Tag Archives: renovation

dust off, dust up, hang up

My living room is super clean this week. I realize this week has barely started, but it’s been clean for four days now, and it’s a really good feeling. On Saturday I set up the ladder and worked my way down from the ceiling – dusting, straightening and shifting all of the books. I brought books down from all over the house and shelved them on the newly clean shelves. It felt really good. 


The only way we could devote so much time to the planning and drawing and coordinating on the addition project was to let a few a lot of things go. Deep cleaning was one of those things. We weren’t living in filth, but we couldn’t let ourselves get distracted by the piles that inevitably stack up if you don’t attack them on a regular basis. I haven’t filed anything for almost a year. It’s a nice, neat stack, and if I need to find something I can thumb through it. But if I had time to sit and file papers, that was time I needed to spend on the drawings. I just had to let some things go, and ignore the piles. I’m behind on a lot of things like that – photo sorting and printing, closet cleaning, etc. I have stashes of framed artwork and portraits that haven’t been hung on the walls, and there’s trim to be touched up, and a summer front that is almost ready to be installed… and we’ll get to it all, eventually.

The nice thing about forcing myself to let so many of these things go is that they now feel more exciting to tackle – less chore-like and more reward-like. Cleaning the living room felt great. There is nothing better (to me) than relaxing in a freshly cleaned room. I basked in that joy for almost 24 hours before this happened:


My photo is a little blurry, but if you follow M on Instagram, he has a series of photos / video of the mess on there. M cut a hole in the bookshelves – in the area where we plan to install a fireplace. This one, to be exact:d604b8537048729b692df570f67c78e9He created a tent to contain the dust – and there was a TON of dust.

Then he used a vacuum cleaner to create negative air pressure so that he could take down the tent and the dust wouldn’t immediately fill the room. He cleaned the whole area up and you can’t even tell that he did the work. Now we have a giant hole where our insert will go. The foam core is a to-scale replica of the actual unit, and it conveniently hides the hole. Our early spring was squashed this week by freezing temperatures and snow, and so F keeps pretending to use the “fireplace”.


I’m rambling a bit here, but I’m trying to circle around to the topic of mudrooms. Our living room is our mudroom – it’s our entry and our drop off space and it always has a zone of items destined for other places. Right now that’s the east wall with a neat line of bags and bins ready for Goodwill.

BUT NOT FOR LONG! My very first mudroom is on its way!

As I mentioned before, it’s not a huge space, but it’s a space. An entry space, half a level down from the main floor, with an adjacent area to stash our stuff. It’s not large enough for lockers or cubbies, but I’m not sure those are really necessary for us. More than anything, I want flexibility. I want a system that is simple and elegant and can adapt to our needs of the moment and of the season. And because this room is pretty open to the new stair, I want it to be an extension of the finishes there.

I don’t think I mentioned this before, but we are working with a general contractor that I’ve had a working relationship with for almost two decades. He’s built several of the projects I’ve worked on professionally, and he’s also done some of the smaller projects around our house for us. (The library shelves and our staircase are some notable ones.) He’s wonderful to work with on a project because he’s truly an artist at his core. He has an amazing studio space and shop – he’s an incredible cabinet maker, and we can’t wait to work with him on our kitchen. When we get further along in the project, I promise to take some photos of his workshop and post them here.

I mentioned in the stair post that we would like to incorporate wood in the stair “link” as a material change between the old house and the new addition. I’m thinking that some of that might also extend into the mudroom, and help create a flexible storage area. If the stair enclosure at the lower level is perforated wood, maybe that same idea extends into the mudroom on the walls and becomes a place to insert dowels for hanging up items or adding shelves. I’m still in love with the pegs in our master bathroom, and I’ve pulled a few of the images I’ve saved over the last year or so along these lines. Think of it as a modern interpretation of the classic pegboard – just weightier for bulkier items.




This last image relates more to the new living unit over the garage, but it has the same lines we’re looking for in the rest of the project. I love the simple shelf for towel storage with a place to hang a few items for a weekend visit. I also love that walnut shelf – it’s almost exactly what I have in my head for the kitchen cabinets and shelves – material and finish. More on that kitchen soon…


new stair happy dance

I know I’m bouncing back and forth, but I thought I’d show you the stair details for the project. I’m really excited about having this new stair inside the house because the current outdoor stair is a joke.

But, because NOTHING is simple on this project, this stair has required a lot of detailing and finessing. The framing for it is tricky, and so is the railing. I want the finished look to be very crisp and clean, so complicated, yet simple. This could me my life theme. Or maybe simple, yet complicated. I need to mull that over a bit more.


(Again, sorry these images look blurry, click for a crisper view.) Simple railing, tube steel, (I’d like to paint it white), horizontal cables, a simple wood cap on top. On the dining room side I want a credenza / sideboard at the guardrail, so I had the idea to use the railing as the base for this piece. It would match the finish of the kitchen cabinets, and give us some storage for table linens and vases near the table, plus a place to put flowers or a spread of food.

The railing goes down the center of the stair, switching back at the landing, and on the outer side of the lower run, we can’t put a railing to match for a couple of reasons – it would interfere with the entry door swing unless we widen the stair (and every inch counts here), plus it would overlap the guardrail above, and look really cluttered. So we’re hoping to work with our general contractor (who happens to also be a master cabinet maker) to make some sort of perforated wood panel from the edge of the dining room floor down to the den floor – it will let some light in, and be a cool feature at the entrance, but still screen the direct view down into the den from the entrance. I think we have some neat opportunities there.

And no more outdoor stairs!

a few slices, and a look inside

I’m going to wrap these posts up because they feel like they’ve gone on for awhile, and the drawings following these dive deeper into the details. But I thought I’d share the building and a few of the wall sections that do offer a better understanding of how all of these spaces work together.


Upper Left: This is a section cut through the new addition, looking west, backyard is on the left. You can see the folding glass wall on the left, and the wood surround that frames that opening and provides some privacy and sun control to the interior. This is probably the most helpful building section because you can see that “link area” with the skylights in the roof, and the built-in refrigerator and freezer and dish cabinet that extend the galley kitchen another seven feet. You can also see a bit of the kitchen in this section too.

When you look at the lower level, you’ll see that shorter ceiling height at the base of the stairs in the link, where I mentioned before that we couldn’t undercut the original foundation which has a very short head height in the existing basement. But then the basement steps down 21″ from there, and the Den has a higher ceiling. Upstairs we’ll have a drywall ceiling, but downstairs we’ll leave the floor framing exposed and paint it all out white, so it will feel even taller without the flat ceiling. I think I forgot to mention this in the lighting post, but we’re thinking we’ll install a couple of surface mounted tracks to the underside of the floor and mount adjustable light fixtures to them. Mechanical ducts will also be exposed down here, so those will be spiral, and painted out white as well. Similar in feel to this photo.


Upper Right is cut in a similar spot, but is looking east, so just imagine you are pivoting around and looking the other way. You can see the enclosed Balcony on the second floor, the new Pantry area, the Stair landing, the adjacent Mudroom (see what I mean about the really tall ceiling?!), and the Dining Room on the main level, and Den on the lower level – with operable windows in both for ventilation. There is a decent amount of storage underneath the stair, with access to the crawl space under the Mudroom and Pantry.


I’m not sure it’s that valuable to go through all the rest of the drawings in great detail, but I put them here in case you are interested. I know there are more than a few architects that read this blog! (And my parents! They always like more drawings, not less!) Again, if you have any questions, just ask.

Wall Sections

I plan to put together a few more detailed posts that show the interior elevations of the space, which will dive deeper into the kitchen and the stair details. Those will take a little more time to put together, but I promise to get to this soon. We’ve really focused most of our attention on how this jigsaw puzzle goes together – how to maximize the volume of the rooms – new and existing, how to maximize the daylight (and how to control it), natural ventilation, opportunities for green growing space, and how to solve those initial problems that I outlined initially as Objectives for this project. I’ve copied them here to refresh your memory:

1. Connect this big old brick house to the outdoors in a more modern, open manner.
2. Bring light into the center of the house.
3. Upgrade the kitchen into a serious cooking / baking kitchen – not a fancy kitchen, a hardworking kitchen.
4. Carve out a mudroom space to control clutter.
5. Provide an indoor connection to the basement / storm shelter.
6. Create an urban courtyard and a more private outdoor away space.
7. The table is a big part of our family life – create a dining space that celebrates that and also allows us to entertain larger groups of family and friends.
8. Build an alley garage with a future attic space for guests or studio space.
9. Create an informal hang out space in the new basement room – a spill over space from the main level for the kids when the adults are lingering around the table.
10. Bring light into the basement room in a clever way from the outdoor garden. (M suggested portholes into the side of a pool built along the foundation wall!)

I would say we’ve accomplished all of these, even number 10, where we managed to get some natural light into the basement, albeit not through portholes from an adjacent pool. $$$$!

It’s always good to set those initial goals at the beginning, and then to make sure that the decisions that you make along the way align with them. It’s really easy to get off track on a project of this magnitude. Thanks for hanging in there with me, and following along on these posts. What’s your favorite part?