Filed under: green

Small Cool: VOTE NOW!

…as in, RIGHT NOW!

We were thrilled to learn this morning that we won in the “small” category! Voting for the finals was supposed to open at midnight and last through Wednesday afternoon, but it seems like they’ve changed things up a bit and polls are officially open for a single-day vote only! (Revision: looks like they changed it back so the contest closes as originally posted on May 2nd (3:00 EST).) Besides the pure glory of victory and Bailey’s happiness, there are a lot of reasons why winning this contest money would be a huge deal for us right now and so we’d really appreciate your vote this one last time (note: even if you voted in the prelims, you can now vote again in the finals!).

Thanks guys, fingers crossed.

small cool 2012

Happy Friday friends! Just a quick note to say that chezerbey is now officially a contestant in Apartment Therapy’s Small Cool 2012 contest!

I know, I know…it seems like The Homies just ended (another gigantic thank you for all of your support by the way!), but now things get serious. Why? Because the grand prize for this contest is $5,000!

There are 4 main size categories (ours is in “small” – 800-1000 SF) and after voting ends on April 30th each category winner goes on to compete for the grand prize.

Just think what we could do to our small (and cool) space with 5k! Plants for the yard, furniture for the nursery…Kyle might even get crazy and put another window in the loft (and you know you want to see that). So head over to Apartment Therapy pronto and make us your favorite. (Bonus: some new photos are part of our submittal and we even snuck Bailey in!) You have to sign in (or create an account first), but it’s the same thing you saw with The Homies, so no sweat.

In all seriousness, we’ve worked hard over the last 5+ years to make the most of out of a small footprint. Part of our decision to buy a little home was financially driven, but a bigger part has been to experiment with small-space living, a concept that we both believe strongly in. In other words, we believe that your home doesn’t have to be big, just well-designed.

Thanks in advance and have a great weekend!

spring cleaning

Maybe it’s early nesting, the change of seasons or Kyle’s recent trip to the allergy doctor, but we spent all of last weekend purging, organizing and cleaning our little house. (We also took lots of new photos, so look out for that in the coming weeks!)

One of the items on the to-do list was to have our ducts professionally cleaned. The ductwork was installed with the rest of our heating system 3 1/2 years ago, but between remodel projects and a large shedding dog, it was due for some attention. Clean ducts not only extend the life of your furnace, but they also help keep contaminants out of the forced air system (a major plus for people with allergies). The whole process took a couple of hours and scared the bejesus out of Felix (we actually thought he ran away at one point but he finally came out of hiding later that day).

The truck basically acts as a giant vacuum, with a large hose that ran down the side yard, through the basement door and connected to where the return air ties into the furnace.

Now that we’re breathing easier, let’s move on to the next basement topic – laundry. With a baby on the way and Kyle’s newly discovered allergy to dust mites, we’ve also been considering upgrading our washer and dryer. Our current mismatched set came with our home and appear to be from the late ’90s. As you can see, they are one of the few remaining relics from the last 5+ years of remodeling.

Although I doubt they’re that efficient when it comes to water usage, we haven’t been able to rationalize replacing them because they still work. The downside of course is that they’re small (compared to front-loaders) and with a center spindle (agitator?) you can’t wash large items like comforters and pillows (which gets back to the allergy issue).

So ok, let’s get some new ones! But of course we just can’t swap them out for something new. No, no…that would be too easy. You see, whoever installed the original units seems to have taken the most amount of shortcuts possible when it comes to plumbing and electrical. So we’ll need to run new plumbing and wiring and since we eventually plan to finish out this half of the basement, we might as well build out the furring wall while we’re at it (which would be an extension of the media/electrical panel you see above).

Sigh…nothing is easy in remodeling, is it? Damn you old house!

But back to appliances. It seems like the hands-down favorite is the Whirlpool Duet. What do you guys think? Any particular models that you love? Also, any tips for scoring amazing deals? Let’s hear it.

Finally, on a somewhat related basement note I thought it would be fun to do a side-by-side comparison of “mission control” and how it’s evolved over the years.

On the left, you have the 2006 version which consisted of a few fuse boxes and some questionable electrical decisions (we actually had to have the electrical service that comes into the house upgraded before we could move in. I don’t think our little house had seen a computer before). Fast forward to 2012 and we’ve got ourselves a pimped out wall o’ power. It’s pretty, right? Our architect-electrician does good work.

renovation and reason

A few weeks ago, our kitchen remodel was featured on Design*Sponge as part of their “Before and After” series. We were thrilled to be included and encouraged by the many positive comments. But then, inevitably, came the other comments. The reactions were similar for our kitchen and bathroom posts on Apartment Therapy and in a nutshell, there was a contingent of commenters that were convinced we had obliterated an heirloom.

Truthfully, I wasn’t really offended by the comments (and was somewhat expecting them) – not because I’m necessarily thick-skinned but because I stand by our conviction that what we’ve done has been the right thing for our house. Alongside the positive and negative comments were additional questions about how we should approach the discussion of remodeling in the first place, especially when so much of the blogisphere is dedicated to sparkly end results. It’s something that Kyle and I started discussing and realized the topic might warrant a blog post of its own. We realized that although we have gone through a very careful and intentional remodel thought process, we’ve never really explained it here on the blog.

Don’t get me wrong, we love dramatic “before and afters” just as much as the next person, but we thought it would be interesting to talk about the underlying reasons for taking on a project like this in the first place. So here’s our story.

[Note: each pair of photos was taken from approximately the same view. And no, I didn’t know about white balance back in ’06.]

Plain and simple, we bought a house that needed a lot of work because it’s what we could afford. We were up for the challenge and knew that it was something we both wanted to do. So we bought this:


Ok, she looked a little better (and cuter!) in the 1930’s when this photo was taken. When we took ownership in 2006, she was a bit frumpier:

But over the course of 5 years, she’s got a new spring in her step…

I think we all agree that, yes, our house was ugly. But ugliness alone is not a reason to gut the entire thing. Sure, we could have painted the walls, replaced the carpet and called it a day, but our house had fundamental problems that limited its effectiveness as a 21st-century home.

Layout – As you can see from the original floor plan, our home had an awkward layout that quickly proved to be an inefficient way to live in 770 square feet. (At the root of the problem was the kitchen, which served as the hallway of the house with 5 doorways and very little work space.) By reworking the plan, we were able to create a series of spaces that made more sense for how we live while also accommodating flexibility for future needs. We were also able to add a second bedroom without expanding the footprint. If our home had two bedrooms from the beginning, we probably would have approached things differently.

Because the front door entered into the middle of the dining/living room, the two spaces were the same size, meaning a too small living room and a too big dining room. The chandelier with the faux candles yet real burn marks on the ceiling? No words.

Structure – Our home had not been maintained properly over the years and had some issues that needed more immediate attention. Maybe one reason we didn’t start the blog earlier was because the first few years were not glamorous ones. We completely replaced the roof, undertook a sizeable structural project in the basement and spent an uncomfortable amount of money on asbestos abatement and an oil tank removal. Unglamorous yes, but it was the right thing to do and prevented even bigger (and more expensive) repairs down the road. Does structural safety supersede “preservation”? We think so.

Energy – One of the things that I think is most often overlooked when discussing older homes is that they are usually energy hogs. When we bought our house, it had no insulation in the walls, a ridiculously ancient coal-turned-oil-burning octopus furnace, a 20-year-old hot water heater and leaky aluminum windows. For us, not improving our home’s energy performance would have been irresponsible and well, dumb. In many cases, sustainability drove our decision-making process. For instance, to insulate our exterior walls we could either add it from the outside or the inside. So we weighed the pros and cons and ultimately decided that it was more important to restore our original cedar siding and remove the crumbling plaster on the inside. With the walls opened up, we were also able to add modern-day luxuries like electrical outlets(!) When it came to materials, we made a concerted effort to recycle/sell/salvage as much as we could while also being conscientious about what new materials were coming in.

Education – Although some have surmised that we’re remodeling for remodeling’s sake, just because we’re architects doesn’t mean we think we’re entitled to change something just because we can. I mean really, this stuff is expensive and takes an incredible amount of time and patience. In fact, sometimes…ok, many times, we wish our house had needed less work. But regardless of how we’ve changed our home, the more important thing has been the process of doing so. In fact, before we started looking at houses, we both were toying with the idea of going to grad school, but ultimately decided that we couldn’t afford to do both. So we sometimes joke that the remodel has been our thesis project and in a way, I think we’ve learned far more than we could have in a couple extra studio courses.

Solving the Stylistic Problem – Even though we’re self-proclaimed modernists, we still have an appreciation for the past. Although our house was the one we could afford, we predominantly looked at pre-1930’s homes (which fortunately, Seattle has a lot of). In general, we were attracted to the modest size and simple styles of these homes and knew it would be these characteristics that, due to budget and practicality, would remain unchanged. (I’m sure we drove our realtor crazy…a fixer? No problem! But a complex roof shape? Hell no!) Sadly, even though our home was built in 1910 and was small and simple, it didn’t have any of the charming features that are common to other homes of that era. No built-ins, no fancy molding, no bare wood. Because of this, we felt it was appropriate to take on a more extensive renovation. Where we could, we brought attention to certain original elements – like the exposing the ceiling joists in the living room or restoring the original cedar siding on the exterior.

As architects who are progressive but also concerned about sustainability, there is a great challenge in reinventing existing housing stock to work for the 21st century. It’s a surgical process that is different for every house and includes incorporating the best of both eras into something that will hopefully be around for another one hundred years. (Pretty pictures are nice, but this creative problem solving has really been the crux of our remodel.) For those that think we’ve done our home a disservice, the reality is that had our offer not been accepted, our house would have been victim to the wrecking ball and a 2500 SF “neo craftsman” mcmansion would have been crammed onto the lot in its place.

Anticipating Change – One goal that we’ve tried to maintain throughout this process is not to overdo it. While we’re definitely not looking to flip this house, we also know that we probably won’t live here forever. That means striking the balance between doing the right thing and what makes us happy, while not investing so much money and time that we feel we can never leave. We’re not making any decisions based on “resale value” but we are trying to do something that is thoughtful, creative and appropriate for our neighborhood.

Being Realistic – Our house is at best an experiment. An experiment based on a modest budget, a willingness to live in a constant construction zone and a whole lot of manual labor. It’s not a perfect home, but it is a better home and at the end of the day that’s something we feel really good about.

And there is the “Behind the Scenes” story of chezerbey. Remodeling can be very personal and depends on so many factors that it’s impossible to apply general rules or guidelines to the process. What’s right for one person isn’t necessarily a good solution for another and we hope that the blogisphere can continue to be a forum for constructive dialogue. Crappy old houses all over the world will thank you for it.


The content of this post is so random that I couldn’t think of a good title. It’s been a busy week and we have done absolutely nothing on the house. In fact, we’re taking a hiatus from working on weeknights – let’s call it a return to normalcy.

Here’s what we have been doing/thinking:

1. I recently started blogging over at Apartment Therapy’s Re-Nest! Over the last several years I’ve been focusing more and more on the intersection of sustainability and residential design and I’m really excited to be sharing ideas and info on Re-Nest. I’ll be writing about chezerbey from time to time and when I do, I’ll be sure to let you know. Today I posted about the Rolling Huts – the tiny cabins in Eastern Washington where we stayed last weekend. Not only do I think they’re smokin’ hot (the materials, the composition!), but I love that the design is based on a creative solution to meet a zoning code requirement (hint: the site is zoned for an RV park).

And if you’re in the market for a small, energy-efficient refrigerator, there’s a post for that too. (I even compiled the kWh/year usage!)

One thing we have accomplished this week – the completion of Mad Men: Season 3 (OMG that finale!). As mentioned in an older post, we’re totally coveting the show’s full height doors in muted blues and teals. In fact, it got us thinking about our barn doors…

We thought we’d start with a legit source – the above colors are part of the Herman Miller Eames line. They seem a little brighter on-screen than in real life, but we’re thinking that the barn doors could be a good way to add color without a long-term commitment (i.e. – we could always repaint them). We haven’t decided if all of the doors should be the same color or if we should vary them. We’re guessing it will have to be a “try it and see” process. Oh, and the barn doors themselves? Well, we completely redesigned them. Again. (Design is definitely a non-linear process!) But that’s another post, a post that will likely include the word “saga” in the title.

Last but not least, Seattle is wooing us with more free trees. And this time, they’re not just going to gift us the tree, but they’re going to plant it, water it and prune it! On Monday, we came home to a flag in our yard and the below flyer on our door. Turns out, Seattle is targeting certain sections of neighborhoods that are a little, “sparse” when it comes to street trees. Homeowners have always been allowed to plant in the strip between the sidewalk and street (which is outside the property line), so long as the trees weren’t too big or crazy.  And since we have a proven track record when it comes to plant life, we’re happy to let someone else do the job. So now we just have to decide what we want. We can pick from the four listed below (we only get one tree since we already have a Dogwood on the other side). We’re leaning towards the Serviceberry, but the polls are still open.

Really, I think the city is just tempting us to start landscaping our front yard. (Nice touch with the randomly placed purple butterfly by the way.) So what are you guys working on? Are we the only ones not surrounded in two feet of snow? I can’t believe how much snow Oklahoma got…that never happened the 24 years I lived there.