Leading green interior designer, Victoria Schomer, completely reconfigured a 1500 square foot ranch, improving space and building envelope performance
“I had three main goals for this project when we started,” says interior designer Victoria Schomer.
1. Right-size and balance each room for its intended use.
2. Connect each room to a quality outdoor space.
3. Improve the overall energy efficiency and indoor air quality.
It took 4 years, but we could not be more pleased with the result. We took a small dark house with high energy bills and turned it into a light, airy, and thrifty home. ”
Sketches by Victoria (and BuildingGreen's Emily Cattachio) show the process of redesigning each space in the home (see photo gallery). “We learned how we used each of the spaces in the house, and staged our remodeling work accordingly,” adds Victoria. Here is how each room contributes to the whole.
The kitchen space required the most reworking. “It almost seems like heresy, but we needed a smaller kitchen,” says Victoria. A smaller more functional kitchen meant more room for both the master and the common bathrooms.
- The interior west wall shifted about 3 feet into the original kitchen, relocated to enlarge the adjacent baths, but also to ensure the reuse of all existing kitchen base cabinets.
- New full height upper and base cabinets were added to match existing base cabinets.
- The small dining area in the kitchen was lost but allowed for a much better kitchen layout.
- New high performance windows were reconfigured to pull even more light into the kitchen space and better connect to the newly terraced north hill of the property.
- The back door was moved out of the kitchen and into the mudroom, adding precious wall space (and better management of incoming dirt).
- Kitchen was completely rewired and air sealed/insulated.
“The irony is that the existing kitchen seemed too small because of all the activities it was being asked to support, while the dining room was just the opposite—too big and underutilized,” says Victoria.
“Replacing the east window of the dining room with French doors is by itself not a huge change. But now the dining room is connected to the deck and east garden. It means wanting rather than having to share meals in the dining room,” says Victoria. “And in our climate, we often move easily from the dining room to the deck for meals as well.”
The higher performance French doors meant that the HVAC supply to the dining room could be moved to shorten the duct run.
“The changes to the living room were simple and all about light and view,” says Victoria. A single-paned fixed window was changed out for two ganged high-performance operable windows that lines up with a new porch skylight. “We have a great view of the south garden from both the porch and the living room, and now all three are much better connected.”
The primary use of this room is as a home office; a closet and windows were reconfigured so that light and views are key aspects of the southeast corner desk location. “Everyone does their best work when they have a real quality space,” adds Victoria. “That new east window and view is key to the office working space. The new doors between the office and living room mean better isolation of the two rooms and mean the office can be used as a 3rd bedroom.”
Victoria flipped the master closets into the adjacent bedroom space, designing the west wall for the bed location. “We found a used high performance window for the west wall that worked perfectly with the new bed location. Pushing the bed to the west wall made room for the patio door access to the north garden from the master bedroom. Better sense of space and place.”
With the space gained from the truncated kitchen, both bathrooms were reconfigured to accommodate larger windows, pocket the master bath vanity into the old space of the hall bath, and move/shorten the hall bath tub to get the window out of the hall bath tub. “The two baths were really tight, dysfunctional spaces,” says Victoria. “It’s just so tempting to resort to a large addition to solve space and utility issues, particularly for kitchens and baths. We figured out how we really use the spaces, improved how they worked, and saved a ton of money foregoing any addition.”
The Mud Room / Back Porch
“A beautiful expanse of kitchen windows looking out on a carport does not cut it in my book, and probably no one else’s,” quips Victoria. With the driveway completely relocated (see Outdoor spaces below), Victoria created a new smaller entry porch for the back door, and then built more function into the mud/laundry room.
Last but not least – outdoor spaces
The list of changes to the property is more than extensive; it is comprehensive. “Too many times you see a great home with no relationship to the land or landscape. Although I am an interior designer, it’s all about connecting interior and exterior spaces; that’s just the way we humans live,” says Victoria with a laugh.
As you read through this list of landscape changes, see how every change connects to the interior changes, creating quality outdoor spaces for every aspect of the home.
- Outdoors water detailing
- French drained retaining wall behind house
- new seamless gutters
- downspouts to rain barrels or drain away from house
- Outdoor improvements
- evergreen and deciduous trees added to west side of house
- added deck on east to access garden and as additional entrance from
- fenced in entirely around house, with access to large garden area and private shade garden/koi pond.
Victoria sums up her project this way: “This 1500 square foot ranch feels twice that size because of how well it uses the 5/8 of an acre lot. Green building does mean getting the building science and energy efficiency right. But if you just give a token nod to design, it’s not a full spectrum green, and you won’t give or get the full value of green.”
“And in that column to the right there on this page? You can see the focus on environmentally-preferable materials and reduced IAQ effects from materials. That is another focus of interior design.”
“Well, the post-retrofit blower door numbers were more than a little disappointing (6.25 ACH50 with unsealed basement door closed, and 7.53 ACH50 open),” admits Victoria. I was thinking that we could ‘disconnect’ the basement as a separate project but the house and patterns of thermal bypasses thought otherwise!” Victoria plans a round of air sealing and insulating in the basement as a result.
Victoria also found it interesting and at first disappointing how limited the selection of green building materials was at their local Home Depot and Lowe’s. “Coming from California, the big box stores there were way ahead of the curve. But over the 4 years of our work, the local Asheville stores pretty much caught up,” adds Victoria.
Victoria can’t emphasize enough how lucky they were to do their project in stages. “When we put the east deck on and shifted the driveway across the creek, it shifted the whole pattern of how we used the house. We would not have had as great a sense of this if we had done the project in one push.” I will be looking for more opportunities to suggest staged work with my clients,” admits Victoria.
And in terms of next steps? Here is Victoria one last time: “90 Webb Cove will need a new roof in the next couple or so years; and although we probably can’t swing the PV system our 60 feet of south-facing roof allows, we will be making it solar ready!”
General Specs and Team
Location: Asheville, NC
Living Space: 1500 sqf
Over the 4 years of off-and-on-again renovation, Victoria employed local carpenters, managing their work on her own.
Designer & General Contractor: Victoria Schomer, Green Built Environments
Performance Testing: Green Opportunities
Materials: Asheville Habitat Home Store
- Jeldwen Energy Star wood frame, double-hung windows (U-Factor: 0.31, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient: 0.31; Visible Transmittance: 0.53)
- Pella sliding and french exterior doors
- R-38 NuWool cellulose attic insulation
- Bonded Logic denim insulation
- all HVAC ducts in conditioned space
- air-tight recessed lighting
- all exterior walls insulated and air sealed
- KitchenAid Energy Star dishwasher
- Kenmore Energy Star refrigerator
- Water Efficiency
- - Kohler Wellworth low-flow toilets
- - low-flow faucets
- - rain barrels
- 1.5 gpm showerheads
- Indoor Air Quality
- - Johns Manville formaldehyde-free batt insulation
- - AFM Safecoat low VOC caulk and sealant
- - Pittsburgh Paints low VOC paints
- - Olympic zero VOC interior paint
- - Custom soy-based glue plywood
- - Bona Kemi Traffic low VOC floor finish
- - Lowe's chlorine-filtering showerheads
- - 2-stage under-counter water filtration
- - Garden Neem oil (organic gardening component)
- - food-grade Diatomaceous Earth (organic gardening component)
- Green Materials and Resource Efficiency
- - Local 8 by 8 porch posts
- - FSC-certified trim & interior doors
- - Refinished existing pine floors
- - Mohawk "SmartStrand" bio-based fiber carpet
- - Bamboo flooring
- - Hemp drapery
- - Salvaged sink & cabinet (mudroom)
- - Reused all kitchen base cabinets
- - Reused double-pane windows
- - Salvaged ACQ decking (from fencing)
- - Salvage & reuse of lumber/plywood from carport
Image Credits: Victoria Schomer, Emily Cattachio, Rob Moody, OrganicThink