Remodeling should focus on comfort, not size

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 12:26 p.m. MDT

Home remodels should focus on beauty and comfort not on sheer size.

Daniel Barton, Renovation Design Group

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So many times, clients come to us asking for more space. However, most of the time it is not more space that they actually need. It is better space.

Do you use every room of your house every day? How are you using those rooms? Are feeling cramped in your current house? Is there wasted space somewhere in your house you could repurpose or multipurpose?

Recently a couple in Murray asked us for help in designing an addition to their house. This couple likes to entertain and their small kitchen/family room combination is not large enough to accommodate their guests.

After reviewing the couple's project, we determined that they don't actually need to add-on because they already have plenty of space in their adjoining living and dining rooms — they just haven't been using it. Instead of adding on, all they need to do is visually open and connect this space with their kitchen and family room.

We came up with a design that replaces the walls between the living room, dining room and family room with columns and beams. The design will create a more modern great room and allow guests to flow into the former living and dining areas while still maintaining contact with party-goers in the kitchen and former family room area. Working with the space this couple already has, rather than making an addition, will save them about $50,000 in construction costs.

This example illustrates one of our primary architectural philosophies: Bigger is not always better.

Too many homeowners today put their money into the sheer size of a home rather than into its quality. What these homeowners don't know is that a well-designed home with high-quality materials and features better serves its owners than a "big-box" house that lacks these elements.

If you follow our column, you know we love Sarah Susanka and her “not so big house” philosophy. The idea is to focus on quality over quantity. Albert Einstein said, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.”

That is true. Sometimes what counts in a home is beauty and comfort, not square footage or number of rooms. In her book, “The Not So Big House,” Susanka introduces us to a couple who had just built a large home that they were completely dissatisfied with. The couple’s new house was spacious in terms of sheer size and volume, with high-vaulted ceilings and cold marble floors. The couple said, “All we’ve got is square footage with no soul.”

Creating a house with soul starts with a good design that works with how a family truly lives and focuses on quality finishes, beauty and self-expression. A home should reflect the owner’s personality. Basically, Susanka suggests spending the remodeling budget on making your house a home rather than just more square footage.

Another thing to remember is that the larger the home or addition, the higher the property taxes and costs for building, finishing, decorating, heating, cooling and maintaining.

While we are certainly not against making an addition to your home, we simply want you to keep these things in mind as you consider what is best for you. Can the space you already have simply be reconfigured to meet your needs? Or, can you multitask some rooms in your home? For example, dining rooms can also be used as libraries, home offices can function as guest rooms on occasion and laundry rooms and mudrooms can be combined.

If you've considered these things and decide that you still need to expand, remember that the best additions aren't necessarily the greatest in size, but the greatest in atmosphere, function and comfort. And don’t forget soul.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at renovationdesigngroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@renovationdesigngroup.com

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