Determining the best architectural options in home remodeling

Posted May 2

Home design and remodeling takes planning. Part of that process is determining what works and what doesn't with the house. (Deseret Photo)

Architecture is much more than how the building looks from the outside. While that is an important aspect of any design, the true test of architecture is on the inside. How does the home or building function for the end user on a daily basis?

When we worked in commercial architecture, we designed banks, schools, office buildings and many varieties of commercial and institutional buildings. Typically, our clients were the directors of the facilities departments, not the end users who would actually inhabit and use the building when it was finished. That disconnect was one of the reasons we started Renovation Design Group. We wanted to work with the end user and help everyday people understand the value of architecture.

In addition, there was a need for architects who were willing to work on home remodels. We watched our former firm turn homeowners away all the time because their projects were too small to be financially feasible for a firm tailored for projects of a million dollars or more.

Happily, we now work every day with homeowners who want something more out of their homes. We help them see and understand the potential of their house and how it can change to better fit their needs and goals.

Most clients come to us in the beginning stages of the remodeling process, though this often is after many years of dreaming/contemplating a change in their home. We certainly prefer this to the client who comes after demolishing his or her entire basement or installing new windows throughout the house. While we are happy to work under any circumstances, the best time to plan is at the beginning, rather than several steps into the project.

Through our design assessment, we may determine that the best use of funds would be on the main level, but if the basement has been demolished, our hands are tied. The same can be said for new windows; a certain style has been set with that decision. We can work with it, but again, our options are limited before we even begin. Remember: Design comes first, construction second.

Our initial consultation with every client begins with a conversation about what they like and dislike about their home, and what they think they want to accomplish with a remodel. Soon, however, we are talking about zoning ordinances, structural requirements and budgets. The "pretty picture" is only one part of the complicated process of home remodeling.

Zoning ordinances can put the kibosh on many a homeowner’s plans. The worst thing that can happen is to spend time, effort and money creating a design that the city is going to reject outright because it doesn’t conform to existing regulations. These things can get especially sticky if you live in a historic district. Professional guidance in the earliest stage of your project can be critical.

Each project has four options in terms of ways to accomplish a set of design goals. The first is to use/adapt/rearrange the existing space. Other options are to add on, add up (a second story) or go down (remodel/finish or dig out the basement). Sometimes a project needs additional square feet, while other projects have the space and just need it to be reallocated.

Over the years, we have been involved in many projects of each of the above versions, so we can discuss them relative to any new project a client brings in for discussion. A limited lot size may head the project design toward building up or digging out; a desire to age in place will influence the design to enlarge or reconfigure the main level. Each set of circumstances needs to be analyzed in terms of all the options available to determine the best architectural approach for each client.

The budget, of course, is key in this initial planning discussion. It is a given that a client’s wish list is going to outpace his or her budget. This is where setting priorities comes into play. An architect is not trained as an arbiter or marriage counselor, but we do have skills and experience in helping rank and order possibilities in terms of getting the biggest bang for your buck for both aesthetics and function in your remodel. Bringing the budget into the discussion right off the bat is essential to getting a good start in determining wise architectural options for your project.

A successful residential remodeling project is a process that requires research, consultation with appropriate experts and effective dialogue among the team members. Working with homeowners to maximize the potential of their home to positively affect their lives and families on a daily basis is a rewarding job. We are glad we made the change and can help people determine the best architectural options for their own homes and lives.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs. To learn more, visit or contact


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