project addition: week seven

Thanks for your patience during Flu Week + Spring Break Week! Now it’s time to get back to work. I have some upcoming goals for this project, and one of them is for M and I to set up a meeting with someone in the building department to get an idea of the process in front of us. We know we’ll be applying for a variance since we have such a narrow lot to start with it, and the current building setback lines make constructing an addition or a garage impossible without encroaching upon them. Because we’re in an historic district, we’ll also have to get additional approvals for our project. Once we’ve had this preliminary meeting I’ll write a post on the details of the process ahead of us.

In my last post I mentioned a few of the “problems” with our existing house that we need to address with our new addition. These are different than the objectives we have for the new space; these are real issues that are going to need to be addressed at some point no matter how big or small this project ends up being.

Basement Access
Rear Wall Issues
Alley Retaining Wall Failure

Perimeter Fence Disrepair

In this post I’m going to tackle the first one.

Basement Access: There is no interior stair to the basement of our house. We had the option to install one when we inserted the interior stair between the floors of our house the first time (remember, there was just an exterior stair when the house was a two-family), but we opted not to because it would have eaten up most of the floor space in the middle room of our house. The outdoor access isn’t the end of the world – although it’s not a lot of fun during rainy tornado warnings in the middle of the night. We don’t need to access anything in our basement on a daily basis, and the separation is sort of nice because it’s really not “living” space.

But… the exterior stair is in really rough condition and we haven’t made any real changes to it since we moved in. The reason we haven’t is that a new areaway for the stair would need to be almost twice as large to meet current codes, not to mention the required guardrails and handrails we’d need to install. We considered installing a basement hatch similar to this, especially when the girls were younger and we worried about them playing outside and falling down into the death trap, but they are expensive and we put it off because it’s hard to sink money into something that you will likely eventually get rid of.

Any addition we add will need to accommodate a new stair to access the existing basement since we’ll be building right over the old one. That means either building a new exterior one (option 1) that will eat up most of our remaining courtyard space, or incorporating a new interior stair (option 2) between the first floor of the addition and the addition’s basement. (I suppose a third option could be installing an interior stair under our existing one in the current dining room, but that would require major structural work to the existing house, and so that is off the table.)

There are several positive gains from incorporating an interior stair into the addition:
  • Safe, dry access to a storm shelter – a definite plus living in the twister prone Midwest.
  • An opportunity for a new basement room with decent head height and a direct connection to the dining room / gathering space above. We plan to host more things at our house with real space to accommodate more than a few people at a time. It would be great to have a place to gather for dinner, with an adjacent breakout space for kids just below. Their current rooms are really far away from the first floor action!
  • A clean connection to the outdoors at ground level, gaining one of our objectives – a mud room!

You might remember this early sketch I did that showed a new interior stair to the basement in the addition.


Here’s a really simple diagram of the first floor with that idea. You can see the original rooms of the house, what I’m calling the “link” which is just the connection piece between the old house and the addition which will be mostly glass, and the addition. The red area represents the zone along the west side of the house that is right on our property line. It would house the main galley kitchen and the new stair. The existing first floor side porch would become a pantry and would have a new side entry that could act as a new mudroom.


And here’s the basement diagram for that idea – the addition would have a full basement, and there would be a connection to the existing basement from it. (Again, the stair area shown in red.)

This idea seemed really neat and clean and the only way to work a stair into a limited space – stairs take up a lot of room! But it always bothered me a little bit in that location. The side entry into a mudroom area was nice, but it was still a long walk from the garage and I could see us shortcutting on cold and messy days directly into the dining room. Do we try to accommodate some storage at that rear entry? Then it seems like we’re just moving the current issues we have in the living room – we have no buffer zone in our house between the outside and the inside. I really want the addition to be clean and open and clutter free. Even if we did use that new mudroom and side entry, it’s still tiny, and spills into the most pinched part of our downstairs plan.

M threw out the idea of inserting a stair in the opposite direction – in the link between the old and the new. We don’t have the room to have a single run stair there, but if we had a stair with an intermediate landing we could enter at ground level and incorporate a more generous mudroom off to the side – not a lot bigger than in the previous idea, but here it’s tucked away and not also serving as a corridor with two doorways.


The mudroom would be at that new intermediate level, and you’d come up five stairs to the addition. This “link” would be mostly glass, and the stair here could be a really beautiful thing with glass above letting in a ton of light to the house. Even though everything will still be very open, there’s a visual separation between the entry space and the house space above. I think I love it.

The new basement in the addition will have a taller ceiling height than our current basement, and the link will allow us to connect the new to the old without undermining the existing foundation – we’re staying far away from that wall with any excavation.


Here are some quick views of how that stair might look in the model. Right now everything in the model is very schematic in nature, so just look at it as a massing model right now without a lot of detail. In the image below, the addition is on the left. Entryway is mostly glass and the roof will be glass along this link as well. The whole west wall that was going to be kitchen and stair will now be kitchen and something else – probably seating in the dining room – I have some ideas for that coming up, but right now it’s just shown as this blocky area.

Here’s a view looking the other direction, addition on the right.


View of that new intermediate landing with mudroom adjacent.


And basement view with the first floor peeled off – new addition would have a deeper basement. You can see the existing door to the basement straight ahead.


I’m really excited about where this idea led us. We make a good team.

Meeting adjourned.



EAT: Asheville’s food scene was very good to us. Using the Design*Sponge guide to Asheville, as well as reader (and practically local) Allison’s stellar advice, we managed to eat our way through Asheville quite nicely. My favorite thing to eat on vacation is breakfast, probably because it’s the meal that really feels different to me from our normal daily routine. Big plates of food, coffee cups that get refilled, time to stretch out and fill up – it’s an awesome way to start the day.


We ate so well at breakfast, and got so busy during the days, that we usually just snacked on the apples and pears we brought from home, and then ate a really, really late lunch and even later dinner. It worked out great for us because we missed the rush times at popular restaurants and never had to wait to be seated. I thought I’d give you the quick rundown on some of the best places we ate while we were there. Asheville food certainly celebrates the south, but all the restaurants we dined in were extremely vegetarian friendly.


Farm Burger - incredible burgers (meat and non-meat) and fries. And milkshakes, if you have room. (I didn’t, but I ate every last bite of my burger.)
Biscuit Head - an extensive jam and marmalade bar, need I say more?

Cedric’s Tavern – Biltmore - one of our biggest surprises of the trip – we expected so-so tourist food at this restaurant on the grounds, but everything we ordered was top notch and unique.

Ultimate Ice Cream - maybe not the absolute best ever (ahem, Jeni’s), but pretty darn good!

Chai Pani - delicious Indian food, I could have gone back the next night and ordered the exact same thing. I wish I had.

White Duck Taco – incredible tacos. We ate a really late lunch here after we spent the day hiking. We had huge appetites, but two tacos each (and some delicious chips and salsa) was more than enough. Bankok Shrimp and Bahn Mi Tofu. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Strada Italiano – M was craving good Italian Monday night, and luckily this place was open for a nine o’clock dinner. All the meals come in two sizes – the smaller one is spot on. Delicious.

Sunny Point Cafe – my favorite breakfast of the week. Imagine everything good about breakfast (fried red potatoes, scrambled eggs, herb crusted bacon) tossed into a salad with an amazing dressing.


SLEEP:  Hotel Indigo, downtown Asheville.


I looked at dozens of options for lodging on our trip and we seriously considered renting a cabin. (There are tons of them.) Many of the really cool ones were in fairly remote areas though, and although we were excited to explore the mountains and spend the majority of our days outside, I really wanted to be in the middle of everything at the same time. I don’t really mind a typical hotel room for a quick overnight on a larger trip, but when we are staying somewhere for several days and nights, the single room can start to feel a little “close”, plus the girls have trouble settling down and we all end up vegging out too much in front of the TV.

Once I narrowed the options to hotel suites in the downtown area, things started to look really interesting. Again, we lucked out on traveling during the last week of off-season, and we scored an penthouse suite at Hotel Indigo. Our suite was enormous, but even better than the space was the view – soaring ceilings and walls of glass that looked out over the city and the mountains beyond. Our suite faced east and south, and once the girls tired of playing with the motorized sunshades, we left them up for the remainder of our visit. Waking up in a giant bed with a view to the sunrise is not a bad deal at all. (The picture above is of the girls sleeping in the living room and not budging to the sunrise that I was up to watch!)

And here is the progression of the sunrise that first morning. We thought we might get up and get ready, but we all just kept stopping and sitting and staring at the sky’s show.

hotel sunrise 1 hotel sunrise 3 hotel sunrise 4

PLAY:  Outside of our bigger activities (Biltmore and Graveyard Fields), we also peppered our visit with lots of smaller activities. Here were some of our favorites:


Downtown Shopping - toy stores, general stores, lots of window shopping, and a really great indie bookseller, Malaprop’s, kept us busy our first afternoon there. (Buy a coffee mug with Malaprop’s great logo on it and the coffee drink is free.) We also spent a few minutes in the Grove Arcade – not really shopping, but admiring the impressive center gallery.

R.A.D. – River Arts District - we drove around this area a bit, and it had a really nice vibe. We never really hit the area at peak hours, so we didn’t do a lot of gallery or studio hopping, but it was cool to see the area and eat at White Duck Taco. There’s a New Belgium Brewery under construction in the area, and tons of smaller breweries and cafes too.

Montford Historic District - we took a little drive through this historic area. Whenever we are in a new city we always seek out the historic residential areas because we have a soft spot for them. Tons of modern infill projects intermixed in the historic fabric. Killer views from some of the houses, and some serious foundation walls and piers on others – sloping lots for sure!


Asheville Pinball Museum - a must visit to this tiny place located just across the street from our hotel. $10 unlimited play for adults, $7 for little kids. A rotating collection of vintage and newer machines that you can play to your heart’s content. We were there for a few hours until our fingers were sore.


Climbmax Climbing - so, think about asking Siri about that name! The girls did about an hour and a half of bouldering here on Tuesday night before we had a very late dinner at Chai Pani. It worked out great because most places were swarming with St. Patrick’s Day revelers, and these places were pretty chill.

We headed west on Thursday, lunched on Market Square in Knoxville, and spent the night and part of the next day in Nashville before finally heading home. It was probably one of our best family vacations ever – a good balance of relaxation and adventure.

hiking near asheville: graveyard fields

Graveyard Fields8

Our trip to Asheville was sort of a quick one. We left our house on Saturday morning, drove to visit with my family in KY until Monday morning, and then headed south to Asheville for three nights. Breaking up the trip like that was great – it kept the car rides to under five hours each day, and I thought we spent just enough time there to do the things we wanted to do without completely breaking the bank. One of our must-do things was to spend the day hiking in the mountains. When I was a student at Clemson University, we would frequently drive up to NC for a long day of hiking and waterfall climbing, and I knew the rest of the family would enjoy doing the same.

Graveyard Fields4

We had a ton of choices for hiking, but eventually we decided on Graveyard Fields, particularly because of Lauren’s recommendation. We chose Wednesday for hiking because it was the only partly cloudy day of our trip, and hiking can get pretty hard in the sun, especially for little ones. The weather was terrific – even though we were at a really high elevation the breezes were light, the sun hovered behind the clouds most of the day, and we all felt really comfortable in the clothes we were wearing. The water was too cold to get into – in fact, there was still a little bit of ice at the top of the upper falls – but it was really comfortable to be around it.

Graveyard Fields got its name from a possible major wind event between 500-1000 years ago that caused the spruce trees to overturn, and their roots to resemble gravestones, though some say it was a result of more recent logging practices. A massive fire occurred in 1925, destroying the valley and wiping out all vegetation. The valley is starting to grow again, and it’s full of grasslands and small shrubs, plus the occasional evergreen tree here and there. The paths are lined with rhododendron that were just starting to show signs of the eventual flowers that must be breathtaking when in full bloom.

Graveyard Fields7 Graveyard Fields3

We did the routes shown in red on the topo below, starting at the Trailhead, heading down to the lower falls, and then back up towards the bridge crossing point. Up until that point the trail had been rated “Easy”, with some really nice bridges and staircases to aid in the hiking.


The trail to the upper falls was moderately difficult, and just under a mile (one direction) containing some serious elevation changes. I might also point out that there were some informational posts about black bears in the area, something that never really left my mind as we traipsed through these grassland areas of low shrub growth between the mountainside and the gurgling river below. It sort of seemed like, well, springtime – a good time for some mama bears waking (hungry) from a long winter’s rest. The trail wasn’t very busy, but it was nice to occasionally cross paths with other humans – you know, to increase our survival odds!

The girls were doing great though, especially the little one, so we decided to give it a go. It wasn’t an easy hike, but the girls are used to hiking, and did really well. We made it to the slide area of the big falls, and F and I staked out a couple of relatively flat rocks to rest on between the rushing falls. E and M decided to make the complete ascent together, and they headed off up the falls and out of sight, where they eventually scaled the rocks vertically at the dry edges of the waterfall until they reached the very top.

Graveyard Fields10

When they came back about half an hour later, they convinced us to climb the slide area – a slightly damp area of seriously sloping rock – to an area just around the bend where we could see the very top of the upper falls. It was worth it, and I can say that now with confidence because we all survived it.

Graveyard Fields

Thumbs up for surviving!

We retraced our steps back to the original loop and then completed the other half of that looped trail. It was another stretch that felt like it went straight up, and by this time F was pretty tired. She held my hand for the last portion and only threatened to sit down in the middle of the path forever once or twice before we made it back to our car for the fifty minute drive back to downtown Asheville. The drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway is breathtakingly beautiful, curving and steep, but not terrifyingly so, with almost a dozen tunnels to drive through, and three times as many scenic overlooks for stopping.

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As we were hiking along, I kept thinking about where I was exactly one year ago, lying in bed, unable to stand or walk on my own. It felt so good to walk and climb and jump between rocks for hours on end this spring day. Not a bad way to mark a year.