Archive for the ‘ModHome’ Category

ModHome: Round 2

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

It’s been a while since either of us posted an update on the progress toward a new house. Interest rates are rising and the Houston housing market is one of the country’s hottest (about 3 months of inventory currently being listed as of this writing). All of that speaks to rising costs, and a need for us to get our house built before the combination of increased financing and construction costs takes its toll.The silver lining to all of this is that when we go to sell our existing home, we should see some additional price appreciation versus where I originally budgeted. But I get ahead of myself…

Back in August, we had a preliminary plan and exterior renderings for what we thought would be an AWESOME house. It was quite a bit bigger than we had expected/asked for, but having been completely transparent with our architect about our budget, we were hopeful that we could cut a few corners here and there, and get almost all of what we had drawn. Nope. We got bids from six builders, and the cheapest was $100,000 over our construction budget. The others climbed rapidly from there. The insult-to-injury part of it was that the low bid provided me with a copy of his spreadsheet, and I found tens of thousands of dollars of missed construction costs (e.g., insulating and air sealing the floor of the “floating” master bedroom over the lanai). Poop.

Well, after a bit of anger and grieving, we got back to work in November and December with a revised concept: smaller, more compact, fewer embellishments. We are now in the process of finalizing the rough design to put it back out for bid. Our hope is that we get bids that are much closer to our budget, so that we can quickly get through both the final design and construction financing hoops so that we can break ground. There are still a few issues to work out with the rough exterior rendering (e.g., not having a flat roof, adding some windows to the front and back), but we’re pretty close. The floorplan is also pretty close, so hopefully we can regroup with our architect this week or next in order to provide final feedback.

Looking at the house from what would be the southwest corner…
West Side

…Looking at the house from what would be the southeast corner…
East Side

And from the front:
Front

We’re not sure that the super-stoop-cum-porch will survive scrutiny from the planning and zoning commission, but maybe the architecture team can be persuasive. Also, the roof is currently shown as a ‘flat’ (low slope) roof, and there is no visual distinction between the foundation and what is planned to be a board-based siding (e.g., Hardie or Stained Western Red Cedar). However, those fixes should be in progress. If everything goes well, and with a bit of luck, we might break ground by… Nope, not gonna say it. Fill in your own blank there, while we’ll be tight lipped until we get a bit further along.

UPDATE: Here is the floorplan as proposed by our architect. Here is closer to what we would hope to have, given a re-allocation of space/footprint. There are many details to work out, but we’re definitely closing in on a desirable goal.

ModHome: Elevation studies

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

The very first set of drawings that Erick gave us included three 3D renderings. He told us that they showed only the “rough massing” of our structure — without windows, doors, or cladding detail — and that we should ignore the appearance of them.

As I’ve showed them to people, I’ve explained that they’re only meant to convey shape. Despite this, I had somehow begun to imagine they’re what our house would actually look like. I’m either too tired, too literal, or both to imagine how they might be more attractive. Fortunately, I’m not in charge of designing our home!

When we met with Erick today, he brought a giant 12″ x 12″ yellow Post-it note, covered in hand-drawn sketches of what our house might actually look like. He presented it to me saying, “It’s only a study, but I know you’re keeping these sorts of things.”

Check this out (as always, click for larger):

The top left sketch includes a third-floor roof deck that we’d really like, but almost assuredly cannot afford. The bottom right sketch also suggests a vast roof deck over the garage, or at least a parapet, that we’re not doing, I think.

But the bottom left elevation is a pretty fair approximation of how the north end of our house will appear from the curb on Locust. And the top right elevation fairly approximates the view of the south end from the adjacent property.

Cool, yes?

ModHome: Reader survey about bathrooms!

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

We have a week to pin down the final location of every wall, door, and window in our new home. We’re getting very close to having a design we really like! But space is at a premium, and we’re wrestling with a few trade-offs.

I’m wondering what you all think about a couple of options. Many of you will likely come visit us (I hope), and many of you may have faced similar choices in your own homes. I expect your perspective on these choices can help us make a good decision!

Please take a look at the current draft layout of the second floor, and think about bathrooms. Initially, we had only an “en suite” bathroom in the master suite, and an en suite “Jack and Jill” (shared) bathroom between the two bedrooms at the other end of the hall.

We then wondered where guests would “go” if they came over for a movie night or a play date. Erick proposed converting the big storage area at the south end of the master closet (southwest corner of the house) into an en suite bathroom for the media room.

That would give movie viewers a proximal place to pee, and allow the media room to function instead as another bedroom in the future. But, young play date visitors would still have to go through one of the bedrooms to access a potty, or go back downstairs to the bathroom off of the mud room.

Right now, Erick shows a matching pair of built-in bookcases at the north and south ends of the second floor hall. Another way to provide guest potty access would be to move the door of the shared bathroom (at the north end of the house) out from the bedrooms and into the hall. Some of the proposed bookcases at the north end would be sacrificed to create a doorway.

READER QUESTION 1) How important is it to have a “public” bathroom on the second floor that’s directly accessible from the hall?

READER QUESTION 2) Is it more important for the media room to have an en suite bathroom, either for our movie viewers or for future residents; or, is it more important to capture a large dedicated storage area on the second floor?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below (or by email or text or phone). Please remember that users must log in to post comments, and if you have any trouble logging in, let me know. Thanks!

ModHome: Revised conceptual drawings

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Erick Ragni, our architect, showed us the initial conceptual schematics of our future house on July 19th. We’ve been working to improve them everyday since then, because we’re trying to finalize the conceptual schematics by August 8th.

When we met last Friday, Erick brought a second, revised conceptual plan for us to consider (as always, click for larger):


Second concept, first floor


Second concept, second floor

Bill and I have been fine-tuning it nightly, Bill and Erick have been trading email day and night, and we’ll all meet again Friday. The design continues to be a work-in-progress, but here’s what we’ve got so far (as always, click for larger):


Revised entry and office

When I first told Erick that I wanted a front-facing window in the office so that I could survey the front yard and street, he expressed concern that windows look both ways. However, we’re in the floodplain, and our house must be elevated 3 feet to get above the base flood elevation (BFE). Erick realized that the bottoms of our windows will all be well above the head of all but the tallest peeper, and he’s now including a wide expanse of huge windows that look toward the street to capture tons of indirect northern light.

In addition to the big north windows, the office will have floor-to-ceiling windows looking south into the courtyard, and a high clerestory window over the eastern wall of cabinets.

Also, the office layout shows a future bathroom. The idea is that we, or a future owner, may want/need a ground-floor bedroom to support aging in place, or a so-called mother-in-law suite. We’re including a room that’s just the right size for a future bathroom, but leaving out the plumbing and fixtures for now, in favor of having a very large storage closet with a high window.

Finally, we may include a Murphy Bed in a cabinet on the east wall, so as to have one more place in the house to sleep guests. We had previously ruled out murphy beds as too expensive, but Erick alerted us that one can now buy the necessary hardware via the internet and have a local carpenter construct the cabinet.


Revised kitchen

Bill is leading design of our kitchen, and I will leave it to him to comment on the design choices we’re making here.


Revised pantry, mud room, and rear entry

Day to day, we will primarily enter the house at the rear entry from the garage. I’m clear that an awful lot of household clutter occurs when frequent-use items have no convenient home. So we’re designing what I hope will be a hyper-functional “mud room” that will include shoe storage, bench seating, hooks for jackets, shelves for daily use bags and totes, “key drop” drawers for valet items, etc.

Rather than a formal “powder room” for guests, we’re designing a single bathroom on the first floor. It will have nice, guest-worthy finishes, but it will be located in the mudroom, so that we can pee as soon as we get home. It will also include a large shower. The idea is that when Bill comes home from a bike ride drippy/muddy, or when the girls get dirty playing outside, they can rinse off as soon as they come inside, without tracking mud, etc. through the whole house. This is also where we would bathe a hypothetical future canine.


Revised master suite and media room

The master bedroom has a vast window that looks north into the courtyard. Erick’s floor plan for the master suite is clever in that the doorways are positioned such that you can’t see from one part to the next. We’re planning to include “pocket” doors in several places, but in practice, we can leave them open all the time, yet still have visual privacy.

For the master bathroom, Bill wanted his/hers sinks, and a huge soaking tub. I wanted a roomy, well-organized shower, and a ton of natural light. Erick’s plan gives us all of that.

Early in our house hunting, we toured a house that had a large triangular shower with the door in the hypotenuse, and large windows on both outside walls. The windows were as wide as the shower stall, but they started about 5 feet above the floor, which meant that I could see out well, but anyone outside could see nothing below my shoulders. We’re planning something similar for our master bath.

In addition, that bathroom we toured looked out into a fair number of urban trees, providing views of both greenery and wildlife. While our southern neighbor has a large oak tree near the property line, the southern view from our master bathroom would primarily be the roof of our garage. So I asked for a small, enclosed roof deck just outside the bathroom, that we can plant with a rich array of green, growy things.

Erick observed that if we enclose this deck with an 8-foot perimeter, it will provide lovely views of sky and tall trees, while still affording total privacy in the bathroom. He recommended that we not only include an outdoor shower head, but also bring the shower window all the way down to the level of the tub deck. Neither Bill nor I are sure we’re ready to go that far, and I still want an integral shelf for storing shampoo and conditioner. We’ll see!

It will come as no surprise that a man who used his Playstation 3 to watch movies, rather than play games, would like a dedicated media room in our new house. So at the grown-up end of the second floor, we’re building out a big dark room that Bill can equip with our projector, screen, and THX sound system.

Erick has placed the media room between the stairwell and his/hers closets, so that any bedrooms are buffered from any sound transmission. Likewise, the media room is situated over the mudroom and downstairs bathroom, where noise spillover will not be an issue.

Finally, this revision adds a small closet, that we’ll use for A/V equipment, and an en-suite bathroom, where our guests can pee during movies. But these additions mean the room will “count” as a bedroom for resale and appraisal purposes, and be useful as a nursery or fourth bedroom for a future owner.

* * *
As I mentioned earlier, we’re trying to finalize the floor plan — including placement of all walls, doors, and windows — by the end of next week. Our process is definitely benefiting from outside perspectives, and we appreciate all the feedback we have received so far. If you have suggestions for how we can make some part of this house more functional, or see something we’re missing, please send them along. Comments to the blog, email, call, or text are all welcome. Thanks!

ModHome: Backstory and Alternate Universes

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

I’ve used Visio for years for various job-related tasks. It’s a good tool that is much more sophisticated than PowerPoint, and much less intimidating than AutoCAD. As part of the research into our new house, I discovered a while back that Visio had the ability to create floorplans. This was largely targeted toward business users doing space planning in an office environment (or a server farm, with a different plug-in), but it did have some light options for doing residential work.

I went through a few dozen iterations of a ‘dream’ home to learn about what we wanted and how it might be laid out. Then, every time we got vaguely interested in an area, I would try to knock up a few layouts to see what a particular site and jurisdiction would allow us to build.

For those interested in our journey, attached is a subset of ideas we’ve examined for our site in Bellaire. Notably absent are the East-facing courtyard ideas. I’ll post those later.

Home Design – 5223 Locust

ModHome: First schematic design drawings!

Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Friday morning, Bill and I met with our architect again. All of our previous meetings have been geared toward gathering our requirements and aspirations. This meeting was the first in which Erick brought back drawings of a preliminary Schematic Design (design phase 1) — that attempt to turn our ideas into something solid — for us to review.

We have spent a lot of time on our own, drawing and considering various floorplans that might work for us, and we were very curious to see what the professionals would devise. While it still needs much refinement, Erick’s initial design is more sophisticated than anything we conceptualized. The three of us spent the entire morning reviewing and discussing its strengths and opportunities for improvement.

Our intent is to work together over the next three weeks to finalize the conceptual house plan by August 8. In that time, we need to:

  • finalize all fixed walls and doors/windows, pinning down which rooms will be used for what and where;
  • get a rough cost estimate from the builder, to confirm how much of what we aspire to do can be done within our budget; and
  • get buy-in from a LEED-certified consultant that we’re on target toward building the most energy-efficient home we can.

Once that’s done, the architect’s team will spend the following 2-3 weeks preparing more-detailed drawings to finalize our Schematic Design. This is so exciting!

Here, for your backseat architecting entertainment, are our first draft space plans. The first floor is more coherent/refined than the second (as always, click for larger):


First floor draft plan


Second floor draft plan

To get a sense of how these two levels come together to form a whole house, here are simple 3D renderings that show the proposed massing of the space. These are only block shapes, without windows, doors, or other details, but they’re quite interesting:


East side (courtyard and hypothetical pool) rough massing


North (Locust Street) side rough massing


West (Ferris Street) side rough massing

Enjoy! And if you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear them. Thanks!

ModHome: Project kick-off!

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

In the early months of 2013, Bill talked and met with a number of architects and building designers, until he found one that seemed like a good fit for our project. I met with the last two under consideration.

The “home designer” not only underwhelmed but alarmed me; the best architect impressed the heck out of me. When he said he was excited enough about our project to offer to reduce his customary fee, we had a winner!

Now that we officially own the Locust lot, it’s time to start design work. On June 5th, we officially kicked off our home building project with our architect, Erick Ragni, and his team from MaRS!


Drew, Rudy, Erick, Robin, and Bill