San Jose Launches Expedited Permit Counters for Home Improvements

Building planFor homeowners in San Jose, raise your glasses. The city’s officials launched an expedited permit counter to make it easier for homeowners to obtain permits for home improvements. Those who are planning for a long-overdue home remodeling don’t have to endure the difficult process of getting permits and passing inspections.

“Don’t worry. It’s really not that bad and actually can be quite easy, especially if the project isn’t too big or complicated,” San Jose building officials advised.

San Jose is slightly infamous for having lengthy processes when it comes to home development or remodeling projects. As Jeannie Hamilton, division manager for San Jose’s development services permit center noted that homeowners in the past probably felt “trapped in a universe” where seemingly everyone is jostling to score their precious permits so they can get their projects off the ground. She said that San Jose Planning Department reviewed roughly 13,000 plans last year alone.

With the new process, the month-long and sometimes longer period of getting permits is reduced to as little as a day. The permit counter, which was launched since July, allows over-the-counter service to speed up the approval process. Hamilton noted:

“When you’re not tearing down walls you can basically just come down [to the permit center]; you don’t have to have professional drawings. We’ve identified what projects we can take a look at quickly so [residents] can start the work.”

Projects that qualify for over-the-counter service are single-story additions of up to 500 sq. ft. Simple home remodeling projects of up to 750 sq. ft. also qualify as long as only minor structural changes such as opening an interior wall are involved. Foundation improvements and repairs, siding or stucco replacement, fire or auto-inflicted damage, termite or dry rot repairs and general code compliance work also qualify for the simplified process.

Another benefit for homeowners and developers is the removal of waiting lines. Hamilton explains: “Nor does anyone have to wait in line anymore, Hamilton said. They can simply leave blueprints or USB drives at the counter and return later in the day to pick them up along with a permit.”

The initiative not only reduced the red tape but also the fees for processing permits. Hamilton said that giving more authority to the people handling smaller projects–and separating those projects from the bigger and more complex ones–has reduced overhead and management fees. The cost of a permit went down by 10-50%.

High prices and long wait times have made some residents risk doing work without obtaining a permit, which the department hopes to change. “I’ve seen too many people get into a situation without permits that becomes a nightmare and a major headache,” Hamilton said.

The streamlined process will also solve problems that come with home modifications without permits. She explained that obtaining a retroactive permit can turn into a difficult task often involving extra fees and additional hurdles to comply with new codes.

Apart from the permits, the San Jose Planning Department strives to keep home improvements moving. Bill Mayne, building inspection manager, said: “Although as many as 220,000 inspections are made in a year, the department is taking steps to keep home improvement projects moving. Inspectors work six days a week to accommodate residents.”

52-Year Old Nurse Wins Great Chelsea Garden Challenge

Sean MurrayA nurse turned amateur garden designer won a gardening contest in Chelsea. After days of grueling gardening challenges, the 51-year old nurse from Northumberland won the final round and beat 5 other amateur garden designers in BBC Two’s Great Chelsea Garden Challenge.

The winner is none other than Sean Murray, an occupational therapist and nurse who hails from Ashington. He is a self-taught flower designer who recently passed his NAFAS (National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies) demonstrator’s test.

Murray, who had no formal garden training, was truly astonished to win the competition. He said: “I was truly astonished to win. It is the best feeling in the world to have your creativity recognised. Watching the design you have in your mind develop on paper and materialise into a living, breathing garden is an incredible feeling.”

Sean’s winning garden design combined plants with space for off-street parking, gravel and naturalised planting. He kept hard surfacing to a minimum because of its potential for causing localised flooding and pushing up temperatures. A water-filled crevice divides the garden, which symbolises the flooding and draining of the earth.

Murray included reclaimed materials to complement the slate dry stone walling and paving. He created nooks and crannies to support nesting and overwintering habitats for wildlife. A secluded seating lay under a tree canopy whilst annuals and bulbs surround a tapestry of shrubs, perennials and scented climbers, providing year-round interest from leaf texture, form and changing color.

By winning the grand prize, he will have the opportunity to design and build a garden on Main Avenue at the Chelsea Flower Show 2015 – something that even professional gardeners dream of. The garden will serve as a show feature at Chelsea as part of RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign, which aims to promote “greening” of front yards.

For him, winning the contest is a life-changing opportunity. In fact, he plans to change his career and is setting up his own business to become a garden designer. As he noted:

“In the competition, I tried to create an element of storytelling in each garden. I am excited at the prospect of creating personalized garden spaces for others. It was a privilege to be part of an exciting, new collaboration between the RHS and the BBC. The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge was a great apprenticeship to prepare me for the challenge ahead. And wow! It’s a big one!”

The contest involved 6 designers who endured 4 days and limited budget to build show gardens in different styles, including cottage, formal and conceptual gardens. Gardener’s World Joe Swift mentored the designers whilst the event was ongoing. The judges at the event RHS Judge James Alexander Sinclair and Gold medal winning garden designer Ann-Marie Powell.

Stylish Stools – The Decorator’s Secret Weapon, A Designer Says

Space is always the challenge when it comes to decorating interiors. Adding lots of stuff in a room and it will look more like a storage area instead of a home. Doing the opposite, on the other hand, makes a home look deserted.

This problem usually happens in kitchen areas. As the center of social activity at homes, kitchens should have many seats to accommodate people. As Marika Meyer, an interior designer in DC, said: “It doesn’t matter how huge or tiny your home is, people will congregate in the kitchen. You might as well make it comfortable.”

Bar Old ToolsBut what of kitchens in a tight squeeze? Interior designers came up with this answer – a stylish set of stools in your kitchen counter. “Stools are decorators’ secret weapon for adding seating and a bold color,” says Meyer who is known for blending clean lines with feminine patterns and bold doses of color. Stools are ideal for adding seats and styles for any kitchen.

Mixing function and fun

Stools are ideal for not only adding extra seats but also style to your kitchen, thus mixing function and fun. Stools can bring a splash of color or texture to a dull space without the need to add paintings and other decorations in the walls. These seats do well in enhancing a room like a brightly patterned settee or accent chair. Designers also consider stools as their favorite decorating tool because it is less aesthetically risky. These seats come in pairs so the colors and prints are repeated, ensuring harmony and balance in your kitchen’s design.

People can do many things with stools by trying out different color schemes. Meyer said: “You can be a little more daring. Stools do wonders for tying a color scheme together.” For instance, she recommended industrial or metal bistro stools in lime, orange or other summery hues. She also added that these should still match the countertops, however.

Shopping for stools

Meyer added some guidelines when shopping for stools. For measurements, she suggested stools that leave about 12 inches of space between the height of the stool and the height of the counter to keep guests comfortable. People should for 24-inch stools for a 36-inch kitchen counter, for instance.

For traditional homes with high ceiling rooms, she suggested Windsor-back stools. Saddle stools with perforated leather seats would look nice for masculine settings.

Placing your stools

Stools should slide right up to the counter’s edge for apartments with kitchen islands. Round stools are ideal in these cases because these seats allow guests to move around comfortably without hindering their movements. For kitchens that don’t have enough room for extra seats, people can create a makeshift counter in the living room with a high pub table.

If you want to improve your small kitchen’s look, add some stools. Not only do these things increase the seating capacity, these also enhance your kitchen’s aesthetic value without overdoing it.