Here in the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire, building and painting contractors have to follow the seasons. From late fall through early spring, outdoor work is pretty much impossible, which makes it the perfect season for indoor projects. Dust and fumes can be dealt with, but the weather is what it is, so contractors move inside to renovate, remodel, and paint.
The variety of indoor projects is quite broad, everything from widening a doorway to finishing the attic or cellar. Kitchens and bathroom makeovers are very popular, of course, as are new paint jobs for the living room or rec room. Many projects include both carpentry and painting, and some involve wiring and plumbing. All require some level of finish work, whether that be paint, stain, or varnish.
For this, our first sample project, we’ve chosen something between very simple and very complex – adding built-in shelves and a gas fireplace on the end wall of a family room. Here’s the “before” picture.
This is a project you can plan and design yourself, consulting with your contractor and other tradespeople as needed.
Note that the family room in our before picture has a low cathedral ceiling, two windows arranged symmetrically on either side of the center line, a couple of wall sconce lights, and –very important – baseboard radiators. All of these features will have an effect on the design of the final units.
– The cathedral ceiling allows for a higher unit in the center (the faux fireplace and chimney for the gas heater). And there’s no need to follow the slope of the roof with the top of your units. It will be cheaper and easier to pick heights that are good looking and simply top off with level cap boards and your choice of trim.
– The windows require gaps between the shelf units and the fireplace – gaps that can be filled very nicely with window seats.
– The wall sconces will have to be moved. That will mean bringing in an electrician, who can make plenty of suggestions about how and where.
– The radiators can’t be moved without more trouble and expense than it’s worth. Instead, the shelves and window seats can be fastened to the walls above the baseboards.
Considerations like those four will arise with every project. Sometimes, they won’t get noticed till the project is underway, which will mean some quick consultation with the contractor or electrician and a change of plan. It’s a good idea to try to think of every wrinkle ahead of time.
Consider the gas fireplace, for example. You need to know its height, width, and depth to get the dimensions of the opening in the faux fireplace surround. You also need to know what sort of gas intake it needs and where it should go, and you need to know how to exhaust the gas fumes. Depending on the make and model, you may need additional depth plus a hole in the exterior wall for an exhaust pipe. Chose the appliance first and make sure you get all of the technical specifications.
Your contractor, or an architect or decorator, can likely create some sketches for you, but you can save money – and probably be more pleased – by sketching your own design. All you need is a tape measure, a ruler, a pencil, an eraser, and some graph paper. If you have a spirit level or a carpenter square, you may find them to be useful, but they’re not requirements. Here’s our sketch:
First measure the outside dimensions of the end wall and the height at the centerline. Draw this shape on your graph paper, making 1 inch equal to however many feet it needs to fit. 1 inch = 4 feet is common (1/4 inch = 1 foot). So is 1 = 8 (or 1/8 = 1). Stick to a scale that’s easy to work out on your ruler.
Next draw in the baseboards, which will be the bottom of your units, except in the center. Also mark the positions of the sconces. And then draw in the windows, including the trim all the way around.
Next draw in the side shelf units. They will run from the sidewalls to the outer edges of the window trim. We have decided to run them all the way up the sidewall to the start of the sloped ceiling.
Next lay out the center unit – in this case the faux fireplace and chimney. The edges of the center window trim automatically become the outer edges of the fireplace.
Finally, draw in the window seats. Standard chairs have a seat height of 18 inches, so that’s how high we went. Standard seat depths (we discovered at a furniture store) are 19 inches, so we used that dimension as well.
And now the real fun begins – design the details. We decided to put cabinets below shelves, so there are two different depths to figure out, along with deciding how high the cabinets should go. And here’s an important note: The built units, in all of their three dimensions, will seem much more massive than the flat, two-dimensional sketch! Don’t be surprised.
What’s inside those window seats? How will the lids fit on? Do they need latches. How will you support all the weight of the units, books, old vinyl LPs, heirlooms, blankets, and whatever else you’re going to stash inside. (Your contractor will help you figure out this detail.)
What sort of trim will you use? How about molding? Where will those sconces go? (By splitting each side unit in half and using a fairly wide center trim board, we’re able to put a sconce on the face of each unit.) How about the cabinet doors, the faces of the window seat boxes, the lids of the window seats, the facing over the mantle? We’ll go into this a bit more in another blog about this project.
But our next article will be about preparing the room and installation. Here’s a sneak peak: