Missing Island

My kitchen island has gone missing.

Not like actual missing. James and I aren’t frantically putting a picture of it on milk cartons.

However, on any given day, just finding the top of the island can be a bit challenging.

When we were designing our Kitchen, we were very conscious about not just wanting an island but really needing an island. After 10 years with a galley kitchen with minimal counter space, we were looking forward to being able to cook at the same time without stepping all over each other. And, of course, to having room to spread out when Christmas came around and we went into our annual cookie-making frenzy.

But for me, Christmas doesn’t really count when it comes to just locating the island countertop. Or when company is coming and the only thing sitting there is a bowl of fruit. (Who are we fooling?)

Most days you’re likely to find a small stack of magazines. Some mail. Maybe a vegetable or two still in the bag. And multiple candles for some reason. And I shouldn’t be too surprised that the island has become the catchall. Everything used to wind up on the dining room table.

We do have a couple of placemats at the end of the island where the barstools are. Because like all my clients, we’re going to sit there and eat. Except I can’t say we ever have. I’ve used the island for work. It’s a perfect place for rolling out drawings. Or to wrap presents. You know. All the things an island is intended for.

On second thought, maybe I do need a milk carton.

 

Creatures of Habit

Larry takes a visit down memory lane and explores the reality of what happens when you grow up – and what happens when the things around you grow up also.

Friends know that if you want to find James and I in New Orleans, you look in Café Lafitte in Exile. Prior to taking up residency there, you could find us at Bourbon Pub. (But alas, that ship sailed.)

And the same holds true for when we’re in Key West. We are creatures of habit. So much, that even at different bars, you’ll find us in similar locations.

On a corner of the bar. Usually with the same bartender. And with a good view of a go-go boy or two.

Looking back, I hadn’t really thought about where we were going when we went out in Dallas. All we knew was that we didn’t want to spend the weekend in our apartment in Addison. Consequently, every Friday and Saturday, if you wanted to find us, you only had to go as far as the old Village Station (now S4 – don’t get me started).

We learned quickly that we didn’t need to stand in line waiting to get in for free. That $6 was well worth coming early and enjoying our drinks. And guess where? On the corner of the front bar, with Bruce the Bartender, and a good view of the dance floor.

But buying a home does something to you. You trade the bar corner for the living room couch. And not with a good view of a go-go boy, but with a great view of the TV. And the cover charge and cocktail money is suddenly going towards new furniture.

And like creatures of habit, that’s where we’ve pretty much stayed.

So I was a little hesitant – okay, a lot – when a friend suggested I go by and check out the “new” TMC (The Mining Company) located here in Dallas. TMC is one of four bars owned by Caven Enterprises and has recently become the established anchor of the gayborhood.

First, I had no idea that there was anything new about TMC – which has been around long before I started going out. Plus, I still have some fond memories of the old one-story TMC behind JR’s and some bitter ones of when they turned it into the two-story monstrosity that eventually became Sue Ellen’s.

However, when we walked in, TMC felt like a bar again. Pretty straightforward. And pretty crowded. More so than I had seen in a long time. Or perhaps it’s just been a while since we’ve been in. The redesign of the main bar embodied the aesthetic of the gay bars of the modern era – lots of lights, illusions and shiny objects to keep you happy dancing well into the night.

But like a creature of habit, I found the corner – the one with a view of the dance floor, a view of the go-go boys, and over time, a bartender to call my own.

Now if we can just get out of the house, you’ll know where to find us.

Really Unreal

Wouldn’t it be nice though to open a copy of Architectural Record and see a home photographed the way the owners really use it?

Turn on HGTV’s Property Brothers with an architect in the room, and you’ll hear: “Seven weeks my ass.” (Just ask my husband.) Because we know full well that renovation isn’t taking seven weeks. Seventeen maybe, but not seven.

But that’s the fun for architects – rolling our eyes at these programs (while still watching) and complaining about how difficult they make our jobs. And then sharing stories about how unreality TV has really screwed up our clients’ expectations.

But have you picked up a copy of Architectural Record, Architect, or Architectural Digest? Because HGTV isn’t the only one painting pretty pictures or setting unrealistic expectations.

I love picking up an architecture magazine, looking at the photos, and being wowed at the imagery. And there isn’t a building that’s not beautifully shot. Whether a high rise or a house, architects make sure their work is presented in the best possible light.

My favorites, however, are the celebrity spreads in places like Architectural Digest. Take Ricky Martin’s house in the February 2018 issue for example. Nice spread on his family’s home. Everything is perfect. Pillows in their places. Coffee table books expertly arranged. Bouquets of flowers.

Incredibly beautiful.

Incredibly unreal.

Because you can’t help noticing his two sons included in the family photos. And if you can’t remember how you were at 6 or 7, ask mom or dad. I don’t know if I can recall a time when our house was that put together. Or if it was, not for long. I can’t count the times my mother cussed because she had stepped on an errant Lego. By all accounts, Ricky’s house should have had toys scattered across the living room. Maybe an odd pair of underwear on the floor. Even the boys’ room in this shoot was flawless.

But as architects, we set that expectation and that unrealistic image. I can recall looking at proofs for a high-rise apartment project and being amazed at the awesome sunset outside the client’s 6th floor living room. Especially given that there’s really a multi-rise office building next door – close enough to wave at whoever’s working that day.

Wouldn’t it be nice though to open a copy of Architectural Record and see a home photographed the way the owners really use it? Dishes in the sink from the night before. Shoes taken off and left in the front hall. Maybe a muddy dog sprawled across the couch pillows.

Or better yet, open Architectural Digest and see a real celebrity spread? Maybe Mariah Carey’s bedroom with an unmade bed, pillows scattered, a TV remote next to a half-empty cocktail glass on the side table, and the remnants of some late-night Cheetos?

We had a client whose home would have been a perfect fit for Architectural Record. And the first time I walked through was just jaw-dropping. Incredible design. Uber-contemporary. The multi-floor plan that took complete advantage of the sloping site.

And not a thing out of place. As if someone came in to shoot the house for a magazine and just left the rooms that way. Absolutely unreal.

Until we went up to the wife’s private office. Then you realized just where all the clutter was in the house. But no one was ever going to see that room.

Perhaps that’s the reality at the Martins’. Beautifully shot, except you’ll never see the day before when everything was shoved into closets and under beds.

Except that’s what clients need to see – the reality behind the glam.

The really unreal.

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Anyone want a cookie?

I would like to say we wanted more space just because we like to cook. However, based on how the island looks when we get ready to box up everything, I really think we both had Christmas in mind.

December for most people means time for the holidays. Parties. Shopping. Decorating. Seeing family if you’re into that sort of thing.

But if you’re a member of our family, or a close friend, December means something different.

Cookies. Lots and lots of cookies.

I’m not sure when or how the tradition was started, but this time every year James and I are diving off into cookie-making. Last year we started mid-November (thank you Mr. Freezer!) but usually right after Thanksgiving we’re pulling together the list for the year.

And by list, I mean LIST. Most years we have around 30-odd recipes, most being made in double batches. Old favorites. New recipes. Repeats from the previous year and requests from individuals. There’s always sugar cookies for my sister. Fudge for my step-mom. And cake balls for my niece.

This year of course is no different. And like every year, I’m amazed when James comes home from the grocery store toting in supplies. I’m secretly terrified about the amount of butter and sugar we go through.

What’s more amazing, though, is that we used to do this in an 8-foot-long galley kitchen. I’m not sure how we fit everything into the space. Or how we did the measuring, pouring, mixing, and baking without killing one another. But somehow, we managed to turn out a ton of cookies.

Which made a larger kitchen and a large island all that more important when we did the renovation. I would like to say we wanted more space just because we like to cook. However, based on how the island looks when we get ready to box up everything, I really think we both had Christmas in mind.

And what better way to use an island?

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The Road to Renovation Redux

Ho, Ho, Oh No!

One of our biggest achievements in the time spent working on our renovation is utilizing the space we have to meet our needs.  That meant we were able to get both the kitchen and the bathroom that we had been wanting for a long time without going overboard and adding a lot of square footage.  We simply had to look at how we could turn existing space into usable space.

Turning existing space into usable space

A great example of that is the front room of the house.  From the time we moved in, the front room always had minimal furniture.  A couple of chairs.  A small electric piano.  A rug.  However, following the renovation, that room now functions as our dining room.  And as we unpacked and rearranged furniture, we were able to make the space still fit what we had and adapt that room for dining.

Except we forgot one thing:

But where does the Christmas tree go?

Where does the Christmas tree go?

For 12 years, the front room of the house was the designated spot for the Christmas tree.  And since the ceiling was sloped, and we didn’t have a lot of furniture to shift around, we had the option of getting any size tree we wanted.  Consequently, three years ago we allowed my 5 foot tall sister to talk us into getting a 9 foot tree to match hers.  (We have to get a step ladder to get to the top.  I’m picturing my brother-in-law having to hoist my sister to the top of theirs with a crane!)

As we started talking as we pulled out the boxes and bins this year, though, we realized we hadn’t thought through where exactly this monstrosity was to go.  We felt we had prepared pretty well overall.  Moving back in we knew where the office furniture was going.  Who got which side of the master closet?  Which wall the guest bed was going on?  But we hadn’t given much thought about how to handle holidays and the extras that invariably go along with them.

So we stood there over the weekend, looking at the combined living and dining rooms – looking at the sofa, loveseat, chair, ottoman, dining room table, side table, leather bench, side chair, and an electric piano – and wondering where exactly Christmas was going to happen.

Working it out

Do we forego the big tree for the little tree purchased last year?  Do we move the dining table and just eat dinner at the kitchen island for the month of December?  Do we skip decorating altogether this year and continue to let ourselves settle into the space?

IMG_1989Surprisingly, we were able to move only two pieces and find a location for the tree.  Of course, we may change that next year.  After all, we really are adapting to new spaces.  We may find ourselves bumping into the tree as we walk past and decide we need a place more out of the way.  Or discover that the dogs really love curling up under it at night.

All’s well that ends well

But for now, and for not having planned, our first Christmas and our tree in the “new” home are working out well, as and where they are!

The Road to Renovation Redux

And We’re Done…Sort Of

We’ve reached the end of the road.

No, we haven’t lost our minds.  Or run out of money.  Or decided we want to spend the rest of our days drunk in a bar in New Orleans.  (Although that’s a thought!)

I mean we’ve finished construction.

Sort of.

Final punch list made

James and I were able to move back into the house on November 10th.  (And 11th.  And 12th.)  However, before we got too settled, we (me) walked through with our contractor, Stephan Sardone, and made our final punch list – the final little tweaks to six months of construction that will mean construction is officially done.

Anyone who has done a renovation knows that moving back in doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done.  You just happen to be living in your house again.  As you find yourself using each space, you invariably come across minor items that need to be repaired or replaced.  A faulty plug.  A missing caulk joint.  A loose baseboard. All common items that are easy to manage.

So you’re done.  You’re just not – done.  Because you also have to deal with unpacking.

There is always something more!

I always equate moving to having a U-Haul truck explode inside the house.  Of course, one would think after having moved three times in the last year, I’d be used to the chaos.  What I’ve discovered, though, each time there is still the same…..IMG_1938

James has done a much better job of handling this end of the experience.  By the time we went to bed Monday night, the kitchen had been unpacked, dishes had been washed and almost everything put away.  The scary part – there’s something in every cabinet, and I can’t figure out where each item came from.  I know it was in the old kitchen.  But where?

What is in the POD?

And even scarier (at least for me), – we still have a POD container to unpack.  Couldn’t we just leave that in storage somewhere?  I mean, we’ve done without those things all this time.  Do we really need them? I’m not even sure what is in that POD container anymore!

IMG_1939
Can you believe this was full? Where did it all go?

(Cue eye roll from James.)

Of course, everything will eventually get unpacked (and by eventually, I mean before James’ parents arrive for Thanksgiving).  All of the little tweaks on the punch list will be completed and we can then sit back on the sofa with a glass of wine to enjoy our new space.

At least, until the fence is torn down and the landscaping gets started.

Oh crap! We’re not done, are we?!

Thanks to everyone!

And now, a note: – To everyone who has been following along with my neuroses a very special thanks!  I hope you have derived a “take-away” from our experience.  I know I’ve learned a lot – both as a homeowner/client and as an architect.

A very heartfelt thanks to Stephan Sardone and the crew at Sardone Construction for coming along for the ride and being willing to try some new things.

And finally to my husband James, a huge kiss and hug for not knocking me over the head and stuffing me under the house somewhere!

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The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 9

Still Married

As we’ve been getting closer to the end of our project, James and I have been reviewing everything that’s transpired since last November. We congratulate ourselves for making our way through without ending up in a psych ward or at the Betty Ford Clinic, forced to participate in primal scream therapy with Lindsay Lohan!

I have shared some of those events in previous blogs (James’ temporary assignment to London.  Our hectic travel schedules during construction.)  However, one item has been omitted until now.

In mid-October 2013, we decided after nearly 18 years, to fly off to New York and get married at our friend Will’s on our anniversary date – November 3rdWedding RingsWe certainly didn’t know at the time that we’d be kicking off a year of stress.  A year of moving residences three times, moving offices once, saying farewell to not one but both of our basset hounds, and traveling what felt like the globe.

However, we’ve managed to accomplish one feat above everything else (and no, it’s not staying out of Betty Ford!).  We’ve managed to stay married.

Multiple articles in the LA Times, Huffington Post, and the New York Observer have been written about home remodeling ending in divorce.  And most of us have probably seen The Money Pit (or for the older readers, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House).  However, James and I went into our renovation with what felt like two advantages: 1) 18 years of being together; and 2) Having experienced this before where we actually did some of the work.

Not that the first time was all hugs and kisses.  Anyone who has been through a renovation can tell you how personal the experience and outcome are.  But when you’re swinging the hammer that’s hanging up drywall, you get really invested in the process.  Yet, as much as we both at times wanted to accidentally have a hammer slip, we made our way through and ended up with a Kitchen and Living Room we enjoyed for nearly 10 years.

And we expect to enjoy this renovation just as long if not longer.  We’ll move in the 10th and start settling into the more normal marital stresses – like having James’ parents in from Colorado for Thanksgiving.

Luckily this year we’ll have a proper guest bedroom and bath, and a kitchen big enough for more than two!

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