Suburbia: It has been a panacea and an expletive. Touted for affordability and maligned for automobile dependence, suburbia is a fact of life in the U.S.
Pam Sessions has picked up, moved and renovated her own living space more times than she can count, but she has never moved very far. That's because all of her moves were on the same lot, which is why tracing her home's history is rather complex. The home's family tree Sessions, co-president and co-founder of Hedgewood Properties in Cumming, Ga.
Pam Sessions has picked up, moved and renovated her own living space more times than she can count, but she has never moved very far. That's because all of her moves were on the same lot, which is why tracing her home's history is rather complex.
Sessions, co-president and co-founder of Hedgewood Properties in Cumming, Ga., built the house she proudly calls home 22 years ago. She and her family lived in that residence for six years when they had it literally picked up and relocated to the front of the property, where it became her office. She added onto it three times, then rebuilt the home again and added on once more. Two years ago, she remodeled it one more time down to the studs and put in new windows and new insulation. "You can tell we're in the building business," Sessions notes.
The objective of the most recent renovation was to create a greener home. Sessions wanted to practice what she preaches to her buyers.
Hedgewood Properties started building green five years ago when the time was right for Sessions to implement smart-growth practices, too. Sessions assembled her 22 acres with the neighbors' property and purchased an additional 214 acres. She and her husband worked with a land planner who specializes in traditional neighborhood design to create a pedestrian-friendly village with offices, retail stores and restaurants that are all connected with parks. Says Sessions: "It is all walkable and we live in the middle of the development, so we designed our house and office into that overall smart-growth neighborhood plan."
With the 2003 renovation, Sessions' goal was a high-performance home that was also high on aesthetics. Two years later, the Colonial Revival, one-and-a-half story, 5,000-square-foot-home now has five bedrooms, a kitchen/breakfast/ keeping room, two additional living areas — a more formal living room as well as a casual area — and a dining room.
She and her husband also paid close attention to the outdoor space, which includes a screened porch, a rose garden and other small outdoor rooms.
Hedgewood Properties builds its homes in conjunction with the EarthCraft House Program, a regional initiative that provides a prescriptive blueprint that encompasses energy and water efficiency, waste management, indoor air quality and environmental stewardship, all of which reduce energy costs by taking a highly efficient, systems approach.
The blueprint recommends cellulose insulation, airtight construction, properly sized HVAC equipment, Energy Star appliances and moisture management.
"The end result is a healthier, more comfortable, low-maintenance and more durable home," says Sessions. She adds that homeowners benefit from improved health and lower costs for maintenance and energy.
Sessions followed the EarthCraft program recommendations, particularly with regard to insulation. Her earlier home's less effective insulation system resulted in a lot of air leakage. That, in turn, made the latest renovation a big priority. "We were very focused on high performance, so we used Icynene insulation, which was nice because we could feel the difference. The insulation is more expensive, but pays for itself over time. If it did ever get wet for any reason, it drains and dries out, which is another nice feature."
So what is Sessions' favorite part of her new home? She admits it is the combination kitchen/breakfast/keeping room because it's the central hub of the house.
"I like the scale of the space," she says. "It is very human and cozy, yet it's all open, so someone can be doing homework, while I'm cooking or watching TV. We often have a fire going, so everyone can gather in that space and perform different activities at the same time.
"I also like it because it has a lot of windows, offering exposure to the outdoors and allowing me to see the garden. That's real important."
The room is a study in light and rich materials. Wood paneling is painted a cream color and stands out against an oak plank floor that was sanded and stained on the job. The kitchen cabinets are painted a cross between tan and green with a faux finish.
The island, which resembles furniture with table legs, is painted gray/green. The cabinets and island feature open shelving and flank two Sub-Zero refrigerators and two KitchenAid dishwashers. Nonetheless, the kitchen itself is not exceptionally large. "It is very efficient, but compact," Sessions says.
The Sub-Zero units each feature a refrigeration unit on top with two pullout freezer drawers below. "That's working really well," she says, "and I like it. Things that people grab a lot are in one refrigerator and perishables are in the other. It is easy to find what we need quickly in this configuration."
There's a granite countertop between the two refrigerators positioned higher than the standard height, while the taller-than-usual cabinets feature pullout shelves.
"I'm tall, so I like the extra height," says Sessions, who adds that the cabinets let her store a lot in a small space.
Warming up the keeping room is an Isokern masonry fireplace — prefabricated, but assembled onsite. The firebox opening is quite large, which according to Sessions, makes the fire even more enjoyable: "You can see the firebrick, which adds to the ambience of the fire."
The next most-used space is the media room or den, which has a computer station and is equipped with surround sound and a plasma screen TV.
The living room features Pecky Cypress paneling on the walls and ceiling. The paneling "creates a jewel-box effect," Sessions explains. "We walk through this room every day. It is really important to think about the space you travel through. Even if you don't use that room as much, it is still an important part of how you feel about the house. The richness of wood adds a lot of value."
Sessions feels the same way about the dining room, which also functions as a study and hallway to other rooms. "You must go through the dining room to get to other rooms, so I connected them all with furnishings. There are antique columns and a wall of bookcases with library lights, adding to the warmth and enjoyment of walking through it."
The home has four full bathrooms and two half-bathrooms, most of whose faucets are chrome and stainless. However, Sessions did use Sonoma Forge copper faucets wher she wanted to add a bit more distinction. One powder room features a wall-mounted faucet with a vessel sink, also from Sonoma Forge, while the other has a Sonoma Forge deck-mounted copper faucet. The latter complements a copper undermount sink that is nestled into a custom-built vanity that Sessions designed herself.
The entire renovation took eight months, much of it done without a floor plan. "That's an occupational hazard," Sessions admits. "Builders typically don't do their own homes correctly, and we did a lot of things on the fly."
What might Sessions do differently were she building today? Nothing, she says without hesitation. "We are really enjoying the changes we made. The home is very livable for our family and our lifestyle. The things we chose have a pretty good shelf life in terms of design and function. We don't feel any urge to change to the latest and greatest."