I recently visited with a client whose home is under construction. She and her husband and their two young daughters had lived in their home for about 10 years before they contacted me a year ago to begin planning a major renovation to their first floor. They wanted to build an addition to house a new, larger kitchen and eating area and to expand their existing family room by a few feet. The existing kitchen and laundry/mud room would be used to create a new mud room, a bathroom with large shower, and a dedicated laundry room. Finally, they wanted to change their existing formal dining room into a first floor bedroom in case an ailing parent needed to move in with them.

Their design goals meant that almost every square inch of the first floor of their home would be torn up. The only room that would be left untouched was their living room. Luckily my clients were happy with the second floor of their home, which contains 3 bedrooms and two full bathrooms, so other than a change to a bedroom window to accommodate the roof over the addition and some new insulation, the upstairs would be mostly left alone.

Many clients choose to move out during the construction of such a major addition/renovation project. Moving out often means that the project can progress more quickly because the contractor doesn’t have to clean up so carefully at the end of each workday. Whether to move out during construction is often a difficult decision, though, because most people decide to renovate their existing home rather than move to a new home because they love their existing location or neighborhood. Also, remodeling is so expensive that it’s hard to find the additional thousands of dollars that it might cost to rent a place to live on a short-term basis while the contractors do their work, plus the funds to move their furniture and other essentials back and forth.

On my recent site visit, I was interested to see how my client’s family had adapted to living in one room (click on a photo to enlarge it):


My client’s temporary kitchen includes cabinets and a countertop from their original kitchen, their old fridge, a hotplate, and a microwave.


Opposite the temporary kitchen, my clients have a slow cooker that they use frequently.


The family’s couch faces the fireplace. The children’s craft table is on the right, in front of the sealed archway to the family room.


The family eats their meals at the round dining table. The room is accessed via the zipper door on the right side of this photo.



Yesterday I met with clients in their home in Plymouth, Michigan, while they were in Cincinnati.

Not only was this my very first virtual client meeting, it was the first time I’ve ever had a meeting where I was in the clients’ home but my clients were somewhere else. They had planned to drive up to meet with me but their daughter was sick, so they decided not to make the trip. Since they want to get moving on their project quickly, we met anyway.

When I arrived at the clients’ home, I sent a text message to let them know that I was there. They used a mobile phone app to open their garage door from Cincinnati, and I let myself in. Once inside, I was able to access the homeowners’ Wi-Fi network and I fired up my iPad to connect with them via FaceTime. I walked around their home with my iPad while my clients explained the work they had already done to the home and their goals for the next phase of the project. Then I sat at their kitchen table and took notes as we discussed their project in greater detail, just like I would have done had they been in the same room with me.

It was so helpful to be able to see their facial expressions as we talked, to be able to hold up sketches to see if we were on the same page with our ideas, and to walk around and see their home with them as we spoke.

The only drawback to this method was that I was unable to hear what the clients were saying if I was speaking at the same time, so I quickly learned to nod rather than say “um-hm” or “yeah” when I was listening.

Isn’t technology amazing?

The CRAN Symposium in Charleston was a lot of fun. After the oyster roast I mentioned in my previous post, we got right into the swing of things. We started out with a talk by Witold Rybczynski, author of the book Home: A Short History of an Idea, who spoke about the traditions of home using paintings of interiors from throughout history to illustrate the concepts of how people lived in their homes. I enjoyed reading Home when I was in college and I really enjoyed hearing him speak in person.


A view of our “classroom” – the second floor of Hibernian Hall in Charleston.

Other speakers on Thursday included Ellen Dunham Jones, Stephen Byrns, David Samela, and Gary Brewer, who spoke about various styles of architecture. That evening, we had a gala dinner after hearing a keynote address by Andres Duany, of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company.


Andres Duany, FAIA

The next day was packed with activities, including a wonderful walking tour of renovated homes in central Charleston. It was really amazing to see that, despite being packed together on tiny lots, these homes had a sense of privacy and coziness.


This is the view from one of the homes into their walled garden. It was so lush!


This is another view from one of the homes.

The following homes weren’t on our tour, but we walked by them as we went from one home to another. The private gardens were mysterious and green!


A tiny pink house situated behind and between two other homes, as seen on the walking tour.


The private gardens were so green and mysterious!


Charleston was so green. There were many walls and other surfaces with plant material on them. Here we see the risers of brick steps covered with green. I wonder whether people ever trip on the plants.


This home was as crooked as it appears in the photo.


The front entry gate to the last house I visited on the walking tour. No drinks allowed inside, apparently. Hmm, I wonder what architects like to drink…

I think all the Symposium participants enjoyed getting out of the “classroom” and into the beautiful city of Charleston.

Later that day, we heard from Robert Adam, Calder Loth, Gil Schafer, Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, and Marc Appleton. Robert A. M. Stern gave the keynote address that evening, and he spoke about the history of suburbs.


Robert A. M. Stern, FAIA

On Saturday, we started VERY early with a bus tour of the Ocean Course Clubhouse and four homes on Kiawah Island. We arrived back at Hibernian Hall for an afternoon filled with talks by Alexander Gorlin, Sandy Isenstadt, Julie Snow, Lorcan O’Herlihy, and Robert Gurney.

The best part of any CRAN Symposium, in my opinion, is the networking dinners. We’ve planned these networking dinners for the past four years, and this year, we had a few hiccups, but I think people enjoyed them anyway. What we do is make reservations for parties of 6 to 8 people for various local restaurants, and then ask attendees and sponsors to sign up for tables. This provides an opportunity for unstructured networking, and typically involves good wine and food, too!

We’ve already started planning the 2015 CRAN Symposium, which will take place in Minneapolis from September 19 through 23.

I just spent an amazing 5 days in Charleston, South Carolina, for the annual American Institute of Architects (AIA) Custom Residential Architects Network (CRAN) Symposium. As a member of the national advisory group for CRAN, I had a full day of meetings to attend before the actual symposium began, and I planned a little playtime for the day before since I had never been to Charleston. My hotel room had a wonderful view:


The building in the foreground of this photo is the Hibernian Hall, where most of our CRAN activities happened.

On Wednesday evening, CRAN Charleston hosted an oyster roast at the Old Jail, which is currently the home of the American College of the Building Arts. I had a tour of the Old Jail and was thrilled to see that traditional building arts, such as timber framing, plastering, and ironworking, are being taught in the US. This college was started in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, which devastated Charleston’s historic buildings. When Charleston residents tried to find artisans to help reconstruct the historic buildings, they found that only people over age 40 had the right skills. To ensure that younger tradespeople would be able to do this work, the ACBA was founded.


Our oyster roast took place under a timber frame structure that ACBA students built.


I’ll post more soon about my experiences in Charleston.

I recently listened to a Freakonomics podcast called “Why are Japanese Homes Disposable?” It was fascinating to hear about the very different attitudes that Japanese people have about home values and home maintenance versus those do us living in western countries. In this blog post, Weilong discusses another aspect of Japanese construction.

I was recently interviewed! Check out my interview, How an Architect Designs Your Home on Michigan Homes, one of the top sites for Michigan homes for sale, including Sterling Heights, MI homes for sale. Michigan Homes also services Wisconsin homes for sale and Illinois real estate.

It’s always a good idea to check references before you hire a contractor to remodel your home. Here are some examples of good questions to ask:

  • What kind of work did the contractor do for you?
  • When did you work with the contractor?
  • Did the contractor provide you with a clear contract, including the cost and schedule for the work?
  • Did the contractor show up on time and work a full day? If the contractor didn’t work on your project for a period of time, did the contractor explain his/her absence in advance to you?
  • How did you communicate with the contractor throughout the process? Was the communication clear?
  • Did the contractor clearly explain changes to the project cost and/or schedule?
  • Did you and your family live in the home during the remodeling process? Did the contractor clean up at the end of each day so that your home was clean and safe? Did the contractor respect you, your children, your pets, and your property? Did the contractor help you modify your home so that it was comfortable and convenient for you to live there during construction?

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  • Did you have any surprises during construction? How were those handled?
  • Did you get the results you expected? Do you feel that the contractor’s work was worth the cost?
  • Did the contractor pull a building permit for the project? If so, did the contractor’s work pass the building department inspections? If not, why not?
  • If you had an architect, did your contractor work well with your architect?
  • Would you hire the contractor again?