Friday, May 21, 2010


A few weeks ago my web master, Sven Nebelung said he was going to improve our blog.  I personally am not comfortable with change, however I trusted his judgment.  When he showed me the results of his work, all I could say was 'WOW'.  The new blog not only looks better, but should be easier to navigate.  There will be a link from our web page,, but until then you can go to or just click the link on this page.

In any case, I will not be updating this site any more, but will be blogging on the new site which will include all of our 'vintage' insights.

Jimmy Crisp

Monday, May 10, 2010

Porch Renovation

Older homes have a character that often is impossible to replicate.  A 200 year old home has traces of daily life so different from our world today.  That sense of history is what makes living in an old home wonderful.  I once owned an 1865 schoolhouse that a friend and I converted into a weekend home.  Some naughty children carved their initials in the siding over a hundred years ago and we treated those carvings with great reverence when the schoolhouse was painted.  Along with the unique details of old homes come issues both internal and external.  A rural farm house next to a dirt road sometimes ends up next to a highway, or an addition which made sense to a previous owner seems out of place in the present. 

Our clients had a stunning view over an existing pond, but the room that had the best view did not work well or match their existing period home.  We worked to give them a place to enjoy the view which felt comfortable with the rest of the house.

Buy, Build, Renovate-Why Now is the Time

I would never advise anyone on their personal investments in real estate or otherwise.  I will only comment on the current market conditions I am seeing. Rarely in my career as an architect have I seen the economic conditions align so strongly in favor of the consumer.  My sister-in-law, who is a schoolteacher, purchased her first home well below the price she would have paid a year before. While the house required extensive updating, she was able to save significantly on renovation costs compared to what it would have cost just a year earlier.             
The following are 5 reasons I think this a great time to buy and build and renovate:
   1.  Home prices are down dramatically from their recent highs.
   2.  Commodity prices of some building materials have fallen,
        although others are rising.
   3. Energy surcharges from a couple of years ago have been eliminated.
   4. Reliable high quality builders are available and are more competitive
   5. There are more 'green' and energy efficient materials on the market than in years.
As we move toward a full recovery in the economy, the same elements that caused the spike in real estate and construction will return: limited supply of fossil fuels, competition for resources from emerging nations, the desire to live in communities with good school systems and bucolic settings. The price to buy, build and renovate will begin to rise on a daily basis as it did for the last 10 years.

The images shown are the before and after photos of a house our clients bought a few years ago on a great site in a wonderful neighborhood and with a leap of faith imagined a home they could love.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Quiet Home

During the construction process, standing in the interior of a half built home is deafening.  With carpenters nailing, compressors running and boom boxes playing competing melodies on every floor, you can hardly hear yourself think.  The day after insulation is installed both in the exterior and interior partitions, it seems like a different place.  With sound insulation between the floors and within the interior partitions, it is hard to get the attention of someone in the next room even when you scream.

Spray foam insulation in the exterior walls and roof of a home take the howl of a storm down to a whisper.  Filling the spaces between the studs stops drafts, making the home more energy efficient and helps increase the stiffness of the structure further reducing noises.  Insulation in interior partitions can be spray foam, fiberglass batt, remanufactured denim, or any number of sound absorbing materials.

There are many ways to reduce the noise transmission within a home and to diminish unwanted sounds from outside:

1.     Spray foam in all exterior walls and roofs.
2.     Use double or even triple paned windows if required.
3.     Insulate all interior walls and floors.
4.     Use cast iron waste pipes in upper floors and walls (or wrap plastic pipes in sound deadening material).
5.     For home theaters, use double walls (insulated) and sound deadening board.
6.     Place all mechanical equipment on rubber bushings to prevent sound transfer.
7.     Isolate ductwork so there is no transfer between rooms.

Each of the items mentioned adds cost to a project, but only a small percentage of the construction budget would be devoted to even the most complete soundproofing.  A good nights’ sleep in spite of noisy neighbors, traffic, or family members is priceless. 

Vacation in the Back Yard

When I sit on my back porch and rock on the porch swing, I feel the stress of the day drain away.  The change is so great that I consider my porch a mini-vacation spot. 

Clients of ours fell in love with Italy.  They travel there often and go out of their way to make gourmet Italian food.  When they decided to build a guest/pool house, one of the important features had to be a sense of relaxation with an Italian flair and an authentic brick pizza oven.  Although the structure is only a few hundred feet from the main house, when you go there, you feel like you have traveled very far.  With homage paid to Italian architecture, our clapboard-clad destination makes the perfect get away.

French doors open onto the terrace above the pool while a side door allows a quick exit to the pizza oven.  On the first floor there is a kitchen, and a dining room, a living room and bathroom.  Upstairs is a sleeping loft that overlooks the living area.  I understand it is sometimes hard to give up the guesthouse to the guests.

The owners like to take mini-vacations to the Italian part of the property. The pizza oven, which is wood fired, takes hours to reach the right temperature; plenty of time for a nice swim and then home made Italian pizza in the back yard. 

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Ranch Remodel

Ranch style homes have fallen in and out of favor over the decades.  This love-hate relationship with homeowners often leads to a desire to make major changes to the average ranch. One of the most frequently asked questions regarding a major ranch home renovation is: 'When is it better to knock it down instead of working with what is there?'  Sometimes that line is hard to draw and it usually is determined by a cost benefit analysis.  If in changing all the windows (and moving them), removing the roof, and rearranging the floor plan there is little house left, then certainly a case can be made to start from scratch.  Regardless if that approach makes the most economical sense, most of us cringe at the idea of demolishing a home even if it has major problems.

One reason to work a new design around an existing home can be a desire to preserve historic features, although that does not usually apply to the average ranch.  Another important factor in making those choices can be the extent of existing landscaping and terraces.  If an owner has invested in creating a beautiful environment close to the house, a complete tear down will also destroy that investment.  

Sometimes the interior layout of a ranch style home can be modified to retain large portions of the existing floor plan while adding a second floor.  By saving major components of the ranch, the impact on the surrounding site can be minimized.   If mechanical systems are in good shape, they often can be reused as well as foundations, and the septic system.  

It is important to take the entire scope of the project into consideration before opting for a complete tear down of the familiar ranch style home, even if what you want is a two story colonial.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sun Room

The best time to enjoy a sunroom can be the middle of winter.  While we always think of sitting in a sun room looking out over a lush garden, the time when we need sun the most is when those plants are well below the snow.  Like sitting on a porch in the summer while a warm rain falls out in the yard, sitting in a sun room around a crackling fire while it storms outside can be a wonderful experience.

When planning a sunroom, make sure there is a nice view out the windows in all seasons.  Well insulated windows, floors and ceilings can help make up for the large percentage of glass.  Radiant floor heat is a wonderful bonus on those chilly winter days.  Even if conventional heat keeps it warm inside, there is nothing like walking around in stocking feet on a toasty radiant floor.