On the Boards — Custom Arts & Crafts Bungalow Upgrade

Greg Mix led his studio at Southeast Studios Inc in designing a fine bungalow overhaul close to one of the areas best private schools. Get the rest of the story with photos & details here:
http://www.southeaststudiosinc.com/news–views/Image

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How We Saved Our Client Money

A client recently contacted Southeast Studios Inc about a bank-owned residential property he intended to purchase after foreclosure. It was located in an exclusive suburb east of Atlanta, Georgia, priced at less than half the recent sales of nearby properties — seemingly a great deal! He hoped to make minor cosmetic changes, live in it with his family until the market recovered, and then sell it for a substantial capital gain. This is often an excellent approach to increase net worth and enjoy quality surroundings in the process.

The ideal formula works something like this.

  1. Buy a house for half of its market value.
  2. Fix it up to marketable condition for no more than one-fourth of expected market value, including all related costs, such as real estate sales commissions, professional fees, construction costs.
  3. Sell it for full market value and make BIG BUCKS!

Experienced investors know that profit is built into the purchase end of these investments, but this client appeared not to be seasoned enough to realize how deep a money pit such properties can be, so our job was to identify potential cost issues that might not be apparent to him.

He especially needed input from an architect of our experience about general design strategies he might use to improve the home and its surroundings, and their potential costs, so he could be more certain of his decision on whether to buy the property. Smart people in real estate consider this to be a prudent part of due diligence before making such a major purchase. We visited the site with him as part of our typical Design Consultation service. We charge a nominal fee for this, as outlined on our web page.

For this consultation, we walked through the home, both inside and out, several times, and observed site conditions on the lot. It became evident that this rehab would require far greater resources than the client anticipated. Such properties almost always need cosmetic improvements and, although not exactly cheap, they can be dwarfed by substantial construction problems.

If inherent design flaws are left uncorrected, the final product will be inferior to comparable properties, making it difficult or impossible to sell. Our subject house had obvious cosmetic problems, but we determined that it suffered major design flaws, in addition to the construction defects.

While not comprehensive, the following is a partial list of challenges we identified for this property:

  • Inadequate space was allocated for the Foyer and Main Stair, although this was a home intended to sell for a grand price, not a starter home.

    POOR FOYER LAYOUT

    In the home we reviewed, enlarging the foyer would have taken precious space from adjacent rooms that were also cramped. Major costs would be incurred to correct this condition fully.

  • There was no Powder Room on first floor, as would be expected of a home in such a price range.
  • The Kitchen was too small, long, and narrow, and must be corrected to match comparable luxury homes at much expense & little gain.

    BETTER FOYER LAYOUT

    A few minor improvements offer substantial benefits in quality of living, though in an existing home, such major surgery can be a budget-buster!

  • There was inadequate headroom at the back stair, with no way to bring it up to code within reasonable cost, and no value added at any cost.
  • The masonry fireplace was designed and built incorrectly, so that it would never draw properly. To correct this, the owner must demolish and completely rebuild it from the foundation to the cap, a massive cost.

    Chimney Bad Section

    Since the Mid-20th Century, central heat had relegated the fireplace to an ornamental role. Many should not be used due to poor construction and design. This home contained a regrettably familiar example that would cost Thousands of Dollars to demolish and build back correctly.

  • A recent addition to the rear of the house was proportioned poorly for furniture; further, it interfered with the ability to add upstairs bedrooms.

    CHIMNEY TYP SECTION

    This shows the accepted way of building a chimney nowadays. It evacuates smoke pretty well and allows some radiant heat to enter the room and warm nearby objects, pets, and people. Watch for our post on an even better fireplace design — coming soon!

  • The roof of an addition blocked a dramatic view of Stone Mountain from the rear of the second floor. To re-gain this major value-added amenity, otherwise lost to previous poor design, an investor must demolish substantial areas of existing structure and rebuild in a different configuration at great expense, merely in order to obtain the inherent value that had been overlooked before.
  • A load-bearing wall ran through the center of the second floor. Rooms, such as the Master Bedroom, were too small, and correcting this would create substantial expense, likely to exceed any gain in value to be obtained.
  • Bedroom windows were too small to meet egress requirements per code and would need to be increased in size.
  • There had been substantial, repetitive water intrusion in the crawl space, based on water lines and stains we saw. Usually, this is a matter for a certified building inspector; however, this substantiated our concerns about inherently poor siting of the house — a design issue. There were inadequate measures to control the flow of groundwater around the building, due to the way it had been located. Such issues can be drastically expensive to mitigate.
  • The house was built on a granite outcropping that had several fissures in it. This may have contributed to evidence of water intrusion we found in the crawl space. High concentrations of radon gas frequently occur wherever this much granite is present near the surface, adding costly mitigation measures to the bottom line without increasing the value of the home.

    Retaining Wall Section BAD

    Retaining Wall in Failure. A little crushed stone, some weep holes, re-bar, and better footing don’t cost as much as tearing out the whole thing and building it back the right way!

  • The existing septic field eliminated the possibility of a swimming pool addition that the client desired. A granite outcropping also hindered expansion of the septic field, due to inadequate percolation — one doesn’t want that stuff trickling around the surface! Further, installation of swimming pool would likely need to be above ground to avoid exorbitant costs of blasting rock and removing it.
  • A retaining wall at the rear of the site leaned out at least two inches due to lack of a properly engineered foundation. It was 7’ – 8’ tall and had had repeated repairs attempted, but was still in failure. We suggested inspection by a registered structural or civil engineer. This would be an expensive item to remedy, with little or no value gained.

    Retaining Wall Section

    A Retaining Wall built properly should stand the test of time.

  • Pre-1978 construction required extensive lead paint abatement costs by EPD-certified contractors, again quite costly with no value gained.

This home was an example that we encounter where design and construction professionals were either not engaged or were engaged only haphazardly by the former owners.

We advised the prospective purchaser that it would not be prudent to purchase this property for his anticipated 50% of market value, as the additions and repairs were likely to exceed current & future real estate values for the area. In fact, based on the lesser cosmetic issues, substantial construction and moisture intrusion issues, and major inherent design flaws combined, we concluded that this property ought to be considered only for its land value, subtracting the cost of demolition of the structures on the site. Needless to say, we may not have been popular with the REO department of the mortgage holder in that instance, but following our advice saves investors massive losses of money and often returns the properties to the REO list. If you are considering a property — attached multifamily or detached single family — call us at 770-806-8866 or 678-643-0316 to set up a consultation.

We are architects and designers, not licensed home inspectors. We help our clients solve their design needs, so such consultations are for design reviews only. We always recommend that anyone considering the purchase of any building also have it thoroughly inspected by a certified home or commercial building inspector and engineers for specialized concerns.

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Neighborhood Boundaries & Welcoming Gateways — A Study in Images

English: Neighborhoods of intown Atlanta, GA, USA

Neighborhoods of intown Atlanta, GA, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us have a strong set of emotions about the neighborhood where we live, or they may be attached to the memory of a place we once lived. Strong feelings are evoked by a clear “sense of place“. According to my worn copy of  A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, by Christopher Alexander and others, the clarity of the boundary contributes much to this identity. One of his “patterns” (think of them as the “words” of architecture & planning) is titled, “Neighborhood Boundary”, and of it he observes, “If the boundary is too weak the neighborhood will not be able to maintain its own identifiable character.” At a neighborhood land-use meeting not long ago, such an issue was raised, concerning the compatibility of an abandoned building on the site, which had become an eyesore. Unfortunately, this blight was also one of the first visual cues to entering the historic community. One of Southeast Studios Inc‘s principals, Andy Jessup, decided to do a loose, visual study around intown Atlanta & Buckhead, to find buildings that seemed to act as “markers” between neighborhoods. There were a number of them, and as Alexander suggested, the stronger those markers, often the clearer the distinctions of the communities they announced. Here is an adaptation of that slide show, which we’ve also posted on SlideShare.com. Feel free to browse through it.

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Commercial Architecture by Southeast Studios Inc — Slide Show

This features some of the commercial and multi-family architecture by architects Greg Mix and Andy Jessup, the principals of Southeast Studios Inc. In 15 slides, you can see our experience in dozens of project photographs.

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Stagecoach Bar Opens in Atlanta’s Buckhead Community

We recently attended the initially quiet Grand Opening of the new Stagecoach Bar on Irby Street, right next door to the Park Bench Tavern, also designed by Drawing Board Atlanta Inc, an architecture, design and planning studio affiliated with Southeast Studios Inc.

Stagecoach Bar, a Western themed bar in Atlanta's Buckhead

View from the entrance to the Stagecoach Bar

wooden stagecoach

An Artisan Handcrafted Stagecoach is the Centerpiece of the space.
View looking toward the front of the bar from patio entrance near the back

Both spaces were built by Walix Construction of Milledgeville. The Stagecoach was the more challenging space, due to the narrowness and configuration of its space, which was the last occupied in an unusually shaped building on a non-rectangular lot. Walix has built numerous restaurants and bars in Atlanta, Carrollton, Milledgeville, Statesboro, Valdosta and other Georgia cities for many repeat clients. Drawing Board Atlanta and our successors hope to work with Walix on many more projects in the future with equal or greater success.

One other aspect of the narrow space was solved by the interior designers on the project. No ’70s mirror-wall here, but vintage, antique mirrors out of a joynt from the 1890s for cowboys: a wall of framed mirrors to catch the glimmer of the subtle lighting that zig-zags above the bar.

Mirror wall in rustic western bar

Stagecoach Bar Wall of Mirrors

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Southeast Studios Inc Multifamily Slide Show

We just posted to SlideShare. Have a look:

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Saving Our Clients Money and Heartache

Not long ago, a client called us about a property he wanted to buy in an exclusive subdivision east of Atlanta. He intended to purchase the house out of foreclosure and make extensive changes. He asked us to visit the property and discuss a possible direction for the project. We charge a nominal fee for such on-site design consultation services, as compensation for our knowledge and experience, allowing the client to pick our brains and generate ideas prior to engaging more comprehensive services.

We walked through the home several times, and around the outside. Additionally, I observed several detrimental conditions on the site. The house had substantial design flaws, major construction problems, and site conditions. Most of the design and construction appeared to be by do-it-yourselfers. A rehab would take far greater resources than our client wanted — we felt it had “bad bones”. Some key issues included:

  • Inadequate space for the foyer and stairway.
  • No Powder Room on first floor.
  • Kitchen too small, long and narrow.
  • Lack of headroom at back stair with no way to bring it up to code without substantial expenditure.
  • Masonry fireplace designed and built so badly that expensive modification would be required to enable it to draw properly.
  • A recent addition to the rear of the house ill- proportioned for furniture, interferes with the ability to add upstairs bedrooms desired by the client, and blocks any potential view from the rear of the second floor.
  • Load-bearing wall through center of the second floor constricts room sizes, including the Master Bedroom.
  •  Bedroom windows are too small to meet escape requirements.
  •  Substantial, recurring water intrusion in crawl space.
  • Built on granite outcropping with several fissures. Radon gas mitigation measures likely.
  • Existence of septic field eliminates the possibility of a swimming pool desired by client. Granite outcropping also a problem with expansion of septic field to meet code and installation of swimming pool unless it is above ground.
  • Retaining wall at rear of site leaning out two inches due to lack of a properly engineered foundation.  Suggest an inspection by a registered structural or civil engineer.  This will be an expensive item to remedy.

We encounter problems this extensive where qualified design professionals and contractors were not engaged or were engaged only piecemeal. We questioned whether it would be advisable at any price for the client to purchase this house. Unless the property were purchased for pennies on the dollar, we expected the total of purchase price plus additions and repairs to exceed the expected real estate values for that area.

As architects, we help our clients identify design opportunities. Our construction experience is helpful, though we would have advised them to have a detailed home inspection by a professional inspector before buying. The client avoided buying this turkey and getting sunk into a money pit.

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Getting Ready to Hit the Trail — Getting the C.O. on the Stagecoach Bar

James Arness (June 03, 2011) ...Gunsmoke

Update 4/23/12: We learned Friday from our client that he now has his C.O. (certificate of occupancy) from the City of Atlanta and Fulton County Health. Watch for finished photos soon!

It’s fun to see a project coming to fruition, especially when the process of getting there has already been a dusty trail. Almost a year ago, our client, a partner in several local pubs such as the KooKoo Room, asked us to look at some leftover space in a building in Buckhead in Atlanta, by the Park Bench Tavern on Irby Street. We discussed his idea for a bar themed on the Wild West — yeah the dusty trail, long & winding roads, stagecoaches, horses & saddles, cowboys, cowgirls. Along the way, he procured an actual stagecoach, crafted over many years by a talented woodworker, and it’s now a main part of the experience here.

Image

We looked at the deep, narrow space and thought the idea of Western trails suggested a bar that twisted a bit, and we discussed horse-saddle stools. This was what we came up with. You can wander through, git a drink with your pardner, set a spell on the saddle, then find the wide open spaces out back.
Image

Finally, we’re almost at the end of the road traveled so far. The health department wants a couple of adjustment to equipment locations; we met the building inspector today, who made helpful suggestions about door swings, accessibility, and hardware. (Yes, we do mean helpful — fun also means safe in our places!) Vendors are pouring through the doors; stockrooms are filling in anticipation. Dare we hope Marshal Dillon and Miss Kitty will be pouring shots soon? We’ll keep you posted. Looking forward to the Grand Opening!

Stagecoach Bar

Looking toward the front entrance

If you want to see a list of some of our other bars and restaurants, look at our related website:
http://www.drawingboardatlanta.net/retrestlist.html

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Check us out on Thumbtack

We just registered our sister firm, Drawing Board Atlanta Inc, on Thumbtack.com. Check out our link here:
http://www.thumbtack.com/ga/atlanta/architectural-designers/architects-planners

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Attached Multi-family Community being Upgraded with New Buildings

In March, 2011, 24 dwelling units were destroyed by a fire that raced through three buildings in the Village of College Park near the Atlanta airport. Southeast Studios Inc designed a new structure to replace those that were lost. Winn Residential manages the community and developed the program, once again to provide comfortable homes for two dozen households when complete.

Village of College Park South Elevation

Village of College Park South Elevation

The architects sought and received permission from the City of College Park to change configuration from three 2-story buildings to two 3-story buildings, thus covering less pervious land than the previous layout. This allows space for more outdoor amenities, better access by emergency and utility vehicles, more green space, and improved stormwater control. The firm thinks the residents will like the new design, too, with its energy efficiency for greater comfort control, sound abatement, updated features, and improved access for folks with varying levels of mobility, sight, and hearing.

Greg Mix and Andy Jessup are the principals of Southeast Studios Inc and are licensed architects with 30 years experience. Greg is also owner of Greg Mix and Associates Architects Inc AIA, and Andy owns Drawing Board Atlanta Inc Architects Designers & Planners.

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