Friday, December 31, 2010

Sweet Smell of Success

We're getting close to completion of Phase I of this garden design project. The finishing touches on this back porch and pergola are being done even as I write this!

The overhead wood portions have all been installed, and painted on ALL surfaces (even unexposed areas) in order to at least slow down decomposition related to the elements. Code does not require a railing for this porch since it's only 24" above ground level, but we like to add a low railing to help "ground" the porch, and add a more finished look.

Electrical wire has been run, and boxes installed into 6 of the columns for sconce lighting.

After priming all natural wood elements, 2-3 coats of finish paint are applied. You can't be too careful on exterior wood!

As is often the case, when a construction crew is on-sight and doing work nearby, this was the perfect opportunity to replace a rotting door frame, and re-hang the French doors. You can't have bad looking doors out to a beautiful new porch!

Once all the woodwork is done, the concrete steps and welcome-walls will be poured in preparation for the pavers that will lead to the patio area. Can't wait to share the finished photos with you.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Taking Shape

Significant progress has been made at one of our big design projects. More exterior windows have gone in, a new front door has been installed, and walls and ceilings have been framed into the previously lofty spaces. Check out "before" photos from previous blog postings.

The front of the house has it's new windows, and the front porch has been carved out of what was once all interior space, giving the front facade the beginning of some shape and personality.

It's exciting for us to see these changes happening, and it must be even more exciting for the homeowners!

More to follow soon. Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Assembly Required

Great progress has been made on the backyard garden plan viewed a couple of weeks ago. After the tear out, the contractor was ready to begin right away. As can often be the case, rotting wood was discovered behind the steps, directly under the French doors. Opening this area up provided a needed opportunity to replace the damaged material, and steps will be taken to prevent this sort of damage from happening again.

First order of business was to pour footers for the steps and piers for the porch deck.

Then, block was laid so that the floor joists could be placed. Next, the decking. As promised, the decking--and the columns shown--are engineered materials. The decking is currently covered for protection, but I promise to share better images once it's uncovered.

Beams were placed on the column and attached to the house for the roof members.

I always have the contractor notch out these elements so they sit down onto the beam. In my opinion, this keeps the structure from looking like stacked Lincoln Logs.

A couple more weeks to completion, but that being said, this homeowner is giving himself a wonderful Christmas present, that will keep giving for years to come!

Friday, December 10, 2010

No Home For The Holidays

You might remember this project from a recent posting.

Well, our brave clients have moved out of their home (just in time for the holidays!), and the demolition and reconstruction got underway a couple of weeks ago. This part is never pretty, but there's got to be something rewarding about swinging the wrecking bar, and firing up the jack-hammer!

Lots of loads to carry away, and recycle whenever possible.

As we've discussed in the past, you can almost always count on surprises when you start opening up walls in an older home. I guess if you expect surprises, then they're not really surprises, right? So, let's just agree to call them "gifts". There were some special gifts at this project when demolition got underway, like a completely unsupported 2nd story corner hanging over the 1st floor room below, and about 3" of concrete under the kitchen floor. But, a side benefit of renovation is that a competent contractor now has the opportunity to correct mistakes made in the past. And that's exactly what will happen here.

In this photograph, you can see how the floor has been opened to allow a footer to be poured for a new pier for support under the home.

This should give the homeowners an added sense of assurance!

New windows and doors were preordered (another sign of an on-the-ball contractor!) and are already being installed. These are vinyl clad windows with wood interiors...great looking, sturdy, and very appropriate to the design, and neighborhood.

So far, all things considered, the project is going smoothly, and everyone involved is happy...just the way it should be around the holidays. Hey, if you see the homeowners staring forlornly at their home under construction, invite them in for some holiday cheer! More to come.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wiping The Slate Clean

Earlier this year, a new client came to us for a garden design. He had some general ideas of what he was hoping for--mostly in the form of how he wanted to use the garden space--but generally afforded us free range on the design. Our favorite kind of client!

As the design began to take shape, we met periodically to review the different elements that would be added to the small but welcoming space. After a few weeks of this process, the entire design emerged as a full-blown swan!

Here is what the space looked like to start with. Nothing much here to suggest the charming interiors that the house offers...but that's all to change soon!

This is the plan that was created for the space.
The new design consists of a pergola covered deck coming off the back of the house. Steps will lead down to a new paved area and ultimately back to a covered pavilion. Because the garage is already detached from the home and Tampa codes only allow for one secondary structure, the new pavilion must attach to the garage via a connecting roof piece.

The new structures will be surrounded by a lush--though simple!--landscape that will provide a beautiful and easy to maintain garden for this homeowner. For budgetary concerns, we have found creative solutions to the staging of the design, and construction is now underway. As always, the first step is clean-up and clean-out.

Whenever possible, of course, we like to salvage any plant material that still looks good, and relocate it. We did manage to move a clump of Areca palms that were right against the house, and relocate them to another spot on the property.

In the upcoming project, you'll see our contractor use some composite materials for decking and fencing for the first time. The homeowner works for the company that produces these products, so using them on his project makes sense for a lot of reasons. We'll all see them, first-hand, together. Keep an eye on this one!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Conquer Boredom!

If you're like me, I bet you're looking for a major project to warm you up for the holidays! Actually, the holidays are enough of a project on their own for me, but how about something to set for a New Year's Resolution project. Here's one you might try.

Adding your own decorative moldings to walls may seem daunting, but it really is a much simpler undertaking than you might think. The necessary tools would be a miter box and sharp saw, sandpaper, finish nails and hammer, caulk and paint. Oh, and of course patience, and careful planning. This is one of our design suggestions that appeared in our Expert Advice column recently, in the St. Pete Times.

Start by measuring your walls and mapping out what you would like the finished design to look like. Then, calculate the sizes, based on overall wall measurements. Don't forget to measure twice, and use a calculator to check your math. Careful measurements here can assure project success.

The cut-to-size pieces of molding can be nailed right to the existing wall with finish nails. There are many profiles and sizes of moldings available at your home improvement store, and mixing one or two together is never a bad idea. Here is what can be achieved with an afternoon's work.

Once all pieces are cut and attached to the wall, fill any cracks and nail holes, then prime and paint. You will instantly have the look of expensive paneled wainscoting. Hey, if you get really confident, you might even try a faux-wood finish! Ya know, it just feels good to create something with your very own hands once in a while!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

If it seems like I'm borrowing an oft-used phrase from the Realty world, well yes, in fact I am. But, my "Preparation" phrase is meant for homeowners embarking on the renovation and building trail.
Our design project that we spoke of back in August is poised to begin construction. We're as excited as the homeowner to get this project underway and see the house start to take on its new shape and personality.

Choosing a contractor can be a confusing and time consuming task. What may be of greatest importance to your peace of mind--and wallet!--is choosing wisely. First and foremost; Make sure the contractor knows who's driving the bus by taking the wheel yourself right off the bat.

Our informed and process-educated client prepared a bullet-list of expectations which each contractor interviewed was asked to return, along with their respective bids.

See the list below:


Deliverable: All the following to be included with bid package, in writing, the week of________________.

1. List current and past five jobs, include names, phone numbers, and addresses.
2. Describe projects similar in scope to this one.
3. Describe communications process – review project bid with primary contact
and have regular access.
4. Relationship with subs – how selected, how contractors work.
5. History and description of the firm and principals, with key employees.
6. Current financial performance and proof of viability.
7. Timeline: project sequence, dates house should be vacated, possible delays.
8. How to assure materials are available and avoid delays.
9. Related projects: fencing, landscaping, foundation, roofing, HVAC, generator, plumbing, electrical.
10. Dates house should be vacated, if required. (FIRM)
11. Project costs: materials, labor, contingencies, economies of scale, ways to shave costs.
12. Breakdown project budget/bid by:
• Physical area of work/project
• Cost category – materials, labor, etc
• Timeline – monthly or incremental billing
13. Insurance coverage.
14. Warranty description.
15. Payment terms.
16. Contract terms, penalties, reconciliation.
17. Licenses

Not only does a list like this help the homeowner by spelling out details of the project, but it also tells the contractor up front that a close eye will be kept on all aspects of the project, and sets up your expectations for the communication process during construction. Though it may mean additional work for the contractor, a reputable one won't mind taking the extra time to complete these questions. And trust me, that is the kind of contractor you want on your job!

Material choices are already underway, so ground will "break" soon. Keep a keen eye out for this one!