When clients came to New Jersey architect Richard Bubnowski after Hurricane Sandy walloped the East Coast in 2012, it wasn't to repair a storm-ravaged house. Their home in Little Silver, 5 miles from the shore, didn't suffer damage. Bubnowski's clients simply found their 1,152-square-foot, 1950s-era Cape Cod too small with its cramped kitchen, single bathroom, and awkward layout. Yet, they liked their neighborhood and didn't want to move.
When the homeowners contacted Bubnowski, the builders and contractors that the architect regularly worked with were slammed with storm work. In addition, materials were in short supply and at a premium. Figure in the couple's tight budget (no more than $200,000) and their wish list of a bigger kitchen, new master bathroom, home office, and more efficient layout, and this project seemed impossible to pull off.
But Bubnowski, who thrives on challenges (he's an experienced surfer), was intrigued. "I liked that they understood good design, even if the budget wouldn't permit all top-notch materials and appliances," he says. In fact, his decisions prove how constraints can result in greater creativity.
Bubnowski suggested gutting the interior for better flow, and he proposed adding a 500-square-foot extension. "If we only worked within the existing footprint, the rooms still would not work well," he says. The couple was amenable, but envisioned the new space for a dining room and small office. The architect convinced them otherwise: He made the addition an interflowing kitchen-cum-dining room, which extends upward over 15 feet and opens to the living room on one side and new patio on the other. He converted the former kitchen to a combined powder room/mudroom, which saved the expense of new plumbing, and he turned the former dining room into an office fitted with glass barn-style doors so it looks larger and has views of the front hall and living room beyond. He kept the existing stairway location but redesigned it to meet current code. The goal: To open the interior, "which is how people like to live today," Bubnowski says.
To stay within budget, the architect took a save/splurge approach: Cut costs where possible and spend on some custom details. Working as a team with his clients and a contractor whom his clients found, they picked stock windows, doors, and cabinetry from big-box stores; used drywall painted white to make rooms appear larger; retained a white refrigerator that worked, even though it wouldn't match new stainless steel appliances; found basic hardwood that blends with existing floors; picked affordable glass subway tiles; used flat bar stock steel in a painted finish for stair railings; laid porcelain tile versus pricier slate in the powder room/mudroom; and clad new structural microlam beams in pine rather than using a more expensive wood. On the exterior, Bubnowski made other compromises: vinyl siding instead of James Hardie cementitious siding, composite asphalt shingles rather than standing seam metal, and standard prefinished aluminum trim.
With dollars saved, Bubnowski splurged on a Wolf range that the owners craved, as well as engineered quartz countertops, a window seat (also with a porcelain tile finish), a louvered-style screen to frame the stairs, and built-in bookshelves. The square footage cost worked out to $195 versus his usual $250 to $450. Bubnowski feels the results were "epic," akin to a long ride on a perfect wave.
"After walking into a standard Cape, the openness and airiness of the addition's interior offers a wonderful surprise," he says. "It proves you can get really good results on a limited budget."