As architects, we are concerned with improving the built environment around us. It is inherent in what we do: designing new or renovating offices, buildings, and, in some cases, homes. Day in and day out, we work on our client’s projects, so it’s rare that we work on something that actually impacts us directly.
Fortunately, I embarked on a substantial home renovation project with my wife nearly six months ago. With construction nearing completion in the coming weeks, I wanted to share a few tips that we abided by that might come in handy for your project.
1) Building projects are tricky, and building projects in NYC are twice as difficult! I recommend hiring an experienced architect to guide you through the entire process. They can help manage the contractors and navigate the DOB bureaucracy.
2) Home renovations can be emotional, especially if it's your own. Try to get outside impartial opinions on the design or layout when you can. Don’t take criticism too personally.
3) You never know what's inside the walls until you start opening them up. Like most homes built before 1950, the walls were plaster and lath construction. In our case, all the demolition of the existing interior walls took much longer than anticipated. On the down side, you may also come across asbestos in an older house.
We revealed some old penny and hexagon floor tiles during demolition that must have been covered up by the previous homeowner many years ago. While we couldn’t salvage them, we were inspired to install hexagonal tile in the kitchen as a nod to the home’s history.
4) Floor plans. It goes without saying that a well thought out, functional, and practical floor plan is vital to the success of any renovation project. You can have the most expensive imported marble counters, but if the kitchen work triangle is inefficient, it would not matter. For us, it took many iterations over several weeks to arrive at a floor plan that worked, but even then we made tweaks to it over the course of construction.
5) Think about how you plan on using the space. Are you social and will have guests over all the time? Then perhaps a larger living room/ dining room/ kitchen is in order. Eat out more often than not? Then reduce your kitchen square footage in lieu of larger dining room.
Understand the Sun! It is important to understand the movement of the sun and how it can impact the locations of rooms in your home. If you have an eastern exposure, you will have bright morning sun. It’s great for waking you up on weekdays but not if you enjoy sleeping in on weekends. If you have southern exposure, you will have strong solar heat gain for the bulk of the day. Plan your window treatment accordingly. If you have western exposure, you'll get views of the sun as it sets. That’s great for evening dining/ cooking/ entertaining. North facing exposures get nice ambient light. This is great for displaying art, but is cooler in the winter. Window treatment is not a necessity as there is never any direct light to filter.
7) Think of your home in the long run. You never know if you will wind up selling the house years down the line. Therefore, it is best to consider materials and products that can be maintained easily and can help retain your home's value. Adding an extra half bathroom or guest bedroom is great if you can fit it. Trendier splurges, like an in-home spa or built-in fish tank, may be more trouble than they are worth.
8) Finally – remember that you are the client! You ultimately know how you want to renovate your home – how many bedrooms, how many bathrooms, what kind of kitchen cabinets. Now let your design team, led by the architect, help you bring your vision to life.
William Wong, AIA, LEED® AP, Associate