Katie (my wife), is halfway through earning a masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy, and shockingly has yet to take a class on the “trauma of termites” nor has she spent any time studying the fear of mold infestation. WHY NOT?? The unknowns when buying and/or gutting a house are scary. Trying to put that house back together, oy…you’d better be a giant risk-taker or a pro. The mountain house design team fell somewhere in between. Julie, Grace and I served as Emily’s “fresh design minds” on the project (a.k.a. new hires just barely out of school) and Emily (our pro) was wrapping up her very first gut renovation. Countless sleepless nights were endured as we began our venture into the scary unknown.
With four design minds on the project and an experienced construction team, we found we knew more than we knew we knew. (10 points to the hive mind theory). But a few times, we stumbled into uncharted “space” (or, more accurately, lack thereof) and as a result, our visions/designs had to change…leaving us saying “ahh well” (but a bit more profanely) in the end once or twice. Having made this journey, we’re here to illuminate the territory that was once unknown to us. We want you to learn from the five things we didn’t know that we didn’t know. FEAR NOT, “space” travelers, you’re about to know.
1. The retractable cabinet door trend consumes more real estate than you may realize.
And you (or your designer) need to know how much because when dealing with any non-standard/custom design, even your contractor may lack enough experience to offer insight. In the kitchen’s floor-to-ceiling cabinet design, we knew to account for more space than the standard stiles would consume (“stiles” are the vertical cabinet supports and are standardly ¾” thick). But we didn’t realize exactly how much space was required between stiles to allow for the retracting hardware and the wood-clad door. We based the design around needing a couple of inches (we wanted the least amount of space to avoid visible gaps), handed off the drawings to our contractor who thought the estimation seemed reasonable but said minor adjustments would be made on-site if needed.
We showed up for a site visit to discover the spacing built to accommodate the door was 3 inches wide instead of 2. I’m not sure what in the construction phase called for this change (added wood-cladding? Different hardware being sourced due to door weights?) and it seems like minuscule adaptation, but when multiplied by the 6 times a retracting door occurs in the design, 6 inches of space had to come from somewhere else. For us, it meant losing the highly-functional, ‘skinny pantry’ featured in this concept and inheriting, instead, a 6-inch wide end pantry that we jokingly call “the baguette” cabinet, because that’s the only shape that would utilize the space perfectly. Emily took it in stride and this became an “ah well.”
Would she still have chosen the retractable doors: ABSOLUTELY. It’s literally her favorite trick to show off, but we would have designed the wall of cabinets a bit differently so we didn’t get a 4-inch cabinet at the end (which is actually even smaller once the door retracts).
2. A pop-up downdraft isn’t as slim/unassuming as it appears.
We still think this is a sleek, solid venting solution, especially for island-located cooktops. But we had no idea it meant losing some serious cabinet space below. The motor/control board has to live somewhere and with our model (which we sourced via Build.com), that meant about a third of the base cabinet space was consumed. Which meant losing the drawers featured in the original design.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think we would’ve opted for another ventilation system, we just wish we had known to consider this prior to being mid-construction so that we could’ve been creative with a solution (custom-shaped drawers?). But so as not to hold things up, we decided that sorta thing could be added later and left it as cabinet for now. Though you know what to expect now, so we’ll look forward to photos of your genius cabinet-adaptations! (and then may or may not steal…er, “be inspired” by these solutions).
For now, it’s this…
3. You don’t design your stairs, your local codes do.
Okay, you have some say. But tracking down the guidelines you have to work within early is a must. Your contractor will likely come in handy here. Here are some common ‘residential’ codes for stairs, but first a quick vocabulary lesson:
Common Stair Codes:
- Handrail Height: 36”
- Balusters (or spindles) installed with no more than 4” between
- Maximum riser (height) per step is 7 ¾ inches.
- Minimum tread depth per step is 10 inches
Just add a zillion further restrictions (many specific to your location) and you’re now “free” to design.
I was lead on the stair design and was working on concepts to submit the project as one of our “I Design, You Decide” posts (4-inch spacing across the board, y’all, exciting stuff!) We wanted something minimalistic to avoid cramming the already narrow space. Some of the initial variations looked like this:
However, we learned our local codes required guard rails be 42” high and were required for anything elevated above 30″, but couldn’t also serve as the handrail (36″ requirement). Meaning, Design 1 (with a dual-purpose rail) wasn’t actually a possibility. In Portland, they must have different codes (jealous!). Here, we would have to have both a 42″ guard rail and a 36″ handrail, looking something like this:
It crowded the small space and the added height felt awkward with the low ceiling. We veered toward the simpler Design 2, leaving you guys with no say in the matter. Sorry about that! Blame the codes…”safety,” yada yada…but how enviably dangerous are the seemingly code-less stairs of Spain…
4. Maximizing window sizes mean limiting wall space…
…and the needed opening size is going to be larger than the size of the window in your shopping cart. Plan for that opening size and don’t forget the added width of casing! For us, the mountain house was all about bringing the outdoors in and if there was a chance to make a bigger window or to add one, we jumped. We are NOT sorry, but it did affect a bed choice and, therefore, overall design in one bedroom. Once framing/opening needs were accounted for, we had gone a few inches too wide with the room’s windows to leave enough wall space to accommodate the headboard of a king bed. We hadn’t yet settled on a king bed when choosing windows. Thinking through future furniture desires and the resulting layout/making sure there’s enough uninterrupted wall space to accommodate these desired pieces is wiser than just saying “bigger window,” turns out. Julie problem-solved by sourcing this visually unobtrusive bed, which avoids blocking the light.
5. Specialty doors? Know the wheres, hows and widths of that specialty framing.
Our scenic slider is SO worth the additional space it takes from the room. Talk about bringing the outdoors in! But typically for a door, planning for 5-8” allocates plenty of space in a design. But this guy (that we sourced from Marvin) is the thickness of four stacked doors, making the sill/necessary framing over twice as wide as the standard. So which side of the wall is going to get built out to accommodate? You’d better know. Because we didn’t. In the original design, we made the mistake of framing the door flush with the interior wall instead of exterior wall. Sure, we could have read the specs but, well, we didn’t. Originally, the design concept for the room settled into something like this after discussing it through with you here and opening it up for you to decide here:
But upon realizing the framing needs for the scenic slider, the cabinets became impossible entirely, given the fireplace benches were already framed out:
So, they were scrapped and ultimately, we landed here (this was upon “move in”…reveal of final design coming SOON):
Not a bad place to land. Actually, many of you wanted us to scrap the cabinets to begin with. So…uhh…never mind, we actually just did so for you! That’s it…no oversight made here. (grimacing emoji face)
Okay, travelers, it’s safe to take your helmet off. You now have five fewer “unknowns” to fear as you voyage out into your own space. Only 100 billion unknowns left to discover…no wait, those are stars in the Milky Way. Actually, probably a similar count. Scary. Real scary. Off to call my therapist (errr… wife). Happy Mountain House Monday, Friends!