In Good taste | October 2019
Planning for Trying Moments in a Home Project
You’ve decided to embark upon the new construction of a home, or embrace a renovation of your existing home. Good for you. (Really, this can be positive experience despite what you or your friends/family have endured in the past.). If you’re like the clients we work with, you are:
- anxious about what you don’t know
- rapidly seeking insight on the decisions you need to make – and when – so you’re not surprised and forced to make quick decisions
- all of the above
You’re playing a movie in your head. You and your spouse are the main characters and the architects, designers, builders and contractors who will help make this idea come to life are the supporting cast. The movie speeds up and you see yourself at the end, in the finished space, with the people closest to you gathered around. Everyone is happy and content. You are effortlessly floating through the space because it perfectly suits you and supports your needs.
But you know there’s some heavy duty experiences between the time you start this journey to that idyllic gathering at the end. (The weather is even perfect that day in the movie, by the way.)
| An evening of thanks, hosted by clients to share their appreciation
for all who contributed talent to their new home. |
Here’s a snapshot of the low points you can expect during the project, and specific advice and consultation we offer to our clients during these stressful moments.
#1 – The initial budget comes in higher than expected. It happens. Why? Because unless you’re building a spec house, there are so many variables in estimating a project until a plan set goes to a builder for pricing, architects and designers have to work in ranges to ballpark a project. It’s not an excuse, just a reality of the work we’re doing.
I had a client recently ask me during their stressful budget moment, “I don’t get it, Patti. Isn’t there a program that architects and designers can use during the process that allow you to push a button and add cost every time I ask for an exterior bracket so I know the impact to the bottom line?”. I wish there were…
In the fifteen years I’ve been developing budgets for clients, and been a part of large new construction budgets for clients, I’ve been trying to find and perfect this part of my practice. I’ve made progress, no doubt. I collect historical data. I compare typical costs. I have tough budget conversations to the point where I’m a bore. I raise the red flag when allowances aren’t high enough. I provide good/better/best options at varying price points. Despite all those efforts by me and equally conscientious architects, projects tend to run higher than originally budgeted.
Here’s what to do when the budget comes in high:
– Stay calm. It’s hard, I know. But trust in the professionals you’ve assembled around you and know that there’s a way through this that will get you what you want, at the budget you can afford.
– Know there are always options. There are many ways to bring a project budget down and it usually takes a united effort by architect/interior designer and builder to identify options to bring the cost down.
– Know what your non-negotiables are. The must-haves / I can’t live without this / this is why we’re doing this project in the first place priorities that you will not give up. Communicate those loud and clear to your team and stick to those.
– Understand what aspects of the project could get a simpler finish. Much of the budget variable comes in the cost of finishing materials, so if you can simplify a whole floor, for example, you’re contributing a great deal to the savings column on the spreadsheet.
– Be open to phases of construction that delay a portion of your investment. Sure, you’re losing some economies when you mobilize a team again a few years down the road, but your income will grow between now and then so it’s less of a financial stretch.
| Patti alongside Wade Paquin, President & CEO of WKP Construction, of as they team up
to review plans and bring the budget down on a new construction project. |
#2 – This project is larger than you imagined. You take the first walk through the framed spaces, or the demo’d house. The enormity of the project hits you and you’re overwhelmed. Its smaller/larger than you thought. The extent of the demolition is more than you expected. For example, I often hear this from clients undergoing a renovation – “It’s really less expensive to take all the wallboard down and re-plaster later?” Yes – it is, when we’re upgrading heating/cooling systems, adding lighting and installing millwork later that will benefit from plumb walls and ceilings.
Here’s what to when the project is bigger than you expected:
– Stay calm. Again. There is a sound design that you’ve invested in and approved and this is the way forward to achieve that design, and the house you’ve dreamed of.
– Understand that the project ebbs and flows in how small/large it looks. A framed house looks enormous, for example. Then as soon as the wallboard goes up the interior shrinks again. Painting will make it feel a bit larger then again. This expand/shrink effect will happen a few times throughout construction, so be aware of your emotional reaction and trust that a counterbalancing event will naturally happen later in the timeline.
Side note: Changing framing, within reason, is cheap and worth it if you don’t care for the size of the space. On a project last year, I walked into an adjoining room to a large Kitchen with a header separating the two rooms. The header was too low and provided more separation between the rooms than I wanted, so I asked if it could be changed. The reply from the fantastic builder on the job was “yes, we can do that Patti and completely agree”. Catching modifications like this before it goes too far into finish enables changes to be made with limited cost/hassle.
| Image Left: Scenes from the ‘not so pretty’ demo day.
Image Right: After months of planning, the house started to become a reality to our Narragansett clients, who saw their home framed for the first time. |
#3 – Lighting and audio visual decisions are complicated. Indeed. You’ve gone on an initial walk through with your designer and electrician. You thought you knew what you wanted and were surprised to find out there’s yet another round or two of decision making that needs to happen. And, while your partner said he would coordinate the audio visual aspects of the house, he wasn’t able to attend the walk through because he’s on a plane. As a result, you’ve been asked about a/v controls and how, or not, you want them integrated with lighting and security systems in the house. Its feeling highly technical and too much to learn, too fast.
Here’s what to do when home tech is too high tech:
– Unless you or your partner are professional lighting/audio visual consultants, leave it to those who are. You should have an a/v consultant working alongside your builder and electrician. It’s a critical trade these days, and not something you or your spouse should ‘handle ourselves’.
– Share the functionality you wish to experience in the house when it comes to lighting, audio visual, window treatment and security. Be clear about your wishes. For example, “I want to be able to turn off all the lights off and draw window treatments when I leave the house for a week, at the touch of a button. But, it’s not important to me to control all aspects of my house from a single iPad on the wall with exterior lighting, security, televisions and radio. That’s too much technology for me.” Then, let the professionals design the system at the right level of technology comfortable for you.
– Live with your system for a few weeks upon move in, note the changes you’d like make, then bring back your electrician and a/v consultant to make revisions to your settings and controls. If you’re using a Lutron system (and you should) you’ll have flexibility in some aspects of how lighting is grouped together and the ‘scenes’ you can create. Observe how you’re using the space in the first month or so, then fine tune to make the technology support your lifestyle. (Don’t bend to accommodate the technology installed in your home.)
| One of our favorite ‘tech’ moments, when the TV is hidden by artwork that retracts into the wall at the push of a button.
The ultimate intersection of beauty and function. |
#4 – Something goes wrong. It’s inevitable that something will go wrong. There are so many humans and materials being used in a project like this, the numbers are working against you. Despite best intentions, people will make a decision or a judgement call that was not what you wanted. A relationship with a professional may change. A product may fail. Or a natural materials may twist, fail, blend, cup or discolor.
Here’s that to do when something, or someone, goes wrong:
– First, let’s assume you’re working with a group of professionals who conduct themselves with the utmost integrity when something goes wrong. They are calm, they take responsibility, they aren’t defensive, they research and most importantly – they advocate for you, the client. They hold themselves and their team to the highest standards of quality – which reduces countless things that could go wrong, if they didn’t.
– Trust that if the issue is with a product, there’s a good chance that the manufacturer will stand behind its product and work with the general contractor to make it right. Your GC will take the issue up the ladder and advocate for a replacement or remedy at the supplier’s cost. Usually, the manufacturer wants to keep that GC happy, so they are inclined to stand behind the window/trim/stone/flooring/fixture and ensure an on-going and positive relationship.
– Just about anything can be fixed. It’s true. Seasoned professionals have seen a lot and know that there’s a way to correct just about anything. That’s why we can remain positive. Calm and cool heads can provide countless solutions, in my experience.
Side note: There’s usually a ton of talent working on a job site. Men and women who tinker with things at home, have troubleshooted issues before and are personally fulfilled when they can help solve a problem. We recently had a metal tube and bracket detail that wasn’t working with the designed condition. I asked the superintendent on the job if he knew of a metal worker who could join two sections of tube at a corner with a splice and provide a seamless finish. He did and it was solved a few days later.
| Brian Fortin, owner of B. Fortin Electric Co., an ideal member of the dream design/build team. |
#5 – Its move-in day and you’re not sure what to do first. It’s here – the day you’ve been waiting for. Get ready for a flood of emotion. I’ve seen people try and hold it together, sometimes literally holding onto each other for strength, as the house is revealed to them. They take in what was beyond their imagination and immediately try and live there. It’s a lot of goodness for a person, and their family, to adjust to.
Here’s what to do first as you move into your new/old home:
– Set up your Kitchen. It will make you feel so much better, immediately. We make clients a useful ‘here’s what goes where in your new Kitchen’ map to help find a place for everything and put everything in its place. And we’ll help unpack, too, if you’d like.
| Top Image: Look closely. A real example of the ‘here’s what goes where in your kitchen’ map.
Bottom Image: A recently completed renovation project, where everything is where it belongs, even the potted herbs. |
– Let your designer help you acclimate to your new home. We find being there during this transition of the house from project to home helps our clients adjust and get their bearings. Within a few days we watch them relax, and then we know it’s safe to step aside and let them enjoy their home.
– Don’t put off buying or hanging artwork. It’s amazing to watch a home transform as the art is hung. It finishes a space and helps you feel settled and content. We understand it’s a decision that is often delayed because you’re not sure it’s the perfect piece. Chances are, there are many places in your home that a piece could be moved to later on, if you don’t like it in the first place it’s hung. Buy what you love, hang it to provide a sense of completion and give yourself permission to move it later if you change your mind.
There you have it. Bits of advice collected over countless home projects the past several years.
Want taste in your corner as you embark upon your project? Reach out; we’ll keep the stressful moments to a minimum – or help eliminate all together.
Only the best,
P.S. This is what a stress-free project looks like for our clients at the end…