the homeowner will still have to shovel snow away from the door to help keep this area dry.

While this is a prime time for customers to notice and act on drafty windows and doors, we happily do these projects all year round.

How Does Your Home Fend Off February Chill?


This week started off quite brisk and windy. We noticed that this made our house exceptionally chilly, even though the temperature outside was no lower than some other nights this winter. The wind made the difference — and the reason why that happened is because we have some leaks in the “envelope” of our older home. While we have invested in many energy-efficient upgrades, such as insulation and new windows and doors, we still have more steps to take until we reach optimal efficiency that will keep our house warmer on cold, windy nights (and cooler on hot summer days, too!). But because we had an energy audit we know where those further improvements need to happen and we have a plan in place to get them done.

If your house is drafty on a windy night too, don’t let anyone tell you that your older home can’t be efficient, or that just slapping on new windows will achieve your desired results. Neither are true. To get real results for our clients, we provide a home energy auditor who is familiar with older houses to test your home’s efficiency. The auditor tests the performance of appliances and fixtures, as well as the overall house structure, to see where waste is occurring, then consults with us to develop the best, most cost-effective means of improving your home’s results. Usually, we tackle the simple, unglamorous stuff first, then make plans to tackle the sexier items later. The exciting part, for you, is seeing immediate lower energy use, resulting in a cheaper-to-run home. This approach is best because we combine the expertise and facts of a home energy audit from a carefully selected BPI pro who knows older homes with our own many decades of experience and knowledge working on older homes. We know how to get the “biggest bang for your buck,” and we can stage the steps over time to make the process more affordable.

Typically, the auditing service costs $750-$900, depending on the complexity of the home, but this investment (as well as the first round of efficiency improvements) is earned back in saved energy costs in less than three years. Many times, tax incentives are available, too.

Myers Constructs: Community Outreach

Most people know Myers Constructs, Inc., as a source for complete design to build services for home projects, such as kitchens, baths, additions and whole-house renovations. But you may be surprised to learn that we also assist several local nonprofit organizations with their older buildings, as well.

We have worked with the following institutions:

The Fleisher Art Memorial — The Fleisher restoration project entailed repairing and replacing 83 wooden windows – most of which were nearly a century old – with the goals of maintaining the historical integrity of the buildings, achieving energy efficiencies, and providing a safer and more secure environment for the 17,000 people who visit the institution throughout the year. Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Board was required to replace their historic windows with similarly styled models. We were able to help them by sourcing locally made, historically styled double-pane windows, in low-maintenance materials that fit their budget. Not only did we complete this project without interrupting normal operations at their facilities; we also received a Grand Jury Award from The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia for our work.

Calvary Church in Germantown — We are working with this organization to correct some weather-damaged flooring, make some structural repairs, reconfigure some spaces in their buildings for better use by the parish, and attend to some deferred maintenance in their buildings.

We worked with a local homeless shelter to make repairs to several of their dormitory apartments. These rooms are occupied by women and their children who are escaping abusive living situations to start new lives for themselves. In order to protect these families, we don’t disclose the locations of these projects.

We are currently speaking with another church in Chester Springs about how we might be able to help them with an upcoming expansion project.

What we love about these projects is that we can improve the quality of life for many families and communities at once. It’s very satisfying to help build strong community resources that can help so many people.