Where Should I Splurge on Design?

Remodeling your home, or building a new one, is an exercise in compromise. There will always be more money you can spend and more things that you want. So, getting the most out of your project involves knowing how to compromise wisely. An architect or designer can help you navigate how to best allocate your resources to get the most out of your budget. And that means, there really are some things that are worth a little extra investment.

Here are some of areas I often recommend clients budget a little extra cash:

  1. Fireplace Surround Tile. There is some gorgeous tile out there, and a lot of it is priced out at an eye-popping price per square foot. Thankfully, the area around your fireplace is typically pretty small. But it is also pretty high-profile, so if there’s ever a space to spring for that tile you’ve always loved it, is here and not the acres of tile behind your kitchen counter.

    Bungalow West: Second Floor Addition to a Bungalow – Living Room Hearth
  2. The Master Bathroom. To be clear, this should actually be labeled “not your guest and kids’ bathrooms.” You can always get away with simple and timeless fixtures in the guest bathrooms. Kids bathrooms can also benefit from less expensive cabinets and finishes as they’ll probably get beaten up anyway. If you have multiple bathrooms you’re going to be spending money on, focus your efforts on a clean and timeless Master Bathroom.

    Sliding mirrors in the master bath. – Remodel in a Tudor-style home: Morning Light Master – Board & Vellum
  3. Great Floors. You touch these floors every day. They should feel solid, make you smile, and wear well.

  4. Solid Core Doors with Great Hardware. Equal to floors, you’ll touch your doors every day. If you’re actually considering hollow core doors for your project to save on cost, then you should step back and reduce the scope instead. Hollow core doors are junk and you’ll hate yourself every time you touch them and any cheapo hardware attached to them.

  5. A Great Exhaust Fan. Exhaust fans help remove odor and moisture from bathrooms. If they don’t work, you get mold and nasty smells. A perfectly sized Panasonic fan is what you want to use and you’ll never regret it. And you should also talk to your architect about using balanced mechanical ventilation, which does all of that a million times better. The folks over at 475 High Performance Building Supply can give you a ton of technical detail about it, too.

  6. Insulation and Air Barrier. We know a lot more about the science of how buildings function than we did even ten years ago. Treat your new construction well and install carefully-detailed air barriers and vapor retarders that keep your home airtight, mold-free, warm, and healthy. Coupled with a well-insulated home (both inside and outside of your framed walls) you’ll love the comfortable feel of your home for decades and save a ton on heating and cooling.

  7. Kitchen Faucet. I took the plunge myself and ignored my own advice and got a cheaper kitchen faucet. I used it numerous times every day. Four years later, I had to buy a new one and learned to take my own advice. Spend the money now for a quality product or spend it in a few years on top of the money you’ve spent on a cheaper one.

    Seattle Box Remodel – Open Shelves and Cabinets in the Kitchen

    See that faucet? Yeah, it fell apart in a spectacular fashion after being photographed.

  8. Spend More Per Square Foot On Less Square Footage. This isn’t a miracle solution, but a well-detailed and appointed home always feels better to me than a larger one with less detail and quality. If you can avoid the temptation to just add more square footage and instead add more quality I’m confident you’ll be happier.

  9. Real or Simulated Divided Lite (SDL) Windows. I’ve written about this before, but avoid the tacked on divided lites at all costs. You’re not fooling anyone, that just looks cheap. The real or simulated lite divided windows will always make you happier. If you don’t want to pay for it, don’t fake it, just opt for no divided lites at all.

  10. Design Work. Obviously, this is self-serving but I’m a firm believer (and our clients have backed this up) that paying for design services not only gets you a more personalized and higher quality product, it also gets you a better return on your investment. We’ve all seen horribly cheap remodels where someone was trying to check all the boxes and instead just ended up with a sloppy house covered in expensive finishes. Don’t do that. Spend the money to get a house that people walk through and fall over themselves with admiration. We’ve all seen both, and we all know that we’d pay more for the one that was thought through carefully.

    Board & Vellum Office – Project Flat Files  – Intersection of Commercial and Residential Design

In the end, a good design professional can help you navigate how to spend your money. It isn’t an easy proposition, but a good compromise will still mean you’ll get something amazing.

Comments

  1. Great post. Agree on all points! And love that tile!

    We got inexpensive door hardware (Schlage, Kwikset, etc) and it’s not great stuff. It works, but the material is flimsy and the knobs have a hollow, tinny sound to them.

    Exhaust fans yes! Whispergreen fans from Panasonic are quiet and efficient. One bummer I’ve found is the lack of Energy Star range hoods – we use that fan a ton, sometimes for hours at a time (baking or roasting) and efficient options are really hard to find.

    Knowing what I know now about envelope efficiency and insulation, I probably would have spent more time and energy on that aspect of the project to tighten things up even more than we did.

    And of course, the investment we made on design has repaid itself again and again…

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