Pencils and tracing paper

I am trying to remember what we talked about before we had kids and before we bought a house that needs updating.

Because right now, almost every conversation is about this house.

A few days ago somebody asked me how long we have been designing this house and I had to admit it that it has been over 2 years. You see the ideas started on that very first visit on a Sunday afternoon, before any inspections or contracts or down payments, and basically, they haven't stopped. Then we had a baby and then we did some work in the back yard and then there was a wedding in Kentucky. Then there was one architect and a contractor and another contractor and a proposal and code analysis.

Basically, we have been putzing around with ideas and architects and contractors for 2 years - trying to figure out how to solve the problems and issues of this house with the smallish amount of money that we have. In terms of money, its sizable. In terms of money for remodeling a house in Marin County, its chump change. What we are trying to figure out is how to make a castle out of our chump change. And by god, we will figure it out.

So now that there are no more babies and weddings and other distractions, we (but mostly I) have the bandwidth to get this show on the road.

For us, this past weekend, that meant devoting 6+ hours to deciphering and prioritizing the 5+ scenarios our new favorite architect gave us. With ruler in hand, some tracing paper and several sharpened pencils, we started to draw...

And draw. And draw.

And by Sunday night, we had it. A completed master plan.

Let me say that again, A COMPLETED MASTER PLAN! This is huge.

What is a master plan you ask? For some it may seem a frivolous extra expense but what I have learned is that it is an essential planning tool for any remodel. Building and supplies and labor are expensive - paper and pencils and ideas are not. 

Taking the extra time in the beginning to figure out how each design component affects the next can help to clarify what to do when and hopefully prevent you from doing work twice or even three times because you didn't realize that you actually wanted access to the backyard (once your deck is built) where instead you just put in a new countertop and pantry because you didn't think beyond the kitchen.  In our case, making a master plan was a crucial first step because it has taken us through countless iterations of ideas and options, some of which worked, others that didn't but all the while helping us to prioritize.

And when you have an old house and a small budget and you don't want to tear the whole thing down and start over, it is important to prioritize and gain complete transparency into the domino affect of making changes, hopefully preparing us for everything and leaving the unexpected (which is inevitable and unavailable) to a much smaller percentage.

As for our priorities, we narrowed then down to:

1. Fix the flow
2. Keep as many walls standing as possible
3. Create a central hallway/stair that leads from new entry stair to back of house
4. Create 2 functioning bedrooms upstairs
5. Create a defined sense of private space for downstairs bedrooms and bath

With these 5 priorities, we were able to look at each scenario and quantify how it stacked up to each component. Our favorite scenario that gutted the downstairs bathroom and made this really sexy and spacious corridor from the new entry to the back of the house did not address #2 and #5. And at 3am after our last meeting with Zac (the new favorite architect), I realized that #5 was actually way more important than an exact central hallway. So we went back to his sketches and started over. 

Now we need to verify and verify some more and then it might just be time to bring in a structural engineer and maybe even head to the planning department for a preliminary overview.

Stay tuned...

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