Key to remodeling know what you want


SO YOU'RE planning to renovate. Do you know what you want?

That's not as stupid a question as it might seem. Knowing what you want is about putting your ideas together in a way that can be clearly communicated to someone else.

When Ron goes to see a prospective client for the first time, he encounters every stage of "knowing what you want," from "I have no idea" to "Here are the architect's blueprints."

Although good contractors can deal with those who don't know what they want, you're likely to have a much better experience with a contractor if you do a little homework before calling.

Start by listing the things you want or need -- your wish list. Arrange your list by priority, from what you absolutely have to have to what would simply be nice. If the costs exceed the budget -- which is usually the case -- this order will help you decide what's important and what can be cut from the project.

Think about why you want to change the space or add to it. For example, if you are redoing a kitchen, is it because it's old and outdated and you'd like a fresher look? Or is it because it needs to be redesigned to accommodate a larger family or a change in lifestyle? Or is it both?

Explaining -- even to yourself -- why the existing space doesn't work goes a long way toward understanding how best to change it. How do you use the space now, and how will you use it if it changes? How will the changes you want affect the adjoining areas of the house?

Discuss your ideas with friends and family members. Other people may see your situation from a different point of view and may offer ideas you hadn't considered. Be sure to include your children -- they might surprise you. Not only might they have good ideas, they're likely to appreciate being part of the process. Ron's daughter Kaitlyn is actively involved in plans for their home addition.

As you work out your ideas, draw a floor plan or a simple sketch. You don't have to be an artist -- just start with a box or a rectangle. Think about where you want to place things such as windows, doors, fixtures and furniture. Make separate sketches of possible window treatments, flooring and other finishes.

The sketches don't have to be accurate or to scale -- you simply want to illustrate the ideas. Look through books and magazines that focus on remodeling and decorating, tear out or mark things that you like or are similar to what you want, and put them in your file.

Finally, decide what would be the most you are willing to spend. Then you can determine the feasibility of your project.

You should be prepared to compromise on everything -- including the price.

Ron is working with a client who knows exactly what she wants. She and her husband recently bought a house in northern Baltimore County. Originally, the house was a small, two-bedroom rancher, probably built in the 1950s. The previous owners put on several additions that have about tripled the size of the original house. It now has a spacious master bedroom, ample additional bedrooms, formal living and dining rooms, a large family room, a sun room, a breakfast nook and a garage.

Sounds perfect, right? The problem is the kitchen is the same size it was when the house was built.

Since the sun room and breakfast room adjoin the kitchen but have no direct access into it, the homeowner wants to knock out the walls between them and combine the areas into a useful space.

However, both the adjoining rooms are additions that were built at different times with different ceiling heights and roof types. That creates design and construction problems, inside and outside. But because the homeowner has such a clear idea of what she wants, she should be able to find a compromise that fits her needs.

Next: Determining the budget.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelers Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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