What lessons does this year’s New American Remodel offer to industry pros? According to architect and general contractor Phil Kean of Phil Kean Design Group, they include how to update a difficult floor plan, how to transform a building site, and how to make an old home more efficient.
Remodelers will counter that they deal with such issues every day, but what makes this project interesting is its complications.
An unusually problematic floor plan required lots of work. Hurricane Ian caused flooding. Supply chain issues threw monkey wrenches into the product selection and ordering machinery—while still having to meet the hard deadlines that come with every show home.
Exploring how an experienced designer and remodeler solved these problems reveals lessons for every professional.
Quirky Floor Plan
This is actually the second time the house will serve as a show home. Located in the city of Winter Park, Fla. (on the North side of Orlando), it was built in the 1990s and participated in an event called The Street of Dreams.
That event gave designers a chance to showcase their work, and several contributed to this house, each focusing on a specific room. A charitable description of the result would be to say that it lacked coherence. Kean called it “quirky.”
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The first floor included several level changes (i.e., trip hazards). “You had to step up and down to get from room to room,” says Kean.
The interior as a whole felt dark, cramped, and cut off from the outside. That was unfortunate, as the house is next to a lake and there has always been a great water view out the back—at least there would have been, had someone thought to make it visible.
Unfortunately, no one did. Windows at the back of the house were undersized, and the interior walls created small, isolated rooms with no view to the outside.
The new homeowners, a family with three children relocating from Chicago, always wanted a real Florida lake house and saw this as their chance. They loved the location and felt that the house had the potential to fulfill that vision, but they also knew it needed lots of work. And while they weren’t sure about the particulars of that work, they wanted to be involved in every decision.
Situations like this are where a good design team really shines. The best design-build remodelers have an eye for architecture, but also know how to offer clients skilled advising. The person responsible for working with the clients will know how to listen to their real needs (even if the clients can’t articulate them) and steer decisions toward outcomes that meet those needs, while always being ready to change directions if necessary.
In this case, the clients wanted some control but were also open to surprises. “They wanted me to come up with solutions that were outside of their expectations,” says Kean.
One such solution was prompted by the internal level changes. Kean, his design team, and the client all agreed that the room-to-room steps had to go, which would mean tearing out floors in some rooms and framing them at a lower level.
This posed a problem underneath the kitchen: it was a step higher than the living room, which created headroom for a garage bay below. Although there was already a two-car garage at the front of the house, the clients really wanted a third bay.
A cottage at the back of the house offered a fix. It once had a garage bay on the ground floor, but that space had been converted to a game room. The clients wanted to convert the entire structure into a primary suite, but Kean suggested making the upstairs a guest room and turning the ground floor back into a garage. The money saved could be spent on a more luxurious primary suite, and the space below the kitchen would make a good storage room.
The rest of the structural work was what one would expect when updating an old house. Bigger and more efficient windows and doors were added, and the home received improved insulation and a new HVAC system.
Walls were removed and relocated. The kitchen was opened into the dining room, and a mudroom was added between the kitchen and the garage. To highlight the lake view, a wall separating the entry from the living room would be removed so that visitors could see through the home to the lake.
Those lake views are what drove the design of the entire home. A fireplace on the home’s rear wall that blocked the view was moved to the side wall, leaving room at the back for large sliding doors.
A formerly walled-in second-floor loft was opened up and turned into a gathering space, also with a lake view. “I love when there’s a view,” says Kean. “It gives you a real focus when planning the spaces.”
This being Florida, the homeowners also wanted more outdoor living areas. The lanai was expanded to include a summer kitchen and outfitted with motorized screens. The homeowners can now step down from the lanai to a new backyard pool and a fire pit with seating. A large putting green replaced the overgrown vegetation and marshy soil between the home and the lake.
Remodelers reading this won’t be surprised to hear that some of the products needed were hard to get because of ongoing supply chain issues. Take, for example, the floor trusses that were used to re-frame the first floor.
Two years ago, the typical elapsed time from sending the plans to the supplier to receiving the trusses would have been six weeks for a project like this; now it’s 36 weeks. Appliances, cabinets, and windows faced similar delays.
Time to completion was also extended by the fact that many older, skilled tradespeople have left the trades, accelerated by COVID. “The crews tend to be younger now,” says Kean. “Workers don’t have as much experience and need more supervision.”
Of course the home still had to meet that tight project deadline. To make it happen, Kean’s team worked with the client to get all design decisions and product selections finalized much earlier than would have been required in past years.
if there weren’t already enough complications to deal with, work came to a sudden stop when the fifth-strongest hurricane in us history, ian, blew through town.
Ian Pays a Visit
If there weren’t already enough complications to deal with, work came to a sudden stop when Ian blew through town. Ian, the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the US, made landfall in SW Florida as a Category 5, with 150 mile-per-hour winds and huge storm surges. There was massive property destruction on parts of the Gulf coast.
By the time the storm reached Orlando and Winter Park, its winds had eased to tropical storm strength. However, it still packed torrential rains.
“We got 16 inches of rain in just a few hours,” recalls project manager Tal Shuford. “There was 12 inches of water in the basement.” Although this raised humidity inside the home, the basement already had a dehumidifier installed. Pumps were also used to remove the excess water.
Besides stopping work during the storm, some workers had to take several days off to repair damage to their own homes, creating more delays.
Finally, overflow from the lake caused two feet of water on the property itself, which took two weeks to fully recede, delaying the landscape work. “Drainage for the lake behind the house is via five other lakes and a narrow canal,” says Shuford. “The canal wasn’t built for that much rainfall.”
A New Beginning
Remodelers are problem solvers. As such, Kean and his design-build team were able to solve the many challenges posed by this home.
The finished home has a simplified floor plan with open spaces that flow naturally into one another, as well as to the outdoor living space and the re-invented backyard. The interior feels bright and happy, and can be easily maintained at a comfortable temperature and humidity.
“This project was about fixing flaws, and about bringing an old home up to what people expect today,” says Kean. “I appreciated the opportunity to work closely with the homeowners to provide them with the home they want, and I’m very happy with how it came out.”
This article is just an overview of the 2023 New American Remodel. If you want to learn more, an upcoming issue of Pro Remodeler will feature an in-depth look at the finished house, including professional photography, and descriptions of the products used. We will also go into detail on the home performance upgrades that were made.