When an architect decides to remodel their own home, the design vision is usually the easy part. The realities of the renovation process can present numerous hurdles, such as budget constraints, resale concerns, or unexpected roadblocks that only reveal themselves when demolition starts. We asked several architects who recently completed their own home renovations for their best tips on navigating the journey.
Consider the Trade-Offs
While the supply of creative ideas in a remodel can feel boundless, the money is not. "The trick is to identify a few splurges, as well as areas where it makes sense to stick with the bargain option," says architect Catherine Fowlkes, coprincipal at the Washington, D.C.–based Fowlkes Studio. "Sometimes you don’t know what’s worthy of a splurge until you’re in the weeds of the design process and priorities reveal themselves," adds the architect, who renovated the 1930s home she shares with VW Fowlkes, her partner and founder of the firm.
See more of Catherine’s remodel: An Architect Couple Deftly Expand Their D.C. Home Without Losing Its Lived-In Charm
Balance Compromise With Curiosity
Compromise is inherent to the remodel process, as the existing structure or budget might impose limitations. But it’s important to remember that these constraints can encourage imaginative design solutions, so a renovation should be a balancing act. Architect Rafael Santa Ana, founder of the eponymous Canadian architecture office, considered his family’s affection for their Vancouver, Canada, residence—which they’d lived in for a decade—when brainstorming a new design for the home, despite the urge to demolish the structure and "start from scratch," he says. The founder of Rafael Santa Ana Architecture Workshop explored what could be accomplished by keeping the roof, exterior walls, and post-and-beam structure—which, it turns out, was quite a lot. Now, the renovated home garners an airy feel with vaulted ceilings, skylights, and a lighter material palette, while still retaining the familiarity that the family loved.
See more of Rafael’s remodel: A Towering Library Becomes the Beating Heart of an Architect’s Home
Incorporate Your Personality
Whether—and how—personalized design changes will impact a home’s resale value is a common concern for owners embarking on a remodel. But don’t shy away from incorporating details you love in order to create a space you want to live in, as there’s a good chance the next buyer will appreciate them. "Don’t be afraid of bold statements, including the use of color," suggests architect Cecilia Yuan, founder of Blank Canvas Architects, who renovated her family’s Victorian home in Melbourne, Australia. "While you shouldn’t lose sight of resale value, your house should be—at least in part—a reflection of your personality," the architect continues. "You might only get the chance to build one dream home!"
See more of Cecilia’s remodel: An Architect’s Verdant Victorian Home Makes the Most of Every Inch
Remain Flexible and Expect Changes
When remodeling an older home, flexibility is a virtue. "The existing conditions [of the home] are only truly exposed during demolition, and the renovation may need to be modified from what was originally planned," says architect Lauren Thomsen, founder of the eponymous Philadelphia-based design firm. "There may be opportunities to engage the existing building and add character to the project in ways you did not imagine during the design process," notes the architect, who renovated her own Philadelphia row house that dates back to the late 1800s. "It’s important to be open to that type of development," Lauren continues.
See more of Lauren’s remodel: A Philadelphia Architect Opens Up Her Historic Row House
While the major updates often get the most attention, small details—from light switches and door hardware to construction materials—deserve careful consideration as well. Even though the renovation process can be long and exhausting, it’s important to remember that the decisions you make in this phase should bring you joy in the long run. "Taking shortcuts always comes back to haunt you," says Azin Valy, cofounder of New York City–based practice I-Beam Design, who redesigned her midcentury chalet in New York’s Catskills region. "Any renovation or architectural intervention in a home is potentially a lifetime investment that you want to make sure you can live with, and that will make you and your family happy," she continues.
See more of Azin’s remodel: An Architect Peps Up Her Midcentury Chalet in the Catskills
Assemble a Trusted Team
A fantastic design isn’t much without the proper execution from a trusted construction team. "I cannot stress enough the value in finding a consistently responsible local contractor and subcontractors," says architect Ali Höcek, who renovated a 1973 building in Newburgh, New York, to include a commercial space at the front and a one-bedroom apartment in the rear. "The latter may include electricians, carpenters, and plumbers," continues the founder of the eponymous New York City–based architecture firm. "If a reliable or available local crew is not possible, it might be worthwhile—and in the end, a financial savings—to bring in a trusted builder from someplace else and provide them lodging for a period."
See more of Ali’s remodel: A Crumbling 1970s Building Is Revived as a Dual-Unit Home with a Barbershop
Observe the Job Site
Maine-based architect Jocelyn Dickson suggests one way to gauge prospective teams: "Pay attention to the state of the job site!" More specifically: "A neat and organized job site is an indication that the contractor is managing their team effectively and taking good care of your property," says the founder of Jocelyn O Dickson Architecture, who renovated the ’60s beach bungalow she shares with her husband in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. "Conversely, a messy job site tells you that work is not being completed in an organized manner, and there is a possibility that equipment and finishes are going to get damaged as a result," the architect continues.
See more of Jocelyn’s remodel: An Architect Resuscitates Her Funky Beach Bungalow in Maine
Remodels require an abundance of patience, especially when there are unexpected delays or problems. "I am [very] familiar with the hardships and frustrations that go into the process of construction," says Azin. "[But] the rewards are greater if you have perseverance, which was something I had to remind my husband from time to time."
One helpful strategy is to remind yourself to "trust that the project will be worth it," Lauren adds. "Renovations require a significant commitment of time and energy—but once completed, it is incredibly gratifying to have a thoughtfully designed space that you have transformed into your own."