Taking a Blogging Break

I’m working on a lot of great projects right now — so many, in fact, that I just don’t have much time to sit at my computer to write blog posts. Week after week, I have “write blog post” on my To Do list but there always seems to be so many things that take priority. So…. I’m going to take a break from blogging for a while. I hope you’ll consider reading my past posts to pick up some home design tips. If you have a specific question, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Thanks for your understanding!

Design Tips for a Step Down Room

Like its name suggests, a step down room is a room that is a step or two down from the main, first floor level of a home. A step down room might be created to provide a higher ceiling or to delineate a different space in a free-flowing floor plan. Family rooms, in particular, are often good candidates for the step down design.

While step down rooms are a great feature that add impact, the entrance to them can be tricky.  You don’t want people to make a grand entrance to the room by stumbling down the stairs because they weren’t prepared for the step down!

A few safety tips:

  • When possible, have at least one tread (preferably more) meaning you are taking at least two steps down into the room (typically 14 inches). A seven-inch transition isn’t significant enough to catch a person’s attention and may lead to stumbles.
  • The depth of the step on this step down should be at least 12 to 14 inches deep and the full width of the door opening. The large size helps increase awareness of the step.

In addition to safety, there are aesthetic issues as well. Don’t forget to consider:

  • The doorway – Will you case the opening or just leave it as a plaster (or drywall) wall? Will you add a door or have free-flowing space? Be sure to think through the desired look and feel of the transition to the step down space.
  • The sight lines – As you enter a step down room, the ceiling becomes more prominent because you are entering the room closer to it. You can add visual interest to the ceiling by using wood or bead board instead of traditional drywall or plaster. If you have enough room, you can also add beams. You can also re-frame the view by adding a header across the doorway that creates a more traditional view as you enter the room.

Wolfeboro step down room 2016


In the project shown above, occupants of the step down room have a clear view of other doorways. We added visual continuity by creating a header that is the same height as those other doorways. To make it more interesting, we built this header with an opening above. It creates a shelf, adds some detail, but still achieves the goal of making sure, as you step into the room, that you are not overwhelmed by an expanse of a white plaster ceiling.



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Wentworth Style

Valuable Advice from Home Improvement Show Hosts

Wentworth Style

My friends all roll their eyes when I get on my soapbox about the unreality of reality home improvement shows. One of my biggest pet peeves is that many shows are completely unrealistic about pricing — at least for those of us living in New England. The price of everything involving home renovation — from the base price of the home, to materials and labor for improvements — is much, much higher than most shows lead you to believe. Yet despite the high cost of New England living, I would never leave. I love New England and feel that we live in one of the most amazing places in the country.

Anyway, I recently found myself actually agreeing with the stars of one reality show! Jonathan and Drew Scott, the stars of HGTV’s “Property Brothers,” “Property Brothers at Home,” “Buying & Selling,” and “Brother vs. Brother,”  wrote a book called “Dream Home” that was excerpted in the Boston Globe. The brothers summarize their dos and don’ts for renovations that give you the best return on investment and the most enjoyment and functionality in your home. You can read the article here.

Their summary of dos and don’ts are pretty much the same thing I tell each of my clients, but I would add one thing. Don’t forget the power of “three wows”! It is key to provide at least three special details or features that give your home personality and pizazz. Maybe it’s unique built-ins developed for a special spot, a distinctive finish that is planned from the start so it looks as if it is just meant to be there, or even a wall located to highlight a special piece of art and provide a stunning focal point.

So many of my clients say it is their “wows” that really make their house feel like home!

How to Choose Windows for Your Renovation

living room windows

Window selection is one of the most important decisions in a renovation. While all choices matter, windows have a huge impact on both the interior and exterior appearance of the entire house. They are also a big ticket item so you don’t want to make a mistake!

How do you choose the best windows for your renovation? Start by considering four things:

  1. Price: Almost every manufacturer has now developed a line of windows to meet a wide range of price points. Compare prices and warranties to begin to narrow down choices.
  2. Style: When you see a construction job that has windows you like, ask for the name of the manufacturer (You may also be able to get the name from the big stickers that stay on the windows until the job is done. Smart marketing on the window manufacturers part!). There are lots and lots of  style choices that will need to be made. Double hung or casement windows? Grids or not? And what grid configuration? Color of hardware? Color of stylized exterior clad?
  3. Material: What material do you want on the exterior? Metal clad? Vinyl clad? Wood? And what about the inside? If you are going with wood on the interior, do you want it unfinished, primed or pre-painted/stained?
  4. Regulations: What are the egress and building code requirements that will affect your window decisions?


Window selection can be overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

lake house windows1. Go big! Factor in the scale of the house, but every home can benefit from additional light and improved sight lines!

2. Be careful where you locate awning or casement windows. Both of these window styles swing out, so you want to avoid placing them close to walkways or on a deck when they will be in a traffic lane. If you have the space, I love awning windows because you can leave them open without worrying that rain will come in if it starts to sprinkle on a summer day. The water hits the window instead of the frame and is less likely to come into the house.

3. Go for quality if you must have grids instead of true divided lights. I know that grids set between the two pieces of glass make it much easier to wash windows. Just remember that there is an aesthetic trade-off. When light is on these windows, you see a single smooth pane of glass, rather than separate panes as in divided lights. If your windows have applied grids — meaning that they are attached to the outside of the glass — check the look of the filler spaces between the grids. If there are not spacers, it can look strange as you see light and space between the inside and exterior grids.

4. Match the windows to the style of your home. Make sure you are staying true to the house and not just following the trend of the moment. Remember half-round windows added above windows in spaces with cathedral ceilings? They started as a good detail, but then were overdone (and often used in the wrong application on the wrong house!). In the wrong setting, you can now point and say “hhhmmm…. 1980’s…”

Of course, budget is going to have a big impact on your choices. Often something has to give, but I try to encourage my clients to go with the right windows for the house, even if it means that we scrimp on something else. Windows are not a selection to “re-do later” and they can make or break the look of the home.  Try to go with the right windows from the start!

cottage windows

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6 Essential Planning Steps for a Smooth Home Renovation

home renovation paint chips

One of the most important parts of any home renovation project is the front-end planning. The more planning done, the smoother the project goes. Clearly, the actual design for the renovation is vital, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Here are six other key steps to consider:

1. Build consensus

Many of my clients chuckle about this one, but I always start off a project by making sure that everyone is on the same page about the project. I give my clients “homework” to establish a list of priorities for the project. This is especially key when the client is a couple in which spouses have slightly different visions. This list establishes a shared and clearly outlined vision that serves as a crucial starting point for a successful project.

2. Start with the ideal

It is actually worth discussing “in a perfect world, here is what we’d like to do”. Starting from the ideal, we can establish a realistic job scope and consider whether tackling a job in phases will be the best way to achieve the desired results. Sometimes, the whole project can be done all at once in a manageable budget for the client. In other cases, some things need to wait. If a project is going to be completed in phases, it is important to determine what things should get done in phase 1 so that subsequent phases are doable (and won’t require undoing earlier work!).

3. Consider site work and infrastructure issues

Especially if space is being increased, it is important to review septic, well locations, utility lines and drainage during the planning stage to proactively address any issues. For waterfront properties, shoreline zoning can be a big consideration. Both state and town regulations are detailed and specific (and are vital in protecting our waterfronts!).

4. Share likes

Here’s where the fun kicks in! When I have my very first meeting with a client, I recommend they start collecting photos of things they like, if they have not done so already. After seeing a few images, I can usually tell exactly what attracts them in certain photos and I will have a good sense of their personal style. There are great tools to use online (such as Houzz.com) where you can create and save idea folders, or clients can go old school and simply rip out pages from magazine articles, ads or even home furnishings catalogs.

5. Write a “Project Story”

As we move to establishing actual budgets, I will write the “story” of everything that will be getting done. Again, this confirms everyone’s expectations and sets clear goals and objectives. Additional documents such as door and window schedules, finish specifications, lighting fixture summaries and even hardware lists are all organized. This keeps the job moving and insures that the finished project flows seamlessly (right down to something as small as the hardware on windows matching the door stops installed).

6. Get onto contractor schedules

Good construction teams are busy! As a result, getting the project team established as soon as possible is important. Early on, I start getting the right people on board for a project. In an ideal world, we then all work together to establish a target time line, beginning with the all-important start date. New England weather conditions need to be considered and, in the case of vacation properties in particular, we try to avoid disruptions when the owners would like use their special homes.
The planning process takes time but is absolutely essential to a smooth home renovation that completes on schedule and within budget. If you want to enhance your home, start planning now!

Wolfeboro NH home addition drawing

“Seeing” Your Home Renovation Before Construction

A client recently asked me a question that I hear often. She asked if I was surprised how her home renovation turned out. The good news is that the answer was “no”. My job is to see what a space can be and get it there. Although it is always a thrill to see the finished product, I love that it is what I “saw” all along!

In the planning stages, I create a base plan using CADD software. This base plan uses the dimensions and detail of the existing house, and is a great way to really get a sense of the current structure and what we are dealing with from a construction standpoint. From there, using the feedback from client meetings and the earlier development of goals and objectives for the project, I begin design.

The CADD drawings are a great tool for me, but clients love them as well! It enables everyone to actually see the changes that are being proposed and helps my clients understand why I am designing something a certain way or why I am recommending alterations in floor plan, exteriors and even building scale.

Here is an example of a computer-generated view of the addition that is wrapping up on a current project. The CADD view was done a year ago; the photo was taken 2 weeks ago. And there were no surprises!

Wolfeboro NH home addition drawing












Wolfeboro NH home renovation

I also like people to see “special views” inside the house. At the beginning of a project, I will ask a client if they have a special piece of furniture or artwork that they want to have in a certain room, and will factor that into plans. (Right now, on one of my projects, I think I have just solved where a baby grand piano will be going – with a great view of the outdoors as well!)

When I do interiors, I usually place furniture in rooms so people know what will fit or show them the answer to the always asked question:“Where will the TV go?”!

Below is an example of an interior view that was presented to the client more than a year before the “finished product” was complete. We even factored in paint colors early on, giving the clients time to think about the feel of the finished home well before final paint colors needed to be selected.

Wolfeboro NH Lake House Interior Remodel Rendering

Wolfeboro NH Lake House Interior Remodeling

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Our Wolfeboro Home Renovation Begins!

My husband and I didn’t plan on adding on to our historic home in Wolfeboro so soon, but you know what they say about best laid plans! If you missed my first blog post about our renovation, check it out for a full explanation about how we got ourselves involved in an addition so soon after we completed a major renovation. Here’s the post: Wolfeboro Historic Home Renovation Round 2

Wolfeboro NH historic home renovation

And so it begins! The site work guys have arrived and excavation began this week.

To a homeowner, excavation seems like one of the less interesting parts of construction. It’s hard to visualize your dream home or addition emerging from a hole in the ground and most of us are just eager to move on to more exciting things, such as framing. Hopefully, the pros working on your project are a little more patient because the foundation is one of the most important pieces of every project. The height of the concrete floors, the exact location of the walls, and the right dimensions are all essential, particularly with additions. If measurements are off in any way, chances are good that you will be chasing problems the rest of the way through the construction.

Old houses offer their own unique challenges. None of the existing measurements are exact, framing varies and — in our house —  175 years of settling has affected things as well.

detail quote

We spent last Friday painstakingly measuring grades and floor heights. We needed to check and double check that measurements were correct to accommodate staircases and ceiling heights. Most of all, we needed to make sure we will be at the same floor height from the existing structure to the new addition when we connect the two sections.

Attention to detail is crucial. For example, we decided to shift the entire structure to the right by 8 inches. Seems like 8 inches wouldn’t matter, right? But I knew we needed to have a 30 inch finished interior wall in order to have built-ins fit right in the connection piece between the original home and the addition. Knowing this was one of our key dimensions, I had this on our checklist and lo and behold, we were off by 6 inches. As a result, we decided to do the shift to 8 inches… just in case!

Excavation should finish this week and looks like the foundation will be sometime the following week. I’ll keep you updated as the project progresses! (I promise the photos will get more interesting as rooms start to take shape).

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