Tag Archives: design

bench thoughts

The bench in our bedroom at the foot of our bed is at least fifteen years old. It’s dark (fake) leather, tufted, with a deep storage well. It currently holds all the dress up clothes, castoffs from twenty halloween costumes, party favor hats and funny glasses, several versions of Harry Potter wands, and discarded recital-wear from dancing cousins. Most days it never gets opened, but its presence there is really important as a surface. It holds the extra pillows at night, plus the blanket and the discarded comforter. At some point each evening, one of us stacks the pillows there and folds the blue blanket up in a neat stack, and pulls the comforter onto the bench – clear signals that we’re both headed there soon, if not quite yet.

A few months ago the upholstery started to flake off, and now it’s in full fledged shedding mode. I find these dark brown flecks everywhere, and they annoy me. M thinks we could reupholster it, but I know that will likely be as costly – or even more costly – as a new bench, and I’m really not that keen on the design of this one so much that I want to sink a few hundred dollars into it. It sits really low to the ground, so it’s impossible to vacuum underneath it, but just high enough to host a lot of cobwebs. So I’ve been thinking about an eventual replacement bench, and here are a few I’ve considered:


The Nelson Bench is a classic that I’d love to own one day. Alas, the price tag is pretty steep, and I can’t see myself finding the time to track down a vintage piece. (Although a quick search locates one in Chicago, so maybe I could call on some blog friends…) We’d lose the storage capacity, but honestly, we have a full height wall of built-in wardrobes right across from here, so storage isn’t really that big of a deal, we’d just need to shift things around a bit.


I like the walnut finish, but the natural could be nice too. The room is mostly white and very simple. The walnut would nod a bit more to the chifferobe in the bathroom, but the natural finish is really simple and – at least to me – looks more like the classic piece I’ve loved for decades. One benefit of going with the walnut is that it would look great with the Eames Turned Stools that I keep hoping will magically appear on either side of our bed one morning. (I like the shape on the left the best.)



These are also very pricey, although they would increase in value over time, as would the bench, because they are classic pieces.

I ran over to the mall last Saturday to pick up a necktie that M had ordered, and I decided to pop into West Elm just a few stores down. They are currently running a 30% sale on some of their furniture, and I noticed this bench at the foot one of their beds in the showroom. It very closely matches the piece in the bathroom, which got me thinking more about tying the two rooms together.


I like the idea of a lower shelf that could hold a few items like books, or an extra blanket, and it was helpful seeing the bench against a bed / bedding just like ours. I’m just not sure I want something too fussy there, so I’m not completely sold on this one.

We could also go really simple here, which could be a nice idea. My worry is going too rustic, although the lines of this Blu Dot bench below are nice. (It’s called the Amicable Split, which might not be the best name for a bench at the foot of our bed.)

And there’s always the option of doing an updated version of what we have now – something upholstered in a neutral fabric, with storage space and a comfortable, tufted top.


There are lots of options with or without storage with this kind of look. It looks comfortable and practical, and would certainly be a safe choice.


But in my predictable fashion, I need to mull things over a bit more. I feel like the last bench was a practical, safe choice for over fifteen years. As we’re moving through the house with an eye to finishing out, purging, buttoning up, and finessing our design choices, the classics are the most appealing to me – even if I have to wait them out a bit more or hunt them down.

I’ll post some photos of the room soon – we’re hoping to install historic replacement windows in there soon, and then will repaint and freshen things up.

project addition: carriage house elevations

I just realized I’m telling this series of “stories” in a backward fashion – the garage will be the last thing constructed, not the first. But I’ll continue on in some sort of systematic fashion despite that. There’s no economy of scale anywhere in this project – we can’t pour all the foundations, lay all the bricks, spray in all the insulation – in one fell swoop. The addition will come first, because after the garage goes in there won’t be any access for large equipment into the yard.

I have moments when I really start to sweat at the complexity of it all. Nothing about this project is simple, nothing will be routine. There is no typical wall section here – everything has to be thought all the way through before pulling the trigger because we literally have no room for adjustments. But we build more complicated things all the time, so I take a deep breath and try to push on.

Elevations – elevations are a funny thing to look at if you aren’t used to looking at them. They aren’t a great representation of reality because everything about a three-dimensional building is reduced to a two-dimensional one. There are little cues that can help you “read” one, but they’re more important for the construction document side than for explaining how a building will look in real life. I thought I’d share them anyway, and hopefully they explain in further detail what the building will look like.


Three sides of the carriage house aren’t really that exciting – guess what? It’s a big, brick box! We can’t install windows on walls that are on the property line, and I discussed yesterday that we had decided not to put any on the alley side either. M actually thought that big brick expanse on the alley side might make a good spot to install some sort of art installation down the road, something to brighten up the alley a little. Might be a fun project.


But the courtyard side of the building is the one that we really like.


You’ll see in the lower left hand corner, the drawing cuts through the areaway stair down to the garage door. This door opens onto the stair landing. You can go straight up the stairs to the apartment, or you can turn to your right, open the door, and step down into the garage. Also at the garage level, you can see the two operable awning windows – the dashed lines represent the direction the windows open, so these hinge at the top and open outward. We love awning windows – you get a nice breeze through them, but they can also stay open in a gentle rain because the opening is somewhat protected by the window “awning”.

You can see in this elevation that the height of the courtyard is much higher than the garage floor below, so this side of the building will look the shortest in elevation.

The apartment floor cantilevers out over the garage below – this does a couple of functional and aesthetic things.

It provides us a change to break up the expanse of brick on this elevation – the one we’re going to look at the most. We aren’t 100% sure on the cladding material and finish on this piece, but it will be wood siding of some sort – either opaque stained to match the brick color, or possibly a tropical hardwood or stained wood of some kind. Either way, it helps to define that living space as a special one, and (as you’ll see when I get to the house addition posts), it mirrors the look of the rear of the addition.

Having that “frame” cantilever beyond the garage does a few other things – it provides some protection over the garage door below it, which is always welcome at an entry door. And while it won’t fully cover the landing at the bottom of the stairs there,  there’s always some protection that comes from standing next to a tall wall – so this will just extend that protection a little more. It gives us a place to install a recessed light fixture to illuminate that stair too, a nice, clean detail.

The frame also provides a bit of privacy from either side. You can see that the top and one side slope in towards the windows, while the other side and the bottom are straight. Of course this won’t provide total privacy at this giant wall of glass, but it does shelter the windows somewhat, and I think it will also provide a nice, focused view from the interior of the apartment. We’ll still have large roller shades to provide privacy when needed.

And if you’re into that higher level of detail, you can see the wall sections through that cantilevered frame at the windows in the right two sections. In the left one, you get a sense for how tall the windows are in the space, and also how the exposed roof structure will look.


That’s a fairly comprehensive overview of one half of this project. Next weekend I’ll write the posts on the addition portion of the project, and hopefully have some good news to report from Thursday’s hearing. Thanks for all the notes of encouragement!

project addition: conditional use


First things first. I need more hours in the day. I swear we are squeezing the most out of our time, but I still wish there were more. I have to let the blog slide a bit, there’s just no other way around it. The flip side might eventually become over-posting, and then you might want me to shut up already.

Here’s a list of all the zoning challenges on our project:

Side yard setbacks: Four feet from property line. For any suburbanites out there, you might laugh at that number because you probably have 15′, or 30′, or even 50′. We have 4′. Subtract 8′ from 25′ and you get no kind of project at all (and certainly not a functional garage), so we had to get three variances, requiring three notarized letters from neighbors. (2 garage, 1 addition). Status: DONE.

Height restrictions: The maximum height for a garage is 12′ – this is calculated by taking the average height from grade on all four elevations of the garage, and goes from grade to top of (flat) roof – not the parapet – or the midpoint of a gable roof. The grade change works in our favor at our alley to a certain degree because the elevation on the yard side is so much shorter than the alley side. But 12′ does not allow for a living unit above a garage, so we needed to get a variance to extend that maximum height to 18′ – just enough to fit in a living unit with a decent ceiling height on both floors. Again, the grade change helps us, so we’ve got 9′ ceilings and exposed structure in the studio space above. This required a variance, and notarized letters of agreement from neighbors. (2 total.) Status: DONE.

Carriage House: Building a second living unit – not typically allowed. But, if you’ve read our house’s history, you’ll recall our house was originally a two-family house that we converted to a single-family home. So hooray – we are zoned ‘C – Multi-Family’, and so we get to add the unit. Status: DONE.

Parking Requirements: Even if you are zoned to allow for a second living unit, you are required to provide an off-street parking place for each unit. We currently don’t have one for our house, but are grandfathered in. Lucky for us, a two-car garage is a handy spot to house two off-street cars! Which of course require a 25′ wide garage to fit them – so you can see why those earlier variances are key. Status: DONE.

The 30% Rule: So here’s where they get us. You can’t build a garage on your property if the footprint of the garage takes up more than 30% of your rear yard. If we weren’t building the addition we’d probably squeak in just under that amount. But even though these are combined into one project, they look at the area of the rear yard once the footprint of the addition is in place to make the calculations. And in that case, we’re covering closer to 40% of our rear yard. We’ve known about this from day one, and we’ve been told by multiple people that this rule can be overcome – and frequently is – because of the restrictions these historic neighborhoods already have with their teeny-tiny lots. But our project will have to go to a Conditional Use Hearing, and that’s scheduled in October. Status: PENDING, FAVORABLE. Hopefully our $50 fee and winning smiles at the hearing will give us the green light and we can avoid the Board of Adjustment, which is more time and money. Fingers crossed. (Cross yours too, if you’d like.)

Side note on eating up our yard – the roof structures on both the addition and the garage are sized to accommodate roof gardens + roof decks. When I show you the plans soon, you’ll see them on both. The addition’s garden will be accessed from the second floor balcony, and the garage apartment will have a cool ship’s ladder to a hatch out onto the roof. We’re going to string lights on everything and have super-cool parties like they do in the movies, with beautiful people hanging out everywhere. Yeah, probably not. But you can find me up there on a Sunday morning with my coffee and a book. (The girls are scheming for a zip-line between the two.)

Meanwhile, all systems are a go for everything else. We’re integrating the structural engineer’s notes onto our drawings, and our contractor is getting a big, beautiful set of drawings tomorrow for pricing. I’d call the set 85% complete at this point. We might be pushing it for a fall start, but who knows? Our winters can be pretty mild, and we’re still optimistic.