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Monday, October 29, 2007

The 5 Dumbest Renovation Fads

I read an interesting article on the CNNMoney.com site entitled The 5 Dumbest Renovation Fads, written by Duo Dickerson, a Money Magazine contributing writer. Dickerson names what he believes to be the 5 things that people spend money on in renovations that likely won’t pay off and which are mainly driven by the mistaken belief that they are trendy updates that people will like. In most cases, as he pointed out, they just add cost and don’t pay back. As I was reading the article, I also realized that these are five mistakes that builders made in our area for some time (some are still doing a few of these on new-builds), likely also for “it’s the trend” reasons. So, if you’re considering remodeling your house anytime soon, take into account the 5 things listed below. They may not be the value adders that you think they are.

The mistakes, as titled by Dickerson, are – the great room craze, the kitchen stadium, the garage that ate your house, porches in the wrong places and built-in lighting. There’s probably something on that list to offend everyone who reads this blog; so, let’s dive in and look at each one.

I have to agree with Dickerson’s point that the 1980’s fad of great rooms – huge open (often two stories high) rooms that combined the kitchen dining room and living rooms and often featuring walls of windows two stories high – invariably ended up creating loud, overly bright and hard to heat or cool spaces that remind one of a hotel lobby; especially if the marble that is often used in the foyer is extended into other rooms. Homes that have these rooms usually have somewhere else – a family room or den - where the occupants go to watch TV, play or to just relax. The great rooms of these houses often end up being sterile, static displays of furniture and art that is very seldom actually used. Better to have a nicely laid out series of more traditional rooms that flow, with larger doorways or perhaps French doors to allow for them to be closed off.

The stadium kitchen is more a mistake of layout than anything. People do want bigger kitchens these days. Tiny, galley style kitchens do make entertaining difficult; however, spreading the kitchen over too large an area, especially if appliances and storage areas become widely disconnected can make for a very inefficient kitchen. Better to have a kitchen design expert layout the kitchen design from a functional standpoint and then perhaps layer entertainment areas around the outside of the primary cooking area. Hearth rooms in the kitchen are another fad that seem to be less than practical and just add cost.

The garage that ate your house fad is all about those huge 3-4 car garages that seem to dominate the whole front of the house. In some modern subs the garage is just about all that you see from the street, with the bulk of the house hidden behind. Remodeling your home to add a monster garage would be a mistake, especially if you’re thinking of adding it to a vintage house. You can easily end up with a house and garage combo that is all out of proportion. Better to build a second, detached garage, perhaps in the back yard or add to the rear of the current garage and create a side entrance for that addition.

Porches in the wrong places was Dickerson’s warning about putting porches in front of rooms that should have light and a view, like the living room, thus blocking both the light and the view. One should also consider on which side a porch should go, if you plan to actually use it. It’s hard to idle away the evening on the porch, watching the sunset, if you’ve placed the porch on the northeast side of the house. Spend some time thinking about how you plan to use the porch before building. Also plan for the porch by thinking of it as a destination, rather than just a space to pass through on your way into the house. As I reported in my October 2 post, there is quite a trend towards “outdoor rooms” right now and you should think of your porch as another of those rooms. If your patio is your outdoor kitchen/dining room, then your porch can be your outdoor living room.

Finally there is built-in lighting, aka recessed lighting. Dickenson points out that excessive recessed lighting, which has recently become the norm, makes a home look more like a meeting room at a convention center. I agree. The other thing that happens when recessed lighting is put in as a home renovation project is that multiple light switches pop up all over the rooms each controlling what light circuits the home remodeler could get to on that side of the room. I’ve been in houses where there are 3-4 switches on different walls in a remodeled room, just to turn on the various recessed lights. It’s annoying. Dickenson recommends a mix of some recessed, some wall sconces, and some traditional lamps or floor lamps, to give a more balanced lighting effect. When I first moved to my historic home, I discovered what it’s like to live in a house where there are no lights that you can turn on by flicking a switch when you walk into a room. I had to go out and buy 20 lamps and floor lamps, just to light the place; but, I ended up with an ambiance that fit the house.

So, there’s the list, according to Money Magazine’s Dou Dickerson, of at least 5 renovation ideas that may have been passing fads and may not end up adding the value to your home that you had hoped to add. I continue to be an advocate of doing some remodeling or renovation to your home each year, as a way to keep it updated; however, I can understand Dickerson’s point about also trying to avoid fads that may not have good paybacks. As always, good taste and sticking to classic design and decorating principles will lead to the best results and the biggest paybacks.

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