Author Archives: Joyce L. Caroll


Blend Your Deck into the Landscape

Plantings and other techniques create a seamless flow between deck and landscape.

Deck Landscaping

Decks.com. Photo: Decks.com

Outdoor decks connect the interior of a home to the natural world. “Decks are the first transition from the inside of the home to the landscape,” notes Rob Tilson, vice president of information and practice for the American Society of Landscape Architects. An effective landscape plan should utilize layout, color, natural materials, and hardscape features to create continuity and transition.

Landscaping Decks of All Levels
An on-grade deck, or one that is built at ground level, offers the greatest possibilities. Begin by bringing the same softscape amenities onto the deck bed that you’ve used to accessorize the rest of your property. Michael Lawrence, a Vermont-based landscape architect, likes using lots of oversized containers for planting everything from perennials to small trees. Consider the unusual: A potted Japanese maple makes a dramatic statement, but will need special care in harsh environments. “Investigate whether a local greenhouse can store it over the winter,” Lawrence suggests.

Work with a single color palette or flowers from the same family as you build your garden out from the deck perimeter. Lawrence suggests focusing first on what you love, keeping in mind that more meticulous maintenance is required the closer the garden is to the deck. If insects are a concern, avoid shrubs and flowers that attract bees. On the other hand, some of these varieties attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Vary the heights of plantings so that they make a smooth transition from deck base to the soil below by planting taller perennials close to the deck and gradually decreasing the height as the garden merges with the grass. This same philosophy works well with a near-grade deck — one that sits just several steps above the adjoining property. Use latticework as a backdrop to close the gap between the deck base and the soil, and plant taller perennials or annuals closest to the lattice. Stagger plantings by blossom time to encourage multi-season color if your climate will allow for it. Creating pockets of color and differing leaf textures distracts the eye from straight lines and vast forms.

Deck Transitions
Decks can also serve as the gateway to a more elaborately designed property. An English garden effect is created by using paths, benches, and bird baths. A Japanese-influenced garden begins on the deck with close attention to scale and the blending of diverse materials. Consider stepping off onto a massive, beautiful slab of granite. From that stone, create a narrower path. Vary accent pieces by height, visual weight, color, and material. “The Japanese use an interesting combination of materials,” Lawrence notes, pointing to their preference for natural elements like stones, water, and wood.

Fountains, goldfish ponds and other hardscape incorporated into the deck structure can serve as the prelude to what lies beyond. The key is in creating a soothing, fluid line, rather than an abrupt change. Again, Lawrence calls attention to the Japanese. “They never go straight from outside to inside, but make subtle changes that move away from a busy life to a more peaceful life.”

The View from Below
An above-grade deck benefits most from a graceful descent. Replace narrow tread-and-riser stairs with a wider staircase and landings for a smoother transition to the yard. A standard 8-inch rise can be replaced with a 5-inch and the tread extended to 12 inches. Changing the staircase makes it easier to carry food and beverages from the deck to the yard and visually opens the deck out onto the natural world. A five or six-foot wide step is big enough to incorporate potted flowers or built-in plant boxes along the edges. Landings can hold large container plantings or a potted tree.

The bottom of story-high deck can be left open and framed with trellises. Climbing plants like clematis or morning glories add beauty and color while softening the angle where the posts meet the deck, giving the illusion of an archway. Add English Ivy to window boxes placed on the deck railings above to drape down and meet the greenery below. Cafe tables and chairs on grade make an inviting sitting area with a completely different ambience from that of the deck above.


Consider a Condo for Your Second Home

Vacation condominiums offer amenities and less maintenance, but more restrictions.

Condominiums

Photo: keyinspectionservices.com

Bob Vila’s Home Again opened its fifteenth season with a bay-front condo remodel along the Venetian Island stretch of Miami Beach. This vacation getaway was a remodeling challenge from the start. Gina Kirkpatrick, a realtor with Beach Front Realty, was given a modest purchasing budget to work with and the directive to find something dated. “You know, shag carpet, awful wallpaper, that sort of thing,” she recalls.

She found a one-bedroom, 950-square-foot unit with an open floor plan in the Island Terrace complex, with views of the bay and the luxury homes along Venetian Island. The complex is situated right on the Venetian Causeway, a stone’s throw from the beach and an easy jaunt to the Miami mainland or to trendy Lincoln Road. What’s more, the unit fell well within Bob’s purchase range — proof that you don’t need to be a millionaire to live like one.

This condo was a bargain because the owner was willing to buy into an older building, Kirkpatrick explains. Older units are often roomier with more closets, which means more space. For Bob, taking out closets meant opening up more space. Bob’s unit was in need of TLC, but so was the rest of the building. The timing was good, however, as the current owners had just been hit with a one-time assessment earmarked for a major property overhaul, making this condo an ideal second-home investment.

Condo Conscious
In Miami, second-home owners tend to purchase condominiums over single-family homes. Condominiums provide a host of amenities and low maintenance. “Owners like having a doorman downstairs — the doors are locked, there’s less vandalism,” Kirkpatrick says. And the market has responded to that demand by significantly adding to its inventory. Property values have been known to double in just five years, making a condominium purchase a wise choice for those looking to resell down the road.

In Miami, views are a priority, causing developers to build upward instead of outward. so even mainland properties tend to offer views of Biscayne Bay. The Miami mainland can be a buyers’ paradise, with one- and two-bedroom luxury condominiums with square footage ranging from 850 to 1,500 square feet. In Miami, swimming pools are standard fare, but developers tend to attract new buyers with luxury spas, community rooms, and high-end services. ’

Beware of the Bylaws
Condominium living has advantages, but they come with a price tag. Prospective buyers should inquire about the complex’s association fee, which can run anywhere from $300 a month for a one-bedroom to $600 for a two-bedroom condo in Miami. The higher the square footage, the higher the association fee. Fees cover things like routine exterior maintenance, pool upkeep, building insurance, and front-door security. Plan for the occasional assessment, particularly for older buildings where exterior updates and structural upgrades are more likely.

Condo associations also have bylaws and regulations that dictate what you can do to your unit and how it will be done. Cosmetic changes are typically okay as long as any required city permits have been acquired. Condo associations don’t concern themselves with a wall-color or carpet change. But interior reconstruction is another story, particularly if it compromises a load-bearing wall. Beware of noise restrictions and the hours during which construction can take place. Also inquire about delivery and storage of construction materials, as well as disposal of construction waste and debris. All of this will factor into the cost of your remodeling project.

Second-home owners aren’t year-round occupants, so it’s important to check association bylaws if you plan to rent out your unit. Some places require that owners establish residency for a couple of years, while others may limit the number of months or the number of times per year that the unit can be rented. And some don’t allow rentals at all. Pet ownership is yet another consideration, so do your homework before you buy.


Cool Your House with Smart Landscaping

Let nature assist in cooling your house in summer with strategically planted trees, shrubs and vines to shade the roof, walls, windows—even the air conditioning unit itself.

Smart Landscaping

Photo: flickr.com

Smart landscaping is more than a pretty yard—it’s a smart and efficient way to cool your home in summer.

Trees shade roofs from the hot summer sun. Shrubs and vines can be planted to keep walls cool. Shading your air conditioner can reduce energy costs by as much as 50 percent. These are just some of the ways that thoughtful landscaping can work to keep you cooler and save you energy dollars.

Beat Heat Buildup
Energy efficient landscaping requires an understanding of how heat is exchanged within your home. Windows take in the sun’s radiant heat. Roofs—especially dark ones—absorb heat. Walls, windows, and glass doors bring in hot outdoor temperatures through conduction (exchanging hot air for cool) or infiltration. Shading your property with trees and shrubs slows the heat exchange because it cools outside surfaces.

Observe how wind, sun, and shade work with your home at varying times of day and during different seasons. The best landscaping works to cool your home in the summer and retain heat in the winter. When checking the parts of your house that receive hot afternoon sun, record the angle of direct sunlight and which faces receive reflected sunlight. Choose trees and plants that allow a cooling nighttime breeze to enter open windows. A qualified landscape architect can help you site and plant species for optimal energy efficiency.

Make Shade
A tree’s growth rate, and the shape and density of its canopy determine its shade value and potential energy savings. A fast-growing tree offers shade in fewer years but will probably be less hardy than its slow-growing counterpart. Look for trees that produce a dense canopy with multi-directional branches and light-colored, smooth leaves. Gauge planting by the size of the tree at full maturity and the size of its root system. Planting too close to the house might not give roots the space they need and could damage the home’s foundation. Tall, mature trees with broad canopies are generally best for the south side, as they will shade the roof.

Plant shorter trees or tall shrubs along the west side of the house. These will help deflect late afternoon sun away from the walls. Don’t overlook lower-lying shrubs that can cool the ground around your home. Add ivy to the south or west wall of a brick or stone house, or train it to grow on vertical trellises alongside the building’s exterior. Create a natural awning by attaching a horizontal trellis to two vertical trellises to facilitate growth of ivy or flowering vines both upward and overhead.

Don’t leave your air conditioner baking in the hot summer sun—it will only have to work harder to cool your home. Create a buffer by erecting trellises along the south, east, and west sides of the air conditioner or situate it under a shade canopy. Planting shrubs alongside the air conditioning unit automatically increases its efficiency by 10 percent. When shading air conditioners, be sure to keep air intakes and filters open and free of obstructions.

Cooling Breezes
The same tree that provides shade during a hot summer day will usher in cool breezes at night. Since air moves fastest in the area beneath the lowest branch and the ground, prune lower branches to circulate air toward windows. Shrubs planted underneath windows channel wind upward and into first-story windows when working in tandem with a nearby shade tree. Leave a bit of space between the shrubbery and the home, as this will prevent moisture buildup if humidity is a problem. Create southwesterly breezes by planting evergreens along the northeast corner of a home to channel and redirect southerly winds. If you live in the north where winter winds can be brutal, make certain that the landscaping you choose will survive harsh wind, sun, rain, and snow.


Art Glass for Beauty and Privacy

Glass can transform space with color, light, and pattern. Used in doors as insets or panels, art glass allows light to penetrate interior spaces while capturing the eye and making an architectural statement.

Art Glass

Photo: flickr.com

Glass is more than functional—it is architectural. It gives the illusion of more space, increases natural lighting, and lends character to interior spaces. Architectural glass goes beyond architecture to become art, using textures, patterns, colors, and techniques to define and highlight individual tastes. Glass can incorporate Japanese rice paper for a softer look; be mouth-blown for a more authentic, vintage feel; or be rolled for a three-dimensional look. It can be practical, as with sleek, contemporary frosted glass that leaves no fingerprints behind. Glass can be patterned, laminated, frosted, or acid-etched, offering varying degrees of translucency for privacy and design.

Related: 10 Stained Glass Windows We Love

Patterned and Laminated Glass
Patterned glass is machine-made. Molten glass passes through steel rollers that impress the pattern into the glass. The glass is cooled slowly so that it can be custom-cut to size. With hundreds of patterns to choose from, homeowners can incorporate design themes ranging from geometric to natural. Lamination sandwiches a layer of decorative or high-strength material between two layers of glass. Laminating rice paper (with its wide variety of designs and textures), laminating frosted glass to standard glass, adding a colored interlayer, or combining two linear patterns at 90 degree angles give the homeowner a wide range of selections when it comes to patterned glass. Specialty glass companies will walk customers through the options and provide them with the cut glass ready to inset in a pre-measured door or window.

Art Glass and Reproduction Glass
Art glass is always decorative and sometimes hand-crafted. Stained glass is among the most popular forms of art glass. Sometimes referred to as leaded glass, stained glass is typically sold in large, colored sheets. While the designs made from stained glass are artfully crafted by hand, the production of the glass itself can occur in a studio using the mouth-blown technique or in a factory setting on an assembly line. The high cost of stained glass is due to the amount of time required to make it and the cost of materials.

Whether hand-made or machine-made, glass that is colored is typically made in smaller batches. Colors are created by mixing various metal oxides, such as gold or cobalt, into the raw materials prior to melting. Firing alters the color. For example, gold will yield a bubblegum pink color when cooled. Iron oxide is used to give reproduction glass its characteristic light green hue reminiscent of older glass.

Reproduction glass, with its bubbles and blemishes, is the preferred choice for glass replacement in an antique china cabinet or vintage cupboard. It also lends itself beautifully to more expansive historic renovations. Because it is mouth-blown, reproduction glass has a waviness that is not found in modern glass. Hand-made glass is not homogeneous, so it can’t be tempered. It can, however, be made safe through lamination.

Making It Safe
Safety glass is recommended for vulnerable areas such as doors. Safety glass is made in two ways, either through tempering or laminating. Tempered glass is made and cut to the specified thickness and size, then heated in a tempering oven where temperatures reach 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. Through rapid cooling, the surface tension of the glass increases, making it four times stronger than standard glass. When tempered glass breaks, it dices or crumbles, leaving no sharp edges behind. Laminated glass, at its most simple, involves a plastic interlayer that is fused between two pieces of glass. When broken, the glass cracks but stays in place, giving it the added benefit of security.

Inset Glass for Pocket Door
In a Miami condo, Bob used glass inserts in the pocket door to divide the living room from the private quarters. Bob selected a leaf-patterned glass from Bendheim, a third-generation architectural glass company in New York City. The glass is patterned, so it allows light to pass through the panels and into the interior of the apartment while obscuring the view and allowing for privacy on both sides.

The glass design was an aesthetic choice, notes Bendheim Senior Vice President Donald Jayson. It marries elements from a bygone era with a more modern look. Going with pocket doors, however, was as much an aesthetic decision as a practical one. The doors make the 950-square-foot condo appear more spacious and allow for diffused, natural lighting while maintaining privacy. Bob also had the glass tempered for safety, according to Jayson. “This way, if someone runs into it, it won’t disintegrate. Whether it’s for residential or commercial applications, it’s always good to make sure that the glass is safety glass,” he says.

The door installation was a mix of pre-fab and custom. Project supervisor David Southard purchased a pre-fab pocket door frame from a hardware store, then commissioned Miami Beach door specialists House of Doors to construct and customize the inset-glass pocket doors. The end result is an exquisite room divider in rich cedar with full-length glass panels.