Don’t Go it Alone

Turn on the tv or boot up a streaming service and chances are within moments there is a program featuring home renovation and remodeling available to watch. A few new ideas from one of these shows, combined with the resources on the internet that contain everything from how-to videos to articles detailing step-by-step plans, and it can certainly seem like a do-it-yourself home remodel project is possible. And it brings the chance to not only refresh part of the home but save a few dollars as well.

However, the best of internet resources cannot replace professional architects, who are trained to look for the small details the regular homeowner may miss while also making sure every idea can truly become a reality instead of a nightmare.

“The most common projects clients are looking at are the bathroom and the kitchen but really, you have to look at the whole house,” said Dan Scully of Scully Architects in Keene. “People come in to do their kitchen and it doesn’t match stylistically with the rest of the house. We try to respect what is there and work from it. We listen to what is there and try to mesh it with the modern. People come in with pictures from magazines and that, too, we learn from it, throw it away, listen to the client and then go from there.”

Creating a flow and continuity while working within the existing structure is just the first place where an architect can help refine a vision. Instead of being tied to a model photo found in a magazine, architects can take that theme or look and make it work within the structure of the existing home.

“A lot depends on the client, the property and the vision for the house,” said Katie Cassidy Sutherland of ksc ARCHITECTS in Keene. “Lots of clients come in with an idea and pictures of what they like. We give the architectural vision.”

“Clients later often appreciate that architectural vision we can give them. Sometimes they come in and I hear their idea and what they are trying to do and we can put together something they hadn’t thought of,” Sutherland continued. “I like to come to a meeting with two or three ideas and the pros and cons of each and get feedback from what resonates with them. Then I’ll take one scheme or combine this from one and that from another and collaborate with clients. It gets them involved and can pull their ideas and work with them to hone in on a design direction.”

Along with the concept and the design, another aspect of the project an architect can help a client look at is the needs of the family and marrying the look with the actual day-to-day use of the space, along with how all of this will work within the existing structure.

“The existing framing will tell you a lot about what you can do, so we look at that carefully,” Scully said. “We can almost always find problems with stairs and the space it takes, or how water flows off the roof. With additions, a lot of people get into trouble and make those kinds of mistakes.”

“We also try to figure out what the needs of the family really are to be sure they are met and it works with the house,” Scully continued. “Sometimes the most valuable input is getting the concept and the layout right, so they are going in the right direction.”

Beyond the big picture and nailing the theme and concept, an architect can also help with the small details that can make or break a project to avoid them popping up and causing problems later. Scully mentioned consideration of which way a door swings to ensure it flows through the house, or how the rain runs off the roof for a new addition and being sure it isn’t coming down on someone entering the house, as well as tying off a new foundation to the old. These are the smaller things that aren’t necessarily at the forefront of the mind when installing that door, but certainly makes one wish they had thought of it every time that door bangs into something or gets into the way for years down the road.

“What you see is often the fun part of the project and as architects, we are trained to visualize that. Beyond that, we are also thinking about how does the building work and how does it breathe,” Sutherland brought up another lesser known consideration. “Indoor air quality is important. Asthma is directly linked to building envelop quality. The health of the building is tied to the health of our bodies.”

She continued, “We also look at things like mechanical systems and if you want to do an addition, we can do a heat load analysis to be sure that current system can handle the new space. We look at the overall budget and make sure it includes things like the cost for drawings and the cost to furnish, the cost of permits and should the client carry a contingency budget. Sometimes as soon as you open up a roof or floors you may see, for example, someone cut out a support beam to make room for a doorway and with those types of things, you want a 10% contingency budget.”

Some common mistakes Sutherland has seen are things like vapor barriers from putting walls together without assessing the dew point, which leads to condensation, mold growth and rot; bath tiling, where the tile walls don’t meet the tub; or the major no-no of putting plumbing in an outside wall where pipes might freeze and burst. With a home addition, an architect can also immediately recognize the need for additional professionals, like a site engineer to avoid zoning or site work issues that may arise later.

“As architects we have a toolkit to solve problems in creative ways,” Sutherland said. “We’re sort of master puzzlers and we think of how we can move things around in this space and how will it play out in a functional space. How will the new complement the existing in a creative way?”

“I like to consider myself as visually multi-lingual,” Scully said. “Whatever style the house has or the style the owners want to develop, I am capable of knowing and bringing in the little details, like crown molding or trim around the windows, and that is how we bring that alive to reflect the owner and their personality. I think about how it will accommodate their lifestyle while being conscious of the stylistic imagery.”

He suggested, “One thing to think of before starting on a project is what needs are there and how can you envision that. Consider little things like where kids will do their homework and what will make it really your own space. A lot of people aren’t sure so we can talk and think about how we can do that.”

Scully added that to that end, it is very important that before starting a project the clients trust their architect as they will be working with them on a very personal level and for an extended period of time. Finding someone able to balance wants, needs and budgets and being able to collaborate with for months is critical.

Looking forward to the finished product, Sutherland made the added point that sometime resale might become a factor and an architect-designed renovation or remodel has the potential to sell better. Also, an architect can help do a cost-benefit analysis of building materials and energy saving features that could overwhelm the average consumer trying to sort through all of the options.

“Bright spaces that are well laid out will sell better,” she said. “An architect can also help with the durability of the project and help select materials that last longer and are beautiful. Because we do this all the time, we see the pros and cons of these products and that can be helpful when working with different budgets. We also can know an approximate cost per square foot right off the bat and can design for energy efficiency and help clients understand when they are going to see a return on those investments.”

Among some final thoughts, Scully thought that with a brand-new home design, often couples become stressed when they realize that not all of their dreams will be realized or that their vision clashes with their partner. With a renovation, those ideals are “already compromised and there is an immediate reality that everyone recognizes, so it is less stressful.”

“I think an architect can help homeowners to see the big picture,” Sutherland said. “It is a total-space environment. It should satisfy a functional need, but also be an inspiring space that is a joy to be in.”