Between all the design shows on HGTV and the hundreds of thousands of images on Houzz.com and Pinterest.com, we are fortunate to have design tools at our fingertips. Whether we are watching on a 70-inch TV or squinting at our smartphones while waiting in the dentist’s office, nary a moment need go by without being bombarded by someone’s idea of fabulous interior and architectural design.
There are advantages to this plethora of design images. We no longer have to pay exorbitant prices for glossy design magazines and keep a paper file of our ideas. All research can now be done electronically, from searching to storing to sharing pertinent ideas. Ideas can be quickly and easily deposited into the hands of interior designers and architects. This makes communicating ideas clearer than ever, thus saving design time and minimizing wasting money by going too far down the wrong design road.
However, there are also some challenges to this brave new world of digital design. Here are a few concepts to consider:
Do I even need the services of a design professional these days?
The vast access to design ideas may lead individuals considering remodeling their homes to determine that they no longer need professional designers involved in their projects. In fact, the opposite may be true. Professionals may be critically needed to sort out the huge number of ideas available and to distinguish what ideas are valid for your house and style.
It sometimes appears remodeling projects have elements that were included just because the homeowner could, even though they should not have. For instance, there are many door styles that we love, but probably only a few which are really appropriate to your home and situation. How do you narrow the field and make the right choice? Call a professional.
Not everything that makes it to one of these popular website represents design excellence. Make sure you look at all ideas with a discriminating eye, and always run your choices past someone else with a strong sense of design. While your sister-in-law may qualify on some issues, you may want more educated expertise when you are spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on your home.
How will a design professional use digital tools on my project?
This new digital approach definitely is changing the way architects and interior designers function and relate to their clients, but it does not eliminate the need for professional design involvement in your project. If you prepare well and compile well-edited electronic idea books for your project, design time can be reduced and decision-making streamlined. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words in the design world.
The value in having a concept photo is just that — having a design idea that can be used to guide your choices as you turn your vision into reality. There is a practical leap involved in loving a kitchen backsplash in a photograph and having it installed in your house.
On some sites, you may be able to find out what an exact material is, but on others you may not have access to that information. In addition, there may be several other materials similar to the concept photo you love that may be more appropriate to your project in terms of cost, availability, durability, etc. It would be a mistake to pay for a wildly expensive marble that must be imported from Italy (which could take up to six months) and be lovingly cared for when you have an average budget and a kitchen that a family of five will be using. An interior designer can suggest an alternate such as a man-made quartz that will look similar for a reduced cost and will have an increased tolerance for abuse.
Additionally, an architect will help you translate that concept photo in terms of the existing structure of your home and what would need to be done to create the look you want. This usually involves a serious budget check and often studying alternate approaches to adapt the ideas in the photo to the reality of your actual home.
Reality TV is not reality
We commonly refer to channels such as HGTV as "reality" TV, but that is a misnomer in many ways. Real issues such as zoning ordinances, permits and fees, structural engineering, design and contractor fees, and an actual design process are usually missing in action from such shows. Major projects are represented as taking only weeks instead of months by omitting the above functions and others such as lead times for ordering any custom items (such as steel beams, windows, flooring, etc.), scheduling inspections and phasing trades so they are not damaging each other’s work. An architect will help you understand the reality of design and construction in the real world.
TV shows often present the model of "just start building, and we’ll see how far the money goes." Design is done on the fly, and ideas come and go on a weekly, if not a daily, basis. Instead of planning ahead, creating a responsible design and having a competent contractor create a thorough bid or estimate, the premise is that anything that eventually gets done will be lots better than what you previously had, so what the heck?
Call us compulsive, but considering your home is likely the biggest investment you will make, we think hiring professionals who will guide you through this complicated, messy and costly process makes sense. In real life, you do get what you pay for; no TV show or photograph can take the place of well-educated and experienced design and construction professionals.
Let’s enjoy the stories on TV and the eye candy online and then use our brains to approach a real-life remodeling project by assembling an effective team. The result will be a project any TV show or digital magazine will be proud to feature.
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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