A good design is essential to a successful renovation. If you don’t have any background in or experience with home design and renovation, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. Without a design and plan to follow things can go sideways fast and get very expensive. Continue reading to find out how we arrived at a plan for the next steps of this row house renovation design.
Deciding we needed professional help
We have a fairly good general idea of what we want in our renovation from going to a ton of open-houses in our neighbourhood and seeing other beautiful row house designs in online galleries. It is really the details of a design and the plan of how to get things done that we just don’t know how to do as first-time home owners and relative DIY newbies. For example: How much space is adequate to feel comfortable for traffic around a kitchen island? Is it safe to remove this wall? Is it load bearing? The list goes on. We made efforts to educate ourselves as much as we could by reading blog posts, watching hours of YouTube videos, numerous episodes of This Old House and Leave it to Bryan on TV and by reading renovation books. In the end we decided it was necessary to enlist the services of a professional design and build firm to make sure our design was cohesive.
Finding professional help
We spent a long time online looking for companies that would do both the design and some of the build stages of the renovation. We took the typical routes; reading reviews on Homestars, Houzz, and Google reviews, and asking friends and family for recommendations. We also put together a list of questions in advance of speaking to the companies so we wouldn’t forget anything important and when we narrowed down the list of potential companies we created a reference checklist to use when you get to the stage of talking to the references that these companies will provide (we think this is something that other people might find useful and we will share it in a future post). Eventually we narrowed down our list down to 6 companies we contacted. One of the companies on our list declined saying they were not accepting new clients for at least a year, and another company never returned our call. Three of the companies were design/build firms and the fourth company was a sustainable architecture firm. We scheduled time for each of these companies to come over so that we could get an in-person impression. Each had their pros and cons but in the end we decided to go ahead with the design services offered by Men At Work. They were very professional, had great ideas for our space, were working on another house in the neighbourhood and were very transparent in detailing the process and cost as well as their profit structure.
We are going for an open concept main floor with a comfortable living room, a dining room where we can have future family dinners, a functional cook’s kitchen, a powder room and mud room. Trying to get as much natural light on the main floor is important since we are a middle unit in the row. The second floor needs a larger bathroom with a few luxuries like heated floors and a rain shower, closets in all of the bedrooms, a hallway linen closet and once again the need to maximize natural light into the space. Finishing the basement is our last priority. We know we would like a laundry room, a 3 piece bathroom and a family space. It is important to us to bring the house up to current standards with regards to energy efficiency and incorporate smart-home elements where it makes sense. Ideally we want a row house renovation design that transforms every room into a highly functional space that can be enjoyed.
Trying to set a budget
That is quite a laundry list of rooms. Basically the entire house. If money was no object we would gladly hand the row house renovation design and construction contract over to the design and build firm and go on a nice long vacation. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In reality, the quotes from the builder to complete everything we want to do was way more than we are able to comfortably spend at one time. We understand there are efficiencies in doing all of the renovation all at once, since you will have all the trades in the house and if we moved out during the construction, the renovation could go even smoother! This is just not possible given we don’t have an alternative place to live or an unlimited budget. It was becoming obvious that we would need to make some hard decisions around prioritizing the work into phases and setting a realistic budget. Part of this is coming to terms with not using a builder to manage the renovation and having to manage and do more of the work ourselves to save money. Breaking the work into phases will help us arrive at a more manageable budget in the short-term and allow us to make continuous improvements on the house. The bright side is that we will have the chance to get our hands dirty and learn more about DIY and renovation.
Thinking about timelines
We would like to do at least one major improvement on the house every year which is realistically what our budget will allow. Within those parameters this is our working timeline to date:
- 2016 – Top floor: new bathroom, bedrooms
- 2017 – Main floor: addition renovation
- 2018 – Main floor: kitchen and rest of main floor
- 2019 – Basement: laundry room, 3 piece bathroom
Of course things may change but this gives us a plan to work towards for now. To quote Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!“