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Current Projects and Advice

Planning Ahead Ideas

As I have said before, this is the best time to be planning, so you can hit the ground running when the weather breaks. So, while you are planning or dreaming, consider the following ideas. They apply to both renovations and new construction.

• A welcoming and functional entry is important. Don’t just pour visitors into the living room; give them some sort of arrival. It also helps with departures, giving you a step between an activity and leaving, to say goodbyes, get the coat, and remember what you brought…
• Consider fewer walls and less compartmentalization: For instance, develop a great room and eliminate the formal living room and dining room spaces, or in renovations, open up between the two. A word of caution: This suggestion is aimed at increasing the usefulness of the spaces you have. Sometimes, being too open can result in losing privacy, or not being able to “get away”.
• Try to include a “respite” space, or what architect/author Susan Susanka calls an “away space”—a room outside of the great room that allows for alone time. This could be a family room where the kids can go if the living room is being used, or a private space to get away to;
• Create flex rooms that are multifunctional and can be used in different ways such as an office or as a den—depending on styling and furniture.
• Be careful about wasting too much space for circulation.
• Don’t sacrifice warmth-inducing touches, such as built-ins and fireplaces. Think about special details like a window seat or special windows to add natural lighting and create the illusion of space.
• Consider visually interesting ceiling treatments—beams, coffers, lighting or just a paint color other than white;
• Look for storage opportunities using wasted space, such as under the stairs, for storage. Try extending kitchen cabinets to the ceiling, with smaller units at the top for rarely used items.
• Don’t neglect outdoor areas, from the porch to the patio. Look at those spaces as a way to expand the living area. Many older homes have poor connections to wonderful back yards.
• Rather than a passé U-shaped kitchen, remove cabinets from one side and add a center island, which can create a gathering place in the kitchen, while keeping visitors out of the cook’s way, or allow them to help in preparations.
• Use color: White walls don’t inspire and make small spaces feel dull.
• Above all, don’t be boring or cookie cutter. There is always room for amenities and luxurious touches. Just design them in carefully.

Reasonableness, Restraint and Value

Architects frequently get accused of pushing for design uniqueness at the expense of reasonableness or cost control. While I am certain that happens, I would justify it, sometimes, as seeing opportunities and benefits that are worth the additional costs. Some energy efficiency details, or special windows or doors, taking advantage of a great view or some built-ins are like that. Doing a 2-story stone-faced fireplace in a budget family room is not.

I prefer to look at my designs as if I had to pay for them and live in them, and ask, is the value there? And conversely, is it not there? Meaning, you are spending all this money for fees and construction, it had better be special in some way!

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Fixer Uppers, Renovations and Old Houses

I read an article in the Inquirer a while back about fixer-uppers being where you will find value in this market. Nowadays this can include the unfortunate fallout from the economic meltdown: failed flips, foreclosures and short sales, and homes long on the market.

A couple of points rang very true. First off, we should realize that in this mature area, we are more likely to be in an older home than new, but the points should be considered if shopping for a new home or considering renovations.

First, you can often buy "more home" since it should be priced to sell for less than a corresponding new or freshly renovated house, and can put your personal stamp on it more easily. Actually, you will probably have to put your own stamp on it, since there is always work to be done! This may not be by a pro, depending on how handy you are.

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New Year's Resolutions and Accessibility

Happy New Year! Let's hope this is a better one, which signs seem to indicate it will be.

One of my resolutions is to pay more attention to accessibility. I ended up getting glasses when the ADA came out, trying to read all the fine print, but as is often the case, it remained a technical abstract, radii and reaches to be complied with, but not fully understood.

Until my back went out. I had hurt my back before, but this time it siezed up totally, then progressed into severe sciatica. I could barely walk, sit, or get back up and getting into or out of a car was torture. I was becoming the poster child for wizened. One day I stood up and it had all re-centered, and I am back to regular mobility, but more careful now.

This wake-up call has led to a greater understanding and compassion for folks who have to live with physical conditions, permanantly or not, since some day we will all need help. Provisions have to be built in at the start of a project to allow adaptation as time goes on, especially if you see yourself aging in place or having older relatives live with you. These could be as simple as putting plywoood blocking behind the walls in the shower or next to the toilet for grab bars and wider space to allow for the bars, wider doorways for future wheelchair or walkers, watching out for thresholds, lower thermostats or switches, or more in-depth such as adaptable counters and cabinets, sloped walkways, direct access from a garage, or a wider stair to allow for a mechanized climber.

Some provisions are general and can be simply built in without fanfare. Others are specific and need to be discussed early in the project. Whatever your needs, give it a lot of thought before you design and build, and let us help you make your castle work right for you.

That Time of the Year

It is that time of the year again! Family, deadlines, anticipation, what to get Uncle Bob, when do we travel, remember family and friends we haven't seen for a while, and eating too much. I prefer to think it is bioligical, the urge to put on a few pounds to keep the cold out. Yeah, sure. It is really the 3 cups of sugar in the Amish Friendship Bread we just made....

No time to think about a project! Well, I had a great client last year who wanted to surprise his wife with the schematic plans for an addition they had been talking about for a while. It was a great idea, except that how do you explain spending that money, and what about her ideas in the mix? So, it became a greater idea, an inclusive design process that lead to a pretty neat design and a fun holiday experience they could share with family and friends. While the economy (ugh!) put it on hold, with any luck it can take off this spring

Which reminds me, a hint as you look ahead (see also item 1 above):

Hint: Improper planning. The finished project will only be as good as the design and plan. Without proper planning, unexpected problems could cause additional costs. Black Dog Note: This means planning from the start, before anything is built, not starting a project and then trying to figure it out along the way. There are too many variables involved to just “wing it.”

Have a Merry Christmas season and hope to hear from you next year!

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