Of Kitchens and Memory-Making

Enamel Kitchen SinkWhat makes a great kitchen? It’s a question we answer often in our line of work. To me, kitchens are work places, first and foremost. That goes back to my second job, when I was 17 and working in a commercial kitchen at a surf and turf restaurant in South Jersey. It was there that I came to view kitchens as efficient workspaces where the important business of cooking truly good food gets done. I took many commercial kitchen jobs from then on throughout college at some pretty good restaurants. I typically worked the line, usually as a second or a first line cook. Later, I also did early morning baking on the weekends, which left time for me to go to school and work in an art studio during the week.

But kitchens are also places where families do a lot of living and making memories, too. My favorite memories are of my neighbor’s kitchen when I was about 3 years old. I called her Grandmom Beterrelli. On Sundays, I would walk next door to her house and help her prepare the big Italian after-church meal she would serve her family. She’d make game birds, rabbits, sausage, chickens, tomato sauce, homemade pasta, salads, bread, and cakes. Her kitchen was the kind with the enameled steel cabinets, just a few. She had a Hoosier dry goods cabinet, too, I remember. And a large porcelain sink with a built-in drain board and no dishwasher. In her unheated shed pantry, she kept the enameled table she rolled her pasta out on. Here was the door I walked through to her kitchen from our yard next door. Sometimes, there would be a pheasant hanging there blinking at me. In her yard behind this kitchen shed, she tended many rows of onions, garlic, fresh greens, pickle cucumbers, tomatoes, and a fig tree. She was Neapolitan and spoke Italian to me. I thought her dog’s name was “Scoocha Mia.” LOL…

That kitchen was full of life, warmth, good smells, tastes, and touch — but most of all, it was where she prepared her gift of food for her family and neighbors. To us at Myers Constructs, all of these things coming together is what makes a great kitchen.

Wishing you a holiday filled with many special memories of friends and family gathered around your kitchen.

Tamara Myers to Judge 2012 NARI Contractor of the Year CotY Awards

I am honored to have been asked to be a judge for the Contractor of the Year (CotY) 2012 Awards. These are national awards bestowed by NARI, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, to projects that represent excellence in our industry.

This coming Monday, January 9th, I will join other NARI members to begin the 3-day job of reviewing the entries and casting our votes. Later this year, a formal ceremony — the academy awards of our industry — will take place at the Spring national meeting, which is being held this year in Dallas, Texas. I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony for 2011 in Jersey City, NJ, in April, and it was an impressive and fun evening.

As designers and remodelers, we love having the opportunity to support with our vote the projects of our peers that shine and show the melding of good design, creativity and craftsmanship. It is our idea of a good time. And it’s a win-win for the industry, for the homeowners, and for those of us who learn and grow by setting a high bar for what good, professional remodeling should be. The wonderful thing about these awards is that, by choosing from NARI members in good standing, they are already selecting from the best in the industry. NARI’s multi-faceted focus ensures its members follow best practices from their industry, maintain and follow a code of ethics, engage in continuing education, and give back to their remodeling peers and their communities.

The Price of Home Renovation: What People Are Spending

More and more, we see homeowners who are investing in their homes because they plan to stay there for the long haul. They want to enjoy living in their homes while they are there, and they see that the investments they make now will lead to an easier sale in the future when they decide it’s time to leave. If you fall into this category, knowing what other people are investing in their homes will help you make good decisions about what to spend on your own.

Make no mistake: cheaper is always going to look cheaper — both to you and to the future buyers of your home. And do not default to “builder beige” just because you think that will improve your home’s future value. It doesn’t. And this isn’t about resale value. It’s about investing in your property so you can enjoy it. When the time does come to sell, the people looking at your home will see a beautiful home, not just another house.

Our company works primarily in older homes in the greater metropolitan Philadelphia area, including sections of Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware County and parts of neighboring New Jersey. We see, time and time again, that homes built prior to 1950 were typically very well made, and they lasted a long time. But, by the time we are called in, we have to rebuild the rooms that kitchens and bathrooms are going into. We are not just popping in new cabinets and paint. You can see examples of full gut kitchen and bathroom remodels we typically do by tapping the “projects images tab” on our web site menu.

Renovations for most project homes we work on fall into five main categories:

1. Smaller, modest kitchens

These rooms (12′ x 12′ or less) are gutted out to the studs, rewired and re-plumbed, followed by the installation of all new floors, ceilings and walls. No walls are moved.
Typically, we will do these projects for landlords or clients with modest budgets.
We select good, hardwearing products like maple cabinets and laminate counters. No big bells and whistles on these projects, but we do try to do something special for each. Typical flooring is tile, cork or hardwood.
These projects average $45,000.

2. Mid-size kitchens

Average 16′ x 18′ or larger
Again, we strip out these old rooms to the studs and original sub-flooring, then we rewire and re-plumb the rooms because the rooms usually need many lights, a circuit breaker for each appliance, and new plumbing locations for the various appliances and sinks.
Typically, we do these rooms for homeowners who plan to stay in their house or sell in a few years.
There are many more upgrades in these kitchens, and typical finishes include stained or painted cabinets, stone or granite counters, stainless appliances, nice tile backsplashes, and high-quality cork, tile or site-finished flooring.
Average project costs $82,000

3. Large kitchens

Average 18′ x 20′ or larger
Again, a total strip out to the studs (see above)
Often, we remove load-bearing walls and create new door or window openings
High-quality cabinetry is installed (custom factory made or bespoke locally made by craftsmen). Typical finishes are stained hardwood or painted wood.
These rooms have more bells and whistles, including high-end appliances from Thermador, Wolf, Viking or Sub Zero.
Average project costs $132,000

4. New powder room additions

No plumbing, wiring or walls exist
We install tile or hardwood floors, low-flow, high-style toilets, attractive lighting and high-quality fixtures
Average $18,000

5. Main bathrooms

These are the main household bathrooms in people’s homes, the ones that get the majority of the use.
These are total tear outs, to the studs and joists, which we typically have to repair for structural damage.
These older bathrooms have a few inches of concrete on the floors and walls, under the tile.
We completely rewire and re-plumb these rooms, often replacing the large radiators with radiant floor heat
High-quality, low-flow toilets, and ceramic tubs and sinks are installed
High-quality wall and floor tiles are installed
High-quality accessories like heavy chrome towel rods and towel warmers are installed
Average $56,000

6. Master Bathrooms

These are often very small when we first see them (approx. 8′ x 6′)
To meet modern standards for a master bath, we need to increase their footprint to 8′ x 12′ or more, so we are moving walls and plumbing after we remove the concrete, plaster walls and ceilings.
These rooms get all of the bells and whistles. High-end tile, stone counters, his and hers sinks, shower, tubs, steam rooms, jetted tubs, separate toilet rooms, lots of glass.
Average $84,000 and up

Part I In a Series: When Vintage Decor Meets Modern Renovation – and a Giveaway!

If you follow our blog regularly, you may already know that we’re doing a long-awaited renovation of the master bedroom suite at our 1950s Sputnik-era split-level rancher in Flourtown. Happily, the construction phase is over, and we’re now on to the finishing touches and decorating stage. This is when we get to install all of the shiny and pretty bits. Shopping for just the right decor is, for me, one of the most fun parts of the project. Because I love old, quality crafted furniture, I really enjoy the process of combing the local antique and high-end consignment shops to find pieces that will not only fit the space properly, but also tell the right story about our home.

Read more

Taking the Pain Out of Home Improvement

Embarking on a big home-improvement project can be daunting, especially if you’ve never done one before. The key to reducing the “pain” associated with major renovations is to get prepared and find a professional who will work with you to design and manage the project to your budget, tastes and desired time frame. Here’s how.

  • Establish a Circle of Trust – It’s common to have lots of questions going into your project: Can I afford the results I want? Am I getting appropriate prices and good value? Am I over- or under-investing in my home? When you find a contractor who will walk you through the process and explain your choices along the way, you will feel much more comfortable. Find an experienced professional whose communication style matches yours and who will listen to what you have to say.
  • Talk Amongst Yourselves – Couples undergoing a home renovation will often encounter some communication or relationship challenges during the planning or construction phase of their project. If possible, try to anticipate issues and discuss them before meeting with a contractor.
  • Read more

Holidays, Home Construction and False Alarms

Image: www.flickr.com/photos/redvers/ CC-BY
At our home, we are renovating the master bedroom bathroom suite.

Demolition and roughing in were completed on Friday, just before the long July 4th weekend. My weekend project task was to varnish the new, solid-core birch doors. I’d prepped for the final coating to be applied on Monday morning, so they would be dry for work to resume on Tuesday.

We’re not sure whether is was the CO from left over varnish fumes, in combination with lighting the cooktop to make morning coffee, or a puff of dust that may have blown over the CO sensor, but something triggered our smoke/CO detector alarm. This is a very exciting thing to happen at 7 AM on a vacation day morning when you are relaxing in bed with your coffee!

We deactivated the alarm after it went off, but we missed the incoming phone call from the alarm service. So our local police and fire departments visited us about 5 minutes later. We felt pretty embarrassed at having inconvenienced these guys on their holiday morning, and we’re pretty sure we woke up a few neighbors, too.

Word to the wise: Home alarm systems can be triggered by dust and CO. Your system’s wires can also accidentally be cut during construction. Always let your security service know when construction is underway at your home, and be sure to give your construction pros a code and password in case the service calls, and a telephone number for them to contact if a false alarm occurs.

I hope your holiday weekend was less eventful than mine….