We recently saw an interesting survey of homeowners posted on Houzz.com titled "Transforming the American Home: Findings from the 2014 Houzz and Home Survey." Houzz is a website that posts literally millions of pictures of homes and everything to do with them, including the kitchen sink. It is a great resource for gathering and communicating ideas if you are considering building or remodeling a home.
The study surveyed 200,000 Houzz.com users across the world and discovered general patterns and perceptions in the current remodeling and housing market, including some of the most common challenges. The top renovation challenges identified by the survey were: "finding the right products to use," "defining my style," "making decisions with my spouse or partner," "staying on schedule" and "educating myself."
As architects, the most obvious thing about the results is that design was not mentioned as a challenge. We do not think this is because it is so easy but because people often overlook it as the first and most basic element of a great project. We also find it interesting that undertaking the design process with an architect can lessen (and in many cases eliminate) the challenges named in the Houzz survey. Bear with us as we put on our architects' hats and take a look at the survey results:
• Forty percent of those surveyed identified the greatest renovation challenge to be finding the right products to use. This may stem from the fact that we are bombarded with an overabundance of information in this day of the Internet. Rather than having too little from which to choose, we have the opposite problem: Like a single person who can’t commit because something better may come along at any time, we have issues making a choice due to the fear that we are missing something better that we haven’t yet discovered.
As challenging as selecting products may be, remember that even the most superior products installed in an inferior design cannot save the day. A poor floor plan that directs traffic through a kitchen instead of past it will still function poorly despite the most amazing gas range. We have been known to use the phrase, “Don’t put lipstick on the pig.”
• The second greatest challenge identified by 29 percent of those surveyed was "defining my style." While this may be a personal quest to learn about oneself, an architect can help by discussing the style of the existing structure in terms of materials, the shape of the house, also known as massing, and historical context.
Let’s say a homeowner determines her preferred style to be Craftsman. She can then select a lovely Craftsman front door and sidelight, the design of which delights her. However, installing that terrific Craftsman door in her mid-century modern home will not be as successful of a curb appeal update as she may have hoped. Unless a complete tear-down is contemplated, an effective remodel will require a subtle blending of the owners’ style with the style of the home itself.
The third challenge at 26 percent was "making decisions with my spouse or partner." Architects, unfortunately, are not well-trained in marriage counseling, but we can act as a somewhat neutral third party to help make decisions less emotional and more objective.
For instance, drawing elevations of some contested area — say, a front entry — can be useful. Often, one solution will look much better than the other, and most couples are willing to put the good of the project ahead of their personal win/lose scorecard. A picture can indeed be worth a thousand words that are all better left unsaid.
"Staying on schedule" is the fourth renovation challenge at 21 percent. Our experience might suggest that this is a problem because remodeling neophytes are often very unrealistic about the time required to undertake a project. A homeowner considering a remodel might want to take advantage of working with design professionals who have gone through the process hundreds of times and can prepare them for what is reasonable. In addition, if a homeowner has taken the time to create a comprehensive master plan and competent construction documents, the work will move along much more smoothly and quickly than flying by the seat of your pants (also known as design-as-you-go).
The fifth identified challenge is related to this concept. This challenge was defined as "educating myself" (21 percent). While there are many options for gleaning information from the electronic world, it can be difficult to separate reliable information from the opinions so readily expressed in print. Again, working with an architect can provide some structure for how to increase knowledge and can direct a homeowner to information sources that are dependable and trustworthy. One hour spent discussing a potential project with an educated professional can save countless hours of wandering through the wilderness of Internet discussions and home-improvement shows on numerous cable channels.
While we agree that each of these issues is a valid challenge when undertaking a renovation project, we submit that focusing on good design principles and practices from inception will go a long way to address and diminish these concerns. It's not just about creating a great-looking project. Equally — or more — important is a project that functions well on a daily basis and makes a homeowner and their family's life better each day. Just as the construction of a major remodel is not a DIY project, the design is not either. There are architects out there who can help and who will add value to your investment in your home despite the challenges of remodeling.
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