Contemporary farmhouse underway

April 14th, 2017 by Mary Schmelzer
The farm-style house getting its board-and-batten siding

The farm-style house getting its board-and-batten siding

I’ve been working with an area couple who were ready for a smaller, lower-maintenance and a more- energy-efficient home. We began design work in tandem with their search for a building site. The Owners’ extensive exploration and patience paid off: they found a beautiful rural site that met their needs. In Michigan. Together we designed a home that is an appropriate scale for the site and hearkens to the agricultural area. The Owners themselves did significant research on heating/cooling systems, the building envelope and materials.

QuickTherm radiant floor system

QuickTherm radiant floor system

Part of the house has a full basemennt (for the mechanicals and for some storage) and the remainder is slab-on-grade. The Owners chose an innovative in-floor heat system, QuickTherm radiant installation panels. The panels are insulative foam, shaped with nodes between which the radiant tubes lie. Since the construction of the home began last fall, there was a need to keep the house progressing so it could be “buttoned up” against the winter weather. The ease of installation for the radiant floor system helped with the schedule.

The contemporary farmhouse on its site

The contemporary farmhouse on its site

Mark Allor, the builder, and his team worked steadily through the winter. By late winter, the form was complete. You can see in the photo above the way the house sits on the site and its volume compared to the land around it. Mark Allor Construction is from Dexter, Michigan (810-845-9084).

Now the work has moved to the inside with the heating/cooling, framing the interior walls, the plumbing and the electrical. Compared to exterior walls being set, roofing being completed or the foundation work, this is the point where homeowners may feel construction has almost halted. It is still moving on pace, and there are updates every day, they are just less noticeable than a crane setting trusses!

Stay tuned for more updates and photos as the house progresses.

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Waterville lake house update

December 15th, 2016 by Mary Schmelzer
The front of a new house on the lake in Waterville

The front of a new house on the lake in Waterville

Here is an almost-finished new home in Waterville. The photos were taken before snow, and before the last of construction was completed.
The owners, after shopping for an open lot, found a beautiful piece of property…with a house on it. Last winter/early spring they tackled the site work–removing the house and some trees and preparing the ground for construction. The house is slab-on-grade and one story.

The "mini-river"

The “mini-river”

The photo above shows the creative landscaping the owners have undertaken to move water from one side of the property to the other. The little “river” runs underneath the driveway and allows rain/snowmelt to travel around a sweet potting shed. The solution created an opportunity for interesting and unexpected landscape focal points. I can’t wait to see it next summer when the plants are growing.

The fireplace intersects the tallest ceilings in the main part of the house

The fireplace intersects the tallest ceilings in the main part of the house

Inside the house, the main living spaces have varied ceiling heights as can be sensed at the fireplace in the greatroom. The dining room is behind the fireplace and faces the front of the house. The photo below is the wall opposite the fireplace with a magnificent view to the lake. To keep the greatroom from being blinded by the sun (it faces mostly south) a roofed lanai with an outdoor fireplace lies just outside the French doors. The lanai also provides an indoor/outdoor connection to the house, the yard and the lake.

French doors open to the roofed lanai and out to the lake

French doors open to the roofed lanai and out to the lake

The pergola shelters a patio just for the master bedroom

The pergola shelters a patio just for the master bedroom

Beside the lanai, outside the master bedroom, is a patio with copper pergola. It provides a private, separate place for the owners to go outdoors in the mornings and evenings–checking on the lake, sitting quietly, and enjoying the first or last rays on the lake.

Check back for some finished-project photos coming soon!

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Sewing/craft/hobby rooms

October 26th, 2016 by Mary Schmelzer
This sewing room makes use of an unfinished basement.

This sewing room makes use of an unfinished basement.

For many of us, our home is our refuge. Some people take that one step further and have a retreat: a sewing, craft, or hobby room. Why would a person need a dedicated space? Hobbyists and creative people know that having a their own space makes it easier to spend spare time doing what is relaxing. On the other hand, clearing off the dining room table for a work surface, digging through storage bins for supplies, and remembering what was being worked on the last time take precious minutes away from the hobby itself. Sometimes these “pre” activities (and the clean-up) are such a disincentive that it seems too much bother to craft/sew/etc.

Your personal creative or hobby space doesn’t need to be an entire room or studio. It can be a spare bedroom, a desk area, or a closet and folding table. What is important is that it work well for you and how you want to use it. If you tend to get into big projects that require a lot of space or supplies to be spread out at one time (or for a long time) a room on which you can close the door may make sense.

In the sewing room above, I helped the owner configure the best arrangement for cabinetry, the location of the main sewing machine, a sewing area for an occasional friend, and a dedicated cutting/layout table. The table is extra-high (the owner is tall), is on locking casters, and has planned places for rulers and cutting mats.

Stock cabinetry provides closed-door storage for sewing supplies

Stock cabinetry provides closed-door storage for sewing supplies

If you are a long-time hobbyist, you know supplies (“stash” as it is commonly called) are fuel for your creativity. Tools, patterns and materials can quickly overtake work space or provide so much distraction that time or focus are lost. So, how do you store them but keep them within reach? Well-thought out cabinets, shelves, countertops and hanging space provide the right mix of storage, access, locate-ability, and work area. Planned work spaces help reduce the set-up and clean-up time, allowing for more fun. The sewing/craft room in the above photo has a bank of stock cabinets under the window which stores tools, fabric and books. A TV and movie collection make the room a fun place to sew while watching TV–or to keep up on the latest techniques by video. The countertop can be used for set-off space, display or planning the next project.

What is your biggest challenge with your creative or hobby space? I have several creative hobbies myself, so I am always looking for ways to make better use of my space and maximize the time I have to create. After all, it’s about the dreaming and creating, not the digging for supplies or tools or cleaning up so there is a place to eat dinner!

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Bold, beautiful contemporary farmhouse

October 11th, 2016 by Mary Schmelzer

Farmhouse fireplace
This new home, built on a working farm, added fresh, bright colors to transform an open floor plan and to give liveliness to the rooms in constant use.

The fireplace wall, above, separates the kitchen and the living room. Since stone to the vaulted ceiling would seem too massive, a bright green color was chosen to cover the area above the mantle. The mantle was custom fit from a salvaged barn beam. Like the green? Try Benjamin Moore’s “dill pickle.”

Farmhouse mudroom

The daily mudroom entry also houses a shower–to rinse off daily work dirt–and the laundry machines. Visible from the kitchen, the orange color provides a sunny hue and a strong contrast against the white woodwork. Marmoleum flooring withstands the wear and tear of a well-used area and hides the farm dust and lint from the laundry machines. Benjamin Moore’s “Adobe dust” is a nice, terra cotta-type orange.

The neutral warm gray walls provide a backdrop for cabinets, tile and floors

The neutral warm gray walls provide a backdrop for cabinets, tile and floors

With all the color in view of the main living area, a neutral, warmer gray was chosen for the great room. The neutral color allows the white woodwork and cabinetry to stand out, but allows the glass tile, wood floor and furniture to look grounded without being too much of a contrast. “Abalone” by Benjamin Moore is a good, warm gray.

Farmhouse master shower

The master bath has a fun, unexpected shower floor. For people who make their living from the land, a nice connection to the earth was formed by using real stones for the shower floor. Subway tile and a glass shower door make it more contemporary. A custom seat was formed inside the shower to provide a place to sit.

“Farmhouse” can mean many things in the world of design, and this real working farm house doesn’t compromise style for daily functionality.

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On the lake and loving it

July 7th, 2016 by Mary Schmelzer

CLONE 1501 dining room photo reduced
The dining/livingroom with a great big view to the lake

Last summer I helped some homeowners remodel their new lake home. The basement ended up getting torn down to the studs to update wiring, eliminate mice and add insulation. It was a mess, but it turned out beautifully. This summer they’ve been able to spend their time enjoying the lake instead of remodeling.

We updated the lower-level master suite. It walks right out to the lakeshore and the morning view of the lake is incomparable. The master bath includes a “his” vanity area and a “hers” area, both a little different in feel, but coordinating.

CLONE 1501 Tony's vanity reduced
“His” bathroom area, with masculine light fixtures, colors and a good-sized closet for daily essentials. The barn door closes off the toilet room.

CLONE1501 tanya's vanity reduced
“Her” vanity area is lighter in feel with a marble counter top and ocean-inspired colors.

The showpiece of the master bath is the custom-tiled shower. With white subway tiles as a field, the couple used a glass tile mosaic behind the shower faucetry to mimic a waterfall. The blues are used throughout the master suite, evoking a feeling of calm and the lake.

CLONE1501 shower reduced

It is so gratifying and fun to see a project come to fruition. Starting with floor plan ideas, figuring out the scope of the project and selecting design elements and finishes finally results in a space that is fresh, functional and enjoyable. It is always a joy to meet with homeowners that I have walked with through this journey of possibilities to construction. Enjoy your updated home!

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Old house, new kitchen

February 25th, 2016 by Mary Schmelzer
The finished kitchen

The finished kitchen

I had the pleasure of photographing this finished kitchen designed for a house built in 1889. The kitchen/laundry area had last been remodeled in the 1960s and was due for new finishes, new appliances and a new layout for a busy family.

Besides having a better-functioning kitchen, the owners requested a mudroom with a cubby for each family member and a half bath separated from the main kitchen. By reworking the space previously occupied by the laundry machines and back entry, we were able to accomplish both rooms.

The home has beautiful, tall ceilings which allowed the cabinets to be extra tall and to allow for a large pair of windows where there had previously been a bay window. Light cabinets, white woodwork and reflective wall tile maximize the natural light. The space under the stairs (which had earlier served as a half bath) has now become a walk-in pantry for foodstuffs and small appliances.

Here is the “before” kitchen:

The circa 1960 kitchen.

The circa 1960 kitchen.

Here is the 3D model for the design:

The 3D computer model used during the design process.

The 3D computer model used during the design process.

Soapstone for the countertops, contemporary lights with a nostalgic flair, and painted wood paneling and trims blend the spaces into the old house while allowing the remodeled rooms to perfectly fit today’s living style.

The mudroom

The mudroom with a cubby for everyone (including the dogs!) with outlets for charging phones and tablets.

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Drumroll, please, for color of the year:

November 16th, 2015 by Mary Schmelzer

White trim really stands out against an orange wall

White trim really stands out against an orange wall

And the Benjamin Moore color of the year for 2016 is………not a color.
What? It’s white. The actual number is “Simply White OC-117.”

White–and all neutrals–are vitally important in design, because they allow other colors to shine through; create a backdrop for furniture, details and artwork; and can help set a mood whether it is modern, historic or cottage.

However, not all whites are created equal. Benjamin Moore makes a whole range of whites with various tints hiding in the mix. Rarely do I recommend “ceiling white” for a room: the home’s individual light and the color on the walls and floor impact the ceiling greatly. A ceiling white that doesn’t coordinate can feel cold, detached and sometimes dirty. Especially if you’re painting several ceilings or a great room ceiling, the right white makes a big difference.

My favorite white? Benjamin Moore’s “Swiss Coffee” #OC-45. It has a parchment-colored undertone that works well with warm colors and doesn’t look stark in winter light. The undertones make woodwork and cabinetry look established while still feeling fresh and clean.

Swiss Coffee with an auburn/red wall

Swiss Coffee with an auburn/red wall

If you’re interested in more real color, you can check out the ten colors to watch for this spring:

Here is another example of how bright furniture stands out against a neutral backdrop: I love how the repurposed mantle headboard feels so cheery and lighthearted. It doubles as great display too.

This bright turquoise stands out against the neutral wall paint.

This bright turquoise stands out against the neutral wall paint.

Try the new “color of the year” in creative ways and with other colors you enjoy. You may be surprised at how many ways you can use it. Just as you wouldn’t paint any other color (like “Marsala” the 2015 Pantone color) on every surface of your home, I recommend refraining from whitening your whole interior.

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This will get better….I promise

August 5th, 2015 by Mary Schmelzer

Carlone tear-out

I’m helping a family remodel an existing home. The home is on a beautiful lake and the location is ideal. Understandably, there were some areas of the house they wanted to update.

Upon making some changes in the lower level, they found signs of mice behind the drywall. Lots of them. And places with a lack of insulation. And smells of damp. And dangerous wiring situations.

Rather than do a “good enough” fix now then try again in a few years, the homeowners decided to pull down the drywall, rip up the carpet, tear out the old insulation, and expose the wiring. As you can see from the photo, it was a big undertaking and mess. (This is only a third of the lower level. The remainder was similarly torn apart.) It was disheartening to see energy, focus and funds go into the behind-the-walls improvements, but it is the right solution for the long-run. It can also be overwhelming to see your home torn down to the basics. But it will get better!

For these homeowners, it was the right thing to do. They feel this is their last home and they want it to be clean, efficient, warm and dry from the very beginning. Then they want to relax and enjoy it without worrying about which project they will need to tackle next.

Often, homeowners can’t tackle all the needed renovations at once. I help owners decide what makes the most sense and where their investment will be best used. I like to recommend upgrades that won’t later have to be removed as new improvements are made. Updates to a home are usually a balance of long-term payback, aesthetic upgrades (think no more yellow countertops!), efficiency, usability and cost.

At the end of this summer, these homeowners will be relaxing in their cozy, dry, critter-free family room, looking at the lake. What could be better than that?

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Outlets don’t go here

May 22nd, 2015 by Mary Schmelzer

During the demolition phase of a current project, the walls were stripped down to the studs. In a house that is almost 150 years old, you can expect to find signs of several different remodelings, additions and updates.

What you don’t want to find is this:
outlet photo

In an effort to save space/time/money, a previous owner had an outlet junction box installed into space carved out from a stud. What may or may not have been realized, is that the wall was originally the exterior wall, and holds up that portion of the roof. Compromising any of the studs in that wall (which didn’t have too many to begin with) could cause support problems that show up right away or at a later time. (Think about 30″ of wet snow on that roof and the weight that would be, for instance.) By removing all but the toothpick-y sides of the stud, the lumber really couldn’t do its job.

Since remodeling almost always unearths something unexpected, it makes good sense to hold a contingency in your budget. The more complicated your remodeling will be, the bigger the percentage of your budget should be held for “what ifs.” It is much easier to utilize unspent contingency funds at the end of the project (light fixtures, window treatments, furniture) than to have to cut back part of the project because you ran into something unexpected.

This wall was easily corrected by the addition of more support studs, and new wiring by a licensed electrician. The homeowners were wise to fix a potential problem with the wall while they have the opportunity….and not leave that surprise for the next time the home gets remodeled.

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Tiny houses

February 26th, 2015 by Mary Schmelzer

Have you been following the popularity of the tiny house movement? A few years ago, it entered the scene and people were seeing how very small a house could be built and still be occupied. Now there are many people who are willingly choosing to scale down their living quarters and the stuff they keep and store.

Whether you are trying to see how “small” you can live or not, thoughtful use of your space and the way it functions is always in style. I spoke with a couple last summer who built a house almost 20 years ago. They had a formal dining room included in the plans and built. During the time they lived there, they never used the dining room for its original intent. Yet, they paid the mortgage on it, insured, and heated/cooled that square footage for almost 20 years. What could that space or that investment been used for that would have brought more joy or more use? Could they have upgraded a different room? Could they have invested in other money-saving fixtures which would have been paying them back all along?

Good design isn’t just for looks. It’s meant to help you decide what you need, and what you won’t need for the long run, and to help you put your money where you want it. Unless, of course, you’d like a room that you only see when it’s time to dust it (ha!).

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