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The Little Red House – a design/build collaboration

This project description follows a blog entry: The Little Red House – design/build in action

View the feature article on this completed project in the July/August 2013 issue of Ridgefield Magazine.

Time to downsize. Valerie and Ross were finished with the big house on the outskirts of town. It had served the family of four and their lab comfortably during the school years. Now their second son was heading off to college. They had always wanted to live within walking distance of downtown, so when the opportunity presented itself in the summer of 2011, they jumped.

The little Red House was cute and very small.

The little Red House – before work began.

We needed to make some fast decisions, as there was a defined timetable for completion. We worked out the design, hired an engineer to submit drawings to the town, lined up the subs, and were ready.

I was unable to have access to the house until just before the closing. My first walk-through was with Carl, a friend and the engineer for this job.

What a surprise! With the exception of the kitchen and family room, this house had not been updated at all. The electrical “service” to one bedroom was a very old extension cord. The walls were beyond repair. There was evidence there had been a fire in the roof. I knew that day that the entire house needed renovating and it that would be hard to control the budget unless the plan was limited to a discreet list of tasks. Buyers beware.

The Little Red House was cute but really small. The clients were local entrepreneurs: she the owner of a yoga studio, he a TV sports producer and bread maker/bakery owner. Not only did the house need a real Master Suite but a home office as well.

Adding a Master bedroom and bath was the first priority

We added the Master bedroom over this section of the original structure.

We added the new Master bedroom over this section of the original structure.

Master bedroom suite framing

Master bedroom suite is framed above the Dining Room on the first floor.

As with many design processes, I got the layout right the first time. The clients agreed to raise the roof above the family room to gain additional square footage for the new Master Bedroom and bath. Due to layout constraints, I chose to separate the tub room from the vanity/toilet/shower area. I visualized a “Japanese” theme emerging and found the perfect made-to-order soaking tub from Cabuchon Bathforms.

Now, imagine sitting in the tub with the windowsills at eye level. The posture creates a sense of space, a calm natural poise, perfect for soaking. We created a three by-pass door arrangement with etched glass translucent panels. When the doors are open there is energetic flow throughout the Master bedroom; and when doors are closed with the tub area lights on, a soft aura of light spills into the bedroom and accentuates the eastern theme.

The Master bedroom is ready for inside finish work.

The Master bedroom is ready for inside finish work.

The bathrooms of the Master suite sit side by side

The bathrooms of the Master suite sit side by side with the bed in the foreground.

The Master bedroom

The Master bedroom has a custom made bed frame and pendant lighting.

The tub room of the Master bedroom suite

The tub room of the Master bedroom suite offers a tranquil private oasis.

The three panel doors to the bath area

The three panel doors to the bath area are back lit by daylight.

The double sinks of the Master bath

The double sinks of the Master bath are opposite the shower/steam bath.

The toilet, vanity, shower and steam room

The toilet, vanity, shower and steam room have beautiful tile work.

Building the home office in the treetops

We dormered the roof to create a home office.

Up over the back door we dormered the roof to create a home office.

We raised the main roof by dormering the back wall to create a sitting room and home office. This is an inspiring place to work with a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood.

Home office and hangout in the treetops

The former attic provided the space for a home office and hangout.

In some jurisdictions, a third floor habitable space requires a fire escape with runs of stairs with landings … never an attractive egress. Luckily, it was not required in this case – a cost saving to the homeowner for sure.

Every inch counts

In small space design, it is important to get the layout right without wasting an inch of livable room and storage capacity. I call this “building a big house inside a small house.” The little red house is perfect example of this approach, as each room now has a clear purpose while offering privacy even though the square footage is small.

To me, “Small is Beautiful.” Cavernous houses can be uncomfortable. In so many of the large homes I have visited, there is a lived-in room – behind the kitchen or off an upstairs hallway – where the more intimate, relaxed activities of family life occur.

Updating the mechanicals to gain efficiency

We ripped out all of the clunky old radiators, the boiler, and the slightly leaky oil tank and replaced it with a very cool high-efficiency gas-condensing boiler. These units create virtually no pollution and are vented to the exterior with a double walled PVC pipe. It heats the water on demand, sending it to the air handlers, which in turn pass cool air across the hot coil to create heat. The same ductwork supports the air conditioning system. This little house is quite modern indeed.

So much for disclosure statements

The basement of The Little Red House

The basement of The Little Red House needed a lot of work.

We also removed the cracked slab in the basement. On inspection, I could see evidence of water incursion even though the seller’s disclosure statement said otherwise. We jack-hammered the slab, dug and leveled the soil, installed a perimeter drain, set gravel and plastic, and – just in case – dug a sump pit with the new drain running into the corner that showed evidence of earlier water damage. We then poured a 4” concrete floor to complete the basement.

Although there was no water in the sump to begin with, we eventually had a very rainy period which resulted in a full and overflowing sump! It was perfect timing to confirm my observation of what was really going on that basement. I brought a heavy-duty portable sump pump and long drain line and began pumping.

Sometimes when water issues are not addressed, water will create its own pathway, even under a house. But I have learned this: when gutters, leaders and landscaping are properly installed/pitched and the site is thoroughly dried by pumping, nature heals the issue and no longer sends water where it doesn’t belong. The landscape and root systems of the plantings absorb the water effectively. Lucky again, this particular house was not built on an underground stream or watercourse, which often requires continuous evacuation.

Going all the way

The hall and stairs

The hall and stairs, freshly stripped and painted.

Even these knowledgeable clients –  with their previous remodeling experience – did not want to face the fact that a whole house renovation was required.

A true Cook's Kitchen in The Little Red House

A true Cook’s Kitchen in The Little Red House

In the end, we remodeled the entire house. We added recessed lighting, then skim coated the walls of the living room, the foyer and upper hallway. We replaced all of the doors and door trim, set crown molding almost everywhere, built closets in the foyer; and redirected the passageway from the foyer into the family room. We refinished the floors. We rewired the living room, guestroom, and second bedrooms and installed gimbaled low voltage recessed lighting setting the mood in all of the rooms to illuminate walls full of art work and color.

This Little Red House shines once again!

The dining room has a new porch outside the door on the right.

The dining room has a new porch outside the door on the right.

The hall at the top of the stairs – a sunny cozy spot

The hall at the top of the stairs – a sunny cozy spot.