Change for the Better

A dream of every remodeler is to work with a client that’s in a position to pay for the changes and surprises that inevitably surface in practically all remodeling projects. When unforeseen circumstances transformed what was to be an addition to this home in Delavan, Wis., into a total reconstruction, the homeowner, thankfully, was able to absorb the shock as well as the cost of the project’s new direction.

Design challenges surfaced from the start, says Russ DiPietro, president, DiPietro Design Associates, Delavan, Wis. The owners wanted to expand several spaces, and ultimately double the size of the house while keeping it cozy. The first and perhaps most significant challenge was the home’s foundation; rebuilding it was not part of the original plan. Once crews began digging into the perimeter of the house to start the additions, they found the foundation was “…horrid. One section was rubble and extended only 3 ft. deep, and it appeared as if someone had underpinned it correctly and poured a 5-ft. wall, but only on the inside face of the wall and not the outside,” DiPietro recalls.

“When I saw all this, I told the owners that structurally it is not good. There’s no way we will be able to waterproof the exterior of this foundation and guarantee it won’t leak. When they saw how the previous construction was done, the decision was made to tear down the home and rebuild it,” he says.


Wish lists and changes

The homeowners desired to maintain the cottage feel of the old house. This included maintaining the existing floor plan while adding space. On the upper floors, DiPietro’s team gutted the attic and transformed the space into bedrooms. Beneath the home, the team created a full-height space in the lower level. “We added a new laundry room and roughed it out for a future bathroom. There’s space for three more bedrooms in the lower level and egress windows for those bedrooms. The rest of that space is one big rec room,” DiPietro adds.

Interior designer Lindsey Snow, owner of L.E. Snow Design in Oak Park, Ill., entered the project later in the process than she preferred, but made the best of it. Fortunately, Snow says, enough time in the project remained to make helpful tweaks to many of the already constructed spaces.

Snow changed the layout of the master and guest baths, and reconfigured a long, skinny hallway to ensure a particular door didn’t swing as far into a room as it originally did. Snow also designed the built-ins, fireplaces and all bathrooms, including specifying plumbing fixtures and lighting.

“The wife on this project was laid back and wonderful to work with, but became a little concerned a few times, which is to be expected for someone who has never rebuilt a home. The entire process was a collaboration, which resulted in positive changes such as adding shelves under the stairs for grandchildren to use. Doors to the master bedroom were made wider to be wheelchair accessible. We also added a bench and a closet in the front hall, because I know about lake house living and how convenient it would be to have the extra amenities in that area,” she recalls.

Another critical change Snow initiated was repositioning the kitchen island to accommodate up to six people. “The clients were thrilled,” she says. “The way I work is all about learning how the clients will be using a space and making sure it accommodates the way they want to live. Another example is in the second bath; there was a 3- by 3-ft. shower. I know what it’s like to live in a lake house, so I knew that people will use the shower a lot. It made sense to make the shower larger, which we did,” Snow says.


Satisfaction’s the goal

Snow and DiPietro share the client-first philosophy to design. “We design for the client, not for ourselves,” DiPietro says. “Our goal is always to get the best value for the client and to give them what they need or want. Sometimes needs and wants don’t mesh, so it’s our jobs to help them accomplish their goals the best way possible, explaining things such as which door style goes with which architectural style and helping them make informed decisions.”

To determine if a project is a success or not, DiPietro always looks to the homeowners for their reactions to the finished product. “I want to see what their expressions are. If they’re not happy, I didn’t do my job. In this case, they were thrilled with the house, so much so they threw a party just so people could enjoy their new space. I think this one turned out fabulously.”