9 renovation ideas to improve the quality of life

Editor’s Note: This guest perspective is republished with permission from Zillow. See the original article, “9 Unconventional Ways To Improve Your Home.”

By Richard Taylor

Conventional wisdom about houses is often too much convention and too little wisdom.

Each year someone publishes a list of the conventional home improvement that will give you the best (or worst) return on your remodeling investment.

Remodeling a bathroom. Replace your siding. Don’t build a swimming pool. Paint everything neutral colors.

Sit upright. Get a haircut. Call your mother

If return on investment (ROI) is why you bought a home or why you are remodeling one, this is the time to stop reading. Because the rest of this article is not for you.

Three, two, one … still here?

You invest in your home to improve the quality of life first, not the value. If you get more value in the process, consider it a bonus, but don’t make ROI your main driver.

Otherwise, you’ll end up like the prospect who walked into my office several years ago with a three-page, single-line, typed (like a “typewriter”) list of things they wanted in their house.

His list included the following line: “A large dining room near the kitchen. Though we don’t need or want a dining room.” Why would he want to build a room that he didn’t need?

Because he thinks of things that make the house valuable instead of the things that make it worth living in.

Let me rephrase the ROI question this way: What are some inexpensive ways to improve the quality of life in your home?

Here is my short list:

1. Walk-in pantry instead of kitchen cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are expensive. Half of them are high up on the wall where they are hard to get to, and the wall space they take up could be better used for windows. A pantry takes up less space, stores a lot more, is much easier to use, and costs less to build.

2. Comfortable shower instead of a large bathtub

My company operates a lot in late 70s / early 80s areas that are loaded with huge tubs. We’re taking them all out one at a time and replacing them with comfortably sized showers (not the racquetball court size you see on home shows) that people actually use every day.

A shower takes up less space, uses less hot water and is far more hygienic than a large bathtub.

3. Group the windows for the best views rather than spreading them around the house

Do you have a great view anywhere? Bring it indoors with lots of glass. Remove excess windows from bedrooms and bathrooms and use them to connect the inside of the house with the outside.

We once remodeled a house on the shores of Lake Erie that had a window – one – overlooking the lake. Hey buddy, did you notice you have one of the Great Lakes in your back yard?

4. Keep the ceiling height appropriate for the size of the room

“Volume” ceilings do not automatically make better spaces. They only make larger rooms, rooms that are harder to decorate and more expensive to heat and cool.

Instead, focus on one view, a large fireplace or other element – and away from the ceiling height. Use wall coverings and multiple colors to break up the volume of the room and create the illusion of height.

5. Spend more time planning and less money building

I toured a client’s existing home before we started designing the new one. “Of course,” she said when we looked into the children’s room, “these bedrooms are much too small.”

“Really?” I thought. The smallest was probably 14 feet by 15 feet. But every bedroom had at least one door or window on every wall.

Nice, but the design left little room for furniture.

I suggested doing the new bedrooms more carefully, taking into account the placement of the furniture. In the end, we were able to comfortably fit each child’s bedroom furniture into smaller bedrooms than before.

6. Observe the sleek elegance of the box-shaped house

Subtlety and restraint used to be virtues in home design. Nowadays, inexperienced designers all too often try to draw attention to their homes by adding more things: more gables, more materials, more bay windows, etc. Others know that getting the right proportions, the right scale and the right details is turning heads .

The simple box house is a classic American form that has survived 150 years of stylistic changes. Greek Revival, American Four-Square, Tidewater Georgian … all simple boxes. Great proportions, great details … done.

And here’s a bonus: the box shape is easier and cheaper to build, and since it encapsulates larger volume in less volume, it is cheaper to heat, cool, and maintain.

7. Share part of the master bath

This isn’t for everyone, but it tightens the budget and floor plan. Instead of building a separate toilet, make the toilet and sink in the main bathroom accessible to the rest of the house – it is rarely used by you during the day and rarely used by guests at night.

Why have two bathrooms when one is enough?

8. Spend it when you have it, not before

Sure, it would be great to have these granite countertops right now, but your budget is tight and granite is ten times the price of laminate tops. So how about you put in nice laminate countertops now and replace them with granite in five years when you have the money? You can also do that very easily with lights, floors, window treatments.

9. Split bath – two baths in the room of 1 1/2 baths

Every child doesn’t need their own bathroom, but they do need privacy and space to share. In a divided bathroom there are two sinks in one room and the toilet and bathtub / shower in another, so three children can use the bathroom at the same time and keep a little more harmony in the family home.

I doubt any of these ideas will ever get on a magazine’s list of “Best Remodeling ROI” projects. But each saves you money over a more “conventional” design strategy and each increases the quality of life in your home.

Richard Taylor is a Dublin, Ohio based residential architect and contributor to the Zillow Blog. Connect with him at https://www.rtastudio.com/index.htm.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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