Thursday, June 1, 2017

First Time Home Renovation: Questions you must ask yourself before you decide



When it comes to buying a home we are often caught in the net of whether we buy new, and pay a higher price or buy a less expensive home and do renovations. For some this may be an easy answer, for others they may struggle with the best decision for their finances and family. Let's take a look at things to consider before we decide.

If you're open to renovations but also budget minded you have to weigh the pros and cons of buying a new construction vs. one you can renovate. There are pros and cons to either decision. The first few questions we must answer for ourselves are as follows:

1. Is the home I want to renovate in an area that will allow it? Some homes are in neighborhoods where you have a homeowners associations also know as HOA. These homes typically cost a little more upfront because they have rules and regulations with regards to the appearance of each home in that neighborhood as well as offering amenities such as pools, playgrounds etc.  Interior renovations are usually not the issue, but exterior changes will need to meet with the Home Owners Associations approval. They have to agree and sign off on all plans you have including but not limited to exterior paint color, certain landscaping plans, structural changes etc. This means you have to hire not only a licensed contractor, get all necessary permits, but also have the work inspected routinely and shut down if there is any infractions or work not done to code. Once a building inspector comes to the property, if he finds something with the existing home that is not to code you will be required to bring it to code before you can even begin any new renovations. That can all get very costly because that is an unforeseen expense that will have little to do with your new plans for the home. If renovations appeal to you, steer clear of homes that have HOA fees. You will not be allowed the same freedom to do what you want with your home.

2. Have I ever renovated before? If the answer is "no" you need to be aware that renovations typically take longer and cost more than any time or cost estimate you're likely to receive even by the best builder or contractor you can find. That being said, you do end up with a custom home well suited to your tastes and families needs. Just be aware that renovations and estimates are not set in stone. If the home is extremely old or has not been well maintained, there could be hidden issues that must be fixed way before you can start the fun things like picking out paint color and choosing decorations.  Be realistic with your expectations, Rome was not built in a day, homes don't get in bad condition over night and thus to restore them to their best condition does not happen in a blink of an eye either. Too many times those who have never gone through renovations tend to believe all fixes are simple. "Oh you just need to put in a door, or window that should be easy and quick." Not necessarily. If new frame work must be done, bigger openings have to be made or rotten wood is present, what seems simple and fast can be time consuming. Be realistic, especially if you know your home has some of these issues beforehand. It gets ugly before it gets pretty. That is how all renovations are. Even when you're not dealing with rotten wood or custom fitting, tools can break or malfunction, someone could get hurt during the work, there's endless hold ups and snags along the way. Some will only affect your timeline, others may affect your budget.

3. Can I afford renovation? Renovations as stated above, can often cost more than the estimate because there are many variables that come into play that just can't be known to the contractor or builder ahead of time. You have to set aside or allow in your budget a certain amount of contingency funds for the unforeseen. Ideally, mark up 10 percent of the budget estimate just for the unknowns. No one likes to spend money on things they can't see, however, rotten wood, bad plumbing, etc if left unchecked and un-repaired can come back to bite you later on and cost far more to fix. Better to spend while you have the money than to wait until it hits you at a time when funds might be low or non existent. If you have limited funds, the type of home your want to look for is one that is not very old and only needs cosmetic improvements. These tend to be fairly straight forward and offer the easiest in renovation work.

4. Can my life handle a renovation? Renovations can be stressful. Shaky marriage, kids, new jobs, new schools, new area, new neighbors all can wreak havoc on your design dreams for your new home. The home as mentioned in previous paragraphs will be ugly and in disarray for a time before you actually get to enjoy the beauty of your creation. Things must be torn down, ripped apart and rebuilt to create new space, new appearances and new functions and this means, eternal messes, noise, dust, dirt and distractions. Big renovations are usually the worst to live with and in some cases you may want to not move into the home until the renovations are complete. If you can't carry the mortgage and rent at the same time you'll need to factor that into your decision. Smaller renovations say $10,000.00 or less, usually are a minor inconvenience but still something you can live through.  Make sure you can handle the temporary changes a renovation will thrust into your life, your routines and your relationships. Only the strong can survive. That being said, if you end up purchasing a home for $130,000.00 and make the right investments in the renovations, you could very well end up with a home worth $200,000.00 or more depending on what homes in the area are ranging in price wise. This means equity and equity is like money in the bank.

5. What are the existing values of the homes in the neighborhood? Let's say you've got big ideas and big dreams of creating the perfect home and you've caught the renovation bug. Great! Now you've found a home you just know you can make a show place. Wait! Before you sign on the dotted line, what are the homes worth in the area you're buying in? Have you checked what other homes in the area are selling for? These are called "comps/comparables" and they are the indicators used to determine your homes value. What you want to look for in your home is the ability to increase square footage first and foremost. Why? Well lets say you bought your home and it is 1500 square feet and sells for $130,000.00. The largest home in the neighborhood is 3000 square feet and completely updated and is selling for 330,000.00. This tells you that you can increase your home up to double its size and expect to gain in equity several hundred grand. Now most of us aren't going to buy a home and double the size, but the idea is, you've bought a small home in a neighborhood with big  homes in it. This gives you the best chance of gaining significant equity in your home for your renovation dollar.  If this same 1500 square foot home for $130,000.00 is in a neighborhood with other similar sized homes and values, and you increase the size by 1000 square feet you are not likely to see a huge return on your investment because the comparables dictate your homes value. Comps that are only going for $130 grand are not going to boost your homes value. Buyers are not expecting a large home for $230 grand in that neighborhood. Those who can afford that are going to be shopping in neighborhoods where all the homes are in that range. Not many want the biggest home in a small home neighborhood because the base price of those small homes is low and will affect their home's appraisal. However a small home in a big home neighborhood will be expected to be larger and go for more so it allows the renovator the latitude to gain equity. High comps raise your homes value by association. So you'll be able to get back some of your investment by renovating. Buyers will expect an updated larger home so you'll be free to expand and improve and get a higher appraisal should you wish to do a cash out refinance or sell in the future. Something to think about.

The bottom line is never go into any venture with your money without doing some research. Being smart always pays off in the long run.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How to make a kitchen island from old cabinetry

Re purposed cabinet as kitchen island
©Dawn Gagnon Photography 2017


If you remodeled your older kitchen and did so on a shoe string budget, you may have realized that the new cabinets you bought, let's say from a home center near you, were not solid wood, but mostly comprised of some MDF for the body and only the front facade of the cabinets were actual wood. There's nothing wrong with that. Newer cabinets are still nice to have, offer ease of use, are clean and usually bright on the inside and easy to install. That being said, what you may have noticed is your old site built cabinets were solid wood, strong and difficult to remove.

When we remodeled our kitchen I saved all the good usable wood and some of the cabinetry. It's a complete mystery to me when watching renovation shows how often they throw away all the old cabinetry. I understand in some cases why new cabinetry is needed. In my case my old  cabinets were dark, had an old old smell to them..and when I opened up a wall, I was unable to match the newer cabinets with the existing cabinets. So I had no choice but to buy all new. One cabinet in particular I had a vision for, and it was a mobile island. It had three good drawers and I could not see throwing it away.

Here's the solution:
For the top, no need to go all crazy trying to find a fancy granite top, (not that it wouldn't be amazing..) But the simple 2 X 4 top made this project super inexpensive and allowed me to use it the same day!
wooden counter top
©Dawn Gagnon Photography 2017


By placing the cabinet on metal casters and adding a simple top made of 2 X 4's we were able to salvage a super functional piece of cabinetry and give it new life. Next time you're doing a renovation, remember the value in those old solid wood cabinets. Don't be so quick to throw them away. Have a vision, there's lots of solutions for your salvaged wood and cabinets.


metal casters
© Dawn Gagnon Photography 2017



Adding some decorative touches made it feel like a part of the kitchen design as well with these wooden scrolled brackets;
Scrolled brackets
©Dawn Gagnon Photography

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Ways to cover, renovate and fix your ugly damaged ceilings




One of the single more important updates you can do to your home is dealing with popcorn ceilings. No one likes them and if you neglect to update them in major living spaces, whatever updates you do make will be tempered by this oversight.

Popcorn ceilings have been around for a long time and aside from the fact that cob webs and dust cling to it, they also date the home. The best renovations occur when you have a home that is 30-40 years old that can stand up to and surpass new construction.

Whether you're planning on selling your home or not, it is really unimportant. Your home is still your investment and unless you can see well into your future financial needs with your crystal ball, you should always invest in updates that make sense for your home's value.

Ceilings often get overlooked in renovations by do it yourself types. Why? Well its the un-fun part of the cosmetic aspect. However, if you don't address it, it will actually take away from all the hard work you put elsewhere.

If you're doing a full from top to bottom renovation, you'll want to tackle your popcorn ceiling first. It's messy..and no matter what you read or research, there is no exceptionally "easy" pain free way to tackle it. If you're lucky and it has not been painted over, it should come off a little easier, but it will be very messy and if your home is an older home you will want to have windows opened, everything removed from the room possible, and what stays must be covered, and covered well. The dust and debris get everywhere, even in places you haven't thought of. Keep a dust mask on and protective eye wear. If you forego the dust mask..and I don't recommend it, keep your mouth closed.  You'd be surprised how many of us have our mouths open when we are looking up and scraping..its weird but true.
Now there are some work around ideas you may want to do if you absolutely want to avoid scraping a popcorn ceiling.  Research these:
Ceiling Tins- expensive if your kitchen is large, but they do come in a variety of textures, and colors. You can also find them in pvc form.
Styrofoam ceiling tiles- These are far less expensive than the aforementioned and can give you a very nice look. I would suggest researching online images of projects done by others to see if it is something you can do.
Panels- You can use bead board paneling and tongue and groove wood on your ceilings. It is very expensive to go this route as well depending on the size of your kitchen.
All of these ideas will likely still require some sanding of the popcorn, especially if it is very textured. I would try an inconspicuous place in a closet or hallway ceiling to test out which idea works.
Wall Paper- I know a few years back wall paper was considered the scourge of the renovation world. However today, textured wall paper that can be painted can be your best friend. If you add in faux beams like in the photographs to this post, you can cut them shorter and have an easier time.  Don't dip and drip, use wall paper paste, it really is far easier.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How to Decorate a small or odd space in your home



Many times it is asked how to achieve a comfortable and spacious feeling in a room that is small. Though a challenge, the ability to maximize on the limited space can be achieved if you follow certain common sense rules. Most people will tell you the problem room in their home is often odd shaped, small and low light. These issues will be addressed to help you reverse that feeling, since the space isn't always possible to enlarge.



Odd shaped rooms-
Odd shaped rooms are particularly challenging when a homeowner tries to decorate and furnish it. One key thing here to remember is the actual definition of the room. Rooms should always be defined by primary use. This doesn't mean it can't function as other things but the primary function of the room should be evident and prioritized. That being said, odd shaped rooms have to be treated like any room. For example, an "L" shaped room needs to be decorated as if it is a rectangular shape, since the predominating shape is still rectangular. The odd remaining space could be sectioned off, partitioned, or used for the secondary function the room may serve. By defining the primary shape of the room, you can focus on the positives and give the room a personality that overcomes the odd shape.



Rooms with little light-
Most all rooms have at least one window. If the window affords little light it is a real challenge to bring the feeling of natural light into the space. Even in low light conditions, there is always usually one source of light occurring in the room. To find the direction of this light, look for items in the room that cast a shadow, the light source will be coming from the opposite side. This is best done in an empty room during the day with no lights turned on. Once you have determined where the source of light does emanate from, there are a few things you can do to capitalize on it. If your walls are in good condition, choosing warm semi gloss creams on the wall will bounce what available light there is. Placement of mirrors in the rooms where they may reflect and bounce light is a good strategy as well. Don't think just because an area of a room is darker that a mirror won't work, in fact many times this is just what it needs. Mirrors and semi gloss paints bounce light around, forming criss cross patterns throughout the room. If your ceiling is smooth, paint in a high gloss paint, which affords the most reflective ability. This will cast light downward into a dark space and also work with the other light that is bouncing around, real and artificial. If your ceiling is the standard "popcorn" ceiling, if possible, scrape smooth as this is well worth the trouble.



Small rooms-

All the above plus this- always consider function, comfort and scale with small spaces. Once you have the function of the space defined the next question to address is the comfort needed to use the space. For rooms that are used only occasionally, comfort can be sacrificed a little in the name of visual appeal. If the room will be used daily, comfort takes the lead in the priorities and therefore, scale of the pieces need to be considered. With all cases of small spaces, you have to have the right scale of furniture to make the room comfortable and livable. Consider love seats instead of sofas, ottomans (with storage) instead of coffee tables,nice trunks are also smaller in scale and work nicely in a small space. Consider floor lamps instead of end tables, and keep clutter to a minimum. Keep in mind that even if the floor space is limited, you can always maximize the vertical spaces in the room with shelves and shelving units. Sometimes the best way to maximize floor space is to look "up". The walls are also an important way to get storage. Just be careful not to cause too much visual clutter. One way to reduce visual clutter is to disguise it by storing them in similar items like matching baskets, canisters, etc. The eye sweeps across "like" items and always seeks out things that stand out. By minimizing what "stands out" in a room, you literally give the impression of more space.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Kitschy Design

One sort of interior design aesthetic you don't hear a lot about online or on television is "Kitschy" design. Interior designers and decorators alike usually will not address this design look because it goes beyond retro and into an area that may or may not reflect (good taste).

Kitschy is defined by Merriam Webster in simple terms as anything that is low brow or tacky, cheesy or of low quality. 

That being said, it does have its own following and fan base of those that remember seeing examples of Kitschy fashion, decor etc. In fact you may have seen examples through out your childhood in your grandmothers home. The way I would describe this design aesthetic as it relates to home decor is to say it's retro meets shabby chic at the flea market in 1945. Hows that for painting a picture?

Kitschy has an appeal all its own, those that gravitate towards it find the retro flare, the colors, all to be nostalgic and somehow familiar and heartwarming. When we channel our inner Betty Page, we find Kitschy decor and art not far away.. it was a time of scandalous colors, and behaviors, but a time most of us look at today and go, "ahhhhhhh....those were the good old days.."

Kitschy is a look for those that simply will not conform to norms. Can it be done in a home successfully? Well you'd have to decide what that means. Anyone can design and decorate in Kitschy fashion, simply by googling images of what "kitschy" is.  Will it be easy? You would think so, because the line between being eclectic and kitschy is blurry at times, but easy? Well yes and no. Retro furniture is pricey. Not to say you can't find a similar metal rimmed formica table in green, red or yellow can't be found, but it will either be money for a replica or a great score at an antique mall or flea market. Either way, it will require some effort to achieve. Black and white floor tiles can still be found easily, and if done on the diagonal will certainly add to the flair. Getting retro appliances will also cost a pretty penny. Check out this adorable but pricey refrigerator:
https://bigchill.com/shop/refrigerators/original-big-chill-retro-refrigerator/
or a compact version: http://amzn.to/2eysldP

You get the idea, it will be costly to get the cheap and tacky look today. However, if this is what you love and I can see why, it may be worth all the effort. Decorate and design what you love, the way you want it, life is too short to do otherwise. Kitschy is for those that love to live by their own set of rules. One thing we can certainly say, its not cheap and tacky? Well its adventurous, colorful and fun..if that is what tacky is, sign me up! I want to meet these people that love this style because I know already I'm gonna enjoy their company!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Ceiling Medallions

You've no doubt heard that every room has more than just "four" walls in the realm of interior design. This is very true. To truly give any space a complete transformation, we have to look at all surface areas and that includes the walls, floor and ceiling. Many people tend to over look the ceiling unless it has some huge cosmetic or structural flaw, like the dreaded "popcorn" finish for instance. However, when we look at our  ceiling we can find  an opportunity to enhance the beauty of whatever lighting fixture you go with, and that is where a ceiling medallion makes a great impact.
simple medallion


What are they for?
Ceiling Medallions are often seen in older homes and usually are an accent to chandeliers and lighting fixtures. If you're purchasing them today, they are typically made of Urethane, however you can find them in plaster and also wood.

Cost?
Prices vary depending on size, material used, and detail. The larger, detailed pieces made of wood are going to be far more expensive. You can get some that are simple and smaller from around $15.00 and up. Again, size, material and level of detail play a big role in the costs. Are they worth it? Well, that is up to the individual. However you can also make one yourself. See below.
decorative ceiling medallion

Dual purpose
While they are lovely to look at, they also are helpful at covering up unsightly holes where one may have had to cut a raw opening to install a fixture where none formerly existed. Sometimes this leaves a larger than needed hole and in some cases the lighting fixture base is not big enough to cover the hole. In that scenario a medallion can not only make the light fixture lovely but cover up a less than ideal installation.  Ceiling Medallions have not escaped the imagination of home owners and home decorators though, as they have turned up in a lot of creative ways too, just as wall decor, and small ones have even been used to flank door knobs.

So lets say you have a specific look in mind and you don't want to pay an arm and a leg. Let's say for instance you have some mill work left over, and some handy items like a miter box. You can create your own. Now you may not find it easy necessarily to make a "round" medallion, however this octagon shaped one was not difficult and it cost very little to make.
ceiling medallion


The next time you're doing a renovation, don't over look the possibilities for interest and beauty that can be found when you look up!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Problem: Tiny 80's kitchen, Solution: Mr. Gagnon, Tear Down that Wall

Ronald Reagan had the right idea. Walls sometimes need to go. Walls can define a space, walls can offer opportunities for storage, or help display art. Generally walls are a good and functional thing. Sometimes though, walls can be a hindrance, a physical block between spaces that keeps energy, air flow and traffic sidestepping, redirecting and congested. In walks this kitchen from circa 1984.

Kitchen 1984


A tight space, and heavily lacquered wooden cabinets. Even though there's a huge bay window, this room and the tiny formal dining room beyond felt dark, and did not flow well. In mid transition, we decided to take the least expensive measures and see what paint would do for this space:


 The paint really helped freshen the whole feel of the space up and brightened things considerably. However the square footage was still a big issue..


One space saving idea was to build storage seating in the eating area. Still tight, but it was a nice little project.
Now the big ideas started coming into play and we realized, while all of these ideas were good ones, they still didn't solve the issue of space to the degree needed. While I was on this journey of changes, I did discover an awesome way to reface cabinets and if  you're interested check out this post:

Easy Cabinet Refacing Idea.

You'll love this easy technique and you wont believe how durable and lovely it is! It's a great refacing hack that you will want to do on all of your cabinets including in your bathrooms!

Now back to our program. You'll notice in the photographs there is a doorway opening on the far wall leading into a dark room. This was formerly a tiny formal dining room with only one window. It was stuffy, with no flow, and under used. No one wanted to go into this space. The good news was the wall between the kitchen and this tiny dark room was not load bearing. The solution: Tear down the wall and open up the space to create one large bright eat in kitchen.
Result:




Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Home Staging 101: Bed Making


Home staging is an integral part of selling your home. While some rooms in your home may only need a little nudge, many rooms may simply need a little more. When staging a home, one area I see falling short is in bedrooms. Where is the problem most of the time? It's in the owners lack of  bed making know how. It's not simply selling a house, you truly are selling to the potential buyer a lifestyle.

Bear that in mind and let it be the guide point for your inspiration when staging especially in the Master bedroom which should be the epitome of a lifestyle richly deserved. Knowing how to make up a beautiful bed can go a long way in how well your house shows, and what lifestyle the buyer can have if they purchase your home.  Here's a few tips for the home owner on how to address their beds, especially the Master Bedroom which is the star of all bedrooms.

1. Buy good quality bedding. I wont lie, I am a huge fan of Pottery Barn bedding. I love the feel, weight and quality of the bedding they offer and most of what Pottery Barn offers is wonderful with regards to organic materials.
2. Don't just one stop shop. I like to mix up things a bit. You don't have to get everything from one place to have a pulled together look. Look for bedding ensembles that offer you the ability to mix and match, and the option to purchase as many of a particular item as you need. We've all seen King size bedding ensembles that only offer ( 2 ) Euro Shams, and we all know three is needed for King sized beds. Why is the bedding industry not picking up on this? Luckily, Pottery Barn does offer you this option on most of their bedding products. When will the rest of the world catch up? In the photograph, the bed has a Paisley print duvet, solid sheets, and a matelasse coverlet. This keeps things interesting, but I did purchase the matelasse from JCPenney. It's a great way to add soft texture and break up a strong pattern like Paisley.
3. The 3 plus rule works well for King size bedding. What is the 3 plus rule? Simple, Starting at the headboard, 3 Euro Pillows as the background "plus"  2 King Pillows "plus"  2 accents, plus one final accent pillow in the front.  Bear in mind this is one suggestion, you can do others too, its just a good starting place.
4. Keep it simple if you're new at this. If you're a little worried about going all out, just remember to keep it simple. That means, simple colors, simple layers and simple accents. A well made bed does not have to have tons of pillows or lots of textures, but it does need to follow a simple formula. Look on websites, and see how the pros do it and then see if you can find a happy medium. Good luck with your house staging~

Open Concept Floor Plans: Is this always a one size fits all deal?

Why Open floor plans aren't always the best option



Open floor plans are no doubt something you've heard many times over. You've heard it when house shopping, you've heard it on renovation shows and you've likely seen examples of it in magazines. You've likely heard a lot of chatter about how desirable it is if you're selling your home or want to renovate. So there is no doubt this current trend is in full force and chances are it is going to be a permanent fixture in the world of home construction and architecture. 

You've heard the good. Have you considered the bad? Well, in spite of precious few articles and information on why it's not always the best choice, it really needs to be considered fully before you sign the dotted line or jump and make a quick decision. Here's some things to think about before you decide what you'd like versus what will work for your life, now and in the future.

In magazines, open floor plans look spectacular. In reality, open floor plans can make furniture placement, and decorating a nightmare. Walls not only provide you with a great place to display artwork or add storage via shelves, but they also help with placement of furniture. If you have the typical six piece set up for furniture, such as sofa/love-seat/end tables/coffee table, walls can give you more identifiable placement options. Usually big walls are ideal for sofas, mid-size for love-seats and so on. No walls means furniture must float in the room and this isn't always easy to do. Defining a focal point can be a challenge if you purchase a home that doesn't have a fireplace or some other obvious feature. One thing to also remember is open concept doesn't always equal large spaces. To "float" furniture adequately you must have enough space to navigate around each piece. Open concept smaller homes could possibly mean eliminating some of your existing furniture. Unless a home has electrical outlets in the floor you may find it challenging to have lighting from lamps as well.

Open floor plans can make it harder to keep little ones out of the kitchen. While you may want to be able to "keep an eye" on little Billy, having him underneath you while you're cooking could be an issue too. Falling, bumping and tripping over little ones can be a real safety hazard. Think you're off the hook if you're an “empty nester”? Not necessarily. Grandchildren will be running throughout your home as well which means constantly policing invisible borders between living spaces and kitchen areas and that can be exhausting as well. Don't forget, stoves with front knobs are easy to turn on for little ones and oven doors can get hot and hurt at that level too.

Open floor plans demand you be a little tidier than you may want to be. If you're not the tidiest of people, open floor plans are either going to make you step up your game and clean more diligently, or you're going to find yourself struggling to hide your mess.

 Something to think about as well. If you're an excellent housekeeper this would not be an issue, but if you're a busy mom or dad, this might be something to think about. 

The bottom line is this, don't be fooled by what may be the latest fad and assume this will be the best solution for you. There are no “one size fits all” floor plans and careful consideration of both now and future should be factored into any decision you make.