Mission Revival home in San Jose's Palm Haven


Lookiloos has a terrific profile on Michael Borbely's gorgeous Mission Revival home in San Jose, California. The tile, beams, fixtures - everything is spot-on and a really nice example of the style.

The stark white house at the end of Plaza Drive in San Jose's historic Palm Haven neighborhood takes you by surprise. It's small in scale, a single story on a corner lot. But its domed tower and decorative parapet across the roofline force you to take a second look.

  This is Michael Borbely's mini masterpiece - a recently completed Mission Revival house of stucco and tile that took years of research to create, plus help from San Jose's Fireclay Tile to reproduce century-old details.

Borbely, 45, is an architectural activist of sorts who spearheaded an effort several years ago to restore the pillars at the entrance to the 1930s Palm Haven in Willow Glen to their original Mission Revival style. So when he was ready for a new project after selling his Prairie style house in the neighborhood, "I looked for the house in the worst condition that had the most impact on the neighborhood." He decided on a tiny Spanish style house for sale nearby in need of a major remodel. He wanted the house to fit into the streetscape and, taking some cues from the pillars and an original Mission Revival house in the neighborhood, decided to reinvent a scaled-down version.

really useful: Klenk ratcheting screwdriver

Ratcheting screwdrivers aren't all that new, but this is by far the best one I've found. It's better made and less expensive than a lot of others out there, and - at my house at least - replaces a whole bunch of other screwdrivers in my toolbox. Its advantages over the Snap-On and Sears models are innumerable, but principally, the knob on the shaft that allows the bit to turn four times for every handle turn - it's as fast as a drill driver in this respect, and is a huge time saver for long screws. It also has far better bit storage is easier and faster and much more secure than the clips on the Sears model. $17 from Bubba Deals, probably as good a price at your local independent hardware store.

historic window expert in Sacramento

Our friend Janice Calpo has been a champion of historic homes - and especially of historic windows! - here in Sacramento for several years. She recently shared the following with me, and I'm very happy to spread this news to all historic home owners in the greater Sacramento area"


Great big news for us right here in River City: nationally renowned historic windows expert and author Terry Meany has arrived! He and his wife have decided to relocate to our sunny climate after 20 years in the Seattle rain … Terry is a window repair contractor and author of the book Working Windows: A Guide to the Repair and Restoration of Wood Windows.

Terry himself has repaired and restored over 3,000 windows in the Seattle area, including residential and small and large commercial buildings. With such experience, his approach is highly efficient, thus keeping time and costs well within reason.

Now Terry is available to work on our Sacramento windows. He can do anything from a few small repairs to complete restoration, and of course weather-stripping.  For those who want to do their own windows work, he is available to guide them through it too. He is happy to talk with people about whatever their needs may be!

Terry can be reached at 206.518.3402 or via email.

how to remodel a kitchen in 905 days

Greg Henry writes:

About 2 1/2 years ago we started on a kitchen remodel project. If you have never done a massive kitchen remodel to an 83 year old house on hill, in a historic neighborhood, then you may doubt that it is a process that could take more than two years. 2 1/2 ago I would have doubted it too.

To be fair, the kitchen has been "done" for about 7 months. In fact I started this blog right about the time the kitchen was "done".

But now the kitchen is done "done". The last painful details (including a crack in a custom built sink) were finally completed about 3 weeks ago. So I have decided to document this kitchen. And where do I document everything in my life? Well here of course!

I won't go into all the gory details. But basically we knocked out walls and turned a kitchen, a laundry room and my old office into a large kitchen and eating area. We moved the laundry room to what was formerly a spooky little space under the garage. We blasted through the foundation of the house to make a door that attaches the new laundry room to the kitchen.

The finished product is a beautiful, warm room. Alternatively modern, Victorian and Prairie, it uses light and wood and tile in concert better than any other remodel I've seen in the last few years.

Congratulations to greg and his hard-working architects, Victoria Yust & Ian McIlvain of Tierra Sol y Mar, and the craftspeople who did the actual building of the room.

a Greentea Design remodeled kitchen in Ottawa

3361465414_4b7b334ccb_b[the finished kitchen; photo by Kim]

Last week, in our post on Greentea Design, I made a quick mention of one specific old-house kitchen remodel using their cabinets. Since then, Mike Ramsey at Greentea was kind enough to supply me with comprehensive background information on this particular project, and I thought it would be of interest to all of you - not just those considering a kitchen remodel, but anyone interested in how this Asian-influenced cabinetry can work in a Craftsman home.

The kitchen in Kim's turn-of-the-century Ottawa bungalow was originally attractive, I'm sure, but long before she moved in there, someone with a surfeit of love for Formica ripped out the original cabinetry and, unfortunately, expressed themselves all over the room. Fast forward to the both modern and at the same time classic finished product - but don't worry, we'll spell out the whole process for you below; you can read even more about it on Kim's own blog.

Kim had already decided to remove the non-bearing wall that separated the kitchen from the living room, which made the previous owner's kitchen cramped and difficult to use. In doing the demolition, she found all sorts of interesting things - layers upon layers of wallpaper and newsprint dating back to 1903. Other demo-related discoveries included what appeared to be horse hair - possibly used for insulation in the ceiling - found when removing wood paneling to allow for can lights,

Next, Greentea interviewed Kim regarding what she wanted and what she needed from the new kitchen, and produced a rough sketch of what would be possible in the new room. Kim picked out which pieces she wanted, and Greentea rendered them in Google Sketchup for confirmation of sizing before they submitted the order to their factory. Pieces included 2 single and one double Mizuya upper cabinets, three Mizuya base cabinets – two 3 drawer versions and a smaller one with chopstick drawers in place of the third drawer – and finally a standard 4 foot Mizuya Pantry. Google Sketchup, the (free) savior to the design/build industries and with a learning curve that allows anyone to pick it up, is again called into use, this time to generate a full render of the finished kitchen.

Soon after the demolition and basic structural changes were completed, Kim received the (very well-packed) cabinetry from Greentea and began to put things into place. Appliances were brought in, base cabinets were installed, and whatever minimal modifications that were needed for plumbing were made, then sink, lighting, and countertops came next; at this point, it was really starting to look like the kitchen she'd been waiting for - certainly a feeling we've all been very happy to have as a remodel starts to actually resemble the picture we have in our heads. One neat addition at this point: Kim had a cat hole made in the hatch to her basement, which was mounted on shock absorbers to let it move up and down smoothly - a really nice feature worth emulating.

And voila: it is done! Finally, you can see how well everything fits into the new cabinetry; her four-foot Mizuya pantry is especially spacious. Kim even made a short video tour of the finished product, which really shows how well these cabinets define the tone of the room, but don't overpower the rest of the house at all.

Again, if you're at all interested in a really good deal on step tansu - my single favorite piece of cabinetry - note that Greentea is running their Step Into Summer promotion, with large discounts on all step tansu, for another two weeks (it ends on June 15!).

Greentea Design: spectacular custom kitchens

Toronto-based Greentea Design has a special place in my heart: not only do they design, build and sell some of the most beautiful kitchen cabinetry available anywhere - in beautiful Japanese-influenced styles that are a perfect match for any Mission or Craftsman home - but they also carry a range of both antique and contemporary reclaimed-wood furniture, some in historic Craftsman and Japanese designs and others in more contemporary shapes. And the prices, even including the (very professional and speedy) shipping from Canada are surprisingly low, making them competitive with any of the larger semi-custom cabinet makers out there, even while using better materials like a clear coat for kitchen cabinets and sturdier building techniques..

While many of their signature pieces - step tansu and other room-defining wood furniture items - are gorgeous, it's that line of kitchen cabinets that I keep coming back to. Sold as custom kitchen sets or as individual stock pieces, the grain of the wood, beautiful (and exclusive to Greentea) hand-forged hardware and trim detail is both Asian and Craftsman at the same time, with enough character to be beautiful and enough attention to design to be eminently useful. Their Loft Kitchen custom design, above, is a combination of the various Mizuya cabinets, including an island and a full range of wall cabinets and accessories; other past custom kitchens have included the simplified Asian Bistro, minimalist Zen Modern, and Chalet Chic, which was tailored for a more open, airy space. Of course, each piece is available by itself as well - all the islands, hutches, wall and base cabinets and pantries you could possibly need are available piecemeal should you wish to design your own kitchen, amd all can be installed in a fixed position or left free-standing (for a movable island, for example). The custom design services offered are impressive - Greentea's staff of furniture and room designers are more than happy to assist with your own custom project or do the work for you; their staff worked extensively with Kim Johnson, owner of a 100-year-old home in Ottawa, on her recent remodel, and the results were very impressive; Kim blogged the entire process on her website, Design to Inspire.

I'm very happy to have a piece of theirs up in my own modern Craftsman kitchen, and I hope to have a few photographs of it soon; a smaller version of the Dana cabinet (pictured above; mine is a similar to what sits above the glass cabinets on the right and left of this unit) completes the rear wall of that recently-remodeled room in my 1925 Mission Revival bungalow in Sacramento, California, and it's a perfect complement for the bamboo floors, stone countertops and glass tile backsplash that round out the project. Some day, I'd like to own one of their step tansus, which I have always maintained are the perfect bridge between an austere Asian design style and the earthy workmanship of the Craftsman aesthetic. And they're running a special "Stepping Into Summer" promotion right now, with 20% discounts on these unique pieces, including the Elm Burl step tansu, shown below.

Owner Dale Storer has worked hard to make sure that Greentea's products complement a wide range of architectural styles, though, and much of their more contemporary designs would look at home whether in a traditional Japanese home, a Craftsman bungalow, or a modern high-tech apartment. The Lattice TV Stand, pictured below, hides components behind a latticed sliding door that still allows remote controls to function, and is just as good a match for an urban loft as it is for a 90-year-old brown-shingle Craftsman bungalow. Every one of these pieces is made from reclaimed wood, and all come in a variety of finishes with different types of hardware available as well. Mike Ramsey writes that the reclaimed wood usually comes from "aging rural structures that are being taken down to make way for Asia's rapidly expanding urban centers. The Maru tables are the best example since they're turned into tables directly from being reclaimed. The original supports are cut into legs who have correspondingly sized holes cut in the base of the slabs of floor."

Their antiques stock, some of which is on hand at their Toronto showroom, is also worth checking out; I'm partial to the large selection of all sorts of Japanese tansu, but they also carry plenty of Chinese and Korean pieces as well.

I'm not so used to giving such praise to a business - as regular readers know, I'm pretty stingy with compliments and generous with criticism, which is certainly a fault. However, after dealing with this company myself and going gaga over their website, I just wanted to make sure you were all as familiar with them as I've become. After seeing so many (primarily) Japanese antiques blend so well with the large shingled Craftsman homes of California, but noticing the absence of same elsewhere in the country, I thought perhaps most people didn't realize that the two styles matched so well.

If you're in or near Toronto, definitely check out the Greentea showroom; otherwise, spend a few minutes browsing their website, or call them at 1.866.426.7286 to talk with someone about your kitchen design or furniture needs.

I've made a small Flickr album for photos of their work; I'll soon add a good shot of the Dana cabinet in my own kitchen; those of you who already have Greentea cabinets, please do send me your photos, and I'll add them as well!

Dallas: preservationists compromise on teardowns

2807tanner from Robert Wilonsky's article at News You Can Actually Use, Actually:

Ever since last summer, the city -- specifically, Development Services and the City Attorney's Office -- have been attempting to streamline the process that allows for the demolition of buildings in historic districts that it considers "an imminent threat to health or safety." Initially, the Landmark Commission was horrified by the plan, which essentially eliminated the commission from the conversation and allowed the Fire Marshal's office to call in the wrecking ball. But several meetings later, the city has a compromise, which will be debuted this afternoon at the council's Public Safety Committee meeting.

In short, if the city wants a property gone, the Landmark Commission still gets a review before a certificate of demolition's granted -- but the time line's significantly shorter, the property owner or contractor has to show significant and continued progress on a monthly basis, and the Fire Marshal can "order demolition of a structure, without Landmark approval, if a clear and imminent threat exists." It's that last part that concerns Preservation Dallas executive director Katherine Seale, who this morning tells Unfair Park that caveat allows for the "possibility of abuse."

photo: The City Attorney's Office had hoped to tear down 2807 Tanner St., but preservationists intervened.

Greene & Greene-inspired remodel in New Berlin, WI

3258814416_bac4a61cdb_oMaster craftsman and Greene & Greene expert Tom Gallenberg recently finished an extremely impressive remodel project for client in New Berlin, WI; take a look at all the photos in our Flickr set.

Tom writes:

Most of the woodwork was out of African Mahogany with an oxidizing treatment and an oil finish. The kitchen cabinets and trim package are an original design. The fireplace cabinets have a true divided german leaded glass door with the mullion design of the the original Thorsen House.

The client tells us a bit about the beautiful kitchen backsplash:

The backsplash is a mixture of three different shades of greenish/gold tile from North Prairie Tileworks in Minneapolis. All the tile was custom-sized to minimize cutting during installation and eliminate any visible sharp edges. The six electrical covers are made of the same tile in order to hide them as much as possible.

The color was chosen to blend with the paint coloring of the kitchen walls and the three different shades of greenish/gold paint in the adjacent great room. The three shades of gold in the great room are divided by bands of trim and the lowest portion of the wall is green. So the horizontal band of the backsplash mimics the horizontal frieze area in the great room, with the tropical green granite countertop mimicing the lower level green paint color, as well as the green tile on the fireplace (also from North Prairie) and the green Guildcraft rugs (from Northfield Carpets in Minnesota).

We chose a simple subway pattern because we wanted the backslash to be understated rather than call attention to itself. The narrow brick-like size was chosen so that the bottom row could fit effortlessly under the kitchen window trim, where we had very little space. We didn't do the narrow granite backsplash for the counter because my wife didn't like the look of it. (Enough said?)

how you treat woodwork makes all the difference

...Just make sure you do (mostly) the opposite of whatever this woman tells you to:

From Rita St. Clair's house/come column in today's Chicago Daily Herald:

Bargains are always alluring, and never more so than now. But while good deals can indeed be had in today's housing market, the "buyer beware" rule remains very much in force in regard to fixer-uppers. An old, or even not so old, home that "needs some work" can prove to be a great buy or a financial sinkhole, depending in part on the dimensions of the buyer's dreams.

In deciding whether to invest in an old house, my advice is to resist the cute-puppy syndrome and to make an unsentimental assessment of how much a rehab will really cost. Then weigh your willingness to bend the project to fit your budget.

Q. We need advice regarding the semicircular front hall staircase in an old Dutch Colonial style home we recently bought. A previous owner stained the oak steps and the entire balustrade, including the stringer. It's a medium stain but still looks pretty heavy in an average size entranceway with a wooden floor and with lots of wood paneling and moldings. We had intended to cover the stairs with a patterned carpet, but that turns out to be difficult and expensive because of the circular turn in the staircase. Can you suggest a different treatment?

A. The simplest of several options is to paint most of the woodwork - not just the staircase itself but the adjacent moldings as well. In a relatively small space, I'd go with a light color for all the painted surfaces, including the stringer, the spindles on the railing and the risers but not the tread of the stairs. Then, to produce an attractive contrast, I would use a dark stain on the floor, the treads of the steps and the staircase's handrail.

Paint over the wood?! This woman should not be writing a column on restoration, conservation or style in general! That's just ridiculous, and is an absolutely last-ditch option when all else fails. Why ruin future generations' enjoyment of the space just to save a few bucks? It's not worth it - we have a duty to conserve our homes, not ruin them ... I assume this person would also advocate covering coved plaster ceilings with acoustic texture, putting plastic slipcovers on furniture instead of, you know, actually sitting on it, carpeting over hardwood floors...

She starts with good advice and then veers into the ridiculous, stupid, and cruel. And to top it off, after this excerpted portion, she goes on to advocate carpeting stair treads in Arts & Crafts homes, a practice that Gustav Stickley himself once (purportedly) called "an abomination." Yes, accent and show off your beautiful wood by covering it up. Pave the backyard, too, while you're at it.

getting rid of black mold

Our good friend and regular contributor Joel McDonald sends in the following, a followup to his last article - in November 2008 - on locating possible black-mold outbreaks (a must-read for anyone considering buying a home, or rehabbing an older house):


Just kidding. It's not as bad as all that. Molds and their relatives are all around us. Their spores can be dormant for long periods of time, only to become active and start reproducing when conditions are right. The conditions they need, as you probably know, are moisture and not too much light. It helps if the place is poorly ventilated since that allows moisture to build up -- but with enough moisture many molds can grow even in a draft. Your basement, for example, is what mold spores probably dream of when they're resting. Damp, lonely, nobody coming around trying to bother you all the time -- absolutely heavenly, if you're a mold spore! Even in areas of the country that you might think of as being too dry for mold to grow, all that's needed is a chronic spill or a little leak in an unventilated space, and moisture buildup can lead to mold growth.

The question of how to prevent the growth of black mold is pretty easily answered - keep the environment dry. Do that and you've pretty much got the problem solved.

What about the condition where the mold has already gotten ahead of you, and it's growing one of your interior spaces? You'll want to remove the source of moisture, of course, and in most cases this can be done by using a dehumidifier. If there has been a flood or leak, and not just a normally-moist environment, then you'll have to first pump out or mop up, and use plenty of ventilation to dry the space. Use the biggest fans you can get. It may take days or even weeks, and you might be able to get started on mold removal in the meantime, but there's not much point in trying to get out all the mold if the place is still wet. You should at least wash off the surfaces with detergent and water, and spot-dry the affected areas as best you can while the space is being dried out. If wallboard is affected, and it looks like it is more than surface deep (warped or swollen panels) go ahead and remove the worst-looking part to expose the spaces between the studs and evaluate whether you have to remove more wallboard for drying and cleaning the inside of the walls.

When you have the humidity under control, you can start on the serious business of killing the mold.

You might prefer to just go to the grocery or hardware store and find a commercial preparation to do the job, but some people prefer to avoid the use of strong chemicals. The use of bleach is sometimes thought to be a strategy for getting rid of mold, but its use has not been recommended by the EPA and there are drawbacks to using it -- it can be dangerous to handle anywhere outside of a washing machine, and if combined with other common cleaning ingredients such as ammonia (Caution: Don't!) it can produce dangerous fumes.

For absorbent and porous materials such as insulation, carpet, and acoustic ceiling tile, you may just have to get rid of the material if is has mold growing throughout and not just on the surface. In most jurisdictions you can discard it with other household refuse that goes to a landfill, and it may be a good idea to put it in trashbags if you can. You can expect to have better success with walls and floors, particularly if they are smooth. Even with porous materials, though, there is a chance that a good cleanup might work; depending on what the material is and how much it will cost to replace, it could be worth your effort.

Cleaning Up Naturally

Plain white vinegar applied full strength is an effective mold killer. It may not restore the original appearance by itself, but any stain remaining after a good dose of vinegar will have no living mold and can be cleaned or painted over with a high degree of confidence that the mold that was there will not grow back. Spray or brush it on, full strength, and scrub a little if needed. The familiar smell is not too disagreeable for most people, and it will dissipate after a while.

Other natural remedies listed by the Household Mold Guide, which has a number of useful recommendations, are tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract.

Mold should not be ignored. While you might think of it as nothing more than an unsightly mess or an inconvenience, it can cause a variety of illnesses and -- since it relies on the digestion of organic matter such as wood and fiber to live - it eats your house. Getting rid of mold, and preventing its recurrence, is worth whatever effort it takes. So you may have to move, really - move yourself to action and dry it out, clean it up!

This article was presented by the ultimate Boulder real estate specialists of Colorado, Automated Homefinder.

Humphrey House: greening a classic bungalow

The Humphrey House blog details a total, top-to bottom green remodel - keeping many original features but altering the underlying materials and design to make it as energy-efficient as possible - of a beautiful 1920s Chicago bungalow. This is probably the most complete houseblog I've read in a long time. They carefully document every single project (in photos and drawings) - including the little mistakes that we all learn from -  in the seemingly-endless quest to turn this drafty but pretty home into a showcase of modern green technology, techniques and materials.

They are also maintaining a list of trusted Chicago contractors in the sidebar, so if you're looking for someone to take on a modernization project on an older home in that area, this is a great place to start.

glass subway tile from Anchor Bay

Arizona's Anchor Bay Tile, one of the largest online tile vendors, is now selling glass subway tile in a variety of colors.

“We are proud to add this new tile collection to our already large selection of ceramic, glass, wood and metal tile,” said Steve Khan, founder and president of AnchorBayTile.com. “These tiles are available in a 3” x 6” size and come in beautiful colors that offer numerous unique design possibilities for any interior designer, architect or do-it-yourself homeowner who wants to add a classic subway tile design to any room.”
Khan also pointed out that glass subway tile is becoming more popular with his customers because of the timeless beauty it brings to any project. “Glass subway tile is a perfect choice for classic, modern and contemporary decorating styles and works well in areas such as in the kitchen as a backsplash, in the shower as a modern upgrade or as a subtle colorful complement to a tub surround or bathroom vanity backsplash,” Khan said. He added that his commercial customers find that glass subway tile works well for restaurants and hospitality projects.

case study: this old barn, Rejuvenation-style

Toh_house From the website of our sponsor, Rejuvenation Hardware - from their customer stories section:

When Amy and Pete Favat set out to build their dream house - a prefab version of a timberframe barn - old world tradition joined hands with modern day technology. Their story was originally chronicled in This Old House.

Designed and built in New Hampshire, their home's modular panels were trucked to Weston, Mass., for on-site assembly - which went much quicker than a customary from-the-ground-up barn raising.

Simple Fixtures with the Right Fit

With a marriage of rustic charm and industrial elegance, this distinctly 21st century house (and its owners) demanded well-crafted lights that "had the right vibe." And that's where we came in.

Now, a pair of Rivertons flank the front door, a good fit amid the sturdy beams and weathered wood. And a series of Jeffersons look lovely hung in multiples above a stone pathway. Says Amy, "We felt these fixtures fit in well with the overall style of our home, and we love the warm glow they give the house at night; it's cozy and inviting."

Tradition Goes Out on a Limb

Now that Amy and Pete's new home is finished, it's exceeded their expectations. "We did not want it to feel like just another house. It's not your typical home at all. It is part barn and part tree house."

For photos and the full story of the Favat's prefab timberframe home, visit This Old House.

five common areas where black mold may be hiding

Our good friend and regular contributor Joel McDonald sends in the following:

Black mold can be hazardous to your health. The worst part about it is that it could be growing in your home without you even knowing it. That's because it grows in some unnoticeable places. The important thing is to find it before it gets out of control so you can stop it from spreading. Here are the five most common places where black mold tends to grow within a home so you can do some investigating for yourself.

Your wallpaper could possibly be a breeding ground for black mold spores. Many types of wallpaper glue tend to attract organic materials and dust particles that feed black mold and help it spread.

A home's ceiling could have a large amount of black mold as a result of moisture or a leaky roof. If this goes unchecked, you could have a huge area of black mold in your ceiling that continues to grow. Check your ceiling and roof periodically for leaks or water damage. If you see either one, look around for mold immediately to stop it before it spreads.

Most basements are damp. That's just their nature because of where they are. That's why it's common to find black mold in your basement. Mold can grow on wooden materials in your basement. In addition to causing health problems, this can also weaken the structure and of your home and reduce its stability.

Since mold often grows within your home's walls, drywall is a great place to start looking for it. Drywall that has experienced moisture or dampness is subject to mold. The mold can also spread rather quickly along the drywall. You can usually see this by noticing if the paint on the drywall cracks or peels. If you find a piece of drywall with mold on it, the only way to fix the problem is replace all affected parts of the drywall with new pieces.

Window Frames
The area around your windows is a major place to find growing mold. Since cold and warm air meet here and there is often moisture surrounding the windows, mold can grow exponentially in these areas. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to inspect your window frames for toxic black mold. You essentially need to look within the seal to see if anything is growing. If your windows are drafty, it may be smart to get them replaced. This can prevent the growth of future mold, and help lower your energy bills. Consult a professional like Roofs By Rodger for all of your window needs.

Black mold isn't something to take lightly. For some, it can cause allergic reactions, asthma, skin rashes and even lung inflammation. Others have reported experiencing fever and wheezing as a result of living with black mold. That's why it's so important to catch it before it spreads too far. Just keep an eye on the moisture in your home and black mold shouldn't be a problem for you.

Content provided by Automated Homefinder, the Colorado Castle Rock real estate professionals.

dealing with incompetent contractors

This blogger had a pretty mediocre experience (and I use the word "mediocre" very generously) with a housepainter, who did a shoddy job and then never showed up to finish it, so in the end it was not just shoddy but half-assed as well. How would you handle this situation? And have you ever had a similar problem with a contractor who dropped the ball or signed on for far more than they were capable of delivering?

befores and afters (mostly kitchen remodels)

I've spent the last few days collecting URLs of interesting before/after remodel photography; here are the best of those I've found. I'll have more next week...

  • Abe & Vale transform an overgrown 1902 cottage into a pretty bungalow with a good use of a small side-yard
  • the authors (and owners) of The Dirty House have a nice before-and-after of a particularly messy paint-stripping project
  • the owners of this 1921 bungalow have documented almost every change to their home; most recently, they've done a bit of radical landscaping & paint the exterior
  • at A Victorian Farmhouse Reborn, the owners have been busy stripping paint to find some beautiful wood underneath (my least favorite thing to do right after removing wallpaper)
  • more stripping at Hobart House, with some really pretty Tudor-esque ceiling beams beneath
  • lights, fence, mailbox, fencing & more are going up at the Kensington Bungalow
  • Minor Adjustments makes many, and we all know they add up to a whole; here, before and after a new tile backsplash
  • new paint & refinished wood give this living room an all new look
  • the owners of Smithers & Oso's Old House have removed some hideous vinyl flooring and refinished the beautiful wood underneath
  • a kitchen gets a light, subtle facelift
  • some very funky cabinetry gets a makeover; the new stuff, though, is a bit too trendy for me; another similar kitchen simply paints the nasty old cabinets white, and while it's still a bit funky, it's still a huge improvement
  • a little bit of color and a change in hardware make a huge difference to this restored hutch & floor
  • 1960s Ranch chic is transformed into this pretty moderne kitchen
  • again, a little too faux-McMansion for me, but it's an undeniable improvement
  • knocking down the wall in this atomic Ranch makes a big difference
  • funky formica gets a modern makeover

Craftsman kitchen addition in Seattle

Peter Whiteley's article appear in the May 2007 issue of Sunset magazine; go there to read the entire article, and to see a photo gallery of the home in question:

Add a little, gain a lot. That's the lesson Monica and David Stephenson learned when they made a small addition to the cramped galley kitchen in their Seattle home.

Somewhere along the line, the kitchen had been poorly remodeled and "had no relationship to the rest of the house or backyard," Monica recalls. It simply didn't work for the bustle of daily life with 2-year-old daughter Sophia, infant daughter Annabel, and two big Akitas.

Although the couple yearned for an updated kitchen with more space, they wanted it to fit the style of their 1918 Craftsman bungalow. Also on their list: a breakfast area with a backyard view, a home office, storage space, and a more generous back porch where muddy boots and paws could be cleaned

historic windows workshop: October 25 & 26 in Sacramento CA


Sacramento's Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association and the Sacramento Old City Assocation are offering two full-day workshops on the basic repair, maintenance, weatherization and restoration of historic windows in your home. A $20 fee will help defray costs and includes lunch; for more information or to register, go to sierra2.org or email the organizers.

Thanks to Janice Calpo for the photo of Beth demonstrating weather stripping!

Arts & Crafts wallpaper today

Morris_wallpaperminor updates to this article, originally from Hewn & Hammered in 2004:

People often think of the interior of Arts & Crafts period homes as austere, minimilist spaces devoid of pattern. They envision tasteful rich woods and plain walls with only a jewel tone paint shade as a foil. There may have been some interiors like that, but the height of the Arts and Crafts movement coincided with the height of Victorian decorating. Rather than homes and design books of the period only embracing one or the other style, what often occurred was a blending of the two styles. One of the finest examples of graphic art to come out of this period were the many rich and detailed wallpaper designs.

When you think of Arts & Crafts designs it is the iconic images that often come to mind. From the famous Morris chrysanthemums, pomegranates, daisies and marigolds to Frank Lloyd Wright's hollyhocks and branch borders, these patterns from nature figure prominently in all manner of Arts & Crafts design. Morris was said to have considered wallpaper a 'medium of communication' and created over 144 distinctive textile designs that were reproduced in several different mediums such as textiles, wall coverings and carpets. Historically, the actual creation Arts and Crafts period wallpaper was a painstakingly difficult and involved process. Long sheets of paper were rolled out on great tables and dozens of artisans using a primitive silkscreening process layered on paint in highly detailed repetitive patterns. This made the wallpaper prohibitively expensive for the average decorator. But when you have a great room sometimes painting techniques and stencilwork just won't cut it; they just can't give that 'wow' factor - that's when it's time to look to wallpapers.

From a ceiling frieze to a feature wall to a room done completely in a bold pattern to mimic your favourite period estate, wallpapers is what you are looking for. But, where do you find them? Aren't they prohibitively expensive?

Not necessarily. The advent of laser printing techniques and computer-aided design have changed all of that, and as a result prices have come down so mere mortal restorers and decorators can work with the medium and get the same stunning effect. Currently, several companies are recreating these intricate designs.

A local favourite and one of the few A&C suppliers on the East Coast, J.R.. Burrows & Company and Burrows Studio of Rockland MA consider themselves historical design merchants. The Burrows Studio, a division of J.R. Burrows & Co., produces and recreates designs that are representative of the Aesthetic and the early Anglo-American Arts & Crafts movements. The wallpaper designs are mainly English in origin, as the English A&C movement was - and continues to be - highly influential in New England. There are graphic samples of the papers as well as a provenance and a detailed description of each style on their extensive website.

Heading out to the west coast one of the finer manufacturers is Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpapers. As recently as 2000, Bradbury and Bradbury began using computers to print their beautiful Arts & Crafts friezes, and they are gorgeous, lush, rich (okay, okay, I know - enough adjectives, but I can't help it!) full of color and bold, beautiful designs.  The site is unique in that designs are grouped by color theme. Choose an olive room and the site will show how to coordinate various Bradbury designs into a single cohesive look. You can view it all on the site or order a catalog to peruse with a good cup of tea in your Morris chair.

Last stop is way up north in Canada at Charles Rupert Designs Ltd., dedicated to supplying "splendid items for the traditional home and garden." Not only do they have all the paper patterns you have been dreaming of, but they have the fabrics to match. One of their great features is a complete wallpaper and fabric sample cutting service which will allow you to see what you envision before you commit. Everything they sell is top quality and they strive to use traditional natural materials wherever possible, shunning plastic, vinyl and other synthetics.

Thanks to Jo Horner of the always entertaining and often very touching Counting Sheep for this wonderful article!

Craftsman bungalow remodel in Salt Lake City

Front_porch_entry_after Renovation Design Group, a residential architecturel firm with offices in Seattle and Salt Lake City, transformed a very bland, ho-hum 1924 bungalow in Salt Lake City into a beautiful piece of livable art. This Craftsman-style bungalow remodel involved the entire house, from the landscaping and exterior finish to the addition of Craftsman detailing in every interior room. Some modern touches are a bit anti-Craftsman (odd inset ceilings, can lights, ceiling vents, non-Arts and Crafts cabinet detailing in the kitchen and a few other places, but they don't ruin it by any means.

Aaron and Carolyn weren’t in a rush to get started. They had lived in their 1924 Craftsman-style bungalow for about a decade and had made several small changes that kept the space livable. But while they knew they should probably do a major remodel, they were content to spend lots of time thinking about it but not much time working toward it.

“We knew from the time we moved in that we were going to remodel, but it was just the two of us, and it was hard to get motivated,” Carolyn says.

But when their daughter came along, they needed more room and they wanted to make the home safer for their child. So they knew the time had come to move from dreaming about a remodel to getting the work done. Their home was built by Carolyn’s grandfather, and it was the home in which her mother was raised. So there were plenty of sentimental reasons to keep the house while modernizing it for a growing family.

They engaged Renovation Design Group to help them figure out how to do that. Architect Annie Vernon, using her own ideas and those brought by the couple, took them through several options for updating their home. The couple decided on a plan they loved and moved forward. But after engineering evaluations, they could see that the original masonry walls would not meet code and would require extensive reengineering to make the remodel work. It would be an expensive process with no guarantees. So they had to make the painful decision to teardown grandpa’s house—an option they had not entertained. “It was a hard decision,” remembers Carolyn. But since reinforcing the old walls “just didn’t make sense” in the end, they went back to the drawing board and began planning for a tear-down and rebuild.

If they couldn’t keep the original house, they were definitely committed to keeping grandpa’s spirit. “We liked the style of the house, and if we were going to have to rebuild it, we wanted to keep the style,” says Carolyn. So with Annie’s help, they designed another craftsman bungalow. The original home had once had a large front porch, so they brought it back in the new design. They also kept thematic elements from the previous design and incorporated them into the new house, such as a half wall and pillars separating their living, dining room, and new craftsman bungalow kitchen, as well as lower ceilings in portions of the house to maintain the cozy cottage feel.

Aaron and Carolyn also salvaged materials from the old house and reused them in the new house. The moldings around the windows are either the exact wood used in the previous home or an exact replica. They also reused glass block for a living room window, adorned new doors with old knobs, and kept the fireplace mantel. And the exterior brick was meticulously preserved, cleaned, and re-laid.

photo courtesy of Renovation Design Group 

home improvement tips: how to get the most effective results for your money

regular contributor Joel McDonald forwards us this advice on how to ensure you get good value for your home-improvement dollar:

If you are a homeowner, you have probably thought about remodeling. If you are getting ready to sell, it could very well be the time to do a bit of remodeling, and increase the value. Home improvements can be expensive, so, of course, the average homeowner will try to get the nicest improvements done with the least cost. Saving money is a big consideration for most homeowners, but that certainly does not mean you want a cheap job.

The cost of investing in and maintaining real estate makes it a serious business. If you are not careful, you could over-invest, whether a project is for a single room, the roofing or landscaping, or the whole property. Hiring a legitimate professional is key to getting a good remodeling job done at the right price.

The Federal Trade Commission says that homeowners should be aware of the tricks of dishonest companies. The FTC warns about these warnings that your contractor might be trouble:

  • insists on the need for a quick commitment
  • asks for full payment up front
  • offers you a cheaper price for finding other clients
  • offers you a special price due to (how lucky you are!) having extra materials on hand
  • asks you to get the building permits
  • only accepts cash

Any of those circumstances could be a sign that you should run and get a different firm. Sometimes a bogus contractor will also try to get you to borrow from a lender that they know. At its worst, a loan scam could literally put you out of house and home.

Precautions to Take
There are several precautions you should take to keep from being taken advantage of. Interview potential contractors thoroughly. The FTC suggests that you ask how long they have been doing business, license details, and insurance offerings. Check with the city or county building office. Ask around. These things are not unlike the normal way you normally approach any big purchase or transaction.

Another important tip is asking for recent references. Not only should you get a list of references, but you should call and checkup on them. Ask these references about the quality of the job. Question them about whether there were last-minute costs, and other problems.

Terms of payment must be clear and agreed upon before the job is started. Some local laws set limits on how much higher the actual cost can be above the contract estimate. Check into the laws where your work will be performed.

This article was provided by Automated Homefinder, Colorado's Louisville real estate professionals.

restoration & renovation booming in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Busines Journal tells us that old-home restoration in LA is a booming business, largely untouched by the problems that have hit home resellers and new home builders. Perhaps this is because more and more people are nesting - settling in to spend more years at homes they might have sold in previous years - and are taking renovation (and, in historical homes, restoration) much more seriously as long-term investments than they would have before. Flippers see restoration as something to be done cheaply, on the surface, for quick return; people who live in neighborhoods and care about their own quality of life and that of the area see it as an investment to be done right. Read Daniel Miller's full article:

Times are slow in the housing market, but it would be hard to tell by following Kevin Kuzma through a typical day.

The historic home restoration consultant is busy from early morning to evening, picking up raw materials, visiting construction sites, doing estimates and meeting with clients.

“It’s gotten busier and busier. I haven’t felt any slow down,” said Kuzma, whose Revival Arts Restoration business is based in his Angelino Heights home.

Ditto that for folks like Ron Radziner, principal at Los Angeles architecture firm Marmol Radziner and Associates, which specializes in restoration and new custom residential homes.

Or Charles Fisher, who has built a busy business helping owners of historic homes qualify for coveted tax breaks that can lower a state property tax bill by up to 80 percent.

Builders may be practically giving away homes in far-flung Los Angeles County subdivisions amid slow sales all around, but there’s one corner of the housing market that so far has been immune from it all.

Historic homes in architectural styles such as Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival and Art Deco have all grown in popularity in recent years. What’s more, an increased interest in famed 20th century architects has led to a blossoming of the cottage industry that services and sells historic homes by renowned figures such as Richard Neutra, Frank Lloyd Wright and John Lautner.

renovation finds: Bull Durham!

BulldurhamleoraMy cousin Leora was doing a bit of renovation in her Chicago bungalow and found that a previous owner had done some wood paneling - until now, covered by a newer wall - in deconstructed Bull Durham tobacco crates. Does anyone know if these are especially collectible to anyone?

What interesting objects or spaces have you found when remodeling or otherwise repairing your home?

house detectives & a beautiful Craftsman kitchen nook

20080816__diy5_gallery An article by Holly Hayes in last week's San Jose Mercury News caught my eye, mostly for the photo of the very pretty period breakfast nook (photo by David M. Barreda):

"The stuff you find out about houses — and the people who lived in them — is just fascinating," Tucker says. She has mined the Internet for old maps and phone directories and even tracked down relatives of a former resident to gather clues about what the place looked like before several "improvements" were made.

Tucker calls the process "backdating," finding the home's true self, if you will.

The latest project involves the back door and a cute little breakfast nook — a feature they were nearly certain was once there. Indeed, they were right. When they found the great-niece of longtime owner May Duignan, she recalled snacking on tea and cookies there.

Tucker says the nook — a built-in that sat under two windows on the back wall of the kitchen — was removed when a former owner turned a service porch into a second bathroom and rerouted the back door through the kitchen.

The new back door was a problem for both historical and practical reasons.

"The French doors that had been installed in the kitchen were just not correct to the period of the house," Tucker says of the circa 1922 bungalow. "Plus, they let in too much light and heat in the summer and too much cold in the winter."

Out they went, and in their place is a single window and a wide back door, both which still allow views to the back garden.

Losing the French doors also cleared the way for the construction of the new breakfast nook, which Tucker and Zappe designed. Paul Davis, who Tucker describes as a "wizard with wood," built it. Davis, who is now studying architecture in San Diego, is the skilled handyman responsible for carrying out the couple's ambitious projects.

check out the full article

radioactive granite countertops, scare tactics & lazy journalism

Various stories on radioactivity being found in granite countertops have popped up in various places over the past several weeks, most of them pushed very strongly by a specific advocacy group (a group that lobbies on behalf of synthetic countertop makers). There's not a lot beyond the scare tactics of the story, so I don't think there's any reason to pull out your granite; that said, some scientists have gone on the record as saying there are rare cases of significantly radioactive countertops, so it is something to think about.

“It’s not that all granite is dangerous,” said Stanley Liebert, the quality assurance director at CMT Laboratories in Clifton Park, N.Y., “But I’ve seen a few that might heat up your Cheerios a little.”

The E.P.A. recommends taking action if radon gas levels in the home exceeds 4 picocuries per liter of air (a measure of radioactive emission); about the same risk for cancer as smoking a half a pack of cigarettes per day; a few granite countertops exceed this, but not many. But others, like Lou Witt of the EPA, say “There is no known safe level of radon or radiation.” Moreover, he said, scientists agree that “any exposure increases your health risk.” New York Times                               

Of course, completely secondary to the radioactivity issue, Granite is not an environmentally sound choice for countertops: the mining is incredibly devastating, it's often shipped around the world for processing and cutting, and it is - obviously - completely non-renewable. The fact that it may outgas radioactive substances and contain radioactive ores is now something else to worry about, or maybe Mother Nature's revenge for being assaulted.

Thanks to Treehugger for digging a bit deeper (at least, deeper than the New York Times or anyone else had bothered to).

spec solar windows in your next unlimited-budget project

Solarwindow Folks have been talking about solar windows for a long time - glass windows that act as solar collectors and electrical generators. They've finally made it to the consumer market, but they are - for now at least - prohibitively expensive. As Crunchgear reports,

According to the company, the electricity produced through the panes will be just enough to power a PC and recharge a cell phone. The electricity will be tapped via USB ports.

On sunny days, the new windowpanes are supposed to generate up to 70 watts of electricity per square meter of glass. The solar cells have a power generation efficiency of 7 to 8%. The glass (thickness: 10.5mm) will prevent up to 90% of sunlight coming into a room and therefore reduce air conditioning costs.

The invention comes at a high price, though. Nihon Telecommunication System charges $1,900 per square meter in average but still expects to sell 10,000 windowpanes annually.

So, given the price, you'll have to "power a PC and recharge a cell phone" continuously for the next 60 years or so just to break even. Maybe, now that the technology is out there, they'll be ready for real-world applications at real-world prices within a few years.

Flesher + Foster Architecture: Pacific Grove remodel

1106craftsman_e Daniel Gregory's article, excerpted Sunset magazine (visit the site for the full article and a photo tour & more):

There it sat — a forlorn and decaying stucco-and-shingle house with a sagging roof and disintegrating entry porch. That’s what Polly Moore saw on her hunt for a home in Pacific Grove, California.

But Moore sensed potential: The house had good bones, a great location on Monterey Bay, and most intriguing of all — the 1914 structure was designed by Julia Morgan, the architect of San Simeon’s Hearst Castle. With the help of architect Gretchen Flesher, Moore and her husband, Stuart Builder, looked past the disrepair to find a one-of-a-kind Craftsman-style treasure well worth restoring.

Bringing back the home’s original beauty, however, required a long list of projects: building a new entry porch; strengthening the roof; resheathing the exterior; replacing the 90-year-old plumbing and electrical systems; and updating the bathrooms.

Flesher + Foster, the firm hired to do the majority of the work on this project, has a long history of historically-accurate remodels and even some conservation work. Unfortunately - and for no good reason - their website doesn't do more than give a quick slideshow of a few of their more impressive projects. Too bad!

photograph by Thomas J. Story, from Sunset magazine

new windows not all they're cracked up to be

The Sacramento Bee, full of ads for new homes, window replacements and other signifiers of the area's sprawling suburbs, recently ran this article urging homeowners to keep old windows and work with existing ventilation. Visit the Bee itself to read the whole story.

Matthew Piner's handsomely restored Victorian blends old-world charm and state-of-the-art energy efficiency. The 1903 home, which sits on Capitol Avenue among the so-called M Street mansions, has its original double-hung windows with subtle imperfections such as wavy glass, spirals and bull's-eyes. Instead of ripping out and replacing the windows, Piner weatherstripped them with bronze springs so they would seal tightly, boosting efficiency.

"There's an epidemic of replacing windows going on in Sacramento," said Kathleen Green, a preservationist and member of the Sacramento Old City Association. The group will host a round table Saturday to highlight fruitful energy-saving fixes that preserve a home's distinct and historic features.

Green said replacing old windows with vinyl ones may not reap energy savings and could decrease the value of an older dwelling.

Piner, an architect and owner of Piner Works Design Build Group, said many Sacramento Victorians and bungalows were built with ventilation to take advantage of the Delta breeze.

In his home, transom windows above doors, a feature of many old homes that predate air conditioning, offer an escape hatch for warm air and help air movement.

bungalow remodels - in pictures

As regular readers know, I'm a Flickr junkie - and I proselytize regularly about what a good idea resource it is. The past month brings many dozens of new remodel projects (note that I can only search by tags, and only 1/20th of the photos on Flickr are tagged, so a little browsing may find you plenty more) to the photo-sharing site:


With most folks Usenet access now coming through Google Groups, I guess it's easier to refer to these things as the latter than the former. Either way, check out alt.home.repair - it's a tremendously busy group, with thousands of visitors asking questions - and getting good advice - on everything from the best way to prime flashing and gutters to discussion of direct-vent gas appliances, drain installation, pointing mortar and plenty more. In addition to our own forums (above), this is a great place to get advice and share your knowledge on almost any old-house related topic.

Heritage Salvage, Petaluma CA

Selling reclaimed materials (mostly wood, from slabs to milled boards and all sorts of bits and pieces of trim) and billing themselves as a "salvage boutique," Heritage Salvage certainly knows how to market themselves to Marin County. In addition to the expected salvaged materials and fixtures, they carry a pretty wide range of furniture built from salvaged materials, from modern pieces to those more specifically Mission.

kitchen flooring roundup

I recently installed bamboo planks in my newly-remodeled kitchen. Part of me wishes I had done a bit more research - both on the material, which is very soft and was seriously scuffed by the appliance installers (thank you, Home Depot), and because the installer did a poor job of fitting the planks up against each other, many of which are now seriously gapped. That said, it is a very attractive and inexpensive material, and comes in much harder varieties, and the substandard installation is no fault of the material.

  • In this short video, HGTV's Angela Chee gives a run-down of various new materials available for kitchen flooring, touching on varieties of hardwood, tile, bamboo and laminates.
  • An article on the same HGTV Kitchen Design site gives a tutorial on cork floor installation, with a number of photographs; this is something that almost anyone can do themselves. The material is very soft but also inexpensive. One blogger shares her experience.
  • Forbo produces Marmoleum in sheets and click-together tiles of various sizes. This is not an inexpensive product, but it is renewable - or at least the materials it's made from are - and the manufacturing process is relatively eco-friendly; it's also a very long-lived material, and comes in an enormous array of colors. This blogger records their own decision to go with Marmoleum, and how they chose colors from the myriad choices available on the retail market; a group of folks on the Berkeley Parents Network boards chime in with their experiences with the product.

Craftsman Kitchen Remodels VI

Pretty pictures of pretty kitchens, and a disappointment too:

  • The Rowley kitchen remodel, including a nice combination of contemporary fixtures and materials in a decidedly classic Mission / Craftsman home - before & after;
  • a breautiful, refinished built-in in Vancouver; a view of the kitchen itself - modern and a good fit for the rest of the house;
  • an enormous pot-drawer and a very nice bit of custom cabinetry with a very warm, attractive finish on the wood;
  • I've never been a fan of the blindingly-white hospital style kitchen, but this is attractive, especially with the perfect hardware;
  • this Maryland / DC contractor shows off a few attractive kitchens, some of which mix contemporary appliances and lighting with some very pretty wood;
  • here's one that didn't quite work. Purportedly in an historic bungalow in a neighborhood of historic bungalows, the kitchen is certainly Victorian - anti-Arts & Crafts in every way - and mixes a very, very contemporary glass mosaic tile with faux-antique cabinetry that looks like it's been purposely grimed. Not sure what to make of that, but I hope it works with the rest of the house. It's a little scary.

remodeling: getting the most for your dollar

47191243_89c15e6e2f Reader and regular contributor Joel McDonald - a real estate professional who frequently writes on issues important to those considering buying, remodeling or restoring an older home - submits the following:

Most people, faced with the prospect of having to spruce up their home before selling it, have to face down the nagging thought of "Why didn't we do this for ourselves?" It's with a bit of regret that a homeowner will realize that work is needed, but you can't go back and change the past. Starting from where you are, the question becomes, "How can we get the most return from the investment of repairs and remodeling?" There isn't an exact formula, of course, but you'll be spending money trying to make prospective buyers, rather than yourself, happy – at least happy enough that they will want to pay you more than you have to spend on the work. The satisfaction that you will get from turning over a home in top condition counts for a good part of the bargain as well. 

Be Careful in Deciding What Needs to Be Done

Just because you never liked that mirror over the guest bathroom sink, it doesn't mean that now is the time to replace it. It may be the someone else's favorite kind. We're talking here about the kinds of things you have gotten used to over the years, and might not even see any more -- broken shingles, worn carpet, the window that sticks, cabinets that need refacing. Some of these are things that, like seeing a child grow, change so slowly we don't realize it day-to-day. In other cases something breaks and "I'll get it fixed later" never happens and you adapt, work around it, and forget about it. In order to present an inviting and pleasant appearance you have to look at your home with studied, focused attention. Make a list.

Get the Best Prices on Things You Have to Buy for the Project

This one's a no-brainer, but it's so obvious that many people overlook it. Don't just enter into a fog of "It's a big project and it will cost a lot." To maximize your return, do some careful shopping for the the best prices you can find. If you are able, even in a stretch, to do some of the work yourself, do it. Depending on what needs to be done, if you take your time and shop carefully you can take advantage of good sales and discounts at home improvement stores and local suppliers. Look for discontinued and going-out-of-season items to find deals on things that will have appeal from a buyer's perspective and still be inexpensive.

Carpet It

If you have old, worn carpeting, that gives a bad impression. New carpets can add significant appeal and value to your home. We're not talking here about the possibility of finding beautiful wood flooring hidden under the carpet – that can happen, and it's a different set of choices with a different set of economic payback possibilities. Just on the subject of what to do about old carpet, though, it can be more than just a shopping chore, and more rewarding with a little effort. To really go on the low-cost end of doing the upgrade, you can get remnants and end pieces from an outlet store, and piece them together at installation. If you can do a proper installation yourself, that's all to the good, but it takes skill and experience to do a good job. If you get a professional carpet installer to install it, you can expect the seams to be invisible and the result will look as good as any other new carpet. 

Paint It

When it comes to getting the biggest return for your remodeling investment dollar, paint is in the superstar category. Shop discount stores for reasonably-priced paint. As for your color choices, keep it clean and simple. White, the old standby, is often the best choice because it represents a good "default" selection for many buyers. For buyers who have a clear sense of their own color preferences, the white background is no impediment to them and they will be able to "see" the room in their favorite colors. One thing you can be sure of: if you decide to use distinctively different colors to appeal to your own artful sensibilities, then the buyer's preferences will be wildly different. It's a rule of nature.

Replace or Upgrade Appliances

If you have to replace appliances such as the refrigerator, washer, dryer, dishwasher and so on, look for scratch and dent bargains. There are always lots of appliances with minor scratches, and you can select the ones that have the damage on a side facing a wall or next to another appliance, where it won't be a problem. The price reduction can be dramatic, and in many cases you can get it for even less that the tagged price, if you ask. These are things that store managers want off their property and out of sight.

Another consideration on appliances is that if they are in working order they might not have to be replaced at all. Even if they are a little outdated, as long as they work, you don't have to replace them just to sell the house. Houses are often sold without appliances, after all: replacing or updating appliances is an upgrade that should pay you back right away in the price of the house, so you have to do it at a pretty low cost or you can skip it. In the in-between, hard-to-decide zone of whether it's worth it or not, you may consider finding appliances at secondhand stores.

Remodeling Makes a Difference

In getting a home ready for sale, what you want to achieve is an inviting and pleasant appearance, where buyers can imagine themselves living with everything in perfect order. Distractions, entering from the realm of broken, dirty or worn things in the home, impinge on this dream-home experience. That can cost you the sale. You want to create this experience for the buyer, though, without spending too much. The prices you pay won't impress anyone, so spending more than you need to can be a particularly bad choice when the main reason for doing it is return on investment. Keep it simple, shop carefully and don't overdo it. The money you make will be the result of not only careful choices in what needs to be done, but also of finding smart ways to do it.

Article provided by Colorado's Automated Homefinder – a Louisville real estate company.

Creative Commons-licensed image by Tall Chris

remodeling causes stress - oh, really?

This is certainly old news to anyone who has attempted, completed or is mired in the middle of a home remodel - especially if it's your own house, and certainly if you are attempting to live there through the project:

There’s no doubt that a remodeling, addition or new construction job brings stress to the homeowners. Just ask me. Last spring we added a new upstairs bedroom and a downstairs entryway and mudroom, losing our attic space, emptying our garage and losing a bay in the process. Where to put the stuff and how to find it again were just two of the stresses encountered. We chose to hire a project manager, so hiring of all the subs was his problem, but we stressed and sweated over every decision. In fact, most veterans of a remodeling project will tell you that the two key qualities you need to survive a home project are the ability to make decisions and spend money — fast.

read the whole thing at bobvila.com

minimizing mold in your home

Dean Dowd runs a blog devoted solely to remodeling issues at Calfinder.com. Calfinder is probably the only one of a class of sites - those that purport to find you a handyman, contractor or skilled craftsperson near you for a particular project - that actually work well, due to the extensive screening process & database that they are continually updating and finessing.

Thanks to Dean for having one of his staff write this article - specifically for Hewn & Hammered - on identifying, treating and preventing housemold mold:

Whether you are planning a bathroom remodel or have just completed one, it’s important to remember that the work doesn’t stop there. Because even the most spotless home contains some degree of mold, homeowners must stay vigilant at recognizing the signs of excessive mold growth. Mold is a substance that creeps up on old and new homes alike. When mold begins to multiply indoors, the outcome can affect your health as well as the health of your home. This includes damage to building materials, household goods, and furniture. Breathing mold in or coming into physical contact with mold can result in various health symptoms, including allergies, asthma, infection, irritation, and even toxic effects.

What is mold?

Recognizing mold begins with an understanding of what the substance is and where it comes from. Mold is a type of fungus that floats in the air and rests upon surfaces. There is no way to avoid mold altogether, as small particles of mold are found everywhere in indoor and outdoor air.

Molds thrive in areas with high moisture and humidity, such as neighborhoods in fog banks or in specific rooms of the house, such as the basement or shower. Moisture can result in a variety of ways, from faulty pipes or building leaks to poor ventilation and regular use of a humidifier. Mold spores spread via water particles and act like seeds in search of the right conditions to spread.

To grow and multiply, mold needs 3 things:

  • moisture for growth
  • space for growth
  • nutrients for growth, such as wood or sheetrock

When should you worry?

Now that you know the basic character of mold, what should you do about it? If you can easily see and smell your mold, you may have an issue that needs fixing. Mold stains look fuzzy, cottony, or leathery and can appear in various colors. Since it normally appears where there’s moisture, check for mold in areas exposed to water. Mold has a pungent musty smell. The good news is that visible indoor mold can usually be cleaned off hard surfaces.

Some forms of mold produce chemicals called mycotoxins. These can result in more serious health effects. Sampling the air for mold cannot be done visually and would require professional testing.

What should I do about it?

Simply cleaning mold as soon as it appears can prevent it from becoming a problem. Check for mold between bathroom tiles and even in the folds of your shower curtain. Wear rubber gloves and goggles and use a regular cleaning detergent or commercial mold remover to wash it off. Afterwards, throw away the rag or sponge you used to do the clean-up and dry the area thoroughly. Wet surfaces in the home should be dried completely within 24 hrs.

Prevention is an important precaution to take to keep the nasty mold spores away. Some simple ways to prevent mold include the following:

  • regularly open windows to ventilate the house
  • immediately clean small and large spills
  • maintain a 30-60 percent humidity level
  • avoid carpeting in basements and carpets
  • add mold inhibitors to paint
  • replace carpets or other water-absorbent materials after soaking
  • quickly investigate and address underlying problems, such as leaks

If you’re worried about having a mold variety with mycotoxins, hire a professional to extract a sample and test it for dangerous substances. Attempting this alone can increase your risk of exposure.

Want more information? Here are some helpful links about mold:

Creative Commons-licensed photo courtesy of Flickr user Angelo Juan Ramos

Lavello Sinks - big, beautiful, stainless - and affordable


I'm in the process of remodeling my own kitchen, and found an enormous variety of prices for very similar items. Some sinks - European brands, mostly - were ridiculously expensive, when the exact same sink (in this case, an enormous 36" stainless steel apron-fron) was 1/2 the price or less from an American vendor. I took a closer look - the metal looked the same, it was the same weight and construction, and was probably built at the same factory by the same people!

You really do need to shop around, and don't let your contractor suggest an expensive item when you can find the exact same thing for a fraction of the price. I found my beautiful sink from Matt Roberts' Lavello Sinks and really couldn't be happier with the sink or the service. Matt is a commercial contractor and property manager who found a great source for sinks that would otherwise go for $1500; he realized that there was a huge need for affordable but good quality stainless sinks, and I'm sure that his business will thrive. His prices are far better than anything else I've found elsewhere, and the shipping was super-fast and very affordable. If every transaction and interaction I had to engage with over the course of this remodel was as pleasant, painless (and, again, affordable) as my interaction with Matt, it sure would make the whole process a lot easier!

Once my kitchen is done - I'm thinking we're about eight weeks away - I'll post pictures of the sink installation and the finished project. Until then, if you're looking for a pretty and modern stainless sink that works very well with an historic kitchen, check him out, and tell him I sent you!

recent Craftsman kitchen remodels on Flickr

My constant urging to check Flickr out for design ideas is probably getting pretty old at this point - sorry about that. Here are three attractive working kitchens, wholly or partially documented in photographs on Flickr:

Home repairs: should you do them yourself, or get help?

504144683_622f84f514 reader Scott Gray sends in the following:

Tackling home repairs and improvements begins with making a very personal decision. Are you capable of doing the job, or do you need help? How much help do you need? Maybe another experienced do-it-yourselfer can provide assistance, or perhaps you can take a course at your a local college or night school and learn how to do the work. Or maybe not. Professional help is expensive, but in some cases, you have no choice but to suck it up and call a repairperson.

These are the things to consider:

  • Most repair work and maintenance jobs are a matter of understanding how things work and having the right tools to fix them.
  • Anyone can learn basic painting, plumbing, masonry, electrical or construction work, but for complex tasks, consider the specialized knowledge, testing equipment, and tools that might be needed. If it's a radio, television, photographic equipment, camera, computer, or the oil burner in your furnace that's on the fritz, you should call a qualified repairperson. Even if you have the courage to try and do the work, the cost of the testing equipment and specialized tools are probably prohibitive. If you want to rewire the house, there are safety issues involved and you really should consult a professional.
  • How accessible is the item to be repaired? If it's something that is built into the house and you have to tear the wall apart to get at it, you had better know exactly what you are going to do when you get there; otherwise call a professional right away. It's probably less expensive in the long run.

Home Repairs – How to Get Started
Can you really save money after laying down what seems like a fortune for tools and materials? Yes, you can.

  • Find a safe, protected work area, such as the garage, the basement, or an insulated and well-lit shed. You need to store tools and supplies and keep them dry and safe; and you need a place to saw, sand, and basically make a mess that won't interfere with the daily lives of those who share your home.
  • Begin by stocking your work area and tool kit with the basics: You need a hammer, various sizes and styles of screwdrivers (at least four or five), an adjustable wrench, a crosscut saw, a measuring tape, two or three sizes of paint brushes, spackle paste or fill, duct tape, silicone caulking, penetrating oil and machine oil, glue, sandpaper, electrical tape, masking tape, and an assortment of screws, anchors, nails, washers, and o-rings. And that's just the start. You will need to add other items as repair jobs and home improvement projects crop up.
  • Start with the easy stuff: replace the socket on that flickering lamp; paint a small room, replace the washer and the o-ring on that dripping tap; put together an easy-to-assemble doll house. Once you master simple repair tasks, you will have the confidence to try more complex jobs.

The Sky is the Limit

  • As you become familiar with hand tools and simple home repairs and improvements, you will develop a taste for more complex do-it-yourself projects and hunger after speed and efficiency. You'll realize that it's easy to improve the resale value of your home by adding a deck, but first, you need to add power tools to your tool arsenal. And you can afford them now because you no longer throw out things that don't work and don't have to pay for professional repairs.
  • Check out Bosch cordless drills for drilling holes and driving in screws, and do some comparison shopping like reading reviews and reports on models by Hitachi, Makita, Delta, DeWalt, Ridgid, Ryobi, etc.
  • Don't think about adding crown molding to your house without investing in a sliding miter saw, and again, check major brands and read reviews before you buy.

For almost every hand tool there is a power tool, and you will love them all. And before you know it, you'll be able to assemble a doll house in no time at all.

Scott Gray is currently a home improvement handyman enthusiast and freelance writer who enjoys providing tips to consumers who are in the market for hand and power tools like compound miter saws.

photo by Andrew Johnson

Lead-based paint and real estate: how does it affect you?

Tip7 Reader and regular contributor Joel McDonald - a real estate professional who frequently writes on issues important to those considering buying, remodeling or restoring an older home - submits the following:

Even though lead-based paint has been outlawed for a long time, it is still a very real issue for both homeowners and real estate agents. In 1992, the Housing and Community Development Act made it so that seller of real estate had to disclose potential lead-based paint hazards to the purchaser at the time of sale.  Lead was used as a paint additive for nearly 125 years before it was linked to health problems around 1978.  That year, it was determined that lead would not be added to paint as an additive any longer. Any home that was built prior to 1978 could potentially have a lead-based paint problem.

The Hazards of Lead-Based Paint
The presence of lead-based paint in a home environment can lead to lead poisoning.  Children under the age of six run the greatest risk of developing lead poisoning from lead-based paint because young, growing bodies absorb many of the minerals that they come into contact with, whether it is much needed calcium or very dangerous lead.  Continuously high levels of lead in the body can lead to brain damage, behavior problems, hearing problems, and damage to the nervous system.  These problems can occur in both adults and children, and additionally in children, normal growth can be impaired.

Any home built prior to 1978 that has cracked, peeling, or chipping paint should be treated as a potential hazard and should be repaired immediately. If paint containing lead was used around the window or door frames in the home, the process of opening and closing these items may be creating a surprisingly large amount of dust containing lead. This dust is potentially hazardous and can be difficult to get rid of.  Vacuuming, sweeping, and dusting can cause the lead dust to reenter the air and dust will be kicked up every time you take a step within the home. The dust can also be tracked outside where it will contaminate the soil around the home.

Does Your Home Have a Lead-Based Paint Problem?
In order to discover whether your home has a lead-based paint problem, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that every home built prior to 1978 receive a paint inspection conducted by a trained professional. A paint inspection will let the homeowner know the lead content of every painted surface in the home and will uncover any areas or sources of serious lead exposure.

Although there are kits available commercially that allow the homeowner to conduct the testing on their own, the EPA recommends an inspection conducted by a professional inspector to uncover any dangerous areas that may be overlooked by the untrained eye. Some states have very specific rules and regulations dealing with the discovery and remedy of a lead-based paint issue, and the professional inspectors will be able to advise the homeowner of these rules and let them know the next step in the process of removing lead-based paint from their home.

Article contributed by Colorado's Fort Collins real estate service, Automated Homefinder.

image courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency

Craftsman Kitchen Remodels III

Lieselongleft_3 Fourth in our series on kitchen remodels (and about the 25th article on the subject; previous episodes here), this time we're taking a look at Southern California. High-end kitchens from the area's best contractors, relatively inexpensive DIY projects and various steps in between:

  • La Jolla's IS Architecture remodeled this 1914 Craftsman bungalow; the project included "a complicated pier foundation and seismic retrofit." Check out the before & after pictures of the kitchen & bath. They are also responsible for this very pretty coastal Craftsman and its blindingly-white kitchen in La Jolla and a very pretty wood-grain kitchen in this Spanish Revival ranch house in Rancho Santa Fe.
  • Qualified Remodeler magazine's 2007 Chrysalis Awards - the 14th year these awards have been given to residential and commercial modelers across the country - include a number of great Southern California remodels. A lot of the remodels are pretty hideous, in my own opinion - cabinets that clash with the style of the house, ridiculous French and English country cottage motifs that are inconsistent with the house and neighborhood, things like that. I understand that designers have to do what owners want, but there's no reason to submit that kind of work for an award. It's not all overdone, glitzy and ridiculous, though; for example, the winner of the 2007 Best Whole House Remodel under $200,000 award, Moving Mountains Design in Pasadena, did a pretty good job.
  • Stefan Hammerschmidt remodeled his 1924 Venice bungalow, including a spare and functional kitchen. Check out the marble counters and the beautiful stove & giant range hood. Read more about it at the LA Times' great remodel-focused blog, Pardon Our Dust, by Kathy Price-Robinson. Another recent column looks at "the best-looking DIY kitchen (they've) seen yet." Now, why can't some big fancy magazine or newspaper hire me to blog for them?
  • PaysonDenney Architects' website is a bit difficult to navigate, but the kitchen they produced for another Venice home (scroll down for photos) - right on that community's Sherman Canal - is worth seeing. I only wish the photos were a bit bigger!
  • Nest Architecture built this "Rustic Canyon Retreat" for two Los Angeles clients; the kitchen, with its butcher block island and all-around windows, is bright & airy.

photo via Pardon Our Dust

McMansions bring tensions to old neighborhoods

A good article by Kytja Weir in last week's Charlotte Observer, on the constant butting of heads between historic preservationists who look at a neighborhood as an organic whole and selfish me-firsters who want the freedom to do whatever they want with their own property, damn the neighbors and everyone else. Gee, can you tell which camp I fit into? An excerpt:

Tim Griffin, the association president, had invited builders, architects and others, trying to inspire his neighbors about how to renovate their homes without changing the feel of the newly popular neighborhood.

"I'm just so adamant about no more McMansions," he said.

But he knows his neighborhood has no power to restrict renovations. "We're not a homeowners' association. We're not a historic district. So the next best thing is to educate."

The neighborhood of small homes, many dating from the 1930s, is starting to feel a tension already experienced in Charlotte's older neighborhoods around uptown such as Dilworth, Myers Park, Elizabeth, Plaza-Midwood and Wesley Heights as people with bigger tastes move in.

Today Americans seek more space than their parents. In new developments bigger homes can be built without hindrances.

But the desire for more space creates a tension in some older neighborhoods, built for the needs of the past. Neighbors there find themselves walking a line between preserving the past and maintaining property rights, promoting growth yet controlling how it takes shape.

Eco-Friendly remodel in Austin TX on This Old House

Photos_kenny_braun The Healthy House Institute has an interesting article on a recent series of eight episodes of This Old House devoted to the "greening" of a 1926 Craftsman bungalow in Austin, Texas:

Taking on its first-ever project in Austin, Texas, This Old House shares strategies and solutions for transforming a historic house into a low maintenance, healthy, and comfortable eco-friendly home.

The renovation of a 1926 Craftsman-style bungalow for newly married homeowners Michele Grieshaber and Michael Klug will be “green” in nature, while making room for a growing family — including Michael’s two young sons, Sam and David — with the addition of two bedrooms and a modest full bath on a new second floor.

By using technologies that conserve energy and water, and opting for durable and sustainable materials, This Old House is taking an outdated house and giving it an energy-efficient future, while showing that “green” does not have to be experimental, or expensive.

Since this ground-up remodel included low-maintenance, low-water xeriscaping, that became one episode all by itself;  another was dedicated solely to the planning process - something worthy of extra attention whenever you're working with new and unorthodox materials and techniques. The episode also generated plenty of materials for articles on subjects as varied as lighting and remodeling with and for families with children on the TOH website.

photograph by Kenny Braun for This Old House

Rich Baumhofer & Cindy Bechtel's Curtis Park firehouse, part II

Yesterday, HGTV ran an episode of their reZONED program on Richard Baumhofer & Cindy Bechtel's beautiful Curtis Park home in a remodeled and restored firehouse, which we originally wrote about this week last year. Marybeth Bizjak has more on the house in her September 2006 article in Sacramento Magazine. Later in the article, Rich notes his favorite northern California salvage yards - which happen to be mine, too - Ohmega Salvage and Urban Ore, both in Berkeley:

Vision. Some people have it; some don’t.

Rich Baumhofer and Cindy Bechtel fall squarely into the “have vision” category. When the couple stumbled upon a dilapidated old house in Curtis Park, they could see it had major potential.

Their friends told them they were crazy to consider buying the structure, which had been built in 1917 as a fire station and later converted to a private home. But buy it they did, setting out to restore its “firehouse charm.”

They succeeded so spectacularly that HGTV will feature their house on an upcoming episode of “reZONED,” a show about people who turn commercial spaces into one-of-a-kind homes.

“My intention was to rebuild in the spirit of the original firehouse,” says Baumhofer, a builder and general contractor who has worked on many old houses. He kept the shell of the Craftsman-style building intact while gutting the inside to create a spacious, family-friendly home.


Congratulations to both Rich and Cindy - it's nice when the rest of the world acknowledges all your hard work. And thanks, too, for sharing your home with all of us!

Squak Mountain Stone: recycled fibrous-concrete countertops


There are several different commercial formulations of concrete on the market for countertops, flooring and other interior architectural uses. Some are aerated or mixed by varying but mostly-similar techniques, some are molded or installed in different ways, and some are aerated, or treated with dyes or special sealants. But one in particular is as attractive as real stone, is made in a range of mineral shades and has a natural texture from inclusions such as recycled paper, glass and coal fly-ash.

Squak Mountain Stone's fibrous-cement material is beautiful and just as visually appealing as real stone - but it's a truly environmentally-friendly countertop that makes great (re)use of some otherwise-ignored ingredients. It is available both in slabs and as tiles, and the maker is happy to work with clients on custom applications and mixtures. In that respect, it's even more appealing than real or manufactured stone!

According to developer and owner Ameé Quiriconi, the ingredients list reads like a how-to book for those interested in establishing a truly green, environmentally-friendly business:

  • Fly-ash is generated at a Washington-state coal-fired electrical generation facility. It's collected and bagged for sale in Seattle.
  • The mixed waste paper comes from a small home-based document destruction business staffed by four young women with developmental disabilities (with the help of a job coach and the women's parents.)This business is located in Issaquah, WA.
  • The recycled glass is mainly waste from local window manufacturers that is collected and processed by a local glass recycling company.

We've put together a whole Flickr album of high-res images showing the product in use - if you are planning a kitchen or bath remodel, you really should take a look at this material before you finalize your countertop material plans.

It is available from retailers up and down the west coast, including Green Sacramento, Ecohome Improvement in Berkeley, Greenspace in Santa Cruz, Eco Design Resources in San Carlos as well as EcoSpaces in Telluride, Colorado.

a modern Craftsman kitchen

Ih00016_plan Taunton publishes lots and lots of good books devoted to historic architecture in general and the Arts & Crafts movement specifically. I was happy but not surprised, then, to pick up a few back issues of The Inspired House, an (unfortunately out of print?) at a local used bookshop.

The magazine seems to have halted publication mid-2006, but mining their online archive yielded lots of good stuff, including this article by Debra Judge Silber on a very modern yet classically attractive Craftsman kitchen remodel in a 1915 historic foursquare:

When they found their brick foursquare in the mid-1980s, Ed and Kathy Friedman couldn’t believe their luck. They’d spent 10 years building a collection of Arts and Crafts furniture and decorative objects, and here was the perfect home in which to display it. The 1915 foursquare, with its built-in benches and bookcases, was as well preserved as if it had been locked in a time capsule.

Except for the kitchen. Remodeled in the ’50s, the boxy room had plastic tiles running halfway around it and white metal cabinets backed awkwardly against the walls. Not just outdated, it was completely at odds with the purposeful beauty of the rest of the house.

Visit their site for the full article. Floorplan by Martha Garstang Hill, whose illustrations and architectural drawings adorn many Taunton books.