Wednesday, November 9, 2016

So what is a Passive House?

Way back in 2012 we moved into our newly renovated townhouse here in Hoboken.  It was built to the Passive House standards and I had planned to do a post about this type of construction... well, better late than never!

Hudson Valley Field House          Madison Passive House         Jersey City Victorian

Here are three Passive house projects we have currently in the works...yes, THREE!   We'd like to share those with you as well in the coming posts... a residential gym under construction in the Hudson Valley, a ground up modern farmhouse in Madison, NJ and a modern Victorian renovation just completed in Jersey City.  The house under construction in Madison will be on the International Passive House Days so you could take a tour this Saturday from 10-2pm!

We've always been excited to spread the word about Passive House but it feels like we are at the tipping point of this becoming a mainstream approach to construction.  Not to say this methodology is easy to execute, but once the architect and builder are committed to the type of care and attention that is required, there really is no reason not to do it if you are doing an extensive renovation or building from scratch.

Here's a basic rundown to understand what it takes to be a Passive House...

1) Super Efficient windows.  We often hear that clients think these windows will be way more expensive because they are typically European.  The reality is that they are comparable, if not cheaper, than quality windows made in the USA.  And companies here in the States are starting to figure out that there is a market for a highly engineered window.  Not only are these windows triple glazed, they are designed to be airtight and thermally effective at their frame as well.

2) Contiguous envelope of insulation.  There are so many great options for insulation these days that getting a high thermal value is not the hard part.  The trick is in making it a continuous barrier. Think about an outlet in an exterior wall that has no insulation behind it, but just sheathing... we don't like that!  Or a beam that starts outside and comes inside with no break, carrying with it all the cold.  A double wall is how you achieve a thermos like enclosure. Either on the inside like the front of our house that had existing brick or on the outside.  We did the latter on the Passive house we are working on in Madison, NJ...

3) Sealing every nook and cranny.  Air leakage causes drafts which make us feel cold. End of story. This is as simple as knowing how to specify the right kind of tapes and air barrier and have them detailed properly in your wall assembly.  You know the house is tight after a blower door test where negative pressure will tell you if you have any leaks and where they are.

Blower Door Test at our Hoboken Passive house

4) Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV).  You've sealed the house so well that now you need fresh air. This magic box brings in fresh air 24/7 but before doing so, it exchanges the heating or cooling of your inside air.  Voila, magic!  Change your filter every 6 months and you have fantastic air quality all year long.  That's something we can all appreciate.

ERV Installation

5) Good architecture.  This is the stuff we do regardless of the type of construction. Where do you place windows when you live in a seasonal climate to maximize heat gain in the winter and minimize it in the summer?  How do we promote air flow on those beautiful days when the windows are open?  How do you layout the spaces so there is an open airy quality allowing for views and light.

And here's an example of looking at each condition in a house and how to make it better architecturally and thermally.  The photo below is of a two-story bookcase we added after the photo above was taken. Not only does it display a ton of books we had in storage, it also allowed us to insulate behind it where there cold was conducting through the masonry wall that continued from the outside to the inside.  And yes, from the first and second floor we manage to reach all the books!

Exciting stuff, right?!  Well, it is exciting when you have a $20 heating bill in January.  Or you're still warm when the rest of the town is freezing because you lost power in the latest Noreaster.  Not to mention blocking street noise and dirt... and who wouldn't want that?  So our Jersey City clients said 'Sign me up!" ...we'll share more on this house in our next post.

Jersey City Passive House

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Hoboken HM House Tour

It's that time again here in Hoboken for the annual House Tour!  The one day of the year you get to actually go into the homes you peek into at night when they are all lit up and wonder... what's it like in there?   Or at least I do!  

There is a home on the tour this year that we had the pleasure to work on.  This project was an exercise in using storage as a way to create interior architecture.  As in any metropolitan area, urban dwellers covet storage! Not only did these homeowners want to max out every nook and cranny, they also wanted to retain their chic industrial aesthetic, which made this project all the more interesting. 

If you can get on the tour, here are some things to look for should you stop by this lovely home...

Entry Storage (Blackstock Photography)
Since the main 'mudroom' is at the Lower Level, this entry piece provided some convenient storage at the stoop level. An umbrella bin tucked away, hooks for your everyday jacket, a few shelves for small items, and discreet drawers under a bench to assist in putting on your shoes.  

The textural language of the horizontal boards is carried throughout to unify the various storage elements.  The nook to the right in this photo is an entry to the Powder Room, but also a spot for daily mail, more coats, and bonus storage accessed by a moveable ladder set on a rail.  To the left more wall cladding helps define the dining area and provides some additional hidden storage.

First Floor (Blackstock Photography)
The horizontal boards also allow for visual organization of amenities such as the wall mount TV and device charging... sized to align with the cladding joints and the screen so it fits just right. 

Media Storage
Here you see the Powder Room door is hidden with a continuation of the horizontal detailing... because who wouldn't want to conceal the door to the bathroom?  The pendant light adds another layer of detail and brings down the scale of this tall narrow space. 

Powder Room Entry
As you go into the Lower Level, the hidden storage continues.  A stair wall was opened up to broaden and lighten this hallway that now houses an abundance of storage that is concealed with flush doors. 

Under Stair Storage

The Lower Level is all about maximizing storage needs while accommodating a comfortable and inviting Media Room.  Here you have a long niche that offers a resting spot behind the couch while visually keeping the width of the room.  Below you have seasonal storage and above you have easy hopper door access.  The beautiful gray oak paneling around the room creates a cozy envelope while providing various types of storage for all the families needs.

Media Room (Blackstock Photography)
Even a small bar area is carved out to provide refreshment as you enjoy your movie time!

Media Room Bar (Blackstock Photography)
And a shout out to Joanne Laurie of J Laurie Designs who worked closely with the homeowner selecting the furnishings and decor!  Her selections work seamlessly with the architecture and successfully capture the client's sophisticated yet edgy style.

First Floor Mezzanine (Blackstock Photography)
Hope you are able to make it out to see all the beautiful homes.  Mowery Marsh Architects is proud to be part of the tour and we look forward to continued involvement in this great fundraiser for the Hoboken Historical Museum.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Small Space, Big Character

Staying on the house we've been looking at for the last few posts, this week we have what seems like a no brainer but takes some effort and planning.  The big ideas is... the less sheetrock the better! Any time we can showcase more interesting building materials, we seize the opportunity.

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

For example, exposed brick has been popular here in Hoboken for a while so it shows up in a lot of our work, but here we take it a step further and expose the ceiling joists too.  The added texture at these surfaces is what gives the room character.  The third surface is the windows which take up the entire wall and becomes the focal point for this floor.  And here you see how the exposed  joists have a repetitive quality that draw your eye to the wall of glass.  

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

Most of our projects are compact in scale with significant programmatic needs, so our walls tend to be covered with stairs, cabinetry, open storage, etc.  But when we are faced with some plain sheetrock, we like to treat it in a way that will be durable, add texture and visually clean up a space.   

Whether it be choosing to go full height with a simple wall tile... 

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

Or trimming out a ceiling to integrate a skylight and conceal an HVAC access panel.  

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

All of it, offers a level of detail that makes a home feel complete.  And often you can do these types of upgrades as smaller projects as you go... exposing structural elements, adding trim work to a focal wall or ceiling, even just wallpapering one wall can do the trick to give a room dimension.  Hmm, maybe a weekend project in your future?!  

Monday, September 5, 2016

Week #4, let's talk Kitchens!

Storage is always a top priority when starting any kitchen design, but we like to think beyond the standard upper cabinets.  They are what make everybody's kitchen feel like... well, everybody's kitchen!  The proportion is low visually and spatially, making your cooking environment feel restrictive. 

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

In this kitchen, the client was looking for some serious exhaust so we developed a wall of cabinetry with a niche to house the oversized hood and an adjacent food prep area that is accentuated by a wall of marble with a integrated shelf to for cooking essentials.

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

Another way to liven up your cabinetry is to incorporate open shelves.  Often people shy away from them because they feel it's not easy to keep them tidy,  but most can handle a few to showcase nice items.  And it's a great way to introduce a little color without being afraid that you'll hate it in a few years... worst comes to worst, you are only painting a few cabinet interiors!

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

Another trick is to bring some cabinetry down to the counter height which you can see next to the open shelves. This gives you additional storage space that is easily accessible without the need for uppers.

We also like to incorporate full height sliding door cabinets provide ample space for pantry items... when you often don't have room for a real pantry!  

In this case, we housed all the small appliances that typically clutter the counter.  And who wouldn't want that?

Monday, August 29, 2016

So what's the big idea? Week #3!

Let's stick with the bathroom we talked about last week.  If we look through those wire glass doors, you'll see another suggestion I'd like to offer to anyone renovating their bathroom.  Why not put more effort and funds into a beautiful vanity that works for you rather than splurging on expensive wall tile! 

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

Yes, fancy stone can be lovely but here the vanity is the focal point and gives you double the impact.   Not only does it set the whole stylistic feel of the bathroom, it also does a lot of work storing everything you need in what is typically a small space.   

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

By having a vanity custom made, you can maximize every inch while working around that pesky plumbing!  In this case, we offset the sink to give us ample drawers and side counter space.  We also decided to have the vanity wall mounted which makes the space feel bigger by seeing the entire floor.  

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

The crafted details in this cabinet are what set it apart from your typical vanity. Not only do the sculpted recessed pulls create a nice understated composition they also minimize decorative hardware costs that can add up!

The natural wood and beautiful finish on this cabinet will wear much better than a standard painted finish.  And it's not like a stock vanity is inexpensive, even subpar quality has a significant price tag so you might as well invest in something that is going to patina rather than fall apart.

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

Carrara marble is an economical choice when it comes to a stone counter but here it looks stately with a high thickened backsplash for the mirror to visually rest and the wall mount faucet to take center stage.  

Makes you want to get a new vanity, doesn't it ;)  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

So what's the big idea? Week #2!

Let's look at the same project as last week with another planning trick to make what would be small rooms feel more spacious and airy.  It's an en suite bathroom that can be fully open to the bedroom. Not just a dinky little doorway, but a full-on glass wall of sliding doors so these separate rooms feel as one.  

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

I have to give my parents some credit, they did this in their own master bedroom over forty years ago! really just dawned on me as I'm writing this.  I guess our life experiences stick with us more than one can imagine.  It's a lesson to anyone looking to build or renovate... keep your eyes open to unexpected ideas that might enhance your living environment.

In my parent's house, they chose to use bi-folding doors to enclose the space when they needed privacy.  Here we designed custom fabricated steel and glass doors that make the rooms feel connected even when closed.  And since they are sliding doors, they take up no added space which was important is these modest sized rooms.

[Mowery Marsh Architects, Photo Credit: Blackstock Photography]

If you look closely, you'll see we used wire glass for added visual texture, as well as frosted glass at the lower portion for privacy into the shower on the left and the toilet room on the right.  

I'm already thinking about next week...  that beautiful walnut vanity needs some attention ;) 

Friday, August 12, 2016

What's the big idea?

This is the kickoff to a new MMA weekly series..."What's the big idea?!"  Okay, it's actually the opposite.  They are little ideas... but that can have a BIG impact on a design.

So what's lined up for this week?  It's pretty 'straight' forward (pun intended!)...  do you have a bedroom wall with a bunch of jigs and jogs?  Here we added a built-in headboard to create those clean lines everyone is looking for.   It makes the room feel more generous by visually decluttering and allows use of an otherwise tricky wall for furnishings.

[Mowery Marsh Architects,  Photo Credit:  Blackstock Photography]

The built-in headboard is clad with horizontal boards and bed side table is carved out with a cabinet door below for bonus storage.  What would have been a small space cluttered with side tables is now made spacious and functional.

[Mowery Marsh Architects,  Photo Credit:  Blackstock Photography]

Okay, that's Week #1... let's see how long I can keep this up? Maybe next time we'll talk about those nice leather pulls!  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

What's Happening?!

There are lots of exciting things happening for us here at Mowery Marsh Architects!

This weekend the house we have been documenting on the blog will be on the Hoboken House Tour.  I'll be there to answer any questions about the home... and renovation in general.  Joanne Laurie the owner and designer for the interior decor will be there too.  So get on the tour tomorrow and stop by to say HI!  More info and photos at

Yes, that's us on the poster! 

Also, the house was recently featured on Rue Magazine where you can hear more about our work through a Q & A.  

Another project of ours is just starting construction but already creating a buzz thanks to an article on  Jersey Digs.   They plan to do a series of posts following the progress of what could be the first Passive House in Jersey City!

Also this month, the book The New Small House hits Amazon or better yet... your local bookstore!  Our own home is featured along with a bunch of other houses that all demonstrate how to get the most out of a modest sized spaces.  Lots of great tips!

It's been an exciting 2015 but we've got more in the pipeline!  Lots of great projects to come, so keep coming back to see what we are up to ;)   

Friday, July 17, 2015

Hoboken Brownstone- Interiors

Time to wrap up this brownstone series that I started talking about in 2012!  Where does the time go?  We had new shots taken recently that capture the spaces beautifully so I thought it would be a nice way to share some final thoughts on the interiors.  In our practice, we draw no line between the architecture and the interior design.  They need to work together for the spaces to be successful.  So let's go through each room and make note of some elements demonstrating the integration... 

Here in the Living Room, architectural elements add texture to the space.  For example, the custom shutters painted in a contrasting black draw your eye to the gracefully arched front windows framed in substantial trim work.  And a wall of cabinetry integrated with the fireplace offers a focal wall in the room as you enter and also provides shelf space to give warmth by displaying familial pieces.  This ceiling fixture is all the more lovely because the ceiling is framed by generous crown molding that is free of any soffits! 

Blackstock Photography 

We like to create transitional spaces.  Between the Living Room and the Dining Room, we do this by flanking the opening on one side with lit artwork and the other side with a tall built-in bookcase.  We bring the ceiling down a bit, bring the walls in, and provide more detail with lighting and millwork to reduce the scale and provide focus to the furniture elements. These architectural moves provide a sense of procession through the spaces while still being open and spacious.  Historic homes often do this, but newer renovations often blow out everything to create an 'open plan' because we think it will make spaces feel bigger. It typically has the opposite affect as the entire room can be experienced in one glance. 

Blackstock Photography 

Don't forget your ceiling!    In the Kitchen, we needed to incorporate a structural beam so we layered deeper trimmed beams with low profile smaller panels. The crown on the cabinetry is continuous with the beam molding so the cabinetry feels like part of the architecture rather than additive.  The center beam here was faked to give less importance to the necessary structural beam next to the door.  It also gave us a nice place to feature the pendant lights.

Elliott Kaufman Photography

Here a floating 'hutch' feels like a grand piece of furniture with rooms tucked behind that are still part of the space but hidden away.  The pantry to the left has closed cabinetry within view so it stays neat and tidy when the floor to ceiling pocket door is open. 

Blackstock Photography

Here we see what's around the corner to the right, a desk space that keeps the laptop, papers, and daily reminders hidden from view.

Personal customized touches can make a house feel more like a home.   At the request of the homeowner, we incorporated a built-in doll house at the end of the island for her daughter to play while she worked in the kitchen.  We made it look like a typical Hoboken brownstone!  Inside there are standard adjustable shelves so these doors could be swapped out in the future for general storage. 

Blackstock Photography

Don't be scared to try something that will make your interiors more unique.  The owner chose a circle door style which became a strong design feature throughout the house.  We suggested a flat panel with a low profile molding so the detail has an understated appearance.  Also the decision to paint them black also gave the circle feature a more subtle affect.  The high gloss finish is important as the black could potentially deaden the lightness of the space, but in this case it shimmers.

When it comes to furniture, size does matter!  At the Master Bedroom, we see an example of how properly sized furnishings is so important.  Here petite side tables allow for a king size bed and generous artwork which become the focus of the room. Wall mount light fixtures keep the small tables clear for personal items. We often help with sizing of furniture... and in this case the home owner's furnishing selections had a big impact on the spatial quality of each room.

Blackstock Photography

Here's another transition found between the Master Bedroom and Master Bathroom that keeps the spaces open to one another while still providing delineation.  Mirrors at the bathroom and closet doors add to the feeling of openness.  Pocket doors are tucked away to still allow privacy when needed in the en suite.

Blackstock Photography

Well placed skylights can add dimension.   Here we located them in each shower of a Jack & Jill set up. They flood the space with light and make simple white subway tile gleam.

We all want generous storage, so each child's bedroom comes with an adjacent room for storage & play.  Floor to ceiling cabinetry keeps the clutter tucked away and makes good use of these tall spaces while bringing down the scale.

Having the crown molding continue across the cabinetry creates a more built-in appearance and provides a clean rectilinear ceiling to feature each ceiling light fixture.  

 Blackstock Photography

The homeowner chose complementary rich colors for each child's room,  giving them a unique personality and aesthetic.  

Blackstock Photography

We always work closely with the client so the architecture and interiors are integrated with every detail.   In this case, working with Joanne was such pleasure, as she has a great sense of style and vision.  While she had studied as an interior designer, up until this renovation she had limited her design skills to her own properties and only helped a few lucky friends on their projects.  She has now expanded her reach, having started her own design business under the name J Laurie Designs.  We are happy to spread the word as she is quite a find here in Hoboken!  

Blackstock Photography

J Laurie Designs specializes in mixing high-end designer and custom pieces with more affordable mainstream retail and vintage items.  With a number of items often coming from flea markets or antique stores.  As demonstrated in her own home, the finished result is the creation of beautiful yet livable interiors that are attainable by a broader group.  

Blackstock Photography

So that's it!  We've followed this renovation from initial planning to final interiors.  Did we miss anything... of course!   That's why I hope to keep blogging.    Next up... windows?