// 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.