I'm confident that title is far too long, but how else do I start this post??
Last month I went on an adventure! Well, it was a business trip, but when it's your first one and you do what I do it's an adventure! Along the way I posted a few pictures on social media and based upon the reaction to those and the questions that ensued I felt it necessary to just go ahead and share the story of how it all came about.
The trip in and of itself might not have been all that interesting if it hadn't been for the very interesting way it all came about. Any time I mentioned to anyone I was going to be gone on a business trip they naturally asked where I was going. The answer to that was South Carolina. Then very often came a question about what I was doing there and how in the world did I get clients there? The short version of what I was doing there was working on an addition to and remodel of a 70s contemporary country club house. The answer to the second half of that question doesn't exactly have a short answer.
First of all, I do occasionally work with clients out of state. With the internet the world has become a very small place and I regularly have people who find me online. Most of the time those people are currently living in another state (or another country) and plan on building a home in Arkansas. Sometimes they're building elsewhere and just happened to find me. But this wasn't either of those situations. This story is completely unique.
The First Sister
To tell the story we must go back to the beginning. Quite a number of years ago I had a booth at a local home show. One of the couples who stopped by my booth ended up hiring me to design a home for them. The surprising part was they didn't yet know where it was to be built. They didn't even know what state! They initially gave me several potential locations that were vastly different. The reasoning was the last parent in this area had passed away. After they had settled things, they were planning to move to be near other family. The husband worked from home so it was just a matter of which location and which family member. We set about designing their new home and then the location was determined. Anderson, South Carolina. I believe they had previously lived there and one of the wife's two sisters lived there. They purchased a beautiful tree covered lot and it was determined the sister who already lived there was going to purchase an adjoining lot and also build a new home. A wonderfully sweet story!
Well . . .plans changed a bit. We were pretty far along in the design process and had been working out a lot of details when we hit a roadblock. The lot was long, narrow, and had a fairly drastic slope. While we had adjusted for the site and one builder and myself had plans to do hardscaping to ensure the home wouldn't trap water running down the hill, another builder disagreed. In the end, the plan needed to be completely reworked. Since they had already moved to that area, for sake of speed, they hired a local engineer to take the home we had crafted and somewhat rearrange the rooms to work better for the site. I was sad, but it's one of the dangers of not knowing the site before starting the design AND a pitfall of not seeing the site in person after it's purchased. They ended up coming back to me because they were over the moon in love with the kitchen we had done working together. The kitchen in the new house had just a slightly different footprint, and it was requested that I take the previous kitchen design and tweak it to fit the new space. I happily obliged and then did a few more details for them . . .the layout for the dining room windows, the arched double front doors, and possibly some other things that I cannot remember at this point in time. It was hoped for by all parties involved that I could make a trek to visit them at some point to see how it had all turned out. Interestingly enough I got my chance, although it wasn't at all how I would have imagined.
I didn't do a formal photo shoot, but I did snap a few informal pics while I was there. This is the kitchen we designed along with a few exterior photos. I viewed the interior while it was dark out and the exterior my last day there while it was raining on the way to the airport. Even though I didn't design this entire house, I'm sharing pictures because as I was so graciously informed, our previous plan inspired much of it and it just turned out so breathtakingly beautiful I can't not share. Hopefully I'll get another chance in the future to visit again and do a proper photo shoot. Until then, these photos will have to suffice! Even though they absolutely do not do this home justice. It is just stunning in person . . .inside and out.
The Second Sister
Since it's been a minute, the exact timeline eludes me so you'll have to accept what I remember of all this. At some point in there, the second sister (who I had met one time while she was here visiting) purchased the lot next to the first sister and hired me to start working on plans for their house. It had been up in the air for awhile as to whether they would remodel their existing home of nearly 40 years or if they would simply build anew. We started working on the process and at some point we stopped. I don't even remember exactly why or when, but we stopped to take a break or something and that was that.
Fast forward a few years to when I got an e-mail from this second sister and of course a few things had happened over the course of time as things tend to do. I found out that they had decided to stay in their existing home and were planning a remodel and addition. The first sister's son who is a builder worked up a sketch for me with some dimensions. Fast forward again a few months and they had also had an architect working on the addition. I'm not exactly sure how it came to be, but it was deemed by all involved that what she had drawn looked "like a Motel 6 stuck on the back of the house". Not my words, but I concurred. My apologies if she ever reads this!
Hence me being brought in to work as best as I possibly could long distance to take the basic shell that was laid out and figure out a way to make the layout work as best as possible and make the addition look as though it had always been there. That's generally the idea with additions, but it's almost always easier said than done!
Here's what the house looks like as of my visit:
Back To The First Sister
So we come back to the first sister . . .you may be wondering, but what happened to the land the second sister purchased??? Well . . .these lots are extremely long and narrow. It just so happened that a doctor and his family owned the house on the other side of the second sister's lot. Stay with me here: As you drive down the street you come to the first sister's house, the second sister's lot, then the doctor's house. It's sort of at the end and faces the side and while it's a lovely house, they basically didn't have a backyard. The doctor and his family really loved the house and wanted to stay there, but they didn't want to raise their kids somewhere with no backyard. The doctor asked the first sister's husband if he knew who owned the lot between them and he responded that he did, in fact, know them! In the end, the doctor and the first sister and her husband split the second sister's lot in half giving each of them a good bit more breathing room. A happy ending! Well, almost . . .we have not yet reached the end!
And Now Back To The Second Sister
While we had spent several months with me working remotely on the second sister's addition and remodel we were finding it a bit cumbersome. It had been mentioned last Fall that it might be beneficial for me to just come out there, but my schedule (well my kids' schedules) can make it difficult for me to get away. Not to mention I have a Type 1 Diabetic daughter which adds more fun (and planning) to basically anything we do. So we just kept plugging away at it from a distance with me doing the best I could. And while technology really IS amazing and we are able to do so much these days and really things that were impossible just a few short decades ago, doing things remotely just isn't the same as doing them in person.
Back To The Trip
After working on it some more this calendar year the topic came up again. They asked, "Do we just need to bring you out here? Because we're open to that if you are." This time I responded with, "Yes. It's time." We started looking at dates and I nailed down a time frame that worked with my Mom schedule . . .sandwiched in between District Tournament for basketball and cheerleading tryouts the following week. I handled things on my end to prepare. We scheduled the trip maybe two weeks before it happened so there were a lot of preparations that had to happen very quickly. Then the day came to travel and I shamelessly took totally dorky pictures to document my exciting adventure!!
So now we come back around to the real reason for this trip in the first place. The 40 year old 70's Contemporary Country Club house and my work on the addition to and remodel of this house. I'm always hesitant to share photos of anything that's not complete. Someone will notice something and point out, "Hey! What about that bit right there!" Well that bit right there simply hasn't had any attention yet. Design and details take time. One of the more time consuming parts of this project right now is exterior details. And we're not even talking super detailed details. I've just got a rather long to-do list filled with items I'm slowly chewing my way through. I think by the time this writing is ready for posting I'll have some images to add to this that will at least get the point across, even if they're not totally complete. (Alas, this project has already morphed since I added the pictures you'll find below. You'll just have to wait for an update!)
On a recent work session I finally got one thing tackled that really took it to a level of looking "more like it". The "arms" as we're calling them. I'm not exactly sure what they're supposed to be called, but that's what the client calls them and so that's what I call them. What I'm talking about are the rather unique angled wall extensions that reach down from the roof overhangs to meet with the vertical walls. There's been a lot of discussion about them. When I jumped back in on this several months ago, the architect's drawings had these removed because that was along the lines of what the homeowners were thinking they were going to want to see happen. What actually happened was without them the house just lost a lot of personality. It looked like a simple, naked, little box. And we don't want that! We then discussed plans to put something back in their place and for quite some time our plan was to do some sort of brackets/corbels. Most likely very chunky and simple in shape. But after much discussion and seeing them (and the neighborhood) in person I said I think I just want to leave them alone. They're a huge part of the overriding style of this house. It's not everyone's cup of tea as it's a unique style. A lot of people would look at it and say it's "dated". Well, in my humble opinion, "dated" is in the eye of the beholder. What one person sees as dated another sees as vintage. It's really all in how you look at it.
My #1 goal from the beginning was to respect the house and what it was. I knew we needed to update it and part of that is making it bigger and creating more space inside. However, one reason I was hired for this project was to make sure that the addition and the new rooms were in keeping with what was already there and what was staying. We didn't want to add on massive rooms that just didn't jive, but we also wanted to open things up a bit. When doing additions and remodels you always have some constraints you have to work within. Some of those are actual real life constraints . . .like we can't expand this way because there's a setback from the property line and the house is already very near it. So that wall is staying. In many cases there's not much, if anything, you can do with the site compared to a new construction where you're going to be moving ground around anyway. Things like that. But other constraints can be imagined and therefore might have some flexibility. Just because a person comes to me and says they want to do this, this, and this doesn't mean we always end up with that. Many times people think they want a certain thing and then when they see it in the computer they realize they do not, in fact, want that. My job is to give them what they want, but sometimes what they want is different than what they think they want. I know, it's not always easy. It sounds complicated because it IS. Making an addition to any sort of historical home (or any home for that matter) blend in and appear as though it was already a part of the structure . . .had always been there . . .that's just usually pretty difficult. The beauty of the software I use is that we can see it really quite well before we build it. Look from many angles and really chew the design apart and get it just right.
At this point with the project we have figured out the bulk of the interior layout, have decided a heck of a lot regarding the exterior materials and colors, as well as a lot of discussion about what to keep and not to keep. Some things have been a surprise. We did have some accent gables in a few places on the front of the house to help tie in the new gable up top on the back for the addition. These were new and my idea. However, after traveling there and being shown around the neighborhood and getting to see all of the other original homes in the immediate area . . .at one point we had been out and pulled back into the driveway and I said, "I don't think we need the gables anymore. Let's get rid of them". That's not verbatim, but that's the gist of it. Another thing to be said for seeing the site and the locale. What looked good in the computer from my office didn't really make sense after seeing it in person. In the end we "hid" them for awhile until we were sure then they simply got deleted. After some messing around with the new larger roof on the back I did one little thing (raised one of the top plates to make the gable uneven) and we said YESSS!! That's it! After that we sort of got on what we felt was the right track and it spurred some other ideas for making it all feel just right. After returning home and continuing work on it I've played around with a few things we discussed here and there and have tweaked some of them that seemed to work better a slightly different way. All the while trying to analyze things I feel are patterns with the existing structure to do my best to replicate them in the new parts of the structure. THAT is how we get the new to blend in with the old.
Here are some pictures of what it's looking like now. It's really starting to take shape. We will still be working a lot on the windows and very many details, both inside and outside. But I think if you compare these with the existing pictures you can see where we're headed with it. I do hope we're doing a good job of blending the new with the old because that's the name of the game here. I'll share updates as it progresses and hopefully before too long this will be completed so they can start construction and make it a reality. THEN maybe we can finally reach that happy ending. :)
Looking back on the trip I really can't say enough about how perfectly it went. While I rather wish I'd have allowed more time there, we really accomplished a lot in the time we did have. I stayed in my clients' home and while I wouldn't stay with just anyone, I was perfectly comfortable staying with them and they were the best, most gracious hosts! They rather spoiled me while I was there! After getting to eat a lunch in their club house and getting a tour of their golf course I was gifted not one, but THREE Master's hats. If you're not into golf that won't mean anything, but my golfing kids were drop jawed when I brought them home. See, Augusta is only about 90 miles from my clients, but it's a wee bit further away from us here in Arkansas. To have any sort of gear that actually came from there is mind blowing for my young golfers!
Staying in their home also allowed us to work and discuss on and off at our leisure. We would get up in the morning and discuss things over coffee and fresh fruit in our pajamas with no make-up. When we had jabbered long enough we'd hit the showers and get ourselves ready for the day. Examining the house inside and out (including the structure from inside the attic), taking pictures, taking measurements, examining the other original structures in the neighborhood from the front street view and from the rear course view, and then doing work on the project in the computer. We had a grand schedule of work, play, rest and I just really couldn't have hoped for anything better. My flight got in during the evening, so we enjoyed a dinner out on the way to their house. The second evening we had a glorious dinner at the first sister's new home. The food was absolutely amazing (she loves to cook!) and I've pictured the dessert above, but the company was even better. I got a tour of the entire house before dinner then after dinner we all sat around for quite some time just visiting. They even gave me the seat at the head of the table making me feel the guest of honor with a bonus view of those gorgeous dining room windows. The third evening was another lovely meal all together at the second sister's house. I flew out the next morning with hopes of another trip later on when this project is all complete with promises to play golf (I'd better start practicing b/c I am quite terrible). I am greatly looking forward to it!
I'm certain I've hopped around with a somewhat scattered timeline of this . . .but for those of you who have read to the end you can see how there really wasn't a short version of the story! It's a bit complicated and a true example of how one thing can lead to another and take you places you didn't expect. I will say I become friends with most of my clients. It's just an intimate process and it's hard to NOT become friends while doing this sort of work. But some people become closer than others and I really feel at home with these two sisters. I truly count them as friends and I greatly enjoy working with both of them. The only downside is that I live so very far away from them!
I'll wrap this up by emphatically stating if all of my future business trips turn out like this one I will be one very blessed and happy boss lady! Thank you ladies (and gentlemen) for a truly wonderful experience. :)