10 Tips for Creative Remodeling

Sarah Susanka and fellow architect/writer Marc Vassallo share 10 tips for creative, not-so-big remodeling.
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Photo By: David Sacks

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The era of McMansions has come and gone, and homebuilders and homeowners alike are demanding more economical, sustainable ways to build and remodel their homes. Sarah Susanka, architect and author of the Not So Big book series, has championed the cause of building better — not bigger — houses, with a focus on quality over quantity. She says that responsible, sustainable, meaningful living will shape trends in residential building and remodeling for years to come.

With that in mind, Sarah and fellow architect/writer Marc Vassallo share 10 tips for creative, not-so-big remodeling.

Balance Your Priorities

When beginning a remodel, you'll need to consider cost, time, quality and quantity. Determine which of these are the most important. Because remodeling is an inexact science, one or two of these variables may need to "float" in order to make your remodel possible.

Examine the Space

Begin exploring remodeling options by first looking at what can be done within the existing footprint of the house. By thinking creatively about the available space, you may discover that no additional space needs to be added. Instead, problems can be solved by rethinking the locations of each activity area within the existing footprint.

Think in Terms of Activity Areas

It's a common temptation to think about remodeling in terms of rooms. However, that approach can limit potential solutions before the project begins. Instead, create a list of activities that need to be accommodated, recognizing that the activity will require a place, but not necessarily an entire room. This allows for a greater number of potential design options and will lead to a remodeling plan that best addresses the needs identified.

Start With the Simplest Strategy

Learn to think about a home as an architect would. Begin by exploring the simplest remodeling solution — working within the existing footprint — and only move to more complicated solutions, such as a bump-out or a small addition, after determining that the simpler solution won't work. This strategy is the most important tool to discovering a Not So Big solution.

Study Storage

Evaluate the home's existing storage areas, including cupboards, closets and pantries. Many homes have too little storage in places where it is most needed, and too much in places where it is only marginally useful. A little well-designed storage in the right place can replace a lot of poorly designed storage, opening up some much needed floor space in areas that are currently too small to function properly.

If You Need More Space, Bump Out a Little

Bumping out a section of wall by just a few feet can add some much needed square footage where it is most useful, without making the whole area too big — a common error in many add-ons. A bump out that creates an alcove or a small extension running the width of a room will keep costs down while maintaining the scale and proportion of the existing house.

Add On With Grace

If none of the above strategies meets the remodeling needs, and budget allows, a small addition may be the best option. When adding on, it is important to consider what each exterior face of the house will look like. A well-proportioned addition can greatly enhance the value of a home, while a poorly proportioned addition can actually reduce a home's value. Good design is always a good investment — and it doesn't have to cost more money to accomplish.

Let the Roof Be the Guide

To ensure that a bump out or addition will look good on a house, let the existing roof inform the design solution. The roof shape will make some options easy and others nearly impossible without it looking like a mistake. In some situations, a bump out or addition just won't work without serious roof reconfigurations that will cost more than the project is worth.

Work With Windows

Few things can have as much impact on the character of a room as the shapes, patterning and positioning of the windows. In any remodeling situation, an interesting composition of windows can add personality to both the inside and outside of the house.

Include the Exterior

Remodeling doesn't have to be restricted to the interior of a house. Even if the home doesn't need major exterior changes, consider giving it a prettier face. Few remodeling strategies can affect the long-term value of a home more than an external facelift. These can be accomplished inexpensively when done with a Not So Big focus on quality rather than quantity.