A Friendly Makeover

My dear dear friend Allie (who by the way is one of the most talented graphic designers I know) moved to California. Having moved a zillion times I know how daunting it can be to make a ‘home’ in a new city. SO when Allie called and asked for some help in designing the space to where she could feel good, I jumped right in!!


We brainstormed and came up with a bucket list of must haves and would like to haves.

So while she takes some measurements and rummages through the boxes that came in from Chicago, here is the first concept board to get the creative juices flowing😀☺️


Next steps sketches, drawing board, and lots of quality hangout time 🙂


A ‘Concrete’ Decision.

browngirlbuilds, concrete floor, interior design

I wish this post was  about two of my favorite things- Coffee and Shoes but really it has to do with my obsession with floors!!!!

Foundation is underway and as you can see it’s quite the undertaking! In my previous post, I had mentioned that we were going with a tad bit complicated foundation system where a suspended slab would be placed on a pier and beam grid.

From quite early on, we were leaning towards having a flooring on the main level that would be easy to maintain, environment friendly, pet friendly, kid friendly, modern and COOL (yup a big must have in places where temperatures soar to almost 110 deg on a really bad day!).collage_concrete-03Having weighed all the pros and cons,let’s just say it was a Concrete decision 😉

This article on Houzz is a really good read on the 3 green minded question to ask for considering concrete floors.

It is useful to have a conversation with the contractor/ foundation company to check if it is an option in a new construction as the cost and soil condition would be deciding factors.

Also, if you are really going down that route then there is some amount of coordination that is required between the foundation contractor, the structural engineer and the company that will polish the floors ( as they need to check for aggregate size in the concrete depending on the look you decide to go for).

Here are thereasons we opted for Concrete floors:

  1. Durable.
  2. Environmentally friendly.
  3. Easy Care-Extremely easy to clean.
  4. Works well in warm weather-Concrete’s absorption of warm and cool air minimizes the need for heating and cooling.
  5. Concrete is good for indoor air quality because it inhibits mold, mildew, and odors, contains no potentially harmful VOCs, and can be finished with zero-VOC sealers.
  6. Waterproof or at least extremely water resistant when properly screened.
  7. Chic and contemporary.

Cons ( depends on how you see it)

  1. Anything fragile that falls will BREAK.
  2. Hairline cracks and sometimes uneven aggregate may show.
  3. Not very suitable for cooler climates.

Are you ready to have your mind blown away with how amazing concrete floors look?

Here comes your dose of Pin-spiration 😄

What do you think?

When the house came down.


The demolition was scheduled a month after we received the permit. It is best to get on the calendar with a demolition company as most of them in Austin are extremely busy. If you have a contractor on board, then he will take care of this part.

Quick note:

  • As soon as the city releases the demo permit, you or your contractor should pick it up because you can and like us you are not caught by surprise that it had expired within 3 weeks of being granted!! (that was a glitch on the city’s part and none of them seem to have an explanation for it.)
  • Also, make sure the loan process and appraisal is complete as the lender will not let you demolish while they are evaluating the details- this can push your project back as well.



 While you are waiting for the Demolition permit, you can prepare yourself with these       5 steps:

  1. Contact Habitat for Humanity and recycle appliances and parts of the house that can be reused. 
  2. Make a trip to Goodwill.
  3. In Austin, you can relocate the entire house  to be repurposed somewhere else. There are agencies that will buy the home and take care of the demolition for you. This also comes with a tax credit. So look into the option and see if this is right for you.
  4. Get together with your contractor and see what elements of the old house can be reused and retained in the new house. We were able to keep the iron railings and some grill work along with shiplap siding behind the dry walls. Our contractor was able to reuse the electrical and plumbing fixtures for another project.
  5. Please insist that the demolition contractor (again if you have a contractor on board this should be taken care of) that all the root zones of the trees retained on the property are well protected with mulch and guarded. The city will penalize you if they see that the root zone has been damaged by the equipment on site. You can find more information on this at: https://austintexas.gov/page/tree-natural-area-preservation-codes

Finally, sit back and get ready to be amazed at how quickly a house can be turned into an empty plot of land!


The home is ready to take shape. What’s your story?

Our History Lesson!


Back on the drawing board, plans were firmed up and now came the fun part of developing the facade of the house. We really like simple, modern, straight lines when it comes to the architecture and aesthetics of a house.

This final elevation really resonated with us and was our dream home right there on paper!


But then the Historic landmark commission weighed in… They did not want the home to have a modern vocabulary in the neighborhood as it did not match its architectural style. The association representative was up in arms about how we were about to destroy the look of the neighborhood!

Samadhi presented them and the historic landmark commission with a detailed comparison to show how incongruous our street was and that we could work together towards a more acceptable design.


A side note on the Historic Landmark Commission They determine whether the house you  purchase is a Historic Landmark  or in a  Local Historic District or in a National Register Historic District. 

Both Historic Districts and National Registered Historic Districts are comprised of two types of properties: contributing and non-contributing.

A contributing status signifies that the house is integral to the character of the neighborhood. However, some of these houses being from the early 1900’s are in an extremely poor state and can be structurally unsafe. The historic landmark commission conducts a detailed survey and checks if the structure is of any historical and cultural significance.

As our home was contributing but not a historical landmark, we prepared a detailed report about the poor condition of the house and our proposal to build a  single family home in its place.

Considering all aspects and other homes being built in the neighborhood, we finally got a demolition permit after 4 months of deliberation at their monthly meetings.

So finally, we modified the look of our home that was more in keeping with the neighborhood and it turned out pretty well.😅


Hope this helps. What’s your story?


Remodel vs Build


So when we were done with the option period , and signed the papers, we found ourselves gearing up for a potential remodel.  The house we bought was a small 1940s’ build and needed a lot of work. We thought the existing foundation could be retained and another floor added on the existing footprint. Thus many scribbles and floor plans followed in umpteen configurations and we thought we were close.
Mind you we were still in Chicago and still oblivious of the very intricate Austin zoning laws!

As we were progressing, our architect and dear friend Samadhi (bless his soul) based in Chicago, was trying to derive something meaningful from my sketches 😄



Once we were close to finalizing the design, a geo-tech survey had to be ordered and that’s when the unpleasant surprises began to unfold! I got in touch with a foundation repair company to get a detailed structural evaluation. We wanted to be sure that the old foundation was sound enough to take the addition of another floor. The report concluded it would be advisable to reinforce or replace the foundation if we wanted to avoid any settling in the structure and that it may not be a good idea to add a floor.

The geo-tech report took 6 weeks and it was not good news. Turns out many parts  of Austin have expansive clay soil. As a result movement of the home is inevitable with simpler foundation systems. Therefore, the suggestion was to go with a less commonly used suspended slab on pier foundation system.

This had a few advantages, but one big drawback is that these foundation systems are more expensive.For more info on foundation systems check out the links below:

It was a tough decision but we were in love with the location and neighborhood,which meant:

  • Going back to the drawing board.
  • Dealing with the City of Austin to obtain a demolition permit. The house had a contributing status in the Old West Austin neighborhood which meant an additional approval from the historical landmark commission. If deemed a historical landmark, then our only option would be a limited renovation.😞
  • Finding a contractor- Austin has a thriving building industry and it is nice that you have a lot to choose from. But it can be quite challenging to find the right temperamental, financial and commitment fit.
  • Engaging with the neighborhood association. All neighborhood associations have a set of guidelines that they would like you to follow as closely as possible. A word of advice, the guidelines are advisory but some people in the neighborhood can be quite ornery. It’s best to appeal to them rationally and have a contractor/architect on board who is familiar with the process.

Here are 9 important steps that will help in moving towards building or remodeling your next home:

  • The geo-tech report. It determines the soil condition and the potential structural work required to maintain or support the construction.
  • I would highly recommend checking if the neighborhood has an association and its guidelines. These may or may not affect how you remodel or build if that’s the path you decide to go down.
  • Checking for home condition and historical status especially if buying an older home. (link below)
  • If remote, it might be a good idea to consult with a permit expeditor- the only caveat being they are very expensive and after a point basically charge you for going and waiting for a signature at the city office-  I took over after the historical piece as had moved to austin by then and was able to save on money and time by being engaged with the process.
  • Getting a contractor on board- that can be a lifesaver as they are way more informed than you and me about the various moving parts of the process.
  • Choosing an architect: austin has a lot of talent so am sure you will find the right fit
  • Having a relatively concrete budget for the house.
  • Familiarize yourself with the City of Austin rule book – good luck with that!
  • Be patient!

What’s your home building story? let’s share.