Before & After: Tips and trends in remodeling

By+Jeffrey P. Helman, AIA Photos provided

Remodeling. For some, the word conjures up the 1986 movie The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks, in which a seemingly endless barrage of well intended yet ill-fated makeovers result in complete dramatic tragedy. For others, the word evokes images of stress: living amidst the dust, dirt and unfinished spaces that sometimes evolve in the course of a residential makeover. Thankfully, for most, remodeling is a chance to take something old and worn out and make it shine again.

The transformation from “before” to “after” can either be a long, drawn out marriage-testing event or it can be an enlightening journey that turns the proverbial ugly duckling into a beautiful swan. 

Whether you wish to remodel a bathroom, or transform an entire home with major additions and renovations, there are several keys to a successful remodeling that, if followed, can result in the desired “wow” factor in the end.

  2. 1. GOOD BONES 

First and foremost, ask yourself if the structure has the basic underpinnings, structural integrity, location and market value to make remodeling a good investment. No matter how much makeup you sometimes put on a pig....well, you get the idea. 


  2. So many times, the “good bones” referenced above are hidden by the lackluster surface or curb appeal. To truly find the pearl hiding within the oyster, it is imperative to be able to see through the clutter and distraction of poor previous choices in order to find a home’s ultimate potential. Don’t be fooled by ugly; it may only be skin deep. 


    2. While it may go without saying I am an advocate of good design planning, it is hard to stress this enough. Whether you seek the professional guidance of an architect or plan the remodeling yourself, the value and investment of good plans on paper far outweigh the high cost of trial and error in the field. Good design documentation and advanced planning will not only reveal the most creative options, it will allow concise and competitive bidding among qualified building contractors. Remodeling inherently brings the proverbial “unforeseen items” no matter what; with good planning, you can minimize this factor dramatically.  

      1. 4. HIRE A PRO

      2. While we have already mentioned hiring a good local architect, it is also important to hire experienced building professionals. Remodeling is tempting to the average homeowner who fashions himself (or herself) a “do-it-yourselfer.” And the big box stores encourage this self- sufficiency. However, if you are not experienced in all aspects of building, attempting a major remodel or addition yourself is asking for trouble. In our already time-starved society, you will probably extend the misery of living in dust and debris. And you might find yourself smack dab in the middle of divorce court. It makes more sense for the vast majority of folks to spend the extra dollars to hire a pro who will provide a clear and detailed quotation for all the work and a concise schedule leading to the projected completion date.

        1. 5. HAVE PATIENCE

        2. Remodeling, by its very nature, means you might have to temporarily live in a construction zone. Of course, if at all possible, move out during major renovations. Your contractor will be much more efficient. When this is not feasible, phase the work in a manner that allows you to co-exist with the construction activity in a safe and sane manner. Grilling and eating outside every night during your major kitchen re-do can be an adventure with mild weather and the right attitude. In any event, planning for a little dust and inconvenience can be the key to keeping your sanity when the dust starts flying. 

          1. 6. SWING FOR THE FENCE

          2. But don’t over improve either. This might seem like contradictory advice, but whether your budget is small or large, we always hope that a good renovation will be a noticeable improvement from what previously existed. While this may sound obvious, don’t remove beige siding and then re-install beige siding.  This is your chance to take a calculated risk, to make certain that what you accomplish is deliciously different and vastly better than what previously existed. It is always my hope that, even in the smallest of projects, there is a joyful exclamation at the end. If there’s not, I often muse, why do it? Whether it’s a new color of paint, or an entire makeover, experience the joy of something new and fresh. 


          4. In summary, only you can make the decision to devote the resources to remodeling; gauging the value of such an investment against either moving, or in some extreme cases (such as high value waterfront properties) to tear down and build again. Remember to realistically analyze all the factors that influence how much you should invest in a particular property in order for it to remain competitive in the marketplace. No one likes to cut a budget, but when it comes to planning a remodeling project, homeowners must establish a realistic budget . . . and actively manage it.

            Preparing for a remodeling project is a lot like preparing to buy a car. You may know the style you want, but the options you choose may drive the price higher than you can reasonably afford. However, there are always ways to stretch the remodeling budget and end up with stylish results. With good planning and a vision to see the beauty within, most projects have the potential to be a dramatic improvement, without being a money pit. Here’s hoping you get to experience the joy, and the journey, of turning the “before” into the “after.”


          6. Jeffrey P. Helman, AIA President of HELMAN SECHRIST Architecture, holds a Bachelor of Architecture Degree and a Bachelor of Science Degree from Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning. He is also a member in good standing with the American Institute of Architects and the National Home Builders Association and is fully registered in the States of Indiana and Michigan.