Thursday, November 28, 2013

Custom Home Design--Why It Makes Sense

With so many great "stock plans" available (including our own portfolio), people looking to build a new home sometimes struggle with whether the added time and expense of designing a one-of-a-kind house makes sense. Sometimes it doesn't. The number of pre-designed homes available means that there is probably one out there that comes pretty darn close to matching just about anyone's needs. Modifying a stock plan may very well take it from "almost perfect" to ideal. But there are a lot of reasons why completely custom makes sense.
Top of the list of reasons is the property the house is going on. A special view, challenging topography, or unusual shape mean that an "off the shelf" plan is probably not going to work. A custom design can shape itself to frame views, turn a difficult terrain into a positive feature, or work around challenging setbacks.

Many of the clients I meet who decide to go the custom route have lived in or built "almost perfect" houses before. Calling these places home have given these clients a list of "wish we hads", "if onlys", and "wouldn't it be nices." Examples: "We love our house, but wish the laundry room were closer to the bedrooms." "Our kitchen would be perfect if it were just two feet longer." or "We wish the family room had a better view of the backyard."

Such was the case for the clients I designed this house for. They had enjoyed their previous home for many years, and loved many things about it, but came with a wish list that reflected the things that were wrong about the previous house:
"We need somewhere to put the dog's crate. At our old house, it just sat in the corner of the sunroom."
"This sounds silly, but we want a place for the trash bins. I can't tell you how many times we hit it at the old house because it just stuck out into the garage!"
"We used the formal living room for the piano at the old house, but it would be nice to have that closer to where we spend all our time."

These specialized details, along with their desire to  have the master suite on the second floor (an increasing rarity in "stock" plans.) led them to design a one-of-a-kind house.

Let's take a look at some of the custom features.
The least glamorous part of the house is actually one of the parts that makes this new plan work so well for the clients. The garage (just a few feet larger in each direction than their old one) allows them to get out of their cars without the old "turn sideways and squeeze" maneuver they used to do to walk between them. A niche in one corner holds the trash bins til its time to take them to the curb, and a wall of built ins with a sink allows for gardening and projects. Just inside the house is a small mudroom with shoe racks and a place to put coats. ("At the old house, we had this awful pile of shoes that we were always tripping over right when you came in from the garage.") Straight ahead is a custom "drop zone" with places for mail, car keys, and electronics charging stations. ("It's a godsend! All the mail, receipts, change, etc. always wound up on the kitchen counter at our old place.) The laundry room is small (they send most things out to the cleaners), but has an open area for laundry baskets or ironing that was lacking in their previous one. The dog room, for the four-legged family member, is a much-loved feature. A split dutch door means they can see their pooch from the hall, and a doggy door leads to a small fenced area so he can go outside even when he is home alone. ("That one little thing has made such a difference! We don't feel like we HAVE to rush home at lunch or right after work to let the dog out.") Two large closets finish out this area--one is dedicated to cleaning supplies, and the other is a pantry dedicated to serving pieces, lesser used small appliances, and seasonal china patterns.

The main floor is designed to function for large parties but to be comfortable when just the two of them are home. Throughout the design, we made sure to provide places for important furniture, art, and rugs. The kitchen is laid out to allow comfortable flow for guests and plenty of workspace for cooking. Another pantry within the kitchen is dedicated to food storage. In the great room, a wet bar provides another spot for serving guests, and various other built ins allow for display of dishware, art, and books.

The piano room opens to the great room through a deep paneled archway. The piano is set between built in shelves, inspired by this picture the clients found online:
The "tea room" is a space inspired by their favorite room at the old house. "We had a nice sunroom on the back of the house where we loved to have our breakfast and coffee on weekends and just look out at the yard and watch the birds. We knew we had to have another little spot like that here."

The home office rounds out the other side of the main floor. The placement of this room was carefully considered. One of the clients works often from home, and wanted the ability to close the space off, but also wanted to be within earshot of the great room so he wasn't completely isolated when pulling those long hours. With built ins for organization, the space also provides future flexibility. The adjoining full bath (which doubles as the powder room) and a walk-in closet will allow it to serve as a bedroom if one is needed on the main floor.

A large screened porch, with enough room for dining and lounging, shares a double fireplace with the great room, and adjoins a grilling deck. Two other porches shade the great room from the afternoon sun, and act as an extension of the living space.

Upstairs, two nicely sized guest rooms share a nicely appointed bathroom. The clients weighed the option of giving each bedroom a private bath, but ultimately decided that the number of times both guest rooms would be occupied made it an unnecessary expense. The master suite is on the other side of the second floor, across a balcony that looks into the great room and foyer (a feature they enjoyed at their previous house.)

"Our other master bedroom was HUGE. 22 x 22. We deliberately made this one smaller, it feel so much more comfortable and was much easier to decorate than the old one."  The king sized bed fits into an arched niche with lovely trimwork and narrow built in bookshelves, a feature inspired by this photo the owners came across:

Double closets, one large enough to include an area for ironing, buffer the master bedroom from the bath, and a small morning kitchen between them means that weekend coffee or a midnight snack are just steps away. Double vanities, a private water closet, and a free standing tub are all memorable features of the master bath, but the true star of that room is the huge walk-in shower. "No glass door to scrub! And it's big enough that, with the multiple shower heads, we can get ready at the same time now."

By going the custom route, these clients got the details they wanted, the layout they needed, and a home that functions perfectly for the way they live.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Haint Blue Porch Ceilings

Anyone who has been to Charleston, SC has no doubt noticed the pale blue porch ceiling that is typical of the picturesque "South of Broad" houses there. There is no exact shade for this classic southern ranges from periwinkle to robins egg, but as far as many people in the south are concerned there is really no other color to be considered for a porch ceiling.

Why is it called "Haint Blue?" As a young transplant to the south, I saw the common robin's egg tint and thought "It hain't quite blue, and it hain't quite green." But a "haint" in Gullah culture is an evil spirit, and the blue ceiling is there to scare them away. (It's also rumored to keep mosquitoes off the porch, as they mistake it for the sky.)

Whether this ubiquitous southern touch serves any purpose other than looking gorgeous, I really don't know! Here are some pictures of classic "Haint Blue" ceilings to inspire you:
Double veranda with Haint blue ceilings

Up close of a Haint Blue Ceiling

Grand front porches. (Looks like a haint blue coffer on the first floor)

An unusual take on haint blue. Has a very island feel in this hue.

Crisp white siding, black shutters, red brick, and a haint blue ceiling. Doesn't get any more classic than this!

The rug on this lanai picks up the haint blue in the ceiling.

Subtle but effective...the haint blue compliments the stone floor of this large porch.

Massive columns on granite stone bases and a perfect blue ceiling. All that's missing here is the lemonade! (The window sashes look black, but I'd bet they are Charleston green!)

Monday, October 14, 2013

New Pre-Designed Plan: The Landfall

Here's a new plan we have in the works, the Landfall. With a rather formal, traditional facade, this house would blend perfectly into an older, established neighborhood.

The floor plan is up-to date and memorable. The front of the house is anchored by formal rooms that flank a foyer with a beautifully sweeping set of stairs. At the rear, a wide-open play of spaces includes a gourmet kitchen, huge great room, and an octagonal morning room which opens to a screened porch with fireplace and vaulted ceiling.

A three car garage provides storage for cars and more. And the workaholic in the family will love the library with adjoining office. The powder room features a shower, and a murphy bed in the library provides a spot for guests.

Upstairs, three bedroom suites round out the floor plan. Two smaller suites on the right side of the house each enjoy a full bath and walk-in closet, while the left side is home to the jaw dropping master suite.

An octagonal vestibule welcomes you into the master suite. Built-in niches display art, and a tray ceiling adds drama. The enormous bedroom with adjoining sitting room, features a romantic fireplace. Two enormous walk in closets, a morning kitchen, and a dramatic bathroom with free standing tub, glass walk in shower, and barrel vaulted ceiling complete the master suite. Imagine waking up every morning feeling like you've just spent a night in a fine hotel!

The Landfall encompasses right at 5,000 square feet. If you're interested in learning more, please feel free to contact us.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Poochy Palaces

We got a dog. We had talked about it for a few years, and said that we would get one once the new back porch was finished. And once the back yard was fenced in. And once we had hardwoods everywhere downstairs.
It became clear that we would be old and gray before we had a dog if we waited for the "to do" list to  be finished, so we started looking for breeders, rescues, or friends with litters on the way. We wanted a small dog, a "hypoallergenic" breed, and really hoped to find one that was a bit out of the puppy stage.

Our first attempt at rescuing a year-old yorkie-poodle mix fell through when they accepted an applicant that lived closer. I sent in another application to a rescue that had a young litter of Maltipoo pups, but didn't hear anything for a few days.

To make a long story short, they did end up calling, and we drove two and a half hours to pick up this little guy:

Meet Cooper!
Cooper is five pounds of fur. The sweetest little pup you could hope to meet, even if he hasn't quite figured out that he needs to be outside before he relieves himself. (Maybe we should have waited til the hardwoods were in...) At any rate, with a dog comes "stuff." He has a big crate that he stays in during the day, a bunch of toys, a big ole bag of food, and of course, his bowls and treats. And there is simply no good place to put it all. His crate takes up way too much space in the morning room. His toys are always everywhere, and there is no good place to put his food. So many people have pets, but very few houses accomodate them.

So if we built a new house, I think we would need a dog room. A place with bins for toys, airtight storage for his food, a spot for  his crate and bowls, and a bathing spot. All with a hose down floor, naturally. I went online for some inspiration, and was not disappointed. Check out these wonderful designs for living with pets:

How cute! The space under the stairs has been turned into a doggie bedroom, complete with canine-inspired artwork!

A perfect doggy shower for larger pups. For my 5 pound bundle of joy, I'd lift this up to counter height, and have some storage beneath.

There are a lot of tables that double as dog crates available out there. What a great way to blend your pets "home" into yours.

Tucked into a corner, here's another integrated dog crate. Could be a great way to claim space under an air return or at the bottom of a linen closet.

A dog bed built into the cabinetry! Wouldn't this be perfect as part of a window seat?

Here, a spot for the bowls has been dedicated at the end of the island. And is it just me, or do those cabinet pulls look like bones?

Another dog house tucked under the stairs. I love that this one has a tiny window for the pooch to check out what's happening outside!

Which one was your favorite? How have you designed for your pet? We would love to  hear your ideas!
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Sunday, July 28, 2013

On the Boards: Bringing a Classic Craftsman Up To Date

I started a new project this week that I think is pretty exciting. The house is on a beautiful street of classic old houses of all styles, ranging from Georgian mansions to quaint bungalows.
The existing house is a brick Craftsman style, though much of the exterior detail has been stripped away over the years. Inside, the house has been largely unmolested, which is rare! The kitchen and bath have been updated, and a bad addition housing a laundry room and a porch have been tacked onto the side, but otherwise, the interior is vintage.

The client's wishlist is a very common one: a proper master suite, a bigger, more open kitchen, and generally more open, brighter interior.

Take a look at the original floor plan:

The house is blessed with a large great room and dining room at the front of the house. Original archways and woodwork provide a lot of charm. Three good-sized bedrooms lack closet space and are forced to share a single small bathroom at the rear of the house, and the small kitchen is made even more congested with four doorways coming in from all sides. Fortunately, the house sits on a large lot, so there was plenty of room to expand.

Here's the after:

At the rear, we're adding 15' across the whole rear of the house, giving room for a comfortably sized master bedroom, dual walk-in closets, and a large bathroom. A new carport, with stepped brick columns that mirror the originals at the screened porch, gives covered parking for the family's cars, and connects back to the house with a breezeway that ends at a new mudroom. The kitchen is completely remade. The original breakfast nook, though charming, was unused and far too small. By combining the two spaces, we get a much more user friendly kitchen and a ton more counterspace. We plan to echo the original archways and open the new kitchen up to the dining room. Stairs leading upstairs are opened up to the hallway and dining room, making the space above feel like part of the house rather than just an attic. The owners had requested a small sitting area off of the new kitchen if possible. We gave them that by taking one of the original bedrooms and reusing it as a keeping room (a portion of that space also now provides closet space for one of the other original bedrooms.)

We'll be sharing photos of this project as it moves forward, so stay tuned!

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Monday, June 24, 2013


Here's a very unusual addition to our Pre-Designed portfolio. And an interesting story behind how it was created. Forgive me as I wander a bit...

I often take a route home that sends me over a mountain...its a fun road for driving and, as the highest point in town, gives some great views in a few different directions. There is one spot along that road That offers an absolutely breathtaking vista of the skyline of the city, and long range views to the mountain range beyond. I've always thought "That would be an amazing place to put a house." Only problem, it appeared to be a cliff face. From the road at least, there didn't seem to be a way to access the property short of doing an elevated "bridge" (as had been done on a few residences along that road.) The other bridges scream maintenance headache to me, so I didn't see that as a real option. So when I noticed a "for sale" sign on the promontory, I looked into it.

Turns out, the property was slightly wider than I imagined, and behind the overgrowth along the road there was  a roughed-in semi-circular driveway that had TWO access points off the main road. The price was high, but not totally out of the question. I was smitten. And decided I would design a house for that lot to explore whether it might be our new home.

Despite the surprise driveway, just off the edge of the it the property was a cliff. Seriously, the lot drops over 200 feet from the front property line to the back. So I needed a small footprint and knew I'd have to go vertical with the house. And here is the result:

The garage, with sky lounge above, sits toward the front of the property, and keeps the house from looking too much like a firetower.

From the back, the house shows it's height. Four stories, clad in stone and composite siding, it's a decidedly contemporary house. On one level, off the kitchen and dining area, is a wrap around porch, supported from below by huge sweeping brackets.

From the side, the house reveals itself even more. The "tower" element is at the rear, with a sweeping roof that reached out to the view. The garage wing, set far forward of the main house, has additional living space above it, accessed by a light filled "bridge" that serves as a library.

At the top of the house, offering the most spectacular view, is the penthouse level. A large great room is wrapped in glass and features a stone fireplace and an arched vaulted ceiling. Bathed in light by day, and the twinkle of the city by night, this room is a showstopper. The fireplace also opens to an elevated bridge space...with built in bookcases below the windows, it would be the perfect place to display a collection of books. It leads to the sky lounge over the garage, another large gathering space that looks out over the courtyard and past the main "tower" to the view beyond. A cantilevered corner balcony gives a one of a kind vista, and a full bath not only takes care of that floor for entertaining, but allows the sky lounge to double as overflow guest sleeping.
This is the level the house is entered on. The garage is semi-attached and forms a courtyard with a spa that sits out over the edge of the view. The house is all about the view. Floor to ceiling glass wherever possible makes the most of the stunning views the property offers. The foyer is accented by stone wrapped columns, and the island kitchen has a vaulted ceiling and joins an open dining and sitting area. These spaces open to a covered porch and would certainly be the heart of the house.
One level down from the kitchen is the master suite. Again, the view is the focus. Even the shower looks out over the mountains and city, with glass walls to the view and also inward to the bedroom itself--making light move through this floor no matter the time of day.
The very lowest level is home to the guest quarters. Two nicely sized bedrooms share access to a patio and a hall bath. A large laundry room is also off the hallway.
Unfortunately, for me anyway, the cost to build Skyridge is out of my budget right now. So we are offering it as a pre-designed plan. Please contact us at if you'd like more information.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On the Boards: Small Space Living

Here's a quick look at something we have in the works. A small house that lives large. At  just over 1400 square feet, the house is compact, with a small footprint. A wide open first floor features a drop-zone in the foyer, built-in desk in the great room, and a surprisingly spacious kitchen.
Upstairs, the master suite features lots of glass, vaulted ceilings, a large glass shower, and walk-in closet. A secondary bedroom  also enjoys a private bath, while the oversized hallway has what is sure to be the favorite spot in the house: a built in bed lined with bookcases and a skylight.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this new design!
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Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Pre-Designed Plan: The Meadow Rose

Our latest pre-designed plan, The Meadow Rose, features a common layout and uncommon details. It may seem familiar...indeed, the basic arrangement of rooms is classic, and the exterior is an expanded "five over four and a door" look that is as American as apple pie. But what sets this plan apart are the details. A cast stone band delineates between the stories, a graceful eyebrow dormer accents the roof, and a beautifully detailed front porch and classical front door highlight the front of the house.

The rear elevation shows even more a departure from the norm. Walls of glass flood the interior with light and patios, terraces, and a screened porch expand the living space into the outdoors. Again, the details make the difference. Insets of herringbone brick dress up the chimneys, and brick piers bring solidity to the terraces.

The main floor has a traditional layout...formal living and dining rooms flank the foyer. A gracefully sweeping staircase climbs from the foyer and joins a back stair at the landing. At the rear of the house, the floor plan opens up, a two story great room, large chef's kitchen, and vaulted morning room combine to form a generous space for entertaining. A huge walk-in pantry, mudroom with built-ins and closet provide a place for stowing all the essentials, and a main floor suite is privately located--making it perfect for guests, as an in-law suite, or even a private spot for live-in help. An oversized two-car garage has room for not only the family autos, but one corner can serve as a shop or potting area. At the opposite side of the main floor, a large sunroom expands the entertaining area and a book-lined library is a great spot for taking in the latest best-seller or working from  home. Throughout, intricate trimwork, built-ins, and special ceiling details set the house apart.
Upstairs, three more bedroom suites round out the sleeping quarters. Each bedroom has a private bathroom, one so grand it can serve as a second master suite. The true master suite rivals the finest hotel rooms. A corner fireplace, tray ceiling, and double door entry highlight the sweeping space. A morning kitchen is conveniently located--perfect for late night snacks, or a cup of coffee to get the owner's day started. The closet space is absolutely enviable. The smallest of the two walk ins features as much space as most couples need, and a room-sized second closet will satisfy the most discerning clothes horse. With walls of shelving, a center island, and convenient access to the laundry room, it's a dressing room that will have people talking for years. And the bath is no less memorable, with its barrel vaulted ceiling, glass walk-in shower, and sunken tub separated from the vanities by a pair of columns. The hallway overlooks both the foyer and great room, giving the whole house a bright and open feeling.

On the lowest level, the Meadow Rose provides more space for entertaining, with a large media room, fully outfitted wet bar, and a wine cellar. Another garage is perfect for storing the four wheeled "baby" in the family. Several thousand square feet of unfinished space provides room for storage, mechanical systems, and whatever rooms the lucky family who calls the house home may need in the future.

Including the finished portion of the lower level, The Meadow Rose is just over 6,000 square feet of bright, comfortable, beautifully detailed space. It's an heirloom house that's sure to be cherished for generations.

If you're interested in The Meadow Rose, or any of our other pre-designed plans, please contact us at

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Sneak Peak at A Whole House Renovation

This old gal isn't quite ready for her close up, but here's a sneak peak at a dramatic makeover of a timeworn house in a wonderful downtown neighborhood. We took the original 1100 square foot house, added a second floor, a new master suite, and replaced the original maze of small rooms with a wide open floor plan. The result is a 2700 square foot house with great curb appeal...and ready for the next sixty years!

We'll be bringing you some more photos of this house in the coming weeks. But for now, what do you think of the outside?

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Plan: The Kirkwood

Here's the latest plan we are adding to our pre-designed portfolio: The Kirkwood. It's a 1690 square foot  cottage that has the features and feel of a much larger house.

The exterior is a mix of shake siding, metal roofing, and natural stone veneers. Accents of heavy timber and paneled shutters complete the look.

Inside, hallways have been kept to a minimum to make the most of the square footage. The core of the house is a wide open space with vaulted great room and dining space, and a kitchen with angled peninsula. A tall fireplace anchors the room, and a wall of glass overlooks a large screened in porch. The sleeping quarters are split...with two large family bedrooms sharing a large bathroom at the front, and a luxurious master suite at the rear. With a tray ceiling, corner tub, and a large walk-in closet, it's the sort of suite you might expect in a house twice this size.

As always, we would love to hear your feedback! And remember to join us on Facebook!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

On The Boards, A Traditional Cottage

The second of two homes I'm currently designing for an infill lot, this house, like it's companion, has an elevation meant to blend seamlessly into a neighborhood of charming homes, most vintage to the 1920's-1940's. The steep streetside lot allows us to tuck a two car garage under the house, and a set of brick steps winds up to the swoop-roofed front porch. The mix of materials, including a half timbering effect in the steep front facing gables, gives the old-house look that the client and I were after.

The main floor is home to an open great room and kitchen area, with a wall of built ins and a corner fireplace. The lack of walls makes the relatively small square footage feel bigger than it is. The master suite fills the other side of the plan, with a large bedroom, luxurious bathroom, and a spacious walk in closet. A panel opens from the closet to the laundry, allowing the wash to be easily passed back and forth. The impressive staircase has stained glass windows at the landing, washing light down to the front door.

Upstairs, three bedrooms each enjoy ample closet space and access to a bath with double sinks. If needed, any one of the rooms could be called on to be used as a study, an exercise room, or craft area.

The house lives larger than its 2350 square feet, and will give its new owners the feeling of a much larger home, but with the benefit of less space to clean and maintain.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

On The Boards, A Classic Cottage

I've recently begun the design for two new houses that will go on an infill lot in a neighborhood of classic traditional houses. The client is a small real estate developer, who seeks to build small, quality houses in "walkable" neighborhoods. Our hope for these new  houses is that once completed, a passerby will be hard pressed to say whether they are new or recently renovated homes vintage to the neighborhood.

We capped the square footage at 2500. While the neighborhood homes range from 1600-over 8000, we wanted to create "right sized" houses...put the money into nice details and finishes rather than a lot of superfluous square footage and soaring ceilings.

Here's house one:
An asymmetrical gable with a swooping roof marks the entrance to the house. A porch stretches across the front of the house...perfect place to greet neighbors and enjoy the breeze. Exposed rafter tails and clipped gables are common architectural features in the neigborhood that we repeated here.

The first floor is designed to include all the spaces for day to day living. A large great room with fireplace and built ins is open to the foyer and the bright kitchen and dining area. A tray coffered ceiling brings height and detail to the great room. The master suite is convenient to the laundry room, meaning fewer steps with the dirty clothes. A large walk in closet and 5-piece bath make for the kind of suite usually only seen in larger homes.
Upstairs, a bright staircase with a deep plant shelf leads to the secondary bedrooms. Two are large, with double windows and ample closet space. The third is smaller, perfect to use as a home office, exercise room, or hobby space. All share a large bath with double sinks.

 Not shown here is the basement level, which includes a two car garage and storage space. While the total square footage is only 2300, the house lives larger.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

A Craftsman Facelift

Shortly after my clients purchased this small cottage in the heart of one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town, I helped them to substantially enlarge it by adding a large master suite, screened porch, and lower level garage. A few years later, we did phase two--enlarging the kitchen and improving the layout. With the interior of the house almost where they wanted it, they decided to start phase three--a facelift to bring some curb appeal to the unassuming facade.

The existing cottage has a small wooden front porch that is quite literally falling apart...and even if not for the sagging roofline and bowed floor, it did nothing to bring style to the house.

The "before" picture with the poorly detailed front porch. 
Drawing inspiration from the Craftsman cottages typical of the neighborhood, I re-imagined the house with a larger front porch with tapered columns on stone bases. The front gables will be clad in shingle siding, and the vinyl shutters will be replaced with board and batten ones. While it wasn't practical to replace all of the vinyl siding, the prominent front face will be re-clad in board and battens painted to match the existing siding. and stone veneer will be carried to window sill  height.  Finally, a new front door with appropriate detailing will complete the makeover.