Monday, May 21, 2012

Glen's Renovation Series. Part 3: Design

Welcome to this next stop along your renovation journey! Design can be tons of fun as it puts you in charge of what your finished project will look like. The concepts that you have gathered before, combined with a dollar figure you have for a budget, are what you are going to be relying on in this stage. Your torn-out magazine articles, napkin sketches, fabric swatches and colour ideas combined with your cost estimates are tools that will assist you in this phase. You will soon have the vision now sitting in your head transformed to something tangible to show to the world! 

No doubt if you didn’t have an artistic flair before all of your conceptual work, you will have more creative confidence now. You may even feel that you have cheated a bit - that your design may closely resemble one you saw in a magazine. Don’t worry! After all, great ideas get stolen all of the time. No great musician, painter, architect or designer would not cite a borrowed inspiration or two along the way.  

On the flip-side, there is also a tenancy for some to attempt to” build a better mousetrap” when getting into a project. Keep it simple and uncomplicated where possible.  Don’t go down any rabbit holes where you can lose your focus and potentially stall the project. Stick with a reasonable vision and get to the end cleanly and efficiently. Tweak at the end, not in the middle. 

When designing living spaces why not consider the following.  Choose the design components (colors, materials, fixtures, etc.) for the space that speak a common language and assemble them in an order that makes them sing - I just came up with that J   

Nothing says bad design like materials or colours that have no business being next to one another. Creating a country kitchen? Corinthian marble tile on the floor next to rustic cabinets is an out-of-tune ballad of design.  Just as Victorian wallpaper with colonial trim-work makes me shudder. Just plain bad. Stay inside your particular choosen design ascetic and perhaps introduce another element here or there at the end if it suits. Contrast  and tension in design is good but there are rules. Unless you are a skilled designer, this can go bad quickly.  Keep it simple and harmonious. 

As a little aside, you may want to keep with a classic, enduring look if you are not relishing the idea of another redesign or reno in 10 to 15 years.  Trendy design is just that.  A trend.  Ten years from now, it will no longer be a trend. Consider keeping your flooring, fixtures and other permanent elements neutral and timeless. You can then change paint, fabrics or accessories to capture the new trendy looks and not break the bank. Just something to think about. 

Another tip that can save you big dollars:  During the design phase you need to know that moving the location of plumbing fixtures and moving walls, especially load bearing walls, will lay a serious hurting on your budget. Keep this in mind when you do your design and try and work within the existing footprint to save money. 

OK – you’ve got your design vision finalized, your budget drafted, and you’re are ready to start.  What now? Well, many designers like to assemble some hard plans and documents from which to work.  Here’s some items to consider: 

*Artist Rendering: This is a drawing of what the finished space will look like. It isn’t a floor plan. That comes later. This is the person’s eye-view of the space and provides a creative conceptual vision of layout, colours, fixtures, accessories, possibly furniture, flooring, lighting, etc. The detail needn’t be photo-realistic, and almost never is. Not an artist? Well don’t let that bother you. You can even skip this step if you want but it does help to have it down the road.  If one of the magazine articles features a photo that closely approximates your design, then use it and make some notes of the changes underneath. If you are ok with physically drawing something then go head and do it.  This doesn’t need to be exact scale but the lines suggesting the above items with some colors (paint, colored pencils) splashed in is nice to have on hand. There are also computer programs that are extremely helpful in creating a rendering in the digital realm. In my opinion there is none better than Google Sketch-Up.  I’m going to go into a bit of detail about it as it has become an indispensable tool that I use and I want to share it with you.

Google Sketch-Up is a free, downloadable 3D sketching software program that has proven immensely popular. It allows the user to create a space into which you can actually walk into, pan around and zoom in on. You can import common items like fixtures, furniture, plants, cabinets, people, whatever. You can also “paint” surfaces and choose flooring. You can get into as much or as little detail as you want. Its easy to use right out of the gate but I recommend the excellent video tutorials. I give it the “Echelon Stamp of Approval.”

*Floor Plan: Google Sketch-up allows you to create one once your design is complete, but I get the most bang for my buck out of good, old-fashioned graph paper. It allows you to create a scale plan in the tolerances that are required for most projects. For lines that are square to one another you need no measuring tools because you can simply count the squares for your measurements. For a single room you can use four squares per foot, thereby giving a value of three inches to each square. For lines on angles it helps to have a ruler or even a scale since you can’t calculate measurements by counting squares on a diagonal.

For fixtures like shower units, tubs, or sinks, you can get the dimensions of those products online or on the spec sheet. In almost every case you will come down to instances where inches really matter. Sometimes even an inch over on a fixture will send you scrambling for a solution. You’ll become very familiar with your space in this phase and making everything fit in will be your challenge. Always show your measurements as pictured in the diagram. This is where the rubber meets the road. Your builder will find these measurements of the greatest importance as many of his calculations will be based on them. 

*Material Samples: Pick them up during your design phase.  It is also very useful to have these later on for when the purchase is being made as it serves as the ultimate reference. For your fixtures, flooring, tile, fabrics, wallpaper, paint, hardware and countertops you’ll want a physical or pictorial sample of each. With each of the samples you’ll want to attach the following information:

  • Name or number of each
  • Product Line
  • Finish selection
  • Supplier name
  • Quantity or amount required

So for your paint sample you would have a paint chip labelled “Emerald Mist, Aura From Benjamin Moore, eggshell, 2 gal.”  For your flooring it could be “Maple, 3 ½” tongue and groove, natural finish, Home Hardware”.  You get the picture… 

Any additional info can be written on these that may be helpful - like the salesperson you spoke to or even the price you were quoted. Also, when you’ve picked out your fixtures, get the manufacturers sheet on each by either downloading it from their website and printing it off or picking up the sheet at the store you saw it in. If it’s not with the show unit on the floor, then ask the salesperson to provide it for you. 

Detailed Specifications: These are the fine details that you want your builder to be aware of. It would go like:

  • Baseboards to be coped at corners
  • All baseboard and casings to be filled with painters caulk
  • Tile spacing at 1/8” in shower. Non-sanded grout.
  • Tile spacing 3/16” on floor. Sanded Grout
  • Doors to be spray painted
  • And anything else that you want your project to have and you expect your builder to do. Remember, builders usually don’t have ESP.

And that covers it.  Now here is the most important part. Put the whole thing into one kit. This will be a physical, not digital, collection of all that you have created and assembled. It can be in a binder, a box, an envelope or whatever, but it has to all be in one place so that it can be accessed trouble free by whoever needs the data. If any component leaves the kit then put a note in there of who has it and what it was. 

So you’ve read all my tips and you’ve completed homework. You’ll be glad you did.  You can expect to have a smooth renovation culminating in the final product you dreamed about.  However, if you have jumped into a redesign and haven’t done all this, I do have some good news. A good builder can walk you through much of this by asking you the right questions providing you supply the correct and appropriate answers. The downside with this route is that you don’t get the pleasure of creating a well thought-out plan.  You avoid the possible panic mode you will feel when your builder is calling you from the plumbing shop and while sending photos from his smart-phone asking which tub you want.  All the while you are driving the kids to the doctor on your lunch break and the report to your boss is due this afternoon. Argh!!!!  Unless you crave chaos, you’ll be happy you took the time to surf the net, read design magazines in your jammies, and make the required decisions on your own time - well in advance. 

On a final note, get someone whose taste you trust to sanity check your plan. First, they’ll be super impressed and jealous that you are so organized and thorough.  But they also may help you discover a hiccup that you otherwise may have overlooked.

With your design in hand you’ll be ready for the next phase which is “Choosing a Contractor”.  Your organized kit will be a welcome sight to a guy who is used to holding hands all day. Don’t be surprised (or insulted) if he suggests a change or two to help you keep your costs down.  More than likely however, since you did your homework, he’ll simply need to ask a few questions for clarity, give you a quote and you’ll be off and renovating.

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