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Silver Spring, MD 20902
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Current Projects and Advice

Less is More

A recent article in Parade Magazine made me think about just how much is needed when we do an addition or renovation. Their basic point was that the recent recession has made us more conservative financially but more to the point, looking harder at the value of what we do and have. The contrast is easy, of course, and almost cliche'd: pre-recession= big cars, larger homes, pulling money out of thin air via rising housing values. Post-recession= more careful spending (duh!) and looking more at function and rationality.

Looking back at the past couple of years, I have certainly had to do with a lot less. I bring this to the table with projects now, sort of an existential paring knife. Two possible projects make me think of this. One is the expansion of an attic dormer across a ranch house for more useful space. Another time this would have been ripe for a new 2nd floor. This time we realized the existing space is actually really interesting, and the value of the structural machinations, new windows, flooring, systems, etc, for a dormer could be worth it. Still, the big question to be asked, are you staying or not? Sort of like a car. You spend a ridiculous amount of money for something that only wears out. No future value, but considerable present value. In a house, you can get both, but the break-even point should be if you will get to use it, because you won't get your money back as an investment.

The other project is an in-law suite. The folks are helping support one of the mothers-in-law, and realized it would not only save money for her to move in, but would bring her closer to her grand kids, and as a bonus, be a valuable addition to the house, one that any family could use. There is always a yin and yang, of course. The design must give both parties autonomy as well as proximity, but in a healthy household, the value is both present and long-term.

The priorities should be quality of life, I think. That is best helped by good design that may include expensive things, but at a minimum must include opportunities for the special moments in life.

Dogs and Memories

Kemper passed away shortly after that last post. As anyone with an older and loved pet will know, she leaves a big hole in our lives. I think we still expect her to answer the door when we come home, though, sad to say, life goes on and that expectation is slowly diminishing. Which is why memories are so important, and with life to demanding, so dependent on reminders.

We buried her under a dogwood tree in the back yard, which has been steadily receiving all our pets, including the last 3 favorite cats. With a simple flat stone and small garden, it is a place to remember and to be reminded as we go through our day.

We should put places like this in our projects. Trees or special places at the end of a vista or along a path, or niches, shelves or walls kept bare on purpose to receive the pictures of those we love. Great cabinets or terrific storage space or the perfect TV spot is one thing, but we need to remember to remember.

Plan some places, spaces and views into your designs, to remember.

Old Dogs and New Kitchens

My black dog, Kemper, is aging rapidy. Almost 14, best as we can tell from what they told us at the Women's Humane Society when we got her, her hips are giving out, eyes are going, can't (or won't) hear me when I call. We used to go for long walks every night, but she barely makes it around the corner now, and God forbid I try to cross the road with traffic coming!. She is still a sweetheart, but we have do things differently and can't do the grand efforts we once did. We have to rethink what we do with what we have.
Stay with me here, but this brings me to my next point, working with what we have (and of course, accessibility, which I talked about in another post, below).
In this area, most of houses are fairly old, ranging from the building booms in the 30's, post war 40's and the 60's. Many folks contact me for additions, citing unworkable or crowded plans, especially as the kids grow up. The first thing I usually do is to look at what the existing structure and plan will allow and see what is possible in the existing shell.

Basic rule, it is often a heck of a lot cheaper to remodel than to add on with new structure. To that end I share 3 examples.

First, a current project is in a small colonial, typical to this area. Very small. There is a reasonable shed-roofed addition out the back off the kitchen. The clients, a young couple, want to renovate the kitchen from the old dark interior room it is. We went through almost 15 versions, each modifying a previous one. I tried to keep an eat-in area with a table and possibly a large window seat, and we considered breaking out the back for a larger mudroom. We also had to accommodate the greyhounds, of course!

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Porches

As spring finally comes on strong, my thoughts turn to sitting outside, picking up the guitar, popping a brew, waving hi to friends in the neighborhood, in short, sitting on the front porch and relaxing.

Porches have become a threatened species, in part because we have re-oriented towards the back, with decks, patios, pools, etc. But they still can serve us well. For instance, all this isolation is turning the neighborhoods into ghost towns, and making it easier to just sit inside. This hurts the kids most, I think, since getting out into the neighborhood is such a bit deal, instead of just having a porch to play on, or act as neutral ground between the house and the street.

We have an older colonial in a small neighborhood and I love sitting on the porch swing in the summer. I made a new railing with a wide top to allow an easier perch, and judicious plantings give some privacy while still allowing interaction with the neighbors. I also extended it along the house as a pergola, with vines for sun-screen in the summer.

On a current project, we are removing a tiny useless entry stoop and roof and adding a porch. It faces east and as soon as the clients saw the idea they took to it as a place to have coffee in the mornings, work with their lap-tops outside and have a sheltered place to arrive when coming home. And on a recently finished addition to a split level, we added a full porch to give Mom and Dad a place to sit and observe the street while the kids ran around the neighborhood with their friends.

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Some Interior Remodeling Tips

A friend a

nd great interior designer, Lisa Furey, now becoming known as the Barefoot Designer (!) recently sent out some great tips to consider when looking at interior remodeling. Enjoy, and check out her site www.lisafureyinteriors.com, 610.688.4201.

Looking at remodeling?

No one likes to cut a budget, but when it comes to planning a remodeling project, you need to establish a realistic budget...and actively manage it. Believe it or not, there are ways to stretch your budget while still ending up with stylish results.

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