Monday, August 9, 2010

Should I hire an Architect/ Interior Designer

Since my site is called Design "yourself" a home, I am chronicling our positive experience in home design without using an architect. But, that is not to say that this is the correct path for all. Obviously an Architect is a specialized professional with the ability to design you the home of your dreams. And I did hire an Interior Designer on an hourly basis, read below.

Our architect experience was as follows, we interviewed a number of architects as we got closer to actually commiting to the project. We hired one whose work we had seen, to do some preliminary drawings so that we could get a better handle on the construction costs. After meeting with us and showing him some of our ideas, we sent him off with a check to his drawing board, we were told he'd get back to us in 2-3 weeks with some rough sketches. One of our fears was that he would try to please us too much and not give us something original. Especially since I had already shown him my computer generated sketches. I did mention multiple times that I was not an architect and that he was the professional, so please come up with a design that he felt suited our needs. 5 weeks later we finally met with him, and the sketches he came back with were so close to the ones that I spent 5 years creating that we could have just as easily shown my drawings to the contractors for bids, which is actually what we did. To follow up with the architect, I just told him that we decided to use a relative for the rest of the project.

And while in the end we didn't have a set architect for the project I did feel somewhat assured that an architect had seen my drawings and they were not ridiculous. In fact going through the whole process of interviewing architects, did give my drawings a fair amount of exposure and I did get a number of suggestions that I then incorporated into our drawings.

Being open to suggestions was crucial to our process. I showed my drawings to many people, friends, professionals, relatives. I got a lot of feedback some useful and some not. Not only was it a helpful process in tweeking the design to best fit our needs, but it also helped create "justified arguements" as to why we wanted various features. Did I really want the Laundry upstairs or downstairs? Which side of the house should we place the Master bedroom? How many bathrooms will we need? Where should the furnace go? Where all examples of questions that were up for debate, that also got enough feedback and thougth put into them. before breaking ground.

I did hire 2 different Interior designers on a consulting basis. Which basically ment I would go to them with my design questions and say for an hour or two of your time, what do you think. I felt this was invaluable, there were times when I would second guess myself and would start hyperventilating about the scope and size of the project that I was taking on myself. It was reasurring to spend a little to get an experenced set of eyes giving me a second or reasurring opinion. Where the hallways wide enough, did the Kitchen space seem functional?

We hired two different types of Interior designers, one was an accredited Designer with a degree in Interior design, she had a realively higher hourly rate, the other was a self made designer who had a good sense of color, at what seemed like a reasonable lower rate. In the end I got a lot of valuable advise from the professional, and I second guessed the self made designer, I also have a good sense of color. It is very important that you feel comfortable with your designer, and that you like their sence of style. At the end of the project I probably spent about 10 hours of Interior Designer time. Money I consider well spent. Of the hours spent with the designer the most were spent with the kitchen. Examples of the type of questions I would ask:

  • Are these the right Window sizes taking into consideration the interior and exterior of the house?
  • Room and hallway sizes?
  • Trim sizes?
  • Does the space planning for the kitchen work?
  • Cabinet layout ideas?
  • Carpet and Wall color second opinions.

Even thought I felt relatively confident that I had a decent sense of color, it saved me a lot of time working with a professional. I would say something like, "I want a sandy nuetral tone," She would confidently say something like, "Monroe Bisque, Benjamin Moore" and there it was a tried and true color we could use. Even a color as simple as the white trim for the outside of the house, I showed her the smokey grey-blue house color, she immediatly said, "White Swan, Benjamin Moore" of course saving me agonizing over the 100's of shades of white at the paint store. For the record there were 3 different white colors used on the trim and cabinets inside our house primarily based on the room color. I picked one, she directed me to the other two.

So here's my list of Architect and Interior Design notes:

  • I would never discredit their value, be realistic about your own skills and abilities
  • Don't discredit your own skills
  • Get lots of opinions, and then listen to the ones you like
  • Opinions don't need to only come from professionals
  • You can hire a professional on an hourly basis, this might be more cost effective for you.
  • Like the person that you are working with, don't put up with a designer that doesn't understand your taste.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blueprints and beyond

As I mentioned in my initial post, our original house was built in 1956, and the county blueprints for the house were destroyed in a fire. Since blueprints were essential to the scope of our remodel, this ment that new blueprints of the existing house needed to be created.

The intial blueprints that were created to start the process of designing our house were created while my twin two year olds napped. Armed with a five year old, candy to keep the five year old happy, and a 25' tape measure, we set to work measuring the outside perimeter of the house. I mention this to drive home the fact that the intial step in this project does not need to be exact, although we actually were pretty close in the end. There really isn't a need to hire a professional to create blueprints during the inital design phase of the project.

The magic of Home Design Software... The next step was getting the walls into the computer. I can't stress enough how important it was to have the plans on the computer, it made every change effortless simple. There are various home design software programs out on the market, over the course of our project I bought 3 different ones. The intial program that I used for the first few years was Broderbund Home Designer 3.0, I fell in love with this program, but it did have limitations, like creating the right roofline. I later bought the other two programs, but they didn't match up to the user friendly Broderbund. The software out there is pretty amazing in a short span of time you can get a relatively descent idea of what it might be like to walk through your new home. I fell in love with the feel of my kitchen years before it actually appeared.

I did spend a lot of time getting to know the various software programs that I used, but at the beginning of our project I had loads of time. We bought our house knowing that we would most likely remodel in five years. I measured the house with my five year old within the first month of moving into the house. I spent almost 4 years tweeking the layout and design of the interior. I realize that four years is a lot of time to work on a design, but having all that time was wonderful, because we were able to adapt the design as we learned and developed our needs for the house. Case in point when I started the design we were a three kid family, three years into the design, we realized we would need to fit in another bed. We didn't actually change the number of bedrooms in the house, but we did make one of the rooms considerably larger for the twins.

So here's my bulleted pointers about blueprints.

  • Initially the measurements don't need to be exact
  • Measure the outside perimeter first and then assume the walls are 4-6 inches deep
  • Spending time and thought at the beginning of the project has many advantages
  • Even on a small space such as a bathroom, it's helpful and cost efficent to have a scale drawing of the space for furniture and fixture placement
  • It's much easier to make changes on paper/or the screen before you start breaking down walls
  • Home design software is a must
  • Broderbund Software - Easy to start with, very intuitive, very buggy (it crashed a lot) I loved it when it worked, was a little too basic for more advanced features like the roof. I think they did make more recent versions, but from what I read about them they edged closer to the Better Homes and Garden model.
  • Punch Software - Great reviews, I found it a little less intuitive and not as user-friendly maybe if I were an engineer I would have enjoyed using it more.
  • Better Home and Gardens home designer - OK, it got me the closest to the end result of the entire home, but it was not as intutive as Broderbund especially for spaces like the kitchen and bath.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Where to begin...

I am creating a blog to explore the world of home design and specifically to track how we used a "Do it yourself" approach in designing our home. In 2004 we bought a small house in a neighborhood which we loved with a great school district. The house from day 1 was too small for the size of our family, we have a busy family of six. The house was in a great neighboorhood with potential. We approached the purchase with the assumption that if we continued to love the location we would add a second floor to the house.

We fortunatly were able to find a home inspector who had a degree in structural engineering to do the initial inspection on the house, before we closed. We started our process knowing that the house would be able to sustain a second floor.
We started the actual remodel in 2008 and finished the project 8 months later in 2009. We were less than 5% over budget, and about 6 weeks over our expected construction time. Our house was under 2000 sq/ft to begin with and we ended up with over 3700 sq/ft. We added a second floor and remodeled almost the entire first floor. The original house was built in 1956 on slab, we put in all new plumbing, electrical and HVAC. In the end we did not hire an architect, and I was the primary designer on the house. Through this blog I will be detailing the experiences, and the process I went through in designing our custom home. As I add posts I will submit bulleted lists of points that were critical throughout our process to design ourselves a home.
So here is todays list:

What to consider in choosing the right home to remodel:
  • Ability of home to sustain a remodel
  • Location
  • Size of lot
  • Exposure to the sun
  • Location of the house on your plot
  • What are your cities limitations on home extensions, i.e., not to exceed 30 ft high, setbacks along property lines, lot coverage limitations,
  • fire safety requirements, are sprinklers in your future?
  • Home owner associations may have restrictions on what you build
  • Does your home have blue prints filed with the city or county, (ours had burned in a warehouse fire, so we were at square one when it came to blueprints of the existing house.)