How to See What's not There

When you're working with your interior designer or architect, you will undoubtedly reach a point where you will be provided with two-dimensional drawings and asked to make decisions from what you see. This leaves most responding with 'uh....' But it's easier than it seems. Whether you are remodeling or building your house anew, if you're struggling to imagine a space, we recommend the highly technical approach of blue painter's tape.

If you're trying to imagine a space, simply measure out the length and width of your future walls in your existing house, and mark them with your bright blue tape. If it helps, you can also use the tape to lay out your furniture. This isn't a perfect solution, but it will go a long way to help you decide if your future room is the right size and proportion for you.

This also works with interior architectural elements. If you need to picture window or door sizes, or the heights of benches, counters or sills, simply outline them with tape on your walls. When analyzing your blue tape masterpiece, compare it to what you already have in your house to make sure it's right for you. Compare benches to chairs, counters to counters, and sills to the windows you have already.

And if all else fails, don't hesitate to reach out to your architect or designer for help. They should be able to supply you with an interior elevation or a quick three-dimensional sketch or photos of comparable spaces to help you better understand the space they have designed. (Please keep in mind that if you need drawings that are outside your professional's original scope of services, they may require an additional fee.)

Getting Started: First Steps

You've decided to pull the trigger!...er, now what?

Step No. 1 - Get Your Ducks in a Row

Before you can have a productive conversation with an Architect or Contractor, you should start thinking about Scope (what you want to do), Timeline (when you're hoping it can be done), and Budget (how much you have to do it). The more you've thought about things, the more information you will get out of your first meeting. While you're completing this step, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. When developing your Scope and Timeline, try to develop them as frameworks that can flex as you move through the design and construction process. They will invariably change over the course of your experience. Understanding that at the beginning can save anxiety and set you up for a much more enjoyable process. Unlike your Scope and Timeline, you probably will not want your Budget to flex too much. For this reason, once you identify your ceiling, bring that number down 5-10%, if possible, before you speak with anyone. This will build into to your project a contingency, a nice safety net. Safety nets are priceless: they will keep your peace of mind.

One more duck to consider would be a list of questions. When you do interview your first professional (whether it be an Architect or Contractor), use that time to get many of your questions answered. They may shy away from speaking specifically about your project (for liability reasons, and to safeguard the milk before the cow is sold, in a matter of speaking), but they should be happy to answer general questions about the design/construction process in general, and how they operate.

Step No. 2 - Word of Mouth

You have friends, colleagues, family, classmates...no matter how intimate or expansive your personal community network, it's worth reaching out to them to see if anyone has gone through a new build or remodel experience. Even if your contacts have not, chances are someone knows someone who has. The reason this is important is word of mouth can be invaluable. This can be a very good way to find references for professionals and learn more about the design and construction process from a homeowner's perspective.

Step No. 3 - Pictures!

Speaking as a designer, trying to get on the same page in terms of style can be a challenge. One person's French Country may be another's Transitional Colonial. Pictures can be a great way to save confusion and streamline the early communication process. Clippings from magazines, photos you take of homes you've seen and/or downloads from the internet can all be extremely helpful! If you're not loyal to magazine clippings and don't have an internet phobia (doubtful if you're reading this), we'd highly recommend using Houzz.com. Their database of architectural photos is easy to navigate. And if you register, you are able to create an account you can save your favorite photos and then share with anyone, including your Architect.

Now, go find your team!

Am I Crazy? Managing Expectations

It was really difficult deciding on the title for this article - yes, a trivial point, but one that, embarrassingly enough, had me stymied. A torrent of apt title options came flooding to mind: Is it Worth It? Will I Go Bald in the Process? Rogaine, the Secret Defender of Home Remodelers, The Pros of Tent Living, Hide the Matches, I Want to Burn it All, Archaeological Tips to Removing Dust, The Art of Maintaining Make-up under a Gas Mask,...

From someone who has seen many new home and home remodel projects, I have never seen anyone anything but thrilled by the end. This may make you laugh, but there are two keys here: my exposure is limited to the clients I've worked with and, please note, the phrase 'by the end.' The entire process, design and construction, can be crazy-making. And yes, you do hear horror stories and yes, there are people out there whose experiences would cast a completely different light. (They have my complete empathy!) However, with the right team and the right expectations, you can have an overall positive experience, one that leaves you confident you made the right choice.

Managing Expectations - The Dos and Don'ts
(For more information on any of the topics touched on below, please see our more detailed articles or send us a question.)

Do expect that this is not for everyone. It can take several months to complete a project from start of design through end of construction. And during that whole time, it can demand quite a bit of your attention at various moments. It can be like having a niece or nephew move in with you, but a niece or nephew that's going through their early teens: they're demanding, highly emotional, very talented at making you feel stupid and confused, and create moments where you find yourself mechanically reminding yourself you do love them as you stare more and more intently at that glass of wine. But just like teens, your home will grow out of it and become a place you feel a glow of love for.

Don't expect to love the process at every step of the way. It is ok to develop a love-hate relationship with the process. Like all processes, you will not love every step of the way. Parts may feel like a chore. At times like those, just remember your home will be worth it!

Do expect the process to take some time. As mentioned before, the entire process, from the moment you first consider the possibility of building or remodeling, to the moment you unpack your last box in your new home can take several months. The time will vary based on the size of your project, how quickly you are able and willing to make decisions, and your design and construction team's schedules. However, your project's timeline should not be amorphous. As you move forward, you will have an ongoing conversation with your team about your timeline. There may be changes to it along the way, but they should all be reasonable and explained to you by your Architect or Contractor. 

Don't expect the designers to get it right their first try. Design is an iterative process. Your designer/s should listen to you very carefully and then develop a design that reflects what they have understood from you. However, just as in every conversation, a lot can get lost in translation. Also, it's easy for an idea to sound great but lose its luster once it's drawn out. For these reasons, they should be asking you lots of questions and showing you a series of drafts. And you, in turn, should be giving them as much frank feedback as possible. This will enable you both to get on the same page.

Do expect to see ideas you've not thought of before. Your design and construction teams should not be just following your orders without bringing anything else to the table (unless you too are a design or construction professional with lots and lots of experience). You are paying them after all. After listening to your wish list and studying your house, your designer/s should be able to see better suited, more efficient, or just more fun ways of doing things. They may not be large ideas and, unless expressly requested by you, they probably won't be crazy idea (sometimes there are limits to what is allowed or can be accommodated), but you are paying them for their talents. They should be able to bring to the table ideas, regardless how subtle, that make the end product, your home, feel and look and work all the better. Make certain you get your money's worth.

Don't expect to get everything on your list. With budget, timelines, zoning restrictions, and competing design ideas, not everything from your wish list may make it into your design. For that reason, prioritize and keep in mind the big picture!

Do expect to have homework. You are hiring professionals, but there is still plenty for you to do. You will be making a lot of decisions: designers, contractor, spaces you want, styles you want, product selection,... But again, with the right help, this can be much easier than it may seem at the start.

Don't expect the budget to be spot on. Ballpark budgets are the numbers thrown onto projects early in the design process. Generally at this point, none of the details have been decided on, subcontractors have not walked the project yet and the contractor who usually creates the ballpark budget has little time to put it together. With all these dynamics at play, ballpark budgets are never accurate. Our rule of thumb is to add at least 30% to any number you're given at this stage. This will still not be accurate, but it will at least help lower the risk of fainting as soon as you see the control budget. 

Do expect the unexpected. This is especially important for those of you with remodel projects. There is a limit to what can be known, such as what is inside your walls. For this reason, it becomes prudent to discuss with your contractor the possibilities of unknowns, how a budget can be structured to absorb most unknowns, and to prepare yourself to be flexible.

Don't expect it to be all bad. After all these negative comments, it can be hard to imagine that the process can be at all enjoyable, but it can. Like school. Yes, there were endless, tedious worksheets for subjects you would never pursue post-graduation. Yes, you found yourself studying for a P.E. final exam (size of a basketball court? are you kidding me?). And yes, it was so important that it could feel daunting and stressful at times. But it was also where you were able to design the foundation for your future. A home is like that, too. You are creating a space that will directly impact, perhaps radically so, the way you are able to live. And just like school, with the right people around you, even the would-be stressful and tedious moments can be enjoyable.

Do Give Yourself a Break - Literally! If you let it, a home project can be all encompassing, taking every spare moment you have. If you're under time pressure, or just do better to ripping the bandaid off quickly, then do what you need to get the project done, even if it means filling every moment in your day. But if that's not the case, then give yourself plenty of space from the project. Preserve at least some of your free time, and family time, and staring off into space time (if you have such a wonderful thing!). We all need a break here and there and generally, at least per my experience, we tend to make better decisions when we get a moment away from it all. 

And Do Give Yourself a Break - Figuratively! This will be your home. Homes are like the people we love. They fit us. They reflect us. But they are by no means perfect. The tile you pick, the layout of the bathroom you select, how the molding at the ceiling ties into the window trim - none of it needs to be what an editor at Architectural Digest would deem perfection. It just needs to be you. Individual pieces that come together to create the space where you will feed your friends, play with your family, and sit in your pajamas curled up on your sofa enjoying your evenings!