Creating a Heart

Before & After

I remember receiving the first phone call from Kim. She found me on Houzz and reached out. Her voice sounded a little stressed and apprehensive. There was a question in her mind on whether she should be calling me. Later I find out she had been working with a builder and she was unhappy with the results.

We discussed her project and I followed up with my questionnaire. Learn more about my process.

She went through the questions providing excellent feedback. The questions I have are fun and educational. They give me insight into who you are as a person. Why you’re planning on moving forward and how I should approach your project. We can learn a lot from these questions.

She was the perfect client. She paid attention to the details of the questions and gave me some excellent feedback. I understood her goals. The struggles she was having with her space and what she needed to change. But I wanted to discuss it further.

The First Meeting

So we scheduled our first meeting. It was a consultation I call the Needs & Options Review. This meeting was to discuss her goals and to evaluate the space. I sketch while I talk. Sketching helps me to express ideas and explore concepts while we’re together.

We talked for over an hour. Each question dove a little deeper into the issues. Understanding what she was hoping to accomplish through this renovation. We discussed her goals.

Kim’s townhome was disrupting her goals. It was distracting her from what was important. She was tired. The space, designed in the early 70’s was dark and dated. All the series of small spaces were limiting. Disrupting the light that was desperately needing to get in.

Before Photos of Kim’s Space

Her Home’s Feeling

Kim lives in a densely wooded area of Atlanta. Her home overlooked a strong creek roughly 30 feet wide. The creek runs through her neighborhood and feeds a larger lake near by. If you opened the back door you could hear the water vividly. Which was nice since it was able to drown out the road noise from the Atlanta traffic. It was peaceful.

I remember this being one of the most surprising things from my visit. As you first walk in, the entry was not appealing. She knew this and made the comment to me. You must walk down into the main level. You sink down and as you do it got darker and darker.

A small arrival room slows you down. Pass through the barrier to be greeted with an amazing view of the trees surrounding this creek. We were much higher than the creek and than I expected. Most of the view was of large Oak trees. We were still below the canopy of the trees so it was open with a random pattern of trees for several hundred feet. Large Oak trees over 18″ enjoying the creek.

The experience was like being in the trees. Other than the dark enclosed feeling, it was enjoyable. She wanted to break down the barriers of the space and open up to this natural surrounding.

We focused on that goal. She had another goal of creating a full bathroom on this main level. There was a powder room but by definition it didn’t have a shower. She needed a full bath for guest that occasionally stay in the basement bedroom.

A full bathroom added to the basement would not provide enough return on value. It would only occassionally be used. Adding a shower to an existing bath was a more economical and the logical approach. We will get into more of that later and discuss how it was eventually decided against.

To enter the kitchen you had to pass through a small room with very little use. It was there holding a small laptop and a piano I eventually found out no one plays. The sitting room had a nice double window to the outside. There was a small garden on this side of the home with a meandering sidewalk just off the parking lot. The parking areas were small and integrated well into the landscape. They were unobtrusive.

This small room lead to the kitchen. A compact kitchen last updated in the early eighties, maybe. The appliances were not old but the counter and cabinets were of a different era. It was not Kim’s style. The space was unorganized and difficult to manage.

Past the kitchen was the dining room, overlooking the forest, this was my favorite room. We had our second meeting in this room.

Three large windows opened to the woods. As I mentioned before, It was high off the ground and you could feel it. I opened up the window to get a better view. It felt like a wonderful place and this home was something most would love to have. It was an amazing setting. We sat down and started to talk in the kitchen. Sitting on stools at the awkward bar discussing the fate of the room surrounding us.

The space was crowded. Even for two. Kim has two daughters in their early teens. The family has started to gather in other spaces of the home. Separate spaces.

The girls will often go to their rooms upstairs. The space downstairs could be a place they come together as a family. Teenage girls need some space. The current space is furthering that separation. They needed to create a space that allowed them to be together but have their space.

The teenage years are difficult, to say the least.

We started to discuss her goals. Kim is not much of a chef, she admits, but she bakes very often. It’s one of her passions.

She wanted a home that felt inviting. A feeling of openness. More light. More space. Better use of space. A place where she can gather with the girls and spend quality time.

There were several questions I asked that did not resonate. She had no response or answer. This is ok and normal. We all have areas of focus in our life. Not all of us have long term goals or passions that we are trying to cultivate.

Kim dedicates a lot of her time to her accountant work. Her company is very busy and her role and responsibility continues to increase. This along with an upcoming renovation could be stressful.

Was she ready for this? Will she be living through the renovation? Or will she move out?

She decided early on to live through the renovation. It takes a special kind of person to live through a renovation. It takes dedication, patience and a constant drive to push through a disrupted day.

After looking back and talking with her. She had lots of struggles. She had lots of challenges. And they all resulted in an amazing home. You can see from the images the space was transformed.

Transformed from something dark and drab to inviting and open.

More light and clean finishes feel welcoming. When you arrive they invite you to stay for a while. The space is minimal in design but comfortable. It has the things it needs in order to serve her purpose.

The goals we discussed around the kitchen table were mostly achieved. When I look back to those first meetings, I can see the spaces unfolding. During our initial meeting, I took some quick measurements.

We took out the trace paper and began to sketch.

There was one element that was not going to move. The large stone fireplace. This is something I didn’t want to relocate. It would be too difficult and too costly. The return on value would not be there.

Rough Concept Sketch

Refining the Sketch

Exploring the New Kitchen Layout with Outline of Existing Below

Exploring the Small Seating Area

The Final Concept Sketch

Beginning to Sketch 3d Forms


So we had our first constraint. The other constraint was the exterior walls of course. Being a townhome the constraint of not growing the home was apparent. Since she was on the end of a row, one of the side walls was an exterior wall. We discussed placing windows in that wall, but ultimately decided against it because of costs. Although I do believe it could add a lot if she’d decided to install them later.

Fireplace Concept Sketch

The space on either side of the fireplace was confining. There was a section of wall before reaching the powder room. The arrangement of the fixtures in the powder room was odd. The placement made several feet of vanity unusable. So our plan was to remove the powder room completely and relocate it to the outside wall.

With the powder room gone we could open up the space. Now what to do with the kitchen and dining? There were several options we played around with. We looked at a u shaped kitchen. Then a couple of square kitchens. Trying to maximize the counters.

Refined Hand Section Cut through Living Room

Refined Hand Section Cut through Kitchen

Refined Hand Section Cut through Kitchen

The Heart of the Home

When discussing her goals we found the space did not need to be super large. She had no need to prepare elaborate meals. Given her needs, we decided to keep the sides of the kitchen open. We created a linear pass through kitchen open to the living room anchored by the fireplace. The fireplace in the middle of the island was the backdrop for the cooktop and range hood.

This became what I call the heart of the home. It’s a place of high energy and good fung shui. Foo Foo stuff I know but it adds some unspoken value to the design. A feeling. A sense of security and a central energy that draws the family together.

We removed the walls flanking the fireplace and the side walls of the kitchen. The kitchen was then designed as two linear strips. The space between the two counters was gracious but too narrow for a central island.

Diagram of walls being removed

Massing study of the new space

Final Concept

It doesn’t seem too large and has a wonderful open feel. From the kitchen you can see through the dining room to the natural setting beyond.

What did we do with that small room as you enter the kitchen?

The room had now opened to the kitchen. We tossed around ideas of building in a banquet. Also a laundry room. Cabinets. Then a small desk. We explored lots of ideas.

3d view from dining room

3d view from patio doors

3d view from bottom of stairs

3d view from sitting area

3d view from kitchen

Making Compromises

They were all great and could be phased into the design. The current budget ultimately was not there. She decided to drop the idea for a while and focus on creating a small seating group. A casual coffee shop feel. What she did with simple furniture pieces has a wonderful feeling.

The soft pink chairs along with the window behind you offers a great place to sit with a cup of coffee and read a good book. Relax from the day.

The pricing exercises revealed the work being slightly over budget. Eliminating the built-ins in this area and the shower were the ultimate options she chose to realign costs.

We would make the powder room larger and reposition the fixtures to make the room for more functional. Kim says the two girls use this room all the time to prepare for school.

It’s been extremely useful to increase its size. Keeping the powder room location reduced the amount of structure needed to support the floor above. The beams didn’t have to be as large and we could avoid additional steel structure.

What’s it like to have two teenage girls? What complications and stress do you have? Kim and I talked a lot about having space for the family. The kids spend a lot of time in their rooms. She would like to create a place where they feel comfortable to come down and spend time around each other. Creating a sense of family.

Refined 3d Study Model

Refined 3d Study Model

Refined 3d Study Model

Refined 3d Study Model

Refined 3d Study Model

Refined 3d Study Model

It was an important concept to work around. The well known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, focused on the hearth.

He said and this is not a direct quote, the fireplace is the heart of a home. He created intimate spaces where family could gather together. The fireplace is what brings the family together. If you look back to early civilizations.

The first civilization began around fire. A lightning strike in the woods created a clearing. This is a story by vitruvius who’s believed to be one of the first architects. He said this clearing in the woods created a small fire. The people then began to gather around this fire to form the first civilization. This theory was then progressed further by Frank. Fire creates the location where we gather.

Today this has evolved for better or worse. The TV has turned into the modern day fireplace. It creates the glow people are attracted to. A fireplace and tv are very different components of a home, yet we often find them together.

TV can draw a family together. It does not create the same experience as gathering around a fire. The communication and the focus on each other is not as clear. The conversations are not as rich. This is a part of our current culture.

I have a TV mounted over my fireplace as well. Most of us do.

The interesting thing about this design is the fireplace and cooktop ended up in the center of the home. The TV mounted in this area has brought the kids down either directly or indirectly to gather around this area.

The openness and transparency from room to room has allowed the kids to be gathering in one room and Kim to be in the other. Yet they feel together.

The space is building relationships. It’s strengthening the relationships.

Having two teenage girls creates a lot of clutter. This was something Kim mentioned as a struggle. The space always felt cluttered. The walls separating each room served as snow drifts. Things would drift up and stay against the walls. When the walls began to open up the things that were collecting needed a place to go.

Kim focused a lot of minimizing her things. The space has become a beautiful representation of minimalism. She has the basics and what’s comfortable in the space. The other superfluous things have been either donated or trashed. It’s created a space that feels inviting. It feels calm. It brings calm to a house of two teenagers.

The one spot that does collect things is the powder room. The one we expanded and rearranged. This has become the spot for the girls in the morning. The makeup things girls want are apparent in this room. If I would have changed anything about this room, I would have created more storage and organization in the restroom.

I didn’t expect them to be getting ready on this level. But they want to be here. All three of them want to be on this level. It’s comfortable. It’s an exciting place to be. A place they can be together.

I look back on several of the sketches I did after the meeting. The N&O meeting produced the original concept sketch. The sketch was loose and it had some complications needed working out. The second refined sketch was more clear. It was starting to come together. The possibilities of what the space could be was coming together.

A Necessary Step Towards Success.

This N&O is one of the most necessary meetings to have on a project. I would actually like to spend more time asking questions about lifestyle. Sit and discuss for an hour. Spend time together. It would have been useful to interview the girls as well. Get their feedback.

Although the home turned out beautifully, I wonder what would’ve been discovered during a conversation with the entire family.

There were several things I tried out with this project process I had not used before. One was the 360 degree images. I rendered several spherical images. Then loaded into an iPad to show how the space would feel after the construction.

We were able to stand in several locations and remove walls visually to see how the space would look after. The renderings were study model like. It was a representation of the final product in massing form but it was useful none the less. This was one unique thing that gave us a better understanding of the space.

When you get into renovations they’re tough. Kim and the girls lived through the renovation. They Lost the use of the main floor for a while. It was a constant battle to keep the cat from running into the floors and getting lost in the joists and trusses. What a nightmare that would’ve been. The stress of living through the renovation and getting it all done was a lot. There were times when she felt great about it and times where she second guessed her decision. It was difficult to say the least. Her determination is what brought her through to create such an amazing space.

Like I mentioned we had the meeting and discussed a lot of options. The original plan had the powder room moving but in the end that room grew a little instead. That’s one of the things with design. There’s the optimal design. Then there is the design with budget constraints. Once I went through all the pricing exercises the project was over budget, so we reevaluated the project. This happens on a regular basis.

The goals of the project exceed the budget of the project. It’s normal to begin with all the grand ideas. Explore all the alternatives, all the options. Then once understanding the options culling back to meet the priorities of the project.

The project is a success if the design falls in line with the budget and also meets project goals. If you work without a budget the project will eventually become infeasible.

There wouldn’t be any reason to move forward with a project that didn’t achieve your goals. Your reason for renovating or building in the first place. The purpose of a renovation is not to simply change things. There have to be goals. Reasons. A purpose.

Material Study Board – The numbers are there for discussion purposes with Kim, so I can easily point to areas being discussed.

Material Study Board – The numbers are there for discussion purposes with Kim, so I can easily point to areas being discussed.

Material Study Board – The numbers are there for discussion purposes with Kim, so I can easily point to areas being discussed.

Material Study Board – The numbers are there for discussion purposes with Kim, so I can easily point to areas being discussed.

Renovations are costly

They need to meet an objective in order to be worthwhile and provide value. I think about people that simply want a change. They’re bored with their space and want to make a change.

It’s not something that I could necessarily help with. I’m interested in making revisions to space that make an impact on your life. Something that will make a difference for you. Improve your quality of life. Help you reach your goals.

Kim was into this. She was one of the best clients I’ve worked with. She was trusting of my process. It was nice to see. We worked well together. Our meetings were productive and we made progress each time.

Concept Elevation Studies of Sitting Area

Second Thoughts

Towards the end of design she started to have second thoughts. She began to think the kitchen might not be large enough. The storage and counter space might not be enough. She asked me to look into the design of an island. I explored various options and landed on one long island but the island subdivided the kitchen and made it rather difficult to maneuver.

The kitchen was too tight for the island. This idea was eventually rejected. The current space is much more comfortable and useful as a linear kitchen without the island. The central island would only complicate the design and interrupt the flow of the kitchen. But it’s worth exploring all ideas.

I always say, “It’s easier to move a wall on paper than in the field.”

If we explore all the alternatives on paper then when it comes time to build the design the idea of changing rooms or reflecting on design are less needed. The goal is to understand why decisions were made the way they were. Why we choose to draw what we did. How that is the best solution to the challenge.

I love to work with clients. It’s fun but it’s also very challenging. I have the fear of making mistakes. I know I’m not perfect but I fear I’ll make a mistake. I push through either way. I know I have to. It’s something I struggle with. When it comes down to it I have this fear because I care. I care about the success of your project. I care about getting it all right for you.

I’ve made mistakes in the past. I look back on this project and see one that I made. After we completed the drawings, Kim was going to follow up with her kitchen designer to discuss the new island options. The one that eventually got removed.

This was the last I heard from her. She had the drawings. I kept thinking about where she was with the project. Part of me thought she might have given up and decided not to do it. I knew she was busy. She works a demanding job.

It was a huge undertaking.

Then not long ago I received a text message. Kim texted me to see if I would like to see the project finished. Wow.

She had been working on it the whole time. So I gladly went and we meet for about half an hour. I was blown away with the work she put into it. My mistake was not following up until the end, I was not there to assist her through to the end.

I’ve found we can all lose touch with time. A simple task might take weeks holding up the process. I’ve decided after the experience with this project if I feel something is taking longer than expected i’m going to push back. I am going to follow up and check in. I do this now as standard routine. I check in every so many days especially if the client is working on something. It’s important they understand the deadlines and how they impact the schedule of the project.

The family loves the space and I can’t think of anything that could have been done differently. It turned out amazing.

Finished Photographs

View from sitting area

View from kitchen entry

View from dining room

View from island edge

View from bottom of stairs

View from living room

View from living room

View from living room

View from living room