Need a new place, or actually, just a new space? Moving on up doesn’t have to involve a real estate transaction. Let’s face it: The real estate market may be thawing but it’s still pretty cold out there. For Sale signs sit for months in front of unsold homes, frustrating would-be sellers and taunting wanna-be buyers. It’s a bit like being grounded at the terminal waiting for lost luggage and just watching the baggage carousel go round.
Homeowners wanting to take flight perhaps can’t afford to take the route into a larger home, but many can afford a renovation to give their spirits a lift.
Feeling pinched? Longing for leg room? Need a fresh, appealing environment? A smart renovation not only makes a room or home more aesthetically pleasing — either for owners or to prospective buyers — it can also make it more functional or greener and thus more economical in the long run.
Consider this, too: Contractors are also feeling the pinch and are eager to take work they might not have considered in a better economy. Plus, building material prices are stable — for now.
Some renovation projects are always popular: kitchens and bathrooms, for example. Others, such as “curb appeal” enhancements are important when considering putting your house on the market. And some are simply for the owner’s enjoyment, such as a backyard oasis.
We’ve highlighted projects from grand additions to interior makeovers — fresh angles that can make classic dwellings soar and open new frontiers in familiar settings.
Who knows? Instead of feeling grounded, you may find inspiration for a home-grown project that is just waiting to take off and carry you to new spaces without even leaving home.
Note: All photos related to the following descriptions can be found at the top right of this story.
Curb Appeal: A facelift erases age linesIt was the Pygmalion of houses. Walking down the street, people didn’t notice or even think twice about it. Covered in 40-to 50-year-old imitation brick asphalt siding that was in advanced deterioration, the building looked tired. A wrap-around 6-foot-wide porch with storm windows had no real detail to it; unheated and unfinished, it was mainly used for storage. The front door was hidden away through the porch, so passersby never even saw the entry.
“People say all the time to the owners, ‘I never knew that house was there,’” says John Merckle, the architect from TMS Architects, who worked with the owners and who just happens to be a neighbor of theirs.
The recently retired couple had hemmed and hawed about whether to remain in the house and work with what they had or to pack up and move to a retirement community. Because they liked the location on a dead-end street with a park nearby, as well as their neighbors, they decided to stay and spruce the house up.
The house contained enough bedrooms but it lacked real living space and with the porch running around the house the living room was lacking sunlight.
The true test for TMS was working with what they had. “We couldn’t do anything outside of the footprint and because of setbacks we couldn’t build additions without having to go for variances,” says Merckle. So they took the under-utilized space of the porch and expanded the living spaces into it. A narrow screen porch, a mudroom and bathroom were all incorporated into the new design, and even the kitchen and dining room found some extra space by pushing out onto the porch.
As for the outside, the porch has been squared off, and now visitors walk up onto an open deck to a visible front door.They replaced the wood windows with new insulated windows and exaggerated the trim to make it stand out more than the original. And the landscaping makes things really pop when blooming.
Now this 2,000-square-foot New Englander is simple and clean, and just the way the client envisioned it. “This house demonstrates that you don’t need to be building big, huge houses,” says Merckle. “A house that was once insignificant and nondescript has been transformed into an eye-catching jewel. Everyone just falls in love with it.”
Fireplace Factor: Bricks get a touch of class
Sometimes it’s not even an entire room that needs a lift, but simply one or two details to bring a new focal point or perspective and transform it from blah to beautiful. Geoff Martin of Cedar Mill Group encountered this task for a home he’d worked on for two previous projects. “The owners wanted to take care of details that were not done in the mid-’80s when their house was built,” says Martin. So they called on him to create a freshened-up fireplace with more, well,
fire to it.
Originally the owners were thinking of covering all of the brick with a raised panel, says Martin, but that would have made it way too heavy. Instead they chose to keep part of the original brick exposed. The brick hearth was too informal for their taste, so instead they replaced it with a piece of granite laid flush with the new Brazilian hardwood floor, inset with a double birdseye maple border. A slab of granite for the mantel mirrors the hearth, and crown molding and chair rails with panel details echo the woodwork in the fireplace surround.
Now the fireplace is inviting, but not ostentatious. “It makes a statement without overpowering the room,” says Martin.
Cedar Mill Group
Budget Sense: Kitchen with shapely curvesThis traditional Cape in Nashua was built in the 1960s and had the type of kitchen you would expect from that era: dark, knotty pine cabinets — including a set of hanging cabinets over the bar separating the kitchen from the dining room area.
“It completely separated and closed off the two rooms from each other,” says David Annand, senior designer for Dream Kitchens. Adding on was not an option for this project so Annand worked within the space he had, starting with tearing down the hanging cabinets to open up the rooms and let in the light. “It completely transformed the space; it had a much different feeling,” says Annand.
Island designs were too tight, so Annand came up with the raised curved bar instead. It gives a playful and fun flow to the kitchen. “The swirling pattern in the granite lined up with the transitions to the window. It creates a cool feeling for someone standing at the sink,” he says.
Annand also improved the flow between the kitchen and dining room by installing the same hardwood flooring in the kitchen and the dining room.
Though this particular project used granite countertops, as well as higher-end natural cherry cabinetry and appliances (that’s a SubZero fridge hidden behind appliance panels), the flexibility of the design allows for all price points using various materials. “It’s just so flexible, I use this as an example for other clients to show them what we can do,” says Annand.
Dream Kitchens, Nashua
According to Remodeling magazine a minor kitchen remodel ($22k) in Manchester will still give you nearly a 74-percent return on investment.
Backyard Dressing: Family room with a viewWhile renovations to the front of a house provide window dressing for outsiders to notice, backyard renovations are all about private pleasures. The owners of this house had very specific ideas on how to create a sanctuary to take advantage of their amazing back yard — complete with putting green, 15-foot waterfall and stocked fish pond — and make the transition from outside to inside as seamless as possible.
“The owner was looking to expand the family room area and create a great space, and had some very specific design details he wanted to incorporate,” says Ed Campbell of G.M. Roth, the contractor on the job. The addition they built needed to work with their wraparound deck, giving them easy access to their yard for entertaining and giving the illusion of being outdoors.
One of the biggest challenges was getting the design from concept in the
client’s head to reality. “There were a lot of little structural things we had to think out and work through, and still fit their view of aesthetically pleasing,” says Pam Greene, one of the designers on the project. But the end result is worth it.
“Standing inside that room, you can see everything. It’s panoramic,” says Greene, who adds that a lot of emphasis was put on lighting. “They can spotlight different areas of the yard, and no matter what time of day or night they have full control over how bright it is or the mood they want to create.”
Underneath the great room is a garage area where the owner parks his golf cart and stores his gardening tools. Done in stainless steel with bright cherry red paint, it provides storage as well as beauty and flexibility, says Greene. Backyard plantings were chosen with care and so lush that Greene describes them “like they’re on steroids. This summer when everything was in full bloom, it was unbelievable everywhere you looked. I’ve never seen impatiens and begonias that size. There’s a lot of whimsy going on in that backyard.”
Interior Design: Living in a new destinationThe piano and the armoire had to stay. Everything else was going. That’s what Cheryl Fyfe of Cathy Kert Interiors encountered when she took on her client’s living room. “It was every designer’s dream,” she says: a fairly new house and a clean slate. “When the owners were building the house, they cut a few corners and didn’t do it exactly the way the wanted to, knowing they would change it down the road,” she adds.
Now, five years later, they did. The client wanted “something that came out of a magazine,” says Fyfe. “She didn’t want something that she could do on her own. Nearly everything in the room is custom.” And every step was a collaborative effort.
Fyfe and her client created a new floor plan to accentuate the revamped fireplace. “We both had the same conclusion when it came to the fireplace — we needed it to be more dramatic, more of the focal point because of the room’s dramatic ceilings.” Instead of sitting on the floor, the hearth was built up to create more of a presence. Then a stone veneer was applied to the structure for elegance.
Fyfe had floor plugs installed in the middle of the room to conceal lighting cords. She recommended a textured wall-to-wall carpet, purchased furniture (but used fabric from a different source), had a mirror made for above a bureau because they couldn’t find one with the right dimensions, brought in topiary for accents and whipped up new window treatments. No detail was spared. “We even put window tint on the windows where the sun was strongest,” says Fyfe. “It helps protect her furniture but doesn’t show.”
The entire project took about a year, “but only because she wasn’t in a rush,” says Fyfe. “She wanted to be sure she was making the right decisions.”
Garage Addition: Making room for vehiclesTalk about a tight fit. When Geoff Martin of Cedar Mill Group was asked by homeowners to add on a garage to their 1970s-era A-frame home in Concord, the biggest challenge was fitting the amount of space the client wanted onto the home’s lot. “They originally wanted a three-bay garage,” says Martin, “but because of lot size limitations we had to tone it down to a two-bay garage with a master suite above it. We literally came within a foot of one of the setback requirements.”
The steep 20/12 pitch to the home’s roof line also posed a design test for Cedar Mill Group. “We had fun finding a way to architecturally blend the roof of the home with the new garage.” says Martin. “We didn’t want it to look thrown onto the side of an A-frame.”
Due to budgetary reasons they did the project in two phases. First they built the weather-tight structure. But when the owners saw that the economy was turning, they were reluctant to continue with the interior work all at once. Since the builders were at a natural stopping point, they held off any work inside until the following year.
“In this particular case, this actually worked out extremely well,” says Martin, who explains that the space above the garage was originally intended to be a yoga studio and “getaway” for the husband, complete with piano. What wound up happening instead was that one of the couple’s adult children moved back home with their two kids, so it became a master suite for the couple instead. “We created a space where a multi-generational family has privacy living all together,” says Martin.
After years of not having a garage, the owner is now thrilled to have a place where he can store and care for his
vehicles. And the new garage has another not-so-typical feature: a radiant heat slab in the concrete floor, so when he brings his cars in from the New Hampshire winter weather, the snow and ice simply evaporates. “It’s just a beautiful heat source,” says Martin, “a real nice feature if you can swing it.”
Cedar Mill Group
Bed and Bath: Bringing in the outdoorsLife is “suite” for the guests who stay at this couple’s cottage on Lake Winnisquam in Sanbornton. As part of an entire home renovation, Maria Perron of Village House Interiors worked with the family to come up with a comfortable guest bedroom and bathroom in a built-on addition to a home they've had for several years.
The couple wanted something they described as “camp,” says Perron, but adds that that can mean different things to different people. “What evolved was that they really wanted something over-the-top comfortable,” says Perron. “They wanted people to feel as if they’re in a different world and not reminded of the city or the regular world. No detail was missed, right down to the custom-painted switch plates.”
“I was in my glory,” she adds, because the homeowners let her take the ball and run with it. Half the fun of having that leeway, she says, was that as a designer she has access to everything in her varied and vast resources, so she was able to use items in the room that she hadn’t been able to take advantage of before. The bed, for example, came from a company she'd been "dying to use." The canteen-style lamps on each side of the bed, the leather trimmings, roping, layers of bedding and pillows, all culled from various places, gel together to create a certain flavor to the room.
The bathroom keeps to the same rustic feel of the rest of the first-floor suite, with horizontal planking, stone knobs on the vanity and a mirror that looks like it was made from sticks and pine needles collected in the back yard. But perhaps the most over-the-top aspect is the unusual shower complete with tile rocks on the floor, walls and ceiling. “I had a cave-like seclusion vision in my head,” says Perron, “so we even brought out the stone to be jagged and irregular on the ceiling and put a granite bench in the shower as a seat.”
The couple tells Perron that guests just love staying in their own private space. “They say it’s just so comfortable, that people sleep like babies.”
Village House Interiors
Kitchen Aid: Time traveling for function and beautyHow do you make something brand new look like it’s been around for a century or more, and still function for the 21st century? Sue Booth, owner of Vintage Kitchens, often finds herself rising to this challenge: “Vintage doesn’t necessarily mean old. It means ‘enduring.’ What I want to do is to help a client create a space appropriate to their family but also to their house.”
The couple who owns this Hopkinton home wanted to preserve the historic feel to the kitchen and blend it in with the rest of their house. “They have this gem of a house from the mid or late 1700s,” says Booth. Both are active cooks who do a lot of socializing, so they needed a kitchen that was amenable to entertaining.
“There’s a tension of wanting something modern and functioning, but also being a steward to the home. This house won’t be built again the way it’s built,” says Booth. “We’re imposing something new on that. It has to function like a 21st-century kitchen or the owners will be unhappy.”
Not surprisingly in such an old home, the space was really crooked. Working with the carpenter to get everything plumb and level was the biggest challenge. Without changing the footprint of the old kitchen, Booth took the rules of kitchen design and, using clues from other parts of the house, worked them in to create a new — yet historically appropriate — kitchen. The old tile floor from a decades-old kitchen remodel was taken up and replaced with reclaimed pine flooring for better flow to other rooms in the house. Soapstone countertops were a durable — and traditional — choice.
Recessed lighting provided less-obtrusive brightness with the low ceilings. A mahogany hutch with old-fashioned glass knobs opened up an area that was previously boxy feeling, blocking the view to the dining room.
Perhaps the best example of blending traditional with modern is the Welsh cupboard built for the homeowner. Working with Judy Dibble, an artist and muralist, the homeowners created a country piece based on an old Welsh pattern that included modern amenities like a wet bar and wine refrigerator. “Although it’s not specifically an antique piece, it’s certainly evocative of it,” says Booth. NH