By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon

When you are talking home renovation sometimes bigger isn’t better. Sometimes the biggest impacts are the small projects that rearrange existing space.

Often times, clients think they have to have a new addition but reconfiguring interior walls and even plumbing may be more economical than doing new construction.

A little reshuffling may give you that dream design without adding a single square foot.

One word of caution before you start rearranging: Have a master plan. We’ve talked about this before and can’t emphasize it enough. You may not be able to complete a remodel in one go, but you do need to consider what your whole house will look like when you are finished — particularly if you are going to be moving rooms around. You would hate to remodel your kitchen and a year later decide that’s where the staircase to your new second story should be.

DNEWS Renovation Solution

The clean open lines of the Leighs’ new kitchen embody the vision they had of what their space could become. Although they did not add on, their Avenues home was changed radically by rearranging interior walls and bringing in updated colors.

One of our favorite examples of rearranging existing space for a big impact is Wendy and Lawrence Leigh’s kitchen remodel. The Leighs have a three-story, 1,500-square-foot home built in the upper Avenues. They didn’t have the space for a new addition but they knew they wanted to change their railway kitchen.

Early on, the Leighs accomplished the first and hardest step of every remodel: They knew what they wanted. Inspired by Japanese architecture and the countless magazines they read and showrooms they visited, they had a clear image of their dream kitchen. Their vision was a space with clean, open, uncluttered lines.

They knew some bearing walls had to come down to open the space but they didn’t know how to make it work. “All we knew was an interior design wasn’t going to be enough,” said Wendy Leigh. “There was some serious demolition. We had a forklift in our living room for a while.”

Like the Leigh’s, clients often tell us they would like to make changes, but they can’t because of a bearing wall. This is the tail wagging the dog. Yes, you need to support the roof, but you don’t necessarily need a wall to do it. A couple of columns and a beam may do the trick and leave you much more flexibility to rearrange the space. You may find this well worth the extra expense and mess.

The Leighs absolutely found it worth it. “When there were no stairs, we lived in three little rooms upstairs. We couldn’t use our kitchen for three months. But we were prepared for that and now we have our dream kitchen.”

Wendy Leigh learned that a successful design comes down to use of space and materials. It takes the right materials to create the right look. “Things shouldn’t just look beautiful but they should also be functional,” said Wendy Leigh. She couldn’t imagine having a beautiful sink that couldn’t fit her huge pasta pan. She took functionality to the cabinet doors — or lack thereof. “Why open and close a cabinet door all day?” she said.

Like the cabinets, much of the contemporary kitchen is open, even up to the exposed duct work and steel beams. By aligning space, light and order with the Leigh’s lifestyle, we made their house into a home. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at

Rearranging interior may be best