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Remodeling your Southampton home

by Steve McKee on October 7, 2010

Chadwick Drive - B e f o r e

Chadwick Drive - A f t e r

I like remodeling Southampton houses. Almost all of them are well built with consistent construction details and an extra strong slab foundation system that has advantages when we do additions. Thousands of these houses were built over the span of two decades and they dependably used these same construction techniques throughout and that lets us later-day designers and remodelers know what we’re in for.

Beyond that, the basic roof shapes make it simple to design attractive additions. It’s easy to make such additions blend into the general look of the neighborhood but still add some distinction to the house. My clients and I have been known to delight in the idea that our house makeover might inspire neighbors driving by to wish that our “model” had been available to them. It’s not hard to design additions to these houses that look inevitable, like they were always supposed to be there.

In case you just arrived in town a couple days ago, let me tell you that the name “Southampton” denotes the huge subdivision of homes built up and over the hills above the older parts of Benicia. Over half the houses in town are in Southampton. It is truly a household name in these parts.

Many of these models are not without their peculiarities. Some of these quirks are obvious and others have been pointed out to me by owners over the years. These have included the painfully small ten-foot by ten-foot center bedroom, the lack of light fixtures in many of the rooms, and the lopsided dormer roof shape found on the front of some models. Sometimes a water view is given to a minor bedroom instead of the master bedroom. There are some models with trim on the front that seems to be placed sort of randomly, like the designer threw some lines on the drawing at the last minute to try to add some “pizzazz” right before he handed it in. An all time least-favorite feature among the owners seems to be the lowered ceiling height in the kitchen (ironically achieved at extra effort and expense by the builder just to conceal the fluorescent light box.)

B e f o r e

A f t e r

Almost all these can be fixed or improved in the course of a remodel. Walls can be opened, rooflines extended, views opened up, dormers added, kitchens reconfigured. Brick fireplaces can be updated with tile and crown moulding. Rooms can be added backwards or sideways. Upwards too. (More about adding upstairs in a minute.) When adding a bedroom or in-law suite directly off the living room, usually a short hallway, foyer, or gallery is built in to the new space giving the occupant a more “around the corner” or “tucked away” feeling of privacy.

Chelsea Hills - B e f o r e

A remodel idea that is a favorite with many of the owners has been to add a comfortably sized informal dining area right off the back of the kitchen. It seems they get tired of the small table shoved up against the sliding glass door. The new dining area can easily be made large enough to function even on holidays, but informal enough and in the flow of family life to really be used and appreciated. The old window location can become a pass-thru opening, but usually we open up the whole wall so the counter becomes a peninsula or island in the new larger space. It’s possible to even hide the beam across this new opening by fitting it up in the ceiling framing so that the ceiling flows without interruption. This is an example of how familiarity with Southampton’s possibilities lets us designers quickly come to terms with these possibilities and present them as options to the owners. Vaulting the new ceiling is easy and provides a break from all the flat eight foot tall ceilings.The concrete slab system used throughout Southampton houses is a big help when it comes to adding a second story addition. These houses have eight inch thick concrete slabs with two layers of steel reinforcing; whereas houses elsewhere usually have slabs that are just four or five inches thick with a single layer of rebar reinforcement. This “mat slab” construction was used consistently throughout Southampton over the decades in every house (except in the split-level models on sloped lots that have raised wood floors.) The extra strength added by the thick concrete slab means that the new loads added with the second floor don’t require extra foundation work. This is a major help when adding a second floor addition.

Chelsea Hills - A f t e r

The most significant negative about slab floors is that they add a difficult step when we need to access plumbing waste-lines (to add a toilet or move a sink) because the concrete must be cut and then patched.

This dilemma leads to this nifty idea. If you’re tired of the minimal shower size and tight toilet space of the older master bathrooms, it’s often smarter to leave the old bathroom in place and add a new larger one off the back or side of the house, as part of a new master suite. The alternative of gutting the old bathroom to redo it doesn’t save much money because you are rebuilding the bathroom almost from scratch (including all that concrete cutting) and you end up with only one bathroom in the process instead of two. By leaving the existing bathroom in place, the old master bedroom and bathroom become a nice guest suite (or a room for a teenage princess) and meanwhile you get to have a new master suite off the back or side of the house that is just the way you want.

Over the years we designers have learned the various techniques to best utilize the range of possibilities in these Southampton homes, and this just frees us up to customize the spaces to meet the wishes of the owners. There are countless opportunities and countless variations possible. That’s what so great about custom design. It’s how you get to have your house exactly like you want.

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