Renovation Solutions: Remodeling can free up time, money spent on older homes

Published: Sunday, Oct. 31 2010 4:26 p.m. MDT

Before Rosann Robinson had her kitchen remodeled, it was cramped and dark, with very little counter space.

Annie V. Schwemmer

Have you ever felt like your house owns you instead of you owning your house?

Does the weekend to-do list involve more house projects than anything else?

Does your house take more than the basic maintenance in order to live in it comfortably?

A lot of our clients, especially ones who own older homes, come to us with a house that owns them. It has problems and issues that our clients have been dealing with since the moment they bought the house.

Often, these clients don't even know their house is dominating their time and pocketbook until after the problems are solved.

Rosann Robinson is one of those clients. She knew her house had its issues. It is a 1940s bungalow just south of Sugarhouse Park with all the charm of the quaint neighborhoods in Salt Lake City.

However, all the charm of an older home comes with a price. It costs both time and money and many weekends dedicated to fixing the current problem, and the rest of the time worrying about what might need attention next.

"I didn't realize before how much time and energy I was spending worrying about my old house," Robinson says. "Wondering if this was the weekend the sewer was going to back up again, or if when I turned on the light I would hear that pop for the last time. I didn't realize how much effort it was taking to just make my older home not look shabby."

Robinson even felt herself holding back from the things she wanted to do because of her old house.

"I didn't have anyone over because I was afraid the toilet might back up, or of what spider web or scary corner I missed. I usually had a list of house stuff I had to take care of every weekend."

After she finished the extensive remodel on her home, she was surprised by how much her lifestyle changed.

"It is really freeing to have my weekends again," she says. "It is amazing all the other things I can do with my time now that I don't have all that house stuff to take care of."

Robinson says she didn't realize how much time she was spending just maintaining her house so she could use it.

"I can cook in my kitchen without having to deep clean first," she says. "The grout was coming out of the tile counter top, and I didn't know what might be growing in there. Now it is so nice to be able to just use my home."

The majority of Robinson's remodel stayed within the footprint of her home. The only space she added was in the kitchen area and in an upstairs bedroom. She squared off the bay window in the kitchen to create an area for a counter and bar stools, giving her an informal eating area. She removed the wall between the living room and a small, rear bedroom which made room for a dining room table and enabled the living room to open to a new deck in the back yard.

She enlarged a bedroom upstairs by taking down the exterior wall and adding a 2-foot by 10-foot cantilevered extension. "It only added about 25 or 30 square feet, but it is enough that it makes a great difference," she says. "People always ask how much square footage we added and they are always surprised by how little we added. Just the other day, I was marveling at how much space it added to the room."

The basement was gutted, and Robinson added large windows and window wells. "It is amazing the amount of extra light that is added downstairs with the windows," she says. The basement had previously had two bedrooms. However, you had to go through the closet of the first bedroom to get to the second. It was pretty awkward and not very user-friendly. Now they are both usable.

The new guest space downstairs is complete with a bathroom, laundry room and family room.

"My nephews love it because there is a bunk bed down there for them," Robinson says. "I am the coolest aunt ever!"

The basement has become a place for more than just guests, though. Robinson says she is surprised by how much time she spends down in the basement now. "It is very inviting," she says. "I have spent more time in the basement in these past seven weeks than I did in the seven years that I lived there before. The basement was such a dungeon before. I never wanted to spend time there."

In addition to the cosmetic updates, Rosann added all new windows, doors and insulation in the walls that wasn't there before. Now, she loves living in her home.

"My house is very me," she explains. "It feels like my personality now.

Instead of me trying to fit into my space, my space finally fits me."

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founders of Renovation design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com, a local design firm specializing in home remodels.

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