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Plan your home remodels with your life in mind
Planning your Home Remodels with your Life in Mind
AFTER: Removing a wall that separated the more formal living room from the less formal family room provided more natural light in both spaces and a more usable space for entertaining. - photo by Trina Knudsen

Last week, we talked about the move-versus-remodel debate. That is the first decision you have to make when you accept your house isn’t working for you and you need a change. If you decide to stay put and that remodeling is the way to go, the next phase of the design process is programming.

Programming is determining what you will need to make your house function so it can support your life and family goals.
Every room in your house should be used at least once a day for something useful. Having square feet in your home that sit idle day after day is wasteful. Why heat, cool, clean and pay taxes on space that isn’t contributing to you or your family?
Many clients feel they need more space, so the first thing they think of is an addition when, many times, they are not using the space they already have to its full potential. Therefore, remodeling by repurposing existing space can accomplish the same functional goal as an addition but with less cost and disruption.

Another option, less drastic than a full-blown addition, is a small bump-out in a strategic place. For instance, your kitchen may not have enough width to add that island you want, or your master bath shower may be the size of a postage stamp, so a few feet could make all the difference. Pushing the exterior wall out two feet can open up a range of possibilities that could solve all kinds of issues.

How do you decide if you need a significant addition, an interior remodel or something in between? Talk to an architect! Analyzing your house and how you use it is key to the conversation you will have when you sit down with an architect in the beginning phase of your project.

Besides discussing how you currently use your house and what problems you are encountering, you should consider hopes and dreams. Do you wish you could entertain but don’t feel comfortable having people over to your house? Do you want to be able to have Grandma and Grandpa come stay during the holidays, but don't have a guest room available for them? How would your lifestyle be different if your house were different? What kinds of things would you like to do if your house weren’t holding you back? A well-designed remodel can actually help you live better on a daily basis.

A good design should focus on the end user. At our office, we call it life-centered design. How are you actually going to live in this space? How will you use it every day? The plan should be designed with your lifestyle in mind.

Three variables impact how you live within the walls of your home: your personal life, your interpersonal life and your social life. Your personal life involves issues of privacy and what you need to maintain private goals and functions in your house. Not every part of your house should be open to the public or even invited guests. The way people circulate through the house is critical to ensuring that your personal space is just that.

The interpersonal aspect of this design approach refers to supporting and fostering the interpersonal relationships among the family members living in the house. This is the part of the design that enables the family to gather comfortably around the dinner table and to successfully navigate the morning bathroom routine. This part of the design process looks at how physical solutions can affect interpersonal issues, such as adding another bedroom so each teenage daughter can have her personal space. The goal? Alleviating perpetual fights!

The social-life aspect of this design approach looks at the space where you would entertain guests and socialize. How will you use this space during a holiday party or neighborhood barbecue? Does it lend itself well to the social scene while honoring the private and interpersonal sections of the house as well?

Designing a house with your lifestyle in mind will result in a custom design centered on the individual homeowners and their family circumstances. Remodeling should be individualized and personal. It should help each family member live a better life with the support of their physical surroundings rather than in spite of them.

Architects understand the value of this beginning phase of design and can facilitate constructive discussion and objective analysis of the situation. Spending time and effort on the programming phase of design will pay huge dividends when your project is finally finished and you move into a house that will work wonders for your family.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at Send comments or questions to