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This “New” Old House

This month I want to tell a story that we see repeated often among our New England client base: A family falls in love with a stately, historic New England home. They love it for its charm, its heritage, its period detail, but they can’t quite imagine how it can be renovated to work for their modern, active lifestyles. The house is too dark in places. The rooms are too small. There’s no usable mudroom. The kitchen is cramped, awkward, and there is no family room. What about flow from room to room? Indoor/outdoor connection? Master suite? Closets and storage? Mechanical systems? An unused, unfinished attic with antique framing often completes the obvious problems list.

We recently completed a renovation on just such a project in Wakefield, MA, working with a professional couple with two young kids to renovate their 1865 house to meet their current needs. From the moment the couple saw this National Historic Registry house, they adored its character and beauty. They also knew they wanted to maintain the house’s design integrity, while creating new spaces to accommodate their growing family and lifestyle.

New kitchen and mudroom designed to echo historic architectural details.

Working closely with our clients, JSD’s design included a spacious new kitchen and mudroom that echo the original craftsmanship and architectural details of the house. We also transformed and expanded, with new dormers, dark, unused attic space into a sumptuous third-floor master suite with a walk-in closet and bath, featuring a marble shower and clawfoot soaking tub.

Now that our clients are living in their newly redesigned home, they are absolutely thrilled. And we’ve had an opportunity to reflect on a highly collaborative process that helped to create such a successful outcome:

  • In designing the new kitchen and mudroom space, which is now the hearth of the home, we talked about daily cooking, about holiday meals and visitors. We counted shoes, and even thought about how the kids would most likely hang (or not) their backpacks and coats. We considered washing machine vibrations and a host of other things.

    A clawfoot tub and walk-in marble shower are features of the new master bath.

  • In claiming the unused attic for the master suite, we determined where the light comes in, during times of the day and throughout the seasons of the year, which direction the bed should face, how high the windows above the tub should be (so one can see the sky, but never feel exposed), who wakes up first and who wakes up last.
  • We designed and planned around a realistic budget target. It is our job as architects to work closely with our clients to provide them with the information they need to not only make informed aesthetic decisions, but also informed financial decisions. We worked closely with both our clients and the builder to make this happen.

    Natural light floods the new master bedroom.

  • We worked to understand the bones of this historic house and those elements we wished to maintain. We discussed balloon-framing and tree-trunk posts in the basement, and admired 150-year-old quarter-sawn yellow pine floor boards.

Most importantly, we all kept falling in love with this old house over and over again. And that guided every design choice we made. This new old house, a custom-tailored space for a family and their lifestyle, honors the context and history of their house and its neighborhood. Happy clients are our reward.





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Six Common Home Design Mistakes

It’s never been more tempting to become a Do-It-Yourselfer when it comes to residential design. The internet has made so many tools available to help homeowners create floor plans, visualize different looks and products in a room, or find hundreds of images and design ideas in seconds. And we find that some homeowners – whether they own a house or an apartment – choose to take the lead on many aspects of a renovation or interior redesign. These folks are often gifted in their own fields, and they have specific ideas about how they want their homes to look and function, but somehow fail to get there on their own.  Why? Here are six mistakes we see DIYers too often make when renovating their homes:

  1. Not recognizing the important role planning plays in the design process

Too often, people focus on individual project elements that they think they want, and then get locked into one or more of them–almost like throwing stuff against the wall and assuming it will all stick. It won’t. Inevitably, one decision will impact another and then another and the next. It’s a game of dominoes. And the end result may not work when it comes to furniture placement, flow, visual sight lines, family activities, art display, the balance between public and private spaces.

  1. Not paying attention to natural light

    Natural light, open space and flow combine to make this room work.

Whatever the advances in artificial lighting technology in recent years, there is no substitute for natural light and the proper harnessing of that light in your home. Natural light is precious. They’re not making any more of it. It is ever-changing, throughout the seasons and the time of day. Natural light enters your home at angles that continuously shift—northeast to south to northwest and up and down on the horizon. The depth of its penetration into your home also shifts. The foliage outside your windows changes, and so does the light that reflects off it and filters through it. Once light penetrates into your home, it can create joy (illuminating a favorite reading nook, or kitchen banquette) or wreak havoc (your large screen TV as a landing point). Do your floors  and wall coverings absorb or reflect light, and how? All of these things must be considered.

  1. Creating too much open space

We often see clients who want lots of open space at the expense of small rooms that may enhance the way they live in a house. Do you have art you want to display? Where will that go if your new open plan rooms have no walls? Do you need private spaces or cozy nooks and crannies?  Often, open plans don’t consider how a space is actually used for various family activities. Sight lines, privacy and access all have to be considered when opening up a space

  1. Little or no thought given to entry foyer

Does your entry welcome you and your guests into your home? In a house, your entry may start with the landscaping, the front porch and front door and continue into the home. Does it announce that you have arrived at an inviting place? Does it “tease” you in to find what further visual and comforting delights might be revealed? In an apartment, is the entry cozy and intimate, complete with art, objects and select furnishings, all properly lit? Or is it an uninviting dead end – an uninteresting bank of closets staring you in the face, perhaps?

  1. Designing a kitchen for aesthetics only

Too often, kitchens are designed with only aesthetics in mind. A kitchen should be, first and foremost, functional for you, your family and guests. Everything else is secondary and will fall into place. Beautiful cabinetry, countertops, tile work, high-end appliances are all useless if your kitchen has not been properly located and programmed for how you live, cook, entertain, store things and clean up. However, if all of these things are taken into account, your kitchen will be a joy for years to come.

  1. Putting look and style ahead of how you live

All of us are unique. All design challenges are unique. All design solutions are unique. If you go into a renovation or interior redesign with a particular “look” in mind and are slavish to that, you may come out being disappointed, because you will have worshipped at the altar of “the look” but have given short shrift to your own needs and how you live in the space—the center around which all successful home environments are planned, built and furnished.

If you’re thinking about tackling a design project on your own, make sure you avoid these six mistakes. You’ll be happy you did!



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Four Architectural Tips That Add Personality To Your Home

I’m often inspired by the work of other professionals, and especially excited when that work echoes our own approach. Recently I saw this photo accompanying an article in the weekend Wall Street Journal about using thoughtful design to warm up a bland, sterile contemporary condo.

This room, designed by New York architect Andrew Franz, spoke to me because it captures not only our J. Schwartz Design philosophy but also draws upon design tools we regularly use in our own projects:

  • Sculptural floating stairs – In an otherwise austere space, your staircase not only performs a practical function, but can also add an important visual statement. The staircase is a design element taking center stage, while allowing both light and views to pass through almost unabated. Here the staircase features massive floating treads of live-edged walnut, combined with delicate bronze cable. We can use a variety of woods and metals to achieve similar effects, as we’ve done with an airy, floating staircase in a southern Maine home renovation.
  • Natural wood ceilings – Nothing warms up a contemporary space more than a blend of natural woods used in surprising ways. I love the rich tones and texture of the ceiling in this room; it really showcases the beautiful wood grain.
  • Pops of color – We often work with clients to introduce a complementary splash of color amidst an otherwise neutral palette. The color can be hot—reds, oranges, pinks. Or it can be cool—blues and greens. An accent hue should sing like a soloist, always in synch with its surrounding chorus.
  • A montage of textures, furniture styles and fabrics  The effortless way a variety of rugs, window treatments and furnishings grace this room is not easy to achieve. Our clients know it when they see it, but often need our help to get there. We work with clients to conduct a design dialogue that creates this kind of artful tapestry, reflecting your unique personal style.

This photo sparked my thinking about how these design approaches can combine to create rooms with personality and a home that pulses with warmth and life—transforming what often starts as a sterile, contemporary space. If you’re living in or considering purchasing or renovating a home that offers wonderful views and light but lacks visual interest and character, talk to us. Let’s work some magic together!


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Cheers to 2017

A look back AND forward… it’s that time of year.

2016 has been a tumultuous year. But for me, the JSD team and our clients, it’s been a rewarding year of design, inspiration and growth.

I love what I do every day and continue to be inspired by helping clients realize their own vision of what their home should be: an expression of who they are and how they live.

My work is made even more rewarding by collaborating with my talented colleagues. They make it fun to get up and go to work every day. Dimiter Kostov, AIA, and I have worked together for over 12 years. Dimiter serves as lead architect on JSD projects and is uniquely suited, as my design partner, to crafting residences that echo our clients. He is also a skilled interior designer who understands furnishings, finishes, lighting, color and all the elements that go into making a custom home. This year we added Alex Muentener and Craig Bender to our team—two young, budding design associates who have already contributed to several client projects. Alex and Craig are architects in training, but talented designers in their own right. They, too, have an appreciation for residential interior design.

Exterior of Wakefield Italianate Victorian renovation project in progress

Exterior of Italianate Victorian renovation in progress

One of our more gratifying 2016 projects was a major renovation of an 1865 Italianate Victorian house in Wakefield Center. This stately, period home, on the National Registry of Historic Places, was one that captured our hearts and imaginations again and again as we added a new kitchen, mudroom and third floor master suite, while maintaining the building’s original design integrity. At the same time, we made it light-filled and perfectly suited to the contemporary lifestyle of the young professional family who owns it. They’re delighted, and we’re very proud of what we’ve wrought.

We continue to work extensively on the New England seacoast. In Southern Maine, we’re collaborating with a Texas family to extensively renovate and expand their just-purchased Craftsman cottage on a spectacular point jutting out onto the Atlantic. In Portsmouth, NH, we’re designing a contemporary home on an environmentally sensitive estuary site that is “to die for.” The owners will have the benefit of abundant glass to bring in all the natural surroundings, as well as ample interior spaces to display their fine art collection—both paintings and sculpture.

Rendering of contemporary coastal renovation in Southern New Hampshire

Rendering of contemporary coastal renovation in Southern New Hampshire

In Boston and the surrounding suburbs, we have completed and are working on a number of architectural and interiors projects including combining adjacent condominium units, contemporary and traditional kitchens and master baths, as well as an array of furnishings and finishes to outfit family rooms, living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens.

Each of these projects has its own story, its own personality, its own style. And when our clients are happy with the results, nothing could make us more fulfilled.

So looking toward 2017, we hope to have another busy, productive year at JSD. And I want to send a heartfelt thank you to all our friends and clients—for working with us and, of course, for referring us to your colleagues, friends and family!

I can’t wait to see what the New Year has in store for all of us.

Cheers to 2017!


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A Design Lover’s Tour of Cuba

havana-2With last week’s death of Fidel Castro, the world’s attention has once again turned to Cuba. I’ve just returned from a happy sojourn with friends and clients on a “People to People” tour of this island nation. The 500-year cultural veil has now been lifted on this extraordinary place whose architecture echoes its complex social and political history. During a memorable week, I learned about Cuba’s history and politics and enjoyed music, salsa dancing, mojitos and hearty Cubano home cooking. But perhaps most importantly, I gained a deep appreciation for the island’s incredibly varied and rich architecture, art and design.

Just ninety miles from Miami, Cuba is frozen in time, not just decades, but centuries removed from anything we’ve ever experienced in the U.S.

I found Havana to be one of the most beautiful and architecturally diverse cities I’ve ever seen. The city is a visibly decaying 300- to 400-year old metropolis of 2.4 million people. It feels European, with cobblestoned streets, courtyards, arches, stone and stucco buildings with clay tile roofs. People walk in the streets, not on the sidewalks, to protect themselves from falling building parts. There are just a handful of public buildings, including the National Museum of Fine Arts (a must see), that are of 20th century vintage, but that’s about it.

havana-carEverywhere in Havana we walked through an architectural pastiche of Spanish Colonial palaces, Belle Époque mansions, 1950’s style beach bungalows—one painted more flamboyantly than the next—all crumbling and decaying. Jewel-toned ‘57 Chevys cruise palm tree-lined streets, and when we entered the storied Hotel Nacional de Cuba—built by Myer Lansky in 1946—we were truly transported to another era.

Havana’s Presidential Palace is riddled with bullet holes from the revolution of 1959. A bust of Abraham Lincoln is prominently displayed in the palace; Cuba freed its own slaves in 1886. And the intact office of deposed President Batista (Meyer Lansky’s partner in the Hotel Nacional) includes beautifully crafted original furnishings that any designer would guess had been handmade by artisans in Europe. But no, our guide told us, they were made in Trinidad, Cuba.

One of the highlights of our trip was a chance to meet several local Havana artists. We were especially enchanted by a young (39 years old) contemporary conceptual artist named Yoan Capote, whose work is gaining international renown. Visiting Capote’s studio and spending time with him as he shared his work with us was a thrill—a mix of politics and art uniquely Cuban. We hope to join him at a gallery show in New York in 2017.

Trinidad, in central Cuba, is about a five-hour drive from Havana and definitely worth a visit. It is a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement where the clocks stopped in 1850 and have yet to restart. Built by the sugar barons of the early 19th century, the glories of the town’s history remain in colonial mansions decorated with crystal chandeliers, ornate furniture and Italian frescoes.

trinidadDeclared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1988, Trinidad is a delightful outdoor museum with quiet cobblestoned streets and local crafts people trading handmade baskets, embroidery and textiles. Trinidad’s spectacular Opera House dominates the main square, financed and built by a wealthy Cuban slave trader whose name—Terry—adorns the imposing façade.

In Trinidad I was thrilled to meet a 70-year-old, fourth-generation potter and watch him work his magic with clay. I also learned how clay Spanish roof tiles were manufactured in the 16th century–the clay was molded on the thighs of female slaves.

Since the U.S. restored its relations with Cuba, there’s been a surge in tourism to the island, and many predict that the boom will unleash an invasion of Starbucks and McDonalds amidst Old Havana’s stunning mix of architecture. Cuba’s capitalist embrace is imminent, so make arrangements to visit before it loses its nostalgic charm.  And if your architecture interests lie closer to home, let’s talk about enriching your living space with character and charm, transforming it into a place you’ll love coming home to… whether returning from vacation or a stroll around the block.



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Two New Design Associates Join JSD Team

Alex Muentener (L) and Craig Bender (R)

JSD’s new design associates, Alex Muentener (L) and Craig Bender (R)

J. Schwartz Design is thrilled to announce the appointment of Craig Bender and Alex Muentener as our new design associates. Craig and Alex are both currently attending Boston Architectural College as architecture students, and both bring a wealth of experience and talent to our growing studio.

Craig most recently served as a designer and draftsman for Julia Chuslo Architects in Duxbury, MA, and he previously worked as an interior architect and project manager for Wheelfish Perfomance Pub and Hayes Design Group in Pittsburgh, PA.

Alex’s experience includes serving as a design associate at Room & Board in Boston and a freelance draftsperson at Mark Bombara Interiors also in Boston. He previously worked as a junior CAD operator for Montroy Andersen and DeMarco in New York, NY, as well as a survey field crew member for Anderson Livingston Engineers in York, ME.

Craig and Alex have both already started working with our clients, and I hope many of you will have an opportunity to meet them in the coming weeks. Welcome, Craig and Alex!


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Five Autumn Home Design Ideas

The return of cooler temperatures, pumpkin everything, and nature changing before our eyes tells us that fall is officially here. As days grow shorter and nights get crisper, I know the five home design ideas below will enrich the interior and exterior of your house, and all your autumns for years to come:

  1. Rumford opening fireplace in coastal Maine renovation

    This Rumford fireplace in a coastal Maine renovation efficiently radiates heat into the room.

    A Rumford fireplace: Physician Benjamin Thompson (Count Rumford) was a student of the properties of heat. In the 1790s he introduced a tall, shallow fireplace design that remains today as energy efficient as a clean burning stove. Regardless of your home’s pedigree—Colonial, Contemporary, Arts and Crafts, Victorian or Greek Revival—your mason can construct a firebox incorporating Rumford proportions and you will be toasty warm as the heat radiates on you and not up the chimney. Along with adding heat, fireplaces are often important decorative elements that add extra style, symmetry, and a place for displaying art or collections. Your architecture and design team can bring extra warmth to your room with customized designs for the hearth, mantle, chimney and surround to suit your aesthetic preferences.

  1. Lovingly restored antique windows: The North Bennet Street school in Boston’s North End has been training artisans in the craft of antique window restoration for years. We often refer our clients to these experts, who have restored hundreds of sashes and tested products and techniques for the New England climate. Refurbishing windows requires a significant amount of time and labor, but your reward will be in their functionality, longevity, and authentic connection to your home’s character. A 100-year-old window properly restored will last another hundred years.
  1. via woodburnandcompany.com

    via woodburnandcompany.com

    Landscaping with specimen fieldstone: As we transition into cooler days and your summer blooms have faded, you may notice that your outdoor environment can use some TLC. Fall is a great time to address renovating your site. If your budget allows, stay away from manufactured stone and its sterile look.  Our architectural designs often incorporate indigenous fieldstone that will celebrate the contours of your property and strike a balance between the style of your home and its surrounding environment.

  1. A radiant heated floor in your master bathroom: Heated bathroom flooring is a master bath feature that’s too often overlooked, but it’s so nice to  to wake up to when temperatures drop outside. Constructed with either electric mats (below your tile floor) or hydronic heating that uses heated water distributed through a complex tubing system, both types are best used as a supplemental source of heat. With the flip of a switch, you’ll quickly have toasty toes.


    via brahmsmount.com

  1. A Brahms Mount made in Maine soft wool throw: Soft and luxurious and available in beautiful autumnal colors, these hand-loomed textiles will add visual warmth to nearly every living space (and will keep you cozy, too).

Happy autumn. Enjoy.

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On Time and On Budget: How Do We Do It?

Rendering of Maine ship chandlery renovation... now a four-season vacation home.

Our 3-D renderings  help you envision what your  finished project will look like.

Years of working on all kinds of construction projects  has taught us just how greatly clients’ already busy lives can be affected by this process. We know how important it is from the outset to set realistic expectations about how much your project will cost and how long it will take.

When we talk to new clients about their prior experience with architects, designers and builders, one of the most common complaints we hear is that the team they worked with paid too little attention to timetable or budget. We hear stories of major additions, new kitchens and even smaller projects, like new or renovated bathrooms, growing in cost and too often taking months longer than originally planned.

Of course, sometimes delays or cost increases simply cannot be avoided, but we find that working with an experienced architect and communicating throughout can help keep surprises to a minimum. Here are eight tips we live by to make sure that our clients’ projects come in on time and on budget:

  1. Put your wish list and priorities in writing; then reconcile your means and dreams. Through thoughtful, probing questions and open communication, we guide you on establishing “nice to haves” versus “must haves,” and help you achieve the balance between your wish list and your desired budget. As designs proceed, we’ll check in early and often on what we’re trying to accomplish together and adjust priorities as necessary.

2. Develop a careful, detailed plan with the homeowner and the builder. We provide a schedule for the delivery and completion of our services and help you manage the scope—the amount of work that needs to be done to get your project completed as planned. Time invested in exploring details up front will help eliminate costly changes during construction and keep you within your budget.

J. Schwartz Design Renovation Construction

To keep things on track, we visit the site at key milestones during construction. This ensures your project is built, as  intended, per our construction drawings and specifications.

3. Include all line item budgets with great specificity. We understand budgets are a primary concern. Every one of our architecture and interior design clientsno matter how much money they intend to spendexpects us to help them invest their budget wisely, making choices that will be the best for their lifestyle. We’ve earned the confidence of our clients by providing a clear understanding of cost and respecting budgets. Our detailed budgets reflect every project component–from construction costs to architecture fees, to finishes and furnishings–and are a critical element of overall cost management.

4. Make sure you (and your builder) can fully visualize the finished project. We’ll provide you with all the detailed visuals you need to understand exactly what your home will be… not just floor plans and elevations, but detailed 3D renderings to help you weigh pros and cons of certain “budget buster” wish list items. We also provide the builder with extensive construction drawings: If something is not drawn, it’s an opportunity for the contractor to ask for more money.

5. Choose building materials early on. Your builder should provide a calendar of when you need to make decisions in order to keep your project on track. We’ll provide you with timely recommendations on carefully selected materials and products that offer the right combination of price, aesthetics, and performance. We’ll also make sure your choices are available so you don’t waste time waiting for a specific tile or wood floor that will take two months to arrive­­­­­ and disrupt the calendar.

6. Address any permit issues at the start of your project. Your architect, and attorney in some instances, should work with you to handle any paperwork or submissions needed for permits required by your city or town. As project leaders, we’ll be sure all permitting requirements are anticipated, addressed at the outset and handled in sequence so that you don’t have delays down the road.

J. Schwartz Design Maine Oceanside Renovation

This new addition and significant renovation of a former ship chandlery in southern Maine strikes the right balance between our client’s lifestyle, traditional and contemporary aesthetics, zoning requirements and overall budget.

7. Be on site with the builder at critical times throughout the project. As architects who care deeply about our clients and their homes, our practice is to work closely with the builder, review the project status each week and show up on site at important stages of the project. This insures that we can anticipate and resolve any issues that may arise during construction, and give advice on the time and cost consequences of design and construction decisions.

8. Communication is key. Perhaps most important, is good, open communication between architect, builder and client. The entire team must align around timetable and expectations so there are few surprises as your project progresses. We pride ourselves on anticipating the rhythm of a project and asking questions throughout, keeping everyone informed every step of the way. If the inevitable issue comes up, we help you make educated decisions so that we can find the best solution as a team.


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Design for a Small Kitchen: Less Really is More

Poggenpohl Urban Kitchen

Via Poggenpohl

A recent visit to the Boston Poggenpohl studio on Newbury Street to renovate a compact 8’ x 8’ Back Bay apartment kitchen reminded me of the importance of carefully tailoring all elements in a small kitchen to fit together into a seamless whole. These European crafted cabinets have been manufactured for a century, but are always fresh and contemporary in feel.

J. Schwartz Design collaborated on this project with Rosemary Porto, senior designer at Poggenpohl, who is a master at the intricate art of packing maximum kitchen into minimum space.

  • Appliances: One of Rosemary’s suggestions is to look at smaller, European-size appliances to make use of all important counter and storage space in the limited space available. Standard, large American refrigerators and stoves may overwhelm your small space and make it more difficult to work in the kitchen. Smaller, slimmer units, such as a 24” refrigerator, a 24” cooktop and an 18” dishwasher (still rich in features), free up much-needed space and, in turn, lend a lighter look.
  • Cabinetry: Poggenpohl, and similar modular cabinet systems, fit perfectly with these smaller European appliances and also offer the clean, contemporary design that can pull a small kitchen together—creating both effortless function and an aesthetically pleasing design. Poggenpohl also offers the advantage of many thoughtfully crafted accessories that can increase storage space—corner cabinets with highly engineered access, pull-out pantries, drawer inserts and dividers to accommodate just about anything.
Poggenpohl Accessories - Drawer with spice shaker bank, spice jar bank and knife block - maple-min

Via Poggenpohl

These modular systems also allow you to opt for paneled refrigerators and dishwashers in your cabinet material. This unifies the overall look of your small kitchen. Creative choice of materials—cabinet finishes, countertops, backsplash AND color palette—can makes the kitchen look cleaner, less cluttered and a bit larger. The upper and lower cabinets may or may not be in the same materials. The same kitchen layout and cabinet composition can be a “feast for the eyes” and take on several looks depending on many aesthetic configurations available to you and your architect/designer.

Here are a few other important design considerations for anyone looking to create maximum style and utility in their small kitchen:

  • Cooktop and wall oven: A separate cooktop installed in your counter, paired with a wall oven below, can create a sleeker look, with continuous counter space, rather than a standard drop-in range.
  • Hardware: In addition to careful choice of materials and colors in your cabinetry to achieve the cleaner, uncluttered look so important in a small kitchen, also consider opting for handle or knob-free design in your cabinets. Keeping them flush to the wall is another way to add to the sleek, minimalist overall look of your small kitchen. If you do opt for handles, make them streamlined to complement the lines of the space.
  • Sink style and size: How do you prep, cook and clean? A sink should be a personal choice, carefully considered. Depth is important, but so are length and width. The size and position of the sink will impact not only counter space, but also the sink cabinet size and therefore the adjacent lower storage available. This is an often overlooked, but very important decision.
  • Poggenpohl%20Brandbook%20-%20London%20Artillery%20Mansions-%20

    When you have a small kitchen, you need all the storage you can get. These cupboards with drawers inside let you use every inch of space. (Via Poggenpohl)

    Construction project calendar: It is important to work with your architect and kitchen designer EARLY in the renovation process. Plan for lead times involved so that the appliances are chosen first; the cabinetry can be specified, ordered, manufactured and on-site before any demolition occurs.

The new Poggenpohl kitchen for our client is in the works and will offer not only a beautiful environment, but also one that is super functional—particularly when space is at a premium—with cutting edge details and amenities. Follow us Facebook and watch for photos of how we made this small urban kitchen live larger.



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Should We Stay or Should We Go?

As the spring real estate market kicks into gear, housing prices in Greater Boston are at an all time high. Increasing demand, coupled with stubbornly low inventory, has created an often frenzied, highly competitive buyers’ market. Frustrated by it all, many J. Schwartz Design clients – looking for more space to accommodate their growing families – are wondering whether it makes sense to stay where they are and renovate or add on instead of picking up and moving to a larger home, often in another city or town.

Our clients loved their Cape, but they wanted both more room inside and improved outdoor space. JSD worked with them to add two new wings to the existing house. The renovation not only created more indoor space but also embraced and defined a new outdoor living area. They are thrilled with the results!

Our clients loved their Cape, but they wanted both more room inside and improved outdoor space. JSD worked with them to add two new wings to the existing house. The renovation not only created more indoor space but also embraced and defined a new outdoor living area. They are thrilled with the results!

In many cases, a thoughtful, well-designed renovation or addition can be a wise lifestyle choice. It may or may not save you money versus purchasing a larger house (or condo), but it may produce the perfect home, custom-designed to how your family lives. It will also allow you to stay in a neighborhood you know and love for all it has to offer.

Our clients often ask us if we think a major renovation or addition will be “worth it.” As architects and interior designers, it is our role to probe and ask them what they mean by “worth it.” Our clients often can’t articulate exactly what they mean, but, as we dig deeper, it always comes down to more than just dollars and cents. There are many factors to consider. Here are just a few:

Financial Considerations
Every “custom tailored home” is different, as different as the clients they are designed for. Financial factors are a key part of the stay-or-go decision, and it is important for your architect and design/build team, along with a trusted real estate professional, to help you sort out the money: What could we sell this house for today, as is? What would a new house, with all of the space and features we want, cost to buy? What would a bespoke custom renovation/addition to our house cost? If it would cost more money to stay, would it be “worth it?” The psychic returns of staying and reinventing your house can sometimes outweigh, or far outweigh, the additional financial cost, if any.

You likely moved to your neighborhood for its ambience, housing stock, schools, friends, parks, shops, restaurants, walkability and cultural offerings, not to mention its proximity to where you work. It has been a constant in your life. If you love it, why leave it?

Your Lot, The House’s Site
Location, location location. Is your lot desirable? Does it provide adequate privacy? How is the house sited on it? Does it let natural light shine into your house throughout the day? What are the setback and any footprint to lot ratio limitations? What types of trees and plantings have established themselves? How vertical or horizontal is the terrain? What are the neighboring houses like? Is your house the nicest on the street, or is there room to improve it?

Historic or Architectural Significance
Is your house or condo in a historic district? Will you be beholden to restrictions to closely adhere to its architectural style, or will you and your architect be able to create something unique and cutting edge? Either way, is this important to you?

Space Considerations
What kind of space are you hoping to gain? Things we often hear:

  • A bigger, more open kitchen
  • A family room that our family and friends will truly use
  • Outdoor spaces that are both practical and beautiful
  • More bedrooms
  • Another bath(s)
  • An office or “away space”
  • A functional mudroom
  • A real dedicated, laundry room
  • A more functional garage
  • A guest wing
  • Better flow throughout the house

A home that meets our lifestyle and makes us happy every day!

Choosing whether to stay or go is never an easy decision. Talk to us and perhaps we can help you sort out what’s right for you and your family.

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