An outsize outside project

Outdoor living area is big on changes, challenges and creativity

September 27, 2011
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Outdoor Living project

Outdoor Living project

The new outdoor living area at Cory and Amy Richards’s Plano, Texas, house is a show-stopper, a beautiful space that blends seamlessly with the 1982 structure and glistens with custom touches. Creating the ambitious project was worth all the effort — and plenty of that was required.

Ralph Stow, CEO of Dallas Renovation Group, Plano, had been talking with his friends the Richardses about the project for a year and a half before they felt ready to start the job. Stow advised them to acquire architectural drawings before interviewing contractors about doing the work, and alerted them that a structural engineer would need to review the plans. Design in hand, Cory Richards obtained three estimates in mid 2009. The bids were like the three bears — too small, too big, and just right. Richards says he didn’t have confidence in the capabilities of the low bidder’s crew. The high bid was almost twice the estimate submitted by middle bidder, Dallas Renovation Group’s Regenesis Design Build division, and the high-estimate company couldn’t even start work for three months. Richards fully trusted Stow and his company, especially after talking with past clients. In June 2009 he signed a contract with Regenesis.

Space and style

The plan was ambitious. The Richardses had enjoyed a large, covered outdoor kitchen and sitting area at their previous home. Since moving to the 1982 house in 2007, they’d felt cramped by the unattractive, narrow patio, which was inadequate for entertaining or relaxing outdoors. “It wasn’t even deep enough for a round table for six,” says Richards.

They wanted more covered space with patio seating, a formal area for watching television and entertaining guests, a full outdoor kitchen, and an outdoor fireplace. The addition needed to look original to the house.

The design called for doubling the height of the 50-foot-long roof peak over this wing of the house, creating a large, sheltered outdoor room on one side and an expanded garage on the other. To blend in, the 35-foot-high roof needed to retain the original pitch.

More than double the original size at 16 by 24 feet, the expanded outdoor room accommodates ample seating and dining areas, a custom-designed corner fireplace and, under a separate overhang, a kitchen equipped as food prep, cooking and beverage center. An attic under the raised roof supplies bonus storage space. Brick archways and surfaces around the outdoor room match those elsewhere on the house.

Though the drawings showed posts supporting the outdoor kitchen’s copper roof, Richards and Stow decided to cantilever it for a completely unencumbered space. Client and remodeler agreed before construction began, says Stow, “to keep an open mind to changes …as the project began to unfold,” in order to incorporate creative ideas. The cantilevered roof was one of many such serendipitous revisions, as was a dumbwaiter-style electric lift on the garage side that carries loads up to the attic.

Obstacle course

Regenesis vice president of construction and project supervisor Richard Gadwood is proud of the outdoor room, not only for its handsome design details but also for the many challenges that Regenesis overcame during construction. With this project he figures he fulfilled his quota of problems “for the next 10 years.”

Obtaining the go-ahead to frame the addition and build the overhanging roof structure was a challenge in itself. “It took 10 engineering letters,” says Gadwood, “to prove it would hold its weight.” To protect existing windows and work around the corner fireplace, Regenesis angled steel supports around the fireplace and bolted them to engineered steel supports.

Behind the brick facing on the original porch columns Regenesis discovered wood studs that had been devastated by termites. The columns, says Stow, had been touching soil and “were devoid of structural content.” Using jacks to support the existing roof, Regenesis installed steel posts embedded in a thick concrete pad, with steel saddles to carry the roof structure.

To raise the roof, Regenesis built a new roof over the old one. The process required cutting the old roof where it connected to the walls. During framing and dry-in, the skies opened up. Over a period of three and a half weeks, nearly 40 inches of rain deluged the area. Regenesis sprang into emergency action, covering the roofless area with tarps. “It took six or eight 60 by 120 tarps just to cover the entire expanse,” says Stow. Crews stapled the tarps to form funnels that would channel rainwater away from wall cavities. The company checked the tarps every two hours day and night, going up with flashlights to find and fix any leaks. “I spent three or four days up in the attic watching for rain,” says Gadwood. The continual monitoring paid off: The house sustained just $1,000 in water damage.

Another big surprise came from below, not above. Cutting into the concrete pad to prepare to install the engineered foundation, a worker hit a pipe eight inches below ground surface. As soon as he discovered the pipe, he stopped. Good thing: The pipe contained a high power transformer line, which was not cut. Encore Electric’s power line should have been well over 36 inches below grade by code. Nobody knew why it was not. It took several weeks for Encore to run new lines. Regenesis focused on other areas of the remodel to minimize schedule slippage.

Handpicked, Handmade

In constructing the fireplace, Regenesis entered uncharted territory of another kind. Perhaps because the fireplace was an outdoor element ordinarily built indoors, different inspectors had different opinions about the distance to require between the firebricks and the exterior walls. “We redid the fireplace several times to meet code,” says Stow.

The trickiest and most painstaking aspect of the remodel involved the bricks. The existing house was faced with old Chicago bricks, salvaged decades ago. Regenesis requested, reviewed and approved samples of Chicago brick based on brick color and wear. When the order arrived, however, most of the bricks were unlike the samples. Gadwood says, “It took a month of work to hand sort through” the bricks and select keepers. “Sixty percent of the bricks had to go back,” he says. If he had it to do again, he says, “I’d go corner to corner to rip off and replace the bricks. We only tore off sections, and had to pick through all the bricks” to find good matches.

The metalwork in the outdoor room is literally a work of art. Regenesis commissioned a metal artisan to design and fabricate the complex copper roof over the kitchen and the copper soffit around the raised ceiling in front of the fireplace. He created the wrought iron railings as well. The artist, Gary Thompson of GHT Metals, Plano, made diamond-shaped copper pieces and assembled them on site, giving the Richardses several interlaced herringbone patterns from which to choose. Soldering the pieces together to form the soffit and outdoor cooling area hood roof took the artist three months.

It was all worth the effort and time. The Richardses are enjoying both the outdoor room and, Richards says, “the overall cohesiveness of the remodeled space.” Their friends like it too. “We’ve had several parties, and people love it. Whenever I get a chance to refer Ralph” to friends considering a remodel, I tell them, ‘Come on over, have a look.”

The result, says Stow, is “a large number of referrals and jobs.”

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