Archive for September, 2009

Decorating the early 1900’s home (Part Two – Kitchens, Bathrooms, & Porches)

Here are some highlights from “Domestic Architecture”, written by architect L. Eugene Robinson, published in 1917.  Part One of this post contained excerpts regarding living room and bedroom finishes.  The excerpts below address kitchen, bathroom, and porch finishes:

Kitchen

  • “…cleanliness is of first importance, the treatment of materials should suggest it, and decoration need not be neglected.”
  • “have all surfaces so treated that dust and dirt will show, but will be easy to remove.  Here glazed or glossy finishes, or semi-glazed, …are desirable.”
  • “Plaster may be given a slick, steam-proof varnish or paint, and the wood given an enamel finish.”
  • Wallpapers having a glazed surface are in common use…”
  • “…should be no crevices or angles not easily reached with ordinary cleaning apparatus.”
  • “Severity of design is becoming to the nature of the kitchen.  Simple wainscotings are very serviceable and attractive, and may be counter height, thereby forming a continuous line around the room.”
  • “…counters…should not be treated with paint, varnish or any other material except oil.  However, such working surfaces may be covered with a matting of rubber or oilcloth.”
  • Tile work…is highly serviceable, wainscotings, counters, facings for built-in ranges and floors being the chief parts constructed of this material.”
  • “…main objection to tile floors is their coldness…”
  • “A hardwood floor of oak or maple is best, if tile cannot be afforded. A cheap wood floor may be made very serviceable by laying upon it oilcloth or linoleum.”
  • “Color…should…suggest perfect sanitation.  The best colors are white and blue, but with white or cream may be used green, brown, gray or other color.”
  • Colors may appear in tile borders, linoleum, wallpaper, painted surfaces and in simple hangings.”
  • “…should be bright and pleasant but not cluttered.”
  • “Extra large kitchens…should have more color than small ones.”

Fabulous and fun vintage kitchen photos can be found at http://www.shorpy.com.  For a direct link, click here.

Bathrooms

  • Surface treatments…much the same as those for kitchens. Waterproof materials are practically essential, where water and steam are so prevalent.”

Porch

  • “Porches are really exterior features, and should be treated much the same as other parts of the exterior.”
  • Light-colored paints and stains generally look better than dark.”
  • Masonry should not be painted under any circumstances…”
  • Porch floors of wood should receive several coats of exterior floor paint of neutral color, while the ceilings should be painted white or buff.”
  • “…more than two colors of paint on a frame house should not be used, except perhaps in very limited quantities.”
  • “The main color should cover the body of the house, while the other should serve only as a trim color.  Alternate color effects should never be used.”
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Decorating the early 1900’s home (Part One – Living Rooms and Bedrooms)

Domestic

When it comes to finish materials, where do you go to find out what is truly period-appropriate for your vintage home?

While antique shopping in Oregon last summer, I found a book published in 1917 by an architect named L. Eugene Robinson, titled “Domestic Architecture”. The book was intended for homeowners who were remodeling or building homes at that time, and much of what was written is relevant for restoration or remodeling turn-of-the-century homes today.

Here are some highlights regarding interior finishes for living rooms and bedrooms:

Living Rooms

  • ..should be above all restful.”
  • colors should be dull and neutral
  • Old ivory or cream white enamel of semi-dull finish on the woodwork, oatmeal paper of light brown on the walls, light buff paper on the ceiling, and any good flooring with, perhaps, Oriental rugs…”
  • “…it is not well to slavishly hold to the color and tones of the scheme.  If this is done, the effect will be monotonous, which is not restful.  There should be judicious departures in color, chiefly in the furnishings, and especially in certain architectural features such as fireplaces, floors, and ornamental glass windows.”
  • “As a rule, the gradation of color should be such that the ceiling is light, the frieze less light, the wall and wainscoting darker, and the floor darkest.”
  • “A floor may be of very light wood, while the gradation of color starts dark at the base of the wall.”

Bedrooms

  • “…should have the quality of freshness regardless of the color scheme…”
  • “While women usually prefer white, pink, blue or yellow rooms, men generally prefer brown, grey or green.”
  • Any color scheme that is not disturbing and that does not take on a dingy air may be satisfactorily developed.”
  • Wallpaper… is used almost to the exclusion of other materials…”
  • “On sanitary grounds the painting of bedroom walls is preferable to papering.”
  • Woodworkwhite or cream in color, firstly because it is neat, fresh and easily washed, and secondly because any bedroom set of furniture will conform to it.”
  • “A very handsome treatment for a bedroom is to make the woodwork exactly like the bedroom set, of maple, walnut, mahogany, or any hard wood.”
  • Maple flooring is very satisfactory for bedrooms.”
  • “For inexpensive treatments, white paint may be used on the wood trim, and gray paint on the floorSometimes, matting over a common floor proves very satisfactory.”

(Part Two will cover kitchens, bathrooms, and porches.)

Lake Washington – Before & After

lake-wa-before

Before

Lake-WA-1

After

The idea of a grand front porch addition was inspired by the homeowner’s travels to the South as a possible solution to two problems:  too much sun (which meant blinds closed and view obscured), and not enough room for party guests when entertaining.

The design drew upon the Colonial Revival “vocabulary” of this home and others of the same era.  The extra-deep cover acts as shelter, making it possible to enjoy being outdoors when warm but rainy (which describes a good portion of the year here), while providing shade for the interior living spaces without blocking the view.

The Truth about Green Design

From the food you eat to the car you drive (or bus you ride), the idea of being “green” has become a part of daily life in America, especially in forward-thinking cities such as Seattle.

When I have clients who ask about whether or not I do “green” design, the answer is, “Of course!”  I have always been motivated by eco-consciousness and energy conservancy.  Now we just have more and better tools available.

A "green" green sink. Salvaged, recoated, and repurposed in the laundry room.

A "green" green sink. Salvaged, recoated, and repurposed in the laundry room.

But, what does it really mean for YOU and YOUR project?

First, I need to understand your motives and objectives.  Clients often fall within one or more of the following categories:

  • Good Steward – You want to do what you can for the environment.  You want to reuse what you can and donate what you can’t, even if that means you have to invest more money in labor. When you cannot find suitable salvage, you want to purchase products that are “green”.
  • Health Conscious – You have chemical sensitivities or underlying health conditions which have made you greatly concerned about the off-gassing of products, as well as dust and mold.
  • Investor in Technology – You want to support alternative energy innovation by using systems such as solar heating and rainwater harvesting, even if the initial investment is significant and the payback period is long.
  • Conservationist – You want to consume less, and get more out of what you already have.  You are not willing to be experimental and would rather “go with the known”.
Cabinets and light fixtures like these are excellent candidates for donation to a salvage company.

Cabinets like these are excellent candidates for donation to a salvage company in exchange for store credit, tax credit, or cash.

Prioritize

It is very rare for a client to say “yes” to all of the above categories and also be willing to accept the higher price tag for materials and labor that accompanies that decision.  Nearly everyone has to at least prioritize their eco-goals, finding the best intersection of cost, return on investment, comfort, and impact on the environment.

One person's junk is another person's treasure.  This mantel was salvaged from a home on Capital Hill in Seattle.

One person's junk is another person's treasure. This mantel was salvaged from a home on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

Buyer Beware

The marketplace is flooded with “green” products (including many inferior or fake ones), and using those products doesn’t necessarily make your project a “green” project.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is there suitable salvage that would be an alternate?
  • How long will this product last?
  • How much of this product is wasted during installation?
  • If recycled content is important, what percentage and what type of recycled material does it contain?
  • How much energy does it take to produce and transport this product?
  • Is the source renewable?
  • How reliable is the information?
  • How much more does this material cost, and how does that compare to additional labor for reused or salvaged material?
  • How difficult will it be to maintain this material or this installation?
  • If resale value is important, how does this choice factor in?
  • Is this trendy?  Will it go out of fashion?

Establishing this criteria at the beginning of the design process allows us to filter each decision according to your objectives, reducing frustration and delivering the best outcome for your budget, life, and the environment.

Fiber cement rainscreen siding, aluminum windows, composite decking on cedar framing

Fiber cement rainscreen siding, aluminum windows, composite decking on cedar framing

Magnolia – Before & After

Before

After

Adding a second story over part of this 50’s rambler captured the view while adding a master suite and extra bedroom and bathroom.

Prairie style proportions were used as a complement to the existing roof slope and overhangs, reducing the perception of height from the curb.  All windows were replaced, as well as the siding above the brick veneer.

The addition was designed to bridge the existing house, creating a front entry foyer on the main level where the stairs are housed without using any of the existing living space.  The second story, above, also creates a welcoming, covered porch.

New foyer with stairs to second story addition

New foyer with stairs to second story addition

The Secret to Picking the Perfect Paint Color

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Paint color selection tools of the trade

For many homeowners, picking the perfect paint color is a daunting task – prone to error, causing arguments, piling up receipts for samples or do-overs, and sometimes resulting in the decision to “just give up and paint it white”.

This is why I include paint color selection as a part of my architectural services. Having done this many times before, I make it easy and fun for my clients.

Here are some things to remember when selecting paint color:

A lot of men are color blind.

One of every ten men have some form of color blindness, while women are rarely affected. There are different severities and types of color-blindness.  The most common type is the inability to distinguish red and green.  This can be very challenging when looking at various shades of paint colors, as often the only difference between two colors will be the amount of red or green undertone.

All whites are not the same.

If you hold a fan of “whites” at arm’s length, you would think they were colors like blue, pink, grey, or yellow.  Yet, each of them are considered “white”.  I have heard the following statements, each of which is a clue that my clients need help, whether they realize it or not.

  • “The contractor said he has a white that they used before, so we’ll just use that.”
  • “I just want white.”
  • “We don’t want any color, just an off-white.”
  • “My mother says we should use antique white.”

Complex colors change in different light.

Many of the popular brands of paints have a complex color base.  This makes the color very rich, whether light or dark.  It also affects the color’s appearance in different types of light.  When you select colors, you should look at them in the type and intensity of light they will be seen in.  DO NOT pick your paint colors on the floor of a fluorescent-lit showroom.

The trickiest colors are green, khaki, and grey.

In my experience, the colors that appear the most different according to the quality and type of light are green, khaki (or camel) and grey.  When I select one of these colors, I pull as many samples out of the oversize fan as I can find and pin them all up, either in the intended location or in the closest facsimile of the environment.  I look at them several times throughout the day as the light changes, and remove any chip that begins to take on the appearance of another color.  Green will tend to shift to brown.  Khaki will tend to shift toward either purple or green.  Grey will tend to shift to purple or blue.

Be careful with luminous colors.

If you adore “happy colors”, remember that a color can be bright without being luminous.

I once had a client who wanted a bright green bedroom, the color of the flesh of a lime.  The color she chose was very luminous – meaning that it had a “glow”.  As a small chip, it was very appealing.  But, when the whole room was painted, the color bounced off every wall, making the room so intense that the painters could only be in there for a short period of time before having to step outside to allow their eyes to adjust back to normal.  (That room was immediately repainted a soft yellow.)

Color looks more intense on ceilings.

A paint chip with a hint of color will take on the appearance of a strong color when painted on a ceiling.

Exterior house colors always look lighter than expected.

Selecting exterior house colors is one of the most challenging tasks.  Nearly everyone who has chosen their own exterior paint will tell you they wish they’d gone darker.

Exterior paint always looks significantly lighter (10x or more) than the swatch.  The sun is an incredibly powerful light source, even in the Pacific Northwest, and it affects the appearance of color dramatically.  When you are choosing exterior colors, you should be looking at the darkest colors in the range.  If you there is a house in your neighborhood you like, it is well worth knocking on the door to ask what color they used or to ask permission to bring your paint fan with you to compare swatches with their house.

Consider the items that will go in the room.

Does the furniture have a red or green undertone? Are there things in the room that will contrast too much with the color? Is there something that you want to use as a focal point against the color  such as artwork or antiques? Are there things on the ceiling that you don’t want to draw attention to?  (A color on the bathroom ceiling might sound like a fun idea, but remember that the exhaust fan, ceiling lights, etc. will be more noticeable than they would against a soft white.)

Avoid trendy colors.

The retailers have a knack for rotating color trends, and today’s beautiful green will soon be dated.  The exception to this rule is choosing a color that is currently “trendy” but is one that you have ALWAYS loved.  If you have loved it your entire life, you probably always will.  If it is a new color that you are enjoying, have fun with your towels, bedcovers, or rugs.  It is easier to rotate those when you become sick of the color than it is to repaint the room.

Question the accent wall idea.

My theory is that if you want a color but only on one wall, you probably aren’t convinced that you like the color – or that you will like it for very long.  Here is another opportunity for tablecloths, rugs, towels, etc. to take on that role.

A true accent wall uses a contrasting or more saturated color to emphasize the architectural features of a space, not to showcase a fad.

Ask for help.

I bring every Benjamin Moore and Devine color created into my client’s homes, sparing them the confusion at the paint counter.  Rather than looking at tiny strips of five or six shades, we look at 4″x4″ swatches of color.  My paint kit is organized by the amount of undertone in each color, so it is easy to predict which colors will tend toward red, green, blue, or purple, based upon where the color is located within the stack of each color.  I leave these swatches with my clients, ordering replacements for my kit.

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4"x4" squares of Benjamin Moore colors

After my clients have had some time to look at the color swatches in various lighting over a few days, we select a few to mock-up on the wall.  We don’t use the little paint pots or pouches unless they are the exact brand AND sheen we intend to use, since both of these factors affect the color’s appearance.  We normally have mock-ups painted in 12″x12″ or 24″x24″ squares, in both the brightest and darkest spots of the room.

10 Rules of Thumb for Remodeling

As an architect who specializes in major remodels of older homes in Seattle, I often meet potential clients who ask the same questions:  Should we add a second story?  Should we build an addition into our backyard?  Should we tear down and start over?  Or, should we fix this and flip it?

Each house and owner is unique, but there are some basic rules of thumb for making this important decision.

Rule of Thumb #1: The Big Picture

If you are uncertain about living in this house for at least 5-7 years after the major remodel is completed, then your efforts should focus on wide market appeal instead of what is uniquely important to your family’s lifestyle. The concept of owning the same home for 30 years and having the same job, or career for that matter, is a thing of the past.  Some project types have very high, immediate return on investment (ROI) ratios, such as kitchen and bathroom remodels.  According to Remodeling Magazine’s “Cost vs. Value Report, 2008-09”, a mid-upscale kitchen remodel in the Pacific Northwest averages between $62,997 and $119,361 Construction Cost with a 81.9%-87.3% ROI, and the same quality bathroom remodel in that region averages between $18,452 and $58,317  with a 76.2%-79.5% ROI.

Rule of Thumb #2: “Location, Location, Location”

Counting on your neighborhood to “transition” in 5-7 years time is a risky move and should be considered a gamble.  If your intent is to use the equity to move to a nicer neighborhood, then make choices that are appropriate to this house in this neighborhood.   Save the splurges for the house that you intend to keep in a neighborhood that is certain to support the investment.

Rule of Thumb #3: If it’s broken, fix it.

I once interviewed with homeowners whose house was full of things that needed to be fixed, including an unfinished basement remodel.  The house was already a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with a 1-car garage; they were contemplating a second-story addition to include 3 more bedrooms and 2 more baths.  When complete, their house would have been the biggest on the block, and their resources would also have been completely exhausted.

Sometimes fixing the space you already own has a greater potential return on investment than trying to outweigh what is old and broken with new square footage.

Rule of Thumb #4: Consider leaving it alone.

Major remodels should result in major changes.  Unless this is your last home, don’t spend money changing all the cabinetry in the house simply because you prefer maple over walnut (or vice versa).  After all, you bought the house with those cabinets in it, and the next person who shares your tastes will probably still buy the house…as long as they believe the house is a good value.

Rule of Thumb #5: The more phases, the more the project’s cost.

Remodeling in phases costs more.  It is always less expensive to have skilled labor come once to your house to do all of the work rather than to have them come three times to complete a third of the work each time.  This is true even without considering the inflated costs of labor and materials. Homeowners are often surprised to find out that the second phase of work may cost as much as the projected total cost only two years ago for all phases. Planning to complete work in phases should only be considered if you either a) intend to stay in the house long enough to undertake all of the phases of work or b) execute the phases which result in the greatest return on investment first.

Rule of Thumb #6: Adding a second story = whole-house remodel.

The prime candidates for second story additions are homes in older, dense, and highly desirable neighborhoods.  Because these homes are also older, they usually need upgraded plumbing (often including new water and sewer mains), wiring, windows (repair if not replacement), and mechanical systems.  They often have significant deferred maintenance items, leaving them in need of exterior (and sometimes interior) stripping and re-painting, re-roofing, rot repair, etc. Not very many homeowners are willing to make such a major investment and still park on a cracked driveway or have a house with a mismatched roof.  All of these items add up to more than you’d imagine for the amount of square footage you plan to add.

Depending on your local building department’s requirements, a major remodel may require that the entire house be brought up to current building code.  Different jurisdictions have different definitions of  “major remodel”, either based on a dollar amount threshold or a ratio of the current value of the house to the Construction Cost.  It isn’t safe to assume that because you don’t intend to remodel a portion of the existing house that you won’t be required to.

Rule of Thumb #7: Consider the yard as another room to remodel.

If your addition creates a strange roof shape, difficult drainage condition, or restricts visual or physical access to the yard, proceed with caution…or not at all.  The return on investment for an extra room may be more than outweighed by the loss of the relationship, or potential relationship, of indoors to outdoors.

The porch and landscaping make rooms for outdoor living.

The porch and landscaping make rooms for outdoor living.

Rule of Thumb #8: Crunch the numbers.

Add what the house would currently sell for, less what you owe, plus what you anticipate spending.  Then, go shopping.  If your house is currently worth $700K, you owe $350K, and you are contemplating a $600K major remodel, you should have a look at the housing inventory that is up to 120% of  $1M (which is $700K-$350K+650K).  You may be shocked to find that there is a home that already meets or exceeds your needs in that price range, or one that is much, much closer to the finish line.

We need “starter homes” in our close-to-downtown neighborhoods, and choosing to sell your home to someone who is just getting started is indeed a very “green” choice – not to mention much less stressful than undertaking a major remodel.

Rule of Thumb #9: Hire a talented Contractor, and get out of the way.

Most homeowners have full-time jobs and don’t have construction backgrounds. Despite your deepest wishes to keep an eye on things and to put in some sweat equity to save money,  you shouldn’t expect to live in the house while it is under construction or use your own labor to reduce costs.  If you are counting on either of those to make the project possible, you are probably taking on more than you should.

A good contractor makes the dream a reality.

A good contractor makes the dream a reality.

Rule of Thumb #10: Hire an Architect (hopefully me).

As an architect who specializes in residential projects, I am able to help you do much more than just plan your ideal home.  I ask the important questions and consider both the emotional and financial effects of the answers. The earlier you involve me in the decision-making process, the more you stand to gain – even as early as shopping for a home.  I can help you compare the pros and cons of candidates, including the home you already own, to determine which one offers the greatest potential.