The Full 360: Casa de Abuela in Raleigh, NC
Wolk360 in Raleigh, North Carolina is an innovative and creative buy-design-build firm that specializes in helping clients create the perfect home. The firm is unique in that it has a multi-disciplinary team of designers, architects, builders, and real estate agents so clients do not have to deal with multiple players when pursuing their dream. From acquisition, planning, development, demolition, and build they serve residential and commercial clients with high-quality start to finish custom projects.
WOLK360 was founded in 2016 by Jonathan Wolk, AIA as a turnkey solution for small and mid-size projects to provide a single source for busy Owners. To provide cost-effective solutions to our clients, we are a lean organization with a team of reliable sub-contractors that has a long history of working together. Projects range from new residential, residential renovations, first and second-generation office, and retail fitups ranging in size from 1,000 sq. ft. up to 100,000 sq. ft building renovations.
One of their more recent projects has an interesting story behind it. Firm founder and president, Jonathan Wolk, AIA tells us about a unique and challenging renovation in Raleigh’s historic Mordecai community.
What can you tell us about Watauga and the backstory behind the project?
Watauga goes by several names. 1206 Watauga Street is the address of the house but officially the project goes by the name ‘Casa de Abuela’ because the owner is like a mother/grandmother to me. I started calling her Abuela, which means grandmother in Spanish. We also call it “chop the top” because we’re taking off the roof and adding a second floor. It will have a fresh new modern look to it, and I couldn’t be more excited to build an amazing home for someone so close to me.
This old neighborhood sounds really interesting, is there a backstory to it?
There is a great story about “Mordecai”. A Jewish man moved to Raleigh and built his business and name, but he didn’t want to be perceived as being Jewish because it was North Carolina in the early 1800s. Instead of pronouncing it by the traditional Hebrew name of Mordecai, he changed it to be pronounced as, “Mor-de-key”.
Describe the vision and how it began?
It’s an interesting story because the client wanted to find a house downtown in a nice little community with sidewalks, etc. She also wanted to find a house that we could renovate. We looked at possible tear-down sites to build a new house, but those were not in neighborhoods that were walkable for her. She wanted to be able to walk to the coffee shop, the pharmacy, pick up small groceries, and do other errands like that. One Saturday we drove around and looked at a bunch of open houses, however, nothing was quite clicking.
So how did you find the right property?
A friend of my girlfriend called her while we were in the middle of this search process and said that her hot water heater was on the fritz and asked if I would come by and look at it. It just so happened she was looking to move, and I told her about my client and asked if I could bring her by to look at the house. I then took the client by and told her to look around because the neighborhood met her criteria and it’s a great house to renovate. It’s an all-brick house and something we could really renovate and build out. We put the deal together and made an offer. We call this deal the “full 360” because we represented the seller, buyer and now we are doing the design and starting on the construction which shows our wheelhouse.
Why this neighborhood?
Mordecai is a downtown community that is going through a huge transition. Unfortunately, a lot of houses are getting torn down and cutting lots in half to put in two houses or a McMansion. She wanted to keep the old home and preserve the history of the neighborhood while adding her value and vision. We’ve been collaborating on the design since March, then began demolition in June. Our target date for completion is towards spring of 2022.
Can you explain the scope of the project and its various stages?
The house was built in the 1950s, with brick and hardwood floors that we debated to save or not. Deciding not to save them and use all new hardwood floors throughout. It’s your classic post-WWII 3 bedrooms, one bath, small kitchen type of home. We are blowing out the back of the house so that we can expand the kitchen. There is a swimming pool which we’re going to fill in because the client would like a garage instead, but still enough room for a fenced in backyard. Blowing out the back end for the kitchen remodel will allow us to also expand the master bedroom and create a master bathroom. In its original state, it is about 1,000 sq. ft, and when we finish it will be about 2,500 sq. ft. The lot is just under a quarter acre which is why we must build a second floor.
Can you describe that process?
When we expand up, there will be two bedrooms and a bathroom with a nice loft space. The client wanted a lot of natural light and some volume to the living-dining area. To create this, we will build an angled roof with a loft including an outdoor living space to where she can go on a back porch and the front porch. All the space in this house will be utilized to fit her wants and needs.
In the design process what were the challenges for your team?
Just adding the second floor is a challenge. Then, adding the second floor with a big hole in it because of the volume space we are creating provides a structural challenge. We have this wall we are tearing down and expanding it up another ten feet. We wrestled with a lot of different issues like sun angles, roof visibility, and materials. One day I had this epiphany after fighting all these issues and thought “why don’t we just change the slope of the roof from low-left to right-high, to low-right to left-high” which solves all these problems for us. It might take a couple tries to get the design right, but once it’s right its perfect.
How do you physically add the second level while trying to preserve the first floor?
Adding the second level while trying to preserve the first floor is crucial going into construction timing. We’ve essentially been doing all the demolition we can do from the inside of the house. When the project gets to the point where we are going to rip off the roof, adding the second-floor framing and a new roof will be right behind it. Sequentially the goal is to flow from demo right into new construction so that the house is open for as little as possible. Which is the reason why the team decided not to go through the gymnastics of trying to save the original wood floors. The client wanted new wood floors for consistency and an updated feel anyway, so it all worked out beautifully.
Is this a total renovation in regard to the original floor plan?
Yes, we are taking all the drywall out, all the electrical, the old ductwork, and coming back in with all new materials, wiring, plumbing, HVAC, etc.
How are supply-chain interruptions and material shortages affecting projects like this?
There is just an unprecedented number of issues that have been struggling industry-wide. What we are doing now is anticipating shortages, or backorders to make sure everything arrives on time.
Continuing to plan and budget Abuela, we are aware of these issues ahead of time. Whereas the projects starting a year ago or even six months ago were very difficult to receive materials. The team now knows to expect the unexpected. For example, Sherwin Williams ran out of the paint we needed! We drove an hour to get three gallons of paint! Also, lumber comes and goes but there are still times you can’t get the plywood you want.
Has this made your team better in terms of overall planning?
Every project is different, but the experience helps us in all the best ways. The team uses an order calendar to schedule materials. For example, when the project is ready to build foundations it’s time to order the framing package, then the window package, then it’s time to order the drywall package. Each project uses this step-by-step process.
Looking ahead knowing what non-traditional long-lead items are, is key to a productive schedule. Overall, staying updated on material availability is a real benefit of the design-build process because when designing we are communicating with our major trades. They can inform us of possible backlogs and shortages.
Jonathan, doesn’t this project really capture the essence of Wolk360?
WOLK360’s philosophy is to help the client from buying to designing, then building their dream home. That is a key part of our culture. It’s not “Oh I found this house what can you do with it?”, instead, it’s “here’s the house you’re looking for and we can make it into exactly what you want.” For Abuela, she wanted to be in the old neighborhood and not do a teardown. We found a solution that brings both of those worlds together, the old and the new. We’ve got the old neighborhood downtown that is walkable and able to expand on it, making it something new and contemporary to provide the things she wants – daylight, volume, a larger MBR, outdoor and patio/porch space.
We were able to take the bones of this house and basically expand upon it. This is building off the groundwork that was laid out for us, but even though it is going to be a contemporary home its proportions and base tie back to the original neighborhood. WOLK360 is excited to keep the character of the neighborhood by complimenting and keeping the fundamentals of the Mordecai neighborhood.