Getting your garage in gear

Last month’s column featured 10 spring-cleaning tips for improving your home’s curb appeal. This month I offer 10 tips for improving the appearance and function of what can easily become the most unsightly room in your home: the garage.

A transitional space between indoors and out, garages can quickly become catchall spaces. That, coupled with the fact that debris is liable to blow in every time you open your garage door, means that garages are often dusty and dirty. Hopefully, these tips will help you get your garage in gear – even if there is currently no space in it for your car.

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1. First, downsize. It’s not the most fun task, but it sure feels good when you are finished. Give away, throw away and donate anything that you have not used or repaired in the last year.

2. If your garage is still too crowded to move through it and work in it comfortably, consider a shed to hold larger items like bikes, wheelbarrows and the like.

3. Determine what you need to be able to store and/or accomplish in your garage and establish zones for each. Placement is key; if you want a potting shed in your garage, locate it near a door to the exterior.

4. If your garage is quite full, look up. Maybe you can hang bikes from ceiling-mounted racks or hoist them overhead on a pulley system. Or perhaps you can also install ceiling-mounted racks that install above garage doors for those infrequently used items such as holiday decorations. Be sure you hit studs when attaching these types of systems.

5. Also look down. Epoxy paint is popular among homeowners as a floor covering to resist stains and chemicals. To ensure that the paint will stick, you will need to power wash the floor and then apply an etching product before painting if a drop of water beads on the floor. As an alternative, rubber floor tiles are also popular: They hide a lot of wear, are comfortable underfoot and provide sound insulation.

6. Closed cabinets are nice for garage spaces because the doors keep out dust and debris. However, if that is not an option, clear bins with lids stored on open shelves is the next best option. Clear bins prevent the need for labeling and relabeling as the contents change.

7. Most homeowners find some kind of work surface, like a workbench, to be almost a required feature of their garage. Pegboard above puts tools and other supplies within easy reach. While you are at it, a potting bench also is nice.

8. New garage doors can be expensive, but if your home came with solid garage doors, replacing them with windowed doors will transform a dank and foreboding space into a light-infused work space. They can also dramatically enhance the appearance of your home from the exterior, as there are many stylish designs on the market nowadays.

9. The bare bulb mounted high on the ceiling of most garages is not adequate for all that goes on in these hardworking spaces. As in a kitchen, task lighting will make your garage a far more functional, safe and satisfying place to be.

10. Air temperature is another factor that contributes to your garage’s functionality. A ceiling-mounted, gas-fired, forced-air unit is sometimes desirable in winter, and a cooling unit – say a window unit or a portable AC unit – is helpful in summer if you spend many hours in your garage. Check with an expert, as ventilation and safety are key.

As you transform your garage, feel free to reach out with questions – and with solutions – that have worked for you at chris@vbhomesliving.com.

 

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These kitchen storage solutions can be incorporated into existing space, a remodel or new construction

The hardest- working room in your home often presents the most storage challenges, but also the most storage opportunities.

We are all familiar with the flip-down drawer below the kitchen sink for sponges and scrubbers, or appliance garages, but here I offer about a dozen additional options you may not have considered. Each can be incorporated into your existing kitchen, a remodel or new construction. Some are definitely DIY-appropriate, while you might prefer to hire a contractor for others. As with most home improvements, a comprehensive – rather than piecemeal – plan conceived in conjunction with someone with some degree of expertise is the smartest approach.

When we think about storage, there are both concealed and visible options. Homeowners have to decide how much of the latter they can tolerate and then try to build in as much of the former as possible to manage the rest.

Concealed storage Of the concealed variety, drawers, cabinets and pantries are the workhorses of most kitchens, with open shelving gaining popularity today. Most homeowners have long stored stacks of plates in upper cabinets, but folks are realizing that heavy plates are more easily lifted up than lifted down. This is where large lower drawers come into play. Consider inserting a movable peg system into a deep drawer to securely accommodate stacks of plates with varying diameters.

Similarly practical are deep drawers for pots with integrated rollouts in the upper portion to hold lids or flatter items, like trivets or even potholders. Another deep-drawer system for pots includes a partition at the back to hold the lids.

Lazy Susans are often installed in corners to make use of that deep under-counter space, but you might consider corner drawers instead. Though the shape of these drawers results in a pair of triangular-shaped compartments in the front, small items like spice jars fit there nicely. And these drawers’ narrow width and extra depth is generally welcome.

In regard to virtually all drawers and cabinets, one word comes to mind: retractable. Retractable shelves, baskets and the like dramatically increase the functionality of these spaces. For upper cabinets, consider pull-downs so that items in the back are easily reachable.

We don’t typically think about seating in relation to storage, but seating does take up valuable real estate in a kitchen eating area, like a bar or island. Why not consider vintage-style swivel stools that tuck out of sight when not in use but easily rotate into place as needed?

A simple solution is to store some items in an adjacent area like a breakfast room, dining room or even living space. But what about the stairs? While most people who live in two-story homes have already made use of their under-stair storage space, usually in the form of a closet, many people have not considered converting the bottom few stairs to drawers. Someone with building expertise should take on this task, as the strength and stability of the stairs must not be compromised. It would be so handy to store flatter items like trays, cutting boards, baking sheets or place mats in these stair drawers, since, in many homes, they are located near the kitchen and dining room.

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Visible storage One of the sleekest visible storage solutions is a kitchen rail system. Generally stainless steel, this type of system may not be appropriate for all styles of kitchens, but it places within easy reach frequently used tools and other items. This frees up drawer, cabinet and counter space . Depending on the system, which is typically installed beneath upper cabinets or floating shelving, homeowners can choose between a highly functional and handsome range of components to mix and match with their rails and brackets: mini-shelves, cylindrical utensil holders, rectangular compartments, herb pots and much more.

For those who don’t mind a somewhat fuller look, shelves above windows or doorways can create a great deal of storage space for both decorative and functional items.

If cabinet space is limited, but floor space is less so, an attractive lidded or unlidded basket might be the ideal place to stand up cutting and bread boards. Keep in mind that if you have a pet who sheds, fur may collect in or around the basket.

If pantry space is also limited, consider decanting your herbs and spices into small magnetic canisters and adhering them to the side of your fridge, assuming one side is open and conveniently located to your stove or food preparation area.

And speaking of counters, one of our favorite uncommon solutions is a countertop with an integrated bowl or seamless depression in the surface of the counter meant to prevent eggs and other round fruits and vegetables from rolling off the counter.

Another is a cutting board with a hole positioned over a receptacle so that trimmings can easily be swept into the waste bin, and conveniently removed.

Hopefully, some of these ideas may solve some of your stickiest storage issues.

If you have a question about building, remodeling or storage solutions – or have a storage solution you would like to share – please send them to me at chris@vbhomesliving.com.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, served as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. For more information, go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

Putting the ‘room’ in ‘mudrooms’

The term mudroom is a bit of a misnomer nowadays because, while these hardworking entry spaces see a lot of action, mud is seldom part of the picture.

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Originally used to stash muddy boots to prevent tracking into the main part of the house, mudrooms now most often function like a secondary foyer. Here are some thoughts to help make your mudroom look more like an appealing room in your home and less like a utilitarian passageway.

Typically located just off a home’s back or side entrance and used by family and close friends, mudrooms come in many shapes and sizes. Some are true rooms and are often combined with laundry facilities, while others are more of a pass-through space in which family members grab and go. The pass-throughs generally fall into one of four categories: hallway, nook (e.g. under the stairs), corner or closet. If a closet, many homeowners like to remove the door and attractively style the interior.

Layouts largely depend on how homeowners intend to use the space, of course, but also whether the mudroom was part of the original architectural design. Regardless, mudrooms tend to need the following: hooks and clips, cubbies, containers, seating and lighting.
Hooks are versatile in terms of both function and placement, as they can hold coats, scarves, handbags, backpacks, umbrellas, keys and much more. And they can be arranged in straight rows, both low and high, or placed on a wall in an artistic manner.

 

Cubbies generally refer to a custom or purchased contemporary “hall tree”-type divided unit with an open front – often vertical in a mudroom application and often in the popular locker style. However, unless carefully designed with restraint, built-in cabinetry can easily look bulky, heavy and a bit claustrophobic. Whether your compartments are closed or open – and perhaps labeled, if possible – a variety of baskets and bins will keep items neatly separated for easy retrieval. But, even though baskets may look nice on top of your unit, how likely is anyone to climb up there?

Benches, with either floor storage or contained storage underneath a lift-up top, are very popular and practical seating choices for mudrooms. They tend to be long and shallow, so they work particularly well for small, narrow spaces and multiple users. But, there is no rule that says a chair or stool is not perfectly acceptable for a mudroom. It might be just what you need.

Lighting – though perhaps not the brightest lighting if dog fur, dirt and dings to the baseboards are an issue – is an important consideration not only for practical purposes, but for creating the ambiance your desire.

Other features that are not essential, but nice to have include a mirror for a last check and to bounce light while enlarging the space; a charging station for cellphones and such; and a wall clock, so you needn’t check your phone as you dash in and out.

Styles run the gamut, but whatever the style of your mudroom, it should certainly complement the rest of your home, even if it is a bit more rustic or informal.

If your mudroom is going to take a beating, consider hard-wearing surfaces like tile on the floor and perhaps board-and-batten wainscoting instead of drywall. An indoor-outdoor rug that you treat as an annual purchase will reduce the chance of someone slipping, while adding color and texture.

You can also incorporate art and family photos, pillows, glass canisters with snacks and dog treats, message boards and general decorative items like floral arrangements and ever-popular painted signs.

Chris Ettel is founding partner of VB Homes. He serves on the Tidewater Builders Association board of directors, serves as past chairman of the TBA Remodelers Council and is a longtime board member of the Virginia Beach Public Schools Education Foundation. Contact Chris@vbhomesliving.com or go to www.vbhomesliving.com.

Looking to Remodel Your Kitchen

Take a look at this gorgeous North End remodeled kitchen! Our client wanted a beachy look for their new kitchen design. Call us at 757-491-1996 or visit our website vbhomesliving.com for us to design your next kitchen. #vbhomes #virginiabeach #remodel #kitchendesign #kitchen #beachhouse #coastaldesign

 

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Picture: North End Custom Home in Virginia Beach, VA

Bathrooms – making a list and checking it twice

If the winter holidays have meant more traffic in your home – kids home from college, grandparents visiting, friends in and out – you may be thinking that all you want for Christmas or Hanukkah is a new bathroom.

The first decision on your list will be whether to remodel a current bathroom, create or expand an existing bath by carving out space from an adjacent room, or adding on so that the footprint of your home is altered with, say, a large master bath. The latter will likely bear the biggest budget, but it may be worth it. If remodeling, one of the biggest ticket items is likely to be moving plumbing, and some homeowners avoid it for that reason. But, if rerouting plumbing will result in the bathroom of your dreams, it may well be the best decision.

Regardless of whether you remodel, expand, or build from the ground up, following are additional considerations that should receive decision-making priority.

As for layout, avoid skimping on space, as dual users need approximately 3 feet to 4 feet of space to avoid having to squeeze pass each other. Also, make sure the toilet is not the first thing people see when passing by the door. Toilets definitely make a statement, but probably not the one you desire. If at all possible, try to conceal it in its own water closet or behind a wall, which is nice for privacy as well. And if it cannot be hidden, perhaps choose one of the new styles that look almost like sculpture.

The focal point of bathrooms is ideally a beautiful shower and/or tub. Though frosted glass was once popular for showers – and they do provide more privacy – most owners of remodeled or newly constructed bath are opting for clear glass. Clear glass allows all of those ceramic and marble design dollars to be shown off to advantage. Similarly, most homeowners favor frameless or semi-frameless showers, with the former costing a bit more.

In terms of function, showers with spa-like amenities for relaxation are replacing jetted tubs. Consider dual rainfall shower heads, multiple spray nozzles, and steam. At the very least, include niches for shower products – no one wants those on the floor or in a shower caddy – and some type of seating.

Overall, tubs are generally not included in every bathroom nowadays. They are more difficult to clean and, for some, to step into. When tubs are included in the design, more homeowners are choosing smaller ones, at 5 feet to 6 feet, and freestanding styles, like claw or pedestal. In any case, for durability we recommend choosing a cast iron or engineered stone material over fiberglass.

Though dressing tables or vanities are not as common anymore, double
or integral sinks – provided you can devote about 6 feet of counter space to the sink area – are popular for designating personal space and ample elbow room. More homeowners still choose vanities over pedestal sinks. However, there are many pedestal styles available with handsome under-sink storage. Vessel sinks look terrific but, often, because of the splash factor, aren’t practical. If you choose one, be sure your counter height is low enough to accommodate the raised sides.yu3a0616

Pictured: North End Custom Homes Bathroom

As in a kitchen, the best material for your countertop is critical. But without as much wear and tear, bathroom countertops may not need to be quite as durable. Yet hot appliances, like curling irons, still need to be considered. Weigh the pros and cons of granite vs. marble, quartz, and solid surfaces before making a decision. Comparisons are readily available online. Whichever material you choose, consider a grommet through which cords can be threaded for a neater countertop appearance.

Also, as in kitchens, a combination of task, ambient, and accent lighting is ideal. Washing faces with light from above and in front, about at eye level, minimizes unattractive shadows. Sconces, perhaps set into mirrors, are ideal. For the shower, consider a waterproof recessed style. As for mirrors, most homeowners are choosing to frame them, even if large. And, if at all possible, include a window in the design for natural light. If there’s no exterior wall for a window, a solar tube is a good alternative. An operable style will also allow moisture to escape.

Exhaust fans provide that function as well, but should be vented to the outside, not into the attic. They also need to be the correct size for the job, especially if your shower includes steam. Consider carefully the noise level of your fan because, while a quiet fan may seem preferable, the noise level can provide privacy in bathrooms, especially those adjacent to more public spaces.

For walls, avoid wallpaper which, generally, can’t withstand the moisture level in a full bath, though it can work well in a powder room. When choosing paint, select an eggshell finish for durability.

On floors, ceramic and stone are the most popular choices for aesthetics and function. Wood looks and feels warmer, but is not impervious to water. However, many ceramic tiles with a very convincing wood look are available in today’s market in a wide range of finishes. Properly installed heated floors keep toes toasty warm.

And for faucets and cabinetry hardware, the most popular and timeless finishes are still brushed nickel or polished chrome. But there are others, like oiled bronze for an Old World feel, to consider.

Hopefully, these considerations will remove the naughty and preserve the nice when transforming your bathroom spaces.

Kitchen upgrades that make the grade

The frenzy of cooking and family togetherness of Thanksgiving is now past. And if this favorite culinary-centric season left you thinking that the heart of your home is in need of a serious upgrade before next year’s feast rolls around – say, opening up the space to adjacent rooms – we are here to help you make the grade with an abbreviated checklist of sorts. Just think A-F and you’ll leave no stone(ware) unturned.

 

A

Aesthetics: Of course you want your kitchen, the hub of your home, to look terrific. As you begin to plan your remodel – a process that should take longer than the actual construction – one of the questions to ask yourself is whether you want a kitchen that looks like a kitchen – often a more modernist approach – one that looks like another room in your home, or something that’s somewhere in between. Your answer will drive many of your aesthetic decisions about what to conceal or reveal and whether to include furniture-style details.

Appliances: Among the many obvious appliance decisions related to aesthetics and function, a couple of key considerations are whether you need one oven or two, as well as whether a microwave oven is as indispensable as it once was. Most homeowners need two ovens only once or twice a year, and many are ready to jettison the microwave. An increasingly popular decision is to select a single oven and a dual-purpose combination microwave-convection oven. As for ranges, be sure that whatever model you choose is vented to the outside. Hearth, mantel and chimney-style range hoods will help transform this, the hardest working appliance in your kitchen, into a handsome focal point.

B

Budget: Kitchen remodels are not inexpensive, depending on the extent of the remodel. But these $30K-$50K jobs enhance the livability of one’s home immeasurably. And while it is unlikely that you will recoup more than 65 percent to 70 percent of the cost should you sell your home, your inviting kitchen just might be what sets your property apart from others on the market.

C

Cabinetry: Based on the clutter factor, most homeowners still prefer closed, solid wood cabinets. But many possibilities exist for combining closed cabinets with open shelving. Soffits, unless they hide ductwork, are a thing of the past. Yet cabinets that stretch to the ceiling create hard-to-reach space at the top. One attractive solution is lighted, glass-enclosed cubby holes for display. Another is to stagger cabinet height so that some reach the ceiling and others don’t, creating an airier feeling.

Countertops: Natural stones like granite and marble are practically unbeatable for their “natural” beauty, but they are porous. Hence, sealing is recommended. Yet, most people don’t do it, so don’t let that be a deterrent. Soapstone, with a range of colors limited to whites and grays, is also natural, but is nonporous and more pliable, meaning it is less likely to crack from stress or weight. Slate, too, is nonporous, but it comes in a somewhat wider range of colors than soapstone, and is more affordable than granite or marble. Engineered quartz countertops – ground quartz mixed with polymer resins – are durable but more expensive. Concrete is heavy, sometimes requiring additional reinforcement. Do your research before making an informed decision for your application.

D

Design: While you could certainly serve as your own designer/contractor, professionals can see past the limitations that often limit homeowners’ imaginations about what could be. Plus, professionals are not only trained to solve functional and aesthetic problems that crop up in a kitchen, but they know how to avoid painful design mistakes from the outset.

E

Efficiency: The equilateral “work triangle” from refrigerator to range to sink is still a fundamental principle in kitchen design. Avoid letting your desire for the highly sought-after “eat-at” center island upset the flow by incorporating one of the points of the triangle into the island.

Extras: It is easy to become seduced by these bells and whistles: “instant hot” dispensers, pot fillers, warming drawers and many more. Think carefully about which of these sometimes costly add-ons will really provide increased functionality.

F

Fixtures: The importance of lighting can scarcely be underestimated in a kitchen, whether overhead or under-cabinet task lighting, preferably on dimmers. Though recessed lighting is popular, consider flush mounted fixtures for all-over brightness absent that “surgical suite” feel. And, while pendant lighting adds pizazz, pick a style that won’t leave your friends and family seeing spots.

Flooring: Wood is edging out tile for kitchens because of its warmth, both literally and figuratively. Even sealed, though, it is not impervious to water, especially in a leak situation. A possible happy-medium is ceramic wood-look tile.

Though this checklist barely scratches the surface, it hopefully lays the groundwork for top marks on your kitchen upgrade.

For more kitchen tips visit our website at vbhomesliving.com