Seeing is Believing

One of our very first clients was an artist. After her house was finished she walked in and said, “Wow, I didn’t know it would look like this!” Thankfully, she was pleasantly surprised.

But what if she hadn’t been.

By then, it would have been too late. We had shown her many drawings. Being an artist and a visual person, we thought she understood.

Your house is often the biggest investment you make. There is a risk when building a house that it will not be exactly what you want.

Just think how terrible that would be  …all that time and all that money and you still didn’t get what you wanted.

Or maybe it is 95% perfect but one window is in the wrong place. So you live with it but it drives you crazy every single day. Or you decided to make a change while the house was under construction – boy that can be expensive!

If only you could channel Marty Mcfly and his DeLorean time machine and go back to the future, see the mistakes, and then correct them while your house was still in the design phase. You could change the future like Marty did when he took out the bully Biff.

Now you can.

Recently we had a client who was concerned with the look and size of a truss in his house. So we set up the virtual reality experience and gave him the opportunity to see the scale of the beam “in real life”. Seeing is believing and the client was pleased with the perfect sizing.

Virtual reality is a great help for folks who might be less visual. One of our clients was having a difficult time understanding how the finished house would look from our drawings or from the 3-D computer model. But with the virtual reality goggles, she was able to walk through her home. The technology helped her understand and experience what her house would look like. She loves it.

In 5 years everyone will be using 3-D goggles but right now only 5% of people building homes get to see into the future.  

Compare being on your lot trying to imagine what your house is like to traveling in a time machine where you are virtually there. You are inside the house seeing it and feeling it. It is so real that you will reach out and try to touch the walls.

The difference in cost between asking us to make a change on paper versus asking a builder to make changes either during construction or once the project is complete – is huge. Experiencing your home through virtual reality will eliminate this risk. Plus, it’s pretty awesome.

If you want to see if for yourself...give us a call and stop by to check out our Virtual Reality Experience.

Outdoor Kitchens

Summer is the perfect time for outdoor cooking whether it is steaming a pot of crabs or grilling burgers on the 4th of July. Outdoor kitchens range from full kitchens with grills, fryers, smokers, pizza ovens, refrigerators, sinks, and dishwashers to a charcoal grill on the edge of the patio. When planning your outdoor cooking area, begin by determining what will be the end use of the space. Is one person going to go outside to flip the burgers or will you entertain while cooking and eating outside? This will help you decide the size and location of your outdoor kitchen.

The design of a full service outdoor kitchen should follow the same rules as outlined by the National Kitchen and Bath Association for an indoor kitchen. The basic layout is a work triangle measured from the center of the sink, refrigerator, and grill.  Each leg of the triangle should be between four and nine feet and the sum of the legs should not exceed twenty-six feet.  There should be no obstructions in the triangle or through traffic.  Counters should be a minimum of 42” apart for one cook and 48” for two cooks. Kitchens designed for multiple cooks should consider two sinks and therefore two work triangles.

The outdoor rooms should complement the design of the house and create distinctive areas for cooking, eating, and sitting. To extend the use of the space install a roof that both shades the area and blocks the rain. By controlling the temperature with ceiling fans for warm weather and a fireplace or heaters for cool weather, the room is usable almost the entire year. Outdoor fireplaces are a great way anchor the space. Full service outdoor kitchens can be further away from the main house because the prep work can be done outside rather than inside.

The details are critical for longevity, maintenance, and ease of use. For countertops avoid highly porous materials such as limestone or marble. Instead, use cultured granite with UV stabilizers or stainless steel. Select appliances that are designed for outdoor use. Install an outdoor range hood if the grill, smoker, and/or fryer is under a roof. Lighting is critical and should include both task lighting for cooking and cleaning and general lighting for entertaining. Finally, don’t forget to add music to the mix to add some life to the party.

A modest grilling area can be very functional when it is close to the kitchen where all the prep work will happen. A grill, small staging area, and a task light are the essential components to cook up a great dinner.


What is the 50% Rule?

Thoughts of hurricanes are starting early this year with the potential tropical storm forming off of our coast. In the past, I have written about protecting your existing house and best practices for new construction (March 2013 and December 2011, respectively). The area with some confusion are the rules for repairing and/or improving your existing house which I will address today.

Beaufort County and the municipalities within the county all participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) that is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA establishes a base flood elevation above mean sea level which is revised periodically. Buildings must meet the NFIP requirements which include having the first floor above the base flood elevation or higher depending on the flood zone, along with other requirements.

If the cost of improvements or the cost to repair a damaged building exceed 50% of the market value of the building, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the NFIP requirements. The market value is for the building only, not the property, any landscape improvements, or detached accessory buildings. The value can be determined by a licensed appraiser or the county’s property assessment.

The only items that are excluded from the cost of improvements or repair are as follows:

  •  Plans and specifications
  • Surveys
  • Permit fees
  • Cost to demolish storm damaged buildings
  • Debris removal
  • Landscape improvements
  • Detached structures. If the detached structure is habitable space it is subject to the same rules when renovated or repaired.

Many existing houses in the county do not meet the NFIP requirements and must adhere to the 50% rule. Most houses built in accordance with the 2009 or 2012 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) meet the NFIP requirements and are not subject to the 50% rule.

Municipalities often adopt a cumulative substantial improvement policy which combines any combination of repairs, reconstruction, rehabilitation, additions, or other improvements to a structure during a finite period of time that is limited to the 50% value. The cumulative substantial improvement policy for Beaufort County and Bluffton is 10 years; the City of Beaufort is 5 years; and Hilton Head currently does not have a cumulative substantial improvement policy.

When purchasing an existing house it is prudent to do the homework to determine if the house is built above the flood plain. A local surveyor can provide a flood elevation certificate that shows the flood zone, the required first floor elevation, and the actual first floor elevation. That fixer upper might seem like a good deal until you realize the cost of raising the first floor and meeting the NFIP requirements.

Spring Island house

Cast Your Home in a Flattering Light

Lighting can make a big difference in your home. A stunning chandelier and the perfectly located accent light both add beauty and drama to a space. Residential lighting is best when a variety of light sources provide the necessary illumination for daily activities and complements your lifestyle.

There are five types of lighting that, when layered, provide usable light for day-to-day activities. Remember, all spaces might not need all types of lights.


This is the gentle, overall lighting for a room. This light fills a room with a warm glow. The nicest ambient light comes from an indirect light source that is bounced off the ceiling. Cove lighting, ceiling-mounted lights, pendants, recessed cans, track lights and wall sconces are fixtures that provide ambient lighting.


This is lighting that illuminates the area where you are working or reading. These fixtures include under cabinet lights, recessed lights and portable reading lights.


This type is the dramatic light. These lights highlight works of art, give depth to a room or  wash over interesting textures in your home. Recessed adjustable ceiling fixtures, track lighting and uplights are types commonly used for accent lighting.


I call this type “eye candy.” The main purpose of decorative lighting is to look pretty. Most chandeliers and some wall sconces are for decoration. These fixtures should not be too bright or they will overpower other design elements of the space.


This light comes straight from Mother Nature. Windows, light tubes and skylights give great light during the day and can reduce the need for electrical lighting.

natural daylight foyer

I like to incorporate the following lighting scenarios in almost all of my projects.

• In bathrooms, do not place a wall-mounted fixture over the mirror. It will cast harsh shadows and prematurely age you. Instead, use two wall sconces mounted on either side of the mirror. The fixtures should be at eye level, which is generally 5 feet above the finished floor. Tall narrow fixtures accommodate most family members.

bathroom lighting• The traditional design for bedside reading lights is a wall-mounted, swing-arm fixture that should be mounted at the right height for actual reading. A better solution is two recessed, adjustable LED ceiling fixtures located over the bed. The lamps should have a tight beam spread, such as a MR-16 ESW. The fixture on the right should be aimed at the left side of the bed and vice versa to prevent your head from casting a shadow on your book. The switches should be located accordingly. The fixtures should be located roughly 18 to 24 inches from the wall and two feet from the center of the bed.

• Chandeliers over dining tables often do not provide the lighting necessary to show off the sparkle of your crystal and silver. Instead, opt for the same recessed ceiling fixtures that were used as reading lights in the bedroom. Install these over your table as accent lights. The bulbs should have a wider beam spread than those in the bedroom. They should be located on the long axis of the table, about three to six feet from the middle.

• Add dimmer to almost all fixtures throughout your house. This will help control the amount of light and extend the life of the lamp.