From the Inside of a Remodel, Part I

A view of the children's work area in the new addition“I appreciate creativity in whatever realm. I’m excited when I see it and say, ‘Wow, somebody came up with that!'”

These could have been my words. When I married my husband, who is now an architect, I anticipated benefiting from his creativity on our own home someday. That day came, but the creative ideal of designing and executing our dream quickly gave way to the reality of the building process.

Michelle Mitchell, the person who actually made the statement on creativity, announced her home addition and remodel on her personal blog, Scribbit, and I extended an email of enthusiasm for her new project and support for the times when the going got tough, which seems inevitable in most building projects.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t invite her into a secret club of those who know the ins and outs of working with an architect or builder. That doesn’t exist, even if we wished it would. The building process is a lot like the process of buying your first home—you learn the process of “how that works” by stepping in and going through it.

Now, with her beautiful addition in place, and six posts about her experience published, I interviewed her to find out how she navigated the construction process and the impact it had on her family life.

Her personal perspective from the inside of a remodel revealed some commonalities and a conclusion—have realistic expectations. “Yes, I would do it again. But, if I knew how long it would have taken and all of the problems, I wouldn’t be as optimistic.”

Michelle and her husband, Andrew, live with their four children in Anchorage, Alaska, where according to Michelle, the community feels smaller than you might expect for a metropolitan area. They had lived in their home for seven years and had updated the kitchen, made minor changes and were contemplating either a move to a new home or an addition to their existing home.

Just as they asked themselves, “Do we want to move up to a bigger house?” they saw what they would miss. “We like the neighborhood and our location. We are close to everyone we know and the places we go. The idea of fixing up what we had appealed to us.”

They recognized, too, that even new houses have their problems, and they decided to remodel their existing home. Although they felt “completely in the dark” about the process, they began by talking to those in the industry they already knew.

They interviewed two builders whose work they’d seen and an architect they knew from their church congregation. They weren’t looking for a “cookie cutter” design to update and expand their split level home, and when they interviewed Bruce Williams, an architect at Black + White Studio Architects, the interview itself felt original.

We felt like we were on a couch with this psychologist analyzing us. He asked us, “How do you feel about your house? How does your family relate in it? Where do you guys spend most of your time? What do you want your children to do?” After it was over I said, “That was really fun.”

Still, they worried about what his price would be.

We said, “A real architect, now that’s got to be expensive.” But then when his price came in, it was really pretty reasonable considering what we were paying him to do.

Michelle and Andrew gave Bruce and his business associate, Michael Gerace, free reign; they trusted their experience and expertise. She said:

People sometimes have a hard time because they think they know what they want. And a home is an individual thing. But if you have someone who is competent and trained and has spent 20 years doing something, they’re going to know more about it than we do., why try to tell them how to do their job?

Conceptual design for the additionThe architect’s reworked several areas of the house to add more light with additional windows or storage with custom cabinets and closets. The most striking part of the design, though, is a modern addition over the garage that extends the children’s bedrooms into shared work spaces. The photograph above is a conceptual drawing of that addition. The photograph at the top is the finished work spaces in the children’s area.

We told him what our purpose was. We said, “This is the space we have, this is the budget we have, this is what we’d like to create.” Then we pretty much turned it over to him to see what he could do. And we just loved his design so much.

With a conceptual design in hand, they were ready to step into the next stage of the process—interviewing, hiring, and working with a contractor.

This is Part One in the series, From Inside a Remodel. Part Two will be published here next Monday, January 26.  If you like this series or others in the Everyday Biography section, why not bookmark this site or subscribe to a feed?


  1. Michelle at Scribbit
    Jan 19, 2009

    What a fun time I had talking with you and your write up is wonderful, I’ll link to it tomorrow.

  2. An Ordinary Mom
    Jan 20, 2009

    I am always curious to see how these things really work.

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