TRANSFORMATIONS: Program, Design, Budget – Three interdependent components in any project

Mr. and Mrs. S. are folks I’ve known for years. Their house was built in the seventies – a kind of economical deck house with upside down organization – bedrooms below, living dining kitchen above. They wanted to add a bedroom and bathroom. The existing building had two bedrooms, one full bath at the bedroom level and one half-bath at the upper level. Their budget was tight, and they knew it.

West Stockbridge — Every residential design project is unique. Whether new construction or renovation, there are three interrelated components that govern the project outcome. They are – the client’s program, the design, and, of course, the budget. (Regarding budget, William Randolph Hearst doesn’t come along every day and even less so since 2008). Each of these has an impact on the other and inevitably requires adjustment during the project life.

Mr. and Mrs. S. are folks I’ve known for years. Their house was built in the seventies – a kind of economical deck house with upside down organization – bedrooms below, living dining kitchen above. They wanted to add a bedroom and bathroom. The existing building had two bedrooms, one full bath at the bedroom level and one half-bath at the upper level. Their budget was tight, and they knew it.

 

01.Before-NorthElevationFront.jpg
Before renovation, the north side elevation.

 

 

 

Before renovation, the Main Entry staircase.
Before renovation, the Main Entry staircase at the rear of the house.

 

 

Before renovation, the ground floor plan.
Before renovation, the ground floor plan.

 

 

04.BeforeUpperFloorPlan
Before renovation, the upper floor plan.

 

Entering a building is a critical event necessary for its success. You do it every time you come home. Every guest experiences this event too. Even in a humble building, the entrance can be gracious, convenient, obvious and orienting. In the case of our project, the entrance was on the back side of the building and the stairway to arrive at the living level was either an exterior stair or an interior spiral stair. Neither was gracious, convenient, or obvious. And they were both a little disorienting. Resolving that was primary.

Since the budget was so tight, we decided to develop a scheme that only minimally disrupted the interior of the existing building. So, our first approach was to develop an addition containing the new bedroom and bath. It included a linear ramp that ascended to the upper level and provided a kind of ceremonial entrance. This new entrance was obvious, gave a sense of orientation and was gracious in that it avoided steps and depended on a gradually inclined path that could be easily maintained in the winter.

North and west Elevations – Scheme A - First new concept.
North and west Elevations – Scheme A – First new concept.

Mr. and Mrs. S. embraced the concept and were ecstatic. So we took the next vitally important step — evaluating the cost. We do this as early in the design process as possible and in particular with tightly budgeted projects. We sat down with a contractor, David Babcock of Babcock Brothers Restorations Inc. in Lee, Mass., soon after developing these concept sketches. We also provided an overall description of the project scope. David took some time, considered the process to build and obtained material estimates. Unfortunately, the cost exceeded the budget. Excessive site work was blamed, since the scheme required reorienting the driveway and parking area. A number of moderating adjustments were considered but ultimately this scheme fell by the wayside.

So next step – we generated a new scheme. This one eliminated the long linear entry, avoided reconfiguring the driveway and provided a more direct connection from the existing parking area.

Second try – Scheme B -- North and West Elevations.
Second try – Scheme B — North and West Elevations.

Again, a review by the contractor determined that this, too, was a budget buster. So on to the third scheme. And this required a review of the program. The most effective way to cut budget is to reduce square footage. Therefore, the program was edited; we eliminated the third bedroom and decided instead to expand one bedroom and focus efforts on improving the interior of the bedroom level.

Third try – North Elevation.
Third try – North Elevation.

 

Third try – West Elevation.
Third try – West Elevation.

Most importantly, we established a front entrance to the building that related comfortably to the parking area. And though one still needs to climb stairs to arrive at the main living level, the new stairs are designed to be gentle in slope and to provide a comfortable ascension to the living level, inside the building instead of outside.

Northwest View –- New Front
After renovation, the northwest view with a new front

 

After renovation, the new stairway in back
After renovation, the new stairway in back

 

 

The lower floor plan that the owners approved.
The final plan for the upper floor.
The final plan for the upper floor.

 

In summary, the process of meeting project goals first focused on the design. Several early attempts to alter the design and bring the project into budget fell short. The budget was increased somewhat but still did not meet the demands of the design. The only component left to adjust was the program. So, the new bedroom was eliminated. And, as a result, the project size was reduced and the budget constraints met.

And though the original program was not realized and one of the primary components eliminated, the essential needs of the Mr. and Mrs. S. were met. With a logical and inviting entrance, the house functions more graciously. The existing bedrooms have been improved with soundproofing added between their walls. The bathrooms have been redone. The interior and exterior have been transformed with new finishes. Insulation and window upgrades have reduced heat-loss, resulting in a more comfortable interior.

Both husband and wife are writers and spend most of their time alone. Their refinished two-bedroom home works well for them. When they have guests, they are proud of their newly transformed home.

3 thoughts on “TRANSFORMATIONS: Program, Design, Budget – Three interdependent components in any project

  • Thank you for your interesting and informative article.
    As ZBA member, you are no doubt aware of Massachusetts 40B which allows developers to disregard town zoning and build housing in, for instance, an industrial zone if there are not enough “affordable housing” units in your town. This almost happened at Rising Mill.
    Now the federal government will determine if there enough black people in your town. And if there aren’t enough, you’ll get some.
    According to “The Hill”, The Obama administration is moving forward with regulations designed to help diversify America’s wealthier neighborhoods, drawing fire from critics who decry the proposal as executive overreach in search of an “unrealistic utopia.”
    Critics of the rule say it would allow HUD to assert authority over local zoning laws. The agency could dictate what types of homes are built where and who can live in those homes, said Gosar, who believes local communities should make those decisions for themselves rather than relying on the federal government. If enacted, the rule could depress property values as cheaper homes crop up in wealthy neighborhoods and raise taxes, Gosar warned.
    Perhaps you could provide your readers with your position on this issue and how it will affect South County? Didn’t this used to be called “block busting” and wasn’t it against the law? It would be nice if someone as knowledgeable as you are could keep the readers informed. Years ago, it took weeks before the GB town officials came to grips with the simple fact that they were powerless to stop a zoning upgrade from industrial to residential and the resulting enormous value in the land appreciation that would go the developers at Rising Mill.

    • Here’s how it could work: HUD decides your 2 or 5 acre minimum house lot zoning is not diverse and reflects “white privilege”. They change the law to 1/4 acre house lots; Levittown. Doesn’t matter what color the people who live there are, the town will have to put in a subdivision road, water, sewer. more schools, etc. – all funded by local taxes. People you never saw before apply for a building permit which you must grant. Workers you never saw before build something and then leave. People you never met move in. Maybe this is what they plan to do with all the people walking across the border. The essential needs of Mr. and Mrs. S. will be far from met, and like their neighbors, they will have no recourse. The Community Organizer in Chief has organized your community. To summarize, “The British are coming. The British are coming.”

  • Around here, zoning has been doing the opposite. Increased lot sizes, increasing regulations on engineers requirements and such….it is amounting to economic cleansing, not ethnic cleansing. You got the green $$$? Your good! No? You can move into town and rent a pheasant coop. That way, you can be around to mow the lawns, fix the electrics, clean, cater and provide all the services necessary to maintain the lifestyle those who can afford these new zoning regulations. Your story relates the costs and difficulties in getting an an addition approved…imagine a single person, young family or any lower or middle income person trying to buy a lot and to build a house on it. The older I get the more I see that there are two correct sides to every story, at least.
    I am not anti-zoning, just anti-zoning in order to out-price the bulk of the country’s population.

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