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Case Study: Willow Grove/Buckboard In-Law Suite Addition

Eric Tilghman
By Eric Tilghman - July 11, 2018

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Hi! I'm Eric Tilghman. Our team recently completed this in-law suite addition in the Willow Grove neighborhood of Montgomery County, PA. This is an inside look at this project, the family's wishlist, our process and what you can expect from your contractor. Every home renovation in unique, with its own set of challenges that we love to tackle. For this project, we had a big checklist of design, functionality and architectural features to keep in mind to make sure the homeowners were truly satisfied with the end result. We are proud to help families create their forever home. 

The family's vision

Let's start with some background on the family. The homeowners wanted a fully functional addition on their home so Grandma and Grandpa in their 80s could live with them. Grandma was in a wheelchair due to Parkinson's so everything needed to be easily accessible. 

They needed separate spaces that facilitated togetherness, where they weren't far away from each other and could have a drink on their porch together whenever they wanted. It was important for Grandma and Grandpa to have their own space and independence, so our plans included a full kitchen, bathroom and even their own front door. 


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Cool + Helpful Features

We wanted to make sure you could easily get from the main house to the in-law suite addition. When you walk in the front door, there is an open living room with windows facing the yard. We designed the space to flow seamlessly into the rest of the home. There is a door from there to the dining room of the main house that opens up to another communal space with a great big dining room table that can fit the whole extended family. The family is really excited about this for Thanksgiving and other holidays.

Because Grandma was in a wheelchair, we wanted everything in the in-law suite to be easily accessible to her. The living room flows into the kitchen with an open floor plan and smooth hardwoods without any thresholds. On the other side of the kitchen, there is a private bedroom and bathroom. We used universal design features like grab bars and a wider opening in the shower, a ramp up to the front porch and an open kitchen. 

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One of the family's favorite features is the front porch. Not a single house on the block has one. Since their house sits a bit higher up than the rest on a hill with a view and a yard, this is the perfect house in the neighborhood for a grand front porch. The neighborhood is very active and there are always people out walking around. The porch was a huge part of the project to add to that sense of community for the family. The whole family was so excited for the front porch. It's a great way to unify the two sides of the house and it really brings everyone together.


The In-Law Suite Addition Timeline:

From the time the first shovel went in the ground in September to final the landscaping touches in the spring, we stayed perfectly on our 18-week schedule through rain and snow and sun!

See our full project timeline here → 


How we worked with the family


Occasionally, the grandparents would come by to check out our progress. When they did, we had to make sure the work site was safe and wheelchair accessible. A lot of the time we were working there weren't stairs or handrails, much less a wheelchair ramp. Our team worked really hard to make sure whenever the grandparents visited the site, they felt welcome and taken care of. Our team did a great job of including the grandparents in every walkthrough and we really got to know the family well. 


The biggest challenge

The roofs! Before we could build any of the roofs, we had to engineer the roofline of the far left level. That right section of roof on the existing home is an 8-pitch. A pitch is the measurement of the angle of a roof. Basically, it is the rise for every 12 inches it runs horizontally. We framed the roof of the addition on the far left side of the house to match. All rooflines connect because the front porch roof spans across the entire front of the house. Before I could build on the left side, I had to level across the whole front of the house to make sure it would line up perfectly with the roof on the right.

In a project like this, if something is off by even two inches it just won't look right. With the addition off to the left, we really wanted to make sure the lines were clean and the porch roof brought it all together. While it was our biggest challenge, I really enjoyed getting to flex my creativity and problem-solving with the framing.

Learn more about what it's like to work with a design-build firm here.

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My favorite part of this project was... 

The customer! I got the chance to form a really great relationship with the family over the course of this project. 

The homeowners were such nice people! As with any project, there were times over the course of the 18 weeks that we were in their home when they could have gotten frustrated. I mean, we were all over their house and that can be very hard for some families. But I knew from the beginning that they were great people and that this was going to be a great project. Now, Grandpa was a little wary of me at the beginning, but as we spent a little more time together, and my team got the chance to show how much we really cared by building temporary ramps and taking care of Grandma when they came to visit the work site. Our team did a great job of really being accommodating and building that trust with him. 


As a contractor, I know the importance of making the family feel comfortable and reassuring them throughout the process. It really is a big deal to let a crew in your home for a few months at a time. This is why we are so diligent about planning and scheduling before the first shovel breaks ground. We know that setting your expectations upfront can only benefit everyone in the long run... and meeting that expectation (and exceeding it) is our biggest priority. From the timeline, schedule, pricing, design, communication, and more, we want to give our clients the best service - and that all starts with having a great, trusting relationship.


That personal touch

On one of those beautiful pop-up spring afternoons, we don't always see in eastern PA after the project was finished, I went over with a case of their favorite craft beer and a Visa gift card to welcome them into their new space. When I drove up I saw the whole family sitting out on the front porch. It put the biggest smile on my face! We built this huge porch when it was freezing cold outside and everyone kept saying, "oh man, this is going to be great once it's warm out!"

I can't tell you how many times we all talked about sitting out there with a gin and tonic. This was the first time they all got to sit outside and really enjoy it and I just happened to show up at the perfect time. They invited me up for a beer and I got the chance to just hang out and enjoy the space for an hour and a half. It was so cool!

It was awesome to see their vision for the new space become reality and to see them actually enjoying it. 


See videos of this project coming together! 

For this in-law suite addition, I documented our team's progress through a video series. Check it out!

Watch the 5 part series here: