Youth Playhouse Build 2020

Youth Playhouse Build 2020

Habitat for Humanity BCS hosts a two-day event for our local youth to raise money for low-income families in our community. We were grateful to join The Arkitex Studio and Lowe’s in sponsoring the Youth Playhouse Build 2020.

Green Building: Exploring the Timeline

Green Building: Exploring the Timeline

As we all know, green building has really taken shape and increased in popularity in the last few decades. Many choose to build green as a quality of life choice: to ultimately preserve our earth’s natural resources while reducing negative impacts on our environment. 

But WHEN did green building begin? While there are numerous definitions and concepts of green building these days, it’s interesting to examine when this design and idea originated in history.

The earliest recorded relationship between habitat and human health traces back to the Middle Pleistocene, which was around 126,000 years ago. There is evidence of microcharcoal and soot from indoor cave smoke which implies that humans were impacted by control of fire in the indoor environment and the environment generally. These are some of the earliest known examples of the unanticipated and sometimes ill-favored consequences of altering our environment, including the built environment.

Of course, these challenges continued to grow as our human population increased, thus resulting in more energy and resources required for sustenance and economic activity. 

The modern era of green building began in the 1960’s shortly after we began pumping conditioned air into our homes. Perhaps, the advent of air conditioning is what allowed us to separate architectural thoughts from those of the environment.

When I was 16, I took a short course at Northern Arizona University on sustainable building. These were the early days before the term “Green Building” was essentially born. Most of the energy-saving concepts required abandoning modern conveniences. At this point in time, green building was not quite ready for public consumption. 

Three years later, I helped build a house in Travis County that employed 6” exterior walls for increased insulation and had manufactured solar hot water. This is when I truly started to see the new ideas of sustainable building reveal and show up in the residential housing market.  Finally, in 1993, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) was formed. A year later they came out with their first version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system came into existence.

Green building focuses on five key areas:

  • Sustainable site development
  • Water savings
  • Energy efficiency
  • Materials selection
  • Indoor environmental quality

Throughout the years, the ideas and techniques +  materials of green building have slowly made their way into the mainstream of homebuilding. Despite an increase in size, the average new American home consumes more than 30% less energy than it did in 1980!

Ten years ago, a home that was considered green, wouldn’t even pass code inspection today. Universally, the overall education + advancement of green building has significantly increased and continues to advance in leaps and bounds.  

Stearns Design Build built the first net-metered solar home in Brazos County in 2007.

Did you know that all of our remodeling projects start with an energy assessment?

Not only do we want to ensure that our company is a leader in the best practices of green building, but also we want to increase the return on investment of your home. Not to mention we’re aiding in conserving our earth’s natural resources. 

Part of our mission is to improve the quality of building stock in Bryan and College Station.  This primarily involves improving energy efficiency and indoor air quality. This includes things such as high-grade materials that are more durable and reducing air leaks. In addition, we use low toxicity materials well suited for our environment and we are strategic about the placement of windows for energy efficiency.

The Guide to Kitchen Lighting

The Guide to Kitchen Lighting

Many say that the kitchen is the heart of the home. Not only is it space where meals are created- it’s where friends, families and loved ones meet to nourish their bodies and discuss their days.

Now, imagine the value of the kitchen if you were to remodel it. Whether your budget range is small or large, or you’re replacing the backsplash or gutting the whole kitchen; these immediate changes can make a dynamic impact.

Let’s chat about the subject of lighting. As the kitchen is the hub of the home, it’s surprising that lighting becomes such an afterthought when remodeling the space. We’ve found that lighting is one of the most frequently ignored design features! In actuality, lighting should be an integral and focused design piece. Lighting is an essential part of the remodeling process, as it adds layers, depth, and function to a kitchen. 

Join us as we take an ILLUMINATED journey through the layers of lighting possibilities for your kitchen. 

For now, let’s take into three primary types of lighting: 

  • Ambient
  • Task
  • Accent

Good lighting design is a dance between science, engineering, and art.  While there is no right way to light a kitchen, there are many ineffective ways to go about it.  There is an interplay between light and finishes that sets an ambiance that is as unique as each individual person.

Ambient Lighting – Base Lighting

As indicated by the name, this is the general lighting in a room. 

Ambient lighting fixtures include:

  • Chandeliers
  • Track Lighting
  • Pendant Lights 
  • Ceiling Lights

Many kitchens and most other rooms are often designed with only ambient light.  When one relies only on ambient light, sometimes space can appear dull or dark. Think of ambient lighting as the base lighting of your home.

Task Lighting – The 2nd Layer

Task lighting is for….You guessed it, specific tasks. When your using a sharp knife in the kitchen, added light is needed so you can avoid accidents.  

Task lighting fixtures include:

  • Under the countertop lights
  • Vent hood lighting 
  • Ceiling light over a sink

Most vent hoods will provide task lighting for the cooktop. Careful placement of ceiling lights can provide task lighting in their immediate downcast. 

Note: A common mistake is to place lights too far back from the work area causing a shadow.

Lighting placed under the upper cabinets can contribute to task lighting on the countertop.  You will like your kitchen much more if you can see what you are doing as you cook and clean.  It is important to know that we need a great deal more light as we age. It is estimated that a 60-year-old needs three times more light than a 20-year-old does.

Accent Lighting – 3rd Layer

Get CREATIVE! Accent lighting sets the atmosphere and mood in a room.  It can also highlight certain features in your kitchen or conceal unpleasant design elements. 

Accent lighting fixtures include:

  • Wall sconces
  • Can lights & uplights
  • Ceiling lights
  • Inside cabinet lights

Accent lighting can be provided by placing lights above, in, or under cabinets. It can be lighting directed onto a piece of artwork.

Natural Lighting

Of course, the ideal light is natural.  It requires its own considerations such as direction and shading. An unobstructed eastern or western window can cause unwanted glare in the morning or afternoon respectively. Here in the Brazos Valley, that can lead to excessive heat gain.

People love skylights and solar tubes, however, they can provide excessive heat gain. While placing them on north sloping roofs will help some, the reduction of heat is not great.

 Remodeling is a great time to consider enlarging or adding well-placed windows in the kitchen. This often means eliminating some upper cabinets. While getting rid of cabinet space is never a desired outcome the reward can be worth it. Upper cabinets are shallow and don’t provide a great deal of storage so that lost storage can often be picked up elsewhere.  Large windows that connect the kitchen to the great outdoors can make the space much more cheerful.

 Now that you have enlarged or added a window, you want to be mindful of what you place outside that window.  Let your windows frame a beautiful setting. A bird feeder can provide wonder to the drudgery of washing the dishes. A flowering bush can perfume the air that comes in through that window when opened.

Lastly, don’t let the final decisions and the multitude of options overwhelm you! Your way is the best way and we’d love to offer our guidance + expertise to help you along the way.  Take a look at one of our recent kitchen remodels.

 If you’re ready to dive in now, schedule a meeting with us today! We’d love to help you begin the process of upgrading your kitchen-  the sacred and most lived-in space of your home. Thanks for reading!

The Transitions Approach to Design: Health, Happiness, Nature + Space

The Transitions Approach to Design: Health, Happiness, Nature + Space

When we envisioned what kind of company Stearns Design would be, we focused on the matter at hand:  Designing and Building Happiness. While this is our company tagline, it means so much more than just a marketing slogan. Designing and building happiness is actually based on substantial and empirical evidence.

Studies show that individuals who follow the phase of the moon or know what time the sun rises and sets are significantly happier and more present.

In 1984 Roger Ulrich, now at Texas A&M, reviewed the medical records of patients recovering from gallbladder surgery. The patients were split into two rooms, half with a view of nature and half without. Dr. Ulrich was able to determine that recovery time for those who had a view of nature was one day quicker, they needed less pain medication and had fewer post-surgical complications. Since that study, the medical and business world has become very focused on the implications of connections to nature for health and productivity.

The benefits of spending time in nature are astounding: lowering stress, reducing blood pressure and heart rate and feeling better emotionally.

Our goal at Stearns is to ensure a seamless transition between nature and residential design. This is what the largest effect can be felt. Our homes are not only the place we spend most of our time but rather a sanctuary where we involuntarily seek refuge and restoration.

In order to better articulate this vital aspect and crossover of nature + space,  we decided to create our own design category and call it Transitions.

To us, Transitions in the design that coincides directly with the permeability of space. Ultimately, the physical and sensory Transitions to not only natural spaces but community space as well.

For many, the first step in designing a home is to look at floor plans. While this is an important step and incredibly common, we like to add another elemental + integrative piece to the journey of designing a home.

  • What will my windows face? 
  • What view will you see? OR, what view brings joy?
  • What is the orientation of the sun?
  • What kind of breeze will stream through during spring?

Our design journey includes making space to ask these questions. Blurring the lines, creating a relationship and partnership between the lines of a home + the natural surroundings.  Our Transitions approach can help guide + create this sacred space for you and your loved ones. 

Or ask yourself this: 

  • What is the value of a home placed with respect to the sun’s movement, views, and mindful transitions to spaces infused with nature??
  • Have you envisioned having your morning coffee on a screened-in porch?
  • The fragrance of your favorite flowers wafting in through the upstairs bedroom? 
  • The view of your favorite oak tree?
  • A  front porch that invites conversations with neighbors?

These are the Transitions that enrich our lives. 

When designing a new home, our goal is to meld these elements and to capture both physical and visual transitions into our beautiful native environment. The Transitions approach to design is an invitation to a lifestyle. A lifestyle that engages all the senses.

Whether you are considering the design of a new home or modifications to an existing home, this approach can make a difference in how happy, healthy, and fulfilled you are.

If you have a project in mind for your home in the Bryan/College Station area, let’s chat. We’ll love to hear from you!

Aging in Place

Aging in Place

Seniors are staying in their homes longer, otherwise known as aging in place. This is significantly affecting their quality of life, all while dealing with financial issues. 

Being at home allows seniors a higher level of independence, while also reducing the stress of individuals having to relocate. As you can imagine, a sense of connection to personal space becomes heightened as we all age. 

According to Census Bureau projections, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. This, along with a nursing shortage, is causing the assisted living options to increase in price. Staying at home is just one way that seniors are alleviating their living costs.   

We would like to introduce Stearns Home Care, a subsidiary of Stearns Design Build, now provides an annual subscription service that provides regular home maintenance, concurrently allowing seniors to stay in their homes longer. Simultaneously, the service is also available to those who prefer not to do home maintenance themselves or simply don’t have the time.

Owner Hugh Stearns, said, “Over the years, we have noticed that many people move out of their family home and into assisted living because they can no longer maintain the home. This does not need to happen. Helping seniors stay in their home longer falls directly within our mission of providing quality of life in the home and providing environmentally friendly solutions.”

Stearns Home Care service includes a multitude of things such as cleaning gutters, maintaining fixtures and appliances, changing light bulbs and batteries, and checking and repairing weather stripping. A full spectrum of service is provided over six visits annually.

General manager Ben Herrington said, “It is incredibly gratifying to know that we are helping seniors stay in their homes longer. Each person and each home has its own set of stories.”

In addition to the maintenance service, Stearns Home Care is also available to provide aging in place modifications such as ramps and grab bar installation.

Stearns said, “While this service was created to assist people who want to stay in their family home as long as possible, it is also popular with busy people who want their home maintained but don’t have the time or desire to do what it takes. We find that the typical homeowner does only a small amount of the maintenance necessary to maintain a home’s full value and often a lack of maintenance leads to costly repairs and shortened durability.”