Refresh, Renew, Remodel

By Samantha Zinth

Sara and Jeff Saxby needed more space. With a teenage son starting high school this fall, the Saxbys were beginning to outgrow their 1700-square foot, open-concept ranch in the Village of Harrison.

“Our son’s room is immediately off of the living space, which was challenging for any of us to invite company over,” Sara says. “We wanted to give him space to hang out with his friends – play games, watch movies, just be a teenager – without mom and dad hovering nearby.”

With 12 years in their current home, the Saxby’s love their neighborhood and location. So rather than moving, they looked to their unfinished basement for additional space.

“We have a lot of clients who need or want a change, but aren’t interested in relocating,” says Gary Fassbender of Distinctive Renovations in Appleton. “They want to stay in their home, stay in their neighborhood. They’re comfortable in their surroundings and would rather make a change to the existing structure.”

Sara and Jeff Saxby worked with Distinctive Renovations to create a lower-level, multi- purpose space that would accommodate their family’s changing needs. In addition to an entertaining space for their son and his friends, the Saxby’s also created a hobby room for Jeff and a scrapbooking space for Sara.

“It was designed in a way that there’s really something for everyone,” Sara says. “We can all be downstairs, all pursuing our own interests, without getting in each other’s way. It’s really transformed how we work and play at home.”

Local Trends

Remodeling projects like the Saxby’s are on the rise in the Fox Cities as the local economy and housing market continue to recover.

“Many of our customers have been wanting to make these improvements for years,” says Diane Welhouse of Welhouse Construction Services in Kaukauna. “We’re seeing homeowners complete more of what they’d like for their home, not just what’s required for general maintenance.”

Basement and bathroom remodels are among the most popular elective projects, but contractors are also doing a lot of work to accommodate the needs of an aging Baby Boomer population. Projects that allow homeowners to “age in place” are becoming more common. Such projects include converting a tub to a shower, installing backer boards for grab bars in a bathroom, or building a mother-in-law suite for an elderly parent.

“Many of our clients don’t have an immediate need for these improvements, but they have the foresight to understand they’re going to need them in the future,” says Fassbender, who is a certified aging-in-place specialist. “These projects help ensure that they’ll be able to stay in their home comfortably and safely, even as they get older.”

The Three C’s

In choosing a contractor, homeowners should be mindful of three primary factors: cost, creativity and quality.

Your budget will determine many of the decisions for your project, so understanding its scope is vitally important for a successful remodel. Consider the obvious expenses, such as labor and materials, as well as the incidental costs, such as adding technology or purchasing new furniture. Your contractor should be able to outline your options to help you realize your vision for the space while staying within budget.

“We approach each project as if was our home and our money,” says Welhouse. “We want to be as transparent as possible, to help people make an informed decision about their investment.”

Remodeling projects typically take place within the confines of an existing footprint, making design creativity and quality craftsmanship exceptionally important. Consider how your design choices will blend in with the rest of the house, and pursue creative solutions when it comes to layout and storage. Reputable contractors should be fully insured, offer solid local references, and provide examples of past work.

“It’s a big deal to invite someone into your home,” Welhouse says. “You’re ultimately building a relationship, making communication styles, personality types, and design-aesthetic exceptionally important. You need someone who is going to ‘get’ what you’re trying to do, and treat it as a shared vision.”

Design Smart

Before you begin your remodel—or even start drawing up plans with your contractor—it’s important to consider exactly what you will want and need from the redesigned space. The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) notes that design and function should be the homeowner’s primary consideration when planning a remodel. Considering your needs up front will ensure your remodel suits both your lifestyle and budget.

“Any project should begin with a thorough conversation between the contractor and the client,” says Fassbender. “It’s much easier to design when you know where the customer is coming from. I always tell people, let’s take a holistic approach upfront. What do you want from the project? What would make your home more functional for you and your family?”

Margi Mann and Jim Coenen worked with Welhouse Construction Services to refinish the basement of their 1800- square foot character home, originally built in 1925. The project, which included gutting the existing basement, egressing a window, building a new bathroom, moving the laundry, and designing an entirely new basement layout, took shape only after thoroughly exploring their vision and needs as homeowners.

“It’s easy to get bogged down in the small details, but you have to think about the end game,” Margi says. “Beginning with the end in mind allowed us to make several smart decisions for the space, many we hadn’t even considered. Honestly, I wish we would have sat down with them much earlier and developed a 10 year plan for the entire house.”

In the planning stages, make a wish list of everything you’d like to see in the space and pare down your budget from there. Or, as Margi Mann suggests, create a long-range plan that will allow you to make changes more gradually.

“We’re in the solution business,” Welhouse says. “Our ultimate goal is to help you meet your needs for your home.”


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