One rule of thumb for designing window panes / grilles (aka muntin bars)

Today I’m working on a remodel project here in downtown Dexter for a great local couple, Harry and Ella Rolfes who are remodeling a house they’ve owned as a rental for years but have decided to renovate into their own downtown home.

The structure of the roof is too badly undersized and leaves little room upstairs, so we’re taking the rather bold step of removing it completely and replacing it with a full second story, complete with new truss roof.

Existing house w/ half story upstairs and bad roof

Existing house w/ half story upstairs and bad roof

Proposed house w/ full second floor and truss roof

Proposed house w/ full second floor and truss roof

As part of that we’ll also be incorporating a new window design into the building. Naturally, we’ll be incorporating Panes into the windows.

Why? To help soften the design, to give it life and presence, to incorporate rhythm and proportion, and to provide direction for the design of the size/shape of the windows themselves. From Get Your House Right, the following:

GYHR - Glazing Bars

So next was to pick the specific window - for this project, we’re using Pella. While going through the Pella literature I came across something I would consider a common error in Window Pane design. What’s shown here is their ‘Traditional Grille’ pattern - and I’ve stacked it up next to the window I’ll be using.

Before I go on - does that look correct to you? If that window was installed on your house, would you think it was beautiful? Would you think it was ugly? Would you know the difference?

Pella Windows - Traditional Grille Pattern from Brochure
Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 8.46.23 AM.png
 
...the correct term for the ‘Grille’ is ‘Muntin Bar’, but around here the builders will look at you strange if you call them that, so I just bite my tongue and call them ‘Grilles’. You could call them ‘panes’ and it might be a good compromise word - maybe I’ll start doing that... I just feel silly calling them Grilles...
— KJM
 

Looking at the upper windows, if I took Pella’s suggested pattern the front of the house would look like this:

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 8.46.09 AM.png

Not bad. However, there’s still something they’re doing that makes them feel wrong. It’s something most people have no idea about, and it’s the easiest thing in the world you can do to make sure all your windows look cohesive + correct.

That is: Always use a vertical rectangle or a square when setting out your window panes. Never use a rectangle which is laying on its side.

Get Your House Right - 5.6 - Proportion of Lights

Applying that to the window design gives us a much more composed design that feels (and is) authentically considered.

Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 9.29.56 AM.png

There are more nuanced rules for setting out the proportions, like matching them across floor levels and incorporating panes into different window types - but if you just remember this rule of thumb you’ll be 80% of the way there.

Remember:

WINDOW PANE RULE #1

Always use a vertical rectangle or a square when setting out your window panes.

Historically Accurate: A new take on an old front porch

It often happens that clients have historic homes that have been marred by bad construction over the years, and they come to us to help remedy the situation and restore the homes to their original splendor.

Such was the case for this historic house in Montana, a small project that was a favor for a friend of the business. The saga goes that the house originally was equipped with a beautiful, expansive front porch that was a combination of a central pediment along with flat-roofed flanking porches. You can see the original in the photograph below.

Later, somebody decided that the cold wintry winds of Montana were just too intense to be able to enjoy the open porch, and they tore it off and replaced it with this:

Yikes! That looks pretty rough. At least they got the door in the middle. And they put in a good foundation with a slab floor - perfect for our use.

So the project is to tear-off everything of the 'new' porch from the slab up, then recreate an enclosed porch. Somehow the columns were saved all these years, so we can reuse the actual original columns. But the question is - how to design a porch that looks like it could have / should have gone with the original home?

For that, we must do a few things. First, using he rules of classical proportioning based on the size of the columns and the millwork on the existing house, we can size the beam, overhang, soffit, and all the trim relating to the cornice. The central pediment is also based on these rules - so quite readily we can understand how everything from the top of the columns on up need to be designed.

cornice  + foundation set - foundation outline is determined by existing porch (reuse foundation + slab). don't be alarmed by the floating roof!

cornice  + foundation set - foundation outline is determined by existing porch (reuse foundation + slab). don't be alarmed by the floating roof!

The bottom is currently naked cinder-block - so we'll find a good stone veneer that is indicative of the region and use it to cover the foundation. 

Now we have only to fill-in between the posts. Noticing the proportion of the windows in the house, we see they are vertical windows with vertical proportions, so we start there with beginning to understand what windows go in. Also, in the original picture we can see that the railing is a bit lower than the typical (more recent) 36" high rail.

Do we recreate a railing on the bottom? The client requested this - but it seems an unnecessary expense. Instead, we will use historically accurate paneling below the windows, with recessed flat panels and rails that align with the window mullions above. Easy to build, historically accurate, beautiful in their subtleness - they provide a base for the porch that is supportive, protective, but not overprotective. 

We'll draw attention to the front door by using wider moulding between it and the flanking windows, use a wood door that compliments the red brick of the home, reduce the window size at the door by keeping the same window proportion but slimming it down by exactly 1/3, and including some structural plantings to tie the structure to the landscape.

new enclosed porch done in historically accurate vocabulary

new enclosed porch done in historically accurate vocabulary

So there you go - now there was much more geometry, proportioning, and review that helped drive this project along - but when we follow some basic rules of thumb, and respect the language of the original home, it's possible to design something that not just restores former beauty, but can expands it to a new level.

Hope you enjoyed! As usual - if you're interested in finding out more about how we might be able to help on your project, use the form in the sidebar to let us know. Thanks! Kyle.

Remodeling: Reinforcing Joists for New Drain Lines

How we reinforced existing 2x10 floor joists to accommodate a new 3 1/2" drain

An issue that often arises when designing a remodeling project is the problem of adding or relocating the main toilet drainpipe for an upstairs bathroom. The problem is that when the house was built using 2x10 floor joists for the second level, a plumber cannot drill directly through the floor joists to route the drain - he must drop the pipe below the level of the ceiling. This creates all kinds of problems with needing soffits to hide the drainpipe, or reconfiguring the bathroom to allow for a more direct route.

Why can't we drill through the joists you ask? Well the building code (I'm referencing the Michigan 2015 Residential Code, based off the IRC) stipulates that the size of the hole can be no larger than 1/3 the size of the "Actual" joist depth - and since a 2x10 is Actually 9 1/4" deep, the largest hole we can drill is just a hair over 3" diameter. 

Michigan Residential Code - Joist Cutting, Notching and Drilling
Michigan Residential Code - Joist Cutting, Drilling, and Notching (TEXT)

 

In the past, we've paid a structural engineer to do some calculations and draft a letter allowing us to 'sister' 3/4" plywood to each side of the joist where the hole is located, thereby allowing us to drill the 4" hole we needed to run the drain line.

The problem with this is that most structural engineers are already busy solving interesting and complex structural problems, and have a hard time taking the time to address small questions like this, not to mention taking on the risk for a fairly large structural risk that might pay them $150, plus require a drive to the site... etc. 

So you can imagine that not only is it a bit costly to bother an engineer with this situation, but it ends up taking some time for the approval. But until now, I thought it was the only way.

While searching around for a solution, I came upon a company called Metwood which produces a line of floor joist hole "Reinforcer™ Technologies", which attach directly to the side of the floor joist and are pre-engineered to distribute the joist load around the larger (up to 4") hole.

Metwood - Joist Hole Reinforcer.png

As the inspector will require engineering confirmation on a product like this, I called to verify that this type of official verification would be provided. The very helpful people at the company assured that this certification is delivered with each shipment - and would meet the requirements of the inspector. When the shipment arrives I'll be sure to upload this verification report to include with the blog post, along with installation photos.

You can check out Metwood on their website here, or download a PDF about their reinforcement products here - which include not only joist hole reinforcement, but notch reinforcement, I-Joist Web Reinforcement, and even I-Joist Flange Reinforcement.

Small-House Kitchen: Design Evolution

These last few days I've been finishing up the drawings for an interior remodel in Ann Arbor that includes opening up and completely redesigning the kitchen. The owner really likes the wood trim original to the home, so we'll be matching that with the cabinets and new trim pieces.

I've decided to post some of the renderings because I'm not usually a big fan of wood cabinets mixed with a wood floor - but in this case I like it! Take a look at how the design is evolving:

The first design with Painted cabinets and open shelving as part of the storage system. 

The first design with Painted cabinets and open shelving as part of the storage system. 

Updated design showing quarter sawn oak cabinets with full uppers. I tried using the new crown moulding to tie the upper cabinets together, and it seemed to be effective, but something was still missing...

Updated design showing quarter sawn oak cabinets with full uppers. I tried using the new crown moulding to tie the upper cabinets together, and it seemed to be effective, but something was still missing...

The addition of the backsplash really helps to tie the kitchen together. Note the splash extending just above the bottoms of the cabinets, to the trim band which carries around the room the line established by the window sash.

The addition of the backsplash really helps to tie the kitchen together. Note the splash extending just above the bottoms of the cabinets, to the trim band which carries around the room the line established by the window sash.