It has been a busy spring for me, professionally and personally. So that I can concentrate on my projects, I have decided to take a hiatus from blogging for a few months. I look forward to returning, refreshed and with some interesting new topics and projects to share.
I'm currently working with a couple in Grant County Wisconsin, near Potosi. They built a log-sided vacation home in the countryside in 2002. As they prepare to make this their full-time home, their goal is to enlarge the original master bathroom in order to expand the 3' x 3' shower and add a large bathtub with a window above it (overlooking the surrounding woods). I determined that the best option is to expand the bathroom into the existing walk-in closet and build a small addition containing a new walk-in closet. Because they don't need any more space in the basement, the closet addition will be built on posts, like a deck but with insulation. Expanding the bathroom into the existing closet keeps all of the plumbing within the original basement. I presented four options to my clients.
The floor plan above shows the home's original master bathroom and closet. The new plan is to incorporate the closet into the bathroom and add a new closet.
Option #1, above, requires the least amount of alteration. The existing doors and walls remain, and a new bathtub and window are added to the original closet. To get to the new closet, the owners would walk through the new tub room. One advantage to this arrangement is that the owners don't need to walk through the main part of the bathroom to get to the closet.
Option #2 also maintains a separation between the bathtub and the rest of the bathroom, but the plumbing fixtures are rotated 90 degrees to allow room for a longer shower and vanity. The downside of this arrangement is that the space between the vanity and shower is narrower.
The floor plan above shows option #3, which removes the wall between the existing bathroom and closet to make one large bathroom. The toilet is easily accessible from the bedroom and is walled off for privacy.
The final option, which is the one chosen by the owners, also creates one large bathroom. The path through the bathroom to the closet is more direct than in the previous option.
This is a project I'm currently working on - a passive solar home for a rural site in the Town of Viroqua. The 8-acre property is one of six parcels which make up a community of organic farming estates. Owners of these farmettes agree to grow or produce organic food for sale or their own user and to use their land in a way that enhances natural diversity for humans and wildlife.
Most of the 2,000 square foot home will be slab on grade, although there will be a small basement for utilities, storage, a hobby room and a root cellar. The long face of the home is oriented 15 degrees west of south. This orientation was arrived at as a compromise between a due south orientation for maximum solar gain and the southwest orientation of the site's contours. The concrete slab floor will absorb heat on sunny winter days and release it at night. The main rooms - dining / living room, 2 bedrooms and screen porch - are on the south side of the house. The stair, bathrooms and laundry room are on the north side. The kitchen borrows light and heat from the living and dining room.
The site is gently sloping, and the north and east sides are partially bermed into the hill to work with the natural slope. The west side and half of the south side of the house are completely above grade.
A separate 2-car garage to the west of the house will include a workshop and storage area. The plan includes future solar panels and a cistern for rainwater collection.
This is the perfect time of year to enjoy a warm fire, and one of the coziest fire areas of all is the inglenook, which is defined as a corner or nook near a fireplace, often with seating. Inglenooks combine the physical and visual warmth of a fire with a sense of shelter, a place to sit and look out into a larger room yet feel somewhat separated. This is what Sarah Susanka in her book "Home By Design" and Christopher Alexander in "The Pattern Language" refer to as alcoves. They note that we are psychologically attuned to feel comfortable in a place where we can survey what is happening around us from a well-protected place.
Here are four variations of an inglenook, shown in the same family room of an existing house, ranging in size and amount of enclosure.
The nook above is the least "inglenook-y" of the four examples. It defines the space around the fireplace with small seats and windows on either side of it. It takes up minimal space, and yet it declares itself slightly separate from the room in which it sits.
Inglenook #2, above, occupies the same amount of space as the previous inglenook, yet has a more sheltering feel because of the lowered ceiling above it. Light sconces are a beautiful and practical touch which help to define the space with light and create a cozy place to read.
Image #3 above begins to look more like the traditional inglenook, with seats facing one another. It requires more space than the previous two examples and includes built-in shelving flanking the fireplace.
Inglenook #4, above, has the most "inglenook-y" character of all. Not only does it have seats facing one another, but it is further defined by columns, glass-faced cabinets and a dropped ceiling. Extending the wall between the inglenook and the door all the way up to the ceiling would further enhance the sense of shelter.
Located on the north shore of Lake Wisconsin, near Merrimac, this vacation cottage was originally designed in a half-timber chalet style. The owners' goals were to change the exterior style, expand the kitchen, add a bedroom and 3-season room and replace the flat-roofed garage.
My clients' original idea was to add a bedroom suite above the garage, but I showed them how a new bedroom could be tucked under the kitchen addition instead, resulting in a smaller overall addition and eliminating the need to run plumbing and heating to the garage.
The "before" picture below shows the half-timber chalet style, reflected in applied trim boards and Swiss-style railing. A deck wrapped around all four sides of the cottage, but only the lake-facing side was ever used. The flat roof above the garage on the left side appeared to be designed as an outdoor seating area but had fallen into disrepair.
The "after" picture above shows the style transformation that occurred by eliminating most of the wraparound deck, replacing the original railings with cable railings and changing the original stucco on the upper level of the house to lap siding and shakes. The new exterior color scheme of french blue with accents of white and pale gray gives a more nautical feel to the house.
The original kitchen was small and cut off from the living / dining room. The west addition more than doubles the size of the kitchen and creates a new dining area with tall windows wrapping around two sides. The new kitchen extension has 9' ceilings. The original exterior wall of the kitchen has been replaced with strategically located posts and beams, making the kitchen and dining extension very open to the living room.
Lowering the grade between the house and the garage placed the entry walkway at the same level as the back patio, eliminating the need to walk up a set of stairs to get from the back patio to the entry stair.
Building a home on a flat property is pretty straightforward; building on a property that slopes gives you the opportunity to be more creative in the way your home meets the earth. Below are five ways you can deal with your sloping site.
FLATTEN THE SITE
I believe that this is the least desirable way to deal with a sloping site. If done poorly, it can make the site look awkwardly unnatural, and the additional grading adds to the cost of the project. It's better to find a home design that works well with the natural lay of the land, or find a different site that works well with the home design you want to use.
CHANGE THE GRADE SELECTIVELY
Changing the grade selectively can help a home fit into its site and even improve the site if done thoughtfully. In the example shown in the two photos below, the east (left) wall of the garage is nestled into the side of the hill, but the grade between the garage and house was lowered for better access to the back yard. Stone retaining walls make the regrading possible and are a beautiful visual feature as well.
MODERATE SLOPE - USE 1/2 LEVELS
A moderately sloping site may mean that there is less than a full level change between front and back. In the example below, the great room (on the left) is a half level below the front entry (on the far right), reflecting the natural grade change between front and back yards.
STEEPER SLOPE - WALKOUT BASEMENT
The walkout basement is a common feature of houses that have a steep enough grade difference that the back side of the house is a full level lower than the front side of the house. Below are two examples.
HOUSES THAT DO THEIR BEST TO TRULY BLEND IN: BERMED AND EARTH-COVERED HOMES
The two homes below take the concept of fitting into their sites even further. In both cases, much of the building sits below the natural grade.
The first home shown below is heavily beamed into the earth. Driving up to it from the road, there is little more than roof visible until you walk down the exterior steps to the front door at the side of the house. (Photos 1 and 2. Home designed by Owner)
The third photo shows a home that takes this idea even further. It is not only bermed into the side of the hill, but the lower level roof is underground, rather like a Hobbit home. The retaining wall on the left side of the photo is actually part of the lower level roof, and the strip of lawn in the middle of the photo sits on top of the lower level roof. (Home designed by architect Herb Gausewitz)
I recently had the pleasure of traveling to Dubuque to photograph a remodel / addition project that I designed. The home previously belonged to the grandmother of my client, Cathy, and has been in her family for over 100 years. Although it had a lot of charm, the home needed a more functional kitchen and dining area, a larger living room, an updated bathroom and a dedicated office for Cathy, who works from home. Cathy also requested a large open space where she could teach yoga.
Above is the original house. Below is an "after" photo with the addition on the left and the original house on the right. The new yoga studio is on the lower level of the addition, and the living room is above it. The addition utilizes the same proportions, roof pitches, siding, roofing and window styles as the original farmhouse.
The new living room includes a cozy reading nook with built-in bookshelves, drawers, lighting and a custom cushion.
The living room also includes a wood-burning stove, shown in the two photos below.
Below the living room is the yoga studio.
Below are "before" and "after" photos of the east wall of the kitchen. The existing kitchen was in a small nook off of the dining room, containing the sink, counter and cabinets. The refrigerator and range were located in the adjacent dining room.
In the remodel, the dining table was moved to another room. To create more wall space for appliances, cabinets and counters, the basement stair was relocated, a door was eliminated, and the window sills were raised. The sink was relocated from the small nook to the former dining room, creating a more functional work triangle.
The next four photos show before and after pictures of the former kitchen, set back in its little nook. With the kitchen sink relocated, the space becomes more of a pantry, offering supplemental work and storage space.
As I work more and more with Baby Boomers, I find that a lot of people are interested in features which will make it easier to stay in their own homes as they age. Whether currently suffering from decreased mobility or wanting to be prepared in case they find themselves wheelchair-bound in the future, my retired or about-to-retire clients are often asking for handicap accessible bathrooms, particularly showers that can be used by someone with limited mobility.
The photograph above shows a shower that I designed for a couple who were experiencing health problems, which they expected to worsen over time. The picture shows that an easy-to-use shower can be beautiful as well as functional. This type of shower, with no threshold and a tiled floor surface that runs continuously from the bathroom into the shower, is the gold standard when it comes to wheelchair-accessibility. The shower floors are sloped to the linear drain running down the center of the shower. In this case, the shower is long enough to contain most of the water inside without the use of a shower curtain. Smaller showers will generally use a curtain to keep water from splashing onto the floor outside the shower.
In this case, the shower was designed to be used by someone sitting on the built-in bench (visible in the middle of the photo). The hand-held showerhead is on a bar so that it can be adjusted up or down to suit the needs of the user, and shower controls are located within easy reach of the bench. This shower also contains a rain head showerhead on the ceiling for the benefit of standing users.
A light within the shower is a good idea, particularly for seniors, who need more light to see than younger people.
Although relatively easy to build into a new bathroom, this type of shower is trickier to build when remodeling an existing bathroom, since the existing floor joists need to be cut or replaced in order to create a recess for the shower. In remodeled bathrooms, a prefabricated fiberglass handicap accessible shower is an alternative which can be added without changing the existing floor structure, although these generally have a small (approximately 1") lip to keep water in the shower, which makes it a little more difficult to get into and out of the shower.
If a homeowner wants to be prepared for the possibility of future grab bars but does not want to install them now, blocking can be added behind the shower wall, making it easier to install bars later without damaging the walls.
The floor plan above shows a bedroom addition that I designed recently which considers every aspect of the the spaces to make them more wheelchair-friendly. The shower can be used either from a wheelchair or a stool. The large interior dimensions of the shower stall make it big enough to roll a wheelchair into, but the user could also transfer from their wheelchair onto a stool placed inside of the shower, keeping the wheelchair dry. The shower controls are located so that they can be accessed outside of the shower, making it possible for the user to turn the shower on without getting wet while waiting for the water to heat up.
Other accessibility features shown in the plan include grab bars at the side and back of the toilet, a 5' diameter clear space within the bathroom and the closet for ease of turning in a wheelchair, a sink and counter with space underneath for a sitting person to pull up under them and the location of switches and outlets so that they can be reached by someone in a wheelchair. In addition there is an exterior door and ramp directly from the bedroom to the front yard.
The interior elevation above shows the following wheelchair-friendly features: leg room under the sink, a "comfort height" toilet with grab bars, a mirror and electrical outlet located just above the backsplash and a linen closet with lower-level drawers.
I'm very excited to be able to share photos of the Lake Wisconsin Home that I designed for a lakefront site near Merrimac Wisconsin. These photos were taken by the very talented interior designer on the project, Lauren J Piskula of Deluxe Design Studio in Minneapolis. The photo above shows the living room fireplace from the dining area.
Here is a view from the living room looking back at the kitchen and dining area. To the right is the stair to the entry foyer, with a sitting area in the loft above it. The dark-stained trusses contrast with the white shaker-style cabinets.
This is the stair leading from the entry foyer to the second floor. The dark-stained wood posts and cable railing combine rusticism and modernity.
This is the sitting area at the top of the stair, which overlooks the great room.
The bunk room is one of five sleeping rooms in the home. Its custom-built bunk beds can sleep up to 10 people.
The master bathroom contains his and hers vanities, a beautiful free-standing tub, separate toilet room and large glass-enclosed shower.
The screen porch overlooks Lake Wisconsin. The stone patio beyond includes a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen. A wood-burning fireplace is the interior focal point of the room.
This current project is an addition and remodel of a one-story ranch home in Spring Green. With a growing family, my clients' goals include enlarging their kitchen and dining area, creating a new family room and adding a master bedroom suite. The larger kitchen that they envision will not fit within the existing house, so most of the existing kitchen will be closed off to create a new mud room to the garage, and the new kitchen will occupy the former dining area, as well as part of the addition.
Although the owners desire an open plan, they also want a feeling of separation between the kitchen / dining area and the family room. Nonstructural columns and stairs between the dining and family room areas will create that sense of separation, as well as giving the family room a higher ceiling.
The new master suite is almost twice as large as the existing master suite. The former master suite will be shared by two of the children.
Challenges include working around the existing exterior stair to the basement, making the rooflines work and keeping the proportions of the addition similar to those of the existing home. Construction is expected to start this summer.
View of the existing dining area from the existing galley-style kitchen - the addition will sit to the right of the photo.
View of the galley-style kitchen from the existing dining area - the addition will connect beyond the sliding patio door on the left.