In the Works: Center City Trinity Gets Underway

img_4446This week, we are in the framing and rough-in phases for our Center City trinity project. Because of this home’s small, tight spaces, we are approaching the renovations a bit differently than we normally do. Typically, we like to fully complete framing before asking our subcontractors to come in to work in a particular order. However, because of the complexity of the spaces being fitted on this project, the carpenter will do some of the framing, then the plumber and electrician must fit some elements, and then the carpenter has to do more framing before the other two come back through to do yet more rough-in work. The same process will go for the HVAC work.

The image shown here illustrates some of the original character-filled waves, sags, and bumps of this historic house. Some of these will remain, while others have to be squared up and made flat, mostly due to the mechanicals and finishes that will be installed later. This customized approach is very unique to how Myers Constructs works, and, in part, it’s what makes our projects look different from the work of other remodelers — and especially different from new construction. Our projects never consist of giant drywall “boxes” inserted into old houses. We always follow the rules of proportion already in place in every old house, and we work to enhance the existing character wherever possible. We believe this approach results in making both impactful design statements and happy homeowners.

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

Personalized Renovation: Your Home Should Tell Your Story

130222_fossils_When we work with homeowners during the design phase of a home improvement project, we ask about them about how they live their lives and how they use their rooms. We inquire about their hobbies and the attributes of a home that are really important to them, and we actively listen to their answers. We do this because we want their homes to tell a special story about their lives, interests, and personalities. We then help them prioritize their product and design decisions based on what they have told us. This is, after all, the project they’ve saved for and dreamed about for years. The right choices to tell a homeowner’s story never lie in builder-grade solutions or cookie-cutter renovations that look just like their neighbors’ homes.

The photo on the left shows a recent kitchen renovation we did for a couple in Center City Philadelphia. In our initial discussions for this project, we learned that the homeowners’ old kitchen was built by a handy non-pro in the 1970s, and it was in very poor shape with some rusty appliances being held together with duct tape. But the couple delayed doing the work until they found someone whom they could trust to listen to their needs.

This three-story, 19th century brick home is located on a small alley-sized street, very typical of old cities on the East Coast. It may have been a tenement or a small factory in its early years. Our assignment was to design a kitchen that fit into the old building without changing its window openings, while incorporating the use of a shared rear patio. We were also asked to add a small powder room off of the kitchen.

Through our talks, we learned that these homeowners entertain large groups of friends, so we knew that the living room, dining room, and kitchen had to flow together smoothly. We also discovered that these homeowners are very active cooks, so their kitchen needed to be more than just a showplace; it had to be an actual workshop for cooking. Their interests also include music, Inuit-carved stone sculptures, and science — so we decided to incorporate some of their beautiful, treasured fossils into the kitchen backsplash. We absolutely love weaving personal objects like these into our renovation projects. Talk about telling a story!

As we considered the options for finishes, we found that the couple’s tastes lean toward combinations of natural materials, like wood floors, slate countertops and floors, limestone, stainless steel, and cherry cabinetry. To complement these choices, we took every opportunity to let light in, with the broadest stroke being a large sliding-glass door leading to their patio and a small seating area situated under a statue of Buddha. The larger, shared patio is found three stairs below this seating area.

Of course, we also incorporated our trademark space-making storage areas, unique lighting solutions, and energy-efficient elements in the form of radiant heat in the new slate floor and foam insulation in the exterior walls.

The homeowners in this project now feel that their space tells the right story about them. This is the kind of design to build™ challenge our designers love.

Saving Old Doors

These doors were first hung on this fine center city row house when Abraham Lincoln was president!

The wonderful old masonry in front has been stuccoed over unfortunately, probably in the 1980’s.

Now the city’s Historic Bureau sees to it that historical details on older homes are preserved. That is why these home owners have hired our company to help repair their masonry, windows and these doors.

Chris has removed this pair of doors to our shop for carpentry repair. In the mean time while they get “some lovin” from Chris, he has installed this pre hung door and plywood wall.

Stay tuned for the big reveal when these fine old doors and the rest of the project are complete, probably by end of June.

Thanks to Elfant Wissahikon Realtors!

Thanks to Elfant Wissahickon Realtors!

We are happy to announce a new website cross-linking relationship with Elfant Wissahickon Realty . You can find us on their site under the tabs “home buying” and “related resources.”

We really appreciate this endorsement from a company we know well and respect.

We have bought and sold many properties with them, and our experience has always been wonderful.

Thanks, again, to Elfant Wissahickon for their endorsement of Myers Constructs.