Building Your Custom Home: Selecting the Perfect Lot

NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles dedicated to building your custom home.

Building your custom home can be an exciting time! You’ve saved money, looked through dozens of magazines and online publications, and perhaps even created your own Ideabook on Houzz – all in preparation for the day when you can officially begin planning your one-of-a-kind home.

But before drawings are finalized, you’ll need to make a lot of choices – as these will affect how your home is designed and the final cost of building your dream home. First up: selecting the perfect lot.

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Project Story: Regent Square Multi-Room Addition

Our client had a dilemma that many growing families face—running out of space in their current home, and they had no desire to move. They loved the neighborhood and location, as it was right across the street from Frick Park, one of the larger parks in the city.

Since the home was in an urban location with tightly spaced homes on small lots, it only allowed us to build on a small footprint. The plan called for adding more first floor living space that included a kitchen/dining room and family room, and a second-floor master bedroom suite. An additional requirement was, the owners wanted to leave enough room in the small backyard for a one-car garage to be built in the future.

We designed and built the addition to blend seamlessly with the existing house by matching the exterior features and finishes. The client desired an open floor plan to connect the expanded kitchen with the existing living room and the new family room.

At the rear entry is a small mudroom complete with a bench and coat hooks. The ¾ height wall between this area and the new family room allows the natural light from the full-glass rear door to pour into the family room but still partitions off this area as well as the entry to the new powder room.

The kitchen features a large island with stools for casual dining, a work-sink and a microwave tucked at a lower level for easy access.

The kitchen offers a lot of light, including natural light from the side, recessed lighting, beautiful pendant lights over the island and under-cabinet lighting to give working areas plenty of light.

Behind the range, the beautiful marble tile in a herringbone pattern complements the white subway tile.

Upstairs, we added a full master suite with a bathroom and walk-in closet. Both the master bath and closet entries are accessed using sliding barn doors.

The master bath has his-and-hers sinks with a marble countertop, a soaking tub and a roomy walk-in tiled shower with a built-in cubby.

Would you like to build a new home or log/timber-framed home? Let us help. As your design-build team, we can walk you through every step of the process. Contact us to talk further.

Organizing Tips for Around the Home



For many of us, the month of January signifies the start of new beginnings and the time to get super-organized.

There are a lot of “organizational tips” available online, especially on Pinterest, so we thought instead of inundating you with a ton of information, we’d suggest a few that caught our eye.

Organization Tips

  • Lazy Susans are a great way to keep things visible. Use one for your spices and another in the fridge.
  • Need to keep a receipt? Two ideas: 1) glue an envelope to the back of your planner and stick them in there, or 2) get a separate notebook and staple them to the pages.
  • Organize your pantry with snack stations. Use narrow plastic bins to make them easily accessible and visible (so you know when to stock up with more).
  • Take advantage of the storage bin sales that the big box stores offer all month long. But before you just stuff items into a bin, organize them and label the bin accordingly. For example, don’t just label “Christmas.” Instead, label “Christmas: Kitchen decorations.” That way, next year you know what boxes to pull for which room.
  • Spend a few hours one afternoon and organize the files on your laptop. Then make a backup of your hard drive.


Tell us: Of the hundreds of de-clutter ideas and tips, what’s your favorite? We’d love to hear!

Universal Design in the Kitchen



Whether you are building a traditional custom home or a timber or log home, there are many considerations to think about and decisions to be made – including Universal Design elements. While it is not strictly for the handicapped, Universal Design can be of great benefit for someone who has mobility and accessibility issues.

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is design that is suited for all family members. No matter what the age or ability, universal design elements ensure that all family members can effectively use the space.

When we begin designing a space with Universal Design in mind, we think about how effortlessly and easily a task can be done. The goal is to minimize lifting, reaching and stooping – basically avoid any movements that have the potential of causing a person to become off-balance and hurt themselves.

You never know when life is going to throw you a curve and someone in the house ends up with a broken leg or temporarily confined to a wheelchair, or when you may need to care for a loved one in that situation inside your home. Universal Design helps you plan for every stage in your life – from younger ages to your golden years.


Universal Design in the Kitchen

In certain areas of your house, Universal Design can play a larger role in keeping your family safe and also enhance accessibility. Your kitchen is one of those areas (the bathroom is the other).

Here are 7 Universal Design features to consider for your kitchen:

Faucets & Hardware. Does the faucet on the sink and the hardware on your cabinetry meet the “closed fist” test? In other words, can a person work them with a closed fist? Often older family members have arthritis or other issues that make it difficult to grip. Offset single-lever faucets are ideal because they can be operated with one hand and do not require the person to reach behind the sink. Another option is an electronic touchless faucet that can be activated with the wave of a hand.

Flooring. Choose a flooring surface that is slip resistant and comfortable. When selecting tiles, in this instance, a smaller tile is better because it has less surface area (which minimizes slipping); or you can select a non-slip flooring like cork, which also provides some cushion – making it more comfortable to stand on. Also, there are products on the market that can be applied to tile or stone flooring that don’t take away from the appearance yet add a tread to prevent slippage.

Counters. Design kitchen countertops, including the island, at varying heights. This allows family members who may need to sit to easily prepare meals, and further allows young children to be “helpers” at your side. From an aesthetic perspective, the variety of height also gives the space depth. The counters should also be solid surface for clean-up ease.\

Clearance. You may want to give additional consideration for knee space at the sink, cooktop and meal prep areas for a seated option.

Storage. Select cabinetry where the items inside are reachable – such as pull-out draws for pots, pans and dishes, and pull-down shelves for overhead cabinetry that make it easier to find what you are looking for. Slide-out shelves, particularly under the sink, keep everything in its rightful place and minimize stooping/reaching to find cleaning supplies.

Lighting. As we get older, our eyesight starts to fail, so integrate plenty of overhead and under-cabinet lighting into your kitchen remodel and select on/off switches that pass the “closed fist” test. Additionally, if you can, try to include more natural light (windows or skylights). Studies have shown that natural lighting has profound positive psychological benefits, especially for family members who can’t get outside as easily as they’d like.

Appliances. A number of appliances on the market today fit the Universal Design criteria and look phenomenal. When comparing appliances, it is smart to choose ones that have front-mounted controls, to eliminate reach. Here are some other items to consider when picking out specific appliances.

  • Microwaves – Drawer microwaves, as opposed to over-the-cooktop ones, are simply safer. It is much easier to slide something hot out of a microwave drawer than it is to lift it out from overhead. These are also convenient for younger family members who may be old enough to safely work the microwave but wouldn’t be tall enough to reach one that is higher up.
  • Refrigerator – Side-by-side refrigerators/ freezers, particularly ones that have a gallon-sized storage shelf on the inside door, are ideal.
  • Dishwasher – Consider a dishwasher drawer you can load from the top.
  • Oven – Choose a wall oven that has a swinging door (similar to a refrigerator door) instead of one where the door hinges down to open.
  • Cooktop – Pick a cooking surface that is flat, which makes it easy to slide heavier pots and pans. You may also consider choosing a magnetic induction cooking surface because it doesn’t activate until you place the special cookware on top of the burner. Not only does it greatly reduce the chance of burns, but it also cooks faster.

When contemplating remodeling your kitchen, think of these Universal Design features you can add that will keep your kitchen approachable, comfortable and durable for all family members.




Elements of Kitchen Island Design



Fads come and go and trends change, but some kitchen additions stand the test of time. Kitchen islands are one such design essential. According to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders, more than 70% of buyers want an island in their kitchen, and of those, 50% consider it a must-have.

A carefully planned kitchen island brings guests, family members, and the cook together. The cook no longer must be secluded in their tasks while guests mingle elsewhere. Parents can balance the duties of meal preparation while children congregate to complete homework or create crafts. The island is the reason why the kitchen has become one of the favorite and most-used rooms in the home.

Using an experienced kitchen designer or architect will ensure that the function is maximized and convenience is enhanced. As you explore the many possibilities for your kitchen island, ask these 6 key kitchen design questions:

Kitchen Island Essentials

1) What’s the purpose of my kitchen island?

The fundamental reasons for the island will drive most of the design decisions. Kitchen islands can be used for a combination of functions such as: prep work, cooking, storage, entertaining, homework and crafts, and dining.

Consider the opinions and behaviors of the entire family. Understand that as time progresses over the next decade or two, the uses of your kitchen may also change.

2) What layout is best for my kitchen island?

After defining the main purposes for your island, layout requirements will emerge. Many kitchen islands will become part of the kitchen triangle, locating the cooktop, refrigerator, and sink in convenient proximity. Likewise, adjacent areas such as living rooms will influence the location of seating areas within your kitchen island.

Islands will drastically range in shapes depending upon their function and will be impacted by the surrounding kitchen. Working sides of the island should have approximately 42”-48” to allow room for opening larger appliances and storage, as well as room for two people to easily pass by. Islands can range from simplistic rectangles to multi-sided and asymmetrical.


3) Which appliances will be included in my island?

Appliances and sinks will require a larger island for the most part. An island can include cooktops, ovens, sinks, dishwashers, or even small refrigerators. When considering your overall kitchen design, choose the top items to include in your island, as not all may fit.

Adding a cooktop in an island will require an overhead vent hood to be installed. Incorporating a sink into an island will require some additional plumbing for the water source, drains, and air vents. Your kitchen designer will help guide you through these choices and explain how they may influence your overall cost.

4) How can my kitchen island provide storage solutions?

If the space permits in good proportion, kitchen islands can house many items behind doors, in drawers, or on display. A large island could include two standard 24” cabinets back to back, stowing away a multitude of lesser-used small appliances, containers, cookware, trash receptacles, linens, or serving dishes.

Kitchen islands may also conveniently store cooking utensils and serving dishes nearby for easy access. Some home gourmets also love to display cookbooks, wine bottles, or stemware on exterior shelves or overhanging racks.

5) How high should the surface of the island be?

Kitchen island surfaces used for traditional counter space or prep work are typically 36” in height, similar to adjacent counters. However, if your kitchen island will also serve the functions of entertaining guests or have part of its surface used for dining or seating, consider a second, higher tier of 42”.

Separating these two surfaces will easily define the different areas of the same island. Taller bar stools can be used with the higher counter allowing guests to have their own space while enhancing the look of your island. The counter overhanging these seating areas should allow for a 15”-18” offset to give legroom and a space to slide stools underneath when not being used.

6) Will my island match or accent the rest of my kitchen?

Originally, kitchen islands matched the surrounding countertops and cabinet stains and paints. However, modern trends have used kitchen islands not only as a utilitarian addition but also as an aesthetic enhancement.

Since islands are central to position and usage in the kitchen, they can be a great opportunity to create a gorgeous focal point. Whether bold or subtle, using a different cabinet color and/or countertop material can draw guests into the kitchen and unite other accents in the surrounding room.

A well-thought-out kitchen island will make your kitchen truly unique as it becomes the heart of your home. The five senses of your family and guests will be excited as they gather to eat, drink, and be merry together for years to come!



Choosing a Vanity & Sink for Your Master Bathroom Reno Project

Of every fixture and piece of furniture that you place in your bathroom, the vanity and sink are probably the most crucial. These fixtures can impact your comfort and overall satisfaction with your bathroom, so it’s important to consider a variety of designs and styles.

Size, materials, color, height and shape can all have an impact on the appearance and functionality of your vanity and sink. But before you can make a choice, you first must know how those choices differ from one another. Knowing what to look for can help ensure that your selection is more satisfying.

Sink Selection

vanity-and-sink-timberframe-homeMost consumers are surprised to discover that sink styles can vary wildly. Gone are the days of few choices, colors and materials. These days, homeowners must ask themselves: two sinks or one? Drop in, undermount, integrated or vessel? Made of stone, ceramic or metal? Which color? Which shape?

Sink Type

The traditional bathroom sink is the drop-in variety, easily identified by a lip that hangs over the edge of the counter to secure the sink in place. In contemporary homes, however, new sink types have surfaced.

  • Vessel. Perhaps the most striking of all the sink types, vessel sinks look like bowls mounted to the top of the vanity. This is the perfect selection for homeowners who like modern fixtures.
  • Undermount. To picture an undermount, imagine a drop-in sink, without the obvious lip that hangs over the edge of the counter. Undermount sinks are seamless, understated and elegant.
  • Integrated. Integrated sinks are physically a part of the countertop, and cannot be removed or changed. Often, integrated sinks are the easiest to clean.

Double or Single

Many homeowners choose a double sink if they have space, or a single space if they do not. Perfect for a master bath, the double sink gives homeowners options.


Traditionally, sinks have been made from ceramic, but newer sinks can be made from engineered stone, metal, or a variety of natural or synthetic materials.


The vanity is the workspace of the bathroom, containing drawers and counter space for soaps, cleaning products, makeup and other bathroom tools.

Size and Shape

A typical vanity will be around 36 inches tall. Still, homeowners are not beholden to this standard for any particular reason. Sometimes, a taller or shorter vanity can make sense. Short homeowners might be attracted to shorter fixtures, while a taller vanity may have the advantage of including more storage space.

It’s common for a vanity to be rectangular in shape, but this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, many homeowners with small bathrooms opt for a vanity of a non-traditional shape. A triangular vanity or even an oval vanity can fit nicely in a corner, leaving extra space in the rest of the bathroom for movement.


Often, a vanity will take the form of a cabinet or will sit on legs that touch the floor. Cabinet-style and legged vanities are most common in large bathrooms. In recent years, wall-mounted vanities have become more common in smaller bathrooms. While these vanities actually offer reduced storage space for the user, mounted vanities take up less room visually and can contribute to a feeling of spaciousness, making a small bathroom seem less crowded.

Contact Us

Remodeling a bathroom can be a challenge. Get help from a pro! As your design-build team, we can help you choose the right fixtures, layout and features for your bathroom. Contact us to talk further!