B&V Night School

Here at B&V we try to stay sharp and informed. We invite product representatives and consultants in to teach us about new and innovative material uses and practices. We also plan regular office outings to tour galleries, exemplary architecture, and production facilities. Tomorrow we begin a new and exciting foray into honing our skills and critical thinking; we call it ‘Night School.’ Organized and inspired by our own, Jeff Sandler.

Once a quarter, or more, we will leave our office setting and spend the evening discussing critical issues in our work around a theme. There will be documentary screenings, presentations, maybe even a live reading. This is an exciting departure from our daily work where we take a step back and provide ourselves the space to consider deeper issues in our work. During the day we work to provide the best service we can and see successful projects through to completion. At night we can wonder about the larger issues of architecture, like our role in society or our responsibility to creating a better future.

A scene from the 1989 film, Dead Poets Society

A scene from the 1989 film, Dead Poets Society

For our first installment of Night School, we will be screening ‘Citizen Architect,’ a film about Sam Mockbee and his legacy at Auburn University’s, Rural Studio. The Rural Studio takes students in their second and fifth years of architecture school and relocates them to three remote counties in central Alabama. There they live in the communities and put their newly learned skills to use designing and building community projects and affordable rural housing solutions for individuals with whom they develop relationships over the course of their time at the Rural studio and with whom they become quite close.

Graphic imagery from the 20th Anniversary of the Rural Studio

Graphic imagery from the 20th Anniversary of the Rural Studio

Discussing the Rural Studio brings about questions of our responsibility to create an equitable built environment for all. The Rural Studio works in some of the poorest areas of the country and brings together students and community members from many different backgrounds and circumstances. The result of the efforts of the Rural Studio has been more informed young architects going into the workforce, a greater understanding of the role of architects by the public, and many cost-effective innovations in simple and beautiful construction. This first meeting of Night School proves to be a thought provoking and inspirational evening indeed.

Akron Boys & Girls Club

Akron Boys & Girls Club

To buy or not to buy those LED bulbs

You might have noticed that Seattle (indeed, the whole northwest) has been experiencing the hottest summer weather in years, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon. Most of us in the Emerald City don’t have air conditioners at home – it rarely gets hot enough to use them. We’re stuck inside with blowing fans desperately wishing for a reprieve.

But did you know that it could also be the light bulbs in your house that are contributing to the unbearable temperatures indoors? Yes, your appliances and TV and computer and – basically anything with a motor – gives off heat. Let’s talk about that ubiquitous incandescent light bulb for a minute. Chances are you still have some, even though the EPA has phased them out.

I get it. I had a stockpile of spares until recently and I don’t consider myself a wasteful person, so of course I’m going to use up what I have first, right? Isn’t that the responsible and environmental thing to do?

Nope. I recently gave a presentation on this topic at Board & Vellum, together with a certified lighting consultant and loads of backup data from all sorts of agencies. If you’re interested in saving money on your energy bill while also keeping your home cooler during these summer months, read on.

It starts with technology that is over 125 years old. A standard incandescent bulb is only 10% efficient. That means 90% of the electricity it uses makes heat, not light. Where does that heat go? Your house.


Let’s back up a minute. We’re accustomed to thinking about light in terms of watts; 60-watt bulbs for overhead lights, 40-watt bulbs for a table lamp, etc. A 60-watt light bulb (incandescent, mind you) provides such-and-such amount of light. That “such-and-such” is called “lumens”, and is what you need to start thinking about when it comes to brightness. The reason is because different technologies use more or less watts to produce the same amount of light. The chart below shows you the relationship between different kinds of light bulbs, their wattage, and their lumen output.


A typical 60-watt incandescent bulb produces around 800 lumens, as does a 13-watt compact fluorescent bulb, as does an 8-watt LED bulb. Think about that for a minute. The lumens are the same for all three, but the LED bulb is 7.5 times more efficient (uses less electricity) than that hot incandescent! Why aren’t people running to the store RIGHT NOW and buying them up? Don’t you want to save money on your electric bill? Or do you not think one bulb makes a big difference?

The cost of an LED bulb is one reason people aren’t overly thrilled about replacing all of their old light bulbs. It’s an average of about $10 per bulb versus 50 cents for a comparable incandescent. Is it worth it to spend that much more? YES! Based on using your bulb 3 hours per day until it dies, your incandescent bulb will last about 1.4 years. Great, right? NO WAY! Based on the same usage, an LED bulb (and remember, it gives off the same number of lumens as an incandescent) will last an average of 20 years. That’s over FOURTEEN TIMES longer! If you do the math you will make up the cost of buying that LED bulb in under two years, just from what money you’re saving on your electric bill. Bottom line: if you can afford the upfront cost and plan on living in your house for at least two years longer – buy those LED bulbs. They’ll make a difference in your wallet, and help to keep your house cooler.

Alright, enough of the cold, hard facts. What about those light fixtures where you can see the bulb? “I don’t want one of those screwy CFL bulbs or a wacky shaped LED bulb sticking out of my beautiful vintage light fixture. What are my options?” you ask.

Believe it or not, they also have started to make “filament LED” bulbs, which have clear glass and look a lot like those original incandescent bulbs. And they still give you the same energy savings! This topic will be covered in a future blog post, don’t worry. Stay tuned and thanks for visiting!

Building the Lego Room

Back in 2005 I emptied out my childhood Lego collection from my parents’ house and brought it back to Seattle in a very heavy (and noisy) series of suitcases (thanks Alaska Airlines!). We had an empty room in our house in Ravenna and it seemed the perfect spot for the Lego to live. Very quickly I realized that this beloved toy that had inspired my love of architecture then got shoved in a closet when I hit the age of 16, was suddenly something that I was passionate about again. I unpacked the bricks and started to take inventory. And then I realized that I had 3 things that I didn’t have when I was a kid playing with Lego: a paycheck, free reign, and an empty room.

My first Lego room was born.

My first creations were pretty basic and limited by my brick collection.  They also seemed to be remnants of creative ideas from when I was a kid.

My first creations were pretty basic and limited by my brick collection. They also seemed to be remnants of creative ideas from when I was a kid.

Recently, a story on my new Lego room went viral. I suppose if my fifteen minutes of fame involves me virtually guiding people through what I call my “Lego Lounge,” there are far worse paths towards notoriety. The crazy part was receiving notes and messages from people all around the world thanking me for “normalizing” adults playing with Lego. Well, I never said I was normal but I’ll take a compliment!

A common question I receive is, “How is it all organized?” When we decided to remodel our current house and go all out with a Lego room, bar, and media room, I had to think long and hard about how I was going to store it all. If I was going to build custom shelves for everything I had to get it right as I really only had one chance. How people divide their collection for any hobby (Lego, sewing, crafts, scrapbooking, your collection of miniature dog sweaters…that’s a thing, right?) is very personal. We all build and use our supplies differently. Here’s what I did but the solution for you might be very different.

These bins are cost-effective and come in other colors and three sizes.

These bins are cost-effective and come in other colors and three sizes.

IKEA Trofast bins in varying sizes. I tend to have a lot of some types of bricks and so the IKEA Trofast bins worked for me as they allow me to switch out 2 small bins for 1 medium bin if one particular piece grows in inventory. I template the rack that you can buy at IKEA for these bins and had our cabinet maker route out channels for the stock bins. As the bins are from IKEA, I did go ahead and buy a LOT of extra ones as one never knows if something will go out of stock there. Still, they’re inexpensive and have a nice uniform translucency to them which I really liked. I can see just enough inside them to know what is there but not enough that the walls are overloaded with color.

These drawers are perfect for letter sized paper or heads of disembodied Lego minifigures.  Your choice.

These drawers are perfect for letter sized paper or heads of disembodied Lego minifigures. Your choice.

Sterilite drawers. I used to sort pieces into very small hobby drawers. It became pretty annoying as my collection grew and I spent hours moving things into bigger drawers. The sterilite might be too big for some of my pieces but I know that it allows for better long term storage. I sized the Lego room storage for more than I needed so there’s room for my collection to grow as well. The shelves down low are fixed and very flexible so if I ever wanted to move these smaller bins elsewhere I could display Lego down here as well.

Work surface. I designed a large built-in desk area that also works with the stools from the nearby bar. As the room isn’t all that large, the sofa slides back easily against the desk area when in Media-room-mode and then out of the way for when I want to build. This is often something that people miss, but you can see that there is a custom table built that sits in the knee-well of the desk area. If I need additional building area I can wheel that out and go back and forth between the desk and the table. It is one of my favorite details.

You can see the recess for the rolling table beyond the bar.  The table slides perfectly into the knee space when not needed or rolls out when you need extra space.

You can see the recess for the rolling table beyond the bar. The table slides perfectly into the knee space when not needed or rolls out when you need extra space.

For large unopened sets I use an adjacent storage room, although I honestly don’t keep much unopened Lego as I buy the sets to use the brick not save them for later. Some people love the boxes, though, so a different solution would make more sense for them. And to the person who wanted to know what I did with the boxes…I recycle them. There’s a limit to even my organizational skills!

I do, however, file away the instructions, so I’m not completely crazy!

I think that the best thing about witnessing this story go around the world and picked up by so many news outlets is how people are reacting to an adult relaxing and doing something fun. Your house is YOUR house. We all get one life on this planet and I’m a big fan of embracing that and doing what you want to do in your house. Other people may not get it, like it, or even think you’re sane, but in the end it really doesn’t matter. I’m proud that our projects at Board & Vellum embrace the individuality of our clients and I hope this inspires you to embrace your passions just a little bit more.

Each one of these projects works because personality shines through.  Generic is a word that shouldn’t be used to describe your project.

Each one of these projects works because personality shines through. Generic is a word that shouldn’t be used to describe your project.

Back when I brought those suitcases of Lego back with me to Seattle, I stood in an empty room, looked around, and realized that there was one truth to my situation at that very moment.
I was an adult and darn it I could have a Lego room if I wanted one. Truer words have never been spoken by me. Make sure you speak some truths to yourselves in your quest for an awesome home.
lego room back wall

Introducing Renée

The Board & Vellum team is charged with such enthusiasm and talent it’s infectious and inspiring, and I’m so excited to be able to write my first blog post as the newbie in the office. OK here goes…

Growing up outside Philadelphia instilled an interest in historic places. My childhood was filled with painting or creating crafts with my mother, or playing with my father’s drafting equipment from his engineering office. It was probably inevitable architecture would be in my future!

I migrated toward the west coast gradually, first by attending the University of Colorado and receiving a Bachelors of Environmental Design and then the University of Washington for a MARCH degree. I attended the Rome program which was an earth shattering experience. Traveling through Italy and Europe, living in Rome, sketching each day, looking at the best western art & architecture in the world, visiting various gardens, enjoying the food, wine, soaking up the cultures, it was OMG, OMG, OMG each day!

in Sicily

Temple of Selinute, Sicily

Returning to Seattle was a bit of a culture shock but I finished my thesis and my NCARB tests for licensure and worked in two Seattle firms while doing so; GGLO & Leavengood Architects. At GGLO, I worked on a few urban low-income multi-family projects, an assisted living project, and the Ummelina Spa. I was the go-to person for new project types and enjoyed the freshness of it. It’s kind of like hiking a pass; it hard work but boy is that view great when you finish! Anyway, an opportunity popped up to work on rural projects at Leavengood Architects which peaked my interest. Land!? Actual land with plants, wildlife, horses, cattle, remote sites, acreage!? Wow! While at Leavengood Architects I was able to work on a wide variety of projects and clients: ranches in CA, WY, and WA, barns, National Park Service projects in WA & OR, a private art gallery, a conservation lab, and single family homes in Seattle. Voilà I’m a creative problem solver, alias ‘generalist architect’ and absolutely love it! Each ‘hike’ was was often inspiring and there were fantastic teams on every journey. At that time the revelation sank in, the ‘light bulb in the sky’ moment, it takes a great client to create a great project, and to boot, the whole team can really enjoy nearly the entire design and construction process. At Bassetti Architects I was able to work on the schematic designs for two large historic high schools which was also exciting but an opportunity popped up to work on residential projects at Board & Vellum. So here I am at B & V, thrilled, packed up ready to go with the Board & Vellum team!

During my off time, I live on Vashon (think Rastafarian accent here) and enjoy the island life man. I hike, make killer soups, garden (really hacking blackberries), & enjoy other peoples gardens. Seems like there is always a home remodel project to do. I thoroughly enjoy the arts and on occasion even grab sticks of charcoal for life drawing sessions at the Grange Hall. (It’s really fun to draw things other than buildings even if I’m just trying to draw feet?!)

Hiking in Yoho National Park

Hiking in Yoho National Park

A foot :)

A foot :)

A newly framed wood shed

A newly framed wood shed

I’m looking forward to working on some great projects at Board & Vellum and following my passion for great design. I am even looking forward to my next blog post, so please stay tuned …

Designing retail spaces you want to linger in

Retail design is one of our passions at Board & Vellum. We work on a variety of small-to-medium-size retail projects and they each bring unique and exciting challenges. In particular, I think I have always been intrigued by the more neighborhood-oriented retail spaces because the scale is so accessible. Living and working on 15th Avenue East, I am witness to great small retail and how much it can enliven a community. Walking to work each day I am reminded how profoundly the scale and density of display really impacts which spaces excel.

After years of reflecting on the retail industry and what makes some spaces feel so right (and conducive to spending time and buying things there), I’ve realized that I spend my time and money in the spaces that have many layers of things to look at and pick up. This is the opposite approach of the Apple store trend, which emphasizes the exclusivity of items, and certainly works for specific retail environments. What it doesn’t do, however, is create that sense of old Main Street corner shops that Americans idolize – even if many have never actually shopped in one.

Working on the design of Ada’s Technical Books & Café, we understood that their business model wasn’t just focused on selling books, but on selling the culture and fun stuff that goes along with the type of books they were selling. Key to the success of that space is that we dedicated a great deal of horizontal real estate to display. Walking through the space there is so much to look at that customers slow their pace and linger. I strongly believe that the plethora of things to look at, touch, and read, help that space feel comfortable, which in turn makes it successful at the intended program of selling things.

Ada's Technical Books & Cafe

The generous display areas allow for a rotating selection of fun things to look at.

Watson Kennedy’s 1st Avenue store is another wonderful space supported by its mission to allow the customer to lose himself in the countless objects. Working with them on the expansion several years back, what was important to them is that that they gained enough additional space to increase inventory on the floor, but that it wasn’t so much space that they couldn’t fill it up.

Customers can often spend hours losing themselves in the fun collection of home goods.

Customers can often spend hours losing themselves in the fun collection of home goods.

I’m reminded of a former grocery store that was going through tough times and would often have deli cases and shelves stocked only halfway. It creates a sense of discomfort to not see shelves stocked. While the amount of items for sale was still quite substantial, the spaces between the items was jarring to your average retail customer. Had they started out with that ideal inventory they could have grouped their inventory together and then created graphic display areas or tasting areas to take up the space that wasn’t needed for the limited inventory.

I encourage you to look around the stores you frequent and think about what makes them ‘click’ with you. In addition to the lighting, the graphics, and the myriad other things taken into consideration when designing a retail environment, take a look at just how much is actually there and how it is displayed. I would bet that spaces that feel more comfortable tend to be ones that you spend more time in and are drawn to.

Designing great human-scale retail is a passion of ours and I hope this post makes you look at that neighborhood shop a little more closely next time.
retail blog post 3

How Do I Design My Project with an Architect?

The opportunity to remodel or design a new house for a client is a privilege, a joy, and something that has often moved me to do the cliché “pinch myself to see if this is real” routine. I have my dream job and I’m in awe that people put their trust and hard-earned money in my hands to help make their dream come true. It is also a little stressful to realize that we DO have people’s dreams in our hands. It’s a weight that lies heavy on our shoulders, knowing that our creativity (which isn’t a fixed resource) can either make or break your day.

Luckily, Architects and designers have thick skin. We also know that there is a process in place that helps to alleviate anxiety-attack-inducing moments. I probably wouldn’t leave my house (heck, my bed!) if every day I let it sink in: what could happen if we had no road map for design. Rome wasn’t built in a day and your project won’t be designed in one either. Here’s how it actually works.

this is a typical plan that shows some site and floor plan concepts

this is a typical plan that shows some site and floor plan concepts


Once we have a signed agreement, we’ve measured your house for existing “as-built” drawings, and performed preliminary code and site research, we have the basis of what we’ll use to start designing your project. The proposal includes your first list of what you want (the program) and we use that, as well as the realities of the site / project, to help determine our first steps. The core project team – two Associates – will sit down for an internal kick-off meeting to review the project parameters and start laying the ground work for design options. We review the information and begin to assemble some basic parameters (what expansion options we have based on the zoning code, where the best solar exposure is, where the bedrooms should go for privacy, etc.). This is a very rough working session to help shake the cobwebs out of our heads and get the ideas rolling. It is exciting, inspirational, and easily my favorite part of the design process.

Then we walk away.

I find a great deal of value in having two people tackle the first round of design. Quite frankly, when it comes to design, two heads are better than one. Following the kick-off meeting, we sit at our desks to design and dream in peace. All ideas are on the table and this is the time to sketch loose-and-quick and gather a large pile of crinkled trace paper. Sometimes I’ll be Googling images or searching through Houzz (yes, we do that too) for something that resembles what’s in my head. We’ll pour through our library and find examples of projects that inspire and get our spirits rolling too. At the end of this deep exploration, we have several iterations of ideas, plenty of messy sketches, and if we’ve really given it our all, by then we’re usually in need of a glass of wine, a hard cider, or three fingers of Bullit bourbon on the rocks (OK, that last bit was my particular solution).

this was water, I promise.

this was water, I promise.

The following day we’ll reconvene and walk through our ideas. We’ll discuss the pros and cons (design, budget, sheer insanity) and try to critique each other’s work to find the best possible options. I’ll usually pull out a variety of ridiculous phrases I’ve assembled in my bag of tricks to describe the merits of some of the options. The meeting is rambunctious, spirited, and always shockingly productive. At the end we have 3, 4, or 5 options that we think are worthwhile (and they’re often not the ones we came into the meeting with). We’ll walk through our ideas and begin assembling the drawings we’ll present to you at the first meeting, typically two weeks after we finish the as-built drawings.


So, what happens at that first meeting? Well, first we walk you through our big picture approach by describing the parameters influencing our designs, what obstacles are we working around, what particular programmatic elements were challenging, and a myriad of other issues that may have influenced us along the way. This helps you get into our heads so you can understand where the work is coming from. Then we present each of the options along with their individual pros and cons. We rarely build any of the plans exactly as presented to you, but we often will incorporate pieces of them into the final design. It ends up being a collection of menu items from which you can choose your perfect architectural meal. At the end of this first meeting you’re likely to feel a little overwhelmed with preliminary thoughts and gut reactions swirling in your head, but hopefully you leave our office inspired that there’s a great path forward to your dream project.


Now we pause. You go home and discuss it. We won’t take any direct feedback in that first meeting as I feel it is imperative that you get the chance to digest the information and talk it out alone. If we were to put you on the spot you might say, “Oh, I definitely see your point on that sketch, it is very interesting,” when what you really mean is, “Whoa, that plan is just awful. Aunt Mabel would laugh at me for years if we built a kitchen like that.” You really can’t hurt our feelings, but you should have the time to talk through what you saw on your own, at your own speed, and with your own process. So pull together your feedback and get it to us in a way that works best for you (email, another meeting, or a phone call).


Next we move forward with typically 1 or 2 of the top choices. Usually it becomes clear that there is one viable option and maybe a second option that is worth some additional consideration. We dive into these plans and start work on refining them. Here, again, is where some magic really starts to happen. You may notice that my name isn’t on the door at Board & Vellum (and to answer a question I often receive, there is also no one named Board or Vellum here). What that really means is that I don’t have to “win.” You, the clients, get to win. Whatever design Board & Vellum comes up with should really resonate with you and solve your design problems. We are obsessed with this customer service approach, so at this point we pull the top plans, gather your feedback, and gather the whole team in a room to hash it out. Everyone gets a say, we yell a lot at the wall, and in the end we feel confident we’ve worked through a variety of design ideas.

crit photo 1
A design critique (or “crit” as we call them) is a tool that most Architects and designers are accustomed to from school. We present our well-thought out ideas to a well-educated group, receptive to our ideas. We pin up drawings on the wall, describe our goals, and then carefully defend our thoughts on why our idea is the best. Then the group rips our ideas to shreds.

Design crits can feel a little like this at times

Design crits can feel a little like this at times

We are relentless. We want to ensure that every idea has been filtered through the two lead designers but has the added benefit of critique from the entire team here at Board & Vellum. Our team comes from a variety of backgrounds with different lengths of experience, and because of that we can always approach a design from multiple angles. Sometimes those ideas are junk but more often than not, a gem shines through and the design gets better. The goal here is to get all the viable ideas from our talented design staff on the table and ensure that the best design wins. It is a little unconventional, but we believe it adds value to our projects and our clients benefit from it.


Once this happens the core team gathers back together and works on refining the plans. We present them again and work through the details. At this point we’re usually 90% there and work through a few tweaks by email, or in a rare case, in another in-person meeting at our office. Clients typically leave this meeting far more centered and grounded than they do from the first meeting. This is where it all gets real and you can start picturing yourselves in the house.


Coupled with this final plan (realizing that there’s still plenty of time to tweak the details) we pull together a schematic level specification to help with pricing and support the plans. This helps clarify things that can’t be drawn (where the tile is, what the budgeted price per square foot should be, what the assumed heating system is, etc.) and then we can use this to pull together a Schematic Pricing Set. This is used to pull together our preliminary budget and pricing and set the tone for how we move forward.

Phew. Design isn’t a quick process. Overall you should assume 4-8 weeks from hiring an Architect to the Schematic Pricing Package. Our main goal is to assure you that the finished package is what works best for your project. It is exciting and intense, but just one more reason why I believe we have the best jobs in the world.

And remember, that job isn’t just as an Architect and Designer, it is as your advocate.


See, all this pointing we do is because we’re YOUR advocate. Also, Architects like to point…


Architects & Clients: The Dating Game

One of the things I was most excited about when starting Board & Vellum over four years ago, was the prospect of “pulling back the curtain” and giving clients a view into how Architects work. More importantly, how our work impacts our clients. I can come up with a ton of great design ideas, but without willing clients who feel they can trust us and our process, I’d be left to rely only on those willing to take a leap of faith. Endless leaps of faith are not what a sustainable design business is built on, and I think that our approach to transparency has proven that most clients would prefer not to jump blindly into a business relationship.

The Board & Vellum blog is not just entertainment; we like to think of it as a tool to educate the public about what we do. For this purpose, I wanted to dive into the actual process of how we go from a project inquiry to a real project here at Board & Vellum, and what it could look like if you were to drive down that road with us.

Typically, potential clients find us online and send an email (via our web site, our profile on Houzz.com, or Facebook), sometimes through a friend (word-of-mouth advertising can’t be beat), or often they see our name and phone number on a job-site sign, posted at project that is currently under construction, and give us a call (we are very surprised how many inquiry calls we receive from job site signs!).

Our job-site sign posted on Queen Anne at one of our projects currently under construction. You'd be surprised how many calls we get from these!

Our job-site sign posted on Queen Anne at one of our projects currently under construction. You’d be surprised how many calls we get from these!

Because of the number of inquiries we’ve been receiving in this booming economy (hint, it is a lot), we had to put a system in place. Usually Tina, our Marketing coordinator, will field the calls and emails, and respond with a request for some additional information, so that once she passes the client on to a Project Associate, the first conversation can be more productive. It is OK if you don’t have all the answers on the first phone call, we’re really just gathering information on your anticipated timeline, scope of work, budget (usually the thing that people know diddly-squat about, but again, perfectly OK), and your goals for the project. At that point Tina will set up a call with one of our staff to answer more of your questions and talk a little more in depth about your project. This is kind of a “pre-interview” to see if we could be a good fit for each other. Once that happens we schedule a complimentary in-person meeting at your project location. We’ll typically send two people to this initial meeting (not necessarily the project team) to talk through the details of how we work and hear about your goals for the project. We’ll walk around the site taking everything in, and maybe throw out some initial ideas, if appropriate.

Inquiry Calls

We’re always here to take your call… although usually only one at a time.

Following the walk through, we’ll prepare a formal proposal that outlines in detail, the specific phases of the project, our approach to cost savings and value engineering, our approach to sustainability, representative project photography, and, of course, our estimated fees. Included with the proposal is a brief Terms of Agreement and a Contract document, that once signed will get you on our schedule and start the process with us.

B&V Proposal

We prepare a full color detailed proposal following our first walk through of your project to recap our understanding of your goals.

We take this match-making with new clients very seriously, because hiring an Architect is really a personal experience. We will attempt to get inside your heads and design a space that works for you. In order to hire us, you should not only like us, you should feel that we truly understand your needs. I like to say that we not only listen to what you are saying but we listen to what you are NOT saying as well. Architects have to be inherently great communicators (are our drawings not just a visual form of communication?), so from the initial phone call through the subsequent walk-through meeting, we’re learning about you and you’re learning how we communicate, all of which helps build a level of trust which is the foundation for working together.

We’re also interviewing you to determine if you’ll be a great partner. Some of the things we look for are:
• Is your budget realistic given your scope of work? It is VERY understandable at the early stages of a project, if you want more than your initial budget will allow. Most people have no idea what things cost to build. But it’s our job to educate you on what your budget will get you, so that you can determine if you need to pull back scope or increase your budget.
• Is your timeline realistic and does it work with our availability and workload? Not only do clients not know how much it costs to build, they don’t know how long it takes. We try to be realistic with your anticipated schedule and make no promises about fast project completion. It’s a process and we want to get it right.
• Do we think you’ll be fun to work with? To be perfectly honest, lots of fun clients come our way. Typically, the reason we don’t fit with a new client has more to do with bullet points one or two above. But every now and then, we meet with a client and we just don’t jibe. We want you to have the best experience remodeling your home, even if it’s not with us.

If, at this point, all the stars align, and you sign the contract, then we get the pleasure of working with a client with whom we have already established a solid foundation of trust and understanding. It’s a win-win situation, and has served us and our clients well.

Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you’re a little less overwhelmed about the process of hiring an Architect, and maybe you’ll give us a call or shoot an email. We’re a friendly bunch of people, just waiting to make your dream(home)s come true.

Everything Is Awesome with Houzz

We’ve been keeping a secret for a few weeks but we can finally share the news! Houzz contacted us a month ago about doing a video project showcasing Jeff’s house and the Lego Lounge for their new HouzzTV platform. We immediately said yes and they spent two full days filming the house, the Lego Lounge, Jeff and Chris with the boys and the Seattle area. They got so much footage, they surprised us with TWO VIDEOS! We are so impressed with the quality – it’s amazing to have such a professional view into one of our most popular projects. Below is the shorter video focusing on the Lego Lounge. You can click here to see the full story and the longer video featuring the whole house. Enjoy!

Earth Day Sustainability Slam

The AIA Committee on the Environment is hosting a Sustainability Slam and you’re invited!

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Board & Vellum is once again teaming up with Model Remodel to present Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe in a Pecha Kucha-style event on Wednesday, April 22nd. We’re celebrating Earth Day through a celebration of sustainable design and green building, along with 5 other projects at this fun local mixer. The event is free, but you do need to rsvp. Click over to the event page for all the details.

Does it make sense to add a second story to my house?

The current Seattle real estate market is crazy. Many of you out there are having to bid up mediocre homes as there’s so little available to purchase. To make matters worse, you may actually love your current house and don’t want to leave, but you’re maxed out with space. I get a lot of questions about whether or not it makes sense to add a second story to a client’s house.

One of our earliest second story additions shows how you can gracefully go up and respect the neighborhood

One of our earliest second story additions shows how you can gracefully go up and respect the neighborhood

It certainly isn’t a simple yes or no answer, but I’ve found that considering several factors can help you decide which path to take. While I like to think that a big part of my job is making dreams come true, it seems that when second story additions come up, I invariably leave first meetings with a different recollection.

Hello, I’m Jeff and I’m here to crush your dreams.

Well, that is a bit dramatic, but I’ve found that getting a big bite of reality helps reset expectations so you can start working on a feasible path forward. Expanding up isn’t cheap, it isn’t straight-forward, and it takes a lot of time to get it right. Luckily, that’s what we do.

Here are the considerations to think about when debating whether to add that second story or not.

1) Do you love your location?

This is easily the biggest factor in the current real estate market. Quite simply there is nothing for sale. Being in a location you love or one that is a desirable long-term option will be really hard to recreate. Real estate brokers (who we’re happy to refer you to if you actually don’t love your location and want to move) always say “location, location, location” and we second that notion. A house doesn’t exist in a bubble and getting that first piece of the puzzle right is almost priceless. So if you love where you live and want more space, move on to the next factor to consider.


2) Is your budget realistic?

This one is tough since no one has any clue what a 2nd story costs. Someone’s cousin in a small town told them they hired “a guy” and they did it for under $100,000 and they just love their house. Let’s refer back to point number 1: location. Seattle is a desirable location and things just cost more here (often a lot more). There are a zillion different factors but a good rule of thumb is that you’ll need at least $250,000 to add a 3 bed/2 bath second story and have it look decent. More than likely budgeting $350,000 is safer when you include all the incidental costs. That’s usually around 750-1,000 square feet. The costs can go up from there depending on what you do on the main floor (it will be impacted by the new stair at the very least). Yes, there are probably stories of actual people who built a second story in Seattle for far less than that. Usually it is a simple box on top of a craftsman bungalow or lower-quality materials and installation. I understand as a consumer myself that sometimes you are more tempted by quantity than quality, but I would advise you to think carefully about this. This is a very big long-term investment and getting it right can be the deciding factor when your house appraises for tens of thousands of dollars lower than expected. A well-designed second story home will live better and appraise higher than one slapped together for the lowest cost.

Board & Vellum will help you navigate the costs of a remodel with collaborative meetings and lots of handy spreadsheets

Board & Vellum will help you navigate the costs of a remodel with collaborative meetings and lots of handy spreadsheets

3) How much space do you need?

This is a weird question as I’ll often be asked why things cost so much when they only want a new floor for a master bathroom. Shouldn’t 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom cost less than 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms? Yup, they will. But the incremental cost to add those 2 extra bedrooms and 1 bathroom will be so small that you may want to re-think your strategy. Adding up is costly and whether you’re adding 1 master suite or 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms you still have all of the associated costs that go along with that; structural, heating, roofing, a new stair, etc. etc. The list is long. I always advocate to aim for the 3 bedroom / 2 bathroom second floor. It is a solid investment as it is so desirable and helps ensure the value of your investment.

A second floor plan is always specific to your house and is impacted by many factors such as stair locations and the width of your house.

A second floor plan is always specific to your house and is impacted by many factors such as stair locations and the width of your house.

4) What is your desired architectural style?

It seems that second story additions are one of the easiest remodels to screw up. Quite frankly, it is a challenging design problem and it takes a lot of care to get it right. Sometimes (OK, usually), it isn’t as simple as just adding a dormer. Some homes have a shape that just wasn’t meant for another story. This is where a lot of designs fall apart. You can see that someone tried, but the problem is that it looks like two forms slammed together. Often it makes more sense to reconsider the whole house and give it a new direction that looks like it was always intended to be that way. Additionally, if you’re more into modern architecture I would caution you to look around your neighborhood (how will this blend in and work with your neighbors) and how will the first floor of your house work with a new addition? Going in a more modern direction CAN be the right decision but it should be carefully considered. Too often homes are forced into that role and it just doesn’t work. Ranch houses can handle this transition well, but a bungalow has much more trouble. Be true to your house and neighborhood in considering whether you want to add up or not

Here are two second story options for the same house.  You can see how they go in very different directions but are both consistent with appropriate architectural styles for their neighborhood

Here are two second story options for the same house. You can see how they go in very different directions but are both consistent with appropriate architectural styles for their neighborhood

5) The final bit to consider is what your timeline is.

From the day an Architect is hired to when you start construction is approximately 4-6 months (or longer depending on a variety of factors often not in anyone’s control) and then at least 5 months for construction.

We build a project schedule for you so the project timeline is mapped out and you can follow along in the process

We build a project schedule for you so the project timeline is mapped out and you can follow along in the process

All of this considered, you should be able to decide how to best move forward. Adding on a second story addition is incredibly exciting. You get to re-imagine a small home you love into a larger one that better suits your needs. If you do it right you’ll have something you can proudly reside in and the knowledge that you made a wise investment. I personally love the challenge of designing a second story addition. There’s an art to it and it feels tremendously rewarding when you crack the solution and the plan just “sings”. It may be a slog, but our job is to help advocate for you the entire way and ensure that you get to the finish line with a gorgeous home that blows away your now fully real expectations.

You can go from this bungalow to this beautiful home with careful consideration.

Quite a drastic change for the better, isn't it?

Quite a drastic change for the better, isn’t it?

See, I told you we would build your dream back up after crushing it!