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 – 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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The Road to Renovation Redux

So Close

We are coming “down to the wire,” moving in on November 10th, and I keep thinking to myself: “We’re so close I can taste it.”

Or maybe that’s just the acid reflux from being so stressed.

Having a “client experience”

I have definitely been going through what I would categorize as a client experience with this part of the renovation.  Along with the excitement of finishing our house and being home again has come a surprising amount of stress.  In the last post, I talked about the little things that keep cropping up, and here we are with completion just around the corner and our list seems to be getting longer.

We did have a productive (if not somewhat expensive) couple of weekends crossing some of the things off of our list.  So we’re making progress. Granted, some of what we’re thinking of doesn’t have to be complete for us to move back in.  However, that does not mean they can be left undone.

Stress as a client now colors my perspective 

As an architect, I can’t say I’ve ever been through this with a client.  Certainly not from the client’s side.  Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty to do as the project wraps up, primarily making sure the final construction issues are addressed.  But I’m beginning to think the stress of that as the architect pales in comparison to what the client is going through.  No doubt this will color my perspective moving forward.

Popping in to see the contractor

And I’m pretty certain my contractor Stephan is having this experience too.  Especially when I pop in after having been at the house with items that could be addressed during the final walk through.  Yet why not get them taken care of now?

So if you see me on the street or at the office looking a little frazzled and distant, please don’t be offended.  I’m just a little preoccupied.

And one more day closer to finishing up.

Oh, I can taste it alright.

Does anyone have some Tums?

The Road to Renovation Redux

It’s the Little Things

The countdown has begun! Our house will be completed. Our move-in date will be here before we know it.   And we will celebrate with an open house.  (Our lease will also be up, and we can say goodbye to the professional bowlers upstairs.  At least it sounds like bowling.)

With these realizations, James and I are thinking of more and more items that we still haven’t selected, purchased, or both.  We were so excited to get the decision made about the kitchen granite, we forgot about all of the little things that make a house a home.

And that we still had to select.  And buy.  And agree on.

LIGHTS!

A word of advice if you decide to go shopping for light fixtures: Dress light.  I don’t care if it’s 25 degrees outside and dogs are sticking to the pavement, dress light.  Because at some point you’re going to realize you’re sweating and that fan on the sales representative’s desk is there for a reason.  What is even more frightening is that the fixtures aren’t on full blast or with the brightest bulb.  Yet, you’re still pretty sure you’re getting a flash burn just walking through the showroom.

LIGHTS
There’s just too many to look at.

And don’t let yourself get distracted by the fixtures you are amazed anyone would buy voluntarily.  Just reconcile yourself to the idea that someone had to buy one at some point, because why else would they make that?  Remember you are there for you – and your spouse.  At least in theory.

James had most of our pendants and sconces selected by the time I made it to the showroom.  Not that we still didn’t wander around in awe.  Or look at multiple showrooms.  We tried to be judicious and not jump at the first fixture we saw.  However, when your gut’s telling you that’s the fixture, that’s the fixture.

CABINET PULLS

Ah yes, cabinet pulls.  Nature’s elusive accessory in every possible shape, size, color, and material.  So how am I supposed to select that?  And how many do I need?

I am fairly certain I can say I’m not the only person to wander into a showroom and glaze over trying to select a cabinet pull.  (Is that one shaped like a lizard?  Really?)  By the third showroom the pulls started to look all the same.  And in some cases were.  But how do you select something that’s a) timeless; 2) looks good; and 3) doesn’t bust your budget when you’re buying 30?

We were able to toss out the ones shaped like insects, animals, people, etc., which still left us into the hundreds to look through.  However, we think we’ve settled on a fairly simple bar.  At least, until I talk to my partners and architect friends and family and…

DOORBELLS

Ding dong!  Avon calling!!  Or someone’s calling.

As I sat on the bed the other night making our to-do list, we reached the end convinced that we had thought of everything.  Until James blurted out, “Doorbell!”

Crap.

Have you ever test-driven a door bell?  Wander into a Home Depot or a Lowe’s sometime and check them out.  Surely they weren’t meant to sound like that.  And why are the chime boxes so big?  I’m supposed to put that in the hallway and no one will notice?  Can I disguise it as modern art?

We thought the more practical option would be the doorbell that allowed us a custom setting.  So instead of the “ding dong” chime, we’d be able to set it to announce “We’re not interested.” Or “We gave at the office.” Or on the really rough mornings, a simple “Shove off!”

Then we always have the option of no doorbell, and just resorting to someone knocking and having the dog bark incessantly until we answer the door.

ETC. ETC.

I could keep going, but as I’m writing this, other items are occurring to me. (Mailbox!)  But that’s another topic for another day! Plus that would take time away from hopping in the car, driving in circles, and hoping we find just the right knob/ light/ mailbox/ doorbell/ shelves and all the other “little things” before we move in.

The Road to Renovation Redux

Surprise!

You’ve bought an older home and now you’re ready to renovate. You know who your architect is. You know who your contractor is. You even know what you want to do.

What you don’t know is that underneath the linoleum in the laundry room is 3/4” plywood.

Sitting on top of 2X6 floor joists.

Resting on Astroturf.

Laid over brick pavers.

Sitting on top of the original concrete garage slab.

Surprise!

We always tell a client prior to starting a renovation to expect at least one surprise. No matter how new the house or how many prior renovations, there is always a hidden condition about which no one would have guessed. Sometimes it is good (mahogany paneling behind drywall) and sometimes not so good (“Why yes! Those are active termites in your master closet!”)

James and I didn’t get too far into our renovation before we had our first surprise – the framer looking at the vaulted living room ceiling and telling the contractor, “This will never pass inspection.” Fifty years of wear and tear had left the framing of the ceiling sagging and in some cases broken. While we had thought the framer might be able to patch up what was there, the reality was that the entire ceiling, including the ridge beam, needed to be reframed.

Surprise!

Beam Surprise
Our pretty new ridge beam and roof framing

The second came after the new roof had been put on and we couldn’t help but notice a slight sag over the garage we’d never seen before. Some examination found that during the roof replacement, a knot had popped out of the ridge beam, allowing the beam to flex. Again, a little extra framing and problem solved.

Still, surprise! Or as the contractor would call that – a “change order.”

We’ve actually been very lucky that our home, although 50 years old, was built well. Someone even commented to me that we should have been happy the house had insulation all of those years.

However, we don’t always get to share that experience with clients. Sometimes once the renovation process starts, you find out just how much really needs to be fixed, even when you’ve tried your hardest to discover issues before the first hammer swings.

As for the laundry room example above? Yes, that did happen on a project.

And no, we didn’t leave that as a surprise for the next owner to find.