CTA Presenting at the Monthly “Ask An Architect” Seminar!


Dreaming about a home design project and not sure where to start?

Wondering how to make the most of your budget?

Curious about green design or how to plan for your family’s changing needs?

Julie and another colleague will be presenting the ASK AN ARCHITECT seminar on Saturday morning, September 22nd. Whether your project is a small remodel or new construction — or if you are just curious about the design process — this is a terrific seminar geared towards home-owners who want to learn how an architect can assist. Join us for an information-packed overview of the design and construction process including budget and schedule, tips for hiring the right team, and how you and your designer can work together to make the most of any project. If you can’t make it this time, there are several other seminars happening every month through the fall, offered by volunteer architects from our local community!

If you, or anyone you know might be interested, please pass the word around!

The classes will be held at the Center for Architecture & Design // 1010 Western Avenue – Saturdays from 9:00-11:00 am

Be sure to bring your “napkin sketch” to this interactive workshop. Coffee and light snacks will be provided!

Register for the seminars at the links below:

 September 22 | October 27


CTA’s Second Story Additions

As the market keeps getting hotter, many Seattleites are investing in their homes, and one of the biggest investments one can make in their home is a second story addition.

Typically this encompasses (and has room enough for) a master suite and an extra bedroom or two. We also like to give the the top of the stair a little breathing room to allow for a light-filled stairwell and a small nook or play area, all to make the addition seem as expansive as possible.

The Little to Big House project’s Phase 1, below, allows for our clients to convert the space above the porch into a balcony off the master when they’re ready for Phase 2.Little House to Big House 6 | CTA Design Builds | Seattle Architects Little House to Big House | CTA Design Builds | Seattle Architects

This View Ridge home, below, was only a small summer cottage until the owners decided to take advantage of it’s amazing Lake Washington views.

sepanski-ec-080 sepanski-for-web-2

The Greenwood Addition home, below, was recently finished – and at almost double the square footage!


Beyond increasing the raw square footages, a second story addition is an especially prudent investment when you can “add” a view to your home. Many of our second story clients come to us saying, “We would have a perfect view of [downtown Seattle, Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound, etc.] if only our house were a few feet higher!” Maximizing these views and strategically creating private, natural spaces away from neighboring homes is where we set to work in the addition.

6-stair-open-to-skyMid-Century Sanctuary 2 | CTA Design BuildersShown above are “during” and after pictures of the new addition to the Mid Century Sanctuary

In the main floor, we also have to consider Little House to Big House 3 | CTA Design Builds | Seattle Architectsthe placement of a staircase to reach your new addition. It should flow seamlessly with the circulation of your downstairs, so sometimes this means reorienting a few walls. Building an addition certainly gives the exterior a new look, and so it can be a great opportunity to remodel your existing interiors, especially if you’re doing any additional construction outside of the stair.

As the addition itself can stretch a budget (think around $250-$300/sq.ft.), our clients have taken a wide stance on any additional work. In the Little to Big House (right), our clients did very little remodeling on the main floor – just a coat of paint and some trim adjustments to match the new – and in the Subtle Second Story Addition project (below), we just remodeled the kitchen on the main floor.

A Subtle Second Story | CTA Design Builders 10A Subtle Second Story | CTA Design Builders 1

A Subtle Second Story | CTA Design Builders 4A Subtle Second Story | CTA Design Builders 6

Comparatively, in the Mid Century Sanctuary (below), we extensively updated the main floor interiors from the kitchen to the powder rooms to match the master suite. In this project and the projects above, the second story was an addition on homes that already had a distinctive style that was worth preserving and integrating with the new, but that’s not always the case and we’ll see one below.

1-before-exteriorMid-Century Sanctuary 1 | CTA Design Builders

Mid-Century Sanctuary 10 | CTA Design Builders

In the most extensive type of second story addition, shown below in the Big View House, there is huge opportunity for an entirely new appearance. In this remodel, the entire house came down to its bones and was built anew into a contemporary, sustainable home. This type of remodel is usually on a home that doesn’t have many qualities the owner wants to preserve or can’t easily be replicated in the new, or more frequently, is a home that the owner purchased exclusively for an extensive remodel – see our blog on Speed Design Services. The outcome of this house was a contemporary 3 1/2 story livable, functional home with open, light-filled spaces that our clients love and were able to customize to their liking.


EDITReber finished photos 7

Behind the Scenes: Lake House Remodel – Blog #2


CTA Design Builders is in the midst of a 3-story home remodel on Lake Washington belonging to a wonderful family with four kids. The home was originally built in Kirkland and was transported by barge to it’s current location by it’s previous owner, who also added a large addition. This would be an example of what we call “mismodeling”, and we began our work undoing the stylistic changes made to the home, and surgically demo-ing the rest.


Our carpenters are cutting out the existing living room floor for our double-height dining area!

Usually in the case of a remodel, we have good bones to work from, but in this case, and likely due to its transportation and settling, walls were not plumb, floors were not level, foundations were leaking and ceilings everywhere were scribed to the uneven floors. In the photos to come, you’ll see where we have new joists, beams, and studs (not just the carpenters!) in combination with the existing structure.

At this point we bring up the question, is it better to remodel, or tear down and rebuild the house anew? Well, in Seattle and many other shoreline locations, all buildings have a required setback from the water’s edge for environmental reasons. If we were to build new, this home would be relegated to the depth of a driveway; if we keep our existing footprint, we are free to build up from it. In this property’s case, the best choice was to remodel. We saved all of the strong bones in the house, and selectively replaced joists, beams, and columns with better structural supports. (You should have seen our team move four I-beams down to the lake level – a total of 4,000 lbs of steel!)


The lake level has a beautiful dark concrete floor hiding under a layer of protective plywood. This view is looking through the dining room into the future kitchen.

Sounds like a lot of extra work, right? We wholeheartedly believe that the infrastructure of the house is just as important as livability when the job is complete. A plumb and true house is a happy house! Once our adjustments are complete, we will begin to work on the real design of this Seattle home…



Blogs in this series:
Design Behind the Lake House Remodel
Behind the Scenes: Lake House Remodel
Framing the Lake House Remodel
Lake House: Construction Progress

The Costs of Remodeling These Days: A Post-recession Update!

Now that the recession is well behind us, you’ve probably noticed how much building there is going on everywhere you look. This intense building economy has caused noticeable cost escalation in the construction industry overall. Its been frustrating for all of us in the trade – architects and builders – to keep tabs on what seems to be a bit of a moving target, but here’s our current analysis of rough costs in the home improvement world.

Costs of building a new home can run from $200/sq ft. for a bare bones, not-much-in-the-way-of-finishes simple structure; to $250 for something a little more interesting; to $300 for a house with nice finishes (think stone counters, built-ins, nice tile)…the likes of which you see in our portfolio. And of course you can spend more as desires and budget allow!

For remodeling, we prefer not to use square foot costs, as these numbers are subject to the kinds of spaces as well as the overall square footage. Obviously kitchens and bathrooms cost the most per square foot, due to their plumbing, electrical and fixture requirements, compared to a living room or bedroom. Costs per square foot can be lower if averaging over a greater area of work. So we prefer to do our rough pricing by space. Here’s a range:

Kitchens: $70- 90k for a small to mid-sized to-the-studs remodel, including new sheetrock and lighting.
Baths: $25 – 50k depending on the size and how many fixtures.
Living areas/bedrooms/non-plumbed spaces: if new windows and trim, perhaps refinishing floors, and some new lighting: this cost might be between $20 – 40k/room.
Finishing an unfinished basement: figure about $150 – 200/sf. This would include insulating walls, a bathroom, windows.
Additions: for the shell, (i.e. not including the room inside it!) plan on about $200/sf.

These are very rough numbers to plan your budget with. Other costs must be considered:

-Tax on construction (9.6%)
-Design fees (we bill hourly for architectural services) and permit fees.
-Large appliances (owners receive the best pricing when they buy a package of appliances from a dealer)
-Elements of construction that might impact the house: siding patching and painting, hardscaping/landscaping etc.

Hopefully this will give you an idea of the costs involved. It’s expensive, but every single one of our clients has told us that when all was said and done, their remodel was totally worth the cost and effort, and has enriched their lives.  It’s a thrill to hear, and why we love what we do!

Beginning the Remodeling Process: Facing down the Fear Factor

When it comes time to renovate, owners are usually faced with three things: an outdated home, an exciting wish list, and some anxieties about cost and the construction process. To have a successful remodel, each of these needs to be properly considered so that the project can move forward with ease — especially any concerns the owners might have. Whether it’s worrying about the return on investment, dealing with a contractor, or if the project is too large and overwhelming to take on, there are grounded reasons for concern. To work around these anxieties, we’ve put together a few ways to both avoid and overcome fears of home remodels.


Taking in the view from the location of their new second story addition

0. Understanding What You’re Looking For
At the first thought of a new project, many owners find themselves not knowing where to begin. By letting potential remodels sit on the shelf for five or ten years though, homeowners can actually be missing an opportunity for a better, functional lifestyle – even if the goal is to make simple aesthetic changes. Looking for inspiration in places like Houzz, Pinterest, or local architectural and design publications can start to solidify what you’re looking for and give an idea for how much renovation actually needs to take place. Bringing an architect onboard will help you discover exactly how and why certain things are desired, like a wraparound porch or opening up a kitchen to be more connected to family activities. Your architect will help plan the remodel according to the your desires and functional program, and to the reality of your budget. So call up an architect or two! Describe the scope of your project, and find out right away if yours is a project that would benefit from an architect or not!

1. Research and Communication
Researching reviews and testimonials of local architects AND builders from trusted resources can greatly increase the quality of living during the renovation and the process as a whole. Moreover, finding a firm that identifies with your values and interests is very important — concerns about “fit”, quality of work, and what can be expected can all be addressed at an initial project consultation. Observe their ability to listen and how they react to your questions and ideas. Communication is key to a successful remodel; constant discourse between the owner, architect, and contractor can resolve many potential problems that might arise while keeping everyone on the same page. Your architect should be able to suggest appropriate builders that s/he has established relationships with. Keep remembering: communication skills will be the biggest contributor to the success of your project!

a happily involved owner!

A happily involved owner!

2. Asking for Help!
By working with an architect, assurances about industry trends, product selections, and adding the right pop of color can easily be made — personal style doesn’t have to be compromised just because it’s not what is currently trending. Communicating likes and dislikes with the architects is crucial to a good design! Any worries about making the right decision can be flushed out by looking at trends in the neighborhood, houses currently on the market, and where the owners’ house fits in between the two. If you have particular concerns, be sure to mention them! One of the roles of an architect is to be your advocate through the entire design and construction process.

Excited about material selections!

3. Creating Common Ground
Make sure your architect is listening to YOU! The dialogue at your first meeting should usually entail an exploration of your house (if it’s a remodel) and lots of questions about what you’re wanting to accomplish. There should be lots of architect feedback and ideally some good ideas bounced around. This very first meeting should help you feel much more informed about the feasibility of your goals, and start to alleviate any fears you might have. Don’t hesitate to share your budget goals with your architect at the very first meeting! And if you don’t have any idea of what your ideas will cost, say so. Your architect will have good knowledge of rough costs, and can help you strategize a design approach based on your priorities. Enable your architect to help you bring your ideas to fruition for the budget that works for you!

By working closely with your design team and asking any questions you might have, the remodel process can be a smooth, fear-free transition into a more favorable lifestyle. The sooner you can figure out what you are looking for, the closer you’ll be to a finished home!

Speed Design – Buying a House in a Fast Real Estate Market

“Speed Design” – Efficiency is Key in this Fast Market

It’s a pretty crazy real estate market these days. Many older homes in the metropolitan Seattle area are getting multiple offers with escalation clauses and bidding wars once again. There are not a whole lot of houses available for sale and so when  house come on the market, it seems like everyone is interested!  Sometimes a house will come on the market on a Wednesday and “offers are accepted” the following Tuesday. This leaves buyers without much time to make decisions, and less time to really understand what they can do with their homes.  That’s where we can help — that’s where design-build can really help. As experienced Seattle architects and as skilled contractors, we can look at a potential house and put together a design and a cost pretty quickly — sometimes, right on the spot. Then our client, the buyer, will know whether it’s feasible to improve the property and how much it will cost. Good information for a buyer in a rush!

We’ve done several of the “Speed Design” concept lately

Queen Anne, Wedgwood, and Bellevue have been the most common for the Speed Design”. Potential owners were looking at houses in the $400K-$700K range and needed to know how much opening the plan and creating a new kitchen would cost, or how much a second story would cost, or how much a two story addition would cost.  We were able to brainstorm ideas at the property and rough price them.  In several of the cases, we sketched out plans and priced them so the owners could see what they were getting and how much it would cost.

The $415K house became a $650 finished house; the $650K house became a large two story 1.1M house, and the $525K house became a much more open,  larger and contemporary $850K finished family home.  As it turned out, these were better deals than the equivalent priced houses because not only were there additions, but the rest of the house house was upgraded as well.


Construction Methodology and Cost Controls

People have asked us what are we doing differently in the recession?  Our biggest change is in reducing costs by controlling costs.  From initial design through move in, cost often is foremost in our clients’ minds, therefore we have changed the way we build to reduce costs. Many clients come to us because as both architects & contractors, we can design more closely to a client’s budget than most.  We have found we can also stretch this budget by managing the construction process a little differently.  Where previously our in-house crews did all the construction work except for certain highly specialized work, we now subcontract much of the work while still providing close management of time and quality.  The subcontracting provides good cost control because these tradespeople are expert at one thing, such as framing — that’s all they do!  But an all around carpenter can not be the fastest (thus least expensive) at everything, such as framing and finish carpentry and demolition, etc.  So we now often subcontract these phases of the work.  How much we can subcontract depends on how the project is designed.  We try not to let the cost controls dictate the design, because it’s the design our clients will be living with day after day, year after year, but costs do affect design, just not control design.  We work to find the right balance from the beginning and still create great spaces to live!

Good Design Proves Its Value!

Unfortunately one of our clients had to sell their house and they were concerned that in this recession they would get far less than its real value. However, that was not the case – read their note below!

“A selling point to future customers could be that despite the depressed market, our house sold the day it was listed. Our agents were quite relieved since they thought it might have been overpriced because of some fire sales in the neighborhood but felt based on the style and quality of the finishes we should list it at the full price we received. The sale of the house has helped reestablish the market in the area.”

Square Foot Costs – New Construction Versus Remodeling

We had an inquiry recently about square foot costs

“As a homeowner trying to make some very important decisions about what to do with our housing situation, we just feel so lost and overwhelmed at the same time. Many of our decisions have to do with costs and what we can afford.

We are considering a remodel of our house, but, we are also looking into the possibility of building a new house. Is there a difference in the cost (per sq/ft) between the two options?”

Our answer:

“This is a seemingly straightforward question, but unfortunately, the answer is not so straightforward. In remodeling versus new construction, a sq.ft. to sq.ft. comparison doesn’t really work and there are numerous reasons for this. When we have clients faced with similar situations, we work with them to determine what is best for them.

In a remodel for instance, some areas will have higher costs since they will be more affected, while some areas have lesser costs. And there’s the axiom that kitchens cost more than bedrooms. So a square foot price for a remodel will have different values for different work, depending on what is being remodeled.

Sometimes with an existing property, it may be best to have some remodeling and then an addition or two. If there’s an addition involved, that’s another pricing.

The size of the addition or remodel will affect its price too, as there is an economy of scale — more work costs less per square foot. The quality of the finishes will also affect the price — for example, granite costs more than plastic laminate, clear fir trim costs more than painted trim, etc.

When building new, a new house, sometimes one can not build on the same “footprint” as the old structure because zoning laws have changed and now they will get less space than what they expected, or they will have to set back further from the view or property line. Or perhaps it’s an environmentally sensitive area and new construction is limited.

There are many things that affect such decisions, whether to build new or remodel, and many things that affect the overall cost. A simple square foot price where one size fits all can be quite misleading.”


Energy Tax Credits for Building and Remodeling

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has created energy tax credits, which are different than tax deductions in that they apply directly to reduce taxes. The broad categories for these credits are: Building Envelope, HVAC systems and Renewable Energy.

“Building Envelope” refers to items such as roofing and insulation, windows and doors. The credit for these items is 30% of the cost of the product, excluding labor, with a maximum of $1,500 for all improvements combined.

HVAC Systems cover wood stoves and water heaters along with traditional HVAC systems. You can receive a 30% credit of the total cost of the materials and labor under this umbrella with a maximum of $1,500.

Under the “Renewable Energy” umbrella, there are many avenues where you can take advantage of the substantial energy credits in this arena. This covers items such as photovoltaics (solar electric panels), wind energy, fuel cells, solar water heaters and geothermal heat pumps. These credits act differently than the two stated above as you receive a 30% tax credit of the total cost of the items, which includes the cost of the product and labor, with no maximum; any unused credit may carry over to future tax years!

The architecture of our new home project on Camano Island (www.ctabuilds.com/camano.html) utilizes large South facing glazing to take advantage of solar gain, utilizes a geothermal heat pump and is additionally prepped for future photovoltaic arrays on a specially designed flat roof section.

For more information on these energy tax credits, please visit: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index