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Interview with a Designer: How to Approach Major Home Remodeling

Remodeling one’s home impacts life dramatically on a number of levels. It’s important to identify the motivation of your remodel to achieve your lifestyle goals.

Clearly remodeling one’s home impacts life dramatically on a number of levels. Developing a program and budget, working through the architectural process, financing and managing the construction phase, as well as living in the spaces afterwards are life-altering experiences.

It is important to identify what is motivating your desires to remodel and how best to achieve that goal before involving the services of design building professionals. With that in mind, I am sitting down today with Mark Demmerle, building design professional and creator of Think Inside Your Box™.

Q) Homeowners remodel their houses for a myriad of reasons. Mark, in your opinion, what is the meaningful force beyond a substantial renovation?

A)  Quality-of-life issues are the easiest to understand and, in my opinion, the best reasons to remodel. Unless you are a seasoned renovator, it is best to live in your house for a year to understand what it is that should be changed to best suit your lifestyle.

The next step is to identify what you like in your home and capitalize on those strengths. This approach will promote productive thinking and progress in arriving at a uniquely interesting solution to remediate the unaccommodating aspects of your home. It is easy to lose traction by focusing on the flaws and the defects without a clear objective in the mind.

Q)  What is the best way to begin the design dialogue about remodeling?

A)  Since there is no accommodating for personal taste and much of what critics view in a completed design is subjective, it is necessary to develop a design ideologue as reference for decisions that could otherwise become arbitrary. To develop a meaningful ideologue for design usually involves the input of a skilled design professional.  For example if a client is looking to renovate an authentic Georgian antique, the design must be rigorously subordinate to classical detail.  A similar approach will be taken with architectural examples from the colonial vernacular to the contemporary.  It generally involves the input of a degreed professional who is passionate about residential architecture to identify and develop a contextual design ideology.

Q)  Many homeowners who are working with a design building professional for the first-time may find the interchange of ideas unusual  compared to other professionals they work with regularly. How do you organize your clients’ “wish list”?

A)  The homeowner could begin a file of photographs and magazines of visual ideas they find appealing. The helps the design professional develop a program in written form to describe their “wish list,” which will be developed throughout the initial schematic and design development phases. The program should become the project guideline.

Q)  If you were to choose the most meaningful spaces to renovate, where would you start in one’s home?  

A)  First, would be the procession to the Front Entry which will make the initial impression of the house. Once inside the house, the tendency is to move directly to the Kitchen on the first floor. The Kitchen is the real heart of the house and is generally the space for public entertainment. The inner sanctum for private and intimate life would be the master suite, which is of critical importance to the homeowner.

In renovating these primary spaces, I believe today’s buyer is most interested in the use of hypoallergenic, sustainable and energy-efficient materials and equipment.

Q)  I am currently working with a newly engaged young couple looking for their first home to raise a family. What advice would you give this engaged couple as they progress in their home search?

A)  Be mindful of the psychic and emotional value that a property holds for you and conceptualize the strategic planning of how you intend on spending your life there.

Q) In today’s market, as you know, I am often asked by potential buyers to explore the installation of complex retrofits such as elevators and site improvement, such as detached garages and pool houses. Though we have worked together on such improvements, please explain to others how you work with potential buyers of a property to provide them the information they need prior to a purchase.

A)  In the case of complex retrofits particularly where vertical circulation, such as stairs and elevators going from one floor to the next, it is imperative that I assess the feasibility of the improvement on-site. The vertical circulation impacts multiple floor levels, which increases the degree of difficulty and the expense.

In the case of site improvements, such as pool and pool houses, guest houses, stables and more, one needs to be meticulous in checking the Planning & Zoning regulations and any other regulatory agencies claiming jurisdiction over the site, such as Environmental Protection and the Health Department. At this point, as you know Sara, buyers are best advised to be working with a knowledgeable design building professional, who is familiar with local and state codes and officials. 

Q)  In today’s real estate market, many homeowners are deciding whether a move or a renovation is the right next step in their lives. Advice you would give them.

If a homeowner finds themselves in today’s market unable to sell their existing house or purchase their dream house, it doesn’t mean they cannot improve their present living conditions. My phrase: Think Inside Your Box™ is meant to inspire homeowners to begin to think how they can get the improvements they want in their existing residence.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Greg Jacobson January 26, 2013 at 10:36 PM
As a Certified Aging In Place Specialist, I believe most people beyond the age of 40 need to consider "accessibility" issues for many rooms and elements of the home when remodeling projects are contemplated. Aesthetics need not be sacrificed when implementing universal design features that will help everyone, regardless of age, to freely enjoy every aspect of the home. An Aging In Place Specialist is a wise addition to any remodeling team. This is our training. This is how we naturally see a space and respond to it and no one would ever know after we've done our work.
Sara Littlefield January 27, 2013 at 09:19 PM
Thank you Greg Jacobson for your addition and agree that accessibility would be another important aspect to consider when approaching remodeling projects and appreciate your expertise! Best, Sara Littlefield

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