Expert Tips for Your Next Remodel Project

Local designers and architects answer homeowners' frequently asked questions

By Seattle Magazine Staff

Manual worker's equipment at construction site without people.

December 28, 2018

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Seattle Magazine.

This article appears in print in the January 2019 issue, as part of the Remodel & Refresh cover story. Click here to subscribe.

What should a homeowner look for in a remodel team?
Trust, good references and good rapport with your designer, your architect and your contractor. You’ve got to be comfortable communicating with each person and then having the contractor in your house for a month (or sometimes much longer). So I suggest clients ask rigorous questions: ask your designer how many hours the design will take, ask the architect how many rounds they believe the design will take, and ask your contractor how many jobs he/she generally juggles at one time and how they take care of the work site (your home!). Be sure to set expectations with your team. 

— Ali Scheff, owner/designer, Distinctive Kitchens Seattle

Experience. All cities have different land use codes and permit processes. Having an architect that has navigated permitting in certain cities, especially Seattle, will save time and money.

— Henry H Lo, owner/principal, HhLodesign

What is your best piece of advice for anyone planning a remodel?
Plan ahead and move out. Home television doesn’t reflect the true planning or construction process of a remodel. In reality, everything should be drawn, selected and priced in advance. This gives you the time to make the right decision in advance and move on with your life during construction.  For most remodel projects, it’s not possible to live in your home unless you like the idea of “camping” in your dust-filled home for 3 months. 

— Michelle Dirkse, owner/principal designer, Michelle Dirkse Interior Design

My project is small, do I need an architect/designer?

Yes. Architectural/design drawings and specifications are needed to guide installations. Even small projects typically require design input, and those plans are necessary to efficiently and accurately communicate project expectations to our skilled craftspeople and subcontractors. They are also necessary when there is a need to secure permits for the work. The level of scope and design within projects we normally undertake requires a design professional.

— Alex Daisley, project supervisor, Hammer & Hand

What are the most common issues that arrise during a remodel?
The most common issues come down to miscommunication and unexpected repairs. Remodeling a home is not the same as new construction because you can’t see behind the walls. As a homeowner, you need to trust your team and be open-minded when your contractor is working to fix an issue that arises. It’s only a problem if you see it as one; when unexpected repairs arise, it’s an opportunity for the homeowner to repair the issue before further damage spreads to the rest of the home. It’s something that can occur when renovating any home and I always prepare my clients to set aside a contingency reserve during our initial consultation.

— Liem Tran, owner/construction general contractor, Emerald City Dream Homes, LLC

Scope creep. Often it is hard to draw the line of how far to go with a remodel and the majority of clients end up adding more work and spending more money more than they anticipated.

— Devin Fitzpatrick, owner, Devin Fitzpatrick Interiors

Remember that there are often surprises in a remodel job. You may take out a wall only to find out that plumbing or wiring needs to be replaced, so you want to have a little wiggle room [in your budget].  And think about your priorities. Splurge on the items that get the most use, or that mean the most to you, and then you can usually save in other areas. For example, in a kitchen, the counters and appliances are the workhorses. If you love to cook, you’re going to want to invest there.

— Beth Dotolo, principal/owner of Pulp Design Studios  (with partner Carolina Gentry)

There will be things you and your partner don’t agree on. I suggest using a type of poker chip (so to speak) as a means of negotiating with your partner. If you want the four-burner range and your partner would rather have the six-burner range, use one of your poker chips to end the dispute. You can’t have too many or you will just keep “one-upping” each other but it is a great way to resolve what appears to be a dead end disagreement.

— Stephanie Wascha, AIA, owner, Wascha Studios LLC

How should homeowners reconcile their remodel dreams with their budget?

There are always tradeoffs in a remodeling project, so having a prioritized wish list is very helpful. What are the “must haves”, “love to haves”, “nice to haves”, and “if we happen to be able to get it haves”?  You may find that given the existing constraints some items are mutually exclusive.  Keep the big picture in mind when making small scale decisions. Be willing to give up on some items for the benefit of a stronger overall design.

— Allan Farkas, AIA, owner, Eggleston Farkas Architects

A homeowner should look for an experienced team who listens, collaborates and offers their expertise. An experienced team knows the big picture, so they can address big picture and detailed concerns proactively instead of reactively. They can suggest ways to save money because as we all know, funds going toward a remodel can quickly escalate. In addition, they know what to look out for in terms of avoiding costly mistakes. Equally important a homeowner should look for a remodel team whose portfolio resonates with their own sensibility and a team they feel a synergy with and look forward to working with over the course of this important process!

— Barbara Hyde Evans, interior designer, Hyde Evans Design

People usually want to put their money into the pretty things that they can see and touch like faucets and tile but the reality is that many times your money will end up being spent on infrastructure that is behind the walls and unexpected add ons while the project is moving forward.  Do not despair, you can always go back and replace something later that you may have had to settle on due to budgetary constraints.

— Karla Tewes, owner/principal, Tewes Design LLC

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