Dwell’s Budget Breakdown series reveals the true cost of renovating or building from scratch—from a kitchen makeover for $42,000, to a compact home built for under $250,000, to a major apartment renovation for $910,700. These detailed accounts from architects, designers, and homeowners lift the curtain on the price of lighting, insulation, labor, and more. Read on as we break down the budgets of 32 inspiring projects.
Small, secondary homes are popping up everywhere in Portland, Oregon—including in the backyard of Scott Mooney and Lauren Shumaker. Spurred by the city’s generous accessory dwelling unit (ADU) incentives and a desire to reduce their environmental footprint, the couple—he an architect and she a construction engineer—designed and built an elegant, 624-square-foot backyard home with sustainability at its core. Designed over weekends and spare evenings, Scott and Lauren’s "labor of love" came together after eight months of work with help from builders Kevin Smith and Taylor Thompson of Taylorsmith Sustainable Construction.
Over the past two years, Denver couple Kerri Cole and Patrick Neely of Colorado Caravan have been renovating vintage Airstream trailers, transforming them into sales offices, bars, and even hotel rooms for motor lodges. Neely, who originally was flipping houses and fixing up vintage cars, recently made his segue into transforming other structures like shipping containers and eventually Airstream trailers. His wife Cole, a talented designer, handled all the aesthetics. Currently, the space is used as the couple’s sales trailer and showroom. And if the mood strikes them, they also have the option of taking it on the open road.
Phoenix, Arizona–based couple Steve and Trina Sholin have brought their house-flipping skills to the tiny home movement in the form of masterful RV renovations. Their most recent project? A 350-square-foot, 2004 Jayco Designer RLTS-33 ft Fifth Wheel that was worse for wear until the duo gave it a total makeover for a total of $21,345. Now the charming home-on-wheels is available for $27,000—a great value considering the love the couple poured into it.
A year after Ben Carstensen moved into his 1925 bungalow in Portland, Oregon, he had a mission: to get his backyard ready for the summer. The focal point of the backyard redesign is his conversion of half of the detached garage into a screened porch. At 540 square feet, "the garage was large, and underutilized," he says. "I used it as a woodshop and for storage, but I didn't need all of that space." Since the backyard is on the smaller side, Carstensen needed a solution that would expand its footprint, as well as an "additional outdoor space that could be utilized even on a rainy Portland day," he said. "The screen porch approach was the answer." Over a long weekend in May 2018, he and his parents tackled the project. They framed up a wall to divide the garage in half, then removed the interior and exterior wall cladding on the screened porch side in order to replace it with screening. The result? "The absolute best space to relax in during the evening," said Carstensen, who likes to hang out there with his two dogs on the regular.
"Short of pouring foundations, converting a van is a lot like building an entire house," says Jack Richens, the custom van renovator behind This Moving House in Oxford, United Kingdom. Richens recently transformed a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van with a 177-inch wheelbase into a chic, 91-square-foot mobile home with a kitchenette, cozy sleeping berth, lots of nooks and crannies for storage, and additional heating and insulation so that the van can weather winter in the mountains during ski season.
With one foot in the tech design industry and the other firmly in the art world, producer and community organizer Michelle Morrison started saving to purchase her own home before she turned 30. She was dreaming of her own industrial live/work space, and after 10 years in San Francisco, she started to look in Oakland for a warehouse space which she could convert. After searching for months and being outbid on multiple spaces, she finally upped her budget as much as she could afford and hit the jackpot—winning a 1,300-square-foot former coffee and produce warehouse in Oakland’s waterfront warehouse district. The space was exactly what she was looking for—something she could break down and build back up. Feeling empowered by her purchase, Morrison set her sights on an even loftier goal: to convert the space into her dream home with just a $125,000 budget. With Siol Studios and Elliott Build in tow, the results came in on time and exactly within her budget—and she was able to move in just seven months after closing.
Emilie Geoffrey and her partner Antoine were in the middle of hunting for rentals in Montreal when it dawned on them that it would be more cost-effective to buy and renovate a duplex in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and rent out the second floor. Emboldened by their calculations and the opportunity to craft a space exactly to their liking, the couple purchased an old, two-story duplex that sat virtually untouched since its construction in 1953. To breathe new life into their dated duplex, Emilie and Antoine reached out to Naturehumaine, a local architecture firm the couple loved for their distinctively modern and minimalist design approach.
Tired of the hectic city grind, and yearning to be closer to nature, urbanites Danielle, a dermatology physician assistant, and Ely, who works in software development, purchased a 1,522-square-foot house in the mountainous Tannersville village in Greene County, about a two hour’s drive north of New York City. They had made their purchase on impulse, and didn’t even realize how close the house was to North-South Lake and Kaaterskill Falls, two of the biggest hiking attractions in the Catskills. The Frankos spent two years renovating the house, and now they rent out the Hunter Greenhouse through Airbnb, so others can enjoy their efforts, and this beautiful part of the world.
Tucson, Arizona–based architect Gideon Danilowitz took the required 40 hours of volunteering at his son’s school very seriously—so seriously, in fact, that he designed and helped build a new chicken coop for the school. He sought to provide plenty of shade for the birds while allowing breezes to enter and further cool the space. The simple materials and thoughtful design of the 160-square-foot structure, combined with the efforts of the local parents, resulted in a sophisticated structure that takes advantage of what the desert has to offer.
The two-level, wooden Suita House in Osaka, Japan, was built sometime before 1981, in accordance with now-outdated earthquake resistance standards. Since its owners—a couple with two young children—needed to upgrade to meet the current regulations, they decided to give the property an interior overhaul and transform it into a brighter, better-ventilated home that’s more suitable for modern living. Osaka has a high earthquake risk, so Koka City–based architecture and design studio Alts Design Office performed structural renovations and repairs to ensure the house would hold up well if tremors impact its foundations in the future. They then worked to bring in more light, and to modernize the floor plan.
Architect Efrat Weinreb and her husband were strapped for cash after buying their first home in Tel Aviv, yet the couple were confident they could still give their dated apartment a chic, modern makeover without breaking a strict budget of $100,000. Achieving the apartment of their dreams, however, would be no easy task. Their two-bedroom, 974-square-foot unit required a complete overhaul that not only meant costly demolition and new plumbing, but also home decor shopping. Fortunately, Efrat, founder of WE Architects, drew on her professional experience and online shopping savviness to keep their budget in check.
Ashley Goldman, the voice behind the design blog The Gold Hive, and her husband Ross Goldman have been restoring her 1915 craftsman bungalow in San Diego, California, for the past three years. Room by room, they are transforming their home into a polished blend of craftsman character and modern pieces. This master bedroom renovation is the third remodel in their home inspired by an online design challenge. The One Room Challenge is a biannual event in which 20 design influencers are selected to transform a space in just six weeks and document the steps along the way. To transform the master bedroom, the couple focused on re-configuring the layout to provide better functionality, while filling the space with a curated collection of furnishings and accessories.
In 2017, Jenny McClary and Allie Leepson, a couple based in New York City, bought a small cabin in Vermont on a whim. They had been looking for property in Joshua Tree, but after being outbid several times, a short trip to Wardsboro in the southern part of the state led them to this 1982 gem. Although the home had been sitting on the market for a year, the couple recognized good bones when they saw them. The interior just needed a few small tweaks to give it a more modern look. "Our goal was to turn this traditional Vermont ski cabin into a well-designed space that’s more than just a place to take your snow boots off in," the couple say. After purchase, the couple spent 4.5 months replacing flooring, swapping out hardware, painting, and wiring new lights in order to achieve a more streamlined style that's still cozy. Most importantly, they left the predominant knotty pine paneling in place, and not just because it was in good condition. "It gives the home that rustic, Vermont charm," say the couple, who run a creative studio called The 1909. "We love the way it picks up light in the late afternoon. We also think it makes our cabin smell amazing."
A 150-square-foot kitchen in a 1963 Eichler home in San Jose, California, has been transformed into a bright, functional, family-friendly space. Renovated once in the ’80s, the previous kitchen had an L-shaped design that the owners wanted to replace with an island and breakfast counter for better circulation. They needed additional counter and storage space while keeping the kitchen open and uncluttered. Interior designer Cathie Hong of Cathie Hong Interiors met their requests by changing the footprint and orientation of the kitchen, opening up the cramped shape to comfortably accommodate an island. Working with Santa Clara–based builders Arnold’s Custom Homes, Kitchens & Baths, Hong removed all the original cabinetry, appliances, pantry, and wood paneling, and replaced the old window with a dual-pane window.
When Meag and Ben Poirier were living in Maine in 2016, they snapped up a 31-foot-long bus on Craigslist for $8,000, planning to convert it into their first home. The bus, previously a prison transport vehicle and a mobile command center for the Sherriff’s Department in Fairfax County, Virginia, had a storied history, and its previous owner had planned to transform the bus himself. After turning down several other potential buyers who wanted to strip it for parts, he was thrilled to connect with the Poiriers. For the next two years, the Poiriers spent most weekends working on the bus themselves, converting it into a 165-square-foot home.
Charmed by the Instagram feed of Design Bar Detroit, a client reached out to the interior design studio with a vision for a bathroom renovation she coined "’60s Italian Dystopia." A well-traveled individual unafraid of experimental design, the client sought a modern remodel that would highlight terrazzo—a material she’s loved since childhood—and complement her minimalist lifestyle as well as the aesthetics of her loft. "The design was truly a meeting of the minds between us and the client," says Lisa Backus and Andrea Richardson, the founders of Design Bar Detroit. Completed for just over $17,000, the renovation stripped the 40-square-foot master bathroom to its studs and introduced new materials and fixtures to create a "bright, highly custom, modernized master bathroom with increased lighting functionality."
By the time lifestyle blogger Janelle Burnett and her husband George were ready to remodel their 2,000-square-foot bungalow in Mission Viejo, California, she was already two months pregnant. Undaunted, she rolled up her sleeves and—with lots of help from Google and YouTube—dove headfirst into a gut renovation that finished just in time for the couple to welcome their daughter, Sienna. Despite not having any previous experience, the couple transformed their home on a budget of just $63,000. From the entrance foyer and living room to the four bedrooms, the dynamic duo breathed new character into the dated home.
Orlando–based design firm Process Architecture is making a case for the healing properties of architecture—for less than $200,000 per house. Tapped by Aspire Health Partners, Florida’s largest behavioral health nonprofit, the firm designed and built affordable transitional housing to serve high-risk HIV/AIDS individuals and LGBT homeless youth. "This new affordable housing model is not only functional, but also serves to satisfy both psychological and aesthetic purposes for individuals pursuing drug-free, productive lives," explain the architects. The prototype, nicknamed the Aspire House, was funded through the HUD program HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for Persons with HIV-AIDS).
Tabitha Shakespeare, founder of Colorado–based fashion and lifestyle blog Tabitha Lane, recently remodeled the 100-square-foot kitchen in her 1940s home using mainly IKEA cabinetry and appliances. Shakespeare didn't like the look of the old space, but what really bugged her was the lack of separation between the living area and the kitchen. "In the end I decided to gut the whole kitchen and start from scratch. I knew from the beginning that I wanted an IKEA kitchen because the pricing and storage options are unbeatable. Since it’s such a small space I wanted to make the most of it," says Shakespeare. She sourced all the cabinetry and appliances from IKEA, and she was able to complete the remodel for just $7,830.
When California lawmakers made it easier and more affordable for homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), it didn’t take long for a Los Angeles family to join the effort to relieve the state’s housing crisis. The clients, a young couple with two small children, turned to local architect Martin Fenlon to create a compact and sustainably minded studio apartment atop their detached garage in Los Feliz, a hillside neighborhood where they have lived for over five years. Working with a tight timeframe of just a little over a year, Martin crafted the 350-square-foot addition—named Rodgers ADU after the clients—for a total cost of $220,722.
When they first set foot inside their Mission District loft in 2015, Kathryn Heller and Kevin Short knew they’d found what they were looking for, though surface impressions were deceiving. "The interiors were ugly, stained, and completely outdated," the couple tell Dwell. "The previous tenant had smoked cigarettes inside for nearly a decade, so it was particularly dreary and felt like a time capsule from the ’90s." Even so, with such a great location and no structural or exterior problems, the couple—she’s a designer and he’s an architect, both at Tiny Monster Design—knew that they had found the perfect blank canvas in the loft. "We both had had that urban loft fantasy, and this space was our opportunity to not only live it, but also design it," say the couple.
Before embarking on their DIY renovation, the Cashios knew that the Airstream would become their full-time home—so it would have to be practical and family friendly. For $23,000, they transformed the tired-looking camper into a home with room for the boys to play with their toys; a bedroom that's separate from the living area; and a large kitchen that fits an apartment-sized fridge, a 24-inch oven, a 24-inch cooktop, and a microwave.
This single-family residence in Bloomfield, Michigan, known as the Treehaus, embodies the iconic style of midcentury modernism. Owner Shane Pliska, president of interior landscaping company Planterra, stumbled upon this home in 2012 when it was headed for demolition. Although it was appraised at $0, Pliska appreciated the natural beauty of the site and the simple, modern architecture the home represented. For the next few years, he strove to carefully restore the home to its modern roots. The process began with a mystery, as Pliska sought to uncover the original architect of the residence. Midcentury-modern massing led many to believe it was the work of the great Mies Van Der Rohe. Through exploration, Pliska discovered it was the work of Edwin William de Cossy, a creator of "Sarasota Modern" architecture and one of famed architect Paul Rudolf’s collaborators.
Creative couple Michael and Christina Hara built a kid-free retreat just steps away from their back door, thanks to a recent amendment to the Minneapolis building code that lets accessory structures under 200 square feet circumvent the traditional permitting process. The Haras carried out the project, called Fish Scale Studio, over eight months. They did all of the design and construction themselves—for just $18,275—in order to carve out "space for creativity and respite from our chaotic, toddler-filled house," as Michael explains.
Architect Rebal Knayzeh and his wife loved their 1000-square-foot, open-plan loft in San Francisco, but as their newborn grew into a toddler and his toy collection swelled accordingly, they became pressed for more space. After weighing the cost of relocating against that of adding square feet, Knayzeh devised a clever solution in the form of a hybrid "cabinet room." The 75-square-foot cube provides a bedroom for the child, entertainment space for the adults, and much-needed storage space for everyone.
In the backyard of a downtown Toronto home, local design practice Anya Moryoussef Architect has transformed a single-car garage into a multifunctional, light-filled workspace that cleverly belies its compact 325-square-foot size. The client—a former architect who now works from home as a screenwriter and art director—set high demands for the small space. He requested not only a workspace and a separate sitting room, but also plenty of storage for his art collection and scripts, as well as room for his golden retriever, Ollie.
Fed up with the lack of affordable housing in Maui, Zeena and Shane decided to take matters into their own hands by designing and building a custom tiny house from the ground up. "Rather than paying a chunk of our income into something we would never own, we decided to take the risk to build something specifically for us," Zeena says. "It also helped that my husband comes from a family of carpenters, which influenced our decision greatly because we had the tools and skills to complete this project." A self-described "labor of love," the tiny house took the couple two years to complete between their full-time jobs. The ambitious design/build was also made all the more challenging by the couple’s concurrent wedding planning. To stay within their tight budget of $45,000, the newlyweds did all the work themselves with help from Shane’s father, a master carpenter.
When Brooklyn couple Thomas and Jon found a rundown brownstone in Crown Heights, they knew who to call for a renovation: Alexandra Barker of BFDO Architects. A modern, seamless approach was key, they told her, but they didn't want to lose any original details during the update, either. In all, the renovation would yield a 2,000-square-foot home, where Thomas and Jon would have two bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms to themselves, and the basement would hold a rental apartment. It would cost $910,700 to get it all done, which is surely a pretty penny, but Barker's team and the couple found ways to cut costs where they could.
Before the overhaul, this 1973 home in Encinitas, California, was dominated by a lackluster kitchen still outfitted with the original, dark wood cabinets. The team gutted it in a complete remodel, which also included opening up the main level, installing hardwood floors throughout, and refinishing the fireplace in the living room. A 500-square-foot addition to the second floor now hosts a principal suite, including a bathroom and custom closet, with new stairs connecting the two levels.
In order to convert his 1981 colonial into a sun-drenched home, architect Don Kranbuehl started by removing the garage. "The goal was to transform a closed-in, inward-looking colonial box into an open, transparent volume connected with nature," said Kranbuehl, a principal at the firm Clark Nexsen. The subtraction of the little-used attached garage made way for a two-story, 1,200-square-foot addition. Kranbuehl then proceeded to conduct a complete renovation of the 2,100-square-foot interior. The first floor of the addition is now home to a cedar-wrapped work room. Newly opened-up living spaces are lined with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the garden. Kranbuehl installed a master suite on the second floor of the addition, and then connected it to the other second-floor bedrooms and a staircase via a steel bridge.
In 1925, Austrian-American modernist architect Rudolph Schindler designed the Levin House in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. Located just across the street from Richard Neutra's Lovell House, the home and its former servants’ quarters (today used as a guest house) display Schindler’s characteristic use of multiple complex planes, striking colors, and warm, textured materials. Stephanos Polyzoides restored the home in 1984, and Taryn Bone of Bone Collective Studio recently renovated its guest bathroom.
Some say two is better than one, but when it comes to design, three is the magic number. As a self-proclaimed design enthusiast, writer Alejandro Puyana has built several single-family residences across Austin. But when he found this property in the eastern part of town, he realized that more is oftentimes merrier. "Alejandro had very specific ideas about the basic elements he wanted to include in the house," says architect Murray Legge, who worked on the project with Puyana. "From the beginning, he wanted to do two houses on the lot: A primary dwelling he would live in, and an auxiliary dwelling unit (ADU) that he could sell." Legge says the client also wanted to include a kitchenless guest suite for friends and family to stay at when they visited. Indeed, placing three living quarters on one lot is a big feat, not to mention a costly one. However, Legge and Puyana worked together to keep costs down. In total, the renovation cost $512,750, with the main house costing a little over $331k.
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