5 Ways to jumpstart your home renovation project

You’re a homeowner, or a desperately-want-to-be-homeowner, and you are in a near-panic because you want to build a home, but you (choose one):

  • Can’t find a design that you like.
  • Are afraid of the whole process of designing and building.
  • Don’t know if your ideas make sense.
  • Just can’t visualize a design.
  • Don’t know how to start looking for land/houses/plans/architects/builders.

Or you’d like to remodel the home you’re already in, but you:

  • Have a unique house that you really love but aren’t sure anyone else does.
  • Have a historic home and are concerned about somebody ruining it.
  • Have a story attached to your house and want to talk with someone who understands and appreciates it like you do.
  • Are skeptical because you’ve had a bad remodeling experience (or know someone else who did).

In other words, you’re stuck … something’s keeping you from getting started.

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    Maybe it’s too much information -- too many shows on HGTV, too many home design and decorating magazines, too many websites.

    Or maybe you’ve heard too much from too many people who don’t seem to care what you do, as long as you spend your money with them.

    Maybe you’ve collected a file folder full of clippings of great kitchens, wonderfully-furnished family rooms, and home exteriors that you love … but you can’t imagine that you’ll ever have anything like that.

    You’re just … not … sure.

    You’re looking for answers. But you’re not going to find them in design magazines, on design websites, at model homes or on TV.

    Because the projects you see there are about somebody else.

    They’re not about you.

    Your house is all about you

    Good design is personal. Good design starts with you and what you want.

    You’ve been waiting to hear just the right magic words that will make it easy for you to finally get started on your new home or remodeling project, but that’s not going to happen until you give yourself permission to focus on you.

    Give yourself permission to forget about what the newspaper says you should do. Permission to ignore the real estate agent who says you must have a formal dining room or you’ll never sell your house.

    Permission to make your house about you and nobody else.

    It takes conscious effort to not be conventional. Try these five ideas to kick-start your home project.

    Make a big wish list

    Wish lists can easily be divided into two categories: ones that have been edited down to only what is reasonably attainable, and those that dream big (big, in this case, means “wonderful,” not “big” as in “big house”).

    Some wish lists are resigned to defeat: “I’d like to have a (fill in the blank) unless you don’t think we can work it in.”

    Others wish bigger: “I want a bright sunny space, with a fireplace and a window seat, with wonderful views, where I can sit and read and sip coffee and see the kids playing in the backyard.”

    Only two things can happen with a wish list: Either you don’t get everything you hope for, or you don’t get everything quite the way you thought you might. But you won’t get anything different from what you have now if you don’t “wish big.”

    Be unconventional

    Boring, cookie-cutter houses happen when you’re unwilling to try something truly personal.

    When you’re afraid that your neighbors won’t invite you to cocktail hour anymore if you don’t use those chrome appliances with the big red knobs.

    When you really don’t need each of the kids’ bedrooms to have its own bath, but built them anyway because that was what everyone else has.

    It’s hard -- really hard -- to break out of the status quo when you’re building a home because there are so many people happy to tell you that you can’t do that … it’s too unconventional.

    But of course you can.

    A client designed a home a while back with just one bathroom -- for mom and dad and two kids. They didn’t need three baths; they knew that one would do. It had to be carefully arranged, of course, but it works, and they’ve been happily living that way for 10 years.

    That house also doesn’t face the street and doesn’t have a front door. Weird, huh?

    Look elsewhere for ideas

    Everyone’s looking at the same TV shows, the same magazines, the same model homes for ideas.

    Is it any wonder that so many houses look the same?

    Try a few totally illogical sources of inspiration:

    Are you thinking of remodeling your kitchen? Try leafing through the pages of a book about log cabins. Building a new home? Study old barns for a while.

    Tweaking a bath? Have you seen what they’re doing with sailboats these days?

    Break out of the status quo by looking in places you don’t expect to find ideas, and you’ll soon find your imagination revved up.

    Find unusual houses, and talk to their owners

    Lots of blogs and websites catalog unusual and unconventional homes; you might have stumbled on to some as you surfed the Internet for ideas.

    Did you quickly move on, thinking, “Nah, that’s not what I had in mind?”

    If you did, you might have missed an opportunity to learn something new and break out of your slump. You’ve heard the same thing from the same people too many times already, so why not hear from someone completely different?

    People who build unusual homes are often more than willing to talk about them and about how they came to choose the unconventional. Try tracking a few of them down and ask, “what were you thinking?”

    They’ll probably tell you.

    Take your time

    A lot of people are going to try to push you into a new house or a room addition project as quickly as possible. They want to get you to a decision, now.

    But you’re going to change your mind about the scheme you’re working on several times before you settle on a final design. And that’s good. In fact, the more design concepts you explore (especially early on) the better. The more options you give yourself, the more likely you’ll come up with something special.

    There’s no rush. This is a big thing you’re doing, and you don’t want to wish later on that you’d taken more time with it.

    It’s tempting to stop designing once you have a layout that seems to work, but that’s not how good design happens.

    Instead, consciously avoid finishing your design -- even if you like where it’s going -- until you’ve looked at a lot of other options.

    Give yourself permission to try something different. Before long, everyone will be listening to you.


    Richard Taylor is a residential architect based in Dublin, Ohio, and is a contributor to Zillow Blog. Connect with him at http://www.rtastudio.com/index.htm.

    Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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