Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kate's Renovation: The Plans

Client projects have kept me busy, so this post is a bit more delayed than originally planned. I'm playing catch-up trying to get these up-to-speed with what is currently happening at the house. Nights and weekends have kept us busy with tiling both bathrooms upstairs and painting is starting to happen all over. Things are really beginning to take shape and moving in feels like it's just around the corner... despite an overwhelming amount of work that needs to happen between now and then.

Also! Our kitchen cabinets are partially installed. As is typical, they could only get so far before the countertops needed to go in, so our kitchen is sitting in limbo until slabs are installed next week. Quickly followed by appliances.

But I'm ahead of myself, because before any of this could happen, we had to re-arrange things and create some new spaces.

The Basement:
If you recall, the basement was virtually a box with a few support walls in places. We've planned ahead for the future by marking off some space that can someday be a 4th bedroom (after it meets all egress requirements for safety (until then, it's open studs)).

We've made a mudroom that will act as a wet entrance from our alley and backyard. The mudroom also has a shop space off of it that will be the home base for all of our future projects (the list is long). Also, with a very "vintage" garage, it's the best place for tools and time spent improving. For a future owner with little use for a workshop, it can function as a store room.

You'll see that all our systems moved in to the two closets that were already here, but underutilized. We've moved to a tankless hot water heater and an air-handler for our heat pump.

At the base of our stairs is still a bathroom, but now there is a small vestibule that leads to the future bedroom and a laundry. The rest of the basement will be devoted to a bonus room with a large finished closet for storage.

The Main Floor:
We've created some new spaces here, as thankfully, none of the walls were load-bearing in the kitchen and the re-arranging allowed us to expand the kitchen and create a pantry and powder. The circular floorplan was re-inforced as now you travel through a hallway to get to the kitchen, rather than crossing through a breakfast room. 

While it is a hallway with 5(!) doors, this was originally designated as the "service" section of the house, so it still feels very true to the original intention. We're wallpapering this hallway as well, since it's visible from the entry and kitchen, so while it's very much a public space, it functions on multiple levels and won't feel like you're in a different section of the house.

The kitchen now spans 16'-0" in length and with some thought, it was enough to eek out an island rather than a peninnsula. My husband and I both cook a lot and love to entertain, so having a kitchen with as much work surface was very important to us. Seeing it go in last week has us both gobsmacked -- we're walking around thinking we've won the lottery since our last kitchen was decidely a "one-butt" space. We practically had to climb over each other to accomplish anything.

 The Second Floor:
Looking back on the second floor, there was no master bathroom or shower and the closet space was awkward and small. Also, the arrangement left the "4th bedroom" useless. With some re-configuring, we've added another bathroom to the mix, as well as a walk-in closet. 

The arrangement of our windows, doors and floor joists didn't leave many options for the configuration, but what we've ended up with is ample for a city bathroom. The walk-in shower is 3'-0" x 5'-0" and the bathroom vanity has tons of storage for us, despite one sink. For us, it felt like one sink was a good trade-off for big drawers on a 5'-0" vanity.

The other change you'll see is the move to a French door at the top of the stairs. Originally, this door to the deck was through a bedroom. Changing out the short, wide windows to a french door has changed the landing dramatically. It's amazing what a difference it makes to the space and having the deck so accessible really makes the house feel bigger. We hadn't been on the deck in about two months since the old door came out long before the new one arrived, and it's amazing how great it feels to have it back. 

One last note: To preserve the classic layout of the 4 doors leading to a room in each corner of the house, we changed the old bedroom door to a linen closet. While we have some storage upstairs already, it will be awesome to have shallow shelves for towels, table linens and sheets that are separate from the household things I can imagine in the original deep cupboards/drawers. Sacrificing a little bit of the walk-in-closet was worth keeping the door -- anything to help this renovation feel as natural as possible. 

Woof, I think we're caught up on the plans. Maybe we're in store for some shorter posts in the future!

- Kate

Monday, January 4, 2016

Kate's Renovation: The As-Built Plans

For better or for worse, from the first moment we walked in to the house, we knew what we wanted to change. If we had been able to live in the house prior to renovating, maybe we would have come up with alternatives or we would change our mind, but in this case, the nice thing about having an idea immediately is that it gave us the courage to know we could make this floorplan work for us with some changes. 

The house is a very typical center-hall Colonial. The nature of this style of house makes for easy way-finding and lots of symmetry, which is wonderful. The downside is that making changes to it can be tricky given that everything has its place and a matching partner somewhere else in the house. The floors all have a very similar layout to them and are all generally the same size -- each floor is roughly 1000 square feet. 

The Basement {As-Built}:

Our intention was to basically close the basement door for 2 years and get to it when we'd recovered from the upstairs phase of the renovation.

That more or less has happened, but the door has by no means been closed. When we bought the house, we planned to switch out the oil boiler for a gas version and keep the radiant heat and corresponding radiators throughout. With more research, we learned that switching the boiler meant thousands in permitting, upgrades, and labor (the estimate was around $30k), so at that point we began to explore updating the system entirely, especially with so many of the radiators in crazy locations.

To do away with the radiators meant a clean basement, free of low-hanging pipes and the addition of a ducted heat pump system that could heat and cool the house more efficiently. Combined with the tankless water heater we installed, it means that the monster boiler and water heater (shown in red here) could move elsewhere and we gained useable space.

We also have had to re-wire and re-plumb the entire house (surprise!), so with all these decisions happening, we decided to frame in the rooms we planned on for the future and run the necessary plumbing and wiring to them. The new laundry got drywall so it would be functional for us in the sort-term and we'll finish it more as we get things upstairs crossed off the list. More details on that with the renovation plans.

Otherwise, the unfinished basement was more or less an open space, with few walls and a sad excuse for a bathroom (this was the only shower in the house).

Main Floor {As-Built}:

Walking in the front door, the dining room (with french doors) is to your right and living room to the left. Straight back is a 15-lite door leading to the breakfast room and a two-part powder bath. Typical of this floorplan, it makes a loop to access the kitchen this way, or via the dining room's swing door. 

While looking for a house, one of the top priorities we had was a main floor powder room. And if it didn't have one, where could we build one? Well, the house definitely had one -- it was massive and yet TINY all at the same time. The second doorway off the breakfast room was partially blocked by the edge of the kitchen counter and the freestanding range. This was a product of the house never having been truly updated to accommodate modern appliances like fridges and stoves. We know this because we tore out the original ice box and coal door that used to make the kitchen more functional. 

Also in the kitchen was the now-outdated chimney for the boiler. This run began in the basement and ended above the roof (4 stories in total) and it wreaked havoc on every floor's arrangement. In the kitchen and upstairs bedroom, it was plastered over to look more finished, but we lost almost 4 square feet to it on all three floors of living space. My vote was immediately to take it down. We did it in Susie's first house 15 years ago and I was hell-bent on getting rid of it here too. To my husband, it sounded exhausting and miserable, which he was pretty correct in thinking, but thankfully he eventually agreed and with the help of wonderful friends, it was only a weekend of disassembling and mind-numbing brick scraping (future retaining wall and patio: win-win). 

Finishing out the kitchen was a narrow hallway that leads to a back porch. This is the only access to the backyard, which backs up to a driveway and ally. 

The Second Floor {As-Built}:

Technically a 4 bedroom house, the second floor landing has perfect symmetry with all 4 bedrooms coming off the 4 corners of the landing. The rooms were all served by one 3/4 bathroom (toilet, sink, tub -- no shower). The tub could have had a shower added to it, but the windows in the bathroom hung into the tub, bringing up some issues of water and privacy. 

What we're calling a "bedroom" here could never have really been one, at least not by today's standards. It had no outlets and it had very little square-footage thanks to the master closet that backs up to it. It also had a wall hanging half-way in front of the window and the saddest excuse for a closet -- nothing more than a couple shelves. 

This room's fate rested on that of the master bedroom. How to get a better closet in, as well as an ensuite master bath? Neither the "bedroom" or the master closet were doing their job well enough to warrant a pardon, so I'm sure you can guess that these areas on the second floor have been where we focused our attention. 

This was another area that we told ourselves we'd demo for the sake of permitting and building codes and then shut the door on. We were prepared to lay down ram board and set up some rolling racks to use it as a closet in it's demolished state for the immediate future, but thanks to the changes in our plumbing and electrical, one thing has lead to another and we're going for it. 

Another thing to note is the access to a back deck via a bedroom. From the windows at the top of the landing, you can see a bit of Lake Washington and a great view of the street behind us. We're lucky enough to back up to some really beautiful houses, so (with some bias) we consider the houses to be really pleasant. It's also a great deck that gets morning light and during Seafair, the Blue Angles fly right over our house. We're making some changes here to allow for more public access to the deck, rather than directing into a bedroom.

We've got plans for the exterior as well as the backyard, but those will spring and summer projects. In the meantime, the changes to all the street-facing windows have left the house with a new look.  Thank goodness for neighbors who were so desperate for someone to rehab the house, that even this is an improvement to them: 

New windows, in progress

Next time: The renovation plans. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Kate's Renovation: Part One

It's been a looong time since we last wrote something here, and I wish I had more than the usual excuses, but I won't bore you with them. If you follow Susie and I on Instagram, you've seen that our daily life is filled with more clients than ever and after our day job ends, Susie goes home to kids who are growing up too fast and now I go home to a baby of my own... a fixer-upper.

If you do happen to follow me, you've seen that in 2014 I got married. And in 2015, we turned our attention towards finding a house. My husband and I have always talked about finding a home that would need lots of work. For me, it's always been a dream to rehab a home and work on my own project. For my husband, his desire to spend wisely in real estate dovetailed nicely with his willingness to work hard (probably much harder than he anticipated).. 

I can't go forward without first giving you a little bit of background in to the Seattle real estate market, because it helps add context to the crazy situation we entered in to when we eventually found our house. Bear with me on this wordy post, I swear I'll get to the photos soon, but without some of this you will think we are even crazier than you're bound to think we already are.

After getting the go-ahead from lenders, we found ourselves in one of the craziest booms that Seattle has ever seen, with some of the lowest inventory on record. We attempted to purchase a couple homes, but found ourselves in what's become a typical scenario here: Pre-inspections in order to submit qualified offers (with no contingencies) on one review date. Buyers are usually one of many (in our case 10 other offers was typical) and the winner was always the all cash buyer who had offered much more than asking. It's not uncommon for a house to go for $100,000 over asking right now. 

As you could imagine, the combination of all those factors gave us a feeling of moderate desperation. On one hand, we loved our apartment. On the other, we were going stir-crazy in 575 (well laid-out and charming) square feet. One day in June, my husband called and simultaneously sent me a link to a home on Craigslist. It turns out that he had been periodically checking the property postings and a home he had seen months earlier had been "re-listed," but this time for much less. Now, it was actually in our wheelhouse. 

What he'd sent me was a listing for a 1924 Colonial Revival in one of Seattle's best neighborhoods. The listing had 4 photos and little else for information, but we immediately called the seller to set up an appointment. I've probably glossed over the fact that my husband had been checking Craigslist, and I should have been more hesitant, but the fact of the matter is that he has bought and sold so much over Craigslist in the near-decade that we've been together, that it only seemed too fitting. OF COURSE he was checking Craigslist, I should have known he would be. 

"Listing" Photo

The listing was unusual, however. The seller requested no real estate agents and the photos of the interior showed a less than well-kept home. When we arrived, it only became more clear that we were dealing with the unusual situation of a young man selling the home of recently-passed parents, one of whom had spent their later years dealing with a hoarding disorder. A bunch of other issues played in to the current state of the house and I'm sure the photos I'm including here can speak for themselves since I'd rather not air their laundry. I actually arrived before Hans and when he walked in and looked at my face, he mistook the expression for disgust -- another waste of time. And well.. disgust may have been present, but it was hidden behind what was actually the crazy look in my eyes that said "I WANT THIS HOUSE." 

At the end of the day, we had an awesome real estate attorney who helped protect us through the sale, which dragged on for longer than normal and almost fell through a few times. It was not an enjoyable process or one at all similar to what I pictured when thinking about buying our first home.

We also decided during the process that if it helped us get the house, we would let the current owner leave whatever he wasn't able to dispose of... wouldn't you know, that was just about everything. Although we're told by neighbors that truckloads had been taken out in order to get the house ready for listing. I've heard a few people use the expression "narrow passageways" which makes me grateful for the condition we got it in, despite it all.

"Listing" Photo

"Listing" Photo
The above photos were included in the ad, with one more of the backside of the house.

Here are some more that I took that day and on the day we took possession:

Because the sale had gotten delayed, we ended up closing on the house while we were in Europe for a summer vacation. Not ideal, but thankfully we kept in touch with everyone well enough to make sure things were progressing well and we gave my mom power of attorney to sign the paperwork, since we wouldn't be near a U.S. Consulate. 

On August 2nd, we turned the key as owners. We knew we'd be walking in to a disaster, but neither of us were prepared for the extent of it. In fairness, it had all been there when we bought it... it's just that nothing left in the 2 months we'd been waiting to take possession. Even the rotting food in the broken fridge and the bed sheets on the (now deflated) air mattress. 

Master Bedroom (Pringles included with sale)
Front Bedroom
(That's a bed. Someone had been sleeping here...)
Upstairs 3/4 Bath
The Basement
The Kitchen (notice the hand print on the cabinets...)
The Kitchen

Two-part powder off the breakfast room. 

Breakfast Room: Some of you might recall a photo I posted to instagram of house hunting with a photo of a sharps container near my feet filled with hypodermics? That container is about 12" from where I took this photo. 
The Dining Room
The Dining Room

Basement Bath - the only one with a shower and the only 'update' to the house as far as we can tell.

This pile (which actually filled most of the backyard and stood about 10' tall was the result of our first DAY of cleaning. We've since taken tons (literally) to the dump with multiple dumpsters hauling it away.
View from the upstairs landing. The trees have actually been cut a bit since so you can see more of  Lake Washington. From the master, the view is better. Can't believe we bought a house with a view... takes the sting out of leaving Lake Union. 

Backyard, facing the side
For the sake of breaking this up and organizing my thoughts, I'm ending it here. I'll focus on the revisions and the floorplans in the next post. I think this one could go on forever if I don't stop myself at what feels like a good spot.

But to give you some insight in to what's to come and what has been, this project covers everything. It might not have started out that way when we bought the house, but like so many restorations, it's turned into a tip-to-tail rehab of a house in much need of updates. We're replacing windows, converting the HVAC, restoring floors, replacing ALL the plumbing, replacing ALL the knob and tube, expanding kitchens, adding bathrooms, finding new uses for spaces and we're doing it ourselves.

Did I meniton that? Aside from hiring out a few small things that make absolute sense to not compromise the integrity and quality of this house, you're looking at the contractors.

As-builts and reno plans next time.


Thursday, February 13, 2014


Hilarious that our last post was in September and hilarious that we always tell ourselves we'll be better bloggers. I won't kid around, finding time to blog is hard. Everyone says it, but it couldn't be more true.

But... I'm in the mood to be a better blogger, better creative person and better business owner. AND, yesterday I pulled my head up out of my little sandy hole and realized that Friday is VALENTINE'S DAY.


Wasn't it just Christmas? And before that... wasn't it just Valentine's Day? I won't even act like I was alone in forgetting it... especially since had you seen us at 2:30pm yesterday burning rubber in to the drugstore parking lot to buy last-minute Valentines for Susie's youngest... you'd gather that we haven't given much thought to the holiday.

But we're getting in the spirit  by digging through our virtual stacks of images and relishing in some of our favorite rooms that used pink. And then we got even crazier (yes, crazy) and went off topic in to clothes and other beautiful things. I'm a sucker for some of the Valentine's-inspired things in stores too (have you seen the adorable bowls at West Elm?).

In all honesty (as if you can't already tell), I'm not much for this holiday, but pinks like these are something I can really get behind...

Ending on that good Marchesa note... 

All the best,


Thursday, September 5, 2013

We're Alive.

I feel like we should just get that on the table, because once again, we've gone dark. Somehow, you blink your eyes and months have gone by. I don't think we're proud of that, but the nice thing about blogging is the ability to come back and catch up.

Maybe it goes without saying, but Susie and I are coming off of one of the crazier summers that we've ever had. In addition to balancing family and friends, our business had a great summer. I think we both feel very tired as we roll in to fall -- in fact the last couple days have been very dreary and we're feeling like without the kick in the pants of the sun, we both are needing some big cups of coffee to get by.

I think the best way to get through summer is with photos, since after all, this job is visual.

 Demolition at one of our projects began in the middle of June. There is much more to be told about this project, but needless to say, it kept us busy. 

Which led to lots of cocktails... in this case homemade basil gimlets from an episode of Barefoot Contessa that I managed to catch. AND a basil plant that I managed to keep alive all summer. Best $3.99 ever. 

Countertop installation in a bathroom we reconfigured and started from scratch on.  This particular stone was amazing. A small amount of crystals in the marble kept it feeling young and playful.

 One of our finished bathrooms -- this one was for a little boy complete with a custom shagreen bench for bathtime and a shower curtain that feels more like draperies than the usual fix. 

 Breakfast table in the process of being styled. These chairs were vintage and so incredible. They make for the perfect chair to sit at for long casual meals with friends.

 One of our favorite chandeliers ever before it came to its "forever home" in our client's entry. This one was a real miracle to pull off since the normal lead time is 14 weeks. Needless to say, we breathed a big sigh of relief when it was installed safely -- agate doesn't take kindly to rough treatment. 

 We doubled as shipping and receiving as box after box came through our door. We spent so much time breaking down boxes in order to make room for new items. Our nightly routine consisted of jobsite visits and and pouring a glass of wine as we ripped apart boxes and sorted deliveries. 

This art is serving as inspiration for one of our projects as we work on the main floor of a Seattle craftsman home. Strong greens and neutrals will make an appearance. 

Laying down the beginnings of this laundry room floor. The end product has amazing drying racks that pull-out from the lower cupboards and pull-out laundry baskets. This is a laundry room to envy and we're pretty proud of it. 

 Soup to nuts, this one was a total reno. We'll post before pictures sometime, but it started as something completely different -- let's just say that marble herringbone floors were not in this house a few weeks before. This photo was snapped mid-install.

 One of our client's favorite spots. And really, we'd be lying if we said we haven't enjoyed a margarita on these sofas.

 One of our projects on the day we took possession. Such a beautiful property that has since gotten some much needed attention to the front entry and approach. 

... A reference photo for us as we worked to bring this room to reality.

 One of our most favorite wallpapers EVER and the rest of the powder is even better. Antique mirror, Waterworks and bone top it off.

 I pinch myself when we get to work with clients on their dishware. I could have just keeled over with excitement while selecting this pattern.

 Coming along. This has got to be one of our favorite designs for an island leg. A small fillet detail wraps the island with such delicacy.

 Do you recognize this one? It's still in progress because we were still moving our clients in and the barstools are temporary while the factory in Paris enjoys their August vacation. What can you do when you're dealing with European vacation schedules? Improvise.

 Snapped a quickie in bad light to keep track of our install. Sometimes I find the best way make a list is with my phone. I pity the person who thinks they'll find "interesting" photos on my phone. I mean, a limited audience might be pleased to come across it, the rest might think I have an odd fetish for furniture, light fixtures and people holding things up for me. 

Needless to say,  we consumed a lot of makeshift meals and fast food this summer. It was not a banner year for swimsuits, but honestly, we didn't have an opportunity to even think about "summer" until it was nearly over. So we drank. And emailed and tried to do that in the right order. Responsibly.

 Installation day for two Dennis & Leen sofas. These were almost too hard to leave behind.

 The most gorgeous original malachite custom wallpaper by one of our most favorite artists. She makes us want to giggle so much that it's almost hard to get anything done. But when we leave her alone she makes beautiful things like this. 

 THIS is why we insisted on a wall of sliders. The view in this house is incredible and opening it up to the waterfront makes it all completely worth it. We can't wait to see the kitchen go in any day. 

 In between just a few things, I managed to get away for the sailing trip I had written about and got in some fishing... or really, reading. However, I'm a hell of a fillet-er, not to mention doing it on the side of a boat is no easy task. Our trip was beautiful and while I was gone, Susie escaped to Mexico with her family. Much needed R&R. 

 Captivating construction shot, I know.  But when we get to enjoy the fruits of a better layout, seeing plumbing lines move to better spots is pure heaven. 

 Isn't this gate amazing? I snooped on this house as I walked to a Sunday morning post-wedding brunch on San Juan Island. Roche Harbour has some amazing houses, but this one has to go down as an absolute favorite.

 Finishing out a master bath re-decorating project with one heck of a cushion. I would camp out in here while I waited for my counterpart to be ready. 

That's just the start of it, but overall it was a pretty epic summer. We managed to cram it all in, but now we're left with the start of school and as soon as Labor Day rolled around, the rain came back. I think we'll still have a few more days of nice weather , but the good news is it makes sitting at our desks doing paperwork not quite as painful. 

Enjoy your Thursday. 


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