Thursday, August 25, 2011

NYC: Wall Street Architecture

When I was in New York earlier this month working on the Upper East Side Reno I spent an afternoon walking around the financial district on a sweltering hot Saturday afternoon.   Although I happened to have my DSLR with me it wasn't a pre-planned photoshoot destination but once there I was simply overwhelmed by the architecture that surrounded me.   I had never been to Wall Street before nor did I know much about this iconic eight blocks except for the image I had in my head from movies, television and the media in general.  I've been to the city many times but honestly I had never really had any interest in visiting Wall Street or given it much thought at all (what can I say, I live in the world of Design not not high finance!).  You can imagine how ecstatic I was to discover this haven of architectural beauties.  How did I not know about this!?

Its difficult for me to find the right words to describe my impression of Wall Street,,,because it was so unlike anything I had imagined it was or expected it to be.  The sheer towering scale of the buildings viewed from the very narrow streets is sensational, the neighborhood is strikingly charming and quaint in a way (?) with its centuries old architecture, cobblestone walkways, a Tiffany's,  and the historic Trinity Church holding court at the end of the street.  The street is a pedestrian only zone with no vehicular traffic and facades are void of signage or advertising only flags, all this completly evokes a feeling of being in a world of another time and is so unlike a typical urban streetscape.   Since I'm really not doing a good job here of describing what I saw, how about I just show you a few of the photos I took.....

What I love about the buildings here is that the colours are all so grey toned that even when you shoot and view the images in colour its very monochromatic looking.  All the images above are shown in colour except one!

I'm a complete amateur photographer but it is a passion of mine.  I love to shoot landscapes and streetscapes particlarly, I don't use photoshop or edit my photos in any way except to convert to black and white or crop images.  When I want high quality prints made for framing I send the image off to Elevator Digital and they take care of all the technical issues for me (resizing etc.).  Mostly, I like my images to remain true to the way I shoot them without any enhancing or special effects.  Sometimes I like to shoot slightly overexposed, sometimes underexposed depending on the mood I'm trying to capture.  What I love to do with my photos the most is have them printed and framed for wall art, sometime for myself, sometimes for clients.  When you frame an image it takes on an entirely new dynamic, I'll be getting several of these printed and framed and they'll be something like this...

Unless I'm doing one large oversize print, I try to group images into groups of 2, 3 or 4's combining both landscape and portrait orientation as I did above.  Once I've decided on which images I like grouped together, I'll decide if I want them printed in black and white or colour.....

....and then I figure out my final image sizes, matt sizes and decide on frame colour by doing mock-ups similar to these (very rough above!), often I do this on a scaled elevation of the wall and I'll normally include the frame too (not shown on the above).  For frames I always do a simple rectangular profile in white, black, silver or natural wood.  Lately I've been doing a lot of white framed coloured photography, which I LOVE.  Then once all this is figured out I send the original image files off to Kevin at the printing lab who takes care of printing, matting and framing for me.

If you ever visit NYC I highly recommend a visit to this neighborhood whether you're passionate about architecture or not, its simply an experience like no other.

All Photos:  Carol Reed

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guest Post: My Sister The Dream Killer

Brother in the newly drywalled kitchen, writing some critical notes on the wall from me
 before I headed out of town.....

Between New York and Toronto I've been feeling completely drained from from the sweltering muggy heat of the city - so I headed up North to spend a few days at a cottage on a little lake near the town of Rosseau.  Once there my plan was to do no planning but just to spend a lot of time in a Muskoka chair doing a whole lot of nothing!  Before I post the new proposed plans for my Brother's house I thought while I was away I'd ask him to do a guest post here to share with you what its like as a new home owner to embark on a full house reno and experience the daunting realities of timelines, budgets and design decisions.

So here's a little recap of what the initial experience of buying this fixer-upper was like for my Brother and his Girlfriend and the dreams they had for can see the before pictures here and the existing floor plans here.

[ GUEST BLOGGER - My Brother]

Hello CREED readers! As a follower since day 1, it is quite a thrill to be here, "on the inside", of our favourite blog! (You should see it, it's much more spacious than I thought....but I am sure that's just an illusion created by one of Carol's fancy design tricks!) I am honoured to be a guest blogger for Carol, my big sister! Everyone calls me 6, as that is my order in this Reed clan! (FYI, Carol is 5).

I am here because, as you may have read in a previous post, my Girlfriend and I recently purchased a house. (We'll refer to her as 6+. “6” because she is with me, and “+” because she is better than me in almost every way!).  Since we weren't seriously looking for a house when we stumbled across this one, we have been in a state of frenzied shock since the day we signed the deal. I suspect a 30 day closing on a spontaneous house purchase will send just about anyone into such a state. Oh, we also had to get the condo we were living in prepared to go on the market and pray that it sold quick so we could actually pay for this new house! (It did sell quick, btw…..whew!) Needless to say, we were super excited!

The first person we told after the deal was done was my sister of course. We sent her pictures and told her our dreams….um, I mean plans, and would appreciate any guidance and advice she could give. Which reminds me, the main purpose of my role here as guest blogger is to share with the readers (particularly the non-designers amongst us) the benefits of working with a designer (Carol in particular) and the role they play in guiding you thru a successful renovation. The designer plays many roles but the first role is that of DREAM KILLER! Now that may sound harsh, but allow me to explain. Don’t get me wrong, Carol is by no means mean, (bossy pants - yes, but not mean), what she'll do is listen to your wants, nod in agreement, then bam! A couple hours later she emails you a budget……Dream Killer! Then the reality starts to set in and you start to manage your dreams so they comply with your finances. Trust me when I tell you, this is a very important aspect of the whole process, especially for DIY’ers. No point starting something you cannot afford to finish, and finish properly. The budget is your guide and Carol takes the budget VERY seriously…..more seriously than the clients do in fact……(guilty!). While creating a budget may not seem like that hard of a task, (cause you don't know half the things that are supposed to be in it) a designer will always do a more thorough one than your average homeowner. Why? Details, that’s why. Carol thinks of every little thing - it really is annoying actually.   The average person thinks mostly about the things you see when the project is complete, goes to Home Depot and prices those things. A designer sees it all, including what is not visible, and knows what all that 'invisible' stuff costs!

So that sums up the first and very important role my Sister/Designer played in this process. Future posts will track our progress, but before we get too far into that, I should outline the key players
and circumstances that make this project unique from the average homeowner:

Me: I have undergone 2 renovations of this magnitude before and lived to tell about it! I am a somewhat capable DIYer, but know my limits. (Electricians and plumbers are licensed for a reason!) For this project I will be doing the site measure and the base AutoCad plans, some demolition, and installation of some trimwork and hardware.
6+: Is a trained designer and works in the commercial sector. Currently she manages multi-million dollar projects for corporate facilities. For our house reno she'll be the project manager, co-designer, co-general contractor, chief negotiator, keeper of the schedule and chequebook!  In other words, she's The Boss.
Carol: No introduction required obviously. We are getting a special combination of Carol’s service levels. You might say we are getting enhanced E-Design services with the bonus of personal visits. She is our first resource when we have any design related doubts or questions.
G.C.: General contractor. Actually, co-general contractor. With 6+’s contacts in the industry, we have been able to source certain trades and suppliers ourselves that normally the GC would take care of. So far we like and trust our G.C., which is good.

Circumstances: We have exactly 20 days to finish the job! That is when the condo we live in closes and we must vacate! OK, well we don't require 100% completion in 20 days, but we are aiming to have the entire 3rd floor liveable by then.  The whole 3rd floor is the master suite, and if we could just have that on day 20, we would be happy!   What does the Dream Killer think,,,,,,she just smiles and nods, and reminds me the term 'liveable' is very subjective.

Sound impossible? Maybe….maybe not? The photos below were taken after we owned the home for 2 days!  Demolition of the interior was almost complete.

 Living/Dining area looking toward front hallway staircase.

Kitchen after all cabinets and fixtures were removed.

 Living Room after all finishes were stripped.

Third floor master ensuite completely stripped.  Old hot tub sitting in the middle of the floor waiting to be hauled over the balcony.

Next up we'll post the new floor plans and some of the initial purchases and finishes selected.  By the time this post was published all the new framing and rough-in work has been completed....

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Family Home Office

Many months ago just before the end of 2010, a past client of mine contacted me about finishing one of the remaining 'original' rooms in their otherwise fully renovated cape cod style house.  This room was the Library or Home Office and it occupies a very prominent space in the home at the front of the house directly off the front entry.   The parents are both successful professionals with their own practices/business and have two young girls.  This room needed to function as a home office for both parents and space where both girls could work on school projects with mom or dad.   It was a tall order!   Home offices have similar needs to address as kitchens,,,lots of worksurface, storage, organization, ergonomics, and the ability to accommodate equipment and work gadgets.   Here's a look at what one corner of the space currently looks like - its obvious that nothing is working here.

Existing space

The solution to a space like this is built-ins.  Built-in cabinetry that maximizes the vertical space available and accommodates specific types of storage needs.   I designed 3 walls of full height built-in cabinetry for this room to provide worksurfaces and accommodate lockable file storage, computer equipment, supplies, binders and a book collection.   To soften all this built-in cabinetry I decided to add a custom made free standing table desk, an area carpet and some patterned fabric to give the room a more relaxed homey look and make it feel less 'officey'.   All these months later, the cabinetry is now nearing completion, the custom table desk and fabric treatments are being made, and installation is scheduled for sometime in September.

The concept board above is a look at some of the key pieces selected for the room early on in the planning process - in addition to these pieces an area carpet, upholstered arm chair, wall art and desk lamps will be sourced for the room over  the next few weeks.    Below is a floor plan of the proposed new layout with built-ins.

I presented at least 4 different layout options for them and this was the winning plan.  The table desk could easily accommodate mom and one or two of the girls working on a project.  There's additional knee space on the side return, loads of file storage, a wall of bookshelves, a separate area for printer/fax/copier, supplies and stereo equipment.  Dad has his own separate work space complete with a loads of upper cabinet space for all his paper work.

The room's two windows will get new fabric roman shades with a wide gros grain ribbon border (along the edge as opposed to inset as in the sketch above).  A custom upholstered stool will tuck under the knee space of the long wall of built-ins and can be pulled up to Mom's or Dad's desk when needed.

The fabrics for the roman shades and upholstered stool shown above right and the cabinetry finish is on the left.  The base of the table desk will be painted in a dark navy blue/green.

I first saw this fabric about a year ago, I photographed it and ordered a sample for future use.  Well it didn't take long for this project to come along and I knew instantly it would be a great fit for this space and suit the classic casual vibe of this client's home.  A pattern that's not too over the top flowery, it's very branchy and leafy and has the odd bird in there too.   The existing paint colour of the office is a pale warm yellow/green that's also found in this print.

I was thrilled when I spotted this room in the July/August issue of Veranda Magazine with the same or similar fabric.  I love the impact it has when used on all the upholstery and drapery.  I'm not certain its the exact same fabric, the colour way is slightly different with a gold/tan background as opposed to the blue/grey background of the fabric I selected but its so similar its hard to tell the difference.  I also noticed that they brought in a hit of tourquoise in the accessories just as I did with the gourd lamps,,,and I think its a fun compliment to this fabric choice.

With the new school year fast approaching this new home office will be ready just in time to help this busy family tackle all their work and school projects with ease.   I'll post some after photos this coming fall and show you how it all comes together.  

Photos 1 thru 6:  Carol Reed
Photo 7:   Veranda Magazine

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Oh Brother: You Bought A Fixer-Upper

Sketching al fresco at the local patio bar.

My brother and his girlfriend had 30 days from the time their house deal was signed to the day they took possession of their new old house and started renovating it. During this 30 days they needed to come up with a new design plan for the entire house, get a contractor on board and start ordering new fixtures and selecting all their new finishes.

They literally didn't have a minute to waste, so here's what I tasked them with and would advise any new homeowner in the same situation to do:

WEEK #1:

Contact A Professional Designer:  You'll need budget advice, space planning expertise, permit plans and someone to guide you and a contractor thru the million and one design decisions as efficiently as possible.  Don't expect a Designer to be available immediately, unless she's your sister or your an existing client!  Its common that any Designer would need a min of 2 weeks to fit a new client meeting into their schedule.  Ideally, get them on board before you start your new home search.

Pre-Closing visits:   Schedule a house visit with your Designer asap.  You'll need to assess the existing conditions and your 'wish list' so you can start the planning and budgeting process.   I don't recommend inviting a Contractor at this point, with no drawings or design plans yet,,,you'll just be wasting both parties time.

Base Plans:  If your house didn't come with a set of floor plans, use a pre-closing visit to get a measure and set of as-is floor plans drawn up so the planning and budgeting process can begin asap.

Scope:  Determine the scope of work, timeline and target budget, a Designer can help you review your objectives and assess what's feasible and what's not and what's most suitable for the house and neighborhood.

Budget:  Prepare a preliminary budget based on the proposed scope of work.  If you're not working with a designer you'll need to do your own research to compile some typical renovation costs.

Proposed Layouts:  Start planning your interior layouts with regards to wall locations, kitchens and bathroom configurations asap.   The location of electrical appliances and plumbing fixtures will define the extent of new work required and help refine the budget.  With preliminary layouts in hand you can have a more productive conversation with contractors, and do quantity takeoffs for pricing/sourcing.

This 'to do' list might seem overly ambitious for the average homeowner but because my Brother and his Girlfriend are both experienced at site measures and CAD, the measure and base plans were completed by them within 2 days and sent to me for space planning.   By the end of the first week they/we had completed everything on this list and more.  

The most important item on this initial task list was the BUDGET.  Preparing a realistic all inclusive budget is key.  Going thru this exercise is enough to make most homeowners realize their wish list needs to be scaled back and their timelines re-assessed.  Better now than halfway thru a reno.  A budget should consider all of the following:
  • fundamental repairs/upgrades to; structure, roof, insulation and mechanical/electrical 
  • reworking walls incl. new beams
  • reworking all plumbing and elec rough-ins, 
  • supply and install of all new fixtures, fittings and finishes
  • all new doors, hardware and trim (often not feasible to reuse the old or mix old with new)
  • all new drywall in bathrooms and kitchens at least (not much left that's useable after demo)
  • factor in new subfloors and floor levelling as these are almost always needed 
  • smoothing ceilings (skim coating over stippled stucco)
  • garbage/waste removal and bin rental (this adds up fast!!!) 
  • Permit fees (yes, you will need permits)
  • key new furniture pieces so you don't have empty or unusable rooms
  • window coverings (at least basic layer for privacy and sun control)
  • ALL miscellaneous additional costs like taxes, delivery and shipping - with the Ontario HST tax of 13% now applicable to all labour, product and services, this is a substantial cost that can't be overlooked or you'll find yourself out of money with an unfinished house.  
Even from looking at the existing space or set of existing plans I can do a preliminary project budget before even starting on the design plans.   Here's a look at the existing floor plans for my Brother's new house that he drafted up.  Its a typical 2 storey, brick detached home with 3rd floor loft space.


A complete interior reno project (contracted out) will take on average 4 to 6 months to complete.  If you intend on working with a designer to preplan all the details and finishes and have several contractors bid on the work, add a few more months to this timeline.  Most projects I work on from initial meeting to move-in are 10 to 12 months duration.  In my brother's case, they will be moving in after only 3 weeks into this reno and living thru the rest of it, but ultimately hope to have everything finished in 4 months or less.

An average whole home interior renovations will easily reach $130-150k, conservatively for a small size 3 bed, 2 bath home (less than 1500 sf and not factoring in the cost of a Designer),  anything less than this is only achieved by getting very creative with lots of standard off the shelf products and committing to lots of DIY.  Adding more than a few high end products or custom builtins you could quickly reach $200k.  The more DIY you factor in,,,the longer it will take.  The more you hire out, the bigger the budget you'll need.   My Brother doesn't have the luxury of time to do much of this reno himself.   Therefore their budget like most is based on a creative mix of ready-to-go product and custom installations.

Now that we've had the *Budget Talk* we can move on to the space planning.  I'll share the proposed layouts with you next and some of the finish selections made in week #2.

All Images:  Carol Reed

Monday, August 1, 2011

Oh Brother: You Bought A House....

Brother's new house.  A midtown, detached 2 storey home, 
3 bedroom, 2 bathroom with loft.

As a residential designer you might think I am constantly swamped with requests from my friends and family for advice about their own projects,,,well truth be told that’s not the case at all. In fact, all my friends and family members can be slotted into one of three categories; 1. they are quite content with how their house looks, have never read a single design magazine or watched HGTV or have any clue or interest in what I actually do for a living,,,,,2. they are die hard DIY’ers who like to tell me everything their doing, ask my advice and NEVER take it,,,,,,,or 3. they are designers themselves and the only design talk we have is how we never have time for our own house projects - we have dinner parties at each other's houses and we don't bat an eye at the unfinished drywall, lawn furniture in the dining room or the bathrooms with no doors. ; )

There is one exception to this categorization and that would be my little brother. He is quite design savvy and a capable DIY’er, but although he can DIY (and has an impressive arsenault of tools),,,well, honestly, he’d really rather NOT DIY.  Yah,,he’s that guy, he's the type who has a *Dog Walker*, and a *Nutritionist*.  Whatever.  He’s the youngest of the family, always the life of the party, and he's been my best friend forever. So four weeks ago when I received a phone call from Li’l Bro in which he excitedly declared “We bought a house last night!!!!” - my less than enthusiastic self was anticipating the second part of that ‘news’.,,,,,, “We close on July 30th, but the house needs a total reno, do you have time for another project”????  Um,,,, no.

And so this is exactly how 95% of all inquiries I receive at the office start. Housing prices are at historical highs but the housing inventory in Toronto for the most part is old, outdated and in extremely poor condition,,,,,this means anything remotely ‘affordable’, and by that I mean anything less than $800k for a detached home means it will need a minimum of $150k of work and that’s just for the interior.  I don’t think when home buyers purchase these houses, with 30 day closings, that they really grasp the extent of work involved or how much time and money it will take to renovate an entire house, all while you have a full-time job. Of course no one wants to endure the costs of financing two homes for any longer than they have to, so at most a one month overlap is arranged. In short, I’m constantly asked if I can redesign an entire house, select all the finishes and co-ordinate a contractor to take on the project and complete it all within 30 to 60 days. And the budget is usually equivalent to the size of their line of credit.   My response to these never ending requests is always the same, but its never "Sure, I can start tomorrow!".

When I received “the call” from my brother, THIS time it was different,,he’s family and I can’t say no. Ha ha. Actually the BIG difference is he fully understood the scope of work required because he’d renovated entire homes before, in fact, several years ago I designed an entire home for him (he was a full fledged, full paying client). But this time round,,,although he was prepared with a realistic budget,,,,,,and understood the work involved, his timing couldn’t have been worse if he wanted my help.

Sadly as much as I would love to take on this project, reality is that I just don’t have the time to do so at the moment and he can't wait, not even a couple of weeks.  He and his Girlfriend have to proceed full steam ahead so I’ll do my best to advise them. They're going to try and get as much renovation work done as possible before they move in just 3 weeks.  The two of them do have a major advantage over the average homebuyer about to embark on a complete home reno - she is a Project Manager for commercial renovation projects and he is a Geomatics Engineer or Surveyor or whatever all those dozens of initials after his name mean. Meaning, they have a contractor on hand and CAD skills!! They're gonna need both.

For the past 3 weeks I've been immersed in the middle of their full blown renovation plans but strictly in the role of Design coach.  I’ve prepared sketches for the bathrooms and kitchen, armed them with a budget and sent them off to various showrooms to select fixtures and tile. They keep emailing photos of things to me that are waaaay over budget, but, its good that I actually have them READING the budget now. They’re doing all the leg work, have permit plans being drafted up and have even lined up a Contractor to start (miracle of all miracles) on the day they take possession. As I follow them along on this whirlwind journey,,,,lovingly and excitedly watching over their shoulders every step of the way (I can't resist even if I tried),,,,I’ll recap their progress as they attempt to renovate this house in record breaking time.   Li’l Bro will even do a guest blog or two.

The Kitchen and Living Room with its knotty pine and rustic oak wood trim.

The existing kitchen is super narrow at only 5 feet wide.  

An awkward room for Living room furniture.  One of the first decisions made was that this would become the Dining Room

The Dining Room at the front of the house will become the Living Room (possibly with new gas fireplace).

The 3rd Floor Master Ensuite with the world's tiniest shower.....

and the world largest hot tub!!!!

I invite you to follow along on this real life, non-client house reno with me as I share my advice and tips with these brand new homeowners as they transform their outdated house into their modern dream home with the helpful advice of me - the Sister/Designer. They took posession of the house on Friday evening and as of today, the entire interior has already been completely gutted. In the next day or two I'll share the new plans and show you what's been bought so far....

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