Thursday, May 16, 2013

Upper West Side challenge

Manhattan's Upper West Side appeals to me more for some reason than any other Manhattan section.  It could be that this part of the island has a more lived-in feel and is a healthier mix of beautiful houses, apartment buildings and amenities.  I've been contemplating doing a project there for some time now, so when I got this opportunity I jumped to it.

This condominium apartment is not very big but has a certain spaciousness to it, with an open plan living-dining areas and a potential for an open kitchen.  The clients are a really nice couple with a great vision and lots of design ideas.  The biggest challenges are moving a bathroom and installing a central AC system.  Once I had my task laid out in front of me, the work has begun.  Here's what we are starting out with:
The existing living room features panel moldings and a non-working fireplace:

There is a huge window in the dining area facing a courtyard, but at seven floors up all you see are the opposite walls...

 The kitchen has been remodeled some years back (new cabinets and appliances) but it doesn't fit my clients' needs or their aesthetic requirements, so we're not keeping it.

The plan was to move one bathroom to make more room for the kitchen and breakfast counter.  According to New York City law, we have to make it ADA accessible.  This means, in a nutshell, that a door leading into it has to be 34" wide (32" is a minimum clearance for a person in a wheelchair) and there has to be a 60" diameter turn-around inside the bathroom.  Aside from that and a wall-mounted sink, it's a regular bathroom.  Creating an accessible bathroom is always a challenge in the City because if there's one thing we don't have here it's space!  Fortunately for us, this apartment did not present too much trouble in terms of planning this bathroom.  We quickly came up with the plan:

 We have to get an approval from the condo board and the management company before going for a building permit, so we sent the plan in.

While all this is going on, we're exploring different options for the central AC system.  The roof and the courtyard are off-limits and we can't sacrifice a window for a conventional system to be installed in a mechanical room inside the apartments.  Mike from EMC ( recommends a high-velocity system.  I've had very good experience with them in the past, especially with Unico (  They're quiet, economical to run and have very small outlets, round or rectangular.  Now we have to wait for Mike's proposal to assess the cost.

In an off-chance that our initial plan does not get approved, I came up with an alternative solution.  This plan doesn't allow for a breakfast area, but other than that, I almost like it better.  I should probably explain what the general design idea is.  We're creating a traditional, almost Baroque, envelope (walls, doors, trim) and then stuffing it with an eclectic mix of furniture, fixtures and finishes.  With that said, Option B offers better opportunity for introducing traditional elements.


To be continued...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A cedar house transformation

There was this house that knew better days...

In it lives a very large family that was lacking basic amenities, like having a place to sit down and have a meal together (of course they had a dining room but this isn't Downton Abbey!).  They got in touch with me to suggest some layouts for a larger kitchen, which would involve building an addition.

What started out as a "kitchen project" grew into almost an entire house renovation — from building two new additions to reinforcing the structure, to recladding the exterior with new cedar shingles, not to mention numerous interior changes.

We replanned the entire first floor, expanding the kitchen, adding a large breakfast area and a small office off of the dining room.

This is what the floor plan looked like originally:

This is what we did in the end:

We started out with taking out about half of the first floor, the old second floor deck, and all of the exterior finishes.  Once the demolition was done, the new work began.

It was exciting to watch the house take a new shape, as the breakfast addition was framed out.

After a while the new kitchen space was created.  The family couldn't believe this whole space would be their kitchen!  They even started worrying it was too big, but I reassured them that once the cabinets are installed they'll see it's just the right size.

The work went on, we were busy working on the kitchen design, searching for just the right furniture pieces and light fixtures.  The living room furniture layout started taking shape.  The family needed three separate functions in the living room: watching TV, sitting by the fireplace and having a place to assemble puzzles.  We combined the last two, giving a fireplace area a large enough coffee table, which would serve as a puzzle board if need be.

We also added a large built-in wall unit for the TV, books and a huge collection of board games.

In the kitchen, the clients chose a Shaker style door design, two colors (paint and Pommele Sapele wood) and dark granite counter tops.

This kitchen has to serve a family of eight, so we installed two dishwashers, a large cooktop, double wall ovens and a large refrigerator.  The cabinets feature a variety of storage types: drawers, pull-out shelves, lazy susan, pull-out pantries and open bookshelves for cookbooks.

The breakfast area was finally large enough to fit a lava rock table with enamel top the family brought back from Italy.  Their names are written along the perimeter of the table, making it a very special piece for them.

After the exterior facelift was finished the house looked and smelled wonderful!  These are pre-stained cedar shingles, and there are very few things that smell better than fresh cedar!  With a new front stoop, a copper awning and new wall sconces the house looks so much fresher and more welcoming.

The second floor deck was torn down and rebuilt.  We also created a more private outdoor seating area behind a curved wall.  All that, plus a new design for the back yard, and this is what we got in the end:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Twin houses in Philadelphia. Rebuilding after a fire — Beginning

On December 1st of last year there was a fire in Northeast Philadelphia that destroyed one house and damaged its twin.  Since then Sense of Space has been working with the owners of the houses to come up with ways to restore both buildings.

After a long process of dealing with insurance companies the work had started to create the designs for both properties.  The quiet cul-de-sac where these buildings sit has been developed in the 1970's, and little has changed since.  All the houses in this street are somewhat contemporary in style.  They all have yellow brick veneer on all facades and a shingle facade feature.
This is what the right-hand side building looks like now.  The other one is gone completely and the remains have been taken down to the foundation.

The interior demolition is almost done in this house and the clean-up is in progress.

While we're working on finalizing the designs, here's a hint of what the final product would look like.