Thursday, May 15, 2014

Now which are the additions...?
How to unify a discordant house.

We recently have been approached by a number of clients who loved many aspects of their new to them home, whether it be the site, the views, the spacious kitchen, the lavish master suite, the vineyards, the barn.  Their one complaint, though, had been that the design seemed an eclectic assortment of styles.  The living room was 80s corporate, the dining room Sonoma Tuscan Revival, the master foyer French Mannerism and the powder room neo-punk classicist.  The ceilings were different in every room in both height and configuration and ressembled the arrangement of tectonic plates along the California coast.  The floors not only changed from room to room, but featured such varying geometry and materials that I was convinced that the house had been used as a tile store at some point in time. As I stepped outside to take a look at the roof, it too carried on the tradition of eclecticism in an amazing assortment of shapes and materials assembled in unspeakable ways...

Dear me.
So how do you bring consistency and harmony to a house like this?  There are several options to approach this kind of project
Most importantly: Determine your personal style.  We used to recommend to our clients to collect magazine clippings of images they responded to.  Now we steer them to, where you can query architectural and interior design images and arrange them in idea-books. Those can then be shared with your designer.

Once you have determined your personal style, let’s figure out how to apply it to your house.  Some of the fast rules we use to unify a dwelling with multiple personalities:
1.       Simplify:  One  flooring material per room.
2.       One trim package (baseboard, window and door trim, chair and picture rail, crown molding) for the entire house. 
3.       A color palette that works with hues instead of widely varying colors.  Ceilings are white. Period.  If there is a picture rail (decorative molding on the walls, usually a couple feet below the ceiling), then the ceiling color should extend down to the top of the picture rail.
4.       Adjust ceiling heights and types so they carry throughout the house without jarring differences from one room to the next (coffers or coves are never (ever!) acceptable and need to be removed immediately after closing.
5.       One window type throughout.  We always try to raise the header heights (tops of doors and windows) to 8’ wherever possible to let you see the sky and bring in more light.  Ideally all header heights should be the same, although there are exceptions. 
6.       One type of switch and outlet covers throughout.  
.       Kitchens: Simplify shapes and materials.  Choose a few really beautiful materials and stick to them.  Streamline the counter and island layout. The same with the cabinets. Simple is beautiful if executed well. 
Adjustable height...
Lighting:  Consider chandeliers, sconces, floor lamps instead of recessed cans.  They emit a warmer light, allow you to light for different occasions and moods.

9.       Furniture and art:  This is probably the most challenging of the elements to unify, as there often heirlooms and thus emotions involved.  If your assortment of furniture and art is as eclectic as the house you just bought, and you’re not willing to part with it, then don’t bother with the renovation; as the result will not do justice to all of the work you just went through without the furnishing and accessories and art being blended with the new palette of your home.   Sometimes a discordant assortment of furnishings can be made to work in conjunction with new pieces in a way that makes a strong statement, but it will take bold steps to get there and it will not subtle.
10.   The exterior of your home:  If your roof is leaks or needs to be replaced or is just plain ugly, it’s time for a redo. Sometimes several added on roofs can be unified through re-framing into a much simpler roof that can be detailed correctly, will drain properly and look good. 
11.   Excessive roof overhangs can be cut back to provide more light through windows and doors into the house and might allow for header heights to be raised.
12.   Unless there is a very good reason, the exterior finish should uniform, utilizing the same few materials. If there is a water table (a 3”-6” extrusion along the perimeter of the wall, from its bottom to about 3’), then a different material might be used for that. But wood siding, plywood siding and stucco applied on the same wall better have a very good reason to be there, or else...

  1. There is so much more than these 12 points of things that can be done to unify your house, but I wanted to also touch on one more point: How do you know when it’s worth re-doing a home and when isn't it?

This depends on many different factors, which will require a professionals assessment.  Here are some of the many points on our check-list:
1.       Have a budget determined.  This is essential.  Starting without a budget is like starting a road trip  
without any idea of how much money you've got with you...
.       If you are within the County Jurisdiction: The state of your septic system (if your property has one. 
Humor taken too far...
If you are within a city this is not an issue).  This might seem like a strange starting point, but it’s where the PRMD (Sonoma County planning department) will start when reviewing the feasibility of your project.  Get a findings report on your septic system to make sure it’s up to the task.

3. Have your home’s electrical, plumbing, structural systems been updated?  This is important to know from the beginning in order to assess how much more “extra” work your project will require.

4.  Are you willing and able to live through the “inconveniences” of a construction project.  Will you be living in the house while construction is going on?  It really helps to have realistic expectation before you embark on a renovation project.