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Posts from the ‘Project Planning’ Category

Finding the Light

When a home design includes a large bank of new windows, it is important to consider how the light will play across the renovated space, to be sure that the space will be light-filled in winter but protected from the heat of summer.

But how does a designer figure out how their design choices will impact the light flow into the space?

The exterior renovation of this mid-century home will  change the shape of the roof, add windows and add an exterior deck above the daylight basement.

One of Arciform’s current clients is keenly interested in employing the key principles of passive house design as they renovate their 1952 home.

To help explore how the exterior design could support energy efficiency inside the home, Arciform’s draftsman Brad Horne used our architectural design program, Chief Architect, to generate a series of “solar studies,” using a feature of the program that maps sunlight onto a drawing based on the day, date, and precise geographic location of the proposed renovation.

Here’s an example of that study. Watch how the light shifts on a hypothetical August day from 4 pm to 6 pm:

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We asked Brad: What inspired the use of this particular tool in the design of this project?

 Our client is concerned with how many salmon are sacrificed due to energy usage to maintain a comfortable home. We’re hoping to keep the sun out of the house and keep it cool by use of a thermo siphoning method and exterior shades (slats at the roof). The goal is to create a passive house from a home built in an era when energy was supposedly limitless.  We’re bridging passive design with beauty and style.

What have you learned so far? What are some of the potential design decisions that could be affected by the results of this study?

We’re still determining the results. Will exterior shades be needed? Or a  deeper overhang? Would a deeper deck shade the daylight basement too much?

This is a great example of the benefits of working with an experienced architectural designer. With careful consideration and the right design tools, we can help prevent problems you may not have even realized were a potential concern… all before a single hammer has been swung on the job site.

Would you like to schedule an initial design consultation for your next home design project? Find out more about the process and schedule your consultation here.

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A passive house retrofit?

If you love the idea of having a passive house but also love the house you live in now, is it possible to combine the two? Can you retrofit your house to be passive?

First, a reminder about what the heck a passive house is, per Wikipedia:

The term passive house (Passivhaus in German) refers to a rigorous, voluntary, standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint…It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling.

So, is this possible in a retrofit? The answer is yes. Take a look at this beautiful remodel in Austin, as showcased in Apartment Therapy.

austin passive house

The house was built in 1955, contained asbestos, and it’s now the first passive house in Texas. Pretty damn cool.

Reality check: we all don’t have the money or time to do a complete retrofit. If you’re like me or my friends, you budget, you save, you tackle one project at a time. Some years my projects are tiny. And some years there have been zero projects. And others? Some years the only thing that gets done is a super un-sexy project. You know those projects, don’t you? I’m talking about the really fun stuff: repairing dry rot, fixing a roof leak, replacing a broken dishwasher, and then repairing the floor under the dishwasher. Buying a new furnace, replacing old piping.

The list is endless. And yet – I am going to make a bold statement here – while some of these projects are immune to any Pollyanna-type spin (toilet issues spring to mind), some not-so-fun projects need a different perspective. Do new windows bring some joy? Yes – particularly if your heating bills drop and your air quality improves (with my original windows I could easily smell the smoke from a neighbor’s chimney – while inside). I would argue that most un-sexy projects can be spun into a little bit of gold.

My advice is this: combine the sexy with the practical as often as possible. Recently I had an opportunity to listen in on a conversation about design decisions that can make a remodel move toward the outcome of a passive house. While a passive house can decrease energy use by 90%, just reducing energy use by 30% would be an amazing coup for your utility bills. Why not consider it given this great benefit?

So, if you are considering a remodel, from new windows to replacing some flooring, here are broad areas in your home where you can increase energy efficiency and perhaps even find a little joy in the mundane.

1. Is your house taking advantage of the efficiency of natural gas?

Switching to a natural gas water heater and furnace lowered my energy bills, and natural gas is one of the cleaner fossil fuels available. As a bonus, if you are considering a kitchen remodel down the road, this will allow you to be ready for a gas stove. Cooks love a gas stove, I hear!
2. How is your insulation situation?

By upgrading your insulation, you lower your energy bills. This can perhaps be combined with a window upgrade, another way to increase energy efficiency. By doing both, the sparkling new windows will distract you from the cost of boring insulation.
3. Do you have an ugly wall in your house that you have been dying to knock down?

Well, you might be able to justify the cost of removing that wall by changing the shape and layout of your rooms. Taking advantage of sun / daylight can increase energy efficiency. This may be the excuse you needed to start a project.
4. Roofing material and roof pitch can both affect energy efficiency.

Asphalt is the hottest, while metal roofs keep a house cooler. And how about this – different roofing material can make your house stand out from the rest of the herd. I like this one a lot, because installing a new roof is traditionally one of the most boring projects out there. But it’s not so boring if the material is nifty and you save money every month on energy.
5. How is your lighting – attractive? How about efficient?

If can lights are not tightly sealed, energy escapes through them. So not cool! Here’s a combo of projects that might work well together:  upgrade your lights and make certain they are sealed, plus check out your attic insulation. Again, the attic insulation isn’t sexy, but the lights certainly are.
6. Did you know that the number of air ducts and their position impact the usage of energy?

If you’re considering new flooring, think abut the ducts as well. Increased energy efficiency could help offset the cost of the floors.
7. Windows and glazing.

This is a biggie. These two features alone can really change the look of your house. (Think: curb appeal!) Also, blinds on the exterior of your house can keep your house cooler, plus change the entire attitude of your home.

The goal here is to get more out of your remodel – more fun, more energy efficiency, more overall benefit for everyone involved. Motivated to combine some of these practical decisions with a fun project? Whip up a great combo of sexy + boring = more benefit on your own? Bet you can.

About Nancy Ranchel

Nancy is an accountant who offsets the practicality of her day job with extravagant and outrageous remodeling projects, often involving massive amounts of scrap metal.  In her free time she can be found dreaming up new ways to turn her house into an art installation, digging through scrap heaps, and contemplating a world without plastic. Check out Nancy’s blog here:

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Small Kitchen Makeover: Design Phase

How does a designer take a bundle of hopes, wishes, obstacles and opportunities and turn it into a coherent plan that will accomplish both the desires of the client and the practical needs of the project?


For our small kitchen makeover winners, Arciform designer Chelly Wentworth developed her initial design proposal with 3 key goals in mind:

1. Open the kitchen up to the dining room to make the space feel larger.

2. Add storage wherever possible.

3. Integrate the clients’ preference for clean, modern lines with the vintage character of the home to create a timeless look.


To accomplish that goal, she began by creating a detailed plan of the existing kitchen (see above) to help visualize the challenges and options available in the space.

She also created a Pinterest board of style ideas to help illustrate and guide the design process.


(Carrara marble and white subway tile are combined with open shelving in this sample kitchen pinned by Chelly. The result is a crisp neutral palette that still has vintage character and adds storage space without the bulk and expense of upper cabinets.)

From here, Chelly created a set of elevations (drawings that illustrate the kitchen one wall at a time) of her proposed designs.

Here are a few of the design details Chelly incorporated into her initial design.


Illustration A. A mixed mosaic tile back splash in anthracite from Oregon Tile and Marble will cover the west wall, adding a subtle repeating pattern and cool grey tones to the kitchen.  An existing obsolete chimney will be removed from the NW corner, opening up wall space for open shelving to display and store needed kitchen items.

Here’s what the mixed mosaic tile will look like:

Backsplash tileTo coordinate with the backsplash, George Morlan is providing a charcoal grey undermount sink with a very cool faucet. Take a look:



Illustration B. The existing wall separating the dining room and kitchen will be removed, to be replaced with a peninsula that will house a dual fuel slide-in range with a clear glass range hood provided by Standard TV and Appliance. The peninsula will include a small overhang for a breakfast bar on the dining room side. A pendant light from Schoolhouse Electric will create a visual connection between the kitchen and dining spaces and millwork for the opening surrounding the peninsula will be matched to the existing molding and built-ins in the dining room to create a cohesive look.

Here’s the sample range and hood options:



Illustration C. The removal of the north wall will open up room for a shallow spice cabinet to the left of the basement stairs, adding needed storage while keeping the new open feel of the space. A set of Julia Child-inspired wall mounted pot racks will allow them to keep their pots and pans close to hand.

Here’s a sample pegboard pot rack that will inspire the finished pot wall:


Illustration D. The south wall will be the primary place to add new cabinets. Chelly proposes Shaker-style full overlay cabinet doors and drawer fronts from Versatile Wood Products to add vintage character while keeping the lines clean and simple.

Here’s an example (on the right) of what Shaker-style full overlay cabinets look like:


For Darrick and Monica, the butcher block counter shown above would be replaced with honed grey Carrara marble counters  that will be cut by Wall to Wall Stone Corp and installed by Classic Marmo.


In the pantry, an unusually narrow 33″ wide fridge has been found that will tuck into the small space and open freely.

BONUS! Darrick noticed that the back side of the pantry connects to an empty space below the stairs, allowing us to tuck the microwave into a built-in cavity that will add a lot of functionality without sacrificing any counter or shelf space.

So what do Darrick and Monica think of how the design is progressing so far?

Darrick writes,

“As far as the design so far- we were pretty much floored. You visualize some of the design concepts but seeing it in a 3-D rendering puts it in a completely different picture and makes it much more real.”

What changes are they considering to the initial design?

* changing the shelves colors to match the floors
* adding a wine fridge (because we oh so love wine)
* adding a trash compactor (to minimize on the mountain climbing for each trip to the trash can)
* taking out the door frame that leads into the fridge room (to make it much more open)

Darrick adds, “The experience so far has been great. It’s been a great learning experience as this is the first time we’ve gone through a remodel. We’re excited to keep forging forward and can’t wait for the great result.”

Check out the “before” pictures of our Small Kitchen project here.

Next week: Contract Revisions: The Devil in the Details

Follow the story with these additional Kitchen Makeover Posts:

Ready, Set, Launch!

Meet the Makeover Winners

Announcing the Winner

Makeover Contest Finalists

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Thanks again to our Small Kitchen Makeover Contest Partners:

Basic CMYK


CZ Becker logo

George Morlan logo


Schoolhouse Electric logo

Standard TV logo


Starting Small

by Nancy Ranchel

Did you get to the Arciform house on the Tour of Remodeled Homes last weekend? It was amazing!


The problem with wandering through a gorgeous house is that it makes me want to start a project at my own house. Does this happen to you? Did you look at the kitchen in the tour house and think – Forget the college fund, I need new cupboards (check out the custom island Arciform / Versatile made for this house). Those ungrateful kids can take out loans.


Is this immediately followed by a mental calculation of costs versus your current budget, plus a guilty thought about how much you like your kids? Same here – except about the kids. After just finishing a large project, I will not be starting a new one for a while – but I can dream. And dreaming means planning. And the planning is what keeps me going. If you’re dying to start a new project but the time is not right, that doesn’t mean you cannot plan – and this has serious benefits.

Susan, another Arciform client, is spending her remodeling budget this year on repairing the concrete retaining wall that keeps her yard from falling onto the sidewalk. (Safety first.) It’s a ton of money, and there will be zero satisfaction with it. She’ll be able to point to a safe sidewalk for her efforts, but wouldn’t a new bathroom be a lot more fun? Hell yeah. So Susan is starting to plan the bathroom. She met with Anne for an Initial Design Consultation (IDC in the lingo), and Anne is drawing up the plans for a second floor kid’s bathroom / bedroom re-configuration. This not only allows Susan to plan and dream, but with the plans done, she can start buying some of the items she needs for the bathroom. Spreading out the costs of the remodel is a lovely thing! And personally, if I have the plans for a project I am far less likely to spend money on shoes. I save for the project. Mostly.


An IDC meeting with Anne or Kristyn is an affordable undertaking. Arciform can help with the shopping too – when you are ready. Getting the plans done is exciting and motivating, and you can start the work when the time is right. If you need to feel you are making progress on your house, even if no project is being started, I recommend starting to plan.

About Nancy Ranchel

Nancy is an accountant who offsets the practicality of her day job with extravagant and outrageous remodeling projects, often involving massive amounts of scrap metal.  In her free time she can be found dreaming up new ways to turn her house into an art installation, digging through scrap heaps, and contemplating a world without plastic. Check out Nancy’s blog here:

Explore the Arciform Photo Galleries | All About Arciform | Schedule a Design Consultation