Project Slideshow: Center City Kitchen Upgrade

With their five children grown and leaving the nest, our clients in this Center City rowhome are preparing for the next stage of their lives — and those plans include a brand new kitchen to replace the 30-year-old builder grade space they had been using. The clients wanted newer, more savvy appliances and fixtures, as well as a room that would accommodate their changing lifestyle, which includes entertaining their grown children and extended families. Even though the footprint of the kitchen was on the smaller side, they needed to max out its performance!

After removing everything from the old kitchen, we ran all new wiring and vented the oven hood exhaust to the outside (something the original builder had failed to do). We then installed Euro-styled flat-panel cabinets in a dark wood stain, along with new Bosch appliances that the homeowners had selected. We replaced the old kitchen floor with a comfortable cork product and added a wine and book storage area next to the kitchen in the dining area. Glass backsplash tile edged with chrome and polished chrome hardware on the cabinets provided a little “bling” for the finished space.

Updated Project Slideshow: East Falls Kitchen Renovation

This home is a lovely, large 1920s stone single in East Falls. The homeowners, who are now “empty nesters,” asked us to renovate their large kitchen, laundry and breakfast areas at the rear of the house. They felt that these rooms, last remodeled in the late 1970s, were very cold and poorly designed and fitted. In talking to the clients, we learned that they planned to live in this home for many more years before considering selling. We also discovered that they often entertain their children and grandchildren, so it was important to have room for everyone, even though moving walls would not be possible. The couple wanted traditionally styled, long-lasting, high quality materials in their new spaces.

Our designers’ first step was reorganizing the layout inside the existing walls for maximum comfort and use and reconfiguring the spaces for better circulation. They selected cabinetry that better fit the minimal, but large-scale features in the home, which still contains many of the original modest Quaker-inspired trims and details.

We next installed hard-wearing Marmoleum tile with under-floor heating to warm up the spaces, as well as high-end Thermador appliances, and added lovely finishing touches like shiny silver pendant lighting and subway-style backsplash tiles.

View slide show here.

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.

When It Comes to Home Renovation, the Band-Aid Approach Just Won’t Do

When working on old houses, problems invariably arise. More often than not, they involve compromised systems in the home.

Recently, for example, we worked on a very nice mid-century house, where we gutted and replaced the old kitchen. In the process of that project, some of the home’s systems came up for special scrutiny. Structural problems were found in the roof rafters over the kitchen. They were all cut by the builder 4 feet too short to reach out over the kitchen bump out, where the sink was located. The builder tied on to the rafters a few 4-foot lengths of 2×4, to extend the roof there. That resulted in the bump out dropping over an inch. While we had the ceiling open, it was a fairly easy fix for us to create properly sized rafter tail extensions and jack up the droopy bump out.

All of the water pipes in the house were crossed by the previous homeowner for some reason, and run in the unheated attic. The clients said they had never had frozen pipes, so we didn’t relocate them but did let the clients know that the attic was a weird place to run them. In the process of re-plumbing their new kitchen, and cleaning up the pipes, we could see there and in the basement, we created a pipe bang in one of the bathrooms on the far side of the house, even though we hadn’t done any work in that bathroom. The simple explanation was that our effort to make the plumbing more logical locally resulted in pressure banging elsewhere in the less logical section of the building.

So what to do? The client was not happy with the bang, but she understood it was not a mistake on our part. However, we didn’t want our clients to have to live with the noise, either. So our plumber set to work trying to locate the pressure bang and fix it. We knew it might take a few tries to figure it out, and sure enough it did. It’s complicated, but essentially metal bangs on metal in the shower faucet body when the water elsewhere in the house is shut on or off. So now we know we needed to replace that shower faucet with a new one.

Most contractors would not have plugged away at these problems until they were resolved. They would have completed what was on their task list, collected their check, and gone home. But we hung in there to make things right. Sure, the clients can get frustrated by these kinds of problems. (“Why did THIS have to happen? Why isn’t THIS fixed yet? What did my contractor do to cause THIS?”) But we were lucky to have a client who understood that chronology does not equal causality. She trusted that we were working in her best interest. She asked good questions and listened to what we explained.

This kind of attention and service costs more, but, in the end, which would you rather have: A covered up, droopy kitchen bump out and plumbing bang, or your house fixed properly?

Invest and Enjoy: A New Perspective on Home Ownership

I recently spoke with one of my realtors, Janice Manzi, at Elfant Wissahickon. We were discussing our shared experiences with home renovations, and buying and selling homes.

Janice shared with me that home sellers are often told by their realtors to spend at least 5% of the home’s value on fix-up items in order to attract a buyer in this tough market. She explained: “So they’ll spend 5% to sell the house, but they spent how many years living there suffering with it? Why not invest 10% in improvements, instead, and just enjoy living there?” Or, as the teenaged son of one of her home sellers put it, “I lived with that crappy bathroom for 16 years, and NOW THAT WE’RE MOVING you’re going to fix it!?”

We’re seeing a lot of this in the home-improvement industry. People with home equity are putting some of that money back into their homes so they can enjoy them now, and then selling them more easily when they are ready or when the market is better. The good news is we can help with this process.

Begin by taking an honest look at your home, or ask a trusted friend to help you envision your home from the eyes of a potential home buyer:

What looks outdated?
What is hard to keep clean or keep looking good?
What looks cheap or worn?
What are the annoying daily work arounds that impact your family’s enjoyment of your home?
What deferred maintenance is there?
What are the “should do” items?
What are the “wish list” items?

A few general rules of thumb:
If your home was built in the 1920s or earlier, you probably don’t have enough bathrooms or a large enough family space for modern living.

If your home was built in the 1950s or 1960s, the bathrooms are probably beginning to fail, and the electrical work in those rooms is no longer to code.

It’s rare to see a kitchen older than 20 years that is still looking good. Only higher end cabinet lines and high-quality products and appliances last longer than that.

If a kitchen or bathroom is from the 1980s, it’s usually in bad shape when we see it. That’s because so many really cheap products and services hit the market, and construction became a disposable commodity during that time. (That shortsighted spending keeps us pretty busy!)

We offer an extensive selection of high-quality, long-lasting solutions for your home’s needs. Our projects range from MiniMakeOvers™ to large-scale additions, kitchens, bathrooms, suites and whole-house makeovers. Don’t miss our value-priced Cafe Series™ kitchen and Rejuvenation Series™ bathroom project lines.

A Few Thoughts on Brands and Quality

Over the weekend, I spent some time visiting with friends who had recently moved from Doylestown, Pa., into a newer home just north of Baltimore. Their new abode, which is about 10 years old, features a really deluxe kitchen with a giant copper-cladded hood over a huge island cooking station, among other niceties. There are also beautiful handpainted murals all over the house and a very nice entertainment room in the basement.

My friends love their new place. And they had some valuable feedback for me, as a remodeler.

The old kitchen appliances had all failed and been repaired several times. As a result, these homeowners have no confidence in the brand now. Their new Thermador appliances are bulletproof and work great. I have seen the quality of Thermador Appliances firsthand because we have remodeled many 30-40 year old or older kitchens that contain them — still in great condition. Because of the quality and longevity, I’m always sorry to toss these items when we renovate, so we put them on Craig’s List. You can get a Thermador dishwasher at the same price point as lower-quality models ($950-$1,200 and up for a top-of-the-line model). While that’s still fairly pricey, it’s well worth the investment.

Cheap microwaves wear out, and their sizes and proportions change with time. So don’t custom fit a cheap microwave in such a way that the cabinet can’t be easily reconfigured to accommodate a new microwave when it’s installed. FYI, a more expensive microwave, such as a Viking, will prescribe a trim kit to make your installation look great. Use it.

TVs and how we watch visual entertainment is changing fast. My friends’ new flat screen TV is sitting inside a cabinet that was custom built for a large projection TV. I showed them how the good quality cabinet’s components might be tweaked by a good carpenter to accommodate his more modern TV system.

Trash compactors invariably break and then become expensive garbage cans. I don’t know anyone whose trash compactor has not failed.

Top quality, hard-wearing materials — like stone for counters, tile for flooring, stainless steel for appliances — last a long time and look great with use. Lower quality “stuff” looks cheap and begins to wear out quickly.

Personal touches are appreciated by home buyers when you are ready to sell. In my friends’ kitchen, a lot of very nice custom copper detailing was used by the previous owner on the giant vent hood and elsewhere in the kitchen. The home’s lovely handpainted murals are treasured by my friends now. In fact, these personal tasteful selections sold my friends on the house. So if you want something custom, personal and smashing in your own kitchen, don’t hold back!

Why Your Roof Leaks

Here is a great simple primer on roofing details that work and those that do not. As it is with many things, the KISS principle is usually best when we are talking roofing.

These are good pointers to know now, as we enter winter with it’s ice dams and curiously uphill flowing melt that lead to leaks.

If your home’s roof has these problematic roof details, understanding their issues means you can keep an eye on them and be prepared with good knowledge for when repairs are needed. They will be needed! Martin’s 10 Rules of Roof Design

Don’t Need a Full Remodel? Consider a MiniMakeOver™

Most people call us for full-service kitchens, bathrooms, whole-house makeovers or additions. But what you may not realize is that we offer another option: the MiniMakeOver™. While these projects vary widely based on individual homeowner needs, they can include the following:

Swapping out dated sinks, countertops, fixtures, toilets and cabinet hardware with new, long-lasting items that won’t look dated in just a few years

Freshening up paint and wallpapers

Installing new, stylish lighting

Installing new flooring, appliances, and the new backsplash tile you always wanted

Refinishing/repainting cabinet doors, and reinstalling them with new handles and knobs

Typically, these projects are appropriate for newer homes (built in the 1980s or later) or in a room in an older home that was renovated to code during the past decade, but is now looking a bit dreary. (Note: It it wasn’t done to code, you have to get into pricey systems corrections.)

Symptoms of a home requiring a MiniMakeOver include dated fixtures and finishes. A dead giveaway is that forest-green-with-cranberry color combo from 1989. Yick!

The result? A nicely tuned kitchen (starting at $8,500*) or bathroom (starting at $5,500*).

*Prices vary by project and home. Please call for details.

Image: peapodsquadmom.

Fireplace Season Begins — Are You Prepared?

Chilly evenings call for cozy fires. It’s just that simple. Is your fireplace in good working order? Do you have a supply of seasoned firewood in place? This is a good time to consider installing a gas or wood-burning insert, as they can help to keep your home toasty and save on other heating costs, as well. Call us for help!