This Old House gets a new front door!


Chris Chu, architect, Newton, MA front door, This Old House

The new front door

The new front door “system” arrives on site today!  This will be a door with sidelights.  There will be glass at the top of the door and the sidelights will be full glass from floor to ceiling (well, almost floor to ceiling) with “muntins”.  This door system will come “prehung” which means that the two sidelights and the door will already be installed inside a frame as one unit, complete with “mullions” in between the door and the sidelights and a continuous sill.

Let me explain some of these terms.  First, a “sidelight” is basically a vertical skinny fixed window.  In this case we will have wood “muntins”, or, as one generally thinks of these, the wood “grill”.  (One funny aside – when I first started out in architecture, I was reviewing shop drawings for some windows and the draftsman had written on the drawings, pointing to the grills, the word “muttons”!)  “Mullions” are the vertical separators between two architectural elements, whether two windows or a door and a window.  Mullions are usually a wider piece of trim than if the two units are placed right next to each other.  In this case, the widest standard mullions is the “fat boy” mullion at 2 1/2″ (I wish I could have gotten a “fatter” one)!

Front entrance, Chris Chu, Architect, Newton, MA, This Old House

The front entry getting ready for front door install

The installation of the front door will be filmed this Thursday and I will be there to take photos as they do it!  Check in later this week for the update!!

One more find from my travels…


A beautiful store  that I discovered in Montreal is “À Table – Tout Le Monde” which means, roughly, “come to the table and eat, everybody“!  It has gorgeous streamlined, modern yet sensuous and sometimes whimsical tableware that are a visual and tactile treat!  Most are handcrafted or made in limited series.  Beautiful, sleek yet organic tableware, not sterile or hard-edged.  Lots of porcelain that invite touching.

Here is the link.    http://www.atabletoutlemonde.com/

As they say on the website: “la vie est trop courte pour manger triste” or, roughly translated (by me) “life is too short to eat sadly“!

My first “show”


Chris Chu, Architect, Newton, MA This Old House Auburndale

View at side of house

We are just over halfway through the filming of  This Old House Auburndale.  It has been quite a ride!  The show will premiere the week of October 7!  This had seemed so far away when we started but it is now just around the corner.  You will see me in the first show with Norm Abram as we preview what is planned for transforming “this” old house.  We will walk from the front entry by the garage, talk about how it needs help, talk about what the front will look like with the new pergola and new entry hall, making entering an inviting and pleasant experience.  We then walk around the side of the house and get a glimpse of the “million dollar” view of the riverfront.  What is nice about this particular setting on the Charles River is that not only is it riverfront, there is an incredible forest-y feel in the back.  There is a drop in the landscape as you round the bend.  Then there is an open view toward the right where you get a terrific view of the river while taking advantage of the beautiful garden the Sharmas’ neighbor, Sue, has created.

Then Norm and I round the back to the old sunroom which is supported by lonely lally columns, which, though sound, look spindly, weathered and not pretty.  One of them is even slightly tilted!  We talk about how the new sunroom will have a full basement below, which will become a sizable, yet cozy, family room …. with a view.

Chris Chu, architect, Newton, MA This Old House, Charles river

View of woods at back

At this point, the “backyard” actually feels like a piece of New Hampshire.  There is a sloped area held up by a retaining wall which is covered with ground cover, then a bucolic woodland scene is before our eyes.  There is a small hill (hillock?) that looks almost magical in its shape.  It is round and somewhat conical.  It also has a ring of evergreens around it.  The Sharmas have located their children’s swing set there for now but somehow it feels like something else might have happened there when the Native Americans were here…  Luckily for the Sharmas, along with this property, the properties of the adjacent neighbors bend toward the river and form a small peninsula off the main peninsula so that there is actually quite a bit of land and forest between the houses and the water.  But I digress.

Norm and I finish this segment by previewing with waves of our hands the new deck that will be off the new sunroom.  The deck will also be connected to the kitchen via a small connecting deck so that, with a cup of coffee in hand, the Sharmas can get to the deck from the kitchen easily and then can relax and enjoy the view!  Stay posted for some “before” and “progress” shots of the house on upcoming blog!

CHris Chu, Architect, Newton, MA This Old House, back view

View from the back

The Big Reveal from the homeowner’s blog on This Old House


This is a site meeting about the radiant heat in the basement family room – The homeowner wrote this nice blog post – things are really moving quickly now!

The big reveal

Corner windows
Things are still insanely busy (my excuse for not posting in the last couple weeks). We’ve had many, many late nights recently, poring over decorative lighting and plumbing fixtures (electrician Allen Gallant and TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey need our choices asap!) So I’m pretty bleary-eyed as I write this. But here it goes …

One of the biggest issues with our house when we bought it was there were very few windows out back. In theory, we had a lovely river view, but in reality we could barely see it! Well today, a dark corner out back was transformed into one that is full of light and that has the most amazing panoramic views.

I took this shot (above) at about 6:30 tonight, from the front hall of the house. If I had taken the same shot this morning (wish I’d been forward-thinking enough to do that!), you would have seen practically all wall. The wall along the far side of the stairs used to extend all the way to the bottom of the staircase (look closely and you can see a dark spot in the top of the door frame; that’s where the wall used to end). Today, Tom Silva shaved about three feet off the width of that wall and voila, the river-facing corner in the back was revealed!

But just “revealing” the back corner wasn’t enough. The corner itself needed help, too. The window you see on the left was just installed today (this used to be just a windowless wall), and the window opening you see on the right was doubled in width.  Ahhhh… that’s better! From this corner, we can now enjoy the Charles River AND our neighbor Sue’s beautiful gardens (thanks, Sue!)

In other news, here are a few other things that happened today (seriously, there is  NEVER a dull moment).

We finalized the design for our front door and sidelights(shown here are Tom, architect Chris Chu, and Scott Kearney from TruStile Doors, working through the details).

Door discussion
Richard and Tom installed radiant heat in our new basement family room.

Floor in family room (radiant heat below!)

This very cool pumping truck was used to pump concrete up and over the house, down to the basement level in back.  A new concrete floor was poured throughout both the new basement family room and the old basement family room area (in the latter, the existing vinyl tile floor and wooden sub-floor had been removed due to asbestos, leaving just crumbly concrete behind).

Concrete pump
And the deck footing were filled with concrete.

Deck footings

Phew, another jam-packed day!

Posted by Allison Sharma

This Old House 9/8/10


It is really coming together at This Old House!  The windows and doors are in, the shingles are almost done, it is looking remarkably like the sketches I did back in March!

Chris Chu, Architect, Newton, MA, This Old House

Front- in progress

One key exterior change has been the window casings. The old house had casement windows, which is atypical of a colonial, but no real window casings on the outside.  Having trim around the windows has made a huge difference!  Instead of just “holes” in the walls, they look “dressed up” and add a layer of visual detail previously missing.  The casings in this “case” are actually not wood but “Fibrex” which is a prefab composite that will stand up to the weather. Read more…

Finds from my travels


Here are some stores with interesting things that I have found in my travels –

1. Fishseddy – a shop in NYC that I found years ago… great design – fun housewares that originally were from old hotels plus new things such as fun tote bags.

2. Zonemaison – a Canadian store that is a combination of Crate and Barrel and MOMA and has fun things for the home: they sell this incredible head massager for $6 that makes your head and body tingle – it is nicely designed,  as well as this green toaster.

3. Establishment – a really interesting shop in the Village that stimulates the mind with organic home furnishings – I especially like the bamboo sculptures (can’t say I can afford any of these things but fun to look) …And by the way, it reminds me that if you are in NYC you should check out the Big Bambu structure on the roof terrace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art – you can take a tour walking/climbing through it – catch it before it’s gone.

4. Leo Design – a fantastic little store in Greenwich Village that has all kinds vintage and new arts and crafts from all over and which doesn’t  have a website but here is a link to its reviews “Leo Design remains an oasis of good taste. This small antique store specializes in Arts and Crafts antiques and many…. http://bit.ly/bxHd0F

5. Pearl River Mart in NYC – a mind-boggling offering of things Chinese including beautiful modern housewares that you might see at MOMA as well as some great finds in clothing as well as a great offering of everything you would expect and then some.

6. Pylones – a fun French store with colorful gewgaws you never knew you needed also in the Village; you have probably seen some of their products in other venues but this place has it all in one shop – kids will love it!  their  whisk actually works really well and is fun to use.

7. Muji – another Greenwich Village store that has Japanese minimalist home goods and clothes and “things” that is fun to explore – I bought some really nice notebooks there – http://www.muji.us/store/

Well, I think this is it for today.  Happy shopping!

The Joys of … construction!


While living through dust-filled chaos is never fun, the rewards of construction are amazing.  The transformation from dark, view-challenged spaces to  open, airy, light-filled spaces is so dramatic.  I personally went through this in my own home (and now can really empathize with my clients!)  The strategic placement of a a window or two or three around a corner can reap benefits many fold beyond placing the same number and size of windows in the middle of a wall.  The connection of existing spaces, especially between the most used part of a house – the kitchen – and an adjoining room, whether it is a family room or living room or dining room can transform the house sometimes without adding ANY square feet or adding a small addition.  This can be done in many ways: low wall with half-column, counter with breakfast area, island, etc.  One homeowner said to me that their house cleaner asked to have the rate raised because the house was now “twice as big” though in actuality we added only 150 square feet!

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