Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Friday, February 3, 2012

Building for love & resale value: from mud rooms to granny units

Back when we were single my girlfriends and I all had our "man I will marry" lists.  These were wish lists with qualifications and deal breakers for what we wanted in our future spouses.  Criteria ranged from the practical (smart, generous, employed), to the aesthetic (tall, dark, no back hair), to the peculiar (can beat me in a swim race, lets me have a claw foot tub, doesn't pat my dog with a stiff hand), and so on and so forth.

Claw foot tub optional (some exceptions may apply)
Some were admittedly silly (I ended up taking the plunge without a swim race) or misinformed (my friend's husband is as furry as a bear and she loves it) but many of the qualities were symbolic of the kind of life we wanted to live.  They reflected our values (loves travel, opens doors for others), tastes (eats spicy food), and upbringing (not loud, doesn't complain about my parents' English).

When planning the design of our new house, I asked all of our friends what was on their "perfect house" list.  Sure enough, items ranged from the practical (sink in laundry room, ample storage space, guest suite), to the aesthetic (high ceilings, natural light, open floor plan), to the peculiar (his & her master toilets, claw foot tub, mantuary with wet bar).

Balancing a home that suits our needs over the next decade while still making it appeal to as many potential buyers as possible has required some thoughtful planning and creative compromises.  After numerous discussions with our real estate agent, architect, family members and friends, here's what we've decided makes sense for our house:

The Basics
4 bedrooms
We decided our "typical buyer" would have two kids so we're putting the master along with two kid-sized rooms upstairs.  Our real estate agent (who is thankfully guiding us through this whole process) was adamant about having at least three bedrooms clustered together since families with young children don't want the master to be separated from the other bedrooms.  On the ground floor we put a guest suite (aka a second master).  Having the guest room on the first floor allows for more privacy and also makes it easier for elderly visitors since they don't have to trek up and down stairs.

3.5 bathrooms (including a Jack and Jill)
The first floor will have a half bath (aka powder room) next to the family room.  Both the master and guest suite have their own bathrooms.  After some debate, we decided to put a Jack and Jill bathroom upstairs accessible from both bedrooms because my husband doesn't think that kids should have to streak down the hallway their skivvies like he had to when growing up.  #firstworldproblems

Upstairs laundry room
The laundry room will be conveniently located near bedrooms (no schlepping loads of laundry up and down stairs).  It will have a large sink and plenty of cabinet space for linens.

Two car garage
No debate here.  Neither of us wanted to park our car on the street.  And my husband says our next car will have to be plugged in, so we're putting a big fat outlet in the garage too.

Great room
This was on the top of our wish list probably where we'll be the majority of our time.  Our great room is the biggest room in the house, combining the kitchen with a breakfast nook and family room.

Formal living room & dining room
These were hard for us to agree to because we live a pretty casual lifestyle -- we don't have huge dinner parties and the only family members that use our current living room are the dogs.  Ultimately, the urging of our real estate agent and my parents' insistence that "any one paying that much for a house is going to want a formal area to entertain" convinced us to stick with convention.   (Besides, we'll need a living room for the piano when I turn into a tiger mom.)

The Upgrades
In addition to the basics, we decided to add some special upgrades to make the home our own.  This is where our awesome architect got creative about space and added special touches to conform to our lifestyle.  Some of these will enhance resale value while others will be loved by us and may (or may not) delight others.

1.  Mud rooms
While I like living in a neat house, I (unlike my husband) am not neat by nature.  This is why we decided to put not one, but two 6' x 7' mud rooms in our house.  Mud rooms are transition areas between the indoors and outdoors where you can keep shoes, jackets, bags, leashes, keys, mail and all the clutter that would otherwise collect on the kitchen counter or be tossed somewhere within reach of a pesky little critter who likes to chew on Louboutins.  We have the primary mud room between the garage and kitchen with a closet, bench, and storage area for shoes and everything else needed when heading out of the house.  We have a secondary mud room connecting the back yard patio and guest wing to the main house.  It's located behind the dining nook and will be used to store dog food, bulk items, a wine fridge, BBQ stuff and other back yard equipment.  This mud room will have a sink for cleaning up after frolicking in the yard and my favorite dream house features -- the on-demand dog water fountain...still working on the details of how exactly to construct this, but trust me, it's going to be awesome.

[Update for do-it-yourselfers: Check out Better Homes & Gardens: How To Build a $324 Mudroom.]

2.  Flex rooms
The idea behind a flex room is spaces that are flexible enough to be used in multiple ways.  We agonized for days over whether or not to dedicate 130 precious, precious square feet to a formal dining room that we would hardly ever use.  As a compromise, our architect made our breakfast nook large enough for a dining room table and then designed a separate formal dining room with track doors so that we can use the space as a study instead and convert it back to a dining room when we want to sell the house.  Similarly, our first floor guest suite will have a Murphy bed that hides in the wall so that we can use it in a variety of ways and mud room that's ready to flex itself into a kitchenette.  Which brings me to the best bonus feature of all...drum roll, please...

3. The Multigenerational wing
Our "multigenerational wing" (aka guest suite) has something for everyone.   It's the killer must-have accessory for the modern day home.  If you don't believe me, believe the New York Times who says, Multigenerational Housing is a Real Estate Growth Niche.  (My favorite line is the FOBy one about how Asian buyers, in particular, "come with the whole family.")  Stereotypes aside, the article points out that these days buyers are increasing looking for homes that can accomodate elderly parents, "boomerang kids"who come back after college, live-in nannies, distant Chinese cousins, etc etc.

My parents don't live with us but indeed if you ask my dad what's on the top of his list for my dream house, it's a granny unit.  While he's been fantasizing about it my whole life, I'm actually rather skeptical that my cruise-hopping parents will ever cash in their IOU.  As a result, we were reluctant to create a completely separate unit and instead placed a "guest wing" at the back of the house that is joined by a mud room.  If any of our parents ever decide to move in, we can convert the mud room (which already has a sink) to a kitchenette by adding a small cooktop, microwave and proper fridge.  The guest suite has its own bathroom and an entrance from the back patio, so we can even close off door between the mud room and the rest of the house for additional privacy.  In the meantime, when we don't have guests we can use the space as a play area, crafts room or possibly even the man cave that my husband's buddies have been begging for.  And who knows, maybe someday when we're too old to trek up and down stairs, we'll move into the multigenerational wing.

Our Multigenerational Flex Room by Jeanine Unteleitner

So there you have it, the must-have checklist for our future house.  It took us about two months to compile, consider and negotiate the items on our list.  Not too shabby considering it took me for-EVAH to find my perfect spouse.  He was well worth the wait.  When it comes to building a home together, nothing beats having a partner who shares your values, tastes and lifestyle.

Next time you need some entertaining dinner party conversation, ask the people around you what's on their "perfect house" and "perfect spouse"'d be surprised by their champagne wishes and caviar dreams.  Cheers to my friend Laura who stayed true to her search for the perfect husband and San Francisco home.  Not only did she marry a man who let her have a claw foot tub, he also helped her demolish their bathroom to install it.  Now that's true love.  Check out their epic bathroom remodel and the birth of "Claudette" here.

As for me, I was lucky enough to be a college educated, ENFP, athletic daughter of immigrant parents who wears high heels and loves dogs, allowing me to meet all the criteria on my husband's list except knowing who this is:

Seriously? Is this list-worthy? #kayfail


  1. Replies
    1. I highly recommend building a house (it's like running a startup!) If you don't have a lot of time or need a practice run, try buying a fixer upper and making upgrades over time. I remodeled our current house during the early days at LinkedIn. Thank goodness for the free kitchen was out of commission for half a year.

  2. Interesting that you're going to do 2 mud rooms. I always figured mud rooms were more for areas w/ extreme weather (lots of snow or rain), but clever thinking to have one to decrease clutter.

    1. Yes, I looove these additions. It's like having two extra walk-in closets.

    2. Speaking of closets... any special considerations on that front?? There are some on Houzz I'm sure you've also been salivating over. :-)

    3. Ah closets...a topic that is worth several more posts! Stay tuned...

  3. Mudroom: Genius. Loved the link to the article in the Bay Citizen about multigenerational living. I want those track doors. The flex wing and overall versatility of the spaces you're putting in sound like very smart building. I am so excited to watch this project unfold!
    P.S. I didn't know Astro had a thing for Loubies. Dangerous.
    P.P.S. Loved the pic of you guys jumping in the pool. It's a snapshot of your personalities too. You're all cowabunga and he's like, toes pointed, let me calculate the perfect angle for plunging.

    1. Yes, I learned the hard way that Disastro is a Loubie lover. Remind me to show you my "custom" Loubies some time...I had the heel stems refinished to cover up the bite marks. They're actually my favorite pair of shoes now.

  4. PPPS I tried to keep all my PS's in one comment. Couldn't resist this last one.

  5. Sounds awesome, Kay! Any chance you can stick a pool table in one of those flex rooms? And FYI, Thomas is going to need an ice maker and mini-fridge in his private man-closet - so that in case he wants a nightcap he doesn't need to walk downstairs...

    1. Hmm...maybe Thomas can put the pool table in his private closet.

  6. Hi, I just happened upon your blog and got so hooked that I'm reading everything from the beginning. I wish I found your blog earlier. We actually bought a 1950's ranch in Oct 2011 in Cupertino from its original owners. And we went through a year of complete gut and remodel with addition including converting the detached garage to a granny unit. Oh, and we lived there.

    During the design, the mudroom was the number one item on my list. People didn't understand it until it was constructed. Now everyone thinks it's the best thing since sliced bread. And I see it cropping up in all the new model homes this year. It's been a life saver (especially since I have two young kids). And the granny unit has also been great. We currently rent it out and it almost covers our mortgage!

    Anyways, just wanted to say that I love your blog. I find so many things relatable in here, including my love of houses and Houzz. Oh, and my hubby works at G, too!

    1. Thanks for the comments, Frisky. The mudroom and granny unit are definitely great features. I'm glad you're enjoying the blog, there's much more to come, I have dozens of posts still in my head. I took a look at your blogs too, some great info there given we have a little one on his way. Gotta ask our OB about Fentanyl!