Recently, I got a rather urgent call from a woman wanting to meet with me as soon as possible. We had designed and built renovations for her parents and her brother with great results and she wanted to get started on a project she had been procrastinating about for months.
When I got there, she showed me these lavish plans – 14 pages of them – of a room addition called Great Room. It seemed very straight-forward. She wanted a price to build it. She pointed to the plans, referred to the plans but never touched them. She kept calling them the “architect’s plans.” Since we are normally involved before the architect starts drawing, and since I found the fact that she refused to touch the plans rather curious, I asked if I could ask her a few questions that might clarify some things.
“Sure, no one’s ever asked me any questions though. I hope I know the answers,” she said.
“I’m sure you do,” I said. “It’s your house and, of course, you’ll know all the answers. What is the purpose of the Great Room?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“What are you going to do in the room?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t know exactly. I just inherited a lot of my Grandmother’s furniture and we are just out of room,” her voice trailed a little and she seemed a bit embarrassed as she looked around this rather large home.
“OK – So where do you watch TV in your pajamas?” I asked puzzled.
She seemed a little reluctant, not knowing exactly what to do with that question, but I knew she could tell what I was getting at, so she began leading me down the hall.
We went through the outdated kitchen, through a room with a card table, through a room that looked like shrine to “Grandma-dom”, to a tiny room, not much bigger than a closet. The room was stuffed full with a sofa, three chairs, wires hanging from the ceiling and across the floor to a TV with three little boys huddled together playing a video game. Did I mention the vinyl paneling, pea green carpet and a sliding glass door with a baseball imprint?
“Here is where we spend most of our time,” she said sheepishly. “So, I guess you could say this is where we watch TV in our pajamas.”
OK – so now I was getting the drift of what we were looking at. I asked for a tour of the entire home to get a feel for how much space she had now and how they were using it. She had grown up in the house and knew it intimately (including windows that kids could sneak out of). She had recently purchased the home from her parents and the entire house was in need of attention. It was a beautiful home in a great area, but the Grand Lady definitely needed a facelift, as well as a whole lot of nip and tucking. The flow of the house rambled and we literally had to go back downstairs to access a kid’s room off the back stair. It was the maid’s quarters in older days, I’m sure. But it sure didn’t work for a 9 year old boy who was afraid to be alone!
After the tour, we landed back to the “architect’s plans” on the kitchen table. I noticed she still never touched them. We were having a great time chatting about kid’s sports and how we were raising our kids in the back of a car. Between homework and sports and lessons, it was a fulltime job for her to just keep up with the kids!
I looked her square in the eye and said, “What rooms do you use everyday?”
“The nasty little kitchen and the den (the closet in the back),” she said.
“Well, I’m going to rock your world here, but our company has this philosophy, use every room every day. And for goodness sakes, watch TV in your pajamas in the best room in the house!” I told her.
“Can I do that?” she asked.
“Yep, it’s your house!” I said.
She laughed and said, “I guess you’re right.”
As I asked more questions from our Design Assessment, (yes, there are a lot more questions besides “where do you watch TV in your pajamas”) she started to see the light. She wanted to be near the boys when she was cooking. She wanted the family to be able to all flop in one place with popcorn and a movie. She wanted to have a computer and homework area. She loved the back yard and wanted a pool someday. She knew the rest of the house had to be renovated but it just wasn’t in the budget with the Great Room addition drawn up in the “architect’s plans”.
After our third cup of coffee, we both had a caffeine buzz going. But, we were getting somewhere. She was starting to talk about how she wanted to live in the house, something that wasn’t in the “architect’s plans”. We scheduled a meeting at our office for a full Design Assessment.
We met, she and her husband answered question after question such as: Anyone have hobbies? Where do you work on it? Anyone play sports? What’s the thing you dislike most about your home? Where do your kids flop all their stuff down when they walk in the door?
They discovered things they didn’t even think of. She pulled pictures of rooms she loved. Guess what? Not one of them was a Great Room. There were kitchens and baths and hearth rooms and kids rooms and cool TV’s.
From our Design Assessment we decided this: Virtually nothing was kept from the “architect’s plans”. No addition, just renovate the existing space to accommodate all the needs and wants. After all, their home already had 5000 square feet of space, so it was big definitely big enough.
We knocked out walls from the Kitchen to the Card Table Room (I’m still not sure what to call that room) to make a beautiful Kitchen (to die for) and a Breakfast Room that looked out over that gorgeous yard of hers. We made the shrine to “Grandma-dom” the Family Room. (Yes, the “shrine” became where they really lived! Why have a room you’re afraid to use, anyway?) We incorporated that cool TV with an awesome sound package which is great for family movies and watching TV in your pajamas. We put a beverage bar with a small refrigerator and microwave (for popcorn) tucked in a nook. We kept an antique secretary with a chair that sits right in the Living Room with all the new, comfy furniture that could be flopped on, slept on and eaten on.
Other antiques were disbursed throughout the house where the family could USE them. We put French doors out to the new patio and a newly landscaped yard. The den? That battered and beaten room where they hid from the world and used to watch TV in their pajamas? We blew it up, brought it into the 21st century with bookcases and a window seat, a computer desk and homework desk.
We tore down walls everywhere to make room for how the family really lived. We made a hall to the land locked kid at the back stair, renovated every bath, added a Master Bath from a weird closet/bath off the main hall. Coffered ceilings and added walk-in closets. But, all from the same footprint of the original house.
Result? The homeowners got a complete renovation of the entire home for about the same price as the Great Room addition that was drawn up in the “architect’s plans”.
And, she wasn’t afraid to touch the new plans. There were full of fingerprints and coffee stains and a little spaghetti sauce. Now, every room is used every day, except the Dining Room, which is used only on Sunday’s. (That’s ok though, at least she uses it.) We’ve since gone back to finish the lower level, providing drapes and furniture and rugs.
She called me recently to say they have had lots of interest from people wanting to buy the house. Could we look for land to design and build a new house? We laughed, three more cups of coffee and we knew we could make them another perfect spot in a new home where they could watch TV in their pajamas!