TO REMODEL, DEMOLISH & REBUILD, OR MOVE?: THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS FACING MANY AMERICANS TODAY!
With aging suburbs in America, homeowners are struggling with the dilemma of whether or not to remodel an existing home, sell it (or do both), or to demolish and rebuild. This topic has been aptly addressed in this article by Residential ARCHITECT magazine (the link was provided to me by the magazine’s editor on Twitter).
WHEN A FRIEND ASKS FOR YOUR SPECIFIC HELP
I always count it a blessing when a friend asks for my opinion on how to update or remodel their house. However, according to many professionals, including well-known speaker and consultant to architects, Ava J. Abamowitz— doing work for friends and family members is usually ill-advised. The reasons are fairly obvious: it could result in hurt feelings if the architect’s ideas are rejected or, worse, the relationship could become damaged if the project doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, etc., etc. But this is not the focus of the post.
So, setting aside my reservations, I jumped at the chance when one of my family members asked if I could help him and his fiance remodel their two-story home. Not having been busy at the time, I was thrilled to be asked and ready to dive right into the project. I had been to their home on several occasions and already had several ideas I wanted to share with them. I was hoping their budget would allow for a total Kitchen and Master Bath upgrade (even including the rest of the downstairs of the 1990’s??- not sure when it was actually built as there were no existing drawings– two-story cottage-style suburban hybrid).
The dilemma for architects is not always merely in solving the design problem–though this is usually challenging enough; tougher still is whether we believe the design problem should be solved– or would it be better left alone, or demolished and replaced. These decisions can be further complicated when the client lacks clarity about their own home– i.e. they know they want to stay but they don’t like their home yet don’t want to invest in it.
BREAKING THE ICE
After a holiday at the local lake, I headed to their home on a late Sunday afternoon. I was dragging. When I arrived, my mom was there, too. The more opinions not necessarily the better on projects. My main goal was to take as many field measurements as possible before the couple headed out for their evening soiree. We first chatted casually around their outdoor patio table. I listened to their goals, which were unclear, and I offered some brainstorming options such as adding on a 4′ addition along the back of the house, opening up the dining room and kitchen spaces to their beautiful, big back yard which at present was ‘divorced’ from the rest of the house.
As the sun set, we moved into the kitchen where I plopped all my stuff on their kitchen table and we continued to discuss their design preferences. Showing them some magazines, I asked them to point out what appealed to them in various pictures. I pullled out the pages they liked, circling the color, object, or design idea for future reference. We covered details such as the color of the stain on the cabinets, whether or not they wanted a kitchen island, where did they want to put the new stovetop and the new double oven. We jumped around a lot. I was really trying to discern if they were really serious and committed to the idea of a remodel; and, if so, to what extent did they want to ‘tear into the space?’
WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?
One of the homeowner’s eldest children was there- a recent grad who understood finances. She crisply chimed in that she wondered if the home was worth it to “poor their hard-earned money” into a renovation project or should they just move? I, too, wondered what the budget was but didn’t want to bring up the subject just yet. It was a key question: Could they indeed afford a home addition? But overshadowing even that basic of information was the other unasked questions: should this particular house even be renovated? Did it have good bones?
As the college grads left the house to meet with friends, I began to take the necessary field measurements. If nothing else, this information would assist them in making an informed decision as to what their options were. My own personal opinion of the home was that the entire flow of the house was “off.” It was laid out like a rat maze. And the scale of the house felt like it was designed as a full-size dollhouse. The home was in need of obvious repairs: worn out exterior materials, the kitchen double oven had been removed and not yet replaced, the interior finishes were showing a lot of wear and tear and it was getting difficult to clean the house.
MORE THAN A HOME-STAGING EFFORT
Since the clients were not sure of their budget nor if they even wanted to put any money into the place, I considered helping them stage the home for their own enjoyment. Staging would still require a major effort of de-cluttering (the smaller the square footage, the more clutter builds up) and a new color scheme that would unify the whole house. New finish materials and new furnishings. Repairs and cleaning. All of the things you’d see on a typical episode of “Clean House” hosted by my favorite STYLE Network personality: Niecy Nash. That’s what needed to happen to this house.
In short, this house needed to have it’s make-up removed, and it’s features rearranged with some liposuction thrown in and a nip and tuck and augmentation. It did not have good bone structure. Would it not be better to just tear it down?
That is the dilemma. The initial building was so crude it was hardly worth restoring. Sad to say.
Here is a short list of the design challenges we wanted to address:
- Increase Kitchen Square Footage- to provide more circulation and better workspace
- Raise Kitchen ceiling heights (they were below 8′-0″ in some areas, making it dark during daytime and feel claustrophobic; solving this would depend upon the budget and the mechanical ductwork)
- Add Double French or Glass Doors along the back elevation- to open up the back of the house to the beautiful, huge back yard– only accessible from the driveway between the house and the detached garage.
THE EXISTING PLAN IN AUTOCAD
THE INITIAL SCHEMATIC DESIGN
CONTEXT: This particular house was located in a very quiet, established neighborhood with mature trees and friendly neighbors who know and associate with one another. So, the age-old real estate baseline requirement of “Location Location Location” was definitely met. That should always be the first criterion. Next, is budget and after that is curb appeal. Thus the question: Should this house be saved? Any house can be fixed. All it takes is time, energy and money. ROI is at stake and only the homeowner, armed with a solid construction budget and an approved bank loan should proceed.
After drawing up the existing floor plans to scale, I began to work on a proposed scheme to open up the Master Bath and rearrange the fixtures. I was excited about creating a New Master Bathroom Suite layout- within the confines of the existing square footage- but just as quickly as I’d been asked to help, the client seemed to lose steam and muster. So, the project sat idle for several weeks and a bill went unpaid (I’d hired a REVIT specialist to draw it up in BIM– but he eventually determined it was better to draw it up in AutoCAD, so he did); when I billed the client (my family member) for the amount of the computer-generated drawing, he sulked and noted how he much prefered my hand-drawn sketches that looked so much better. So, I covered the cost (no worries)- pro bono marketing! (and sharpening my skills)- it was worth it to get the information I needed. 😉
And I still want to solve their design problem– if I only knew which one to solve!
Unfortunately, the ‘client’ did not get to see my ideas as they lost interest due to their own internal indecision on whether or not to invest in the home or move to a better house nearby. The home is without a double oven to this day and there have been fewer get-togethers since, sadly.
I hope that they will be able to move forward with their plans in 2013 once they make a decision one way or another.
What is my vote? I can be happy either way. If the ROI on paper supports a remodel then I would advocate adding on to the house and creating an enjoyable, more liveable home. If not, I would put it on the market immediately and scout around for a house that I preferred. The house has very limited potential for improvement because it does not have good “bone” structure– even if the decision is to merely stage it for selling, it is going to need considerable work both inside and out. Elbow grease and a lot of trips to the local building supply store.
I’m game! Give me a call: 832-723-1798.
MASTER BATH REDESIGN OPTIONS- A QUICK SCHEMATIC DESIGN:
As I was putting the file back in the drawer, I had the desire to sketch one idea to provide a better layout of the Master Bathroom. This has not been code checked, so the water closet might not work as shown… but it gives the intent and design direction. But it doesn’t resolve the overall problems of a) the house not having enough square footage for modern living and b) the Master Bedroom being located right off the front foyer (this room could become a study, but that would require a new addition for a master bedroom suite (not a bad idea!), and c) the structure not being up to parr with current building standards.