home-buyer workshop :: lakefront

D and C are looking to purchase a lakefront home.  There are very few water-front homes available in our immediate area so it is a unique opportunity for them.  The lake is a part of a state park and the location is perfect as both of them love the outdoors.  The downside is that the house is outdated and neither of them are thrilled about how the house is laid out.

The 50 year old house is a one-story ranch on 2 acres (filled with mature trees and shrubs).  An attached garage was converted into a family room.  It also has 3 bedrooms, 3 full baths, an open plan living and dining area with a separate kitchen and study.  There is a partial unfinished basement, three fireplaces and an in-ground pool.

Their wishlist includes adding a second floor, creating an in-law suite on the first floor, updating and possibly enlarging the kitchen and building a detached two-car garage.  Finishing the basement and updating the rest of the interior are also on the list.  It could be an intensive 6-9 month project or multiple projects done over several years.

I offered them three options for the consultation: a four-hour workshop, two-hour workshop and a simple one-hour walk-thru (no sketches included).  They chose the two-hour workshop.  I met with them at the house and spent an hour getting a tour and taking some key measurements to be able to sketch out a ‘scaled’ first floor plan (meaning roughly accurate and measurable).  We talked about their plans for the house, how they might use the rooms, what improvements they would want to make and whether they could live with the house as-is until the improvements could be done.

After the walk-thru we met up at the local coffee shop so that I could sketch out a rough plan of the second floor and discuss their project further.

Their main goal was to get an idea of what spaces would fit if they built a partial second floor over the existing house.  The second floor sketch would work by building a stairway up over the existing stair (near the kitchen) that goes to the basement.  As you can see, even with a partial second floor there is enough space to get a master suite, two bedrooms with a jack-and-jill bath and a loft that can be used as a play space and/or home office.  With the construction of a second level, the bedrooms on the first floor could be renovated into a large in-law suite now or sometime in the future.

Other things that were discussed…

How can the living room, study and family room be used effectively or differently so that there is not redundant or unused space?

Should the family room be changed back into a garage?  It could, but an additional detached garage would still need to be built to store 2-3 cars, a riding mower and various other items.

The family room could also become a first floor master suite or an en-suite guestroom as there is a full bath there now.  Radiant heat would have to be added to the floor as it is a slab-on-grade and very cold.

Adding space ‘out’ instead of ‘up’ is not really an option because of side yard setbacks from the property lines and the close proximity of the in-ground pool in the back.  Adding up would also be cheaper because it eliminates the need for new foundation walls.

We talked generally about cost and I threw out a ballpark number for construction of the second floor and most of the interior improvements.  Their meetings with a few local contractors confirmed where I thought they might be relative to cost.

Using my real estate license I accessed our regional real estate listing system and looked for a few comparable properties to help them determine what a fair offer would be on the house as-is and what appraised value they might hope to achieve once some of the improvements were done.  At the time we met they had not yet hired their own agent, but that professional could have provided them with that information as well.

D & C saw the potential in the property and had a vision for what it could be.  I simply helped put their vision down on paper.  Following our workshop and their meetings with contractors they put an offer in and it was accepted.  They are now in the process of inspections.

Usually the architect or designer is the last person to be called in when a buyer is looking to purchase AND renovate a house but for a modest sum you can bring one in early to get a clearer sense of what can be done to improve the house and make sure all the ‘numbers’ work.

renovate-decorate budget worksheet

This file for me is a work in progress really, but I feel like I have finally got it to a point where it might be useful for you. It is actually really simple and does not provide you with anything that a scratch piece of paper and a calculator could not do. I personally just like to have my information organized and easy to update and read and have found Excel to be a useful tool to do that with some really basic formulas.

The spreadsheet file was created with Excel 2003. You will find that I set up lots of tabs, one for each room of our house. You can delete or rename each tab to correspond to your own home. You will notice that right now the sheets are set up as line items for materials to buy for d.i.y. projects. I envision that you would add a line item for each contractor that you may hire to do any of the labor for you with your finish and decorating materials below that you will purchase yourself. I.e. you may hire a plumbing contractor to redo your bathroom and many times the cost of the the tub and toilet are included in his price, but things like the towel bars and shower curtain are not.

Download worksheets

clawfoot bathtubs :: cost-saving tip

I absolutely love the look of clawfoot bathtubs with their undersides painted black. Matte, glossy, semi. Whatever. A high end fixture manufacturer (I won’t name names) has been making this tub for awhile now and it. is. pricey. Absurdly pricey. On a recent restoration project I was working on, we proposed using aforementioned tub, which the client loved, but budget restrictions forced us to look for an alternative.

We ended up using a less expensive but lovely clawfoot tub with a white underside and had the painter paint it and the legs black.  It cost us one third what the other tub would have.  He used an industrial spray-on enamel, something you can find at a good paint store like Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore.  I also think it is something you could definitely DIY, with someone to help with the heavy lifting!

Credit: photos are from Living Etc. and Marie Claire Mason both via Design is Mine.


Just because I never get tired of yellows and greys…

Farrow & Ball’s colors for 2012

image from Farrow & Ball


carving out more closet space

It’s rare that anyone feels they have enough closet space.  Most of the time, no matter how much one has, our stuff expands to fill what we have.  But especially in older houses and apartment buildings, sometimes bedrooms have either a 12″ deep by 36″ wide closet enough to hang 4 dresses or no closet at all.  Here are two quick suggestions for creating closets when there are none.

Your typical (generic) room layout, rectangular with a window in the center of the outside wall, probably a door in the opposite wall in the foreground (not shown) or one of the adjacent walls.

typical room

First: always keep in mind which wall is your ‘bed’ wall since beds typically take up the most space.  Second: pick a ‘storage’ wall.  The general idea is to efficiently consolidate all your storage along one wall in the room to avoid random bump-outs here and there which sacrifices floor space.  Add a closet on either side of the window.  I would suggest one closet should be for long items and an adjustable shelf.  The other closet would be double-stacked (two rods, one on top of the other) for shorter items.  Then place a built-in bench below the window, with a hinged-lid for more storage of things like blankets or sweaters.

room with closets

Building two closets and a bench is definitely not the cheapest way to go and if you rent you may not be able to do anything permanent.  Creating walls with wood studs is not difficult and closets could be created using 2×3 (1.5″ x 2.5″) studs instead of 2×4 (1.5″ x 3.5″) which would take up less space.  But hanging, taping and spackling gypsum wall board (drywall) is not one of my personal favorites.  It would depend on your level of DIY abilities.  It’s definitely a project worthy of a good local handyman.  That type of work, framing and drywalling are basic skills that a small-project contractor or handyman could do in a couple of days.

On the cheap or temporary fix:  measure the wall you’ve chosen as your ‘storage’ wall and buy two matching wardrobes and a cool bench or storage box to go in between.

ikea closet pieces



I tried to link the product web pages to each of the photos.  Just in case:  the top two are from Ikea.  Middle left wardrobe is Ikea, middle right bench is west elm.  The bottom armoire and bench are also west elm.  The good thing about buying furniture is portability (you can take it with you) and re-purpose your pieces.  There are many options for different sizes, budgets and styles.

Don’t forget some good closet accessories which help make your closet space go a long way.

Wicker storage boxes from west elm, hanging organizer from Ikea and expanding shelf from The Container Store.

Check out some quick and good tips on closet organizing from the National Closet Group here.

dansko : is it spring yet?

So I can buy and wear these shoes.


from Dansko's new Sanibel Collection, called Volley

They are vegan.

as see in Whole Living

buy here

(Philly people) Did you know?  Dansko's Office and Retail Center is in West Grove, PA.  It was designed by a firm I used to work for.

welcome february (and my 3rd love)

I love the snow.  I really do.  But I am done with winter.  So. Done. 


Thanks Bethany for the cute wallpaper!

And my 3rd love, that would be my Kindle.  I somehow can never read one book at a time and having a Kindle just exacerbates that 'problem', but I love it.  I especially enjoy that I can read samples of books before buying.  At first I was against them.  I just couldn't imagine not holding an actual book in my hand.  But I've been won over.  There are of course some books that I would still want physical copies of but the Kindle is really going to keep the number of books that we need to store at home to a minimum I think.

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What I'm reading (an incomlete list):

Rescue by Anita Shreve

Steady Days by Jamie Martin

Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider



Farrow & Ball’s new 2011 colours


Lovely.  See them here.

dad project no. 2


We have one large wall in our 'TV room'.  I didn't want to hang artwork or pictures on it but wanted something to hang there to break up the wall and possibly reflect the light from the windows on the opposite wall.  I looked around at mirrors but I never found anything I liked (or that was low budget). 

I had a co-worker salvage a few window sashes from a barn he was renovating and my dad pulled a few more out of the trash and we came up with this configuration.  Dad replaced the panes of glass in the barn sash (center) with mirror.  The sashes were left in their natural state and just cleaned up and he hung them on the wall with Z-bar hangers.  I seriously would NOT get anything done like this around our house if it wasn't for my dad.

ps.  The pillows are by Kalla.

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