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Stretching A Small Construction Budget: Make Your Addition or Remodel Transformational

February 28, 2011

So, your house is driving you crazy – too small, too dark, oddly laid out, showing its age – but you don’t have a big budget for making changes. This might be a good time to hire an architect, particularly if you could use some help seeing spatial opportunities. Sometimes a few changes can make a dramatic difference in how your home looks and performs. Here are some “tricks of the trade” for maximizing your construction budget.

Interesting spatial quality

Most of the time an interesting sloped ceiling or unusual window arrangement doesn’t cost more. Builders often price by square footage, and if your design is unusual but requires no additional materials, it will probably be cost neutral. The only caveat is that if you are doing something that is not “standard operating procedure” you will need to make sure that the design drawings are very clear and easy to read.

1. Have a two-story space. Even if it is small, it can be a relief from the practicality of low ceilings. It can also link an upstairs and downstairs function and aid with natural ventilation throughout the house.

2. Vary the ceiling height or the floor level. You can create dramatic transitions between spaces with some very simple changes. In the photo, a small step separates the dining room from living space.

3. Create pathways and views through the house. Especially if your home is small, you can benefit from being thoughtful about how you move through your space and what you see on the way. Creating long views through several rooms and out a window can make the space feel larger than it is.

Dramatic lighting effects.

Daylight is free. While we don’t always get as much of it as we would like in the Pacific Northwest, it is always the most dynamic and efficient way to light your space. You can also create dramatic lighting effects with light fixtures, to make the lighting quality interesting after the sun goes down or in spots where windows won’t work.

1. Place a window where it will wash a wall or ceiling with light. Do this on different sides of the home so that you will get the sunlight wash at different times of the day. In the photo, you can see the effect when the wall has direct sunlight and the ceiling has a glow from indirect light.

2. Have light coming from an unseen window above. This makes the room glow, as you can see in the photo below. It is best to accomplish this with vertical windows, as skylights are not very thermally efficient and almost impossible to shade during the summer without blocking all of the light. Windows that are placed up high are also opportunities during the summer to exhaust warm air and draw cooler air through the house.

Prioritize your budget for your favorite spaces

Look at how you use your house and spend your construction budget on your most-used spaces. Don’t take long relaxing baths? Then make the finishes in the bathroom simple, elegant, and inexpensive. Love to cook and entertain? Then pour your budget into creating a great kitchen and gathering space.

Consider where you want the center of your household life to be and make that the architecturally special space. At our home, we have the “fireplace room”, which has the comfy custom sofa, the double height space, the dramatic color walls, the light from above, the change in floor level, the see-through fireplace – in other words, a lot of design elements to create a special atmosphere. It is made all the more dramatic in contrast to the low ceilings of the existing house.

Think of your home not as a static container, but as a theater set for your lifestyle. Take advantage of the opportunities for drama and beautiful moments. You may discover a whole new house within your existing house. If you or someone you know would like to consider the possibilities for transforming your home, contact me for a free initial consultation.

Read more about free initial consultations and other policies.

Related blog posts:
Can You Afford to Build Green?
Houses Are For Living: Casual Green Modern
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