The Dream Team: How to Pick the Right Team of Experts for Your Home Renovation
Naturally, situations where a home is move-in ready but the client needs some help with the “soft side” – furnishings, drapes, rugs and accessories – make up a good portion of the projects I get calls for. But the vast majority of my projects involve the client calling me because they want to gut their space and update it to better suit their current needs.
These projects involve things like adding a master bathroom or carving out space for a larger master closet. Or they could be a little more complex like taking the kitchen down to the studs and creating a whole new kitchen layout. And you’d probably be surprised at how often I’m hired for major projects like adding an addition onto an existing home or renovating an entire home from top to bottom.
The clients know they need a home remodel project plan and some design guidelines for their contractor to follow. But they may not be aware that they might need more help than that.
That said, regardless of what your project entails, if you have a space that needs a new facelift don’t be intimidated to call a professional interior designer first. As you probably already know, designers are great at creating spaces that people love to be in. I for one find it very rewarding to take a home that needs a lot of TLC and turn it around into a home that people love – and love being in.
But if you’re going to be able to make your existing home or the home you just bought fit your needs and truly feel like home, you’re going to need a good project team made of experts who can help you get your renovation right.
What makes for a good renovation project team?
Of course, you always want to work with home design and building professionals who have great reputations and who are responsive in their communications with you (i.e. proven trustworthiness and reliability). But in terms of the exact types of service providers you need, the short answer is . . . it depends!
I know that answer might make you roll your eyes just a little, but this is actually one of the main reasons it’s a great idea to start the process rolling by calling an interior designer. Any experienced full-service designer will be able to ask the right questions to get a sense of exactly what you want to achieve with your project, and then to weigh in on what kinds of service providers you’ll need on board to make your project a reality. For instance, while adding that master bath means you’ll need an expert to create a plan for where plumbing and electrical should go, and while the new master closet doesn’t need that, if you’ll be moving a load-bearing wall to create that closet, you’ll need a different kind specialized help.
See why I’m saying it depends? The details of your project (some of which you probably don’t yet realize are relevant) are crucial in determining what kind of team you need to put together.
While you’ll ultimately probably have multiple individuals handling the actual implementation of your project (like painters, electricians, carpenters, etc.), there are up to four key players you may need to act as the co-captains of your project’s team before any construction begins.
Surprise, surprise! Of course I think an interior designer is a vital player on your team! And in case I haven’t said it enough yet, I think it’s of the utmost importance for anyone starting a renovation project to get a good designer on the job right from the start. I go into detail about that in this post.
Suffice it to say here that because the decorative and design aspects of any project are affected by every decision that takes place throughout the project from start to finish, good designers have a working knowledge of the architectural planning and construction processes. And because the bulk of their work happens in the latter part of the project, they are the primary members of your project’s team who truly “begin with the end in mind.”
That all makes designers perfect partners for homeowners throughout their renovation projects. A designer will work to make sure communication is clear between all members of your renovation team, and see to it that decisions are made all along the way that carefully consider how you’ll ultimately be living in the home.
I could tell you a dozen stories just off the top of my head about situations where I prevented unsightly electrical outlets from being installed in conspicuous places, light fixtures not being centered in spaces, sink pipes from being fitted into the wrong wall, etc. A designer can be your advocate throughout the project from the drafting table to the job site, helping everything to come together beautifully.
I’m often asked whether I think an architect will be necessary for my clients’ renovations. And while the answer may not be definitive until we actually call an architect to get their take on what we’re trying to achieve, as a rule of thumb, if you’re looking to accomplish anything more than just changing the cosmetic finishes in your space, you’re probably going to need an architect.
An architect is an invaluable part of your project team, especially if you are adding to your space. They can develop drawings that will help solve flow and layout problems creatively. It’s amazing the difference that can be made in many homes simply by pushing a wall out to add more square footage to a room. Furthermore, architects’ expertise really bridges the gap between design and engineering, They can weigh in on how to approach layout and design aspects that prove more technically challenging to figure out.
For example while designing my flip home in Milwaukee, I wanted to change out the stairs. The original stairs were steep, small and awful! They simply had to go.
Although I’ve worked with staircases before in the sense that I have come up with handrail and spindle designs, I’ve never designed an entire staircase from scratch. I knew I was out of my depth and needed to consult an expert.
Since architects design staircases all the time, I called on one to help me create new layouts for both the stairs that lead upstairs, as well as for the entrance to the basement stairs. Because I had already designed the layout of the house in a certain way, I needed him to look at my drawings and make sure I wasn’t missing any potential problems or an even better way to design the stairs. Just an hour and a half consultation with him helped me lay out the stairs, informed me about some codes I needed be aware of, and even helped me figure out exactly how the stairs needed to be constructed.
Which is what led me to hire a second expert for my project’s team . . .
Due to the new layout I’d designed, the architect and I realized I would need to cut into a joist to give us enough headroom clearance at the top of the stairs.
Joists help carry weight to loadbearing beams and walls, which means you never ever want to cut into one without creating another way for that load to be transferred and held. That kind of crucial technical issue is always best left to someone who understands exactly how to keep the structure sound (and its occupants safe!) while accomplishing your design and layout goals.
In this case, I needed to have a structural engineer help me determine where to put a new post to carry the load for the joist. And in fact, since we were dealing with an older home, I went ahead and had him look over the house and my plans to see if any other structural work needed to be done to the house.
While I can understand that a homeowner might be reluctant to call a structural engineer, you should know that they often work closely with architects and homeowners on a consultant basis for renovation projects. They’re used to those kinds of calls and won’t be thrown at all by your request. As far as knowing when to call a structural engineer, any good designer, architect, or general contractor will know when something on your project is out of their expertise. They’ll let you know when they need to bring someone in who can help resolve an issue.
This one’s a no-brainer – you already know you’re going to need someone to implement all the plans you and the rest of your team dream up, which amounts to either a general contractor or a builder.
Much like an interior designer, your GC or builder will act as the project manager for their portion of your project. That way, you won’t need to worry about hiring and scheduling subcontractors, managing materials orders, adhering to building codes, etc.
Vetting builders or contractors for home remodeling projects can be overwhelming. There are a lot of great ones out there. But the best ones will be amenable to working in concert with everyone else on your project team. If they seem reluctant or thrown off when you let them know you’ll also have a designer and/or an architect working with them on your project, that could be a red flag.
Trust me – the last thing you want is to have in-fighting or animosity amongst your team members. Pick a GC (and any member of your team) who’s happy to work with other experts!
In the end, as long as you remain open to hiring the necessary experts, and you look for people who have great reputations and who are easy to communicate with, you’ll have a dream team behind you that makes your project amazing from start to finish!