Apr
1

How J. Thompson Builders Transforms a Hotel Into Something Way Cooler

Note: This week we welcome guest writer Sommer Sharon. She has written a 2- part blog series for us. In this series Sommer will talk about the new Stoney Creek hotel in Independence, MO. The first blog is about J. Thompson Builders’ involvement in the building of the hotel. The second blog is about her experience staying at the hotel.

When J. Thompson Builders invited me to stay at the newly opened Stoney Creek Hotel in Independence, MO, I have to admit I was thrilled. The Stoney Creek line of hotels is luxurious yet built with families in mind. It’s like a resort within a hotel.

Wait, hold up! What? You’re probably wondering why J. Thompson Builders would invite me to stay at a Stoney Creek property?

Fun Facts: Jeremy Thompson, the owner of J. Thompson Builders, has helped in the building of Stoney Creek hotels since 1997. In 2002 Jeremy started J. Thompson Builders, and because of his past work with Stoney Creek, his new business continued to work with the hotel line. In 2009 J. Thompson Builders started their custom fabrication shop so they could take over engineering ALL of the interior trim and finish work (wainscoting, furnishings, cabinets, etc.) for the hotel line. They do all of this by partnering with an interior designer who conceptualizes the design, and J. Thompson Builders brings those ideas to fruition.

This chair embodies “urban lodge” style. A contemporary “blingy” chair with a horse skull embellished on the back.

This chair embodies “urban lodge” style. A contemporary “blingy” chair with a horse skull embellished on the back.

You know the saying, “it’s all in the details?” Well this is what Stoney Creek (with the help of J. Thompson Builders) does well; Details!

The Independence, MO Stoney Creek is the 14th hotel opened as part of the Stoney Creek line. In the last few years the hotel line has transitioned from using a northwoods theme in their designs to an urban lodge theme. Urban lodge is best described as fusing contemporary style with rustic elements. And J. Thompson Builders has had to evolve with the hotel, offering trim pieces suited for both styles.

I can’t possibly highlight all the J. Thompson Builders work seen in a Stoney Creek hotel, because it’s A LOT, but here are a few fun pieces I spotted on my recent stay (much of it via an educational, interesting tour the hotel staff took me on).

I’ll start with the room I stayed in…

IMG_1990A nice office space is crucial for someone like me who works from the road when traveling. J. Thompson Builders’ finishing touches make this is a unique space, and gave me something more interesting to look at than a drab, plain white hotel wall. That’s real barn board paneling behind the desk. J. Thompson Builders buys barn wood straight from the demolition, either by taking it down themselves or getting it from the people who take it down. It’s dirty, raw and beat up when it comes to J. Thompson Builders, but then they clean it up, run it through some power sanders, make it usable and then finish it.

Now let’s see some of the other parts of the hotel…

IMG_2068I didn’t get to spend any time in the bar on this trip (with kids in tow), but I was treated to a tour (in the next blog I’ll tell you more about how cool this bar is). The first thing I noticed when entering the bar was the bar door. Again, details count, and the iron mini window (technically called a speakeasy door) is a fun accent. The door, again, is made of reclaimed barn board. J. Thompson Builders designed the door down to the last detail, including the fun “speakeasy door,” and then custom made the door in their fabrication shop.

IMG_2166J. Thompson Builder’s custom finish touches are seen throughout the bar. Check out the wainscoting! J. Thompson Builders used a milk paint finish on it; it’s also hand distressed and hand sanded. It’s cool to see hear how much effort goes into making these unique pieces.

 

IMG_2074My tour included several hotel room bathrooms so I could get a good sense of how much detail goes into creating each and every individual space. All included these neat custom, tub surrounds, and many also had barn board paneling on the wall behind the tub. All, again, custom made in the J. Thompson Builders fabrication shop.

Another fun fact: J. Thompson Builders has a custom finish they use specifically for Stoney Creek Hotel products. No insider secrets were revealed to me, but they did tell me they use a line of custom colors and a combination of glazes, stains and paints, including milk paint. Many products are hand distressed. Imagine the time it takes to hand distress all the products needed for an entire hotel?!

This rustic cabinet, specifically designed for this room, houses a mini fridge, microwave and coffee maker.

This rustic cabinet, specifically designed for this room, houses a mini fridge, microwave and a coffee maker.

The fun, stylish cupboards in some of the rooms made me feel like I could live here permanently. Such details are especially enticing for someone staying at the hotel for an extended length of time. When your home is a hotel, who doesn’t want to stay in a room which mimics the style of a custom home builder. Considering J. Thompson Builders IS also a home builder, it’s obvious they’ve taken their skills and applied them to the hotel industry.

IMG_2102

One of the last stops on my tour was what Stoney Creek calls their “Presidential Suite.” Wow, is about all I have to say, and the picture says the rest! The hotel maintains the reclaimed lumber look throughout, and they took this up a notch in the Presidential Suite. A unique design of barn board paneling runs horizontally along the wall. The back and front bar are also built with the same barn board paneling.

Stay tuned for the next blog when I’ll give you even more reasons to stay at Stoney Creek Independence, besides the fact they’ve got great style.

Sommer Sharon is a freelance writer. Her writing has been seen in USA Today, Iowa Living, Trails.com and various other national and regional, print and online, publications. She is a seasoned traveler who specializes in solo travel and solo family travel (i.e. traveling alone with kids). You can find out more about her at www.sleighconsulting.com.

Mar
15

What’s Next for Smart Homes?

15194544641_74a3c251b6_oAccording to a Digital Trends article: nothing. Or at least not right now.

In our blog Smart Home Regrets, we told a story about a fictitious couple who embraced the idea of a smart home because they were offered state of the art lighting, surround sound, TVs, an alarm system and a top-of-the-line HVAC system. And all of it is connected to a system with convenient features which could be pre-programmed. They could choose to set the lights or music to go on at certain times every day. Or they could monitor their security system, or check if their doors are locked from a remote location. All of their smart home functions could be controlled by the push of a button from an iPad, cell phone or any of the small touch screens scattered throughout the house. The story itself is all true, in terms of what a smart home offers, and what we see as the “pros” of a smart home.

Yet, in the same story about the fictitious couple, we also found the couple coming home to a system which had stopped working. The couple had to figure out how to turn on things manually, and how to download new software to get the system to work again. They also experienced technical issues when they wanted to add in a new component such as an additional TV. They sometimes spent hours trying to resolve issues with technical support, for even minor occurrences, such as a remote that stopped working. This too is a true representation of what happens to smart home owners. This would be some of the cons.

In our blog Smart Homes: Convenient AND Safe?, we again pointed out smart homes offer beneficial conveniences unheard of just a few years ago. But on the negative side security vulnerabilities may give criminals access to our televisions, toilets, thermostats, refrigerators, lighting systems and other smart home products. While there are things you can do to minimize the chance of hacking, our final advice in the piece was simply to wait if you don’t feel confident in the technology. As more companies create more smart home products, the expectation is manufacturers will create better software to prevent hacking.

Waiting seems to the consensus offered by Digital Trends too. Right now, the magazine says, it’s a “fragmented, confusing, amorphous creation.” While you may feel cool owning a smart home, we don’t completely understand what it is yet, and there is yet to be a solid central hub created, which would connect all the devices, regardless of what they do or what company manufactured the product. Once this is created, all the data can be filtered and synced to the cloud. Conclusion: The technology is still in its infancy, yet it’s the wave of the future. We can’t suggest forgoing the technology completely if you desire having a smart home, but make your choices knowing exactly what you are getting.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, CODE_n

Mar
1

Top 5 Improvements Your Home Needs to Make It Accessible

This veteran's home features a lowered oven, microwave and multi-level countertops.

This veteran’s home features a lowered oven, microwave and multi-level countertops.

In our last blog we told you how to make a home safer as you age. This time we’re going to pinpoint some of the most important improvements you as a home owner can make to your home which will make it safer for young, old or for anyone with a physical limitation.

Investing in these improvements is not only worth it because it will maximize the safety and comfort of your home as you age, but if you ever put your house up for sale the improvements you make will appeal to a larger market of buyers.

If you only want to make a few changes, these are the top 5 we recommend!

Zero Threshold Entrance
A zero threshold entrance, similar to what we have on our Country Living Plan, makes the access easy for anyone. Place zero threshold entrances on all entryways including your front and back doors, and the garage.

A Single Floor
You may have to start at the beginning of your home planning process to use this tip. But a ranch style, or single floor home makes a home navigable for everyone, whether they are young, old or have physical limitations.

Wider Hallways and Doorways
Wider hallways and doorways make it easier for those in a wheelchair or for those using a walker. Install pocket doors on doorways so someone using a wheelchair or a walker does not have to maneuver around a swinging door.

Curbless Showers/Baths
Install walk-in showers and baths with grab bars. They are multipurpose as they are useful for children, the elderly and the handicapped.

Lowered Cabinets/Counter Tops/Controls and Easier Controls
Install all cabinets and shelves at a level reachable by all so that no one has to use a stool or ladder to use them. Install counter tops and controls such as light switches and thermostats at a level accessible from a sitting position. Choose a cook top with front controls. Install lever handles on all faucets, doors and windows to make them easy to open. Select remote controlled products, such as window shades.

Besides the Country Living Plan, J. Thompson Builders can offer other homes with accessible design features. Contact us today!

Next Steps

Photo Credit, KOMUnews

Feb
15

Make Your Home Safer…For Years to Come

Our Country Living plan features a zero threshold entrance.

Our Country Living plan features a zero threshold entrance.

Few of you, likely none of you, want to talk about aging, particularly when it means you may not be as energetic as you used to be, you may have limited mobility, or problems getting around and reaching things. The truth is we’re all aging, and many of you will face either needing a home which can support your aging lifestyle or shelling out the big bucks for a nursing home or assisted living facility.

With the sheer amount of baby boomers in our population who are entering retirement age, accessible living is becoming big business. This is a positive change! It means accessible living products have much more flair than past years products, such as designer grab bars in bronze or brushed nickel finishes with detailing similar as what you find on towel bars.

Accessible living doesn’t have to look institutional, or out of place. Many features such as curbless or oversized showers, low shelving and improved lighting are just as relevant for the able-bodied as well as for the elderly. In the case of grab bars, they are multipurpose: your family can use them now if you have young children or even if you have an injury (throwing out your back, etc.), and you can use them when you’re older as well.

The elderly, or even younger homeowners, often don’t want to spend the money on such changes, but again imagine what you’ll pay for a nursing home/assisted living facility instead.

Here’s some changes we recommend to make your home livable for many years to come:

  • Move the washer and dryer to the main level.
  • Install pocket doors or wider doors so if you’re in a wheelchair or use a walker, you don’t have to maneuver around swinging doors.
  • Upgrade to better lighting options both on the interior and the exterior.
  • Install a zero-step entrance outdoors.
  • Install handrails on steps, both indoors and outdoors.
  • Install lever handles on faucets, as well as doors and windows.
  • Choose a cooktop with front controls.
  • Install a curbless shower with grab bars, and a handheld showerhead.
  • Choose products which offer remotes, such as remote-controlled window shades.
  • Install shelves so you can reach into them when standing, without needing to use a stool or ladder.

If you’re building, J. Thompson Builders can offer homes with accessible design. Some of our past projects which incorporate accessible living design include the Country Living Plan and the Tulip Tree Lane Plan.

We also recommend reading the following books:
AARP Guide to Revitalizing Your Home: Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life »
Knack Universal Design: A Step-by-Step Guide to Modifying Your Home for Comfortable, Accessible Living »
Residential Design for Aging in Place »
Universal Design for the Home: Great-looking, Great-living Design for All Ages, Abilities, and Circumstances »

And these websites are helpful:
A Home for the Next 50 Years »
Practical Guide to Universal Home Design »

Next Steps

Feb
1

How to Do a DIY Energy Audit

352347959_325307f587_zOur last blog told you how to stay green, while also staying warm this winter. As you look at your heating bills for the last few weeks when we experienced some extra chilly weather, you may be contemplating all the options you have to increase your home’s efficiency. The cost of heating has some potential to get worse over the next few months, as February and March commonly see a few low temperature days.

You can call in an energy specialist to conduct an energy audit, but much of it you can perform on your own, at least as an initial evaluation. Once you’ve conducted your own audit, you’ll be more prepared to talk to a professional so you can ensure your home has a thorough audit.

  • Pinpoint some areas where energy may be wasted. Walk through your home and make a list of problems. Record your findings to refer to later, or to share with an energy auditor. Use a simple pen and notebook or type in your notes on a tablet or smartphone. Some local utilities offer a DIY energy audit guide you can use for help. Here’s one from the City of Seattle.
  • Evaluate the condition of your furnace. Do you hire a professional to clean and service your furnace once a year? Do you change the filters on a regular schedule, about once a month to once every three months? If your furnace is over 15 years old, you may want to replace it with a more energy-efficient one. If it’s newer, but you haven’t had it serviced in some time, make sure to include the service as part of your audit.
  • Check all windows, doors and other areas for air leaks, including around baseboards, outlets and between the wall and ceiling. Check if windows and doors close smoothly and lock securely. There should be no drafts around windows and doors, and the weatherstripping around them should appear undamaged.
  • Inspect your attic insulation. The Department of Energy offers a guide to help you understand how to inspect it, check its depth and determine the R-value.
  • Consider energy-saving replacements. For cheap changes replace your shower heads with low-flow heads and replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. If you have some money in your home improvement budget, replace your old appliances with Energy Star appliances.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Nils Vik

Jan
15

Stay Green AND Warm This Winter

6511550295_a33752b81f_zThe last few weeks in Iowa have seen arctic temperatures. Around the Des Moines area and throughout much of Iowa, schools have even closed due to the potential hazardous conditions of extreme cold temperatures.

Such severe temperature lows are not only dangerous to human and animal health as they can cause frostbite in a mere minutes, but the low temps also affect our environment. We use more energy during such times, as we use more heating resources, running our furnaces and heating appliances longer and at sometimes higher temperatures.

But even during the lowest lows, it’s still possible to stay warm and green, nurturing the environment by saving energy.

Here’s some tips:

  • Most importantly, tune up the furnace. A yearly service check ensures your furnace is working properly.
  • Replace the filters on your furnace regularly.
  • Take advantage of your programmable thermostat. Most homes now have them, but few homeowners take advantage of their features. They are a great tool to save energy, allowing you to reduce your heat when you’re away from home or sleeping.
  • Set your ceiling fans to run in reverse. This pushes the hot air down into the living space, keeping the rooms warmer.
  • Keep the damper closed on your fireplace (when it’s not in use) to prevent warm air from escaping.
  • Lock and weather-strip all windows and doors.
  • Let the sunshine in during the day. This not only allows for some natural sunlight to increase the temperature in your home, but it is also a natural source of light, allowing you to save on electricity.
  • Block any drafts cheaply by placing a rolled up rag or towel flush against the bottom of the door.
  • Cover windows with thick drapes, and keep the drapes closed at all times when there is no sunlight.
  • Cover floors with thick rugs to retain the heat and keep the walkways underneath your feet warm.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Marcus Povey

Jan
1

How to Survive a Kitchen Remodel

380982353_673f212f1e_zThe kitchen (second to maybe the bathroom) is one of the most challenging remodels to work around. Your life sustenance (eating and food prep) occurs in the kitchen. And while take-out is appealing on a busy night, indulging should not be an every night occurrence if you want to protect both your waistline and your pocketbook.

So how can you survive a kitchen remodel with the least amount of stress and inconvenience placed on your family. We’re here to tell you!

First of all, consider the scope of the project. A major renovation may take months, while a simple remodel can be completed in as little as a few weeks.

One of the best suggestions we’ve ever heard is to set up a temporary kitchen. You don’t have to sacrifice your kitchen prep and dining space if you just relocate it. You may not be able to arrange for a full kitchen set-up, but move your refrigerator to another room, or set up a mini-fridge. Include a microwave in the arrangement, or if you have the ability relocate the stove as well, and you’ll still be able to prepare most of your meals at home.

Find another area in your home to set up a dining area. Families who eat together build better relationships and are healthier! No need to sacrifice health and happiness while you undergo a remodel.

Use disposable tableware. It’s very likely dish washing chores may occur by handwashing, and if your makeshift kitchen doesn’t include a sink (most won’t), you may be washing dishes in a bathroom sink. You’ll want to minimize the amount of dishes you have to wash as much as possible.

Prepare for dust, dirt and lots of noise. And try not to stress about it. This may mean taking a vacation during the remodel, even if it’s just to a friend’s house or a hotel for a weekend to get away from the action and mess.

Prepare for convenience meals. You’ll want to rethink how you eat while undergoing a remodel. You may decide to budget for a certain amount of times you’ll eat out each week, or use a meal service, or buy prepared meals from the grocery store (pre-made salads, etc), but no matter what the method, know you’ll have to rethink meal preparation in substantial ways, and you’ll need to budget for it as well.

Lastly, choose a contractor wisely. A trusted contractor relationship will go a long way in ensuring your project operates smoothly, efficiently and you end up with a kitchen you’ll love for years to come.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, John Athayde

Dec
15

Home Fires: ‘Tis the Season

5044281763_bae2fc4023_zDid you know home fires happen more during the winter months than any other season? And most home fires occur during the months of December, January and February? The risks of home fires increases exponentially during the winter.

3 reasons: Heating, cooking/entertaining and decorating.

Heating equipment is to blame for 1 out of every 6 reported home fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The use of heating equipment is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires and home fire deaths. As the temperatures drop outside we’re indoors more, and using more heating equipment.

During the winter months we’re cooking more, particularly during the holiday seasons when we’re entertaining. Thanksgiving leads as the biggest day for cooking fires. There are three times as many fires on Thanksgiving as on any other day of the year. Cooking claims the top spot as the main cause of home fires. Unattended cooking is a major reason, but about 67% of fires start when food or another cooking material is ignited (grease fires, etc.).

While a less minimal factor, decorating with candles, Christmas trees and holiday lights increases the chance of a home fire. Half of all holiday decoration fires happen because the decorations were placed too close to a heat source. Two out of every five home decoration fire is started by candles. December has the most home candle fires, with the top three days for candle fires being Christmas, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. In most cases, combustible materials were placed too close to the candles.

Christmas tree fires make up fewer of the winter fire causes, but when they do happen they are serious, resulting in death in about one of every 18 cases. Shorts in electrical lights or an open flame placed too close to the tree are most often the cause behind a tree fire. A well watered tree actually poses very little fire risk, but a dry tree ignites easily when exposed to a flame.

Watch this video to see the shocking flammability of a wet tree vs a dry tree

Watch a short video from the NFPA about their Put a Freeze on Winter Fires campaign to educate the public about the fire risks during winter months. The campaign is meant to educate the public about the fire risks during the winter months. In the next few months the campaign will provide important tips to keep the public safe from fires during the winter months.

For more about winter fire prevention tips, visit the NFPA’s website.

*All facts and figures provided by the NFPA

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Ada Be

Dec
1

Tiny Homes, Big Lifestyle Change

4051897717_e369dab7e9_zThinking of jumping on the “tiny home” bandwagon? You might want to think again. While tiny homes seem like a great concept in theory with their cute designs and smaller ecological footprint, the reality of the tiny home is not so appealing to most homeowners.

In a Today.com article, Leah Atwood, the owner of a tiny home and founder of a startup working to create a village of tiny homes, says “A lot of people romanticize it but the truth is, you have to recognize the challenges, difficulties and hard choices that go along with this lifestyle. In my experience, some people can handle it and some people can’t.”

Some of the challenges she mentions are giving up entertaining (she can only invite two people over at a time), and she also says owning very few possessions is a struggle for most since you can truly only own about one of anything (one pair of shoes, one fork, etc.).

Kristin Moeller, another tiny home owner interviewed for the Today.com article, says the lifestyle is not sustainable for most. “It’s like writing a book. Ninety percent of people say they want to do it, but only about 5 percent actually will.” She admits there must be a zero tolerance policy for clutter in a tiny home, and living with her husband can be challenging in such tight quarters. She recounts one instance where she wanted to write, but she was distracted by listening to her husband talk on the phone.

While tiny homes may not suit most people’s living style, a recent story out of Huntsville, Alabama shows the homes may prove promising to serve a greater need…..housing for the homeless. The fraternity members of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) plan to create a tiny home village to house homeless vets. The village will consist of tiny mobile houses of less than 500 square feet, a shared garden to be maintained by residents and a community center. Each tiny home costs about $5000 to build, and one acre of land can support about 30 tiny homes. Other organizations across the world have started similar projects, and the concept (similar to the idea of 3D printing houses for the homeless) seems a cost-effective way to provide housing for the less fortunate.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, Nicolas Boullosa

Nov
15

Smart Homes: Convenient AND Safe?

15011004968_41d2d3e632_zIn our technology obsessed culture, smart homes are all the rage. And why wouldn’t they be? They offer conveniences unheard of just a few years go. Want to lock your doors, close your garage, turn off all the lights AND set the alarm with just the push of a button? Or how about have your home set to do all of that automatically at a certain time of day? Smart homes make it all possible! But with the breaches experienced by big name retailers Target and Home Depot, you have to wonder if smart homes are safe? If a retailer operation employing some of the best technology experts can be taken down by hackers, how easy would it be for the right person to hack into your home?

Smart home hacking is already happening, according to an article published by U.S. News. In the article, Could Your Smart Home Be Hacked?, author Geoff Williams explains situations where hacking is already occurring including incidents where hackers infiltrated a baby monitor and a webcam. In another example, a security company released a public statement about a smart toilet manufacturer, warning a hacker could download an application and cause the toilet to perform any of its function including repeatedly flushing, which would waste water and increase operating costs for the owner.

It’s unnerving to think security vulnerabilities could give the bad guys access to our televisions, toilets, thermostats, refrigerators, lighting systems and other smart home products. Smart home hacking can be as simple as someone hacking into your home and constantly flushing your toilet, or it may cause more serious issues such as someone shutting off your security alarm so he can rob your house. “The real risks are the hackers who gain access to your devices, because if they can get into your thermostat, refrigerator and smart TV and begin listening on your network, then they can begin finding your usernames and passwords, and they can get to your financial information,” says Jerry Irvine, a member of the National Cyber Security Task Force and chief information officer of IT outsourcer Prescient Solutions.

What are some things you can do to minimize the chances your home automation system will be hacked?

First, avoid over-automating. An important principle of home automation should be simplicity. Automation is about people, not technology. It should seek to highlight experiences, not over complicate them. Too much automation IS a bad thing, and offers more opportunities for hackers to find a way in.

U.S. News also offers these other suggestions:
1. Hire only professionals to install your smart home products. Professional installers have the knowledge to ensure your smart home system is protected with a firewall. To that point, change all your passwords after the install so the installer does not have access to your smart devices.
2. Update software. When a device asks you to download an update or a patch, don’t ignore it. The update may protect your equipment from malware or other vulnerabilities.
3. Secure your phone. Smart homes are often controlled by smart phones. Be careful not to lose your phone, but also keep it locked so others can’t access your applications and smart devices.
4. Wait. If you don’t feel confident in the technology, give it some time. As more companies create more smart home products, the expectation is manufacturers will create better software to prevent hacking.

Next Steps

Photo Credit, CODE_n