Remodeling University: Designing a Large Scale Remodeling Project

With the 2008 implosion of the real estate market, the deep recession in the construction industry that followed and the almost total lack of financing options for remodeling and construction projects, at this point last year we were projecting a significant shrinking of our average project size for the foreseeable future. While many segments of the construction and remodeling industries are still straggling, we are surprised and thankful to note that at least in our market – Los Angeles, remodeling (large-scle projects) is back!

I am therefore finding myself writing about a subject I thought I will not be writing about any time soon: what a homeowner needs to know and do in the design phase of a large scale remodeling project. How can you get the best home plans for your hoped-for project?

Successfully designing a large scale remodeling project:
1. Budget: It all starts with defining and setting your budget. Many would recommend to first get designs and than see how much they would cost. Why spend time, energy and money on designs you won’t be able to afford? Funds is where the ‘rubber meets the road’ in as far as your planned project is concerned. Start by articulating for yourself, as best you can, what is your actual budget. Depending on your circumstance and on your project, the budget may be based on cash-on-hand, equity, future value of the remodeled home or some combination of these elements.
2. Wish list: before you meet with a professional to actually develop the design you should commit to paper your objectives for the project. Writing things down tends to focus the mind and is great for clarity. This ‘exercise’ should be done by all decision makers involved with the project (e.g. both husband and wife). Think this through and once you have your wish list try to prioritize it so that the ‘must haves’ are at the top of the list.
3. Hire a design professional: Of the various options available to you here, you should really consider only two – an architect or a Design-Build firm. You can review earlier posts for a discussion and comparison of these two options. We recommend a competent Design-Build company because odds are far better in your favor here that the design would be in lockstep with the budget (something that is rarely the case with an independent architect’s plans).
4. Communicate your wish list and budget: If you have done your due-diligence and your wish list and budget are both well thought out, you need to communicate those to your design professional in a way that assures his/hers adherence to these guidelines. Both architects and Design-Build companies sometime have ‘selective-hearing’ issues, that is they don’t internalize all of what the homeowners are telling them. Rather they pick on certain elements and tend to ignore others. Make sure to put both your prioritized wish-list and target budget in writing as part of the design agreement so that there are no mistakes.

If you have selected your design professional well, you should soon have a compelling design(s) to look at. How should you evaluate the proposed designs:
1. Have your designer ‘walk’ you through the floor plan. As you don’t spend your days looking at plans and this is not your profession, you should not be embarrassed to take your time evaluating submitted plans and to need help in doing so.
2. Ask for renderings. Most designers today would be using computers for their work. It should be easy (and should not cost extra) to produce any number of renderings of the proposed space. These are very helpful for anyone not used to 2-dimensional plans. The 3-dimensional renderings are a great tool for the homeowners trying to get a ‘feel’ for the new home.
3. Take your time: Don’t commit for a design after just having reviewed it. I strongly recommend to take some time to look at it again and again. Let it sink in. familiarize yourself with all aspects of the proposed plan. You will notice that in the beginning you are seeing the ‘big picture’. As time goes by and the more you look at a plan, your attention would be drawn to more minute details.
4. Evaluate: compare the plan with your wish list. Are all important elements there? If they are present, are they featured in a way that would match or complement your life style and your circumstances? Would the proposed plan fit your needs in the future (for example, as the kids are growing or when the in-laws would be moving in)? Are the closets of sufficient size? Were hallways minimized or eliminated altogether? Is there enough natural light? Was attention paid to energy efficiency and conservation in the orientation and planning? The list of questions here could be very long. Think the proposed design through and don’t hesitate to write down your reservations and all items you’d like to see addressed.
5. Implement changes and re-evaluate: Have your designer incorporate your feedback into the proposed plan and than re evaluate (see above).
6. Consider interior and exterior aesthetics: Having a plan that addresses your wish-list fully and that meets your budget is a great start. Now, is it also beautiful and fitting your chosen style? Look at interior and exterior elevations and review the roof lines. Everything must also look good to you. You will be spending a lot of money, effort and time to get this project done. Than hopefully, you’ll spend much longer enjoying the fruits of your labor. Make sure that you’d like what you end up with.

Like everything else in remodeling, the more involved you are the better the results would be. Get yourself involved fully in the design phase of your project. You do not need to be a design professional to know what is a good design for you. It might take more efforts to get it right, but the end result would be well worth it.

Happy remodeling!

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