Before You Start Designing

…there are some exercises you can go through to help you get a better handle on your new home or remodel. Grab a tape measure and a pad of paper. Enlist the help of everyone who lives there (or visits regularly), including small children (they can hold the “dumb” end of the tape). You may have already done these exercises mentally, but it is good to commit them to paper. Getting them sorted will help you explain your expectations to your architect/designer and builder.

1. Make a list of everyone who lives there. Be sure that you encourage all to participate (as age allows). Don’t forget that small children become larger children and eventually adults. Don’t also forget that once they become adults new small children often come along. Give all an opportunity to be involved as much as possible.

2. Make a list of your “Must Haves,” “Would Like to Have” and “In my dreams.” This list can include spaces, but be sure to include amenities (like a wood burning pizza oven or a sauna). Be sure you don’t put things that you would like to have in the list of things you must have. This is a time to really evaluate what your needs are vs. your wants. Prioritize each list in order of most important to least important. Because your budget will probably not cover every item on all the lists, be prepared to drop items progressively from the bottom of the “In My Dreams” list to the top of your “Must Haves” list.

3. Make a list of the spaces you currently have. Include the size of the space – width, depth and height. For each space, include comments as to the usefulness, strengths and weaknesses of the space and what would improve the space. Don’t forget the entry (think about the entire sequence of entering your home), bathrooms and circulation space (hallways, stairs, etc.). Don’t forget a column that includes an emotional description/reaction of/to the space.

4. Make a list, independent of the spaces used, of your CURRENT activities. This list would include items like cooking, playing video games on TV, computer usage, reading, napping, piano playing, star gazing, storage (include different types of storage), etc. Use some common sense in making this list. For instance, for kids, often closet space is an incidental use. Don’t worry about listing “clothing closets” for the kids bedrooms, but a master bedroom closet can be a big deal. Include comments about the “comfortableness” of the activity…how does the current space allocated to the activity fit the activity.

5. Make a list of activities you would like to do but your current space doesn’t support the activity.

6. Make a list of spaces you have that don’t support any activity, support an activity that could be done in a different space, or support a very infrequent activity (for instance your dining room may only be used twice a year-all other meals are eaten in a different space).

7. Begin collecting images from books and magazines. Be sure that a description of what and why something in the images causes a reaction. EVERYONE should collect images. This process can take a few weeks or a few years. Don’t forget to include a images of things you don’t like (and include why you don’t like it-be specific!). Include drawings and sketches. Look for inexpensive items used in creative and inexpensive ways.

8. Sort the images. Look for common themes and threads. If there are a pile of people involved you should be able to find something that links everyone together. Use the pile of images that everyone agrees they like as the starting point for picking your style and finishes.

9. Make a “final” list of “Must Have,” “Would Like,” and “In My Dreams.” Include as much information about each item as possible-dimensions, finishes, ambiance, etc. This is the list you use in your discussions with your architect/designer and builder.

10. Do some window shopping. Go to home improvement stores and home shows. Go to new home open houses. Ask questions about the materials uses (get specific brand names and models). Look at the prices…write them down. Don’t forget that with each bare material cost there is a labor cost associated with the installation of the item. Try and find the costs of the items in the images you selected. The goal is to try and get a good feel for what things cost.

11. Review your budget. Be realistic. Write down what you would like to spend, what you are willing to spend and the absolute limit of what you can/will spend. How are you going to pay for it? What happens if the final price comes in over budget? What is plan “B”?

12. Review the above lists…spend some time between reviews. Let the kids review, too. Make adjustments to the lists as required (especially after your budget review).

13. There are a few ways of looking at communicating your budget with your architect/designer and builder. One way is to present your list of requirements and see how much it costs. Another way is to present a budget number and see what that money will buy. The best way is to sit down and honestly discuss the budget and requirements list with your architect/designer and builder. They’ll be able to let you know where your lists fall with respect to your budget. Your architect/designer/builder team will respect your budget and tell you where they think the line is drawn. You may need to review all of your lists after this discussion.

14. Be prepared for sticker shock. Remodeling and building new are expensive propositions. What cost $100 sq. ft. 10 years ago can easily cost $200 sq. ft. today. Remember a simple rectangular house will be cheaper than one with lots of jogs in the walls. A small complicated design can be more expensive to build than a large simple design. A certain portion of the cost is related to the structure itself and will cost the same regardless of how you finish it. What you finish the structure with is up to you and your budget.

15. Enjoy the process as much as you hope to enjoy the final product.

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