33 Redux

Sort of...

Finding an Architect

We consulted a few local builders about adding a sunporch or expanding the kitchen over the first couple of years, and they all advised us to get an architect. Eventually some friends of my brother recommended Gratton Gil, a former student of F.L. Wright. He had worked at Taliesen, I had no other leads, and I called him. Turned out that he was retired, but he kindly recommended a couple of his ex-associates. One of them was The man we hired.

The Architect came to see us in the fall of 2004. He brought some drawings and models, and we liked what we saw. The Architect does all hand work, no computers, so we saw a lot of sketches and plans, all hand-done. More importantly, he seemed receptive to our ideas, and not too worried that we could accomplish what we wanted within our budget. In short order we hired him for phase one, which we hoped would take us through a final set of plans. by spring of 2005. We wanted to actually start the project in the fall of 2005.

He also mentioned a builder who might be right for the project, and we mentioned some of the builders we had spoken to. We took a couple of field trips to see other projects he had designed, and we were off. 

First Plans

The Architect started by studying the lot, the sight lines, the path of the sun and the existing house. Then he developed a very ambitious early plan which would have touched virtually every element in the house, and would have been much too expensive, and much too big. But we liked it.

Once you got rid of the things that were out of scope, the core of the plan was to expand the kitchen to the north, and to put a loft over the kitchen. Stairs up to the loft and down to a new basement were incorporated into the kitchen extension. There was a sunroom towards the back, with a new deck, and a mud room toward the front, with a new side entrance and a new front sitting porch.

It was a very 'conceptual' plan revolving around an east/west axis corridor in the new construction, and sight lines that The Architect thought would be important. We thought that the east/west axis arrangement effectively cut off the new section of the kitchen, and we questioned the window placements, among other things. The Architect's reaction was to immediately respond with a reduced plan that discarded some his 'concept' but integrated the new space more effectively.

He had the lot surveyed and determined that we were well within town setback requirements, but ultimately The Architect realized that the plan had to shrink significantly to make it more affordable for us, and to comply with town 'lot coverage' rules. The width of the addition went from 16' to 12', and the mud room/entrance was shortened. We also reduced the extent of the new basement space, and continued to tinker with window placements and the kitchen layout.

Final Plan

It took a while, but we finally arrived at a 'final' plan late in the summer of 2005. The Architect had done a nice job of simplifying it and helping us make economical choices of components, materials and finishes. The final breakthrough was the placement of the 1/2 bath into an angled space in the new mudroom, and positioning of the new front door. At that point we knew we had what we wanted.

We still had to price it, however, and to pick a contractor.

The Builder and The Basement

One contractor we had recommended really didn't want to do the job, and instead suggested tearing the house down and building a new one! Another contractor that The Architect had worked with previously was locked into the high end of the market, and gave a preliminary price that took him right off the list. That left the guy The Architect had originally had in mind for the job, and who we had met on one of our early field trips with The Architect.

The Builder gave us a reasonable price (twice our original budget; that's how these things go) but there were two problems. One was that The Builder was already committed to building another house in November-December of 2005, so there was a big hole in the time he could work on our project. Two, both he and The Architect were extremely leery of the structural integrity of our old basement walls.

The Basement Solution

We had been thinking all through the planning that we would leave the old basement as it was, and address the water issue by re-grading around the exterior foundation and adding French drains or something similar. The old basement would still be wet, probably, but the new section would be dry and isolated, and all the utilities would be in the new space.

It became apparent, however, that raising the grade around 10" at the exterior as planned would add to the load on the old basement walls, and there was a concern that this was not to code, and just in general not wise. I complained that this problem had been left for last, but in fact I was as much to blame as The Architect. I had just assumed it would 'be OK,' while The Architect had assumed that his structural engineer would find a solution, but never actually pinned it down.

We ruled out lifting the house and building new basement walls. This is a common practice on the Cape, but in this case too expensive relative to the rest of the project. That left two basic solution types: structurally reinforcing the old basement walls or eliminating the problem by filling in the old basement altogether.

In the end the 'final' basement remediation plan combined both approaches: a short wall built inside the old basement wall, applying a water-proof membrane, and filling the space between the walls with crushed stone. This buttresses the old cinder block walls, and allows for better drainage inside as well. We get to keep the existing bulkhead entrance, and preserve the majority of the existing basement space. We'll also re-grade and drain the exterior as planned.

So, the plans are stamped and the permit application is in.

Progress Reports


All of the Pics from The Builder's Phone Cam

Richard's Renovation Pics

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