The anatomy of a room is not dissimilar to the anatomy of a species of flower. Vis a vis, all parts work together as a whole: functionality, practicality and sustainability. Ah, I sense you may be beginning to think, “there he goes off on a designer’s tangent.” And one on expenses, no less, which are financially unobtainable for the average consumer. However, through my recent real estate and home design features, I have attempted to emphasize the affordability of both real estate and design in the Hudson Valley. Unlike the more urbane city centers, the Valley offers an extensive variety of both real estate and home design essentials. Like its architecture, the Hudson Valley’s availability of furnishings and accessories span every period from the 16th to 21st Century. From Chippendale, to Mid-Century, to sleek 21st century, it’s all here. In subsequent articles, introductions to local craftsmen and design resources will continue. Introductions, by the way are one of my specialties.
Now back to rooms: As I have demonstrated in recent weeks, real estate in the Hudson Valley is available at every price point. As a renovator, I am most comfortable with a price point in the $290,000 to $450,000 range. Within these price points and in a sustainable market, a home may be purchased, renovated, and resold with a reasonable margin. HGTV has provided viewers with the ability to see a home in its worst condition, observe the process of transformation, and then be wowed by the final result. HGTV’s shows provide a great model. However, the model is a bit unrealistically skewed. Anyone who has embarked on a massive home renovation has dreamt of a completed project in six weeks. The premise of the program begins with a laundry list of must-haves and concludes with a finished project lambasted by repeated obstacles, which have affected both the project’s budget and the scope of work completed. The typical renovation budget ranges from $65,000 to $100,000. Have you ever considered how salable the final product will be? Does the completion of a partial interior renovation of a home raise its appeal? What about exterior improvements? Are basement rooms really appealing when the remainder of the house requires further updating? Should the next buyer complete the renovation then resell at a further profit? Realistic questions indeed when the flexibility of the real estate market is considered with true economic factors.
As an example, Gary and I purchased our former Greek Revival Home in 2007 for $290,000. It’s a structurally sound home with functioning systems, yet the exterior of the home required paint, shutter restoration, and the completion of a private exterior space. The interior required carpet removal, flooring restoration, wallpaper removal, plastering and painting. The kitchen, baths and electrical system required further upgrades. In my article Real Estate is the Game Kingston is the Buzz, I quoted market statistics for the region. Over a seven-year period of landscaping, restoring and redefining, we increased our home’s value. However, mid-way through the project we realized the house would not be our “forever home.” This was a crucial realization, which affected our restoration choices. In order to sell the home at a desired price point, certain considerations were made. Now, deeply enamored with our new home, we have cautiously approached the project with the same considerations using a simple rule of thumb: Initial price point vs. renovation cost vs. potential selling price point.
Anatomy of a room
I will use our master bedroom ensuite as an example. True to the format often portrayed on HGTV, an ensuite was on my must-have list. My definition of an ensuite: a private bath, large closets, a generous sized bedroom, and a sitting area. No surprise, our master bedroom included these desired components and a modest gallery hallway. As a designer, with a client in a Tony Zip Code, I would approach the renovation of the spaces in one manner. As a home owner, purchasing a home with a good address in a developing market, I approached our renovation in a different manner. The back wing of our home was added to the 1930’s Dutch Colonial during a 1960 expansion. The expansion included an addition of a laundry room, second entrance, pantry and family room on the lower level (my library is not-so-Brady anymore). On the second level, the expansion created a nursery, connecting gallery hallway, master bedroom, generous closets (including a walk-in), and bath. My initial positive assessment of the ensuite: private, cozy small additional room, narrow gallery hallway, generous sized bedroom, ample closets, decent sized bath, filled with natural light, and low ceilings. My negative assessment: narrow hallway, useless nursery, modest lighting fixtures, too many doors, sliding closet doors, outdated bath, worn carpet, under-realized space and unappealing wall colors.
Instantly, the designer in me sprang into overdrive. The bedroom ceiling height could easily be tiered. Expanding the bath into the walk-in closet would increase its square footage affording space for both a shower and soaking tube. The nursery would be eliminated. Removing the existing hallway entrance and cutting a doorway into the room’s opposite wall would connect the space to the extended bath. The perfect dressing room would be born. Natural lighting in the master bedroom could be increased with the inclusion of two extra windows. We now had a feasible design for an ensuite. Wooden flooring, trim moldings, custom doors, and a modern bath (with soaking tub) would complete the space.
Purchase Price vs Renovation Cost vs Salability
Prior to embarking on any renovation project the wise homeowner evaluates their goals. Do I plan to own this home for ten-twenty years? Is this a project I plan to flip? Or should I approach the project in phases? In developing both a budget and a design for our new home I considered the validity of each. By factoring in landscaping, exterior enhancements, systems upgrades, a new kitchen, modifications of a powder room and additional bath I began to formulate the budget. Expenditures for upholstery, window treatments, lighting fixtures, and floor coverings should be included in any budget. An allowance for unforeseen expenses should also be made (I have been watching HGTV).
Prior to our home’s purchase we were cogently aware that a new roof, a gutted kitchen renovation, and new landscaping along with systems upgrades were a must. Certain rooms and areas of the home would also require more than a typical cosmetic decorative face-lift. The budgeting criteria in a still-developing market is unique. Should the budget reflect that of a dream home? Or should the first phase of complete renovation be a compromise? Gary and I chose a compromise. A home whose design reflected our tastes, yet whose renovation was done with an eye toward resale. The initial phase would address the cost of a total renovation. Subsequent enhancements and detailing would follow as we mapped our course with the home. Room by room projects where one or two rooms are done a year are not my particular style. I prefer a completed project.
Crumbling up my designer’s plans for the ensuite, the work began in the gallery hallway and connecting master bedroom. Italian Wool Carpeting, purchased from Kingston’s Carpet One was selected (no more cold wooden floors for me in the morning). Stylish contemporary lighting fixtures with traditional styling were selected for the gallery hallway and former nursery. With salability in mind, the former nursery was styled into a writing study for me. An existing nursery adjacent to the master bedroom could have advantages during a resale. By not eliminating the walk-in closet or adding windows, the master bedroom would retain its initial configuration, at least for now. However, with seven doors (including closets) plus two windows, the room looked more like an exit ramp than a bedroom. In this instance I decided to implement an old design trick; making the obvious seem less obvious. First, the sliding closet doors were removed, altered and reinstalled as opening doors rather than sliding doors. Unless you enjoy playing peek a boo with your clothing, sliding closet doors serve no utilitarian function. By lacquering the walls, doors, window frames and moldings a deep, dark chocolate, the room’s size and proportions were now congruent. Tile replacement, stone countertops, new fixtures, wallpaper and paint transformed the bath. Selecting a glossy Nancy Lancaster Yellow and installing a collection of inherited paintings (and an oversized gilt mirror) created the illusion of space in the narrow hallway. With matching cinnabar red walls and ceiling the nursery gained intimacy. Pre-existing book cases and trim moldings were painted in ecru. A Heriz Persian rug, an empire desk case, mahogany Victorian traveling desk, a plantation chair in brown leather and miscellaneous furnishings completed the space. The new faux proportions of the master bedroom were exploited by the placement of a poster bed, oversized chests, wing chairs, an architectural mirror and art work.
The designer’s budget for the ensuite would rapidly have exceeded $25,000-$35,000. Our comprised budget was a fraction of that. The usage of existing art work, antique furnishings, and oriental rugs sharply curtailed decoration expenses. Consulting with Kingston’s Fabric Discounters in locating desired fabrics, trim and upholstery pricing remained on target. A brass urn lamp purchased from FRED and reconfigured custom drapery panels purchased from a design sale were the ensuite’s only other expenses.
The Hudson Valley is developing into a steadily growing housing market. Purchase price vs renovation/restoration costs vs salability are vital when contemplating purchasing properties within a medium price point. In the medium price point, the anatomy of room – its functionality, practicality, and sustainability (durability of its design) – should be equated when calculating the overall budget. Given the listing price and realistically budgeting for modifications, do you feel the property will have salability? Consideration of salability is a factor which should be calculated into every home’s renovation/restoration. Salability should not define a project; instead salability and design should be considered in balanced proportions