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Annie Schwemmer, Renovation Design Group
Before the renovation, the new construction space was bare sheetrock walls. We had to design the space to fit the style of our company.

We recently renovated a space and moved our office. This has been a good experience in the same way that a surgeon should occasionally have an operation. We are in the business of uprooting people’s lives, temporarily, and telling them that the pain and stress are all worth it. We assure them that they will love it — when it is finished — but it is good to take that journey ourselves every so often to remember what it really feels like.

So, here’s what we learned by putting ourselves through the experience:

A master plan is indeed a good thing. If you read this column regularly, you may think we make this point almost ad nauseam. Therefore, you will be glad to know we certainly followed our own counsel and created schematic and construction drawings so we could maximize our new space. We have downsized in terms of square footage, so we measured all of our furniture and equipment and added them to the drawings to make sure everything would fit in the new floor plan. Happily, on moving day, there were no surprises and everything fit like a glove.

You need to have a sense of the style you want in your finished space. Technically, we weren’t remodeling because our new space was just that — new construction. We moved into a project called ArtSpace Commons. This is a LEED-certified building that was constructed in 2010. The concept is a series of modular spaces (about 750 square feet each) on the main level, which can be used as offices or studios. Above, there are three stories of apartments, so this is a work-live concept. The point is, while we could start with a "blank canvas," instead of demolition, we had to create a space with a style that would represent us as a company. It is a good exercise to step back and consider your company — or your family — every so often and try to express intangible goals or values in something as concrete as an office or home.

Some do-it-yourself work is valuable. Not only in saving money but also in gaining an appreciation for all who earn their livings with their hands. As in the Arts and Crafts movement of last century, it is good to connect with raw materials and manipulate them to create something of value. Our project on this office was to install a brick wall. When I said "blank canvas," I meant it. There was nothing but white sheetrock everywhere. To add some texture, visual interest and acoustical buffering we decided to add a brick wall. We used manufactured brick (meaning concrete colored to look like brick) that is thinner and lighter than the real thing. We had to work with metal lath and mortar to install the brick, and there was a minimal investment in trowels and other tools needed to complete the installation. I think we may have saved a bit of money on the labor, but the main result is that I will never look at a brick wall in the same way again — it was hard work! It turned out well — not perfect, but we purposely chose a rustic look that would work well with our skill level.

Bigger really isn’t better. I mentioned that we reduced the size of the office. In our 1,500 square feet, we have created an entry lobby-administrative assistant area, a conference area, one separate office, a kitchenette, a library-work area, five work stations and a storage room. In our line of work, it is important that we communicate well with each other, so being in close proximity is an advantage. I must say that we all love the feeling of this office, and that it is psychologically much better than the larger office we left behind.

Location is important. We are located in an up-and-coming district of the city known as the Granary District. Though my commute has doubled (from 7 minutes to 14!), it is intriguing to learn about a new neighborhood. Our new office has full-wall windows on the south, so there is light galore. As we are on the main level and the space opens up onto the sidewalk of the project, we have a strong connection with the outdoors and the people in our neighborhood. We enjoy seeing people coming and going, saying “good morning” as they walk their dogs and having a clear view to see the world passing by.

Good contractors are critical to the success of any project. We are thankful to the contractors for their generous help in making our vision come to life in a timely manner.

Like most homeowners, we have a few unfinished projects that we will get to when the budget allows. However, we know exactly where we are going and what to do next because we have — you guessed it — our master plan! Please feel free to drop by to take a tour of our new office. Our new address is available at renovationdesigngroup.com.

Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the cofounders of Renovation Design Group an architectural firm specializing in home remodels. Send comments or questions to ask@renovationdesigngroup.com.