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By Peter Larsen

Through to Fruition!

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To me it is all about the process, but nothing compares to the completion of an arduous project. The Franklin House proved to be one of those projects that became its own entity. It was the will of the structure that became the control of the project and we were the catalyst for the design and reconstruction. How do you put into words the feeling of accomplishment, failures, and successes of the true change that took place on a thirty eight foot by one hundred and thirty seven foot parcel? It has been such an amazing experience. It would be too easy to take all of the credit, but in reality the transformation is attributed to the microclimate of the community. Olde Towne East is an amazing place with awesome residents and an appreciation for American residential architecture. A wide variety of subcultures inhabit an even wider variety of architectural style. I cannot say enough positive things about the community!

There were several times throughout the process when one could think that the project would consume those involved and cripple production. For example when you could see from the second level into the basement during demo…

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Or when we had to rip the front façade off completely due to the amount of rotten wood and scabbed repairs….

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Or when replacing the main load bearing beam on an extremely windy day. The same day a building under renovation came down on the corner of Oak and Ohio….

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Reframing a one hundred and thirty two year old house is no small task. But it was a learning experience that I will never forget. Once the house was structurally sound the new floor plan shined through after several unexpected turns. After all new utility systems were strategically installed, and passed inspection, all new windows were installed, the house was insulated, and the drywall was installed. The exterior of the house was an interesting challenge. To keep the original aesthetic alive we tried to preserve the historic look using modern materials. I am all for the preservation of historic architecture when it is possible, though I am more interested in sustainability. I think the design of the front porch and use of materials accomplished an overall appearance that nods to the vernacular.

It was very important for me to reclaim and reuse as much of the original parts of the house, like all the interior doors and transom windows, newel posts on the staircase, lath on the kitchen island, and the serpent cresting on the ridge of the roof. Also the installation of new period correct materials, like the interior trim, as well as modern materials to create a seamless blend of the old and new was very important to the overall composition. Natural materials mixed with handmade materials is also very important to the composition. From the hickory hardwood floors transitioning to the porcelain tile in the wet functional areas, to the exposed brick chimneys to the concrete countertops, there is a real feeling comfort in continuity of materiality.

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One of the most important aspects of the new floor plan design is the circulation pattern. There are several stories being told as one travels through and experiences the space. Set up for entertainment on the first level one can imagine how different events throughout the year, daily functions, and individual growth might be affected because of the open relationship between the programmatic elements. The arrangement and openness of staircase leading to the second floor creates a definite separation between the public and private spaces of the house all the while keeping the experience fluid. Natural light at either end of the second level corridor draws you in and comforts a forlorn feeling as one navigates the spaces. The second set of stairs gives a feeling of excitement and mystery as one travels to the third level. Architecture should always be about the experience and the way spaces are set up for us to live.

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Third Floor

 

It was a personal goal of mine to make sure that the house had the possibility of sustaining another one hundred and thirty years. I am happy to say that with the proper maintenance this structure will outlive all of us. I have learned much more than I could have ever thought that I would have at the beginning, and I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to be a small part of rebuilding this historic district. Even though we have seen the process of rebuilding “The Franklin House” through to fruition, the house will never be finished. It is now taking on a new life with its new owners!

There were a lot people involved in this project that deserve many thanks, and you know who you are, Thank you and God bless you!

Burned out… but have to finish strong!

I am sure everyone who has had a small taste of success has felt this way. Anxious, inspired, confused, determined, in your own head constantly, a little insane, positive, struggling, and invested in an idea. I guess they would say there is beauty in the struggle. There is also a realization that it is one thing to have a good idea, and it is another to turn the idea into reality. But, what if that idea was your dream. Not just one of those strange dreams that happen one night after one too many, but one of those reoccurring dreams that sticks with you.

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When I was younger I heard about the land bank dollar property program and was insistent that I would find an old house and fix it up. Some how at that time I knew what I wanted to do… fix up old houses and build new ones. What are the steps that have to be taken to fulfill this desire? What must one do to achieve a goal? Although we did not buy the Franklin House through the land bank, we bought the property and I was officially living the dream! The dream then turned into reality… design, logistics, expenses, scheduling, hiring, firing, systems, construction, lead time, competition, headaches, questions, alcohol, sobriety, coffee, hard work, Whats Next? “Do, don’t try.” Make a deadline. That will help!

As much as I like to rant, there must be a point to this post… ? … Oh yeah I am feeling a little burned out and I am now able to admit it. I don’t think it is because of the project, or the social implications that I now realize, or the connections that I have made with everyone involved and everyone impacted, or the fact that there is probably going to be zero monetary ROI or possibly a loss… I think it is more the angst from the unknown.

What positive impact will the result have and what opportunities lie ahead. I have a couple potential clients interested in my design capabilities, we are looking for the next house to fix up and a vacant in-fill lot to build on. But is it enough to fill the void after seeing the dream to fruition? Do I have to take time to dream more? Should I go back to school so I can actually call myself an architect? Can I afford that? Will any of this pay off? Does anyone understand? ” Hold it together man…”(slap)

The mind is an amazing piece of the puzzle that we all take for granted at a given point in time. Sometimes we become so self involved that we cut other people off in their journey through life. It is a hard truth about the human condition… but other times we care deeply about an idea, cause, and other people… look now he is a philosopher.

What is a house?

We started the project of the Franklin House strong and I intend to finish it the same way. What ever comes next will happen in due time. I have to tell myself every morning to “Roll with time” it is a saying of patience (the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset, thanks Google). I hope that my work spreads a positive message of sustainability and love. I want people to see beauty in reality… maybe that is the dream?

Designing inside a shell and outside the box…

Designing inside a shell and outside the box… Rebuilding the Franklin House

I will not apologize for the cliché title… because it is very fitting to this project. I am not too sure what drew me to this house, maybe it was the history of it, the neighborhood, or maybe it is the amazing diversity of the Olde Towne East residents and their aspirations for the future. This part of Columbus, Ohio is America at its finest. It is awesome to see so many subcultures mesh together in a community that is rebuilding.  I wanted a challenge and a learning experience, and this house sure has delivered thus far!

The fact that you could not just walk into this house and update the cabinets, knock down a couple walls, paint, and flip it, intrigued me. A mess for a floor plan in a dense urban environment requires designing inside a shell and outside the box. The Franklin House has been in existence for one hundred and thirty one years. Originally built in 1884, it is older than any living human being on our beautiful planet, and I think this is something that needs to be respected. There should be something said about the understanding of sustainability. There should be something said about the Zeitgeist. But for now I will try to remain on topic. In the following paragraphs, and images, I will summarize the design process for the reconfiguration of the existing floor plan into a plan for a house that can be functional and beautiful for a family in the year 2015.

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The images above show the existing floor plan of the first and second levels when we acquired the dwelling. When I completed these drawings I knew at that moment there was a need for drastic changes. If you have been following the blogs my lovely wife Geri has been posting you could probably see in the before, and demo, pictures that there was a lot of work to be done. I have heard from several people that have moved into the neighborhood that they looked at possibly buying the house but it needed too much… I will tell you after gutting the place and starting to level the floors no one saw the half of it…. let me get back on track. So the house had two staircases, two main spaces, I guess two kitchens; though Geri and I go back and forth whether a kitchen was shared; strange halls leading to and from the bathrooms, all around the place had been modified in so many ways, into a duplex back to a single family to multi-room apartments, we would tear out a wall and find an old renovations. Even the back section of the house is an early addition on rubble foundation with a crawl space… probably added for a kitchen with servant’s quarters above. To say it simply there was no possible way to make this floor plan work.

So, how do you create order from chaos? This is a great question… if you know the answer we would love to hear it. Though as a question of design there are a couple ways to create function and intrigue. What I did was draw several diagrams outlining the overall geometry of what was given (the shell). I abstracted the programmatic elements then played with the relationships between the spaces. Once there is a clear vision of the interior space, I then asked myself what the best way to move from one space to the other, and what are you going to see along the way? After making a few sketches it was clear both staircases had to go… The staircase in the back of the house leads up to what I would call an extra-large laundry room…what? The main staircase in the front of the house goes west to east then east to west with a five foot by five foot space off of a single step landing. I have heard a room of this nature is called a “Sew Room”…for crafts or something. But who knows? There is a window in the sew room that had a lovely view at the neighbors siding, it did bring in some good light and I could see it being a nice library or meditation spot. But… You must step outside that box.

The creation of a main core for circulation is necessary in order to organize the path between programmatic elements. Since the second floor plan was the worst arrangement of space I have ever seen, it held precedent over the first floor, which I wanted to remain as open as possible. The best plan I could come up with was to feed each room with a corridor. With this corridor it was then obvious… A new staircase had to be constructed parallel to it!

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The new floor plan hinged on relocating the staircase. Now the fun part… Section drawings! Can I meet or exceed code requirements if I run the stairs south to north, as well as having a wide enough corridor to feed the program? The concept is solid but now how to make it fit? I was already sold on the fact that the corridor and staircase can run parallel to each other straddling the main load bearing wall. I also wanted to keep an open floor plan on the first level. Luckily for me some HVAC pro in the past hacked through the main load bearing wall and beam, over time creating massive sagging… so it had to be replaced. In section drawing you can see that there are three load bearing points for the central load points of the structure, continuing to the foundation and footers. As I said before the room on the north side of the house was an early addition over a crawl space, so it can be considered a separate structure at this time. After compiling the existing measurements and calculating the rise and run of the new staircase, the solution came when realizing the necessity of installing a laminated veneer beam to span the load bearing points and support the second and third floors This solution allowed for a large enough landing at the top of the stairs to make a one hundred and eighty degree turn to access the corridor comfortably.

 

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A couple other interesting things came up as a result of relocating the staircase. Raising the level of that semi-useless sew room on the old staircase became usable space for both the first and second floor… I must digress right here to say that I love my wife! She gets the credit for seeing that move before I did. You know that point when you have been staring at CAD for hours and need to come back to reality? No? Well at that point I normally like to walk away from the computer and sketch. While sketching Geri hit the nail on the head. Then the question became, what fits in our new found space?  On the first floor it gave me the ability to shift the kitchen, create an open line of sight from an eat in kitchen to the living room, and create a large enough walk in pantry to house the refrigerator, in turn creating the appearance of a minimalist kitchen. With the shift the new usable space moved to the addition where I placed the mud room and half bathroom. Finally all those times playing Tetris pays off! It was one of our original intention to create a master suite when re positioning the program, and the additional floor space on the second floor allowed for a walk in closet at the end of a corridor from the master bedroom through the master bath… sounds easy. Right?

 

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One of the downfalls to trying to optimize the space on the first level is that I left no access to the cellar from the inside of the house. Really though, the cellar is mainly for utilities and at a height of 6’6” to the bottom of the joists, we should be happy you can stand up in it for a house this old. And there is no possible way to meet code for a staircase leading down there. So… under the new staircase leading to the second floor became a broom closet and storage, and if you trip a breaker in the winter you will need a coat and boots to go reset it.

 

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 The third floor has been left for an oneiric space, or a room to dream and grow. Not much has changed to the layout other than rebuilding the staircase from the second floor, in order to bring it up to code, which took a little square footage… but it is a lot safer to access the third level now! We conditioned the space with forced air and furred out the rafters to allow proper ventilation of the attic and a higher R-Value. The location of the windows were not only dangerous because it was not tempered glass four inched off the floor, but everyone had to duck to see out of them. So that was fixed as well!

It has taken a while for me to compile all of these thoughts about the house and the newly designed floor plans. At this point in time on the project we have passed all rough inspections, which has to be one of my favorite points in the process. Mainly because the structure and utility systems are fully exposed, still it is hard for the average person to visualize the finished product.

Folks it is all about the finish details… they can make or break all of the hard work to get to the point of finish. Yet, one could install the most lavish finish materials and fall short if the frame is not structurally sound and the utility systems installed improperly. Finish materials get replaced over the life of a house, but once the drywall goes in you do not want to have to change any utility or structural issue.

So let’s talk about finish materials for a brief moment. One important note… Mid-century modern architects viewed finish materials as something that could be adapted over time. For example Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas on the Usonian House was to be finished with the structural cinder block walls exposed in order to keep the cost of the house down as well as give the home owner the opportunity to face it with brick or stone in the future as these materials became affordable, or as they so pleased. We all know that in this day and age of the HGTV thirty minute to completion shows and the internet, there should be no flaws in any finish materials, and because most people do not have the vision, or interest, to adapt their space to their taste. If you had to pin down a style for the Franklin House it would be a “Queen Anne Victorian meets an Urban Contemporary Industrial.”

These design techniques are one solution of many. The key with any design is that you must have “style” when creating unique spaces. Some of the most interesting spaces I have seen were created from simple, or reclaimed, materials. So I will leave you today with a quote from Le Corbusier “You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces. That is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly you touch my heart, you do me good, I am happy and I say: This is beautiful. That is Architecture. Art enters in.” At the end of the day it should still be a fun experiment! Stay tuned for more updates on the progress of the rebuild… Thanks for the support!

Before and After _ South Elevation

Hi all! Its Pete here. I do not have as much time to post as I would like, but I have a spare moment to give a brief update on the Franklin House.

So we are a stones throw away from being able to begin the re-construction process. But first things first, we are acquiring our building permit. The City of Columbus Building and Zoning allows a start permit in order to demo. This really helps with the design process. Because the floor plan was so chopped up from multiple renovations and modifications over the years it was somewhat difficult to visualize the space for what it is. It was imperative with this project to remove all of the finish materials in order to measure the true shell of the structure… This is the part of the blog where I would normally spout out a bunch of technical jargon and get accused of rambling, so let’s do something fun. Does any one remember the “what’s different” images in the old highlights magazines? I could never stop looking at them until I found all of the differences. Well the last page in the Franklin House drawing set is the before and after elevation of the south facade. What can you see that is different?

Before and After

 

Well it is back to the drawing board I am putting the finishing touches on the HAVC and Electrical Plans today, then it is on to the load calculations for the new LVL beam spans… I won’t bore you with this. Next time I have a second to post, I will show the before and after floor plans where you can see how important the relocation of the staircase is in order for function to… get with the program! I’m such an architecture geek.

Have a great week!

Estimating Process

As a small design/build business we are stretched to capacity. The two best tools that I have to explain a  proposed project is pencil and paper. I have calculated that the average estimate takes a period of four hours ( one hour on site and three off site). Our estimates will cost $250.00 and will include:

  • An on-site home visit and creative discussion about the proposed project.
  • A written description with an estimated price range.
  • CAD Summary drawings.
  • Schedule Approximation.
  • Contract.
  • Warranty.

Remodeling is an art to us. We take extreme pride in what we do. We are very appreciative of our clients who allow us to practice our craft on their space. We want our potential clients know that we have a minimum job price of $30,000 on any particular remodel. We are doing this because our time is best focused on the larger remodel. There are plenty of good craftsman in Columbus, Ohio that have the ability to update cabinets and counter tops. We are interested in clients who want to rethink their space in order to make them more functional and comfortable.

We want to change the fabric of residential architecture.

Bear with us… We are artists.

In this day and age of cell phone dependence and online customer service, a lot of people have manifested the “My way entitlement”.  This is something I have just made up so don’t look for it in any psychological doctrine. It is a heightened case of instant gratification where the whole world is accessible through your fingertips and every business that people encounter should be at your beckon call. To quote the great Bob Dylan “It ain’t me babe, no, no, no, it ain’t me babe, It ain’t me your looking for babe.”

There is a point where the average person needs to understand that all businesses are not run like a catering service. Yes we are contractors… but first we are artists, then we are designers and positive human beings. Another point… when you are interested in having some work done on your house and you have a couple contractors come out to bid the job remember this… We are interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing us. Any contractor that doesn’t do this can be considered a handyman or just bad at business. When you ask yourself the question “… it’s been a week and a half, where is this guys bid?”, know this… he/she doesn’t want your job. I have heard several times over the years that contractors are bad at getting back with the homeowner. This has long been associated with the Idea that contractors are unorganized… minus a couple of hack contractors I imagine that my earlier statement is more true. Lets face it we all have emotional attachments to our homes. No contractor wants to hurt a homeowners feelings, because they might get on the BBB’s website and try to make you look bad.

If you think you know everything that is needed for your project then DIY.

Personally, I am not interested in what the last contractor that stopped by said.

And what I really want to know when interviewing a homeowner is… are you going to let me do the job or do you want to be the GC? There are plenty contractors in Columbus, Ohio that will cater to you.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a nice guy. I want to be your friend. I want to make your dreams come true. And I want you to be comfortable through out the design/build process, just don’t treat me like the guy at the drive-through that your mad at because there are no pickles on your sandwich.

As a designer, artist, and builder, I want the freedom to practice my craft.

 

Bear with us… We are artists.

Change is good!

Are you inspired by your surroundings? Do you entertain thoughts that you are passionate about? There is a psychological connection between our attitude and our micro environments, e.g. the natural, artificial, or man-made physical surroundings, that is not explained to us as children, and in which I think most people are oblivious to through out their lifetime.

In some of our blogs we will discuss the physical and mental connections we as humans have to this earth. We will also discuss our interests in architecture, art, music, and other applied arts. Our surroundings shape who we are. As designers we have been given the gift of shaping our surroundings. Our belief is that everyone should make a conscious effort to understand their own personal space, the connections we have with one another, and the experiences that make us human.

Peace