Old West Side House Remodel: Bringing Together Four Eras

October 2nd, 2017
Part Two of a Two-Part Series

(see Part One of this series here )


photo of 1840 house in Ann Arbor Michigan after complete remodeling by Acheson BuildersDesign Challenges

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. 

photo of sweeping wooden staircase curving past window

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


Jim Acheson Wins Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement 2014

November 9th, 2014

Washtenaw Remodelers Council 2014 Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement

photo of James Acheson holding 2014 Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement

Jim Acheson has been honored with the 2014 Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement — Photo: Peter Nowakowski, Marketing & Communications Director BRAG Ann Arbor

The annual Builders Association Banquet was the setting for the presentation of the Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement. This year, the award went to Jim Acheson!

Jim Acheson Wins Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement

Here is the full text of the presentation:

It is an honor to present the Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement, which was established in 1992 in commemoration of Steve Keppler, an outstanding professional and remarkable person who made an indelible mark on our Association, our community, and the lives of everyone who knew him. Like its namesake, the purpose of this award is multi-faceted. The award recognizes an individual with extraordinary remodeling skills and business accomplishments who has also enriched our Association and lifted us all to a higher level. In addition, this Award celebrates a generous person, devoted to improving the lives of others, and the very fabric of our community through giving and volunteerism.

photo of the 2014 Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement

2014 Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement

As we pondered these qualities, one such person emerged as a clear fit of this distinguished profile. With unanimous admiration we decided the 2014 Keppler Award belongs to Jim Acheson.

Some 25 years ago, Jim brought us the vision of creating a special event which came to be known as the Remodelers Home Tour. His idea took off, and grew into a vital marketing tool for our members. This year an average of 650 people came through each home on the Tour.

All these years later, it speaks volumes to see Acheson Builders’ very own work featured among these premier remodeled homes. I’m sure many of their clients would share our enthusiasm for the phenomenal work of Jim and his team. In every one of their projects, you can see that the details really matter.

photo of James Acheson holding 2014 Keppler Award for Remodeling Achievement as BRAG Ann Arbor CEO Maureen Sloan and her colleague look on

BRAG Ann Arbor CEO Maureen Sloan (right) and her colleague (left) present Jim Acheson (center) with the 2014 Keppler Award at Builders Association Banquet November 4, 2014

In Jim’s personal life, you can see that, too. He’s proactive when it comes to engaging with local governments, striving to improve the way our community operates. He leads by example as a frequent volunteer serving meals at The Hope Clinic to those who can use a helping hand, a hand that he is willing to lend. All the while, Jim has always been there for his family and friends with all of his heart.

We thank you, Jim, for all you’ve done to help build BRAG Ann Arbor* into what it is today, and for so much more. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the 2014 Keppler Award to our esteemed colleague, Jim Acheson. Congratulations Jim!