Tight Budget = Better Design?
As part of the design phase for a remodel in Bellevue, Washington, we presented a design proposal and cost estimate to the homeowners. They loved the design but hated the estimate. To meet the budget, it was clear that the scope of the project would have to be cut significantly. We’ve often said that budget cuts can help a design – instigating a critical editing process in which we get rid of the bad stuff and keep the good stuff. It forces us to work harder, think critically, and get creative. The question was, could we do it this time?
Our clients had tough choices to make, too. They decided to cut back to the bare minimum of their must-haves for the project. Gone were the the mudroom entry from the garage, the rec room and home office, the water features in the yard, and a grand master suite. What was left were the big picture items:
- Replace the leaky roof structure and open the main spaces to the view – The geometry of the existing roof (a double gable with an unsloped valley between) is inherently prone to leaks. The low eaves on the view side clip sitelines (you kinda want to duck when you walk into the existing space) and opportunities of watching bald eagles fly by.
- Create an open plan living area – The existing layout separates the living, dining, and kitchen areas in distinct rooms. The owners are looking for an open living space, with the kitchen open to the view and integrated into a loft-like great room.
- Add a new indoor/outdoor living space – Because of the sloped lot, the main living spaces are one floor above the rear yard. The existing layout does not have a gracious connection to the deck, so it is rarely used. The owners want to include an outdoor space that is part of the normal flow the great room. However, instead of the indoor room that could become “outdoor” by opening an operable (expensive) window-wall that we had presented, this space can be a covered deck that feels “indoor” by being partially enclosed and screened from the neighbor’s view.
- Update the look of the house for more contemporary “curb appeal”.
Given those criteria, we realized that we could accomplish the program with a revision to Scheme C of our original feasibility study. In fact, the scope of the project would have to be more limited than that proposal. The only piece we would have to add would be the indoor/outdoor covered deck. Working through the design changes we gradually focused on and refined the following strategies:
- Keep as much of the existing structure as possible – set new roof framing on top of existing wall plates (although taller ceilings were preferred), adjust window openings to work with existing post locations, keep existing plumbing and duct locations.
- Eliminate roof cantilevers in areas that were there mainly for “show”.
- Make no changes to the bedroom wings (with the minor exception of updating bathroom finishes)
- Limit the number of trades – no new concrete or structural steel. Use the existing post bases to set the deck dimensions and use a salvaged beam within the support wall to cantilever past.
- Limit the number of finish materials (inside & out).
- Standardize the construction details.
- Plan for future changes – Use cost-effective panel siding at areas that may be remodeled in the future. Limit the use of more expensive wood siding to areas that are “done”.
- Make it look great, of course.
We think the project is moving in the right direction. Rather than dying from bloat, it is now cost effective, buildable, and looks great. The homeowners will achieve their primary goals – within a sensible budget – while adding value to the house and allowing for a second phase in the future. As far as we’re concerned, the design has definitely improved. So, it might not always be true, but at least in this case: