By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

When you ask Donna Bates about their own efforts to remodel their 1940s-built home, she likens it to a 1980s craze: a Rubik’s Cube.

“It’s like that Rubik’s Cube puzzle. We’d work on one part of the house and it would mess up another part we’d already worked on,” Donna recently told us when we asked her about her and her husband Martin’s decision to hire architects. We happen to be the architects they hired, but we use the Bates as examples this week not of our specific design but of how architects in general can help when you are facing a major remodel.

dnrews renovation

This house started as two houses — a duplex that the family living there tried to make into a single family home. But after many attempts on their own, they decided they needed a master plan done by professionals.

The Bates had a unique situation. Donna and Martin lived with their large family in what was originally a duplex. They owned both halves and on their own had knocked out passageways between the houses so their family could occupy the entire space. They had also done a little rearranging of the space, including switching around a staircase and unifying the kitchen.

But there was more to do, and Donna concedes their own efforts were valiant but haphazard. She clearly remembers the moment when she decided that their piecemeal approach had to stop. She and Martin were discussing some changes they wanted to make to the basement, and Martin pointed out that making those changes would mean ripping out something else they had already finished.

“I blew it!” recalls Donna. That’s when they decided to engage an architect to help them once and for all figure out how to make this twin home into a true single-family home.

It was that master plan that Donna most appreciates about having architects involved. The Bateses knew they wanted certain features in their new home — like a master suite — but there were plenty of additional features they didn’t know they wanted until they began the design process. We discussed the concepts of flow, gathering space and curb appeal. “I had no idea how to make the outside of the house better,” Donna says.

dnrews renovation

They hired an architect and were eventually able to turn their twin home into a light, bright single home. The original entryway and living room were transformed into an airy and inviting space, above.

By looking at the entire structure, we were able to help them come up with a master plan that included all of their goals for unifying their two homes into one.

They have now lived in their remodeled home for almost three years, and they couldn’t be more delighted with the result.

“Fabulous!” declares Donna. “I love the whole-home feeling.” She loves the response she gets when people learn that their house used to be a duplex. “They can’t believe it.”

She tells us the biggest difference in the approach she and Martin were taking on their own and the approach architects took was the big vision: “We were working on a room at a time, but you worked on the whole house.”

As architects, that’s our job. We are trained to look at the entire structure — inside and out — and determine a master plan that meets our clients’ goals, beautifully and sensibly. So if you are facing a major remodel and you’re starting to feel like your house has become a Rubik’s Cube, we highly recommend engaging an architect you trust to help you solve the puzzle. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Master plan can ease remodel