Emily’s team, Jess and Mallory, suggested I write about my experience as a renovator. We typically use the word “remodeler” but I like renovator too. However now I think of myself as an appliance, like a refrigerator or generator. Hmmmm.
What is fun about this profession is that you learn something new every day. This is my favorite part, but it is also often very nerve-wracking.
But before I go into my experience as a renovator, I want to tell you a little about my background as it relates to my journey of becoming a renovator. I grew up in Germany and after finding out that I have a learning disability, my parents decided to enroll me in our local Waldorf School after grade school. I loved it there. The curriculum included many trades like woodworking, gardening, smithing, sowing, as well as many languages, theatre, orchestra, and literature. It was not big on sports, which I am eternally grateful for, as I am the least competitive person I know and the second most clumsy one.
My dad was a big sailor. If you wanted to hang out with him, you either sailed or work on his wooden boats. The two of us always dreamed of sailing off into the sunset to worlds unknown. So when I graduated high school, we ended up on an old wooden boat in Charleston, SC which we were going to sail across the Atlantic. For 1 ½ years, we spent restoring this boat while living on it. This is when I met Richard, my husband and business partner, and ended up moving to Portland with him.
After I graduated from Marylhurst University, I realized that my love for old things could be made into a career. So, when Richard and I decided to partner up, we chose to make structures built prior to the 1930s… ARCIFORM’s niche market. It is very important to focus on what you love and want to learn about when you decide to start your own company. We created a business plan including 1 year and 5-year goals and budgets, which helped us stay focused and kept us in line. It also makes you good at what you do. You become the expert that people turn to.
ARCIFORM prides itself in preparing for as many eventualities as possible to prevent our clients from getting sucked into an emotional and financial renovation vortex. We are lucky in that we can bring questions to the table and have the many awesome craftspeople that are part of our team and share their knowledge. Case in point: Yesterday I was meeting with Adam, Stephyn, and Jamie about Emily’s and Brian’s roof framing details. I had thought I had figured out all the connection details with our engineer, but of course, Jamie pointed out that there are unusual connections where the new beams join in corners… Had he not pointed this out, we would have been scratching our heads and hustling for answers while in the middle of hoisting up large beams. Thank you, Jamie!
It is super important to have as many team members on board as early as possible. Start with an extensive list of what your project might look like, figure out who can help make that a reality and get them on board for feedback right away. If you want to change your structure, get an engineer on board; if your systems need to be updated or changed, invite in the electrician, plumber, and heating and cooling subs. There is a skill to this though–you do not want your experts to be inundated with having to review many options, (that is what your designer is there for), but during key decision-making moments, have them give you their feedback.
Build relationships and respect those relationships. It can make or break the success of your project. In fact, the number one trade we try to teach our staff is good communication. Keep your team members up to date with quick check-ins. Do not write novels, just a quick “hello, this is where I am at,” goes a long way. Too much information is overwhelming and gets ignored, too little information causes anxiety and misunderstandings. Do not just point out a problem but suggest a solution right away. Renovation is about problem-solving. We are hired to think creatively based on our many years of experience.
ARCIFORM is very diligent about the project development process, which includes navigation of the client’s expectations. Every client is different. We all like to splurge on some things but not on others. Renovation is not necessarily the most glamorous, as a lot of effort is invested in fixing what is already there.
I will first outline how we tackle fixing and addressing what is there from a renovator’s point of view, and then I will give you a little insight into what people like to splurge on from the perspective of a remodeler. Here is typically how the initial process works:
- We make sure the foundation is sound. Homes built prior to about the 1940s in Portland (which is the only area I am familiar with) rarely had footings below foundation walls. This is not bad if the house sits on stable ground, but if the ground shifted and settled, and if there is a lot of moisture in the ground, this can cause challenging issues. I check if the ridge is straight and the line between the siding and the foundation are straight. I also check if the doors and windows open well and or if there are large cracks in the walls. Of course, if you get dizzy while walking around a house is also a good indicator of uneven floors. A marble rolling around on a floor on it is on accord can also tell you where settling has occurred.
- Second in the lineup is fixing or replacing the roof, the siding, the doors, and the windows. You want to be sure that whatever you do inside the house does not fall victim to the elements. As Emily will likely share with you in her posts, there are many wonderful products out there for period-appropriate siding, windows, and doors that also meet current energy codes and are great performers. Here, the devil is in the details. Proportions and installation methods are key when the goal is not to lose the charm of the old home.
- We use this rule of thumb: foundations first, then go from the outside in and the top down. We like to fix upper levels before we look at the main level and lastly, we do the basement remodels if that meets the client’s needs. We do this so that we can access and route plumbing, electrical, and ducting through spaces that we have not spent months making perfect. If the clients need their basements remodeled first, we make sure we have a plan in place for any future projects above, so we can prepare structural changes, adjust plumbing and ducting, and can account for electrical upgrades to save money in the long run.
Ok, now a quick look at top splurges. I do not consider renovations splurging as you really invest in what you have and will get a great return on your investment if you did it right. “Right” is the key ingredient. But even that can be very relative.
The top splurge that ARCIFORM experiences is space. We build many additions and remodel many basements because people want more elbow room. If you can afford it, purchase a little bigger home, as adding onto a small home can be costly. Single story homes are not meant to support a second story, systems need to be in perfect working condition when covering them up during a basement remodel and building additions that meet the material and detail standards of the first half of the last century are complex and costly. In the long run, this can also be a good investment though, as adding space generally increases the value of your home exponentially.
ARCIFORM is known for our great kitchens that we build with longevity in mind. Over the last 100 or so years, kitchens have become many people’s favorite space for their communal and creative pursuits. So here is where we splurge. Many of my clients love every detail: beautiful cabinets, lovely tile, stunning counters, and sparkly hardware, and let us not forget the awesome appliances on the market today.
And of course… bathrooms. If it is the main bathroom or adding a bathroom for each kid or having a bathroom in the basement, bathrooms are a luxury that we all like to splurge on. Here, as like what is happening with the kitchens, the suppliers have really upped their game. Fixtures, fittings, tile and counters, everything is just becoming more and more beautiful, inspiring us all in creating spa-like spaces for ourselves and sweet privacy for our children and guests.
My personal splurge is tile. The funny thing is my current house has all the original tile still in place, so I cannot create my Turkish bath dream. But if I could, and I am more than happy to splurge in my head, I would tile the entire inside of my house. 😊
When renovating historic homes, include the experts to help you spend money wisely, splurge on things that add comfort on a daily basis, and prioritize planning over rushing through the process. That’s my advice to you:)
Opening Image Credit: Design by ARCIFORM