Archive for August, 2009

Queen Anne 3 – Before & After





First, fix what is broken.

When purchased, this house had one issue that needed immediate attention – a drainage problem created when sellers hastily poured a concrete driveway to increase resale value. By doing so, they inadvertently directed rainwater, which previously found its way into the soil, into the neighbor’s yard and also into the basement.

And, while you’re at it…

As is often the case with remodeling, fixing this problem triggered other projects. The back and side yard were partially excavated in order to expose the basement foundation for waterproofing, during which we discovered that the existing underground drain lines were broken, filled with sand, and discharging water too close to the house. Since this property is surrounded by parcels on 3 sides and there is no stormwater main line in the street in front of the house, the downspouts were directed to a dry sump, located as far away from the foundation as possible.

The ground disturbance moved the landscaping projects up in priority.  After all, why spend money planting temporary grass?  This, in turn, moved the roof up in priority so that a dumpster could be placed close to the house without damaging the landscaping.  Which, of course, meant that the gutters would need to be replaced…

Hello, curb appeal.

The result is a great example of getting “big bang for the buck” by utilizing maintenance projects an opportunity to create curb appeal.  And, the money spent generated more return on investment than the sellers ever dreamed possible.


A Lesson from Paris

steps of a Paris church serve as neighborhood park

Steps of a Paris church serve as neighborhood park.

In Paris, modern life and historic treasures coexist in a centuries-old urban fabric. Nearly every building serves more than one use, such as retail below with housing above (often 4+ floors of very elaborate construction). Imagining where and how to live in Paris is easy. The urban fabric sets the perfect stage, with options for food, culture, and shopping on every street.

While visiting this spring, I realized that Paris is a great example of making good use out of every inch. It is a principle of design that holds true no matter the scale, from bungalow to city planning. After all, if there is room for boys to play ball in front of the neighborhood church, there must be room for the television somewhere in your cottage.


Everything has more than one use.

“How much will my project cost?”

“Do I have enough money?”

The first thing you need to know is that the total cost of your project is made up of both “hard cost” and “soft cost”. “Hard cost” is also known as “construction cost”. This includes materials, labor, and contractor’s profit & overhead. When you read about “cost per square foot” in magazine articles or ask a contractor what a project cost, this is typically the number quoted.

“What should I use for estimating my project’s construction cost?”

To get you started (only a first guess), here are a few resources:

Free Residential Building Cost Calculator

– A free online calculator for new home construction from, that uses information from the National Building Cost Manual (published by the Craftsman Book Company).

Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report

– A regional report by Remodeling magazine of midscale and upscale projects for common types of residential remodeling project. Also lists estimated cost immediately recouped by the resale value of the improvement.

“How Much Will It Cost?”

– Published a few years ago by Fine Homebuilding, this is a helpful budgeting tool in a grid matrix format. Requires a paid membership to download (it’s worth it).

“How Much Will My Kitchen Cost?”

– Same as above, but specifically regarding kitchen remodels. If you pay the membership, you get access to both articles (among others).

Don’t forget the “soft cost”…

In some areas, such as Seattle, sales tax is a big number (currently 9.5%), so you can see how quickly the bottom line can be affected by additional expenses related to your project. These items that the homeowner is responsible for are considered the “soft cost” of the project, such as surveyor’s fees, architect’s fees, structural engineer’s fees, reimbursable expenses, taxes, permit fees, and a contingency fund. A good rule of thumb is to budget at least 35% for “soft cost”. In other words, construction cost + 35% of construction cost = project budget.

Have a contingency fund.

The most difficult costs to predict (especially when remodeling) are those which will be paid from your own contingency fund. You MUST have a contingency fund of at least 10%, and I strongly recommend 15-20%. The smaller the project, the larger the percentage. You will rely upon this fund to pay for unforeseen work (conditions that are not visible or predictable prior to demolition). You will also be presented with items during construction that usually include the phrase “…while we’re here, it would be less expensive to go ahead and…” Part of my job is to help you differentiate between the “must do” and “would be nice to” items, and to think ahead to other items that may be triggered by these decisions (also known as anticipating the “domino effect”).

And, sometimes you need even more…

Some projects have unique features which may require specialized services not included in “hard cost” or “soft cost”, such as geotechnical engineering, soils testing, and environmental impact analysis. Landscaping, furnishings, and curtains, are not included in either category, so you will need to create separate budgets for those items.

Other resources

How to Work With an Architect

, by Gerald Morosco, AIA

An excellent step-by-step guide to the architect’s role throughout the design and construction process.

Not So Big Solutions for Your Home, by Sarah Susanka, AIA

Regardless of what you discover about your budget, Sarah Susanka’s advice in this book, and others in the series, will help you discover how to live large in less space.

Tangletown – Before & After



Before, with asbestos siding and wrought iron

Before, with asbestos siding and wrought iron

Historic photo from archives

Historic photo from archives

Historic photos of this Craftsman bungalow, originally built in 1924, revealed a design flaw that existed from the beginning.  The steps from the sidewalk were unfortunately aligned with a view of the side porch, rather than an approach to the front door.  Sometime in the 1950’s, the original pillars and railings were almost entirely replaced by wrought iron panels, window sills chopped off, and beveled cedar siding covered with asbestos shingles.  When the homeowner decided it was time to restore some of the home’s original charm, he recognized an opportunity for improvement.  The new stairs borrow the scale and details of the original porch railing and add curb appeal.  The transformation required skilled carpenters to replace rotten siding and barge boards, restore window sills, improve ventilation, and restore the structural stability of the porch roof.

A house isn’t a house…

…without a mouse. Remodeling is always thought of as an opportunity to fix what is broken and make your house work better for you, but it can also be an opportunity to do something unique – just because you want to. One of my recent clients had a special request. She always loved the children’s book “Loudmouse” by Richard Wilbur, and wanted to pay homage by creating a little house for the imaginary mouse. At first, she worried that we would all think she was crazy. Instead, the whole crew jumped right on board. Our lead carpenter found the perfect visible-but-not-too-prominent location and created a little shadow box and portal. Although a real mouse will (hopefully) never take up residence there, we have already spotted more than a few smiles.

Mouse house below original cold storage cupboard

Mouse house below original cold storage cupboard

Homage to "Loudmouse"

Homage to "Loudmouse"

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