Remodeling design begins at the front door and ends in the distant future

By necessity, new home construction requires a holistic approach to design. Siting the home on the property, integrating interior and exterior spaces, establishing the interplay among rooms and connecting different levels of the home must be considered. If properly executed, the design will also address the near-term needs of the target buyer, while anticipating how those needs might change over time.

When it comes to remodeling, however, homeowners tend to take a piecemeal approach to the process. A remodeling project often begins with consumers seeking to enhance a single aspect of their dwelling. Whether the interest is in a new kitchen, updated master bath, finished basement, sunroom addition or outdoor living space, the focus is frequently limited to one area of the home. Similarly, the motivation for the project is often tied to an immediate need. This might include replacing an outdated bath to improve its aesthetic appeal, finishing a basement to create a play area for young children, or creating an in-law suite for an aging parent. Each project fulfills a defined objective, without necessarily addressing the needs of the homeowner as circumstances change.

While some design firms and remodeling companies specialize in certain types of residential remodeling projects, good design and construction is not achieved in isolation. Homeowners age and their needs change, children grow up and leave home, and in-laws move out. A kitchen is just one part of the common space in a home, the master bath is just one element in the master suite, and basements, sunrooms and outdoor living spaces are potential entertainment areas. If return on investment is important, a successful project is as much about how well it serves its intended purpose now, as it is about how well it serves the needs of the homeowner in the future. A well-designed space is one that not only works well on its own, but also as part of the overall home. As a result, effective residential design would seem to require that it always be done within the context of the entire home and with a vision toward the future.

Ensuring a remodeling project works well with the rest of the home requires some legwork. If the work relates to a common area of the home — the kitchen, family room, outdoor living space or basement — consider starting your walkthrough at the front door to find out how the house flows. Ask about how the home works and where people gather when entertaining. (Nothing highlights how well a home works like how it performs when filled with 10, 20 or 50 people.) Do people congregate in one area, are there bottlenecks in the flow, or do they move easily from one area to the next, inside to outside, and from the main floor to the terrace level? Explore how members of the family use the space, how they enter the home, and where they drop their belongings. Determine how the desired project will address the challenges identified during this inquiry.

To provide for the future, find out how long the homeowner plans to remain in the home. If it will extend beyond the time when children will be living at home, how will the use of the home change after they leave? If it is long enough that accessibility may become an issue, is universal design appropriate, should space for an elevator be preserved, or maybe the ability to provide one-floor living be considered? What other changes in the use of the home may occur as time progresses?

The additional information obtained by looking outside the space under consideration and assessing how the homeowners’ needs might change over time can only enhance the end result. Ultimately, it is easier to explore these issues upfront, either in conversation or on paper, than risk letting the homeowner find out later that the project did not significantly enhance the overall function and flow of the home or fulfill their long-term needs. QR