Portfolio + Projects

An Old-House Attic Becomes New Family Space

January 22nd, 2019 by Mary Schmelzer

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The Owner wanted to know if we could reinvent the attic in her 100+ year-old house as a place for her teenage children to hang out. She was using the attic as it was built: the place to store things that she rarely needed to access. She dreamed of having a space where her kids could hang out with their friends, where she could know who was visiting without giving them ongoing oversight.

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The attic had been remodeled in the late 1960s or early 1970s, with a wall framed in to make what may have been used as a bedroom. The remodeling was done in a make-shift fashion and the rest of the attic was essentially unfinished. The windows were single-pane and there was no insulation in the walls, offering no barrier against Minnesota’s bitter winters. But the attic had character, including wide-plank original floors and windows overlooking the side yard and a beautiful park across the street.

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After walking through the attic, we envisioned a space that was much more wide open, with lots of natural light. Storage would still be available, but it would be contained to the kneewall closets and in storage furniture. The attic would be warm and cozy in the winter but cool in the summer, with year-round views of the outdoors. We knew it was important to have a space that could be used by the kids and their friends–so durable finishes and easily-arranged furniture were a must.

As with any remodel in a century-old home, there were plenty of quirks and design challenges. For instance, the attic stairs were more of a ladder than a staircase. There was no room for a new stair, so we worked with the building official to make them as safe as possible.
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Finishing the ceilings required insulating to the current residential code–causing the ceiling heights to change considerably, and insulating/finishing tricky spots around the gables and kneewalls. We worked on-site with the contractor to find the best way to frame in these non-standard areas, creating effective and homeowner-friendly solutions in the process. An additional quirk: the heating and cooling system, which was too complex to extend to the attic. Instead, the solution was a mini-split system that serves just the attic. Heating/cooling can now be controlled independently of the rest of the house whenever the room is used, which is often.

These challenges often lead to creative solutions and energy savings. It will be interesting to find out how much lower the overall heating costs are since the remodel. The original attic had no insulation, so any winter warmth seeped out the top floor. Now, insulation holds heat inside, and the door at the bottom of the staircase can be closed when the room is not in use.

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An important consideration in this project was allergens. One child has severe allergies, so it was critical that we found finishes–and insulation!–that would not trigger a reaction. Instead of carpet or an engineered flooring, the family took it upon themselves to reuse the original floor. After lots of vacuuming out the cracks between floorboards, countersinking nails, and general cleaning, the boards were painted a nice clean neutral grey. The floor adds immense character to the space and allows light to flow in and bounce around, and saved on material and installation costs for new surface coverings.

Another clever solution was to carve additional storage out from behind the bookcases. The shelves aren’t mounted to the wall, so sentimental but rarely-accessed things can be stored safely and out of the way.

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In the end, the family found a lot of flexible, comfortable square footage–without putting on an addition. The kids love having a hang-out spot to share with their friends, but when they are gone, Mom sneaks up to the attic and has the whole room to herself. For her it is a getaway. Instead of cramped, chaotic, and cluttered, this attic now feels serene and relaxed: the perfect place to unwind after a busy day.

If you have an attic, basement, or bonus room that could become family room and want to make sure you get the most out of your space, contact us to schedule an initial design consultation.

Posted in All Entries, Portfolio + Projects

Welcome to “Swoopy Island”

November 15th, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer
Swoopy Island curves gently, offering a spacious place for entertaining, chatting with the cook, and for wide open views of the outdoors.

Swoopy Island curves gently, offering a spacious place for entertaining, chatting with the cook, and for wide open views of the outdoors.

The new owners of a home built in the 1990s saw great potential in a first floor that had been built with a series of smallish rooms that each served a purpose, but didn’t lend themselves to the way the family wanted to use the house and didn’t take advantage of the home’s views. In the photo below you can see a TV room that had been constructed between the living room and kitchen. Connecting the spaces was a dark hallway that housed an ill-placed bar. The size and location of the hallway also minimized the laundry room and made the back entry tight.

Before: an angled-entry TV room separated the kitchen and living room, and made the hallway between dark.

Before: an angled-entry TV room separated the kitchen and living room, and made the hallway between dark.

During the design phase, using sketches, floor plans and 3-D visualization, we looked at different options for how a new open-plan kitchen could take shape in the space originally occupied by the existing kitchen, TV room and hallway. A mudroom space, walk-in pantry and better laundry facilities were also on the wish list. Some of the questions we tackled were, “is the kitchen TOO big?”, “how do we tie these spaces together?”, “how will we exhaust the stove?”

By inserting a large island to be used for cooking, prep work and seating/entertaining, we could tie the rooms together yet separate the business of cooking from entertaining. To add interest and to keep it from looking like a runway, we tried a gently curved form, and the plan nicknamed “Swoopy Island” was born.

After: the new island cuts through what had been the TV room and provides a bridge between the kitchen and living room.

After: the new island cuts through what had been the TV room and provides a bridge between the kitchen and living room.

The island sports 16′ of cooking, prep work and entertaining/seating space. Topped in a marble-look Cambria quartz top, it can endure the rigors of baking and cooking, and look beautiful as a place for buffets or casual dinners for family and friends. Large-scale light fixtures and an island hood fix the island to the ceiling, anchoring it and keeping it from feeling like just a piece of furniture in a large room.

Custom cabinetry throughout provided the flexibility and opportunities for most flexible storage, display and organization. To ensure the kitchen is tidied during cooking, there are two trash roll-outs: one next to the dishwasher and another in the island by the range. Although it may seem like overkill, having trash and recycling disposed of right away reduces kitchen cleanup time.

A buffet area was created at what had been the entry to the hallway.

A buffet area was created at what had been the entry to the hallway.

High-skilled cabinetry work includes the inset doors, beautiful stained finish, and details such as this display cabinet that opens on both sides.

High-skilled cabinetry work includes the inset doors, beautiful stained finish, and details such as this display cabinet that opens on both sides.

Drawer and cabinet accessories make setting a table and unloading the dishwasher easy for the family and guests who want to help.

Drawer and cabinet accessories make setting a table and unloading the dishwasher easy for the family and guests who want to help.

In addition, the small laundry room got expanded by incorporating what had been the hallway/bar. A large closet, folding counter, cabinetry and mudroom bench/cabinets were added to provide storage and a drop-off place by the garage entry.

The existing laundry was reworked to include a large closet, bench/coat storage and a beautiful area for storage and clothes care.

The existing laundry was reworked to include a large closet, bench/coat storage and a beautiful area for storage and clothes care.

A walk-in pantry connects the back entry and the main kitchen, creating a drop-off place for staples after grocery runs. Accessed by a beautiful patterned-glass sliding door, it is a lovely, functional asset for the kitchen.

The walk-in pantry sports a patterned glass door that allows natural light but doesn't display all the kitchen staples.

The walk-in pantry sports a patterned glass door that allows natural light but doesn’t display all the kitchen staples.

The end result of the Swoopy Island kitchen is a space that is much greater than the sum of the rooms that it once occupied: more connectedness, more function, more storage, more light, more view.

Posted in All Entries, Materials, Products + Finishes, Portfolio + Projects

Custom Kitchen Remodel in an Historic Home

July 30th, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer

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Mostly original, the kitchen in this over 100-year-old house had just worn out. The owners made a valiant effort to work in it as long as possible, but the lack of light, worn out-surfaces, inefficient storage and general layout didn’t serve these people who enjoy cooking. See the photos at the end of this article for the “before.” Kitchen windows were enlarged and a small doorway beside the range was expanded to allow a larger walkway and an eat-at island to be included in the space. The abundance of sunlight from the adjacent sitting area pours into the kitchen through the enlarged opening and through punched “windows” on either side of the range hood.

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The large range sits in its own alcove, freeing up the main part of the kitchen for prep, serving and clean-up. The alcove harvested a few square feet from the sitting area, expanding the functionality of the kitchen. Sometimes it only takes a few more square feet, or better-utilized square footage, to completely open up new opportunities. This was just the case. Custom cabinetry throughout allowed the homeowners to make the best use of every nook and cranny. Clever storage accessories allow for maximizing the storage in the cabinets themselves. Custom-made brackets under the wall cabinets and island counter hearken to the original kitchen and age of the home.

Inspired by the imagery of Greece, the homeowners partnered with a local ceramic artist to make custom tiles for their walls. Each was designed, carved, and fired especially for this project. Classically-inspired and yet innately local, they bring a worldly yet approachable feel to the kitchen, and make the tiled areas of the kitchen a conversation piece.
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Scattered amongst the commercially-made tile, the variety and artistry of the handmade tile elevates the entire kitchen.
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As a solution to the radiator pipes that had to be exposed, the same artist painted them with an underwater scene. It is a charming surprise. The home still uses radiator heat, and a slimmer, modern model was chosen to replace the existing standard one. Custom cabinetry surrounding the radiator allows the heat to flow out through the louvers, and small shelves are built around the radiator itself, perfect for bakeware and other smaller items. The pulls on the cabinet were specifically chosen as a place to hang a damp towel (which will quickly dry in front of the radiator). Granite counters were chosen throughout, and especially over the radiator: it is the place where the avid bakers can proof their bread dough.
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A custom-built, granite-topped counter is perfect for entertaining–or rolling out pastry.
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Light pours in from the sunroom, making the kitchen warm, airy, and inviting–rather than cramped and dark, like before.
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At the end of the island, on the sitting area side, a custom TV cabinet makes casual viewing easy–without the “black hole” effect a big screen can have on a room.
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Above the radiator, glass-front doors show off the homeowners’ stemware.

[CLOSING REMARKS]

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Before, the kitchen had random-height and random-depth cabinets that had worn out. Once the cabinetry was out, the walls were opened and additional insulation was added to the exterior walls, eliminating the cold spots in the walls and floors that the homeowners had before.
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Additional light was one of the big requests for the new kitchen. Careful lighting plans allowed for not only additional borrowed light and daylight, but considerably more ceiling light, new island lights and undercabinet lighting. The new kitchen has many more options for how it can be illuminated for working in, entertaining or general functions.

The end result is a kitchen that blends in with the rest of the house, but is a much more usable part of the house as a whole, now that it is better connected to the sitting area, and can be an eat-in kitchen or a place to drink coffee and converse with whomever is cooking. It is also a great place to entertain, allowing people to travel through and around without getting in the way of food prep.

Posted in All Entries, Portfolio + Projects

Custom Lake Home

April 19th, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer

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Project Background

After searching for just the right lot for the new home, the owners of this custom home found a lot that needed some clearing and the removal of an existing home. Starting with an outline for a home that was designed for Texas, we reworked some ideas to make the house buildable in Minnesota, orienting it to the best views, and with a more reasonable budget. The house is built slab-on-grade with frost-protected shallow footings. The mechanical room is housed in the garage and tricky ducting took place to get heating/air conditioning to all the rooms.

Main Floor Living Space

Custom cabinetry transforms the back entryway, storing outwear, gardening gear, and pet spplies with ease and elegance.
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The powder room is conveniently located between the back entry and main living space.
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A formal dining room is ensconced in custom trimwork and stone detailing, inspired by the local landscape.
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Off the dining room, the great room’s striking ceilings and full-height fireplace are both stately and welcoming. The main rooms of the house (dining room, living room, kitchen, and breakfast nook all feature ceilings of differing heights. The changes in ceiling heights make some rooms more cozy, more public, or frame excellent views of the lake.
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Dark timbering accents the ceiling’s shape and adds a traditional lodge feel to the space.
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Just to the side of the great room lies a sitting room, sunlit and overlooking the lake. It is a perfect place to still be connected to the main areas of the house, but in a more quiet, reflective space with views open to the lake and to the lanai with its outdoor fireplace.
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Glass doors lead to the patio, where an outdoor fireplace and soft seating promise hours of summer relaxation.
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Kitchen

In the kitchen, ample counter space and bar seating make cooking (or sharing) a meal easy. Wall-mount cabinets provide storage, while different mounting heights showcase the homeowners’ stoneware collection.
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Alcoves in the island provide additional storage for cookbooks and servingware. Natural granite countertops serve as a beautiful and functional workspace.
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Classic textures and colors bring the space to life–
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–while sleek steel appliances keep the kitchen feeling timeless, not dated.
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Master Suite

In the master suite, vaulted ceilings and glass doors overlooking the lake provide a feeling of spaciousness and light.
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A sliding door seperates the bedroom from the sanctuary-like master bath.
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A clawfoot tub next to big windows makes for a soothing soak any time of day.
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Double sinks and medicine cabinets keep the space organized and functional.
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Out the window, the property is lush and inviting–even in the rain.
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In addition to the striking architecture, the landscape around the home promises to mature to be truly remarkable. Part of the lot’s appeal was the opportunity for striking landscape elements. The owners are avid gardeners/landscapers and it will be fun to watch the plantings mature and the hardscapes evolve to create a complete package of home and setting.

Posted in All Entries, Portfolio + Projects

Michigan Contemporary Farmhouse Update

April 19th, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer

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In late 2016, two clients broke ground on a beautiful rural site in Michigan. Their energy-efficient farmhouse has been featured on the blog, first here and then again here. With the project being built hundreds of miles away, regular site visits are a challenge for me, so it was a delight to receive an email from the clients with updates. All the text quoted below is from the homeowners, lightly edited.

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“The really good news is that the design of the house is working out very well. The layout provides good separation between public and private spaces. It’s great to roll out of bed and into the kitchen. The house is cheerful and full of sunlight. The small front foyer is a delightful detail that is enjoyed from the music room, and the staircase invites further exploration to the second floor. Sight lines are long but broken up by small angles and structural details. The great music room is wonderful: it can accommodate 2 lazy retirees or a small crowd of energetic children + dinner guests. The long narrow dining hall is perfect for buffet dinners; guests drift into the music room to have their meal, rather than hanging out in the kitchen (hooray for efficient galley kitchens). We are hard pressed to think of how to improve the design, given the challenges of the property with its drainage swales, cemetery and neighboring pipeline. Thank you Mary for your expert input, patience and perseverance during the design process. Yes, we finally got the stairs in the right spot!

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“Roxel insulation [a kind of bat insulation made from stone and other minerals, and pictured above] has changed their name to Rock Wool. So far, we are oblivious of its existence: warm walls, no smells, no nothing. We have noticed a very nice reduction in sound transmission from outside noises. We missed an opportunity by not having it installed in some of the interior walls. Absolutely, we would specify it again.

“We are very sympathetic about the allergies. We have noticed a dramatic reduction in dust with the complete lack of carpeting. Hooray. The Sherwin-Williams low/no VOC interior paints are excellent: no smells or off-gassing. The Summit engineered wood flooring is wonderfully neutral. No smells. It is absolutely worth the added expense to specify the no-VOC materials.

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Above, the custom-sized towel bars are just one of hundreds of details that make the house unique.

“In-floor hydronic heat is different. We like it. The neighbor’s children love it on their bare toes. Clean, no wind chills, no dust flying around. In spite of all kinds of pumps, valves and mechanisms spinning away night and day during December (pre-Christmas low = -14°), the electric bill was about $75. The propane bill was considerably higher! We need to get curtains in the windows to cut down on heat transfer. Yes, the wood stove really works to keep things warm, and the AC circulation fan does a good job of distributing the heat throughout the house. One consequence of hot water heat is a dry house. Good news: the house has finally dried out after last winter’s drenching, and we have gaps along the caulk fills all over the place. The other downside is a tendency to have scratchy noses; we just need to purchase a small portable humidifier to take care of that problem. After fighting the mildew in our Lakeville home, it is a vast relief not to have to live with that health hazard.

“We are anxiously waiting for spring and all kinds of major projects. Final grading to deal with ponds of water; gutters and downs; hardscaping and landscaping; lots of tree planting and gardening. Meanwhile, we are applying the final rehab details to our shower and hope to start using it in the next week. Progress.”

Posted in Portfolio + Projects, Sustainability

Custom Home in Randolf, MN

February 2nd, 2018 by Mary Schmelzer

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Working together with a family who had purchased a beautiful, secluded piece of property, we created a one-story home nestled in the wooded site which has access to the Cannon River.

One of the owners has a health condition which may result in a future loss of mobility. To prepare for this possibility, we planned for wide hallways, an extra space in the master bedroom and bathroom, and plenty of clearance in the kitchen and main areas. The laundry is on the first floor, and the entry from the garage is at an even level with the first floor. A large walk-in pantry reduced the need for as many high wall cabinets. The stairs to the lower level is also a generous width.

To meet the needs of a busy young family, cubbies in the mudroom corral each person’s hat, mittens, coats, shoes and backpacks. Right off the garage entry, it is a great place for all those daily items to stay, rather than creep into the kitchen and other living spaces. A family room, guest bedroom and bath were finished in the basement for play space and additional storage. A large, open kitchen means the kids can be involved in meal prep, or be at the seating area doing homework or eating a snack while Mom and Dad are working in the kitchen.

A screened porch allows the family to enjoy the views and nice weather but be protected on rainy days or when the bugs are out. Large enough for dining, it is an extra room that can be enjoyed most days of the year.
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A transitional-style kitchen, with open shelving, contemporary range hood and traditional-style cabinetry, is light and bright with the white counters and open storage, which also display the owners’ antiques and dishware.
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An ample kitchen island brings extra storage–and a place for the family to gather as meals are prepared.
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Cubbies just off the kitchen make a home for each family member’s coats, boots, and mittens.
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A walk-in pantry with wire drawers, shelves, and a chest freezer means that ingredients are always easy to get to and take storage pressure off the kitchen and bathrooms. It is also easy to stock and inventory when everything is in clear view.
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A spacious screen porch provides extra living space in warmer months.
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In the master bath, his and hers sinks bring function and ease to busy mornings. Wide, short windows mounted in the exterior wall behind the sinks (see reflection in the mirror) flood the room with light but eliminate the need for curtains or shades. The glass shower wall/door lets the light flow between the shower and the main bathroom. A zero-entry shower means if mobility becomes an issue, the bathroom is prepared. In the meantime, the large shower and openness makes for a spacious master suite.
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A tiled shower with glass walls makes the room soothing and bright–even in the middle of a cold northern winter.

Posted in All Entries, Portfolio + Projects

Project walk-through: classic, bright master bathroom

December 8th, 2017 by Mary Schmelzer

In a 100+ year-old house, the master bedroom finally gets its own master bathroom. After living in the house for a few months, the new owners knew they needed a master bathroom. Through the design process, we collaborated to create a space that would make getting ready for each day easier and more enjoyable. Claiming an unusual space that had likely been used as a nursery, the small space between two bedrooms became the full bathroom.

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In the newly-remodeled space, reclaimed French doors lead from the guest bedroom (used as a dressing room) into the master bath, creating a bright and inviting ambiance throughout the second floor master suite.
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Aesthetic & Inspiration
The clients were inspired by clean, neutral colors and an elegant, spacious, unfussy aesthetic. Bright, natural light was a must-have for this project, and the whole bathroom makes use of ambient and direct sunlight. Here, a glassed-in shower provides plenty of light and keeps the airy bathroom from feeling compartmentalized.

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Project Features
A pocket door provides access to the master bedroom without the door swing taking up floor space. The master bedroom’s original closets were removed to allow the bed to sit just under the slope of the ceiling, creating more space in the bedroom and easier access to the master bathroom.

The antique claw-foot tub was placed under the window, allowing beautiful light to flood the room. Clean, pale colors in the tile and wall paint keep the room bright while allowing accent colors to really pop.

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Finely-detailed cabinetry makes the most of the limited space. The sink area occupies what used to be a shallow closet with bifold doors, so cabinetry with varying depths keeps the bathroom from feeling cramped. The cabinet color, a soft dove grey, is soothing without feeling cold or clinical.

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Antique accents, like this reclaimed light fixture and intricate mirror, mesh with the new construction for a space that reflects the era the historic home was built in.

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When the guest room is not needed for company, light flows from the bathroom into the guest room, making it a cozy place for reading and providing plenty of space as a dressing room. All in all, the project brings new life to an old space, making this home more livable–for both the owners and their out-of-town guests.

Posted in All Entries, Portfolio + Projects