Reducing Clutter

Living in smaller spaces doesn’t mean you have to feel like you are living in a tiny box. You can bring the feeling of spaciousness to your small spaces with the simple practice of reducing clutter. Below is a list of some common clutter that can be readily cleaned up to make a space feel more breathable.

Pick Up Your Clothes

Beds, sofas, and floors are often mistaken for closets, hampers, and dressers. It is very easy, after all, to just remove and drop clothes anywhere upon coming home. Used socks can be stored in shoes, if needed, and the shoes, intern, can be racked or stowed under a bed or in a closet. Jackets and sweaters resting on furniture belong in closets. Pick these things up and just store them away!

Find a Regular Home for your Wares

Pencils, papers, coins, keys, and business cards can be easily placed anywhere at the end of their use and forgotten when they are out of mind. Find or fix up regular, cleaned up places to put them and try to store them in the same place. You will not only have an easier time fetching your wares but also a less cluttered environment.

Get Rid of Stuff

Acquiring new things is unavoidable. We pick up badges and buttons, free t-shirts, and cheap toys and gifts. Consider recycling, donating, or give away things you no longer have a use for. Scan or photograph and digitize aging receipts, pamphlets, and business cards then recycle them. Absolve yourself of unusable clothing, rip your old CDs, toss out or recycle irreparable or useless electronics, and take the trash out. Obsessing about sentimentality or potential utility of the small stuff leads to visual and practical clutter.
Maintain this Habit

Keep in mind that that reducing clutter is not something that is done just once. It is an active maintenance chore. Clutter does and will build up. Fight clutter constantly, daily, or weekly, as long as you fight it regularly.

Planning & Zoning Permits? Yes we can

When a homeowner first has the idea to add a cottage or office or art studio or addition of any kind, it is an exciting, creative brainstorm about how you can re-imagine your living space.  The next set of thoughts aren’t nearly as fun. They are usually something along the lines of “do I have to get this permitted?” and “what am I allowed to do?”. The de facto assumption being that odds are stacked against you, someone’s going to make it a problem and the whole thing is going to be a nightmare. It’s a perfectly fair emotional reaction because there is a good deal to familiarize yourself with – zoning terminology, concepts, procedures…etc.

However it’s typically not as painful as the reputation would have you believe. We have always successfully obtained permits for our clients and have two recommendations on the approach to take. The first is to treat permitting as part of the creative design process. It’s the difference between telling the city I want to do “x” and having them tell you “no”, and telling the city I want to do “something like x” and having them help you figure it out.  Many times a planner will have better ideas that what you originally thought of.  They do after all, spend all day looking at hundreds of lots and building footprints and problem solving design proposals.

The second is to learn what exemptions requests can be put through and keep an open mind to the path of least resistance between a structure, detached cottage and an addition. In the grand majority of cases there is a way to get the functionality of what you had originally envisioned even if the form changes. If you can’t do a detached structure, you might be able to extend off the back but keep the feel of a detached space.  Or if you can’t get as much square footage as you would have liked in the cottage, you might be able to make up for it with a shared structure between the cottage and the main home.

What we’ve learned is that 95% of the time there is a path through city regulation to deliver our clients what they are looking for and we’re most successful at getting there in a timely manner when we enlist the city as partners in the process.

$1,000,000 In-Law: Zillow Determines Our Backyard Cottage is Insanely Valuable!

According to Zillow’s “automated valuation model”, New Avenue’s eco home in Palo Alto is worth $1,025,000!

At New Avenue we have been lucky to have great clients from all types of neighborhoods embrace backyard cottages and second units. One of our biggest surprises is that the more expensive a home is, the more likely the owners will want a backyard cottage. Part of this is caused by simple demand – real estate is all about location, location, location and expensive homes tend to be in areas where there are lots of jobs and lots of people who want to live near them. As a result, in-law units or backyard cottages are in highest demand in the most expensive neighborhoods. Another interesting cause of this is that people with nice homes tend to want to share these homes with family and friends. What fun is a big beautiful home if you have to live there all by yourself?

One of our best “clients” isn’t a client at all but a partner. The City of Palo Alto partnered with New Avenue to create an Eco House that is in the center of their community at Rinconada Park. While the park is certainly not for sale, this display home will have to move somewhere in about a year so we listed it on Zillow to let people know that the home itself is actually for sale.

While the home isn’t worth a million dollars – this Zestimate proves a point that an in law unit or backyard cottage in this neighborhood really does create a million dollars in value. And that’s not even counting the quality of life improvements like living in a walkable community, a great school district or near family or friends.

Article Review: 10 Small Homes That Live Large

Once again put together an excellent piece on the art of microliving. Incorporating these architectural guidelines into your small home will ensure a livable design without compromise. Read the article on Houzz.

Here are some examples of how New Avenue has embraced these tips.
• Maximize loft space. With 3 to 4 feet of head clearance a loft is a powerful way to meet your storage needs. Many of our current projects have lofts that serve as guest bedrooms, offices or just attractive attics with custom shelving.
• Carve out extra space with built-ins. Custom cabinetry is a crucial part of small home living. We are always thinking about recessed storage nooks, especially in bathrooms, kitchens and living areas. It’s important to have a place for everything so you can leave the floor clear of clutter.
• Create “moments” of spaciousness. This is my favorite. Designing “great rooms” with vaulted ceilings as entrance ways to smaller rooms, creates a flow to the home and makes the smaller spaces feel cozy instead of cramped.
• Use curtains for more than windows. Curtains are excellent for studio spaces and can effectively divide room spaces into different functions. Unlike interior walls, curtains will not reduce your useable floor area.
• Use ceiling height to create zones. Creating horizontal transitions at loft levels makes the great spaces feel grand and not too tall and narrow like an elevator shaft. Exposed framing, wainscoting, surrounds and crown molding are great techniques for accenting.
• Count outdoor space as an extension of your home. Designing seamless transitions between interior and exterior spaces will dramatically increase the perceived square footage of your home. Small home living doesn’t mean you have to give up dinner parties!
• Open up to one-room living. We shoot for 100% useable space in our designs and having all rooms connect to the main living space is a key part of the equation. Hallways are taboo.
• Build in creative architectural details. Incorporating space saving details that look great and are consistent with your architectural style will tie the project together. You can hide a washer/dryer, TV, or cutting board within custom cabinetry or under the stairs to increase your home’s utility. You have to think about using the volume of your home, not just the floor space.

Compact Living: Display Devices

Consider televisions and computer monitors. You may be thinking of two discrete devices: one dedicated television broadcast programming, the other dedicated to office work. Functionally, however, they both project moving picture.

As a recent graduate from UC Berkeley, I’ve experienced a smaller living-situation in triple-room student housing and have seen my friends’ adaptations to cramped apartments. In dorm rooms or studio apartments, there just isn’t enough space or real estate to house both a new 52-inch television and a new 25-inch monitor – even less so in shared living arrangements. Smaller spaces constrain the amount and size of hardware you can store and keep, but with some consolidated thinking you won’t have to sacrifice your visual luxuries. The compact resident would be wise to select a mid-to-high-end monitor to serve both as the television and a computer display (or even serve as a second monitor – those are always nice!). I have found them more portable and lighter, making them easier to rearrange when needed.

Since the monitor will be doing the work of a television, a larger screen is probably preferable. This lets viewers comfortably distance themselves and recline on a couch or bed. Look for 1080p resolution support. SAMSUNG has well-rated 27-inch monitors starting from around the low $300s (see Newegg). While you can get larger-sized TVs for a lesser price, computer monitors often support much higher resolutions than TVs. The higher resolution affords computer users a roomy workspace for Facebook and Reddit working on, say, high-resolution graphics work, multiple documents, or software development. If a variety of source inputs (VGA, DP, HDMI, composite) aren’t available on the monitor or if you need more input ports, a switcher box would provide great convenience in organizing and hooking up multiple feeds (this ViewHD box for instance).

Realizing you can satisfy two needs with one piece of hardware helps you fit more into compact living.

Below is my monitor and laptop setup. The monitor is frequently used for TV and movie viewing. It is a Hanns.G HZ251.

My laptop hooked up to a large monitor, frequently used for movie or tv viewing.

$1,000 for a “free” salvaged window

Salvaging windows and finding crazy deals on Craigslist can be fun, sustainable and affordable. But salvaged windows can also be costly if they aren’t part of the plan from the very beginning.

In one of our favorite projects for our favorite clients we used several reclaimed windows in a little 120 square foot office.

The windows were cheap and some were free, but there were several changes that occurred that got pricey. This is an example and cautionary tale about how changing something like a window can cause the cost of the work to double or triple. This is due to the increased hours required to make the changes and every hour that a guy is working adds up.

For example, this cool nine pane window could be installed in about four hours. A $65 per hour carpenter adding water proofing, leveling, squaring and attaching it to the walls will add up to a total of $260.

But this office had different windows planned when the walls were built. The original windows were installed and then removed and then new ones installed.

The original plan was to
1) Build the walls
2) Install the windows

But some new salvaged windows were found as the project progressed and the project ended up requiring these steps:
1) Build the walls
2) Install the original windows
3) Find different windows and the superintendent figures out how to make them fit
4) Remove the original windows
5) Rebuild the walls to change the size of the opening
6) Install the newer windows

These changes each required about four hours of work by a carpenter that earns $65 per hour. That’s $260 for each unplanned step #3, #4, #5 and #6. Plus an extra trip to the local hardware store to pick up additional materials. That’s over $1,000 in labor to put in a “free” window.

These are rough numbers to demonstrate a point, but it’s close to the actual costs of making changes like these.

You don’t have to shy away from salvaged windows – but try to find those great windows and put them in your garage before the architect even starts designing the home.   If they are always part of the plan, then you will save a lot of expense and do the environment a favor.    The sooner you can find them the better!

B Lab Recognizes New Avenue

New Avenue Recognized in First ‘Best for the World’ List of Businesses With Less Than 10 Employees Creating Most Overall Positive Social and Environmental Impact

‘Best for the World’ Businesses Score 50% Higher Than Nearly 2,000 Other Sustainable Businesses in Most Comprehensive Assessment of Overall Corporate Impact

Top 10% Among Certified B Corps With Under 10 Employees

New Avenue has been recognized as ‘Best for the World’ in a list of businesses with less than 10 employees creating the most overall positive social and environmental impact. New Avenue and the other ‘Best for the World’ businesses earned a score in the top 10% of all Certified B Corporations with 10 employees or less, and, on average, 50% higher than the average score of nearly 2,000 other sustainable businesses that have completed the B Impact Assessment.

The B Impact Assessment, governed by the nonprofit B Lab, is the most rigorous, comprehensive, and comparable independent assessment of overall corporate impact and shows the relative value businesses create for society by comparing nearly 200 individual metrics on corporate impact on workers, consumers, suppliers, community and the environment. “New Avenue Homes is a leader in the global movement to redefine success in business,” said Jay Coen Gilbert, co founder of B Lab, the organization that certifies B Corporations. “New Avenue Homes is among the best in the world at being the best for the world.”

“At New Avenue we believe we are doing two very positive things for the communities and people we work with” says founder and CEO Kevin Casey. “First, we want to encourage multigeneraltional families to live together. Aging parents want to live closer to their kids and young families need help from grandparents. We want to make putting in extra space to accomodate family a very approachable, very enjoyable process. Second, we believe that in-fill development at scale is a critical component to healthy growth for our urban and sub-urban communities. We do not need more ubiquitous sprawl of oversized housing. In-fill development encourages efficient use of building materials with smaller homes, increased use of public transportation and closer knit communities with individuals sharing their most valuable resource – property.”

The ‘Best for the World’ list appears in the 2012 B Corp Annual Report published today by B Lab.

‘Best for the World’ businesses with less than 10 employees include: Autonomie Project, Inc., Big City Farms LLC, Co-op Power / Northeast Biodiesel, davistudio, EduCare Education, Enviro-Stewards, Fair Trade Sports, Inc., GreenLight Apparel, Hives for Lives, InVenture Fund, JustNeem, KINeSYS Inc., LEAP Organics, Little Pickle Press, mindful investors, Natural Investments LLC, New Avenue, Palmetto Ventures, Pivotal Production, SABEResPODER, Social Enterprise Associates, Social(k), Sustainability Television, The Inclusive & Sustainable Group, LLC, The Sustainability Advantage, Veterans Ink

Learn more about how New Avenue creates positive social and environmental impact at

B Lab is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a new sector of the economy that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Lab drives systemic change through three interrelated initiatives: 1) building a community of Certified B Corporations to make it easier for all of us to tell the difference between “good companies” and just good marketing; 2) driving capital to impact investments through use of GIIRS Ratings and Analytics; and 3) advancing supportive public policies to accelerate growth of social entrepreneurship and impact investing. To earn certification, B Corps must achieve a verified minimum score (80 out of 200) on the B Impact Assessment and amend their bylaws to legally require their directors to consider the interests of stakeholders, not just shareholders, when making decisions. For more information, checkwww.bcorporation.netor contact Jay Coen Gilbert at jay (a.t) bcorporation [-dot-] net.

A Nation to Build a Cottage

About a week ago we posted an insightful reflection from one of our clients Kitty. Upon being asked the question “what did you learn that was totally unexpected?” she matter-of-factly and humorously responded “So…Many…People.” Kitty was commenting on all she had seen before construction started and her observation continues to be right on when you have building permits in hand, ready to break ground.

The list below runs through each element of a construction project requiring a specific professional with a specific type of expertise. It’s a master list of trade professionals that will, directly or indirectly, be involved in a cottage construction project. Though it is small, the truth is it takes a nation to build a cottage. It’s a funny thought, and illustrates a couple interesting points about the nature of construction, irrespective of the size you are building.

First, the fundamentals of the planning process and needed expertise is not all that dissimilar between a 300 unit high rise tower and a 300 square foot backyard cottage. It almost takes the same number of trades to build a cottage as it does to build a high rise.

Second, the ultimate success of any construction project, 300 units or 300 square feet, might be most simply described as the product of intelligently coordinated teamwork between a ton of professionals. At New Avenue we see our primary job as orchestrating effective teamwork between all these professionals.

  1. Foundation
  2. Plumber
  3. Electrician
  4. Termit Pre-treatment
  5. Framer and rough carpentry
  6. Windows
  7. Roofer
  8. HVAC – heating and cooling
  9. Siding type
  10. Low voltage – stereo systems
  11. Insulation
  12. Drywall
  13. Millwork
  14. Stair railing
  15. Finish carpentry
  16. Painter
  17. Cabinets
  18. Countertops
  19. Tile
  20. Hardwood flooring
  21. Appliances
  22. Light fixtures
  23. Mirrors and shower enclosures
  24. Rough cleaner
  25. Finish cleaner
  26. Prep & detail
  27. Garage doors
  28. Grading
  29. Fencing
  30. Landscaping

Under the Stairs

Stairs and Ladders for small spaces and lofts…

The most coveted design feature in a small home is any idea that will give you as much space and storage as possible. When you have a small footprint to work with, lofts and second stories are a great way to add more living space. The downside to both lofts and second stories is the need for stairs and stairs take up valuable space. That’s why we love to gather great ideas on making the best use out of the area under the stairs, and other fun ways to sneak in storage. Here are a few photos of some of our favorite ideas. You’ll see that while the stairs are a space constraint, what to do with them is rich with creative possibilities.

Bathroom Bookshelves and stair combo Bookshelves and stair combo The smallest circular stairs possible
Drawers in the stairs Office under the stairs Office under the stairs Shelves and wardrobe
Believe it or not, this is plywood!

Accessory Dwelling Mediterranean Design in Orinda, CA

Size: 674 square feet
1 story
1 bed
1 bath

At the end of a long narrow driveway this Spanish-style cottage is tucked between twisty old oak trees and towering redwoods. Spring’s new cottage is a beautiful 674 square foot home that has a double-sided glass fireplace that faces both the bedroom and the living room, large windows that overlook the Orinda hill, and a brick courtyard that connects to the main home. Extra storage is tucked in out-of-the-way places with a coat closet at the main door and extra linen storage in the bathroom and a kitchen that will make almost any homeowner jealous. You should see the soft-close drawers. 🙂

SmartPlanet covered the home in this video: Click to watch it!

The original plan was to fix up a cute little guesthouse that was built with the main home in 1932. Spring interviewed a number of local architects and hired her Ron Klemmedson directly before engaging New Avenue to manage the bidding and construction administration.

The lack of a foundation, a sewer line, and asbestos made it necessary to demolish the guesthouse. After interviewing a number of contractors and receiving inflated quotes that were way out of Spring’s price range she contacted New Avenue. One of our local contractor partners worked with Spring and the architect to figure out how to build the house she wanted at a cost that was reasonable.
The heart of the story is about the three generations that share this big, hillside lot in Orinda. Before building this cottage, Spring was living in a much larger home in Southern California while her daughter, son-in-law, and their two boys owned a tiny house in Oakland. With school starting for the elder of the two boys, space running out and housing prices being out of control in the Bay Area, this family joined forces to create a living arrangement that benefited all of them.

This cottage is much more than a home, though. It is a different lifestyle for the entire family.

Now, Spring only has to pop across the yard to see her daughter and, for the two boys, their grandmother isn’t just someone they see around the holidays for a few hours but an integral part of their daily lives. This is a change that most any grandparent would enjoy. Having an extra adult around means there’s often a babysitter or summer camp chauffeur available, and that’s a lifesaver for two young working parents.

Spring made the following references the following about New Avenue:

“I talked to at least half-a-dozen contractors, all of whom gave me ridiculously inflated quotes – way out of my range. Then I talked to New Avenue, and they worked with me and my architect to figure out how we could build what I wanted at a price I could afford.
I think one of New Avenue’s main strengths is dealing with planning departments – they are absolutely amazing. Orinda told them this would have to be considered a new build, not a remodel, which would have bumped the fees up to about $50,000. They found a document showing that the house and the guest house had been built in 1932 (long before Orinda existed) and that the guest house was an independent dwelling, with kitchen and bathroom. So the city had to accept that. They brought up one idiotic quibble after another, all of which was dealt with with astonishing patience and we got the results we wanted.
The team New Avenue put together for me is terrific, friendly and hardworking. I couldn’t ask for a better crew. When they were almost finished the forms for the foundation I was very impressed with the meticulous placement of each plank, the careful bracing, the minute attention to each detail. I had never considered how important this part of a building was, but this cottage won’t go anywhere for centuries!

All building projects seem to come with unexpected problems. We discovered that we would have to put in a new sewer line and a new water line, both having deteriorated with age.
One thing I really appreciate about New Avenue and their partners is that they are very flexible, willing to work with me on ways to cut down on costs, etc. They are perfectly happy if I want to do the painting (or anything else) myself, buy the materials (using their contractor’s number), and even offered to pick up heavy stuff that I can’t transport easily. They really seem to care about me and my budget, and I feel very fortunate to have found them. And of course their green philosophy is a huge plus.”

This project won an award from the City of Orinda! Click to read about it!