The Road To Renovation Redux

An Open Concept Home

If you spend a little time watching HGTV or reading real estate listings, you’ll hear and see it again. Open concept. Open Concept. OPEN CONCEPT!

So much so that someone told me about a HGTV drinking game where you took a drink every time they mentioned hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite countertops or open concept. While I cannot personally vouch for the effectiveness of this, I would think that’s a pretty easy way to get hammered on a Saturday or Sunday morning. And perhaps not the best way to start the day!

After two weeks of demolition work, James and I had what would have to be the ultimate in open concept (everyone take a drink!).

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What you might call very open concept.

Walking in the front door, we were treated to a view from one side of the house to the other and front to back with only studs in the way. While we were expecting that, in some ways we were unnerved. Until that moment, we weren’t 100% certain what the house was made of (really old 2X4s and some nasty rock wool insulation), or just how well the house was built.

Standing there staring at what would become the “new” space made me think about what architects, interior designers, clients and realtors really mean when we say “open concept,” if for no other reason we’re hearing that more and more. Clients are asking for open concept living, even if that may not suit how they use the house on a daily basis.

How much of this open concept trend is being driven by sources like HGTV? I’m not sure. However, I was having a discussion with a realtor in a networking group and posed the question to him: How much is this being driven by the realtors? Are they perpetuating the trend? Or is this just a reaction to seller/buyer requests? All I got was a sheepish grin, like a little kid caught telling stories.

I wish I had answers to all of this (or that the realtor did). Or to when the trend might come to an end. Maybe I just need to watch a little HGTV.

In the meantime, James and I are eagerly awaiting the day (soon from what I hear) that we’re not looking at just studs and insulation. And the day we may enjoy our “open concept” space.

The Road to Renovation Redux – Part 1

An Architect’s Home

With several clients heading down the road to their own renovation, I thought I’d reach back into my past and re-share my personal experience with renovating a house. My house. Well – mine and James’ house. It’s hard to believe that we finished the work almost four years ago, and that we managed to not bury either of us in the process. HGTV makes the work look pretty easy, but the reality is that every project has its own challenges – from the extent of work being done to normal day to day life that add its own special stress.

Join me as I step back over the next few months and delve back into The Road to Renovation, beginning with this post: An Architect’s Home.

Most professionals will tell you not to do business with friends or family. Things never work out well. So what do you do when it’s both?

After ten years in our home, and a remodel to the front half in 2004, my husband, James, and I decided the time had come to finally change the rest and create a Master Suite we both could enjoy. Our old Master Bath was barely big enough for one with just a shower, toilet, and pedestal sink. And the Master Closet was so small the closet rod supporting James’ clothes collapsed one day under the weight.

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One galley Kitchen. Two people. Two dogs. Christmas cookies everywhere. Not sure how we ever did it.

If we had only stopped there.We started the initial project in January of 2012, and here we are at the end of May 2014 and we’re finally to the point of starting construction. What started as a simple addition to the Master Bedroom to create a true Master Suite morphed into a second floor to house the Master Suite and Office and a reconfiguration to turn the existing Guest Bedroom into a Laundry with Garage access.

News came in early 2013 that James would be working from home full time, so we ditched that idea, went back to our original addition plan, and added an office, guest room, and bath on a second floor.

Dealing with bids, lenders, and appraisers ultimately resulted in a much simpler project, still giving us what we need, but not overdoing it. As an architect, watching clients dream bigger than their budget is not unusual.

Amazing how much you ignore that with your own project when you’re the one telling your spouse “No.”

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We didn’t even get the cool 1950s pink tile with an accent trim. Just blue and brown fish scattered around the tub.

At one point we were even having “the-cobbler’s-children-have-no-shoes” moment, and my “client” was getting fussy about getting drawings done and construction started. In that moment, I thought of just hiring a friend to finish the drawings. However, I knew I’d find the time somewhere between dealing with my own clients and running a practice to “pop out” some drawings.

And it only took two years.

Check back in as we start down the road on our renovation. Please try not to laugh as I get to experience this as both the client and the architect. And learn firsthand if I can do business with friends and family – even when it’s me.

Gym Thoughts

Because this is normal, right?

I made the courageous decision recently to dive off into the world of core exercises as part of my gym routine. Enough time had passed (4 years I think!) that I figured I’d better get on it while I could still stand up on my own.

Now if you’re married to an architect – or know someone who is – you know we don’t see the world quite like most people. I always tell people if you walk into a room and someone’s staring at the ceiling, they’re probably just an architect checking out the lighting. Don’t be alarmed.

Consequently, as I’m laying on the mat at my local Y, staring up at the ceiling, what do you suppose I think about? How many crunches I can do before being carted off in an ambulance? Will anyone notice if I cry a little? I don’t recall my abs hurting like this before. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea?

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My view at the gym. Stunning!

Of course not.

I’m looking up at the ceiling and noticing they’ve used steel roof deck for the exposed ceiling. And now we’re off to the races.

“Did they fill the deck with lightweight concrete?”

“Or is there rigid foam insulation on top?”

“They must have run the electrical for the lighting inside the pans because the light fixtures are attached directly to the ceiling. Who had to lay all of that out? That’s a lot of time on a scissor lift.”

I would love to lie and say none of these thoughts shot through my mind. But I can’t. I’m an architect.

Besides – it’s better than worrying how big a scene I’m likely to create getting off the mat.

Maybe I’ll just lay there a little longer.

Live and Learn

Old dog? New tricks? Maybe.

The first architect I worked for never understood how other architects could refuse to look at new products and new processes for construction. In 30+ years of practice, she always felt there was something new to learn. Architecture is an evolving profession, and why limit oneself to the way work has been done for the last 100 years?

To that end, I’ve just gone through one of those learning experiences and am still processing what to take away.

A contractor contacted me recently to assist with assembling a bid for one of his past clients. While I am quite accustomed to working on bidding from the client/architect side, being the one responsible for finding subcontractors, answering questions, interpreting drawings, etc. really gave me a new perspective.

First and foremost, I had to separate myself as an architect from what I was seeing as I reviewed the drawing set. Flipping through the pages and saying “I wouldn’t have drawn it that way” wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go. However, having an architect’s eye allowed me to ask some questions to help clarify issues before the subs came to me asking what to do and how to bid.

Second, I have a new appreciation for finding the right subcontractors, especially when you’re looking at an aspect you’re not familiar with. In this instance, locating the right company to handle soil retention as the excavator dug down right along the property line was a challenge. Luckily, I was able to get some referrals and then track them down via Google. Which makes me wonder how anyone did this in the “old days.”

Not to mention the frustration of tracking down a particular product from a particular vendor – even with the manufacturer directing you who to call. I have yet to figure out if the companies I contacted are really busy, or if they’re not interested in providing the one door the project needed. Either way, three weeks after finally reaching someone, I still don’t have a number.

Which brings me to the last thing I learned about – allowances. I’m gaining a new appreciation for the word “allowance.” And for contractor’s having to place those in their bids. In the past, I’ve looked at allowances and wondered why that hadn’t been worked out already. The contractor has had plenty of time. The drawings were pretty straightforward. What’s the issue?

However, as I worked through this project, I have been required to list what should be firm bids as allowances. For example, the steel supplier/fabricator provided his best guess as of that day. With new tariffs going into effect, he could not guarantee that steel costs wouldn’t increase, especially by the time he began his work. And I experienced the same with the concrete sub. Dallas is a busy market, and we’ve seen concrete in the past jump 30% within one year.

We’re still rounding up a few estimates, so we can present what is essentially the best guess to the client. So my experience isn’t complete.

But I can recall telling interns that what I was asking them to do was a “learning experience.” Which they often took as code for “you’re going to hate doing this.”

However, after 20 years of practice, I’m having a learning experience. And finding out that’s not such a bad thing.

All in the Details

Or lack thereof

Lately I have found myself grousing to other architects, contractors, my husband – well basically anybody – about how much I am missing drawing details.

Many moons ago, when I was but a wee intern, projects never reached a contractor without the detailing worked out. I can remember one of my first tasks was to pick up redlines on a sheet of door details. Door details? People really need those?

But now? Clients seem more interested in getting the price they want than having completed drawings. Perhaps as we’ve moved away more and more from hand drawings and into computer modeling, people do not feel the need. If you’ve drawn it in 3D, how many details do you really need?

I can recall the contractDOOR DTLSor on the very first project I was a part of commenting that he had not seen a set of drawings with that many details. Just the cabinet detailing alone occupied six or seven sheets. However, I cannot recall the last time I drew a cabinet section for a project.

Not that we need to. Instead of detailed shop drawings coming from the millwork shop, we get whatever elevations and plans the shop’s CNC software produces. And somehow, we’re supposed to review and approve what’s being built based on just that.

Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy. But I did tell one of the contractors I work with that the next set would have everything worked out before he even thought about starting construction. Cabinet section. Door details. Moulding profiles. Everything right there on the sheets for everyone to see.

And hopefully someone will actually look at them.

 

Too Gay?

As if that’s really a possibility

Just looking at the title of the blog, you would know I don’t make a lot of bones about being a gay architect. Especially the gay part. I’m out to clients, contractors, vendors, etc. And no apologies.

However, once in a while I think to myself: “Too gay?”

I had a moment early this morning during a site visit. The weather was a balmy 25 degrees, and in my own defense, I was in a heavy denim coat with a sweater underneath. Clothing I was sure would be warm enough.

Except I was wrong. Because 25 degrees is 25 degrees.

My client shows up dressed much more appropriately, but he likes to be outside and knows what to do for this type of weather. I, on the other hand, consider staying at the Radisson camping.

And then the moment comes when he tells me I really need a hat because you lose most of your heat out of the top of your head.

“I don’t look good in hats.”

Really? That’s my excuse?

Did I just say that out loud?

Could I have sounded any gayer?

Probably not, because he clocked me pretty quick:

“You can fix your hair later.”

And We’re Back!

So much for regularly scheduled programming..

For anyone who has figured out how to blog weekly, much less daily, then kudos to you! And can you tell me how to do it?

For the past few months I’ve been telling myself I needed to write a post. Write a post. WRITE A POST!

But that didn’t really work. With all the other normal architect things happening (construction , documents for another client, and trying to work out an addition on a site with an angled property line) I found myself pushing off any writing. Besides, I was frantically prepping to speak in Virginia. Wasn’t that enough writing?

Which means here we are in December with me finally taking a breath to think about what to write. And what not to write. I even had an incident the week of Thanksgiving that I thought would make a great post.

So I would say hang on to your hats, but I don’t know many people who wear hats anymore. Hang on to your man-bun perhaps?

The Big Gay Architect is off to the races. And this time he’ll try not to wait so long between posts!