"Now that the ceiling is open, can we remove those struts and square off the ceiling to capture more height?" I asked.
"Yes, you can," my architect, Ahmad, explained. "In fact, I like the idea very much."
At which point we turned to our contractor, PJ, who affirmed that the struts were purely ornamental.
"Great, let's do it then," Cliff and I agreed.
There's nothing quite as startling as seeing your home deconstructed (that's not bomb damage folks, it's demolition) but it does give you and your team the opportunity to see the "bones" of the house and to make changes early in the process.
Interestingly, the bones of our house look a lot like an upside down ship's hull. There are rounded corners and coved ceilings in many of the rooms, which add to the overall charm and elegance, but unfortunately, shorten the ceiling height considerably.
Moreover, coved ceilings - while pretty - make for an absence of square angles. As this room is set to be Cliff's new study, the plan is to add bookshelves, thus the coved ceilings are problematic. On the other hand, I wouldn't dream of removing this lovely design detail in the hallway where it makes a dramatic entry even more so.
Since the house is all but down to the studs, now IS is the appropriate time to make such changes. Once PJ's crew begins framing, I suspect there will be a few more change orders in store for us (and by us, I mean him) as well.
Renovations are like that. Sometimes what makes sense on paper, doesn't necessarily work once the walls begin to go up and are put into place.
"Hmmm, I thought there would be more room in the hall closet."
"Can we move the washer and dryer over here instead?"
"What about if we . . ."
At our last house, we moved a bedroom wall a foot and a half after framing to make the two bedrooms more equitable in size; a decision that ultimately made better sense, but did add additional expense to the job. (It was worth it.) It's not something we noticed on the blueprints, but once the framing was in place, there was no question but to adjust the dimensions.
I'm expecting a similar journey with the Calmar house but on a much larger scale. We had pursued the purchase thinking we would simply redo the bathrooms and kitchen, add a downstairs apartment and live through construction. Voila!
Uhhh, maybe not. Once we moved in, it was clear we couldn't stay (nothing functioned properly) and when a second sewer lateral was discovered only after it backed up into the basement, that was our cue to beat a hasty retreat and abandon ship. "Abort, abort, ABORT!"
I feel a little like "Alice" in Wonderland as she fell down the rabbit hole. The house now has doors that open up to nothing and staircases that lead to nowhere. (That's ALL going to change.) As luck would have it, the job has morphed into a reinvention, instead of a renovation. Still, now that we are squarely underway, there's nothing to do but embrace the change. Or as Alice was fond of saying, "Curious and curiouser."
I realize now that the other five renovation projects Cliff and I undertook over the past 25 years were merely warm-ups to what I hope, will be our final renovation (but in all likelihood, won't be). It's inevitable that as homes get older, they are going to need some updating.
BTW - "change orders" typically add to the expense of your project, so DO get a sense of what those changes are going to cost upfront so as to avoid unwelcome surprises when you are billed for them later on. Your contractor has bid on the project - as presented; therefore, if you show up on a daily basis to question the process and ask for "changes," be prepared to pony up!
Removing a few ornamental studs from the framing should be a nominal expense while removing an entire chimney will cost much more, so if you are on a tight budget, consider what trade-offs you are willing to make to cover the additional work. Whatever your projected costs, DO pad the budget by 15% to absorb the unexpected along the way - some of which you'll naturally create because you can (and will) and others due to discovery when opening the walls on site.
Finally, I'm often asked, "Should we renovate or move?" In our case, Cliff and I did both simultaneously, which is a story for another column and another day, but the short answer is: "It depends."
If you enjoy making a million and one decisions, if you have the wherewithal, if your marriage is sound (I mean really sound), if you can roll with the punches, if you love your neighbors and the street on which your current home resides, if your lot is virtually irreplaceable, and IF you enjoy the process of rebirth - than yes, you should renovate your current home.
On the other hand, if you hate the upheaval, can't live with the mess, don't like workmen in your home on a daily basis, will go ten rounds with your mate over every decision, and will wonder half way through why you ever began this horrific remodel (?!?), then please let me help you find a replacement home. From my experience, it is actually less expensive to buy UP in many cases, than it is to renovate and stay put (although your tax base is likely to increase so there is THAT to consider).
Whatever the journey, I'm here to guide you along the way.
How can I help you?
(PS - You can follow my renovation escapades, missteps and misfortunes at www.renovationriptide.com . It's full of "oh wow" photos and "OMG" moments. Or put another way: What can you do when you live in a zoo? It's going to be great when it's completed. At least that's what I keep telling myself!)
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.