Here on the blog we write mostly about decorating, aka “applied decoration.” You know: Paint colors, wallpaper, flooring choices, window treatments, furniture, counter tops, cabinetry. Using decorating tricks can mask many architectural problems in an interior design — and for sure, decorating solutions are likely going to be way cheaper than changing the architecture of a room — moving walls, doors, windows, etc. But sometimes, even a single architectural change can make a huge difference. Case in point, above: Our original kitchen had just one small window on the wall facing the front yard. When we renovated, I more than doubled the size of the window. It’s not just those scrumptious aqua Geneva kitchen cabinets that transformed our kitchen — the window, and all the light now streaming in, made a tremendous difference, too. Even so, I go very slow when it comes messing with original architecture –>
- Go slow, save money. When it comes to working with a period house, I am very cautious about changing the floor plan or making other architectural changes. First, because I am frugal. If you can love the house you are in while living with the walls, windows and doors you were dealt, you will save lots of money. Also, there is some *historical* value, I think, in keeping the original floor plan. This is especially true if your house was designed by a known architect or is part of an historic development.
- Live with your space a while, and take lots of notes. If you think the architecture is off — for example, if you think you want to open up the kitchen to the dining room to make a great room — I think it makes tremendous sense to live with the space the way it is for a while. First, maybe you will change your mind. If not, and you become even more firmly convinced that you want to make an architectural change, you will then have been able to use this time to really live within the space while paying super close attention to how you could use change it most effectively. Really pay attention. Make copious notes. Talk to the others who may live with you. Read magazines and websites and look for how your design problem is solved in other rooms. Yada yada: Take the time to really figure out how to fix the architecture once and for all, to make for happier space utilization. You can then plan your final design accordingly.
- Consult with a professional. Architectural changes are expensive to make and more expensive to fix if you err. To size our kitchen window — which is now a picture window flanked by two casements — I called on a local draftsperson/designer to help me get the measurements just right. This was actually quite tricky. The window had to sit “just so” for the interior design of the kitchen to work… but it also had to sit *just so* on the outside of the house so that the facade was symmetric. Not only would we be looking at and out of this window every day, but it was going to be expensive. There was the window itself, our contractor to do the demo and install, and then, because our facade is brick, there were masons involved, too. Having a professional ensure I had the measurements right was crucial and so anxiety relieving.
- You’ll be happy to have a relationship with a pro when things go wrong. Reason two to have a professional: When things *go wrong* on the job, you have someone with experience to call in. Unbeknownst to me, during our kitchen renovation, my husband and my contractor (both of whom I love, still) thought the window should not have been so low to the counter — it’s like they thought the specs were off — so when it was time to submit the order, they ordered a window 3″ or 4″ shorter than the one I had specked with my draftsperson. Oh. Without asking me. Or even mentioning to me. So… one day I come home, all excited “because the window is going in today!” and BoOM WhAm POW! I am gobsmacked by a window that in one instant I know is “all wrong.” This “mistake” then called for a big, anxiety producing powwow. Were they wrong? Was I wrong? Did we want to spend another $1,800 and get a new *right size* window or would this one be *okay*. I called my draftsman/designer. We two outvoted those two, as if haha She Who Must Be Obeyed was not going to get her way. But, She Who Must Be Obeyed was superbly happy she had an expert on her side who could calm her down and say, yes, the original taller window would be okay… would be better. It was. Hey, this makes me think of a whole ‘nother post to write: When do you *settle* for the mistake vs. spend again to fix it? In the case of this window: We spent the money, and years later, the pain of that unforeseen expenditure has long faded, and the window is terrific.
- Take advantage of open walls. Gutting to the studs? Now’s the time to enlarge or change windows or doors. P.S. Maybe double up on the insulation, too?
- Leverage: Maybe here’s a rule: The more money you are spending on a given project, the more sense it may make to #1 fix the architecture while you are at it, and #2 get professional consultation to help.
- Renovate safe. Vintage nasties such as lead and asbestos can be lurking in your layers, so consult with properly licensed professionals if you are messing with original surfaces.
For several years I worked managing the PR and Marketing for The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Estate and Gardens. Edith Wharton’s first published book wasn’t fiction — it was actually a book considered one of, if not the, first popular primers on interior design, The Decoration of Houses, 1896. I recall that in this book, she said that before you even start at the interior design, you must fix any architectural issues. I think this is right, fundamentally, although 95% of American probably does not have the money to aim for architectural perfection. So: We must carefully pick and choose what, if any, architectural issues we will try to address in our houses. With my kitchen, I think the window was well worth the expense.