Wet Bar and Laundry Room

The four most expensive words in remodeling are “While you’re in there”.  It’s extremely tempting to add additional scope to a project.  In theory, doing more now is cheaper than doing more later, the contractors are already there right?  The downside to this is that it can go on forever and is really unhealthy for the budget.

In our case, we were penny wise and pound foolish, in our eagerness to control scope on our project we didn’t let Stefan (our architect) do any design work for the basement.  In our minds, we thought we were only doing a main floor remodel and the basement would be phase 3 (after the second floor).  The reality is, our basement was completely torn to shreds as a result of moving the stairwell.  In one of our walk throughs with our architect we realized we had an opportunity to “fix” our laundry situation.  The real issue we had is that our laundry was the first thing we saw when going into the basement, we effectively walked through our laundry area every time we went to the family room.

We realized that we could move things around and get the laundry out of the main area which opened up the possibility of a wet bar.  We gave Stefan a few days to come up with some drawings and this is what he came up with:

For those of you who aren’t stalking me, here’s what the original plan was.  The washer and dryer would have gone right next to the window.

The new plan gives us a dedicated laundry room which hides the washer/dryer and gives us a utility sink.  It’d be unamerican of me to let an available sink hookup go to waste so we decided to add a wet bar.

A Wet Bar?

A wet bar is a bar with a sink, in our case, it’s more than that.  We’re not big drinkers, but thanks to our wedding we have enough booze to open a bar.  We also like soda and the idea of having it cold and available in the basement is too good to pass up.  Our wet bar will feature plenty of storage for the liquor and associated glasses, a wine fridge, an under counter bar fridge, and a dishwasher.  As per our style, we wanted to contain costs as best as we could but, we still wanted to get nice things where it makes sense.

Cabinets and Countertops

We knew we didn’t want to pay for the cabinet and countertop quality we’re getting for the kitchen.  In addition to being pretty expensive, the kitchen cabinets have too long of a lead time for us.  I also didn’t want to go Ikea because I didn’t like the styles and I really wanted all wood boxes.  This lead us to the Chinese cabinet companies in Sodo.
Why do I call them Chinese cabinet companies?  The signs on the stores are all written in English and Chinese.  We visited three of them: Pius Kitchen and Bath, First Ave Kitchen and Bath, and G.S. Cabinet and Granite.  We ruled out Pius pretty quickly, their cabinet quality wasn’t very good.  I had used First Ave in the past for a rental unit and knew the cabinets were great quality.  Unfortunately, while I was in there I overheard the woman at the counter snap at a customer “You didn’t understand me…” maybe the customer made a mistake, maybe 1st ave did but it left a bad taste in my mouth.  Finally we looked at GS.  GS had the largest quartz and granite collection, they also supply the cabinets to 1st Ave KB.  Unfortunately, they were a little more expensive than 1st Ave but I was able to talk them down to match the price.
GS also struck me as the most professional, they quickly drew up my cabinets in a cad program so we could approve it.  We went with them and scheduled for an install date a few weeks away.  The trick to these cabinets is that they’re all in stock, which means quick turn around.  It also means reduced flexibility, you only get what they have, they can’t customize for you so you run the risk of having a sub optimal layout in your space.  For us, it didn’t matter, we’re doing one wall of cabinetry.  On the plus side, you get all wood boxes and doors and Blum cabinet hardware.  Blum makes some of the best  hardware for cabinets (they also make the Ikea hardware).  All of our cabinets are going to have soft close drawers and doors, no extra cost.  Speaking of cost, we’re paying $2,200 installed for our cabinets.
GS also does countertops, if you go to Home Depot or a larger kitchen shop, you will end up paying for cabinets by the square foot.  Home Depot has a wonderfully complicated formula, you get a per-square foot cost plus a linear foot cost for the edges.  GS doesn’t do it that way, at GS you buy slabs and pay for installation separate.  I ended up paying $1,150 for the counter tops which includes two slabs of “Swiss White” quartz, which looks a lot like Cambria’s “Whitehall”.  By my math, I have 28 square feet of countertop which works out to $41 installed.  The equivalent at Home Depot was $2,172 or $78 a square foot.  I saved almost 50%.


This aspect of the wet bar was just shocking.  Thankfully we already have a “built-in ready” wine fridge so I didn’t have to buy one.  I did however, have to buy an under counter fridge.  If you don’t want to build it in, then you can find one relatively cheaply from Frigidaire.  Lowes has their own version of it that’s $100 less, you should be able to get one for under $450.  Unfortunately, ours needs to be built in.  In addition to adding expense, built-in fridges vent forward instead of out of the back or sides.  Built in under counter beverage centers that get cold enough, as in, below 37F cost more than $1,500 and can go higher than $3,000.
We were between a Marvel and a U-Line.  We ended up going with the U-Line because we liked the shelving layout more.  
We’re also adding a dishwasher, this isn’t a requirement for most people but it should be.  Our wet bar is on a different floor from our kitchen.  In none of my fantasy simulations did I ever think we’d actually wash the glasses by hand.  This means that we’d have to take them upstairs and then bring them down again.  In reality, we would likely pile up dirty glasses in the basement until one of us got frustrated enough to bring them upstairs and wash them, then we’d have a pile of clean glasses upstairs that needed to be moved back down.  Forget it, we’re getting a dishwasher.  We had only two requirements for this dishwasher: quiet, and racking that would let us store a lot of glasses.  Quiet lead us to four different brands: Miele, Bosch, Asko and KitchenAid.  All four brands make great dishwashers but the racks on the Bosch ruled them out for our use case, it’d be awkward to put glasses on the bottom shelf.  Price ruled out Miele and Asko.  We ended up with a KitchenAid KUDE60FXSS.  The KitchenAid has three racks like the Miele do, is only 43 dB (we won’t hear it when it’s running), and cost less than the alternative.  My 8 readers will also recall that I’m a fan of KitchenAid dishwashers, normally because of the grinder which this one doesn’t have.
We bought the appliances the same way we bought the last ones (check out my post on how to buy appliances).  This time, Albert Lee won, we saved a lot and actually did better percentage wise than we did on the kitchen appliances:
I feel sorry for anyone who walks into an appliance store and pays sticker or “sale” price.

Laundry Room

Nothing really fancy going on in here, as per the rest of the remodel, we’re going with LED lighting and we’re reusing our washer/dryer and freezer.  The only notable purchase I made was the utility sink. I originally wanted a traditional utility sink, a plastic tub on four legs.  As I started looking for one, I didn’t like the reviews that talked about cheaply made and flimsy sinks.  This thing is going to hold 20 gallons of water, I want it to be sturdy.  I found a company that sells granite composite laundry sinks, we’re putting granite composite sinks in the wet bar and the kitchen because of their general indestructibility.  We’re going with the Mustee 17F.    

Working with an Architect Part I

Not a lot of progress to report on at the house so I thought I’d share the first blog in a series on my experiences working with an architect.

Why an Architect?

We knew this would be a big remodel, we wanted to remove a wall and open up the kitchen to the living room.  We also knew we wanted to lay the ground work for a future second floor.  Our floor plan felt challenging to us, we knew there was a specific wall we wanted to take out, but we couldn’t see how we could fix the layout given the other constraints the house shape pushed on us.

Finding an Architect.

There are a lot of architects in Seattle (Google says 2500), in my case finding the architect was easy.  I work at a company with an active homeowners list and I asked for recommendations.  I also visited the PNA Home Design & Remodel Fair.  The fair had several architects manning booths and gave a great opportunity to spend a few minutes chatting with individual architects.  It sort of felt like speed dating for architects.   Based on the recommendations from my work place and the trip to the PNA Home Fair, I narrowed it down to two: Stefan at CAST Architecture and Cristoph at Kruger Architecture.  Both architects are members of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), they both had compelling portfolios and were both dog owners that understood the priority dog ownership had in our thoughts.  I still think both would have done well for us but we ended up choosing Stefan for a couple of reasons: 
  1. We sat and interviewed a client of his that works at the company I do, and it made us confident in his process.
  2. We thought that CAST would be more “aggressive” in his design.  What I mean by that was, we thought Stefan would do a better job of pushing our design past our concerns over budget.  Specifically, we didn’t want our budget concerns delivering “good” when for a bit more, we could get “great”.  I suppose this is the polite way to say we thought Stefan would blow past our budget but that we thought we could control costs ourselves.
  3. Stefan lives nearby, while we hadn’t spoken too much before this started, he’d always been friendly and we liked the idea that he’d have to look at his work for a while.  It turns out we also save some money because we don’t have to pay for travel time when it comes to site visits.

The first meeting.

The first meeting is where you get the dog and pony show from the architect, in each of these, we got a look at the work of each architect as well as hold their perspective on their process and how they operate.  One of the things we liked about Stefan was the very honest and up front discussion about costs and how billing worked.  Architects work by the hour and pass on all expenses, like a lawyer or other professional.  It was good to hear up front about how costs work, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about this either.

Ok, we picked one, now what?

After the selection process,  we went back and forth a few e-mails to clarify scope.  Once we were satisfied, we signed a contract.  Thankfully, the contracts are all standard and provided by AIA.  They’re clearly worded and spell out every cost you’ll incur with your new best friend.  Once we signed the contract and paid a retainer fee we then scheduled a program meeting.  This was one of the most fun meetings we had with our architect.  It’s a two hour session where he asked us guiding questions to get a feel for what we liked, what we didn’t, and get a general idea of our aesthetic.  
We also scheduled a time for Stefan and an associate to come to the house and take detailed measurements.  This was expensive ($1700 or so) but critical, it’s also nice because we now have very clear “as-built” blueprints to the house.
After the program meeting, and armed with the detailed measurements, Stefan presented us with a collection of sketches:
New stairwell location, same front door location.

This one moved the stairs but kept the front door in the original location.

Scheme 3 was the only one that didn’t move the stairs, but did change the orientation. 
This was our favorite!
Right off the bat, Stefan didn’t constrain himself like we did, it never occurred to us that we could move our stair case.  He also figured out how to give us all of the things we wanted, a nice size island, a garage, a real entryway.  We didn’t actually end up doing the garage in this round, but we’ll get to it eventually.
Once we settled on a sketch, Stefan got more specific about dimensions and we started refining the  plans.  Over a couple of months and many revisions, we eventually ended up with our final layout:
Not bad eh?

What else happened?

In a future post, I’ll talk about other things Stefan has helped us with so far, picking fixtures, selecting a contractor, managing the project, etc… (that’s why this is Part 1).  I’ll also give a cost break down when this is all done.