Practice what you preach

My husband and I are in the process of designing a small addition to the back of our brick, 1930s Cape Cod. As much as we dislike the idea of altering the architecture of the original structure, it is becoming a necessity to fit the needs of our growing boys who are headed for adolescence (btw, this scares the crap outta me) and moving is not an option.

Now, I bet you are thinking to yourselves, “It must be easy for an architect and interior designer couple to design their own home.” Honestly, this can be no further from the truth! It is an especially difficult process for us, because we are too close to it – we can see the multitude of design solutions in our heads yet we need to pick the best one for us that is cost efficient. We’ll get through it, and I will share with you what we discover along the way.

Here are the first steps (I’ve italicized our process beneath each step):

Step 1: Decide on a budget. This is the first step for any project (unless you don’t have a budget… that would be nice).

We decided on our budget… I won’t share it with you, but just know that it is not a lot.

Step 2: Write a list of wants and needs. Be sure to note what can increase the value of your home. Adding value to your home means that you will gain a percentage of the cost of the renovation when you sell your home. This is also known as your return investment. You gain more of a return when you renovate within your existing space, since the cost is significantly cheaper than building an addition (refer to step 4 below).

Here is our list of needs:

  • Expanded kitchen with eat-in area + increases home value
  • More natural light in kitchen
  • Better kitchen work triangle (distance from sink to fridge to cooktop/ovens)
  • Access and views to back yard
  • Master bath and walk-in closet + increases home value

Step 3: Take time to cull through photos to find your design aesthetic – do you prefer traditional, shaker, cottage, English, Scandinavian, rustic, industrial, eclectic, minimalist or mid-century modern? Just be sure to keep in mind the architecture of your home. Refer to my previous post on Respect the Architecture. Share your photos and ideas with your architect and interior designer, so they can design with your aesthetic in mind.

Our aesthetic is definitely eclectic, and we need to work with the existing architecture of our home. We love the look of classic English and shaker style kitchen cabinets mixed with clean, Scandinavian lines.

Step 4: You need to determine which type of renovation you plan to complete: addition or renovation of existing space. This determines who you will need to hire (architect, engineer and interior designer):

Addition: If you are adding onto your existing home or plan to take down any structural walls, you will need to hire an architect, engineer and interior designer. Most building departments will require an architect’s stamp to obtain a permit to complete the work, so please check out the municipal website for your city, town or village. The architect fees are usually a percentage of the total construction costs. You can find a list of licensed architects in your area through the local chapter of American Institute of Architects (AIA). Just click on the “Find an Architect” on the top right of the home page.

The structural engineer is hired by the architect to provide sizes of beams, columns and foundation walls. This is typically a fixed fee based on hourly rates per engineer.

The interior designer will draw the spaces within the new addition. Interior Designer fees vary per project, but they are typically a fixed fee based on hourly rates. Registered interior designers in your area can be found on the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) website. Just click on this Designer Referral Service link.

Renovation of existing space: If you are planning to renovate your existing space within the existing footprint of your house, you will hire an interior designer. As an interior designer, I also work with structural engineers to determine if any additional structure is needed for a project. Most renovations do not require an architect’s stamp to obtain a permit.

I completed the drawings for our addition, and we hired a structural engineer (my husband is an architect, so he will stamp the permit set).

Step 5: The architect or interior designer you hired will draw up options for your home renovation. The timing may vary, based on the availability of the architect or interior designer, along with the size of the renovation.

My husband and I have already finalized our plans and elevations.

Step 6: Once you have reviewed and have chosen which option works best for you, you will need to hire a contractor. I suggest to all of my clients to meet with at least 3 contractors to obtain a good range of pricing (high, medium and low). Be sure to get good referrals from your architect, interior designer, as well as your neighbors, friends and relatives. The contractors should give you a proposal, a start date (when the team can start construction) and an idea of how long the project will take.

Please note that in most cases the proposal will be over your budget, so you will need to rely on the architect and interior designer to help you reduce costs – either by reducing the size of your project or specifying less expensive materials. This process is referred to as value engineering.

We just hired a contractor, and his proposal was over our budget, so we will reduce costs with the following:

  • Eliminate the deck off the kitchen to the back yard
  • Reuse a couple exterior and interior doors
  • Eliminate the decorative columns on the exterior
  • Specify smaller windows
  • Minimize the design of the kitchen island (less drawers = less money)
  • Specify less expensive floor and wall tile for our master bathroom
  • Purchase a less expensive tub

Step 7: The architect is now ready to complete the drawings for the permit set. You and your contractor will complete a permit application, then the architect will print several copies of the drawings to submit with your permit application.

I have completed the permit set, and we plan to submit for permit in a couple of weeks.

Stay tuned for more posts on our house addition.

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