Make your house suited to the way you live today
If you stop to think about it, your life is probably quite different than it was five years ago. Now think back ten years—a lot can happen in a decade. Yet even though our lives change, our houses don’t evolve with us. Oh, we’d like them to magically grow an extra bedroom when baby number three comes along. Or maybe another bathroom when daughter number one gets to high school. Or a larger kitchen when all the kids start congregating after soccer. Or a home office when you finally launch that dream business.
No, change to our homes doesn’t happen quite as naturally and certainly not as easily as it does in other areas of our lives. If we want to update an aging kitchen, expand a dated bath, convert a playroom to a media room, or reconfigure bedrooms or other space when the kids head to college, we have to be quite deliberate about it. In all but the rarest of cases, the walls don’t come down on their own.
Moving is obviously an option when a house no longer fits a family. But some of us are loathe to leave neighborhoods, schools or even precious gardens. Remodeling, then, is the other option.
“When you find yourself always needing to make do, you might want to look into ways to improve the situation. It is normal to find your dream home, move in and slowly discover different things about the home that may need to change to fit your lifestyle or design tastes more accurately. I have remodeled kitchens that were built less than five years previously,” says Al Curran, senior designer with Bella Domicile, a Madison cabinetry, design and remodeling company.
“Many people find it easier to adapt the home as our lives change as opposed to moving to another home.”
Another thing many homeowners discover as they consider moving, adding on or remodeling is that they don’t need more space as their lives change. Rather, they need different space—different from what they bought ten years ago, or maybe just different from what they thought they needed three years ago when they moved in. Sometimes it takes living in a house, Curran notes, to realize that what you wanted isn’t what is best for you or your family.
Underutilization of space is a key issue for many homeowners, particularly those in older homes or those with grown children who have moved out of the house, says Keven Schmidt, owner of Dream Kitchens, which handles a full range of residential remodeling projects. “There are so many people that live in twenty percent of the house,” he says.
Rethinking space planning and remodeling often can get clients what they need without an addition, which generally takes a renovation project into a much higher price range. “The goal is to get them to a bigger percentage—from twenty percent to fifty percent,” Schmidt says.
So empty nesters are absorbing fourth bedrooms into master suites with vast built-in storage and walk-in closets. Families are connecting kitchens to living and dining rooms to create multipurpose great rooms. Lower levels are becoming entertainment rooms with bars, flat-screen televisions and wireless surround sound.
“More often we’re taking walls out than putting them in,” says Schmidt.
The trend of opening up living spaces serves another purpose: it can help homeowners stay in their homes as they age. Aging in place, says Penny Stevens, a designer with Madison’s Marling Homeworks, is a big reason many Marling clients look into remodeling. Open floor plans, wider hallways and doors and improved lighting all can allow individuals to remain in their homes as they age and as their physical abilities change, Stevens notes.
Jeff Grundahl, owner of full-service construction and remodeling company JG Development agrees that targeted improvements can help homeowners stay comfortable and independent in their houses as they age. And while the improved function is critical in these cases, the mental impact is powerful, too. The right improvements can help anyone of any age feel “like you are home and not just in a house,” Grundahl says.
Of course, getting it right is the key to any remodel. Many seasoned consumers have learned this lesson the hard way. Lots of us have set out on a do-it-yourself remodeling adventure only to discover that there was more to the project than we anticipated, or that we didn’t really have the time or the skill to finish. Some of us wave the white flag right away. Others finish but feel dissatisfied with the result.
Jocelyn Dornfeld, vice president of the Ganser Company, a Madison remodeling contractor, advises homeowners to do their research before setting out on a remodeling project to ensure that they feel comfortable with the scope of the project and the skill required. Otherwise someone might not allocate enough time and have a project languish unfinished for years. Or someone might “choose products that are too big or too small for their current home’s plumbing or electrical system,” Dornfeld says. Or it could get even worse—someone looking for an open-concept kitchen could tear into a load-bearing wall.
Grundahl says other homeowners stumble when they come across unforeseen hurdles, such as out-of-code wiring or several layers of subfloor.
Stevens notes that other times Marling customers expect that all the products they want will be in stock—but they aren’t. And specialty items can have long lead times. So if you demo your bathroom before you go buy your new faucet and fixtures, you might find yourself without a tub or shower for more than the week you were anticipating. Or you might end up with a selection you wouldn’t have chosen if your favorites had been in stock.
Sometimes, the experts say, the problem is much simpler—the homeowner just underestimates the budget and has to consider altering original plans or cutting corners in order to finish. This can happen even when working with a contractor or designer if you’re not clear about available funds at the outset.
Dornfeld’s advice is to gather ideas, determine a rough budget and then talk to designers and contractors to get quotes. “Be honest and up-front about your budget,” Dornfeld says. “If you leave it open-ended, the designer might feel as if they don’t have any boundaries and will end up showing you designs, ideas or the latest products that are out of your price range.”
Terri Hartwig, owner of Hartwig’s Custom Window Coverings, agrees. She says homeowners might wait until the end of the project to consider finishing touches such as window coverings. But by then the money is already spent and options are quite limited. Instead, she urges homeowners to consider things like window coverings at the outset so that they know how much to save for blinds, drapes and other end-of-project details.
“Ask for whole-house quotes, as sometimes it comes as a pleasant surprise that replacing all of the shades in a home at one time can save money by getting a quantity discount and one-time installation fee,” Hartwig says.
“My most satisfied customers are those that take the time to ask lots of questions, get samples of fabrics and shades and look at the samples in their homes for several days to see how they’ll look in different lighting.”
Most professionals—whether they’re selling you products that you’ll install yourself or whether they’re doing all the work for you—want you to be satisfied with the result. Stevens says she spends a lot of time with shoppers asking questions and offering information to ensure that the products they choose will work with the homeowner’s space, budget, mechanical systems and abilities. Dornfeld encourages open and honest dialogue not just about budget but also about timeline and other aspects of the project.
Linda Young, owner of Granite Transformations, a company that offers granite composite overlays for countertops, backsplashes, floors and bathroom surrounds, encourages consumers to take advantage of any free design services or home visits. Granite Transformations offers in-home consultation not only for convenience but also because the rest of the home offers vast insight into the specific remodeling project. Young says she loves it when clients take her on a tour through the house and point out what they like and what they’d like to change.
“That’s why we do in-home consultations,” Young says. “It helps us guide them through the design.”
- Jennifer Garrett