In part 1, I talked about some of the market conditions that are making it a great time to remodel or add onto an existing home. In this post, I will touch on two essential ingredients required to get a good start on your project in order to avoid headaches later in design development and construction.
The first thing you’re going to need is a carefully drafted set of ‘as-built’ drawings that show dimensions and square footage of the existing home. This is a service we provide as a prerequisite to our design service, but some builders and drafting services can generate these drawings as well. Be sure to require electronic CAD files of these drawings and verify their accuracy so you or your design team can use them to start generating layout options without having to re-draft or re-measure the home. Not all architects and designers use the same software, so there may still be time required to import those drawings into their software, so it is best to have the person doing the design generate the as-built drawings whenever possible. Even if you aren’t planning a remodel or addition project anytime soon, having a good set of as-builts add value to the home, and help you visualize the possibilities before hiring a designer.
Establishing a Photo Pool
It is also key to take as many photographs of your existing home as you can, from lots of angles and lots of distances, and post them to a photo site like flickr.com or picassa (there are lots of sites like this). You can keep the photo group private, so only people with the log-in and password can access the photos. If you provide everyone working on your home with that log-in and password, they can add their own photos over time, which are very useful for every trade working on the house. Instead of making everyone take their own photos, posting them to a central location and letting others add to it helps keep everyone on the same page, and lets people comment or refer to specific photos in e-mails or phone conversations so everyone knows exactly what part of the home is being referred to.
Sending a link to your photos and answers to our questionnaire will help us absorb as much information as we can in order to formulate a more accurate Proposal of Services.
The second thing you’ll need to do is start asking yourself (and answering!) a whole lot of questions. The more questions you ask, and the earlier you ask them, the better your project will be. We have learned that this is one of the most valuable parts of our service; not only asking questions, but asking the right questions. (hat tip to Madison-based Van Mell Associates’ ‘3 Good Questions‘ service, and their ‘Question Based Planning‘ for raising our awareness of asking good questions every time we start a new project!)
We find it is best to start with broad-stroke questions, then gradually refine your answers over time. For example, the very last thing you want to do is start by saying, ‘We need to add 10 feet to our kitchen.’ While it may seem obvious to you, asking a broader question might bring a more effective answer. Perhaps the problem statement that lead you to that conclusion was that people crowd into your kitchen every time you entertain, so you concluded that you must, therefore, need a bigger kitchen. But what if you started with a question instead?
For example, you might ask ‘Why do guests congregate and crowd into the kitchen when we entertain?’ It might shift your perspective to a root or behavioral cause, rather than a shallow, knee-jerk solution. Perhaps your kitchen is located near the entry, and has only 2 narrow openings into the living room space, with a white carpet in the living room. Guests might naturally tend to congregate in the tile kitchen space, because the living room psychologically feels like a different – or more formal space. The conclusion you might draw from that could save you from spending $12,000 building a larger kitchen, by instead simply opting to make your kitchen more open to the living room space, and adding an island with a path of tile with stools surrounding it. This could bridge the perceived gap between the kitchen and the living room, and solve your core dilemma for a fraction of the cost.
Another important benefit of asking the right questions is in distilling priorities as early as possible. This can become especially critical when collaborating with family members who might have different interests or priorities than your own. Discovering and agreeing upon priorities before you start the design process can save you a lot of headaches and money later in the design process. Competing or unresolved priorities between family members at the onset of a design project invariably leads to cost overuns and a lengthy (costly) design process trying to resolve your differences architecturally, rather than diplomatically at the start. Be prepared to make compromises, and reach a middle-road agreement about your priorities, and stick to them! Have everyone in the family write down and save the answers to the same questions, and refer to them often, or you’ll run the risk of pursuing a design process that unravels or exceeds your budget.