These 5 Transformations Show Why Challenging Renovations Are Worth It

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By Amanda Dameron / Published by Dwell
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Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron talks us through Dwell's February 2015 issue.

Your two most crucial allies during any renovation—other than your contractor and your therapist—are patience and flexibility. There’s no getting around it. Things are going to go wrong. There will be unexpected costs and delays. The process will be uncomfortable, frustrating and, in many cases, terrifying.  

Los Angeles architect Bruce Norelius renovated an A. Quincy Jones house in Brentwood with his partner. They treated the architect’s original intent with reverence but added key elements to make it modern and livable.

Los Angeles architect Bruce Norelius renovated an A. Quincy Jones house in Brentwood with his partner. They treated the architect’s original intent with reverence but added key elements to make it modern and livable.

In this issue we explore these notions expressed through modern homes from São Paulo, Austin, and Odawara, to Montreal, Los Angeles, and New York. For each, we present the dreaded "before" picture alongside the victorious final result, paying special consideration to the challenges and surprises along the way. 

In 2009 Alan Orenbuch and Bryan O’Rourke purchased a property with two existing structures by Harvard Five architect John M. Johansen, and they turned one, a dilapidated and cluttered shed, into a light-filled retreat for guests.

In 2009 Alan Orenbuch and Bryan O’Rourke purchased a property with two existing structures by Harvard Five architect John M. Johansen, and they turned one, a dilapidated and cluttered shed, into a light-filled retreat for guests.

First up is an outstanding reboot for an ailing outbuilding in upstate New York. In 2009 residents Alan Orenbuch and Bryan O’Rourke purchased a property with two existing structures by Harvard Five architect John M. Johansen, and they turned one, a dilapidated and cluttered shed, into a light-filled retreat for guests. With clever space-saving solutions and a lovely collection of midcentury modern furnishings and artworks, the couple coaxed a neglected space into something architecturally respectful, yet wholly new—the goal of any worthy renovation project.

Austin residents Sam Shah and Anne Suttles chose Alterstudio to conceive a cypress-clad addition to their 1920s bungalow.

Austin residents Sam Shah and Anne Suttles chose Alterstudio to conceive a cypress-clad addition to their 1920s bungalow.

Next we visit Austin residents Sam Shah and Anne Suttles, who chose Alterstudio to conceive a cypress-clad addition to their 1920s bungalow. The result is a neat volume that provides more space for a growing family, realized through the architects’ material expertise. 

Patience is rewarded handsomely in São Paulo, where after a five-year search, a financial manager saw potential in a dark, 1970s-vintage apartment. SAO Arquitetura carved out a lush refuge in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities.

Patience is rewarded handsomely in São Paulo, where after a five-year search, a financial manager saw potential in a dark, 1970s-vintage apartment. SAO Arquitetura carved out a lush refuge in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities.

In Japan, there are many reasons to be delighted by the Geo Metria House by architects Masahiro and Mao Harada: the way the building is so thoughtfully sited on the rolling land, the use of raw industrial materials left to age gracefully, the potential for a monkey to turn up in the kitchen. Speaking of unexpected moments, don’t miss our profile of the inventive Mexico City–based firm Rojkind Arquitectos. We are intrigued by their bombastic creations, as well as the way they work with public and private clients to transform entire neighborhoods in Mexico City. Projects like the Cineteca Nacional and the Nestlé chocolate museum reflect their powers of persuasion—as with many of their projects, the architects pushed their clients beyond the narrow confines of the original brief to give something back to the surrounding area, helping to make up for gaps in the region’s stalled city planning efforts.

Maria Rosa Di Ioia and Emilie Bédard, nudged a fairly small Montreal row house into a bright, open program. The design team understood what to leave alone (the brick) and what to add (a rooftop pavilion with a custom sauna).

Maria Rosa Di Ioia and Emilie Bédard, nudged a fairly small Montreal row house into a bright, open program. The design team understood what to leave alone (the brick) and what to add (a rooftop pavilion with a custom sauna).

Patience is rewarded handsomely in São Paulo, where after a five-year search, a financial manager saw potential in a dark, 1970s-vintage apartment. By installing board-formed concrete, warm woods, and a neutral palette, alongside a dreamlike rooftop terrace, SAO Arquitetura carved out a lush refuge in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities

Maria Rosa Di Ioia’s project in Montreal is extraordinary in the way she and the architect, Emilie Bédard, nudged a fairly small Montreal row house into a bright, open program. The design team understood what to leave alone (the brick) and what to add (a rooftop pavilion with a custom sauna). The elegant Scandinavian design sensibilities reinterpreted inside this Canadian townhouse is proof that cross-cultural pollination, when done well, is powerful. 

Courage in design is crucial. Take Bruce Norelius, the Los Angeles architect who renovated an A. Quincy Jones house in Brentwood. Norelius and his partner understood that part of their duty was to restore and preserve elements that had been plastered and painted over. In the end they treated the architect’s original intent with reverence but added key elements to make it modern and livable. 

Not everything in the issue centers on renovation. We take a look at houses of worship all over the world, examining the architects’ unique considerations and the heightened sensitivity required to create spiritual spaces. "Every zero point of a project is different," says Emre Arolat, who designed a mosque outside Istanbul that bears little resemblance to the ornate Moorish architecture one expects. "You have to put all considerations together before you start designing: talk, study, analyze." 

We present quick discussions with fascinating people practicing in the design world today, starting with Andrew Dent, who holds a PH.D in materials science from Cambridge University and maintains an ever-growing library of innovative substances. He talks about how processes and treatments like acetylation, sintering, nanotechnology, and aerogel may play out in our homes. Odile Decq, a bold architect unafraid to reinterpret revered buildings and objects, shares her thoughts on the creative process. 

The talented people in this issue remind us how far one can go when one is undaunted by doubt. Renovation is not for the faint at heart, and true transformation is never easy. With commitment and creativity, coupled with a healthy dose of chutzpah, anything is possible in the modern world.

Amanda Dameron, Editor-in-Chief

amanda@dwell.com

Follow me on Twitter: @AmandaDameron