Monday, November 5, 2012

The Home Front: Finding an Architect

I started this blog to document our very long process of buying and renovating my old childhood home. And when I say long process, I mean VERY long. For some, the idea of moving back to your childhood home would be the very opposite of a good time.  Fortunately for me, I loved my childhood and I loved where I lived.  My mom's ready to downsize and we're ready to upsize, so it's a win win for everyone.

Isn't she puurty?  I was standing too close (too lazy to cross the street) so you can't see the front and side yards but hopefully you get the point. With five bedrooms and three and two half bathrooms, it's a whole lotta house for HH and I but she has great bones and as our family gets bigger, we'll be able to grow into the house. My mom's done a great job of preserving the details that make old homes so wonderful and HH and I can't wait to put our own, more contemporary stamp on things. We thought about looking for a house that would be new to both of us, but in our price range, but there's no way we'd be able to afford this much house and have enough left over to put in the work it would likely need. And then there's the taxes. They're objectively insane, but living in Montclair is an absolute must for me and the crazy ass taxes limit our options quite a bit. This way we get get a great old house full of memories that we can continue to love and tweak into exactly the home we want over time.

Inside, it's your traditional center hall colonial but with a two-story addition on the left (the side hidden by the big old tree...) that was made by the previous owners. The goal is to gradually make improvements that bring it more in line with modern living while respecting the more traditional "dignity" of the home. As with most things, our wish list is huge and our budget not so much, so we're  focusing on the infrastructure and maximizing the use of space.  

Phase I To Do List - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly:
  • Whole-house electrical wiring 
  • Install central air
  • Paint and plaster every single room
  • Kitchen:  gut reno to enlarge existing family room, improve mudroom, update half bath, and maximize light (more about my kitchen plans here)
  • Laundry room: move to second floor
  • Windows:  ugh. new windows throughout to maximize efficiency (little by little)
  • Floors:  first floor only - refinish/stain/replace existing hardwoods (whichever's cheaper)
  • Master Bedroom:  second floor addition.  expand en-suite bath and add his and hers closet (gulp)
  • Second Floor Bathroom:  update as much as we can with as much as we've got left
Phases II thru XX involve me DIYing the bathroom in Penny Heaven (aka the third floor - you can read about why we call it that here), renovating the basement, adding a fence, landscaping, installing a batting cage for HH among other things.  We'll be busy for a good long while.  Skipping the sordid details (yes there are more!), we're planning to start renovations in October 2013.  Little Debbie will move in here once our tenants are out and HH and I will remain in BK watching the clock and praying like heck that it all gets done by May/June 2014.  

The first step is finding an architect to make all of these wishes a reality.  Can I just say I was more than a little dumbfounded by the cost of hiring an architect.  In our case it was a must given the age of the home and the scope of the changes to the layout of the first floor and the master-bedroom suite addition. For any of you in the early stages of budget planning, be prepared to earmark about ten percent to the architect.  I was floored.  You can contract for an hourly rate or a percentage of the budget depending on your project and preferences but we're opting for a hybrid i.e., a negotiated hourly rate not to exceed ten percent of our agreed budget.  Whichever method you choose, make sure you're comfortable that the scope of work is clearly defined to avoid any nasty surprises once construction is underway. If you're going with an upset limit like us, make sure it covers you for as long as you need - in our case  through the bid process and contract negotiation phase, thru to construction documents and any necessary revisions thereto (and construction management if you need and can get it - we're going a la carte on that phase).  

We've interviewed three local architects and took a tour of a several renovated homes in our town with a prospective contractor.  My takeaways so far from the architect vetting process so far:
  1. Spend some time getting to know your house and have your property survey on hand.  The architects will expect you to know some basic things like what kind of wiring you have, additions/renovations by previous owners, age of the roof, boiler, furnace, etc. The more you can tell them about your house, the better able they are to issue-spot for you and maximize your resources.  Having the survey on-hand will help them figure out whether you your plans will require variances from your zoning board.
  2. Choose someone you think you will work well with for a long time - if you're not vibing well now you darn sure won't be six months from now when you're knee deep in the weeds or, God forbid, if the ish hits the fan.
  3. Go with someone local who's well respected in your area and familiar with your town's zoning rules, ordinances, contractors, suppliers and VIPs etc. in case you need any variances or run into any inspection issues.  Having someone who knows all of the key players can make all the difference, or so I'm told.
  4. Ask the architect to arrange for a tour of complete and near complete projects.
The house tour was by far my favorite part of this whole process to date.  I didn't know you could tour homes this early on but one of architects we met with encouraged us to get out and see his work and I'm so glad we did.  Loved, loved, loved house crashing our neighbors and seeing the restoration of wonderful old homes.  It was a great way to get ideas for our project and made us much more comfortable with our choice (not surprisingly, the guy who recommended the house tour).  I'm so looking forward to more house crashing when we finally get down to selecting a contractor.  

Anyone out there planning or in the early stages of a big reno? Feel free to send any advice, horror/success stories my way.  We can use all the help we can get!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Made Something! aka DIY Roller Shades for Dummies

I'm one of those people who gets a seasonal itch to change up my bedroom and bathroom linens.  I get it from my mama.  As a kid, whenever it got chilly I'd come home to a cozy new comforter and curtains, so every year around this time I get twitchy to change things up.   For me, finding and committing to a new duvet is akin to the search for the fountain of youth, so I set my sights on the bathroom.  

Bathroom Updates

Pausing here a minute to pat myself on the back for my newly-acquired mood board skills (!!) thanks to this great step-by-step tutorial from Dana over at House*Tweaking.

Stupidly, I neglected to take any before pics of the bathroom.  In all honesty the before wasn't that bad but for the fact that there is ZERO natural light in our bathroom. Ironically the first thing you see when you walk in is a giant window, but sadly it's covered in dark frosted glass and faces directly onto a brick wall.  Although I'm thankful for the ventilation, I've been looking for a cheap and easy way to cover up the eyesore window since the day we moved in. DIY roller shades are all the rage in blogland, and since it's one of the few projects that requires no power tools, sewing, or schlepping of heavy materials on subways, I was all over it.  And here she is!

So, I have to admit, choirs of angels did not break out into song when all was said and done as I'd hoped (in my head).  I'm a little "eh" about the fabric and the fact that you can still see so much of the ugly black window, but I am SUPER proud of myself for successfully executing this little DIY project.  We've been living with our pretty new shade for a couple of weeks now and I still get a kick out of seeing my handiwork every morning.  Yay for the little things.

Thankfully, making the shade was simple a la these idiot-proof instructions from Emily Clark.  I started with a basic vinyl roller shade, wrapped it in fabric and glued the edges.   Easy!

None of the instructions I found online really addressed how to handle wrapping the fabric at the top where the vinyl connects to the roller thing.  In my case, the vinyl was stapled to a heavy duty cardboard tube thing at the top.   I could probably have left the very top uncovered since it would probably be covered when the shade is rolled up, but I decided to just unstaple the vinyl from the roller which worked out great because it allowed me to cut the vinyl exactly to length (I ordered it a little too long) without having to mess with the finished part at the bottom (the part you pull on).  It also made wrapping the vinyl in fabric easier without having to deal with the top part still being attached to the roller.  When I was done gluing, I just stapled/glued the fabric-covered vinyl back to the roller.

My fabric glue said wait 24 hours to dry but who has time for that!  I gave it a few hours and then enlisted the help of Handsome Hubby to hang the shade.

witness the big ugly eyesore (the window not HH!) :)

The lack of natural lighting foiled my attempts to take pretty after pics - in reality it's more citrus than mustard, but either way, there is A LOT of yellow going on in here. I'm on the hunt for colorful accents to break things up - maybe a blue bowl for my jewelry or a succulent plant (anyone know if they can live without sun?).  We shall see. 

Ambivalence about the fabric (and the yellow) notwithstanding, I'm fully on the DIY roller shade bandwagon.  So much so that I'm planning to tackle our kitchen window next - except this time I think I'm going to try painting on some stripes like this:

Better Homes & Gardens
Stay tuned...