Myers Constructs Q&A: Planning the Perfect Custom Bathroom

planning a custom powder room storage cabinetThis week, Tamara offers her thoughts on planning a bathroom renovation that fits the very personalized needs of every home.

Q: What are the most important considerations for homeowners planning a custom bathroom renovation?

A: “Bathrooms are one of the most personal spaces in any home, and they should be designed as such. Starting at our first meeting, we work with clients to get an understanding of what the visual and aesthetic goals are for the project. We often say that we like to create a blend of what the house says, our clients’ personal taste — which may differ from the style of the house — and our team’s experience and resources.”

“A house typically already speaks a particular design language, and we need to have a conversation about whether to keep the same palette or introduce a new style. Sometimes, if the home is newer, it may have many off-the-shelf treatments, such as builder-grade moldings, so one of the project goals will be to establish a new style of molding treatments that will elevate the home and support the new vision. If the home is historic, it may have had some renovations that ignored the history so perhaps we need to bring back some more historically appropriate treatments. And sometimes our clients have personal tastes that are different than the original house aesthetic and are looking to perhaps blend both old and new. In this case, this needs to be done skillfully from concept and planning through product selection and execution.”

“Spending time understanding the visual goals up front informs some of the more functional decisions. It’s one of the great advantages of working with our team: We are looking at the whole picture throughout the entire process.”

“When considering possible layouts to determine the best solution, we learn about the people who will use it most. That might include your children, older parents, or houseguests. While locating basic fixtures like a shower, tub, toilet, and vanity and choosing fixtures and finishes, we delve deeply into how the space will be used. We ask important questions like:

  • How many people will use this room, and what are their ages?
  • Do any of them have special physical needs that should be addressed?
  • Does the room offer ample overall square footage?
  • Is there currently a place for storing towels and larger toiletry supplies, will they be located in an adjacent room, or can we split the difference? The storage needs will affect the aesthetic direction and vice versa.
  • Is a custom vanity the right solution, or will a free-standing pedestal sink better serve the overall project goal?
  • Do you need a bath tub or just a shower?
  • Do you need one or two sinks?
  • Do you have any water usage concerns?
  • Is there anything about the current space that makes it awkward or uncomfortable to use? Does it offer enough privacy?
  • Where will you place your clothes and hang your towel while bathing?
  • Do you need more electrical outlets?
  • Where will the electric toothbrush and other countertop items live?
  • Do you need a pull-out drawer inside the cabinet that allows a hairdryer and other electric appliances to stay plugged in, easily accessible, and neatly stored without fussing with the cords?
  • What other types of custom cabinetry are required?”

“With these answers in hand, we can get to work creating timeless and unique spaces for each client that help make everyday living easier and much more enjoyable.”

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

Q and A: Checking in With Myers Constructs

As the busy fall home-renovation season kicks off, Myers Constructs co-owner Diane Menke sits down for a chat about breaking traditional design build paradigms, finding paths for growth in a difficult economy, and the surprising places where her team finds design inspiration.

Q: Tell us about your design to build philosophy.

DM: Generally speaking, design build is a model in which the design and construction phases of a renovation project are done in a streamlined fashion — often by having design and construction professionals team up in order to save time and money. Our approach is a different take on this concept. We do both design and construction in house, using a very tight system of steps we have developed over the years. We call it Design to Build™ because we only design projects to build them. We don’t spend a client’s financial resources on exploration of ideas that won’t be built. Our system uses proprietary designing and budgeting tools to ensure the design and construction phases of a project are developed with efficient precision, as well as with great style.

My business partner, Tamara Myers, and I developed this approach after dozens of frustrated homeowners started calling on us with their architect- and designer-driven designs that they couldn’t afford to buid. We both come from backgrounds in fine arts and crafts. While studying for our respective BFA degrees, we were expected to explore and understand departments outside of our major. This philosophy mirrored Germany’s Bauhaus Movement, in which artists were expected to understand all of the arts — craft media, 3D, 2D, color theory, architecture — because they are so interrelated. In addition, we were taught the history of these various media. That exploration helped explain world history, and how various media and styles of architecture, literature, music or crafts arrived in places around the world. If I had to use one phrase to describe this kind of education, it would be “stay curious.” This is how we approach the many disciplines of home renovation at our company. And it’s this curiosity that made it possible to develop a logical system to address the design and construction needs of the homeowners, but keep control of the budgets for them.

Q: What motivated you to break the traditional design build mold?

DM: We really wanted to form a strong, lasting business to take care of customers and employees really well, long term.

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Finding the Magic in Your Home

We often talk to new clients who come to the table with ideas about all kinds of “stuff” they want to buy and install in their homes. While this is a perfectly natural place for most people to start their renovation process, our job is to get them to back up a little and talk to us about their lives. What we really want to know is how they want to live, and how their home fits into that picture. Many times, we have to ask them to stretch a little, imagine a little magic in their everyday lives … and explain what that magic would be.

Typical questions we ask in the initial consultation include:

What works and doesn’t work in your home?

What do you love and what do you hate in your home?

When you travel or visit the homes of friends and family, what do you enjoy about those places?

What kind of experience do you want to have when you come home? What does it feel like?

What do you do for fun and relaxation?

How long has the issue you called us about been a problem for you?

If you closed your eyes and imagined your perfect home, what would that look and feel like?

How do you want your rooms to function? For example, in your kitchen, you cook, eat and store goods … but what kind of cooking do you do? What kind of foods and goods do you store, and in what quantity? Do you have religious or cultural guidelines you must follow in your kitchen? Is wine or beer a feature of your enjoyment of food?

Bathrooms, too, leave a lot of room for magic, if you open up your imagination. A bathroom can be a bare-bones space for performing necessary functions like cleaning your body … or it can be a pleasurable oasis consisting of luxurious materials and textures.

So we infuse some of this type of magic into all of our clients’ projects. And this is so much more important than merely selling them “stuff.”

Luxe Details Make Even a Small Project Sing

This small master bath renovation that we’ve been working on is coming to a close, and the final “shiny bits ” are now going in.

Along with the sleek chrome lighting and plumbing fixtures, we selected two small custom granite pieces for the shower bench and the doorway threshold. We selected Absolute Black granite in 1.25-inch thickness with an “eased edge” to complement the minimal modern bathroom we designed for this 1957 split-level home.

The wall tile is a 12×24″ porcelain that looks like travertine, and the floor tile is a 6×12″ porcelain that looks like black slate. We think the granite is a nice, crisp addition to the scheme, and, while it is a very deep black, you can see from the lefthand photo how its crystals sparkle.

Tell us what you think.

Late Summer Trip to the Stone Yard

Last week, I made a trip to the stone yard to pick up a couple of small, deluxe custom pieces for a bathroom we’re remodeling. One was a bathroom threshold and the other was a shower bench, both in 1.25 inch Absolute Black! Items like these make a finished tiled bathroom sing!

Here are some snapshots from my trip. Things were very quiet the Monday morning I was there. The fabrication room was slow with summer vacation season — so slow, in fact, that the floors were dry. You might not know that all of this stone work is done with diamond-coated tools, which require running water to keep them cool. During busier times, these rooms are typically very noisy and very wet.

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Fit and Finish

Being in the design to build business, I have a keen eye for when construction or design is not done “right.” This means that I catch a lot of details that most homeowners don’t. For example, I can see when a run of cabinets is out of level or square by even a small fraction of an inch. It’s also very clear to me when sections of wall are not square.

To illustrate, I’ll share an example here of what I call “Fit and Finish.”

Today, I visited a home that is less than 10 years old and located in a fairly pricey neighborhood. The people who live in this home have great style and taste, and they keep their home spotlessly clean. I love that. But I get so mad when I see how this newer home, like many others in its age range, are detailed. Disclaimer: I have every sympathy with an older home that shows bumps and rolls because of its age, but I have none for a new home that shows poor workmanship. There’s just no excuse for it. And if the walls aren’t square or the cabinets not straight, what about the other non-glamorous stuff in the building, like the roof or insulation? How good will they be? How long will this home and its components last? How will they perform?

If stock kitchen cabinets will be used in a newer home like this, the walls that contain these cabinet runs must be built plumb, level and square. The cabinet runs and rough ins must also be centered and allow for use of spacers at each end so the result will be “fitted.” In the case of this house, not enough room was provided for the cabinet run during the framing layout and plumbing and electrical rough ins. The result was that cabinet spacers were not used properly, so cabinet doors and drawers were not given adequate space to function properly.

In this kitchen, the very top of the line fridge was also supposed to be “fitted” into a small enclosure. But because the framing here was not properly done, the fridge and complementary cabinetry did not fit properly and were not symetrical when they should have been. So this very expensive fridge was not level and stood out to my eye.

Most people know that when you buy an article of clothing off the rack, you will probably have to take it to the tailor to have it fitted to your shape. A great tailor can make even an inexpensive article of clothing look great.

It’s the same with housing components like cabinets and appliances. It’s the job of the designer and carpenters to make sure these stock items fit a home properly. If they don’t, it’s a lot like bad tailoring.

Curating: New Look, Old Feel

Sometimes, we get called in to design a job in an older home with particular style design features that have worked for decades and still look great, but are just worn out. That was the case on this Mount Airy project, where we were asked to provide tune-ups for three 90-year-old bathrooms.

Where another contractor may have come in with something off the shelf from a home center, we scoured our sources for fixtures that would look like the original 1920s items did back when they were new. Of course, we had to gut the rooms and replace all of the old wiring and plumbing, insulate and level the floors, retile, and repaint to make it look like it was always there.

Some of the details in this bathroom were to find a modern replacement for the original, sleek porcelain 1920s bathtub, new replacement subway tile, new 1-inch hex tile on the floors, and new modern-function traditional-looking chrome fixtures. This house is craftsman in flavor, so we selected accordingly. We even found new ceiling lighting fixtures to use with the customer’s beautiful original glass globes.

When It Comes to Older Homes, Small Is Not the New Big

In the world of new construction, the mantra is “small is the new big.” This means that people who are building new homes appear to be tired of — or can simply no longer afford — the ostentatious 5,000+ square foot McMansions that were so popular during the last decade. In our business, however, where we work on older homes in and around metro Philadelphia, the opposite is true. We get a lot of calls from folks requesting additions for their homes. They simply want and need more space.

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Make it Boaty!

In our work, just as in many other professions, tidiness is important.

Recently, I attended a wooden boat show in Clayton, NY, home of the amazing Antique Boat Museum. Clayton, a pretty old town with lots of cafes and shops, sits on the St. Lawrence River, close to Lake Ontario and Canada. It is a tidy place. Things are well kept and well built, and efficient use is made of space there. I use a catch phrase for these qualities. When I want our designers to find space for storage or for the field crews to make things tidy, I say, “Make it boaty!”

You can see from these images that, on a boat, you must use space very efficiently and make sure that things get put away. Loose items can break or injure people when the boat rocks. In emergencies, items left lying around can cause serious problems.

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