Winter's a time to dream of remodeling

Home Work

November 22, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

WINTER IS a terrific time for home-improvement projects -- not because you can do them; usually you can't, because the weather is too bad. But it's great because, without having to do anything else, you can dream about what you'd like to do.

Wishes and dreams are the foundation of most remodeling projects. During the next few months, we're going to be writing about a family that spent years trying to decide whether to move to accommodate their growing family, or whether to find some way to stay in the house they loved. They decided to stay, but it took a lot of thinking about the way they wanted to live. We'll be following their project as it emerges from blueprints and takes shape.

If you're in the thinking stage of a possible home remodeling, there's a new book out that can give you some practical ideas.

The book is "The New Remodeling Book," from Better Homes and Gardens magazine (Meredith, 1998, $34.95). There are chapters on reasons for remodeling (to get more light, to maximize curb appeal), on evaluating your neighborhood and learning about your house's style.

But the main value of the book is that it offers dozens of case studies of actual projects, with lots of photographs. Each project has a before and after floor plan, so you can see exactly how the space was altered. It's a great way to look at a lot of possibilities, and see what might be accomplished with your own project.

Not that there's not plenty of practical advice. For instance, the book suggests these basic criteria for deciding whether to remodel your current house:

* The neighborhood suits your needs.

* Property values are stable; others in the neighborhood remodel rather than leave.

* If there are tax advantages or other financial incentives for staying put.

* If remodeling will provide the space you need and enhance the comfort of the space.

To get you started on the wish list, here are some ideas from the book, and some examples from our experience, of projects that enhanced livability, comfort and convenience in an existing home.

* Opening up. It could be as simple as changing the windows; adding windows, or enhancing existing windows with transoms or Palladian arches. Or it could mean eliminating walls to turn a series of small, boxy rooms into one flowing space. How about adding a porch across the front or back of the house to expand indoor space into the outdoors?

* Restyle by resurfacing. Paint, wallpaper and floor coverings are among the simplest and least expensive ways to give existing space a lift. Alternating textures -- between wood and ceramic tile, for instance, or between plain wood and painted wood on floors -- can help define spaces and add richness and visual interest.

* Add "creature comforts." Adding a fireplace, or enhancing an existing fireplace with woodwork or tile, can create a focal point and define the style of a room. Built-in storage helps control clutter; think of bookcases and window seats. Better lighting can make spaces more versatile and make people feel more comfortable.

* Think vertical. Cathedral ceilings bring in light and air and can make spirits soar. If there's room, a loft can provide space for a home office, guest bedroom, or children's retreat.

* Rethink structural elements. Consider switching the position of a door and a window, or turning windows into French doors, or altering the placement of stairs to get a better arrangement of space.

* Look for unused or underused spaces to expand living space. Attics, basements, sun rooms and screened porches are spaces that with a little renovation could add a lot to the livability of a house. How about creating a loft suite over the garage? You can also steal space from the eaves on the second floor; a gable can make the space even more useful.

* Additions don't have to be large. Adding a bay with a window seat can open up a room to a beautiful view. Karol doubled the space and usefulness of her kitchen with an addition that is only 7 feet wide and 9 1/2 feet deep. A bump-out, even if it's just a few feet deep, can make a big difference in useful interior space.

* Finally, "think beyond the box." Curves, angles and cantilevers add visual interest and may conserve usable space.

When you start thinking about your potential project, start saving ideas. Get a folder or folding file and fill it with clips from magazines, notes to yourself, sketches and brochures about products you might want to include. The more you collect, the clearer your ideas will become. You'll know what you like, and you'll have begun to think about what works.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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