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Five Things To Do Before Starting A Home Remodel

// 4 min read // Illustration by Abstract Memento

Tomorrow I start my 5th renovation and it has gotten me thinking about the process and how far I had come from my first intern days where my then boss just threw me into the deep end for me to figure it out. While I enjoyed the challenge, I think its best to provide a bit of guidance from an architectural designer’s point of view to those embarking a stressful yet exciting and remarkable journey to making your home space even better.

Search local building codes or find someone to do it for you

It is never a bad idea to investigate what are some of the design guidelines and zoning limits that your property may have to prevent disappointment through the process. If being a designer (and even more a home designer) has taught me anything is that people are more creative than they give themselves credit for and they pay too much attention to trends. Understanding the limits you need to work with early on is crucial to avoid wasting time with impossible ideas that will slow down the process.

Have a clear idea of what you want

After knowing the limits — go crazy. Don’t think about cost or feasibility. If you did the first step the understanding of feasibility is embedded in your evaluation of choices. Enjoy the process of fantasying, do some local widow shopping at furniture stores, stay at different hotels if you can afford it to get ideas on lighting and layout, and explore your surroundings architecturally as much as possible. Start a Pinterest board, or mood board, or cutting pages out of your favorite magazines. Whatever methods resonate with you, indulge in them to enrich yourself with visual data. Remember be honest with yourself and identify what you really, really really want. Focus on circulation, ease of use, comfort, practicality, conduciveness to relaxation and productivity, and beauty. Forget about trends and what other people like and just focus on how you would make your space better for yourself and loved ones (if applicable).

Have a clear idea of budget

Ron, one of my favorite General Contractors/Builder I have ever worked with, always says “Anything is possible if you have money” — and that is absolutely true. That being said, knowing exactly how much you have to spend is key because anything can be done to fit your budget if you plan ahead. That is why step 2 is so important. Indecisiveness or lack of preparation through the actual building phase can be very costly, time wasting and frustrating for subcontractors who might loose a day of work because of a seemingly random quick change. So, I take Ron’s words and reframe them this way from my experience as a designer, “Everything can be done to fit the budget, if it’s considered holistically from the beginning”.

Keep looking until you find professionals invested in your goals

Designers and contractors come in all shapes and sizes — make sure you find a team that is compatible with the goals you have set for the project. Renovations rarely go 100% as initially planned. There are a lot of surprises to be found tucked in walls, attics, and floorboards. There can be soils reports that cause issues, and even flooding plains you didn’t even know existed. Things will happen that nobody expects, but if you have the right team and you all have a great designer/owner/builder relationship — everything is going to be an upbeat journey of creative problem solving and making sure you dreams come true. Don’t settle and pay accordingly.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Some of my favorite interactions with clients is explaining architectural concepts to an owner who is curious and wants to understand decisions made. Likewise, when the Builder takes the time to explain why a detail needs to change or how a certain item doesn’t work as drawn for myself and the owner to understand. The ability to have open dialogue is key, and very related to the fourth step of this list. Still, I insist that regardless of your relationship level with your builder or designer, always ask questions. Ask why, ask how, ask when, ask where, and ask them to draw it for you/show it until you get it. The more you understand what is going on the more you will be able to make more informed decisions about your house on the fly as surprise issues and impromptu moments of decisions come your way.

If you do these five things your journey through home renovation will be a more efficient, exciting, and rewarding experience.

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The Tiers of City Exploration

I too have always been attracted to the idea of exploring cities, and have had the amazing opportunity to explore several – not to the same extent though. From these explorations I have concluded there are four tiers to exploring a city:

Tier 1 – “There for a Weekend”
This type of exploration is very detached, even if you spend every hour of your trip exploring. The reason for this is that cities have different cycles. There are the most obvious ones, day&night, rush hours & its opposite. There is also week days vs. weekends, different monthly events, change of seasons, and holiday idiosyncrasies. The weekend exploration will give you a taste of the city – but nowhere near the “full picture”.

Tier 2 – “Tourism a la Mode
This category falls under the “must do it all” touristic trips and the 10 day guided travels. These are prescriptive and state sponsored views to the city you are visiting. You are indulging in a crafted experience meant to leave you with a specific perspective and opinion about the place. It is far from its honest essence of it, and meant to induce and generate specific perceptions.

Tier 3 – “Monthly Escapade
Deciding to live in a new city for a month or so is probably the most enriching way to get to know a city without moving there. It will generate the “must see it all” imperative while also making you engage with local issues like food sourcing & neighborhood interactions. The experience will provide you with a nice overview & essence – probably a bit clouded with excitement and the allure of everything being new.

Tier 4 – “A Year in the Life
A year in a new city will definitely enable you to understand and grasp temporal essence of living in a place. It will have a healthy amount of excitement, allure of the new, local sourcing, and occasional “monotony” to give you a better understanding of what a day in the life (in a year) in this city is like. This tier will provide you with a more in depth understanding of the cycles the city goes through.

In the end though, nothing beats living there for 5 – 10 years, and much less your whole life. But if you have many places you wish to explore, consider researching & really tuning into your intentions with said place to classify it in the correct tier & invest your time (& money) productively.

And remember – cities are their own unique organism. They are constantly growing and evolving with all sorts of new people being born and moving in changing its overall cultural landscape. Embrace the moments you get to be part of it – & cherish your time there with respect and wisdom.