Sunday, January 23, 2011

Crazy for AGA

Cast iron. Always on. Impeccable quality. I was first introduced to the AGA cooker while dining with friends Ted and Susie. Their weimaraner grey AGA is the stunning backdrop to a perfectly remodeled farmhouse kitchen. Sitting next to their AGA for drinks and appetizers I was able to get a closer look at this amazing stove. Susie admitted to the fact that cooking on an AGA is a bit different. She said that with a few lessons, (and added that she had a slight advantage because she grew up cooking on a wood stove) she was cooking everything on her AGA.

I found myself obsessed with the workings and pedigree of an AGA cooker.

I realized later that I had seen these stoves before. While touring Scotland I remember noting these quietly understated work horses that kept the tea pot always warm, cooked a tender super while the proprietors managed the estate and visited with guests, made delicious bread, provided a nice heat for the chilly Scotland weather (in the summer even), and worked as a drying room for linens.

Edinburgh Bed and Breakfast
The four-oven AGA has two stove-top cookers, one for boiling and toasting, another for simmering. On the left it warms, at the perfect temperature, to keep the contents of a teapot hot. Its four ovens range from roasting temperature down to warming. Everything that goes into an AGA comes out perfect. I can attest to this. Ted and Susie's dinner, while simple in ingredients, was sheer perfection in the melding of flavors.

This shockingly simple, but five star meal forced me to delve more into the AGA difference. Here's what I found from their website.

An AGA is made of cast iron - a dense, strong and stable metal with remarkable heat storage and transmission properties.  Conventional ovens have very little mass and cool rapidly, causing them to continuously cycle on and off in an attempt to maintain a steady temperature. As a result, oven temperatures can swing up to 75°F (24°C) and subject food to frequent high blasts of uneven heat.

An AGA, in contracts, generates heat through a single heat source which is then continually released by the cast iron through the ovens and hot plates - that's why an AGA is always ready to use. This 'radiant heat' is transmitted from all sides of the ovens and is 'less severe' than heat that would be created by a direct fuel flame or electric element. The result? All the moisture, flavor, texture and goodness of the food is preserved, producing the 'AGA taste' owners talk about so passionately!

I would love to own an AGA. The last room to be remodeled is my kitchen and in my dreams I see an AGA. Unfortunately, the AGA, with the always on feature (born from the always frigid Britain) would heat my little brick home to unpleasant levels in our Seattle summers. For Ted and Susie's old farmhouse, the AGA provides the perfect amount of heat (and charm) for their high ceilings, expansive rooms and open floor plan.

Perhaps when my dream of owning a stone cottage on the Isle of Skye becomes reality, I will be able to own my own simply fabulous AGA cooker.

Throughout Scotland, the stone cottages are left natural, but on the Isle of Skye they are painted a refreshing white 

This abandoned stone cottage is just begging for a re-do and new AGA, if I could only convince my husband
If I did take on a project like renovating that stone cottage, this is what the kitchen would look like

In all my postings, my goal is to provide inspiration and insight into home ownership, real estate and to provide valuable resources. 


Until next week,

la chasse au bonheur

Monday, January 17, 2011

Renovation projects that payoff

The second most asked question (behind "how's the market?") of a real estate agent is "where should I invest in my home for the best return?". When it comes to home renovations, the key is choosing projects that pack potential payoffs like bringing your home up-to-date or lowering energy bills.

Major renovations won't pay you back the way they used to. Adding a bathroom or family room, for example, might return just two-thirds of its cost when you go to sell. But the following projects, in general, can make your home more livable for your family, and increase its value when it's time to sell. 

no. 1 Kitchen
The hub of the house - 'grand central station' is always numero uno. But instead of spending a bundle turning this room inside out, think smaller. Think counters, sinks, plumbing, lighting, and appliances. They can change the look and cost much less than a major upheaval. Kitchen face lifts pay back about 80 per cent their cost. 

Be thoughtful about your kitchen redo. Don't overdue it with granite and top-of-the-line appliances. Instead, think about other solid surface materials or options for counters and research Consumer Reports for rankings of appliances - you'll be surprised to see that it's not the most expensive one that ranks the best. When replacing counters you might be compelled to replace the back splash....think twice as back splashes don't get the wear and tear counters do and can add $2,000 to the cost of your upgrade. If your cabinets are tired and outdated but still in good shape try painting them or reface them with new doors. 

A stainless steel sink and faucet convey that high end look without spending a fortune on that coveted English apron sink (even though they are fabulous).

Existing cabinets were painted in an off-white enamel creating a fresh look

no. 2 Paint
Neutral paint, like Pointing from Farrow & Ball shows off the millwork in this gorgeous entry

Few other fix-ups can give you so much power for their punch. Use a unified color palette of neutral shades and you won't go wrong. 

Pointing by Farrow & Ball - a favorite
If you're like me, I need color, but add it in the form of pillows & drapery, keeping the walls & trim neutral
no. 3 Landscaping
Blue door, matching planters, & flanking lavender are cheerful accents which contrast the milk-white trim and sunny, yellow shingles. 
Flowerbeds, foundation plantings, paths  and borders can make a big difference in your  home's curb appeal. If you buy small plants and let them grow into their role, you get a particularly high value per investment. Try to stay with native plantings. Exotic plantings will not only look out of place and odd, and let's face it we don't like odd, but it will also cost you more when you go to replace dying plants. 
The key is keeping it simple and native...this converts to a no fuss yard that any potential buyer could take on

no. 4 Front Door
Make your front door special. Spruce it up with a coat of glossy paint in a color the suits the style of your home. A cottage style might look great in a country blue or a craftsman may be begging for a deep red. As long as it's fresh and not too trendy. 

If natural wood suits the house, than make sure it's clean and has a nice shine. If your hardware sticks or jams, installing new hardware makes sense. Make sure the door doesn't squeak when it opens!
Such a cheery welcome with this turquoise door and screen
no. 5 Outdoor Rooms
Well designed outdoor living areas such as porches and decks that match your home's style, scale and traffic flow generally add value. 

no. 6 Baths
This do-it-yourself bath was finished in one weekend
Generally, adding a bath to a home that has only one or one and a half will pay off at resale, and when those daughters turn into teens. Elements that prove most popular include adding storage, natural light and ceramic tile on the floor and tub and shower surround.  

You can expect to recapture around 75 percent of the cost of a minor bath remodel. If you have a small tub replace it with a spacious shower and multiple shower heads. Similarly, adding a decent sized shower to a half bath makes your home much more desirable. You can get a big rainfall shower head for about $200, or you can spring for a fancier handheld and other gadgets for $500+. 

Don't bother building a niche in the shower wall to hold nick knacks - this will save you $300.

Double rainfall shower heads and subway tiles makes a beautiful shower
no. 7 Floors
New hardwoods replaced dated tile to create a warm welcome
Replacing dated and scuffed, wood floors can give your house a new sheen and make small spaces seem larger. Figure on a payback as high as 75 percent. If you plan to do it yourself plan on spending between $2.50 to $3.00 a square foot for hardwood flooring and another $3 for a pro to install it. If your hardware floors are just scuffed, or you would like a different stain, professional refinishing costs between $2 - $3 a square foot. 
If you would rather lay down tile. ceramic sells for as little as .50 cents a square foot. With patience and the right rental tools, you can install it yourself. Don't bother with vinyl tile, it costs the same as ceramic, wears poorly, and looks dated. 

no. 8 Closets
California Closet system
Few things make a home more unbearable than chintzy closet space. And roomy, organized closets are a big draw for prospective buyers. Fitting a walk-in master closet with drawers, shelves, shoe racks, hooks and poles can cost $500 to $2,500 or more depending on the quality of the materials and the complexity of the design. Wood is the most expensive material and delivers the best return. 

This is a project where it's easy to overspend. So decide exactly what you want and need before you buy the supplies or bring in a pro, who will charge $50 to $150 an hour. Make sure you really will sort socks into separate drawer dividers before spending the money.
Easy Closet system
no. 9 Faucets, Knobs, Pulls and Fixtures
Knobs found at Anthropologie
Add style to kitchen and baths with good quality knobs and pulls, fixtures and faucets. These easily installed off-the-shelf items boost style and provide big impact with relatively little expense and time.
Adding new fixtures & mirror updates this half bath in a day
no. 10 Energy Saving Upgrades

Energy saving amenities make a house more attractive to buyers. New windows return 77 percent of the project cost, according to Remodeling's Cost vs. Value Report.  Many utility companies offer incentives on installing insulation, windows, doors, furnaces and water heaters. You may need to wait years to recoup some energy conservation moves. So if you are more worried about money than your carbon footprint, run the numbers to ensure you'll be there by the time the cost gets covered.

Replacing floor and wall insulation usually delivers the fastest payback for the lowest price. Putting in new attic insulation can pay for itself in just a year. Blowing in insulation in a previously uninsulated area will pay for itself in about six years. 

When you're ready to sell, spell out your energy improvements for prospective buyers. Create a worksheet showing what you spent, plus the before-and-after utility bills. If you are unsure where to start, get an energy audit; local utilities often offer them for free or nearly so. The floor-to-roof X-ray will diagnose the most expensive problems and determine the most cost-effective upgrades. 

Surprisingly, this small bungalow has very low energy costs due in part to the addition of double paned windows and blown-in insulation 

In all my posting, my goal is to provide inspiration and insight in to home ownership, real estate, and to provide valuable resources. 

Neutral Color Palette

both books can be found at Amazon

Until next week, 

la chasse au bonheur

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Yes, I was a girl scout

Start the new year off right. Be prepared in case of an emergency. Share this link with friends and family.

Emergency Preparedness List for Home/Car/Work

Until next week,

la chasse au bonheur