Kitchen Series, 2 of 3

We’ve defrosted after the bitterly cold temperatures, and we’re returning to kitchens we recently completed. You can catch up on part 1 of the series which included a mid-sized new kitchen as part of a two-story addition in Wilmette.

Now we find a smaller footprint in a Highland Park home. Our working dimensions are 9 x 15 feet. There is no good ability to expand without a costly addition to the house. Below is a picture of the renovated kitchen, followed by the “before” pictures.

The new kitchen features Thermador appliances , a multi-function sink, and honed granite countertops.

The new kitchen features Thermador appliances , a multi-function sink, and honed granite countertops.

A prep sink does not fit in a compact kitchen, and a double-bowl sink is not as efficient as a single-bowl option. The client opted for a Julien Smartstation with included accessories (integrated cutting board, colander, and drying rack) for greater utility.

The original kitchen was poorly designed with an “L” shape peninsula stub to hold the dishwasher.

The original kitchen was poorly designed with an “L” shape peninsula stub to hold the dishwasher.

The original kitchen had tile flooring, basic appliances and cabinetry, and soffits that reduced the ceiling height for no obvious reason. One major design penalty arises from attempting to fit a peninsula or island in dimensions that do not support it. The owner ends up with a passage that is too tight for seating, and impractical storage or dead space are the result. Useful kitchen space is a top priority in general, and even more so in a compact footprint—rather than forcing a peninsula or island into a small kitchen design, it’s better to maximize the useful prep space and storage by eliminating one window in this example.

Another view of the offending peninsula stub. We replaced the tile floor in the kitchen for red oak to match the rest of the flooring.

Another view of the offending peninsula stub. We replaced the tile floor in the kitchen for red oak to match the rest of the flooring.

The original cooking appliances opposite the sink wall. One disadvantage of stock cabinetry is that it can lead to odd configurations if the wall dimensions are not a good fit for the stock cabinetry dimensions.

The original cooking appliances opposite the sink wall. One disadvantage of stock cabinetry is that it can lead to odd configurations if the wall dimensions are not a good fit for the stock cabinetry dimensions.

Semi-custom or custom cabinetry is a good choice for many kitchens.It allowed us to center the range on the wall and add valuable storage and prep space on both sides.

Semi-custom or custom cabinetry is a good choice for many kitchens.It allowed us to center the range on the wall and add valuable storage and prep space on both sides.

A counter-depth refrigerator is preferable despite the additional cost, especially in a small kitchen.

A counter-depth refrigerator is preferable despite the additional cost, especially in a small kitchen.

Like many of our clients, this homeowner has a full schedule with little time to spare for renovation plans. She was prepared to make a significant change to her home, and we are glad she entrusted us with this project—from initial consultation to completion. It’s satisfying to see a good plan come to fruition. We hope she enjoys her kitchen for many years!


It's a New Year. Let’s Get Moving.

A client referred us to new homeowners in Evanston who had a healthy goal in mind: to create an enclosed gym from a car port-turned-garage. This project did not neatly fit our typical engagements in size or type, but we were intrigued from the start. There is something about solving new problems that appeals to us. Retrofitting a space built for one purpose into a new space for a different purpose presents the kind of challenges we like. Also, we like to lend a hand to our Northwestern peeps when we can.

We’re glad the results exceeded our client’s expectations.

The former garage comfortably holds a treadmill, rowing machine, heavy bag, TRX system, and more, all on a 3/4” thick rubberized floor. No more excuses for skipping a workout when you have this attached to your home.

The former garage comfortably holds a treadmill, rowing machine, heavy bag, TRX system, and more, all on a 3/4” thick rubberized floor. No more excuses for skipping a workout when you have this attached to your home.

A view of the entry to the gym, with closed storage, new exterior door, new windows, and lockers. The clients can check their form in the 6’ x 4’ wall mirror, too. Heat is drawn from the main ductwork inside the home, and the walls are coated in a special scuff-resistant paint.

A view of the entry to the gym, with closed storage, new exterior door, new windows, and lockers. The clients can check their form in the 6’ x 4’ wall mirror, too. Heat is drawn from the main ductwork inside the home, and the walls are coated in a special scuff-resistant paint.

The former garage started as a car port before it was enclosed by the previous owners. Our first task was to remove the rolling garage door, create an insulated sub-floor, and frame the walls and ceiling. A minimally functional garage often has limited electrical installed and no insulation. They are drafty with exposed framing and uncomfortable during the Winter with no heat supply.

After running the new electrical, we insulated the sub-floor, walls, and ceiling with closed-cell spray foam to provide an air-tight insulation seal. We added lighting and electrical outlets to ensure the new space would function well as gym, and we also took steps to ensure that the gym could be returned to a garage in the future if new owners needed it.

Under the 3/4” plywood sub-floor is a vapor barrier, stud platform, and closed cell foam insulation. A minor amount of disassembly and demolition would be required to revert to a functional garage in the future.

Under the 3/4” plywood sub-floor is a vapor barrier, stud platform, and closed cell foam insulation. A minor amount of disassembly and demolition would be required to revert to a functional garage in the future.

We were delighted to help these new owners build the gym they envisioned and take advantage of an extra car spot they didn’t need. What used to be a basic garage is now a functional gym for owners who use it every day. We wish them and you a healthy and active 2019!

Kitchen Series, 1 of 3

Residential real estate descriptions are a hoot. Imagine the comedy if you could type MLS sentences into software like Google Translator and see what comes out. For example, “Lovely vintage home with lots of charm” actually means “Holy #&%! there’s a freakish amount of work to do here.” This description should trigger your fight-or-flight response. Our clients in Wilmette chose the former when they purchased a home built in 1900 described with exactly these words.

After completing major structural work (the alt-meaning of “lovely and vintage home with lots of charm”), they contacted us for a two-story addition. Not only was this family of four undaunted by the scope of the project, they decided to ride out the construction by living in the front of the house while we ripped off the back and rebuilt it during the cold part of the year. Tough characters, we said.

As part of the addition, we installed a modern new kitchen with an oversized window overlooking the backyard.

A view of the finished kitchen with cypress-colored lower cabinetry paired with the gloss sheen white upper cabinets.

A view of the finished kitchen with cypress-colored lower cabinetry paired with the gloss sheen white upper cabinets.

A clean slate for a kitchen is one of those sweet moments on a construction site. For us, at least.

A clean slate for a kitchen is one of those sweet moments on a construction site. For us, at least.

Our first step was to remove the old kitchen, including donating the old cabinets to the Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse.

Our first step was to remove the old kitchen, including donating the old cabinets to the Evanston ReBuilding Warehouse.

Deconstructing the back of the house in preparation for the heavy equipment.

Deconstructing the back of the house in preparation for the heavy equipment.

Let me introduce you to my little friend.

Let me introduce you to my little friend.

We think our clients would approve of this message after living though a major renovation project.

We think our clients would approve of this message after living though a major renovation project.

We’ll return to this project in a future blog entry. In the meantime, we’ve been wrapping up a few kitchen projects that we’ll cover in the Kitchen Series. Our brave clients not only survived the construction while living through it, they appear to be thriving. We’re glad we had the opportunity to improve this old home, and we wish them many happy years in it.

Until next time . . . Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Should I renovate an old home?

We offered a couple thoughts about evaluating a home before you buy it in our last post, and now we offer a couple more about whether you should embark on a renovation of an old home. Before we get there, we need to define what we mean when we say renovation. The key to understanding the term renovation is to think about a substantial improvement to the home, often involving multiple building trades and a significant investment in resources. Neither cosmetic changes nor major repairs are renovations, although they are frequently rolled into renovation work.

Kate Wagner of McMansion Hell recently addressed this topic and recommended that a homeowner live in the house for a while before deciding what to do. This is sound advice. Experience in the house is one reliable guide to forming the list of renovation priorities.

We disagree with her next piece of advice, however, which is to find the point of no return: 

So where do we draw the line between what we should and should not get rid of? What is and is not historically important? My personal litmus test is one question: Is what I want to get rid of irreversible or irreplaceable? This may seem straightforward, but it’s actually rather nuanced.

Yes, nuanced would be one way to describe this approach. Impractical is another, if you ask us. Homes are things, and things can be replaced. It might cost a small fortune, require special expertise, involve plenty of antacid, and take years . . . but nearly everything can be replaced or reversed if you have ample resources. We believe Wagner is really saying that you should leave it alone if you don't have money, the stomach, or time. Fine. Some clients like historic details and want to preserve them, while others pursue a different vision. Thumbs up to the preservationists if the budget and schedule allow for it. But some wide-scale improvements (such as modern plumbing or electrical work) necessarily include demolition: the plaster walls and those built-in cabinets from 1930 might not survive, and that’s a trade-off we make for comfort and safety. The same goes for items that linger for sentimental reasons but are no longer serviceable. It’s not an architectural crime to replace the warped and cracked wood front door from grandpa’s era, no matter how handsome it once was.

In fact, most of the older homes we visit have undergone one or more waves of changes over the last decades. Legacy decisions can make changes more difficult today. Some of these changes were ill-conceived or poorly executed. Others have deferred maintenance for so long, replacement is the best (and maybe only) choice.

A minority of older homes we see can be fairly described as above-average. An even smaller fraction of homes were sensitively improved, with an eye toward preserving the historic notes of the original structure. You might find one of these unicorns. But the odds are good that an old Chicago-area home fits the profile we described a couple years ago in "I Love Old Homes and Other Myths

This last point bears repeating: only a small number of old homes we see in this area remain in good condition because they were constructed well and thoughtfully improved/maintained over the last few decades. Some folks fall head-over-heels for these homes and marvel at their longevity. Surely these old homes were built better than the post-war flimsy stuff! Modern construction does not compare, they say.

Well, not really. This is a classic case of survivorship bias. People who form their opinions about the superiority of old construction are looking at homes that endured because they were skillfully built and carefully kept up by successive owners—but they are overlooking hundreds of decrepit examples battered by time and neglect before they were finally razed to the ground and promptly forgotten.

Knowing what kind of old home you have is the starting point to deciding what sort of renovation plan makes sense. Give us a shout if you are thinking about renovating your old home. There’s lots to talk about, and we’d be happy to discuss it with you.     

               

Remodeling and Home Design