It Takes a Village to Start a Remodel

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My mother's thoughts about the new kitchen designLike someone starting a diet, I began my home remodeling project by broadcasting the news. It was my first remodel, I was intimidated, and I needed support. Not many of my architect friends expressed interest. They were absorbed in professional design projects. And just as the cobbler’s son goes shoeless, many architects, although successful, have not been in the position to buy and remodel homes.

Those friends of mine who had completed their own home remodels, however, had plenty to say. Residential remodeling has become a DIY pursuit. People shop at Ikea, Home Depot, and Lowe’s, read “Dwell” and “H + G,” watch “Flip This House,” and undertake their own remodel projects. Every homeowner I know who had been through a remodel considered herself an expert. Although I’m an architect with lots of construction experience, I felt like an absolute beginner.

People’s comments often reflected their own desires. One friend asked, “Are you installing recessed lighting?,” another “Are you using carrera marble countertops?”, and several “Are you getting a Viking stove?” (The answers: No, no, no.)

Some people offered excellent practical advice. My friend Alesandra, who has visited my apartment only once, had two great suggestions. 1. Make what improvements you can with furniture and lighting before turning to construction. 2. Get prices for all products and work items before making decisions. And my friend (and Swee10 founder) Jean warned me that the remodel would generate so much dust that I should cover my furniture, seal off my bedroom, and find another place to stay during construction.

Others offered advice that was more personal and harder to accept. My friend Robert, who knows that I don’t like to clean, told me not to get white kitchen cabinets. My mother, who has renovated two kitchens and three bathrooms, had strong opinions: Get light-colored cabinets to brighten the mood. Get dark-colored floor tile to hide dust. Get pull-out trays to keep your pots and pans organized. She sent me notes and sketches like the one above. I reminded her, testily, that I was an architect and also a grown-up and capable of making my own decisions.

When I started the remodel there were many different voices swirling around in my head, so many that I needed to turn them all off for a bit. But as I began drawing up bathroom and kitchen designs many of the suggestions I received found their way naturally into the project. In that sense my remodel is a real group effort.

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