The Design

The Design

Chapter 2: The Design


With all of our preparations done (assuming that you’ve read the previous chapter), it’s time for us to consider how we’ll design your renovations. To start with, we need to assess whether you need a professional, be it an architect or a designer, to help you with your designs or you could just do it yourself.

This chapter discusses the process of hiring a professional, as well as the fundamental concepts for every DIY designer out there, including design principles, different design styles, tools and programs that can aid in the design process, and the best room with which to start renovation project.


Professional Help

It’s safe to say that for any small scale project, such as enlarging a window opening or demolishing a non-bearing wall, you don’t need a professional; you and your contractor can just go ahead and get the job done. On the other hand, more complicated projects, whole-house renovations and house extensions come to mind, might require the assistance of a professional.

Image courtesy of, licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

Before discussing the pros and cons of having a professional in your corner during the renovation project, let’s understand what the difference is between the various kinds of professionals out there, particularly the two main types: architects and designers.


The Difference Between an Architect and a Designer

So, what do architects do?

They are skilled professionals who have spent a considerable amount of time learning about building design, engineering, and ergonomics. In other words, they specialize in designing homes that merge functionality with aesthetics. This allows them to have creative ideas when it comes to intricate problems that pertain to design as well as a unique ability to see how the whole project will come together when it’s done and how to maintain that vision throughout the whole ordeal.

Architects come to your house and inspect it, they then hear what you have to say and what you wish to do, and, finally, they figure out how they can best make your home conform to your dreams in an inventive and cost-efficient way.

What about designers?

Designers lack the formal training enjoyed by architects, both in architecture and engineering. Nevertheless, they tend to have an area of expertise, which tends to be interior space planning. Therefore, when a project is a bit too complicated for you to handle by your lonesome, yet it isn’t big enough to warrant bringing an architect on board, a designer is the perfect individual for the job. Given how cheap designers are compared to architects, this makes intuitive sense.

Interestingly, there are several types of different designers, each one specializing in a type of space: there are certified kitchen and bath designers, and interior designers. So, you do have some variety to choose from. A specialized designer has their own set of pros and cons. Where on the one hand they offer a certain focus that other professionals might lack, they might fall short when it comes to other important skills.


This is all fine, but which one do I need for my project?” I hear you say.


Well, it depends. First of all, you need to know how big your project is and how complicated it is going to be; the size and scope of the project will play a huge role in defining who comes on board later on. For instance, some municipalities require a stamp by a licensed architect on any residential plans. A good rule of thumb to follow is that if you’re changing a single room, then you should get a designer. Conversely, if you’re contemplating a larger change, especially a change that will drastically affect your house, the space within it, and the traffic, then you should hire an architect.


Do You Need Help in the First Place?

Having understood the different types of professionals out there willing to help you with your project, we can now determine whether you actually need the assistance of these professionals. The best way we can do that is to weigh the pros and cons of hiring a professional and to determine, accordingly, which one is more suited to our needs.

Hiring a Professional

  • If you want, you can have the professional oversee the construction phase and monitor the contractor’s work. Naturally, this will cost you more than having the professional simply design your project for you, but the ease of mind and time freed up can more than offset this cost. Additionally, a savvy architect can help your contractor find cheap and effective solutions for any problem that might come along the way.
  • You can rest easy knowing that whatever the design the professional comes up with, it will probably be better and more cost-efficient than your solution. Moreover, designing something on your own puts you at risk of making several errors and mistakes that a seasoned professional would never make.
  • Not only will architects produce better designs, they will also give far more details than you ever could. This high level of detail is important for contractors when they start working.
  • Seeing as an experienced architect has been in the construction business for a while, they probably know the best places to purchase the materials you need, the best contractors to work with on specific projects, and the best time to start working on something.
  • Architects can do all the negotiating on your behalf, and their experience in the market can help get you bottom prices.
  • The first and biggest drawback is the increased cost of the project. Aside from the professional’s fee, costs can be raised because some professionals will be so involved in the project that their aspiration to deliver something truly unique will drive them to purchase custom products and materials and to include convoluted designs that will cost you more to realize. And there is always a chance that you’ll hire an architect whose head’s up in the clouds and who will design something that belongs in a fantasy novel.
  • Legally speaking, an architect isn’t liable for mistakes in both the plans and the actual construction, even if they were the ones responsible for overseeing the contractor’s work.

The Fees Associated with Hiring a Professional

There are numerous ways you can compensate your architect, and it all depends on the project, the degree of involvement of the architect, and the agreement between you and the architect. For instance, you can agree to pay the architect a fixed per hour fee that will range between $50 to $150. Alternatively, should you choose to have your architect oversee the construction phase, the architect will probably demand a percentage of the total project cost, which will range from 5% to 20%. Furthermore, your architect can demand a flat fee that will be somehow proportional to the total project cost. Interestingly, you can agree with the architect to pay them a flat fee for one phase of the job, the design phase for example, while paying them on a per hour basis when it comes to the oversight phase.

Compensation alternatives for designers are very similar to the alternatives available to architects; the only difference is that designers get paid less than architects. Conversely, when hiring a designer, you might have to still get an architect along with a structural engineer to give their stamp of approval on the designer’s drawings. Just keep that in mind.

Finally, regardless of whether you choose to go with an architect or a designer, it’s important for you to follow the same steps required for finding the perfect contractor, which were outlined in the previous chapter. In a nutshell, do your research, perform interviews, look at their previous work, and do the whole nine yards.


The Design Principles

What’s left of this chapter will entertain the idea of you wanting to do the design process yourself and will look at some of the fundamentals you need to produce an aesthetically pleasing yet functional design.

Firstly, you need to understand the kinds of concepts that govern how you should arrange the elements and shapes in your design, otherwise known as design principles. Understanding these principles is like learning a new language: it allows you to express yourself in a coherent and eloquent fashion. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the main design principles.

  1. Balance - When designing a room, you should strive for a sense of visual equilibrium. You should try to create a room that is visually stable, which can be accomplished in one of two ways: symmetry or asymmetry.
  2. Proportion - Aside from creating a sense of symmetry (or asymmetry), you should take into consideration the relative size of the objects and shapes to one another. You ought to aim for a room where nothing stands out as being too big or too miniscule.
  3. Rhythm - Just as in music where the individual notes when put together create a rhythm, the various objects in a room can create a visual rhythm through their shapes, colors, and patterns. By arranging the elements of a room in such a way that it becomes easy to follow them with your eyes, you are creating visual rhythm.
  4. Emphasis - Every room should have an emphasis (also known as point of focus), an element that stands out from the rest of its peers. Otherwise, the space will seem cluttered and bland. However, the caveat is that each space should have only one primary emphasis, with other emphases playing a secondary role.
  5. Unity - The principle of unity is the culmination of all the other principles: it signifies the coherence of the whole. It means that you should design the space to give off the feeling that all the elements in said space are working towards the same goal - sort of like the players in an orchestra.


Design Considerations

Apart from the aforementioned design principles that focus on aesthetics, there are a few design considerations you should keep in mind.

  1. Function - More important than what a room looks like is how functional and how comfortable it is for the people using it. This comes down to choosing the right furniture, adjusting the proper lighting, and finding the optimal furniture arrangement.
  2. Mood - Every space gives off a feeling, a certain ambiance that is unique to it. This ambiance is defined by the colors used in the room, furnishings and their style, the type of texture that is predominantly used in the room, and so on. Hence, you should develop a theme early on and stick to it. In such a manner, you’ll find it easier to create a sense of unity, as we talked about earlier.
  3. Personality - Along with mood, a room gives off a certain personality that is indicative of the people using it. Therefore, accessorizing the space to give off the sort of character you would like to represent is instrumental in making your living quarters feel more like home.


Design Styles

When filling a space, you only have three main elements to manipulate: shapes, colors, and textures. Yet the possible varieties available through the use of these elements are nearly infinite. For example, color schemes can help achieve that coveted sense of unity we discussed earlier.

Image courtesy of, licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

Fortunately, throughout history, particular styles have developed that merge all three elements in one manner or another, and we can rely on these styles and draw inspiration from them whenever we want. As a matter of fact, you can choose a single style to be the dominant one and another two to act in the background. Usually, one of the styles that are effective in the background is related to the style of the house itself in order to preserve your home’s unity.

Picking a Style

Before exploring some of the different styles out there, we should take a look at how you should best choose the primary style.

  • Don’t get lured by current trends and fads. Instead, try to establish something that is more timeless so that when it comes time for you to sell your house, you’re not left regretting your decision.
  • Strive for consistency between the different rooms in your home. Unity isn’t only between the elements of a single space, but it is also a concept that applies to different rooms inside the same home and different homes on the same neighborhood. This sense of cohesion should apply to the color scheme as well.
  • Speaking of unity, try to focus on the smallest of details and even match the door handles, light switches, etc.
  • As for colors, aim for a controlled color palette that uses a maximum of three colors. You can always play with the different shades of these colors while preserving the sense of consistency.
  • You might not be able to accurately describe the style you’d like to renovate your home in, but, through the use of images and photos, you can have your contractor understand better your overall vision.

    Different Styles to Choose From

    There are countless styles for you to choose from, and here is a small sampling of the possibilities.

    • American Traditional - This is a more formal and elegant style that is characterized with the use of plenty of woodwork.
    • Minimalist - As the name suggests, the less you use, the more eloquent you make the space. It is the perfect style for anyone trying to avoid clutter and to streamline their lives.
    • Shabby Chic - It is a more romantic way of filling up a space by focusing on furnishings that display signs of wear and tear. The whole vibe is supposed to feel old and antiquated.
    • Art Deco - Bold and flashy, it is an elegant style that utilizes lighting, shiny surfaces, and geometric shapes to create the right atmosphere.
    • Modern - A style that focuses on the uses of shapes, specifically clean, neat shapes like perfect circles and rigid squares.
    • Zen - This is a style that focuses heavily on balance and rhythm. It has gained plenty of popularity lately due to its ability to promote relaxation.
    • Other Styles - Naturally, there are plenty of other styles that are worth exploring. Some worth mentioning are rustic, bohemian, Scandinavian modern, classical, Arabian, French, and gothic.


    The Use of Technology

    Luckily, there are numerous programs and apps out there that can help you design your dream home. However, before we can take a look at all the available options, there are a few questions we should answer.

    1. What device do you plan to use in the designing phase? The programs available to a computer are different than the ones available to tablet or a cellphone. Over and above, the specifications of a particular device will dictate which programs you can use and which programs might be too demanding.
    2. How quick of a study do you consider yourself? You need to bear in mind that some programs take longer to learn than others and some programs are technically more complicated than others.
    3. What is it that you plan to do? Each program has its own capabilities, and you won’t be doing anybody any favors by using a program whose capabilities far exceed your needs.

    Having figured out the sort of specifications you need, you can now begin to survey the programs that you can use.

    If You’re Looking for Inspiration:

    • Houzz Interior Design Ideas - An app geared for those looking for different design ideas, it is the perfect tool to help you pick out the house of your dreams.
    • Master- Design Furnish - This is a piece of software that helps you draw your room with the furnishings in it. It can greatly help with your furniture options, particularly if you want to design something.

    If You Want To Draw Floor Plans:

    • ROOMSCAN - Usable on an iPhone or iPad, it is a very simple program that is both fun and easy to use. It helps draw floor plans with the use of your phone’s GPS as well as gyroscope functions.
    • MagicPlan - This app also draws your floor plan for you, but, rather than using the GPS, it relies more on your phone’s camera.
    • Floorplanner - This program is one of the best ways to share floor plans via the Internet.
    • Gliffy - An intuitive program that functions like a floor planner and helps you share your floor plans using the World Wide Web.
    Image courtesy of, licensed under CC0 Public Domain.

    If You Need to Pick Colors:

    • Benjamin Moore Personal Color Viewer - This free app allows you to visualize how a particular color will look on a particular wall.
    • Colorjive By Colorjinn BV - Another app that permits you to experiment with different colors on your walls without having to use a single brush stroke.
    • Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap Visualizer - This is a fun app that lets you try out different colors on different house styles.

    If You are Looking for a More Intricate Job:

    • Google SketchUp - A free program that offers a wide array of functions that would entertain even the most experienced of designers. You can also share your designs with others and print them.
    • TurboCAD TurboFloorPlan Home & Landscape Pro - An extremely easy to use program that can be learned quickly. Fortunately, it still is a very functional program that can be used for a wide array of things.
    • Home Designer Chief Architect Software - This is a line of software products that is aimed at the amateur who enjoys DIY projects. They are considerably cheaper than their more professional counterparts, yet the amount of things that they can teach you is impressive.


    The Order of Rooms to Remodel

    Having covered the basics of designing your home renovations, we are left with one last question: which room should we start with? This question may seem superfluous at first glance, but upon thinking about it, you’ll find that it addresses an important issue: priorities. After all, it may very well be the case that you don’t have the financial liquidity to redo your entire home right now, and you need to figure out where is the best place to start for the time being. To make this decision, you are best served by taking several factors into consideration.

    1. Which room gives you the most bang for your buck? In other words, if you were to remodel a single room in your home today only to sell the whole place tomorrow, which room would help increase the value of your property the most? Generally speaking, kitchens are usually the best yielders when it comes to return on investment.
    2. Where do you and your family spend the most amount of time? Usually, it is a good idea to start by renovating the place that you and your family enjoy the most, which will allow all of you to reap the rewards of this renovation.
    3. Which space do your guests see the most when they visit your home? When all is said and done, every house owner wants to impress their guests, and what better way is there to do that than by renovating the space your guests spend their most time in. You might also want to consider redoing the space that your guests see when they first step foot into your home.
    4. Which space are you fine living without for the coming couple of months? Realizing that renovating a room will lead to it being inaccessible to the entire family should help you weigh the consequences of choosing one room over another.

    More often than not, the answer to all of the previous questions tends to be the kitchen. Apart from increasing the resale value of your property, it is where most families enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner; it is where guests tend to come and go, particularly during parties; and it is where a family can make do without for a month or two should they have a handy microwave and a mini-fridge available.

    In the event that these questions are not enough for you to know which room to begin hacking, here are a few final thoughts that might settle the matter for you.

    1. Which room do you have enough money to renovate right now? Occasionally, your financial constraints may not only dictate the amount of rooms you can start working on but also which rooms to start working on.
    2. Why are you renovating the house in the first place? This harkens back to the previous chapter and shows how important it is for you to be clear on your motivations during every step of the way.

    Naturally, there is no right answer, and choosing one room or another is more a matter of preference than anything else. Nevertheless, you should not let that detract from the importance of guiding your choice with a set of practical questions.

    Throughout this chapter, we have covered most of the basics that pertain to designing your home’s renovations. We are now ready to take our first look at actual work. In the next chapter, we will start with major works like major repairs, the addition of elements, flooring, exploring how you can make your home more eco-friendly should you choose to.

    For a full list of chapters, click here.

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