Before You Embark on Updating: Figure Out What You Don’t Like About Your Home

Sep 24, 2019 | Home Decor, Interior

The Atkins family waited six years to redo their dark cherry and black granite countertop kitchen. They worked with interior designer Joan Waddell to design the home to be what they wanted. 

Before you spend one dime, before you drag out your paint splattered old sweatpants or hire a contractor to update your house, Joan Waddell, an interior designer with J. Waddell Interiors, wants you to do some soul-searching.

“Think about how you want to live in the spaces in your home,” Joan says. “It’s important that you evaluate that aspect upfront. Think about what you love about your home and what you don’t love. From that viewpoint, you can narrow the scope of what would make you feel better in that space.

“It’s about health and welfare,” she says, “how you feel in that space. That’s what we are all after, a retreat after a day out in the wild. Our home is our cave.”

Joan’s clients, Bob and Carolyn Atkins, took her advice on a remodeling project. Bob and Carolyn had downsized from a 4,800-square-foot home in Anchorage to a 2,600-square-foot, one-story house in White Blossom. They were empty nesters, their  triplet daughters had moved on.

“We weren’t using the basement or two-thirds of the second floor,” says Bob, a senior medical director at Aetna Medicaid. “It just didn’t make any sense.”

They loved their new home. “It had a lot of what we were looking for,”  Carolyn says. “It had a lovely dedicated office, cathedral ceilings, lots of light and windows. The location was very convenient, and it was all on one floor, which was hard to find.”

But they knew they wanted to redo the kitchen. “It was very dark, with black granite countertops, and dark cherry cabinets,” Bob says. “It was hard to use the cabinets because they had a center piece of wood so you couldn’t get large things into them. There wasn’t enough counter space or storage. We were storing kitchen things in the garage and the basement.”

The layout didn’t work. “It was hard for both of us to cook together in the kitchen,” Bob says. “I wanted it to be light and open and a pleasure to be there.”

Last July, about six years after they’d moved to White Blossom, they called Joan and started working on plans. In January, the nearly 20-year-old kitchen was demolished. “We gutted it back to the walls and removed a closet and a pantry for more square footage,” Bob says.

“The kitchen now is much lighter, with white countertops and white cabinets,” Carolyn says. “There is all new lighting in the ceiling and under the cabinets. It’s a whole new look. We have a chandelier, new table, new chairs, new wood flooring.”

Joan helped the couple think through all the details, like whether to choose marble or quartz countertops (they chose quartz). Carolyn says, “Her expertise and experience were great. She had a lot of ideas, things we weren’t able to visualize.”

“If you are going to put in this much time, emotional energy, and money, it doesn’t make sense to learn from your mistakes,” Bob says. “It made more sense to have someone who knew all the trade offs. We don’t have any second thoughts about any of it.”

“Joan knows so many different people — who would be a good contractor, what person to talk to about cabinets, where to get appliances,” Carolyn says. “We didn’t have to figure out where to find this and that. It made it easier for us. She would meet us at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery to look at different appliances and hardware. She was right there handholding through the entire process.”

The bar sink has lots of pizazz near the dining space. 

Remodel for How Long You Plan to Stay in Your Home

Once you decide what bothers you about a space, then how long you are going to stay in your home will narrow down what updates to tackle.

“If it’s not your forever home,” says Brenna Brooks, a house flipper who provides design services, “I would advise you to update differently than if you are going to live there only two to five years.”

But safety issues get priority. “First, repair anything that could cause a disaster in your home, such as a leaky water heater, or a hole in the roof,” Brenna says. “Fix those for the safety of the person living there, to protect the integrity of the home, and to keep you from having huge repair bills in the future.”

When you are updating a house to sell immediately, “make changes that will appeal to the most potential buyers,” says Brenna, who started Brenlow Properties with her father. For instance, don’t get rid of the bathtub in your master bath. Don’t put in a funky tile. Don’t carpet over your hardwood floors.

It comes down to a balance of what you want, what buyers want, and cost. “Be aware of how much money you are putting into the house and what it’s likely to sell for in the end,” she says. “Don’t fall in love with an expensive material, because it’s not necessarily going to get you more money.” 

But, “if you are going to stay in your house for the long haul and aren’t worried about return on investment — do whatever you want and spend whatever your budget allows,” Brenna says. “Make it exactly what you want it to be. If you hate hardwood floors in the bedroom, put in carpet. Take out the bathtub and put in a large shower. You can have crazy wallpaper with roosters on it, or pink light fixtures. It doesn’t matter.”

More People are Remodeling

Joan has been seeing more homeowners remodeling than ever before in her 25-year career. For instance, “Some people like where they live, and with improvements, they can make the house function the way they want,” she says. “Others are downsizing and remodeling their new homes to suit their needs and tastes.”

But, the majority of the remodeling trend is being driven by millennials, who are buying older homes that are closer to downtown and have amenities nearby, she says. “They are not about square footage at all,” Joan says. “They are about not having a financial burden.

“They say, ‘Give me a comfortable place to live where I have walking access to everything,’” Joan says. Home prices in St. Matthews have skyrocketed because of millennials and baby boomers. Everyone wants that ability to leave the car at home, get exercise, walk the dog, or walk to a restaurant.

“They don’t want the burden of a big house that they need to fill up,” Joan says.

Get Professional Design Help

An interior designer can provide a good design, cost-effective materials, and reliable contractors.

“I’m a full service design firm,” Joan says. “We can provide every aspect of your project that you need. I’m very often the first point of contact for a client. They call me and say, ‘I want to do a renovation on my house, but I need help.’ I put the team together, depending on the scope of the project: An architect, contractor, and myself. The general contractor selects the subcontractors because they know their work.

“Subcontractors are in huge demand,” Joan says. “If you don’t have a general contractor, you could wait months.”

Hallway- before

Hallway- after

Eight Quick Updates That Will Add Value to Your Home

Don’t have the time, patience, or money to do a full-blown remodeling project on your home? A smaller project can be just as effective and you don’t have to skimp on style or return on your investment. 

“Small updates can go a long way,” says Page Thomas, lead interior designer for Idea Source at Home, the design company for Huber Decor. “They can increase the value, style, and comfort of your home.”

Here are Page’s eight surprisingly simple updates that take from an hour to a weekend, and won’t break the bank. Plus a bonus tip on finding materials and contractors.

Lighting. “Light fixtures can completely transform a space, set the ambience and the mood, and serve as a focal point of a room,” Page says. “Lighting is constantly evolving with different lighting trends, shapes, and styles. New hot lighting fixtures come out every year. You can increase the value, style, and comfort of the room by changing the fixtures.

“If you don’t want to involve an electrician and do hard wiring, you can add or change floor lamps and table lamps. It’s a good way to bridge and update a room.”

Light bulbs. “A lot of people don’t think about this, but it’s important to have all of your light bulbs match so they are giving off the same light. Updating your light bulbs can go a long way.”

Paint.  “Color trends evolve,” Page says. “I work with a lot of clients who built their homes in the 2000s and 1990s, and the colors were dark and moody. Today, colors tend to be more neutral, light, and airy. It’s an easy way to update your home and will uplift your mood. Light colors are more relaxing. Vibrant colors tend to project excitement and sometimes anger. A fresh coat of paint does wonders. It can really transform a space.

“There are ways to utilize color in other ways. Where there’s a lot of natural light, lighter colors make the room look larger. Sometimes we paint a ceiling darker to draw your eyes to the top and make the space feel larger. For a long narrow room, you can paint the far wall in a darker color, which leads your eye to the dark wall and makes the room feel longer.”

Built-in Casework. “For a lot of clients, we add built-in casework in living rooms, family rooms, hallways,” Page says. “Not only does it add value, but it adds character to your home. It’s a way to customize your home.”

Exterior Updates. “Sometimes, the outside of the home is the last thing the client will look at,” Page says. “But you can’t forget about curb appeal. It’s the first thing people will see about your home. Paint or replace your front door. That’s something you can knock out on a Saturday afternoon. Update the door hardware and house numbers. Paint or remove your shutters. You can update landscaping by adding shrubbery. Update your exterior lighting. All these projects can add value to your home.

“The exterior is a quick return on satisfaction. It will motivate you to continue doing projects in the inside of your space.”

Decluttering and re-organizing. “It can make a huge difference,” Page says.  “If you’ve lived in your home for several years, things can pile up and go unnoticed. We really like to take everything off the walls, shelves, and tabletops and relocate them. Sometimes less is more. We find organizational containers for things that people are going to see, and containers for things that people aren’t going to see. It makes things feel fresh, new, and more finished.

“Pantry organization can improve the quality of your life. Decluttering is an easy way to get a really big pay off, because there’s no cost involved. It’s spending time. 

It’s pretty life changing. It can be anywhere in the home — your garage. Anything that can improve your productivity can improve your mood over all.”

Bathroom Updates. “You can do a full-blown bathroom gut and remodel,” Page says. “But there are lots of small ways to upgrade your bath: update your faucets, paint your vanity, replace all tile. If the tile’s dated, it can put off the rest of the room. Put on new cabinet knobs. Bathroom updates will definitely improve the value of your home.”

Kitchen Updates. “Kitchens and baths sell homes,” Page says. “If you can’t do a full remodel, update the countertops and backsplash. Paint the cabinets in one of the new colors. Update appliances. These can give you a return on investment.”

Materials and Contractors. “A lot of times clients will call us and say they want to remodel, but will need help with design and finding a contractor,” Page says. “That’s the benefit of working with us. We have people we have worked with for years, general contractors, subcontractors, painters, carpenters. I would encourage homeowners to start with the designer and take advantage of our contacts. 

“You can find local contractors on your own by asking for recommendations at local hardware and paint stores. For materials, we use local businesses. You get the one-on-one service, and a better price point because there is less overhead. Once you start working with locals, networking just kind of happens on its own.”

P.S. We have a few ideas for your next trip to Cali. 

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