The visualization equation

Remodelers who use the design-build process already know the advantages of showing clients exactly what their remodeled homes will look like and what the work will cost. Advancements in 3-D design and visualization software have further tilted the advantage in favor of design-build remodelers who use this technology to ensure architectural accuracy and on-time/on-budget delivery.

Howard Kandel, president of Kandel Construction Group, Potomac, Md., is a remodeler and active user of 3-D virtual design software. He experiences how beneficial it can be to help clients visualize their new spaces. “People can tell you if they like something or they don’t, once they see our renderings. We don’t have to wait until framing or drywall stage when it’s too late to make changes without adding cost,” Kandel says.

“We find that by designing everything on the computer where clients can look at the project from every angle, we get to a contract much faster because people are comfortable with what they see. They don’t have to imagine anything,” he adds. “I’ve worked with a lot of architects who don’t have 3-D capabilities, and it takes forever to close a deal because people look at the 2-D plan and they say, ‘OK it’s great,’ but they really don’t know what it’s going to look like. Then when I flash it up on the screen and say, ‘This is what we’re talking about,’ they see it in photographic realism and say, ‘Wow that’s awesome, I get it; that’s exactly what we want to do. It’s perfect, let’s do it.’”


Visualizing profits

Kandel says he builds more than 80 percent of the projects he designs using Chief Architect. As a bonus, the additional time his team spends using the software provides them time to get to know the clients, to build a relationship and trust. “By the time we’re done with the feasibility study [the term Kandel uses to describe the design process], they know they’ve got their money’s worth. They know how we work, that we’re super meticulous and focused on the whole process, and they’re going to be in good hands. It makes it real easy by the time we start construction to already have trust established. I get to know them really well, so by the time construction starts, I can help them make good decisions based on their wants and needs, their personalities and their agenda,” Kandel explains.

Kandel Construction Group specializes in mid- to high-end design-build remodeling, including additions, kitchens, bathrooms and whole-house renovations, with costs ranging from $200,000 to several million dollars. Most design is handled in-house, but the company also works with outside architects. “The difference is we generally control the design as opposed to the architect controlling it. So, I find I can work far better with my client, myself or even outside architects and designers as long as I’m in control of the situation. Things get done and people are happy,” he says.

A digital rendering can be worth a thousand words and far more pennies. No free estimates are given; clients interested in working with Kandel pay for the feasibility study, which includes plans, concepts, perspectives and renderings — everything needed to create a budget. Once plans exist and clients are onboard, a budget is prepared, a proposal is presented, a contract written and the project begins.

3-D design software doubles as an architectural troubleshooter. Floor plans and elevations are nice, but rarely provide a realistic impression of what the final product will look like. Design software allows remodelers to look at a room from every perspective as if the structure actually exists. “I can’t tell you how many times there have been minor flaws that you just would never see in a floor plan, but as soon as you shoot perspectives [renderings], they become glaringly obvious. And again, it costs nothing to fix it on the computer, but it becomes expensive to fix once it’s framed or worse, beyond that point,” he says.

Items the Kandel team has discovered on screen include the symmetry of windows and doors, or sight lines such as one revealing that while sitting on the couch in the family room a person is looking at the toilet three rooms away. “Little things like this show up that would be impossible for anybody to imagine unless they are super talented and have that kind of imagination. And, when you make changes to the floor plans, it automatically coordinates the changes all the way through to elevations and perspectives — so, you don’t have to constantly change multiple layers, which I know a lot of architects have a really horrible time with. When you start making changes, that leads to mistakes,” he explains.

Another feature of the software is called ray tracing, through which the user can set the time of day and the software will create shadow lines based on the position of the sun, a feature Kandel exploits.


Communication factor

Design software facilitates improved communication within the Kandel Construction team, including employees, carpenters, subcontractors and outside architects. In the world of remodeling, where so much can be left to interpretation and imagination, the more direction put in writing — especially in elevations or renderings — to remove any interpretation from the equation, the better.

“With my comments in the file, when I hand off a design to somebody they know exactly what I want, how I want it done, and what it’s supposed to look like. This eliminates walking away from a meeting assuming the subs know what we’re talking about, only to come back to find nothing looks like we designed. This software improves communication with your own crew and subcontractors as well as with the clients,” he says.

Manufacturers are beyond mere acceptance of this software and have been supplying 3-D CAD catalogs to software manufacturers for years. “Say we’re designing a kitchen and we’re specifying [a specific manufacturer’s appliances], I can click open [that manufacturer’s] catalog and drop in the appliance; so when I shoot a [rendering], it literally shows those specific appliances in the rendering. Additionally, flooring, wall coverings and paint can be included in a rendering. I can paint any [paint manufacturer’s] color. I’ve got dozens and dozens of wall coverings and faux finishes, too. There are very few products [for which] we don’t have the manufacturer name and the model number. That’s how realistic it is.”