Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Master Suite (10 of 11): The Water Closet

. . . because, face it, it sounds better than toilet.  The saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” is, in part, reference to this.  In ancient Roman times, the toilet was a series of holes on a bench placed at the perimeter of the main public square and exposed for all to see.  Several feet below this bench was a running stream that carried the waste away to streams and rivers.  In front of this bench was a trough of flowing water which contained several sponges on sticks you used to clean yourself when you were done with business.  In the home, a seat with a hole and similar sponge in a bucket was placed next to the main cooking area.  Water for cleaning was then dumped down the hole to wash away any waste.  To think this was the most advanced civilization in the world at the time.  Thankfully we have progressed a bit since then, although the concept of sitting over a hole has not changed much, at least there is privacy and it is not part of the kitchen!

Now, many master suites have a separate room designated for the water closet.  And gaining popularity is the bidet.  (Although I still prefer the good ole reliable TP).  No matter your preference it is nice to have a separate area to do your business and if you enjoy a hearty bowl of chili – be sure you have a powerful fan and perhaps a few layers of insulation to muffle the sound!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Master Suite (9 of 11): The Vanity

In ages past the bathroom was only thought of as a place to clean yourself up and relieve "internal pressure".    To some it held the bar of soap mom used to clean a dirty mouth – yuck!  (Fond memories)  With today’s spa like master suites the vanity counter has also transformed from a vessel to wash your hands to a vital necessity in getting ready for every event.  Whether it is preparing for usual daily activities or preparing for the sophisticated holiday gala.

If you are a simple person with simple needs then perhaps the single bowl vanity will work for you.  If you like to spend some time getting ready for special events or if you and your spouse battle the bathroom at the same time then a double bowl vanity will likely suite your needs better.  But if you are one who likes to pamper yourself then a grooming station would be your best solution.

The grooming station should be furnished with a plush stool and framed with a large mirror behind a spacious cosmetics display.  This, naturally, should be positioned away from his simple vanity with token mirror (to compliment your station of course).  You should not have to witness him trimming his nose hairs while you capture your natural radiance!

The spa needn't be something you visit occasionally.  Bring it home and give yourself the pampering you so richly deserve every day!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Master Suite (8 of 11): Tub vs Shower

The great debate – Do you have both a tub and a shower in your Master Suite?  In the previous post we discussed the 5-piece bath which includes both.  For some this is necessary.  One person loves taking showers.  Having multiple heads with various settings provides the perfect start to the day.  For others, the large soaker tub with its relaxing, massaging jets and in-line heater, is essential to wash away the cares of the day.  The answer to the debate is to plan the fixtures that are just right for you.  If you are concerned about the future sale of your home then perhaps you should have both.  From my experience and working with many different clients from various backgrounds and routines – the tub is starting to play a minor role in the Master Suite.  About 75% of the clients I have worked with prefer not having a tub in the Master Suite.  (Why would I want to sit in a pool of my own filth? – Ew!)  The other 25% are very insistent that they have a separate tub – even if they only use it sporadically.  (How can I read a book in the shower?  Stupid soggy pages!)  So how do you like to wash away the stresses of daily life?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Master Suite (7 of 11): The 5-Piece Bath

Convenience has played a huge role in the development of the modern bath.  This epitome of this evolution has been termed the ‘5-piece bath’.  It can easily be inferred from this creative title that there are five key elements to the modern master bath.  These elements are two vanities, a water closet (or toilet for those who are not offended by the common term), the tub and the shower.  Notice that the tub and the shower are listed separately.  This is for a few reasons.  First – the tub should be better than that for any standard bathroom.  This should epitomize luxury.  It should be larger and deeper and for most people it should include jets.  [A side not with jets – If you want to be happy with your tub for all the years you own it, the jets should circulate through an in-line heater so your water doesn’t get cold too fast, and the pipes (or tubing) should be rigid and sloped for positive drainage.  Do not get a tub with corrugate tubing.  The water will collect in the ribs and mold so you get a cloud of green mold pumped into your tub when you turn on your jets – now back to our regular programming.]  The next reason the tub and shower are separated is because the shower has so many options for shower heads.  A truly luxurious shower has shower heads on all the walls which can be adjusted and manipulated to give therapeutic massage thus optimizing relaxation.

The dual vanities have gone through an evolution process of their own.  Naturally this is so each homeowner can have a sink all to themselves.  (So now you are responsible for cleaning up your own toothpaste splatters and whisker clippings.)  When more space is available, separating the two vanities to opposite sides of the bathroom and providing her with a grooming station/make-up counter will make life in the morning a little more enjoyable in the mornings.  With no bumping elbows she can avoid stabbing herself in the eye with the eye-liner and he can avoid nicking himself with the razor.  Life is good and the drive to work is a little more enjoyable!

So to keep harmony and bliss in your life – make the 5-piece bath part of your Master Suite.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Master Suite (6 of 11): The Dressing Chamber

With increasing space and his and hers closets (as discussed in a previous post) the amenities of the Master Suite have improved and become almost standard.  One generation thinks it to be frivolous – the next a necessity.  One of these potential standards is the dressing chamber.  Past generations felt a sense of extravagance to have separate closets or a spacious closet which could be used, not just to store your clothes, but for changing as well with enough room for a comfortable chair and perhaps an island and ornate light fixtures.  To introduce a room simply for changing may seem overkill but once you become accustomed to it it becomes one of those spaces you never thought would be so useful.  And once you find yourself in the throes of prom or hosting a wedding for your first daughter you will be glad you had this extra space to capture treasured memories.  And it’s just fun to change in a luxurious space as you get ready for that special occasion . . . or to start laundry!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Master Suite (5 of 11): The Closet(s)

The morning routine is a sacred thing.  For some, any variation in this routine will result in cascade of catastrophic events.  Every step is vital.  And when the bedroom is shared – ones morning rituals can have a devastating effect on the other.  Does that bathroom light disturb the deep, blissful slumber on the one in bed as you cross the bedroom to the closet?  Do you find yourself hampered by an attack with a downy projectile encased in a white pillow case?  These hazards can be avoided with strategic planning forethought.

Who knew a closet could be the source of so much hostility?  There are several design strategies when planning your Master Suite which will result in a harmonious and serene greeting to each day.  Some have found that a closet which is accessed directly from the master bath is a perfect solution since the bathroom door can remain closed during all morning preparations, avoiding that cruel flash of light to the one still slumbering as the door is flung open.  For others who prefer to keep these areas separate – all is not lost.  In a previous post we discussed the virtues of transition spaces to the Master Suite.  Providing an entry vestibule or a gallery is a perfect solution.  All areas of the Master Suite can be accessed through this transition space and one need not pass through the bedroom at any time during their vital morning rituals.  All parties are happy and start the day perfectly peaceful – IF HE WOULD ONLY PICK UP HIS DIRTY SOCKS ONCE IN A WHILE!

This could be a real challenge to marital bliss as well and is a deal breaker for some couples.  He doesn’t want to see her stockings draped over every surface and she doesn’t want to pick up his sweaty gym bag every day!  Thus the dual closet was born.  In the very early days of separate closets equal space was provided for each partner.  It was soon realized that this was a folly which needed immediate resolution because she took both closets and he had to dress in the guest room down the hall where his clothes were hung.  Although there is no hard and fast rule to apply to his and her closets – it is common knowledge that she needs much more space than he does and there must be enough room for all of her shoes.  This is where I let her tell me what she needs and I plan at least ten percent more.  He is usually fine with whatever she gives him – after all he is still wearing the same underwear he had since college.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Master Suite (4 of 11): The Master Deck

Some of the most breathtaking moments are leaning on a picturesque railing watching the sun set in warm autumn hues.  The crickets have started their serenade and a cool, gentle breeze playfully lifts your hair in a whimsical dance.  The silhouettes of birds float across the paling sky.  It’s the perfect end to a perfect day!  You start to think that nothing could possibly ruin such a tranquil moment – and then – MOMMMMM! She won’t stop breathing my air! – Now you close your eyes trying desperately to recapture those few peaceful moments.  But the moment has passed and you have to get everyone ready for bed and through the tub until you can finally escape to your Master Suite, wishing you could just step out your door and inhale that cool night air while gazing at the twilit sky sprinkled with a dusting of stars – but alas all you have is a window which just doesn’t feel the same when gazing through a screen!  If only you could have a private deck accessed from the Master Suite!

Never fear!  The trends Gods have heard you plea!  Along with the sitting room (as discussed in a previous post) the private deck (or patio if you’re Master Suite at grade) is waiting to become a part of your home.  Some have incorporated the Master Deck into the main deck providing a somewhat private transition such as a walkway or elevated section.  Others have secluded the Master Deck entirely from all other spaces making it a private retreat to be enjoyed by the homeowner only (Sometimes you really do need to get away from it all).  Whatever your preference the Master Deck is a welcome addition to every home and something you will enjoy in any stage of life.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Master Suite (3 of 11): The Sitting Area

The Master Suite has evolved in many ways.  It has grown and expanded to include more features and characteristics which have become almost a necessity.  One of these necessities is the sitting room.  After all who wants to sit on the bed to read a book when you could have an overstuffed arm chair with an equally plush ottoman?  This was once accommodated by simply enlarging the bedroom and putting a chair in the corner.  But that phase did not last long.  Soon separate rooms for the sitting area were necessary, the corner was too restricting.  This led to the incorporation of a fireplace and entertainment.  Who wants to curl up with good book on a cold Colorado winter day with no fireplace?  So now it is a question of how separated do you want the sitting area?  Do you want to enjoy the fireplace from the bed as well as the sitting area?  What about the TV?  The truth is that having a private area can help to make the day a little more enjoyable.  Even waking up and facing the day can become more bearable with a well-planned Master Suite.   Some have made the morning more welcome by incorporating a breakfast station so they can have morning treat without having travel all the way to the kitchen.  So find out how you want to start and end your day and plan your Master Suite to help you reduce the daily stresses which can make a monster out of anyone.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Master Suite (2 of 11): Transitions / Identification

It is a key principle in building design that the entrance should be obvious.  You should not have to guess where to enter the building.  The same is true for the Master Suite – although it is more to mark a territory than an invitation.  This can be done with simple or complex means.  Providing a recessed door with an overlaid arch marks significance and importance and works well if you don’t have a lot of extra space.  But if you do have some extra space then the possibilities are endless.  You can create a gallery space to transition to the Master Suite.  A vestibule with art niches and columns marks an unmistakable barrier and creates interest and a sense of anticipation.  If greater seclusion is desired, and you have more space to work with, providing a separate staircase to the Master Suite opens more possibilities of landings for meditation and reflection.  This is a space you will use every day so make it interesting but also obvious to others that it is a personal place and only you are allowed into your own private oasis!

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Master Suite (1 of 11): Introduction

There are two spaces in a home that should be given greater attention than any other.  The first is the kitchen which was a topic of discussion in previous blogs.  The other is the master bedroom.  No longer is the master bedroom simply a bedroom any more.  The modern home has evolved in many ways and the master bedroom is probably the most dramatic of all.  This is a place of retreat and repose for most homeowners.  It is a place to get away from the rigors of life, relax and let the cares of the world fall off at the door.  In fact the master bedroom has donned a new name – the Master Suite.  Luxury and pampering are almost essential in most Master Suite layouts.  The master bath has developed a spa-like atmosphere.  Some even boast hearth rooms and water features.  Follow our next series of blogs to find out what changes have developed to create a luxurious Master Suite!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Outdoor Living (7 of 7): Covered vs Uncovered Space - Both are Needed

Some people think that they have all their bases covered if they add a deck on the back of their house.  “Now I can spend every day outside,” they mistakenly think.  With our more days of sunshine per year here in Colorado vs other states you may think that this is okay.  But you will soon find that there are many days that it is too uncomfortable or that the weather is too uncooperative to make this possible.  So now you have spent a lot of money on an “awesome” deck that you can’t use as often as you would like because it is too exposed.  But be careful you do not go to the other extreme and provide permanent coverage over your entire deck.

The prefect outdoor living space will have both covered and uncovered areas.  There may be times you want to sit in your deck chair while gazing at a clear summer night sky.  Or you may want to spend that rainy afternoon enjoying the cool breezes and tranquil sounds of rain splashing on the ground while reading your favorite novel.  (FYI – this cannot be done without some kind of coverage).  If space is limited some have found that retractable awnings provide a viable solution. 

Whatever your need or space requirements providing covered and exposed areas will give you year round enjoyment.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Outdoor Living (6 of 7): Cooking Centers

Cooking outdoors – although similar to indoors – has a few differences.  The most important is location which relates to the type of cooking preferred (ie grilling or providing an outdoor cook center).  Grilling usually involves a great deal of smoke (or it does in my case).  With this in mind then the location should account for prevailing winds.  If possible it would be good to place the grilling center downwind from any of your congregating spaces.  If you are a good cook or have a cook center that minimizes smoke then placing the center upwind could be a feature, allowing the inviting aromas of a perfectly seared steak and fresh grilled vegetables to permeate the whole yard.  You also don’t want to be so far removed from the kitchen that you must run a marathon between the kitchen and grill to prepare a simple meal.

So now you know where to put it – what is everything you want to put in it?  Is it going to be simply a place for your mega grill or do you want a mini-kitchen (for those gourmet grillers)?  Will this include a bar and dining area?  Is the space going to be covered (good for year round grilling)?  Do you do your prep work inside or is it done at the grill (ie will you need a sink and counter space)?  The sky’s the limit even if your budget is not.  Proper planning will incorporate all of these needs and budget constraints.  But do not fret if you have a limited budget – you can still plan the perfect grilling center for you.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Outdoor Living (5 of 7): Scale

Designing exterior space is very different than designing interior space.  A weird phenomenon occurs once you step outside – the spaces get crowded a lot quicker!  If you take a 10x10 space and furnish it inside your home – that same layout will feel crowded and uncomfortable outside.  So be sure you have enough space to do what you want outside.  If you are planning a picnic area with table and chairs you need more space than in your dining room.  If you are planning a lounge area you need much more space than you would for your living room.  A key is to provide less furniture than you would inside and allow the lawn to become part of your space planning.  Nothing feels better than to lay back on a thick carpet of grass and spy shapes in the drifting clouds!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Outdoor Living (4 of 7): Landscape Planning

Some of the worst mistakes in outdoor planning are picking the wrong vegetation.  Nobody thinks of what the plant will look like when it is fully grown.  Sure, as a sapling the tree you pick is perfect right next to your house – but then it GROWS!  Now you have a cracked foundation and your house gets pummeled every time the wind blows.  So not only did you pay for a cool tree, now you have to pay a whole lot more to get that cool tree out of there.

But do not fret!  Trees are awesome when planned correctly.  The ideal yard will take advantage of all kinds of species.  With drastic climate changes in Colorado and the sometimes severe weather we have to deal with, trees and other vegetation can be very helpful.  If planted on the south side of the house (and far enough away that roots and branches are not a problem) deciduous trees (or leafy trees) are perfect for summer and winter.  In the summer they provide shade on the house which reduces cooling costs and allows sunlight (and heat) through in the winter. 

Conifers (or evergreen trees) are good to plan into your landscape as well.  With the extreme winds we can have, especially in the foothills, conifers provide great wind breaks.  Because they do not shed leaves you do want to be careful where you plant them.  If they are on the south side of sidewalks or driveways then the sun has a difficult time melting ice and you will be cursing every winter as you’re hacking at the ice with your snow shovel.  It also will prevent ice and snow from melting on the roof which could create ice dams and trap water eventually finding its way inside.

So plan carefully, and be aware of the size and location of each plant (especially trees) and you will have a yard that you will enjoy all year long.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Outdoor Living (3 of 7): Transition Spaces

Just like designing spaces for your home, there should be a separation of spaces in your yard.  If you are a party animal those transitions may be very minimal.  If you are the reflective type, then you would have more spaces and more need for transition or separation.  You wouldn’t want your grill or entertaining hub right next to your Zen garden (it messes with the chi!)  This does not mean that there must be solid barriers or walls, but a simple ledge or elevated section could provide a soft edge and separation.  Or perhaps you want to create a path surrounded by foliage which leads to a serene pond and waterfall.  Whatever the case – simple or complex – with a little thought and planning, you could have a yard that will allow for all of your outdoor needs.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Outdoor Living (2 of 7): Evaluation

Everyone wants the backyard with all the amenities you could dream of – the pond with a stream and waterfall – the seven piece grilling pavilion – the gazebo backdrop for your daughters’ wedding – the quaint Victorian mother-in-law cabin – all bordered by a picturesque forest!   Unfortunately for most this is made impossible due to unreasonable neighbors who will not let you take over their yard for your perfect summer retreat!  (Curses!!)

But do not fret!  All is not lost!  Your yard can become a haven even when evaluating the space and restrictions you have.  The key is to look at the space and unique features of your yard and plan your space with those restriction as part of your arsenal – not something to pull your hair out over because you can’t find a way to work with it.  This is where a good designer comes in handy.  The key is to find what is most important to you.  Is it creating a tranquil setting for reflection and meditation?  Or is it the block buster parties with ample food and drinks?  Once you know what you will do most in the space, then planning for the perfect backyard becomes much more manageable. 

So don’t be afraid to find features you want to have in your yard – just be aware that some things will need to be adjusted (sometimes) dramatically to make it truly work better than you anticipated.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Outdoor Living (1 of 7)

The summer can be a fantastic time to spend outdoors.  In our next series of blogs we will discuss how you can make your backyard the best place to be during these perfect Colorado summer days!  We will discuss how to utilize your backyard through landscaping, scale, and creating spaces for entertaining, cooking and play.  Most people think of their homes as only the space enclosed by the exterior wall of their house.  We want you to gain more space by utilizing the largest “room” in your home – The back yard!  We have more days of sunshine in Colorado than in either California or Florida.  A vacation does not have to be an expense you can only relive through photographs.  We will bring the vacation to you to enjoy daily!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Kitchens (8 of 8): Cooktops and Ovens

At first glance it doesn’t seem that there is much to discuss regarding cooktops and ovens.  The only thing to consider is finding the one you like and all is done!  Not true. 

With all the advancements of technology and energy efficiency the basics of safety seem too often to be neglected.  This neglect begins at the manufacturing plant and continues through kitchen design and installation.

So let’s first consider the safety of the appliance itself.  When electric ranges were first developed they were made with a tall back panel that had all the knobs, etc.  Coming from an age of wood burning stoves this was a huge improvement.  But we are beyond that now and the appliance with the controls behind the burners is something that should be done away with entirely.  Scalding from bubbling and boiling pots and splatter from crisping bacon can be more easily avoided by selecting an appliance with the controls to the side or on the front.  This is available in both knobs and electronic touch panels so there is no excuse to select an archaic appliance with the controls in the most dangerous position.  Also the tall backsplash appliance is just hideous and should be shunned on aesthetics alone!

Now we can move on to other matters.  It should go without saying that the cooktop is a very hot place.  So naturally we want to place it right next to the wood pantry cabinet or wall.  YIKES!!!  I understand that some kitchens have been designed this way and it may be very costly to move the appliance to another, safer location.  Do not fret!  If you cannot move your appliance for whatever reason, then you should cover the adjacent combustible surface with something non-combustible (i.e. tile).  But let it be known that the cooktop, with its potential for fire, should be placed away from any vertical surface directly to either side.

Ovens are another concern to consider.  If your oven is part of your cooktop then the location is taken care of if you have placed your cooktop properly.  The main thing to consider when designing the location for your oven is landing surfaces.  When you are lugging a fully cooked 20 pound turkey, the last thing you want to do is test your physical prowess by traipsing to the other side of your kitchen to reach the nearest landing surface.  Modern design is to create a visually appealing place for your double ovens inside their own little niche.  Although this may look cool, you will be cursing your designer once Thanksgiving comes around.  So plan for immediate landing surfaces directly to the side of your ovens.  You will be a very happy and safe cook if you do.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Kitchens (7 of 8): Microwaves

Microwaves have become a vital part of every kitchen.  Unfortunately they have been given little consideration in design.  This lack of good design is regarding the two most fundamental aspects of the microwave.  First is the potential for something very hot to be removed from the unit, like soup.  So naturally the best place for it is up high over a hot stove.  Ouch!  The microwave/hood is probably the worst and most dangerous appliance ever made.  Not only is the placement potentially hazardous, it also limits the use of your cooktop, making it difficult to reach the back burners, but also limiting the size of pots you can cook with since the bottom of the unit is lower than the cabinets on either side.

The best location for a microwave is around countertop height with a landing surface to the right of the unit.  This is because all microwaves are made with the hinge on the left side.  This is a highly used appliance – a little planning can make a big difference in creating a safe and well functioning kitchen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Kitchens (6 of 8): Sinks and Dishwashers

The sink is another heavily used fixture in the kitchen.  The ages have transformed the kitchen sink.  Originally, the sink was a single, large basin to which water was hauled to facilitate cleaning.  When plumbing was brought into the house the sink was divided and used to help prepare meals as well as clean.  Now one could wash and rinse.  The disposal improved this process as well, making it even easier to prepare meals.  The dishwasher changed the sink further by bringing back the single bowl since hand-washing was no longer necessary.  Further, the “prep” sink – a small, single bowl sink located away from the main sink, made meal preparation even easier and allowed for multiple cooks to work simultaneously.  Unlike other appliances and fixtures, there are very few rules regarding the sink.  Each person has their own preferences.

Dishwashers go hand-in-hand with sinks.  The biggest issue is to make sure you plan for the door in the open position.  I have seen kitchens with the dishwasher in the corner and the sink adjacent.  This does not allow anyone to stand in front of the sink and load the dishwasher.  OOPS!  That is not a mistake you want to discover after the kitchen is installed.  So find the sink that works well for you and don’t put the dishwasher in the corner.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kitchens (5 of 8): Refrigerator

Of all the fixtures and appliances in the kitchen, the refrigerator is one of the most used.  Not only is it vital for preparing meals, it is also heavily used by others in the household.  Inevitably someone will want to get a soda right when you are in the middle of preparing dinner.  For this reason the placement of the refrigerator should be (but often is not) at the outer edge of the kitchen.  It is most often placed against the wall furthest into the kitchen so anyone wanting to quickly grab a snack must shove and nudge their way through.  If the refrigerator is placed at the edge closest to the main access to the kitchen, then anyone needing a snack does not have to trek through the kitchen to get it.  Everyone is happier . . . unless mom says they are going to spoil their appetite.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kitchens (4 of 8): Work Surfaces

The kitchen is only as good as your ability to use it.  There have been many kitchens I have seen that look good but when you actually analyze how one would use it, they are very inadequate.  This is usually because there is not enough countertop area to prepare a meal, or if there is a decent amount of countertop space, it is in all the wrong places.

For a kitchen to truly function well there needs to be several areas of countertop throughout the kitchen.  One of the greatest errors I have seen is putting the cook surface right beside a wall or other barrier.  Not only does this create a fire hazard, it creates other risks of injury because a hot pan must be moved over other pots and pans to get to a landing surface.  This is also a problem if there is no landing surface near the oven (most often a problem with double ovens).  There should be landing surfaces (or countertop areas) adjacent to both sides of every cooktop and at least one directly to the side of ovens.  I have seen many ovens that are placed inside alcoves or other recesses creating a very appealing look.  When the kitchen is installed and completed, the homeowner loves the look . . . until they have to carry a 20 pound, fully cooked turkey from the oven while trying to avoid all the extra corners and walk to the other side of the kitchen to a countertop large enough to hold the oversized pan.  This usually results in copious amounts of ointment being applied to multiple burns.

Landing surfaces are crucial for each appliance and fixture.  At the sink it is more convenient to have a surface on each side to make clean-up easier.  The refrigerator should have a surface on the handle side.  This is a little more difficult to do with a side-by-side refrigerator, but should still have an area nearby (even directly across) so groceries can be more easily transferred to and from the refrigerator.  The microwave is often forgotten and should have an area adjacent similar to ovens.  More on microwaves will be discussed in a future post.

The long and short of landing surfaces is they should be present for every fixture in the kitchen and should be large enough to be useful.  Don’t scrimp on countertops.  You’ll be glad it’s there – at  least during Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kitchens (3 of 8): Work Triangle

Everyone has heard of the “work triangle”.  This is the imaginary part of a kitchen which connects the three main elements – The range or cooktop, the refrigerator and the sink.  As with most simple concepts there are guidelines that make this triangle work most effectively.  The first is that no one leg should be more than nine feet .  Preparing meals can be a big undertaking.  There is no reason it should be a marathon as well.  That is why, ideally, the total dimension of the triangle should not exceed 18 feet.  Sometimes this is difficult to accomplish especially when remodeling existing spaces, but smart planning should reduce the amount of travel within the kitchen.  Also, each leg of the triangle should be a single straight line.  One should not have to dodge around corners or other obstacles.  Bruised hips and running shoes should not be on the menu.  Plan wisely and you will find it a joy to be in the kitchen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Kitchens (2 of 8): Dual Cook VS Single Cook

As a general rule, kitchens are classified in two categories – the dual cook and the single cook kitchen.  Planning for either requires different thought and design considerations.

The single cook kitchen will be more compact to eliminate a lot of movement by the cook.  This is more of the traditional kitchen, with the work triangle (discussed in a later post) which connects all the main elements of the kitchen.  They should be planned with all necessary utensils and cookware within easy reach.  This does not mean it must be bland.  By incorporating style and character in the door and drawer panels and hardware and using decorative splashes and surrounds, the single cook kitchen can be functional and stylish.

Even with the efficiency of the single cook kitchen it tends to become cramped and inconvenient when someone else enters to lend a hand while bumping you with their elbows.  Families and couples are also becoming more involved in meal preparation, finding this a great way to socialize and spend time together.  With that in mind the concept of a dual kitchen was born.

The dual cook kitchen, as the name implies, is designed with two or more cooks in mind.  Although both cooks are sharing the kitchen, a well-planned dual cook kitchen will provide for separate preparation areas for each cook.  One cook will center around the range or cooktop and larger sink.  The other cook will have a separate counter area with a smaller sink and will prepare all the sides, etc.  This is similar when baking.  One will center around the oven(s) and the other around the prep sink.  This really helps to eliminate most of the crowding elbow battles in the kitchen.  We all know that everyone wants to help get things ready.  For this reason (and of course a few others) islands have become very popular.

Not only are islands fun, they have a function as well.  When everyone wants to help they can be seated at the island away from the center of the kitchen and yet still be close to the action.  (Incidentally this works well in a single cook kitchen as well.)  So no matter how many helpers you have – let them come and help make meal time a memorable event.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kitchen Do's and Don'ts (1 of 8)

For ages the kitchen has been solely a place to work (hard) to prepare meals for the family.  They were viewed as a necessary tool of daily living.  In many cases they were hidden from the rest of the house because of the uncomfortable amount of heat they would produce.  Thankfully, those days are past and now the kitchen has become the heart of the home.  Even when entertaining for formal parties, the kitchen often is the main gathering place.  Almost every activity in the home includes time in the kitchen.  Because of this the kitchen has been opened to the rest of the home and is frequently an extension of the family room. 

Over the next several posts we will discuss things to consider when planning this essential part of your home.  Let your kitchen shine because you probably already spend most of your day there.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Basements (9 of 9): Theater Design - Comedy/Tragedy

One of the funnest parts of basement finish is designing for theater space.  The weekend warrior would simply install a large screen TV on one wall with killer surround sound.  Then, when the wife is trying to sleep while the Superbowl is playing, he realizes there is probably a better solution.  Proper planning and design will make for better domestic relations.

The first step is to try to place the theater in a remote corner of the basement, preferably without sleeping quarters above.  More detail is needed with theaters because everyone loves the explosive scenes in movies, but no one enjoys it when the volume is set at 1.  By providing insulation in all cavities in every wall and ceiling much of the sound will be muffled, and for most this is adequate.  However, if you want the belt with your suspenders, then you need vibration dampers as well as insulation.  This is most simply done by providing resilient channels secured perpendicular to the main framing.  The gypsum board is fastened to the channels strips, without letting the screws touch the framing, or all is in vain.  This allows the walls and ceiling to vibrate slightly without transferring to the solid structure.   There are more advanced methods of sound control, but for most residential applications this method is easy and the most cost effective – thereby helping to foster a harmonious relationship.

Through the past several posts you have learned that through proper planning and construction detailing you can make use of that basement, which is only used now to store your Christmas decorations.  With growing families and a shrinking economy it is necessary now, more than ever, to make every square foot of your home count.  With innovative design and planning you can come home to a daily vacation.  Contact us to find out the best ways to make use of your space.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Basements (8 of 9): Floating Walls

Floating Wall Detail
“Floating walls” are not like “Sky-hooks”.  It is not an imaginary term used in jest to explain how a building will stand.  Floating walls are real and very necessary for basement finishing.  This simply means that the wall does not extend fully from floor to ceiling.  Don’t fret.  That doesn’t mean they are not solid or that they don’t provide separation from one room to the next.  There are two ways to construct a floating wall.  The most common and preferred method is to hang the wall from the ceiling, leaving a gap at the base to allow room for the concrete floor to heave if necessary.  As discussed in the previous post, treated wood is secured to the floor and a gap of about 1”-2” is provided above this.  The “floating wall” suspended from the ceiling is then secured laterally by tie rods into the base plate penetrating the floating base through a slip hole.  (See the detail for better clarification.)  This is preferred over another method of providing the gap at the top of the wall.  If the gap is at the top than any floor movement will result in cracks in the wall finish because floors do not heave evenly.  So remember, “floating walls = good”, “sky-hooks = bad”.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Basements (7 of 9): Exterior Walls

Most people, when finishing their basement, want to cover the exterior masonry walls.  After all, who wants to stare at a mass of rough, gray, cold wall?  Furring out the wall (built-out framing) will remedy this quite nicely, but before this is done one must verify that there is proper drainage at the base of the wall.  This is not easy to verify because the drainage is buried under several feet of dirt.  If you have a newer home you can check the plans on file or check with the original builder.  The reason you want to have proper perimeter drainage is because you will not be able to tell if there is water leaking through the wall once you have covered it up.  So, assuming you have proper drainage you have several ways to finish the walls.  One that is not recommended but seems to be popular with most do-it-yourselfers is to “glue” drywall to the surface of the concrete.  (Yikes!)  This is not recommended because any movement of the wall will result in cracks in the finished material, which inevitably results in pounds of mud (or drywall joint compound) being plastered over the crack over many years.  Another, only slightly better method, is to attach furring strips to the concrete and then secure gypsum board (drywall) to the furring strips.  A couple of flaws with this is that most do not think of providing treated wood (as discussed in an earlier post) and with the furring strips securely fastened to the concrete you still have the same issue of cracks due to any wall movement.  For the best results, use the floating wall method described in the previous post with an air gap of about one inch between framing and concrete.  This allows the wall and floor to move without interfering with any finishes.  The expense is a little more up front, but you don’t have to worry about trying to cover-up the mistakes of poor installation over the years with mounds of mud.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Basements (6 of 9): Treated Wood

Finishing your basement is more than throwing up walls and covering them with drywall.  What most people don’t realize is that wood has a chemical reaction when placed next to concrete.  This reaction deteriorates the wood in a short period of time and will create many unwanted issues.  Fortunately, we have become wise in some things and discovered that treating wood with certain chemicals will prevent these reactions, making it possible to use concrete and wood together to create lasting structures.  So, don’t be fooled by someone claiming they can finish your basement for you simply because they can swing a hammer.  You may find yourself with very costly repairs in the near future.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Basements (5 of 9): Plumbing

Most home builders have good intentions when they provide rough plumbing layouts in basements.  This is both good and bad.  It is good that you don’t have to put the expense of tearing up concrete to put in your own plumbing, etc.  Most fixtures have been considered and can be worked into the space they have provided.  However, this also limits the layout of the entire basement.  You have to put the bathroom right where they have chosen and hope you can be happy with the configuration of rooms that will fit around it.  Even the bathroom can only be configured the way the rough plumbing is laid out.  The location of the door is usually implied as well, so all areas are predesigned in a sense because of the plumbing configuration.  The savings of not having to put in your own plumbing, etc. could be worth the limited design potential.

If you don’t have rough plumbing provided, this too is a blessing and a curse.  If you are simply designing an additional living room there may not be a need for a bathroom or plumbing.  In most cases, if someone is planning to make use of their basement, they usually have additional bedrooms, fitness rooms, theaters or other spaces in mind.  For convenience (especially with bedrooms) providing a bathroom is essential.  This means you must cut through existing concrete (unless you are fortunate to have a framed floor over crawl space) and run new lines (supply and waste) to the new locations.  Most basements will have floor drains provided and the water heater is usually located in the basement.  This is an advantage which can be utilized, and if planning is done correctly near existing plumbing supply lines, the excavation, demolition and repair will be minimal.

So the long and short is that there are advantages and disadvantages to having or not having rough plumbing provided.  In either case, a good designer can take advantage of the situation and give you the best solution to fit your needs and the space provided.  Don’t be afraid to explore the options – paper is cheap – so find the design that you will love!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Basements (4 of 9): Insulation

Insulation in the basement seems like a foolish thing to do.  After all, what could provide better protection then a very thick and heavy wall?  The truth is that concrete has one of the lowest values of insulation.  In fact I am certain that everyone who has spent time in basements has noticed a drop in temperature.  This is not merely because it is below grade.  This is the result of poor or no insulation.  The basement is a conditioned space and should be comfortable just like the rest of the house.

 Insulation values are rated as R-values.  The higher the R-value, the better the insulation.  Current energy code requirements state that exterior walls must have an insulating value of R-19 or better.  This is so the expense of heating a home is not lost (or at least is greatly reduced) due to thermal failure in the walls.  The same should hold true for basements.  One should not “put up” with the discomfort of a chilly basement simply because that is the way it has always been.

This brings me back to R-values.  Standard Batt insulation for a 2x6 exterior wall has a value of R-19.  Compare that to concrete which has a value of R-0.08 for every inch.  For a typical basement foundation wall of 8” that is a total value of R-0.64.  YIKES!!  Why wouldn’t you want to insulate your basement when so much energy is being lost through the walls?  The best way to prevent this loss is to provide furring (built-out framing – more on this in a future post) at the perimeter wall and fill the cavities with insulation, just as you would any exterior wall above grade.  The expense will be well worth every penny when you can spend every moment in your basement in comfort.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Basements (3 of 9): Head Clearance

With how frequently basements are finished in Colorado, it is odd to me that there seems to be very little forethought regarding their function when the home is designed.  Often there is a great deal of tweaking and adjusting required to make the spaces work. 

One thing that must be considered is head clearance.  In order for a basement to be considered habitable, most municipalities in the Denver region require a minimum head clearance of 7’-0” throughout the entire area proposed for living space.  This can be a challenge in older homes when the basement (or cellar) was intended only for coal storage or other utilitarian functions.  Some municipalities also stipulate that only a certain percentage of the ceiling in each room can be permitted at 7’-0” (or whatever their regulations require).  With the use of dropped beams this can be a serious challenge even in newer homes.  The key is to do some pre-planning research so you don’t have to pay for costly redesign fees.  Of course, most architects and residential designers will perform this task before a pencil is set to paper.

The next consideration is head clearances at doors or doorways.  The code requires that all doors, doorways or openings intended for passage are to be a minimum of 6’-8”.  Some municipalities allow for exceptions in finishing basements, again, because of the standard and common use of dropped beams.  Others are more stringent and will not allow for this exception.  This could be a real issue and must be addressed before any design work is to be considered.  This is also something that can easily be overlooked in design review and create major problems during inspection.  At that point you are entirely at the inspectors’ discretion, which is not always in your favor.  Planning ahead and placing doorways away from dropped soffits and beams may be inconvenient, but it could save you a lot of headache and expense later.

Even with the challenges of designing around beams, the basement can add some much needed space and function.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Basements (2 of 9): Egress

Egress is a term that is used heavily within the building and construction industry, but for most outside of this field it is just a funny sounding word.  Simply put, it is the means to exit a building.  This is important in residential design, especially in bedrooms and basements.

The first thing to understand about egress requirements is that even though it is important to provide a means to exit a building, it is more important the opening is large enough for a firefighter to enter the building while carrying all their necessary equipment.  This is why within the building code there are many stipulations regarding the minimum dimensions and location of openings in any given room. 

Some, even within the industry, mock some of these regulations.  For example, a casement window (windows that are hinged and open with a crank from the inside) have minimum dimension requirements based on the open position of the window.  The standing joke states that the firefighter must first break the window and then crank it open to gain entry.  The truth is that if there is a fire and the window is already open then the clearance must be adequate for proper egress and fire rescue.  Although some code requirements seem mockingly hilarious, there is a legitimate reason for the code and it could be the one that saves your life.

Since the access to most basements is a stair leading from the main level of the house, how this translates in basement design is that a means of egress must be provided from each bedroom and the main living area which leads directly to the outside.  The sill of an egress window must be within 42” above the finished floor (and I would argue this should be lower for rooms intended for smaller children).  There must also be a permanent ladder secured to the side of a spacious window well.  To most people the first image to come to mind is an ugly, pre-manufactured, corrugated steel well with a matching hideous ladder.  This need not be the case.   As long as the well meets the minimum dimensions and stepping is provided that does not exceed required dimensions, then the sky’s the limit on possible well design.

So, since you have to have a window well, think of all the possibilities to personalize it and let the design become a feature of your basement and not something to hide with drapes or the dreaded blinds.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Basement Finishing 101

With the economy taking it’s time to recover, and the Denver Metro area is as susceptible as any, many people are finding it necessary to make do with their existing homes instead of moving to a new residence.  One of the most common methods of increasing “space” in the home is to finish the basement.  Through the next several posts we will help you understand what is involved in basement finishing and design, and how to create a lasting living space to enjoy for years to come.  We will discuss means of Egress, Head Clearance requirements, the need for Perimeter insulation, why it is wise to Consolidate Plumbing, the need for Treated Wood, Floating Walls, how to finish Exterior Walls and what to consider for Theater Design.   You don’t have to move to get the home of your dreams.