In this in-depth interview with Jim Acheson, founder and president of Acheson Builders, Lucy Ann Lance discusses the 2016 Remodelers Home Tour, the Acheson Builders design style, and a particularly challenging older-home remodeling job at 2037 Winstead in Ann Arbor, Michigan. This traditional 1970s home harbored a claustrophobic dinette and u-shaped kitchen until Acheson Builders gave it a new life.
Joining the interview is Pete Nowakowski, Marketing and Communications Director of Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor (BRAG).
The Remodelers Home Tour was co-founded in 1989 by Jim Acheson and is organized by the BRAG Ann Arbor.
Running time: 12 minutes, 45 seconds. Courtesy of Lance & Erskine Communications
2017 Remodelers Home Tour
Part Two of a Two-Part Series
(see Part One of this series here )
In undertaking this very large remodeling project, Acheson Builders had many challenges. One good example: we didn’t want to block a feature window that is at the front of the house while adding a new staircase to replace a vintage narrow straight run set of steps (see part one of this series for solution). The homeowners also asked us to create a coat-closet space for that part of the house.
To accomplish this, we designed the new stairs with a turn midway up, so that the upper section of stairs along the front wall could be above the feature window. We were then able to fit a small coat closet under the upper stairs, while adding a bonus hidden storage area under the lower section of stairs. All done in period detail.
When it comes to working on older homes such as this that are considered historic, contractors such as Acheson Builders must hue to the call of the Historic District Commission of Ann Arbor, Michigan. One governing rule of the HDCAA specifies that additions to classic homes in its purview look different than the historic parts of those houses. For this 1840’s home, there were four different styles incorporated, each from a different design era. Although required to have the addition look different, Acheson Builders and the home’s owners didn’t want it to look drastically different — we wanted some continuity, a sense of a unified building after integrating the new with the old. Part of our solution was to use existing ornamentation, seen in the taller front section of the house, as inspiration for the embellishment used on the rear addition.
One somewhat painful decision that the owners had to make involved losing an outdoor sauna. Acheson Builders replaced a badly deteriorating old deck and sauna with a new deck (but no sauna) built on the sunnier side of the house, which also allowed for a larger addition, while at the same time including value-added maintenance-free Azek PVC materials.
One challenge with using Azek materials for the deck and railing, was that Azek does not make a top handrail for stairways that qualifies as “graspable” under the building code. We were able to solve this issue by custom-fabricating, using Azek stock, a top guardrail for the steps that conformed to the code but which also matched the profile of the manufactured top rail used along the level guardrail sections. To fabricate this required handrail, we glued Azek stock pieces together, then milled them for the desired profile. This type of work is quite sophisticated and is only done well by highly skilled carpenters (such as ours)!
Some Design Process Considerations for this job:
- Deck Height: House sits high relative to the backyard; deck needed to be just a step or two down: this allows for a better view of the yard from inside the house while taking minimal space away from the deck
- Embellishment: New entryway to deck and backyard from Kitchen and Family Room creates a stunning look as seen from both interior and exterior perspectives; it is a highlight and new rear focal point, with inspiration from other portions of this historic home
- Addition and deck size: allow for good furniture layout, walkability, storage (both interior spaces, and on deck itself)
- Width of deck stairway: wide design allows for traffic flow to yard, room to sit on steps
- Additional features and thoughtful design: one of the skirt panels below the deck opens, so the space is accessible for storage under the deck
. . . and on and on, so forth and etc.; there were a myriad of other issues, both interior and exterior in this the complex design and remodeling process, especially for issues relating to an historic home. Challenging and satisfying — for the homeowners and for Acheson Builders!
— Go back to Part One of this series —
Remodeling for a New Era
(Part One of a Two-Part series —go to Part Two here)
This most fascinating older home on Ann Arbor’s “Old West Side” embodied several eras of style:
A Greek Revival settlement-era original from the 1840s, combined with a mid 19th century (1860s or 1870s) practical-but-poorly-built addition, a showy 1890s Victorian era addition, and a 1970’s update on the cheap.
While possessing lots of charm in the details, and a lovely front elevation, the home was awkward and limiting to live in.
CREATIVE, THOUGHTFUL DESIGN SOLUTIONS BY THE ACHESON BUILDERS TEAM
Renovation ideas from two different designers hadn’t met the owner’s goals, before the Acheson design team was called in. Creative problem solving, attentive listening, and abundant experience enabled the Acheson team to meet both the homeowner’s goals and local Historic District requirements, as well as Acheson Builders’ high standards of functionality, refinement, and classical esthetics. Relocating and improving the main stairs (see below) turned out to be one of the keys in re-configuring this home to meet a growing family’s needs, and this stairway became an elegant focal point for the newly created foyer area by the front door.
Graceful and sophisticated custom staircase
- Gorgeous walnut flooring throughout main floor, tying in to original
- Addition (partially two story) encompassing new Kitchen, Dining and Family Rooms
- New Azek Deck with wide stairway to yard
- Newly created bedroom space on second floor, with enlarged 2nd floor bath
- Loads of classy custom cabinetry and custom built-ins and unique storage in Kitchen, Family Room, and bedrooms
- Interesting ceiling lines and custom mouldings add great charm
- Circular stairway to lower level; wall displays some original 1840’s stonework
- Fully finished bright Basement with bedroom
MAIN STAIRWAY: DRAMATIC BEFORE AND AFTER!
The original stairs from the 1840s Greek Revival part of the home went up to a second floor which was formerly a large sleeping loft, with no original partitions and no bathroom (they used outhouses back then).
The stairs were incredibly steep and unsafe — with tall risers, narrow treads. and barely 24” of width so that a broad shouldered man would have to go up the stairs at an angle.
The home’s living room was located right inside the front door. It had no coat closet nor enclosed vestibule to block the winter cold. It was also a major pass‐through room to get to all other points in the home. As you can imagine, it was a very awkward location for a living room. By placing the new stairway in this area, these main stairs became part of a newly created foyer space, and the back three‐quarters of the home was then freed up on both levels to reconfigure for more functionally pleasing living spaces on both floors.
Continued . . . go to part two about this amazing project.
Fire-Damaged New Home to be Made New Again
Tragedy struck the owner of a new 3000 sq ft home in Dexter, Michigan earlier this year: a chimney fire forced him and his family to flee and damaged much of the house interior before being brought under control by local firefighters.
After the smoke cleared and insurance company assessments were completed, the homeowner chose Acheson Builders to come to the rescue. Work has already begun to completely renovate the great room and other parts of the house.
Laborious Prep Work
Acheson Builders’ skilled carpenters and workers don’t often don hazmat jumpsuits but are doing so now in order to prepare the site for new construction. Among the first tasks has been to deal with fire- and water-damaged walls. A fire-damage specialist company had stripped out drywall material that had become waterlogged by firefighting efforts. This left wall studs exposed. Ordinarily this would provide a clean slate for installing new drywall, but thousands of drywall fasteners remained, jutting out from every stud where they had held the original drywall in place. Acheson Builders team members are having to remove all of these fasteners by hand, one by one.
Better Than New
After months of traumatic waiting following the fire, the beleaguered homeowner has told Acheson Builders how grateful he is to have his rebuild/remodel job in such good hands and that Acheson Builders had been singularly recommended as “the best remodeler in town.”
Acheson Builders is one of the three best-rated home builders in Ann Arbor, Michigan according to the rating service, Three Best Rated . . . ! Three Best Rated wants consumers to find the most worthy resources, so therefore, what are you waiting for? You should probably contact Acheson Builders right now. Read more on the Three Best Rated page.
Michigan House Envy: Ann Arbor-area homes transformed
Judy Rose, Special to the Detroit Free Press
10:19 p.m. EDT September 26, 2015
Download this: Case Study of the Parkridge Residence described in this article (PDF, 2.4MB), and see Case Study: Update Kitchen – Maintain Simple Elegance for more photos and description of the project.
This single-story, glass-walled house in Ann Arbor is a celebration of Mid-Century Modern architecture, so when the worn-out kitchen had to be restored, the pressure was on to not mess it up.
The original kitchen had been built on-site with fine cabinet-making details. Now, 50 years later, “The cabinets were basically falling apart and delaminating,” said owner Bonnie Greenspoon.
Greenspoon and her husband, Martin Schwartz, are architects, each with connections to the esteemed late architect David Osler, who designed this house in 1962. The couple has owned the home for 17 years.
Standard cabinets could not re-create Osler’s work. So Greenspan designed new cabinets and counters almost exactly like the originals, and a fine-furniture cabinet maker built them.
Their kitchen is one of 12 stops on the Ann Arbor Remodelers’ Home Tour.
What visitors will see is the classic Modernist kitchen, with clean lines and fine details. Pull-closed doors or drawers and the edges display a dense 13-ply plywood — furniture grade — faced with alder veneer.
They’ll see a wall of cabinets where the grain in the alder lines up from floor to ceiling, making the doors nearly undetectable.
The counter tops remain white, their beat-up laminate replaced with white quartz. As Osler specified, the counters do not jut out in typical fashion, but line up straight with the cabinets’ face. Between each counter top and the cabinet below, there’s a slight indent or “reveal” — all picky details, but important to the architects.
Acheson Builders, which put the project together, used its custom resources to create the special materials. For example, that 13-ply wood with its alder veneer did not exist, Jim Acheson said. “It was custom laid up for us on the West Coast.”
The context is a beautifully closed house where glass doors let you walk outside from almost every room.
“The house is wonderful because it’s so simple,” Greenspoon said. “You’re not bogged down with frivolous details. You just appreciate the space.”
Ann Arbor Remodelers’ Home Tour
The 2015 tour runs two days next weekend. On the schedule are 11 remodeled houses in Ann Arbor and South Lyon, including these two. They include a whole-house remodel with a finished walkout lower level, two first-floor remodels, several kitchen projects, several master suite projects, a basement renovation and a second-story addition.
The annual tour is sponsored by the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor.
When: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Oct. 3 and noon-6 p.m. Oct. 4.
Where: Start and pick up a map at any of the houses. For addresses, a photo and a thumbnail description of each project, go to bragannarbor.com
Cost: $10; free for children 16 and younger
Full article: http://www.freep.com/story/money/real-estate/michigan-house-envy/2015/09/26/house-envy-ann-arbor-remodelers-tour-realtors-metro-detroit-for-sale-judy-rose-university-of-michigan/72672794/
25th Annual Home, Garden & Lifestyle Show Draws Near-Record Crowds
Successful show! Sunshine and no rain, plus an enthused crowd, brought a great number of visitors this year. We were informed that the turnout was about 50% higher than last year. The check-in / ticket sales booth at the entrance to the show ran out of the bags that they were giving away for the first two days, for people to be able to carry literature in. Maureen Sloan, CEO of Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor, said that we were having numbers like we haven’t seen since 2005!
At the Acheson Builders booth, people were very engaged and interested. Many stopped and talked with us, and a good number filled out forms stating they wanted to be contacted about their project, to set up appointments.
To all of you who stopped by our booth, thank you so much for visiting. It was a real pleasure meeting you. We are excited to have been able to talk with you and look forward to helping get started realizing your remodeling and home building projects!
Come visit us at the upcoming Home, Garden and Lifestyle Show March 20-22, 2015. The show is sponsored by Builders & Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor (BRAG)(click for more info).
This event typically draws over 5,000 visitors from Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Grass Lake, Manchester, Milan, Saline, Ypsilanti and beyond. It features many examples of local remodeling and home & garden resources.
To encourage you to come, Acheson Builders is pleased to offer you gratis admission coupons — tickets to get into the show free! All we ask is that you stop by the Acheson Builders booth and introduce yourself. (You’ll find us in the main building, right side. We’ll be the ones with the custom cabinetry and wall panel of featured projects! ) Just CLICK HERE to closed a printable image for tickets OR download this PDF for printing — and we’ll be seeing you at the event!
Related: AB in the Houzz: The architecture & home improvement website, Houzz, has featured Acheson Builders!
What’s Houzz . . . ?
[Source: See Wikipedia’s entry for Houzz . . . ] Houzz is a web site and online community about architecture, interior design and decorating, landscape design and home improvement. The Houzz platform and mobile apps feature interior and exterior home photos, articles written by architects, interior designers and home design experts, product recommendations, and a user forum. The company was founded in 2009 and is based in Palo Alto, California.