Friday, February 26, 2010

Backyard Projects

As spring and summer quickly approach now is the time to consider making the changes you've always wanted to your backyard. Whether it's turning your patio into four season sunroom, an outdoor kitchen or any of these fun projects below...

-A Shed With Style:
Give your garden pizzazz. Trimmed with cedar shake siding and a cozy porch, this handy shed’s exterior exudes rustic charm. Skylights fill the interior with natural light and warmth, making it a great work environment for all your hobbies.
Pegboard and open shelving keep tools organized and out of the way. This handy space could also be used as a planting station or for extra outdoor storage. At the peak of the shed’s roof, a hand-crafted weathervane carries on the natural appeal of this garden shed. An old trowel attached to the door is the perfect doorknob, adding both function and charm.

This playhouse makes a great outdoor project and is sure to please the kids. There’s even a sandbox with a fitted lid that keeps out critters, leaves, and rain.

-Classic Gazebo:
Easy to build, this traditional gazebo provides shade from the sun and shelter from seasonal showers. It’s a special place to enjoy the beauty of your backyard.

-Gothic Style Gazebo:
Adorned with delicate detailing, this gazebo is a lovely accompaniment to a Victorian or other fancifully appointed home. A cupola tops the gazebo with flair.

Cedar shakes and custom millwork add authentic charm to this garden getaway. Use the gazebo for a romantic al fresco dinner or as a lounging area for an afternoon retreat.

Thanks To MyHomeIdeas

Friday, February 19, 2010

Energy Efficient Housing Act

Our socially responsible company president took action on behalf of his community and contacted his congressman in regards to the Energy Efficient Manufactured Housing Act of 2009. Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey sent the following response:

February 18, 2010
Dear AK President, Ed Cholfin:
Thank you for contacting me to express your opinion regarding H.R. 1749, the Energy Efficient Manufactured Housing Act of 2009. As your Congressman, I appreciate hearing your thoughts and welcome every opportunity to be of service.
As you may know, H.R. 1749 was introduced by Representative Baron Hill (D-IN) on March 26, 2009 and was subsequently referred to the House Committees on Energy and Commerce and Financial Services, where it awaits further action. If enacted, this legislation would authorize the Secretary of Energy to make grants available to state agencies responsible for developing state energy conservation plans under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to provide owners of manufactured homes constructed prior to 1976 rebates for the purchase of a new Energy Star qualified manufactured home.
Further, the bill would restrict rebates to owners of manufactured homes that are used on a year-round basis as a primary residence and that will be destroyed and replaced?"in the same general location?"with an Energy Star qualified manufactured home. The rebates would be limited to one owner per household, households with total incomes not exceeding 200% of the federal poverty level in the applicable area, and $7,500 per manufactured home.
Improving home energy efficiency will provide homeowners with lower energy costs. Furthermore, the manufacturing of new homes will also lead to the creation of new jobs. Rest assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind as this bill moves through the legislative process.
Again, thank you for sharing your concerns. If you feel that I may be of additional assistance on this, or any other matter of importance to you, please do not hesitate to contact me. I also invite you to sign up for my weekly email newsletter, or to share your ideas and opinions, by visiting my website at or emailing me at

As someone involved or interested in the building & remodeling business, what are your thoughts on this bill?
The important thing is not necessarily to agree or disagree, but to make your voice heard! It's easy! Visit this site to find out who your representative is and to contact him or her. The housing industry is one of many in which those involved need to help those in congress understand what really helps the remodelers/builders on the "front lines." Thanks for your interest & involvement!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

AK's Kitchen Renovations Series - I - CABINETRY

Finally - the much awaited first installment of AK's Kitchen Renovation series!

   Naturally, we always receive many questions about the various aspects of kitchen remodeling. Either people can't decide the best way to go, or they're not sure what options they have and often are looking for the options that will give them their best value. And the hardest part of answering those questions is that they are different for every customer!
   The best thing we can do is to educate our customers on their options, ask them plenty of questions, and discover with them what works best for their family, their home and their budget. Today we begin the educational series with cabinetry! Probably the most commonly asked questions involve cabinets, as they are a dominant presence in every kitchen!

AK has broken your cabinet options down to 3 main categories: Replace, Reface, Refinish!

1. Replace - Replacing your cabinets means pulling out all or most of your current cabinetry and replacing it with new cabinetry. This option is the most effective resolution and also carries a higher cost. Replacing your cabinets is an effective choice to dramatically change the look of the your kitchen, but also the ONLY effective choice to dramatically improve the functionality of the kitchen by changing the footprint!
If function is an issue in your kitchen that you would like addressed, then replacement is the best option for you. An important aspect of replacing cabinetry is to have not only fabulous new cabinets, but a fabulous new design! New cabinets alone don't create a better functioning kitchen, a designer does!
A relatively simple example of a cabinetry replacement is this Alpharetta remodeled kitchen by AK. In this kitchen, the owner along with the designer decided not to move some major items (like the range) but moved the microwave and oven for better functionality and disguised the dishwasher and frig for better aesthetics! This cabinetry replacement also dramtically changed the look of the kitchen; the new cabinetry is exquisite and of much higher quality and with many more "extras" then what the former cabinetry offered.

Before: After:  Click Here!

The above kitchen is an award-winning example of how replacing cabinetry can dramatically change aesthetics AND function!

2. Reface - Refacing existing cabinetry typically invovles using a new door and drawer front (with new finish) that replaces current doors and drawer fronts. Refacing also uses a laminate nearly matching the new door/drawer color that is adhered to all exposed ends and open areas. This type of project maintains the same foot print and functionality. The only occassional exception to this is when the present cabinetry will support after-market accessories that allow the present cabinetry to be more functional. (ex: roll-out drawers, lazy susans, soft-close drawers, etc.) The cost for this type of project has a mid-range cost associated with it that is still less than new cabinetry. A general rule is that refacing costs 50-60% of what cabinetry replacement costs.
AK rarely works with customers who want to reface cabinetry for two reasons: One - most of AK's clients wish to utilize AK's professional design expertise to make a functional change. Two - most of AK's clients decide their is more value to replacing cabinetry than in spending 60% of the cost to change aesthetics only.

3. Refinish - The process of refinishing existing cabinetry typically entails adding a new color or stain to the present cabinetry. If the bulk of the doors and drawer fronts are in good shape this is a cost effective option! However if the existing cabinets are damaged, any flaws in the present cabinetry may show through the new finish. The options and / or limits to specific finishes available for your cabinets depending on the present material's condition. This option is typically the least costly, maintains the current footprint (in some instances we may be able to offer alternative ideas) and allows for the same accessory installations as in option 2.
This AK remodeled kitchen has refinished and replaced cabinets! The perimeter cabinets were refinished with an antique glazing and distressing while the island cabinetry was completely replaced with dramatic ebony cabinets. You can see that the before & after aesthetic differences are dramatic, despite the footprint remaining the same. This worked for the homeowner because the footprint of the kitchen functioned well and they just wanted a more high-end appointed kitchen, with new appliances, lighting, tile, countertops, etc. With AK's design expertise to combine refinished and replaced cabinetry with all new appointments the kitchen was quickly and easily changed from ordinary to extraordinary!

The kitchen above is a perfect example of AK's ability to offer some different options when refinishing cabinetry. The owner's of the kitchen above were happy with the way their kitchen functioned with the exception of an akward kitchen desk. AK removed the desk cabinetry and moved it to where you now see a bar with seating next to the television. All the cabinetry was then refinished with dramatic contrasting paint colors which made the cabinets' aesthtic change, with new tile, countertops and appliances, enough to change the feel of the whole kitchen!

We hope you now feel like you have a handle on the cabinetry options you have to choose from when renovating your kitchen. The final question you might have is, how does AK know which option is best for me? AK uses this kitchen page and questionnaire to ask critical questions that help us understand what you want to gain from your renovation project and how your family lives day to day in your kitchen. With these questions answered, and an idea of your desired investment amount, AK can recommend the right option for you!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kitchen Colors That Stand The Test Of Time

By Gretchen Roberts

From ruby-red refrigerators to handpainted tile murals, colors in the kitchen can range from kitschy to classic. How do you know which colors will outlast trends? "A classic color is timeless, associated with elements of nature that we think of as ever-present: rock, stone, pebbles, marble and granite," says Leatrice Eiseman, author of Color Messages and Meanings and director of the Pantone Color Institute. "There is an implied quality to anything so long-lasting, which would certainly translate into appliances, cabinets and other kitchen areas you hope would have longevity."

But choosing colors that will stand the test of time doesn't mean sacrificing style. "Neutrals aren't the only classic colors. Color can be rich and intense, like terra cotta or bright red, and still be classic," says Mary Jo Peterson, CKD, CBD, principal of Mary Jo Peterson Inc. and a columnist for Kitchen & Bath Design News. "You can create interest in a timeless design by taking color inspiration from an Oriental rug or a bright fabric, and using intense colors in small, replaceable amounts."

Here are classic color ideas for five areas of your kitchen:

You can't go wrong with wood — or can you? Even wood shades and types go in and out of style, says Paul Dybdahl, CKD, president of Dybdahl's Classic Kitchen in Middleton, Wis. "Light maples have run their course. People are asking for darker stained woods right now," he says.

Your best bet is to choose a finish somewhere between blonde and brunette, Mary Jo says. "Well-built cabinetry will last much longer than the finish will stay in style," she says. "Pick a simple door style and a medium finish, and if you want a new look just change the hardware every five years."

Considering painted cabinets? A shade of white is always classic, Paul says.

If you're pining for a specific shade: Just go for it, Mary Jo says. You can always paint the cabinets white if you have to sell. "At some point you have to give up on a color staying in style and choose it because you love it. I did my kitchen in a dark mahogany stained cherry. I still love it, because it matches my personality."

Bright custom countertop colors — such as red, yellow, turquoise and plum — are hot today, Paul says, but the bold look may not wow you tomorrow. Instead, look to the classic color trio of white, green or black for lasting color if you're choosing laminate, solid surface, tile or marble. "Laminates and solid surface aren't considered classic materials, but they can be very durable and, if you choose your color well, will last quite some time," he says.

Materials such as granite, quartz, ceramic tile and butcher-block-style wood come in naturally enduring colors, even though some choices are dramatic (think Zebrawood's exotic stripes or blue-and–green patterned granite). "Colors found in natural materials never go out of style, because we see them in nature and are comfortable with them," Mary Jo says.

Still stumped? Try looking around the rest of your house for inspiration, suggests Peggy Deras, CKD, CID, owner of Kitchen Artworks in San Francisco. "My inclination is to take cues from the rest of the house. The kitchen should not look like it dropped in from Mars." In other words, a deep brick shade that complements your Victorian decor is bound to stay in style longer than a random manufactured pattern released as fad of the year.

If you're set on a trendy countertop: Cover the island in boldly patterned granite, Mary Jo says. "It can become the piece of art in the room."

"Backsplashes are all over the board, as unique as each homeowner," Paul says. Lately he's been using wood that matches the cabinetry, while Mary Jo has seen backsplashes used as intense splashes of color in the room.

White subway tiles are the go-to classic backsplash, Peggy says. She often uses them in small kitchens, since light colors recede and make the space look bigger. Other time-tested options include a custom-made mosaic reflecting other colors in the room, and organic, natural choices such as the muted, neutral colors in tumbled marble or limestone.

If you want to make a big splash: Install the backsplash on a removable board instead of directly onto the wall, Mary Jo says. "You'll have something that says 'This is a really sharp kitchen,' but is easily replaceable."

Burnt orange, fire-engine red and eggplant are just a few shades you could select for your stove and fridge, but even more popular is stainless steel. "Stainless steel has always been around, but we don't think of it as timeless since it's taken over the market and we'll likely see a resistance to it in the future," Mary Jo says.

Instead, think monochrome when it comes to appliances. "I have never seen a white appliance date anything," Paul says. Mary Jo favors black, since it blends well with wood. Even better than white or black is letting the appliances recede and disappear with panels that match the cabinetry.

If the kitchen is your stage: "A cobalt-blue commercial range is entirely appropriate as a focal point," Mary Jo says.

Ceramic tile and wood are the go-to floors for kitchens. "A few years ago, light maple wood floors were very popular, but they've given way to warmer tones," Paul says. "Colors are in for hard-surface, natural stone. I haven't seen a white-tiled floor for years."

Paul recommends medium-dark wood flooring paired with slightly lighter cabinets to give the whole room a classic look. For tile floors, any earthy, natural color is a good choice. Just make sure you stick with one color. "You can get into trouble if you use a tile pattern on the floor, because it might date itself, though an all-over pattern is more timeless than one with focal points," Mary Jo says.

If you're going for drama: "I love hardwood floors in a medium- to light-golden tone that run diagonal toward a view or focal point," Deras says.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The 10 Must-Have Features In Todays Homes

by Steve Kerch For Market Watch

The Kitchen Is Still King!

Americans want smaller houses and they are willing to strip some of yesterday's most popular rooms -- such as home theaters -- from them in order to accommodate changing lifestyles, consumer experts told audiences at the International Builders Show here this week.
"This is a traumatic time in this country and the future isn't something we're 100% sure about now either. What's left? The answer for most home buyers is authenticity," said Heather McCune, director of marketing for Bassenian Lagoni Architects in Park Ridge, Ill.
Buyers today want cost-effective architecture, plans that focus on spaces and not rooms and homes that are designed 'green' from the outset," she said. The key for home builders is "finding the balance between what buyers want and the price point."
For many buyers, their next house will be smaller than their current one, said Carol Lavender, president of the Lavender Design Group in San Antonio, Texas. Large kitchens that are open to the main family living area, old-fashioned bathrooms with clawfoot tubs and small spaces such as wine grottos are design features that will resonate today, she said. "What we're hearing is 'harvest' as a home theme -- the feeling of Thanksgiving. It's all about family togetherness -- casual living, entertaining and flexible spaces," Lavender said.
Paul Cardis, CEO of AVID Ratings Co., which conducts an annual survey of home-buyer preferences, said there are 10 "must" features in new homes:
1. Large Kitchens, With an Island
"If you're going to spend design dollars, spend them where people want them -- spend them in the kitchen," McCune said. Granite countertops are a must for move-up buyers and buyers of custom homes, but for others "they are on the bubble," Cardis said.
2. Energy-Efficient Appliances, High-Efficiency Insulation and High Window Efficiency
Among the "green" features touted in homes, these are the ones buyers value most, he said. While large windows had been a major draw, energy concerns are giving customers pause on those, he said. The use of recycled or synthetic materials is only borderline desirable.
3. Home Office/Study
People would much rather have this space rather than, say, a formal dining room. "People are feeling like they can dine out again and so the dining room has become tradable," Cardis said. And the home theater may also be headed for the scrap heap, a casualty of the "shift from boom to correction," Cardis said.
4. Main-Floor Master Suite
This is a must feature for empty-nesters and certain other buyers, and appears to be getting more popular in general, he said. That could help explain why demand for upstairs laundries is declining after several years of popularity gains.
5. Outdoor Living Room
The popularity of outdoor spaces continues to grow, even in Canada, Cardis said. And the idea of an outdoor room is even more popular than an outdoor cooking area, meaning people are willing to spend more time outside.
6. Ceiling Fans
7. Master Suite Soaker Tubs
Whirlpools are still desirable for many home buyers, Cardis said, but "they clearly went down a notch," in the latest survey. Oversize showers with seating areas are also moving up in popularity.
8. Stone and Brick Exteriors
9. Community Landscaping, With Walking Paths and Playgrounds
10. Two-Car Garages

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Another Year Older, Closer To Grab Bars

   As the Aging-In-Place Technology Watch reminds us, 2010 is the last year that 100% of baby boomers can declare themselves not to be seniors. Which means that this market segment, and others, are (or need to be) planning changes to life and home around the "decision-points along the continuum of care." These include a release from a hospital, move to a new location, change in life or income status and the onset of a physical condition.
   Whatever decision-point you're approaching, keeping safety and accessibility in mind is always AK's policy. Bathrooms that pose hazards from slipping and falling because of wet floors and accessibility issues can be remodeled to a safer standard. Kitchens can be remodeled with ease of use, sanitation and improved lighting in mind. Ranges with stove controls at the back may be dangerous for an older person with limited mobility who must reach over a hot cooktop to turn off a burner. Your safety is AK's first concern when analyzing home modifications for aging-in-place. As a CAPS remodeler, we are fully qualified to handle home modifications on a need basis, from ramps for wheelchairs and motorized scooters to multiple features for making everyday activities easier.
    All these modifications fall under a universal term known as "Universal Design" - universal design is a relatively new paradigm that emerged from "barrier-free" or "accessible design." It is a design focus that describes designing and building a home to accommodate its owner's physical needs for today and into the future. However, universal design and new home construction are not mutually exclusive terms. Some of the industry's strongest universal design advocates say they have been inspired either through their own personal experience coping with life-altering disabilities or by clients with special needs; and many of these clients had a strong desire to stay in their current family home!
   If you're interested in more universal design tips for your home or remodeling project, find a quick upload of them on AK's site: Universal Design Tips