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Ann Architect, Renovation Design GroupAnnie Architect, Renovation Design Group

Renovation Solutions is weekly column on architectural home design by Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer, Principal Architects of Renovation Design Group, a Utah architectural firm focusing on home renovation design.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Old frat house getting makeover

By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

We have enjoyed writing this column for several months now and hope some of our ramblings have been useful and educational. For those of you still wondering if you have the time, interest, or fortitude to pursue a project as challenging as a home remodel, we thought it might be interesting to follow a project from beginning to end to get a sense of what's really involved and the general sequence of events.

Historical photo shows stately prairie-style home. Understanding a home's original design can help bring out the best in a home remodel.

We have chosen a project to follow, and we will visit it once a month throughout the planning and construction process. Today we start with a little background.

We recently discussed the nature of neighborhoods and some of the controversies that can result from neighborhood evolution. Our featured project is a home that has had its share of controversy over the years — not so much because of its architecture but because of its function. Until recently, the home was a fraternity house perched on the fringe of a residential neighborhood.

The fraternity has now moved on, and the zoning of the home has reverted to "single-family residence." But as you can imagine, only the most major remodeling will salvage this project!

Built early in the 20th century, the original home was a stately two-story structure with a gracious front porch, wide roof overhangs, and simple stucco exterior. It was reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style, popular in the Chicago suburbs around the turn of the century. Due to a major remodel in the 1960s, little of its original character is visible today.

Home's original style was buried when it became a fraternity. The layers will be peeled back as the house is restored to its former glory.

The home has been purchased by a development company that plans to return the home to its single-family function. Happily, they have hired us to oversee the design. We have worked together before and know there will be compromises between the architect's quest for design purity, the contractor's desire to use as much of the existing infrastructure as possible, and the business manager's reality check on what will make a profit. This process actually is no different from any project we undertake, as individual owners have the same need to balance design, function, and finances.

The planning has begun. We measured the house and yard and drew up plans and elevations for the existing structure, giving us a logical starting place for the new design. A zoning study has been done to determine parameters for building height, setbacks, and garage placement. The developers are currently determining how many square feet they hope for, how many bedrooms they want, and what amenities will be included.

We have had great fun in our virtual design world peeling off layers of bad remodels and discovering what the house really wants to be. Within the next few months, a plan will be finalized, a budget set, engineering completed, and construction documents finished. This is on an accelerated schedule because the development company has several people working simultaneously on different aspects of the project. An average homeowner should allow six to eight months for this stage of a major project.

Next month, we'll report on the finalized plans and how the building permit process is going. Stay tuned! As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

© 2006 Renovation Design Group. All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Renovation Design Group.

If you are considering a remodel project, please Request a Free Consultation with Ann or Annie.

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