Expert Interview Series: Bruce Wentworth of Wentworth Studio on Planning and Surviving a Remodel

Planning and surviving a remodel

Bruce Wentworth, AIA, is a licensed architect and contractor in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia. His firm, Wentworth Inc. provides residential design/build services to homeowners in the Washington D.C. metro area and is a recognized expert in residential architectural styles. We recently checked in with him to get his advice on planning and surviving a remodel. Here’s what he had to say:

What’s your approach to architecture and design?

At Wentworth we strive to develop designs that are sympathetic to a home’s existing architecture while being functionally current and aesthetically pleasing. We want our remodeling projects to be a good fit for both our clients as well as their older house.

Can you tell us about your e-book, “House to Home: An Architect’s Perspective on Remodeling”?

The e-book was written to illustrate the variety and personal nature of our design/build work. Every project has a backstory regarding the homeowners, and every remodeling project is unique and customized to the homeowner’s needs. There is no cookie cutter remodeling done at Wentworth Inc. The e-book illustrates how each house became a home with the help of custom remodeling.

What home design trends are you following right now? What are you most excited about?

As younger people are becoming homeowners we are seeing a wonderful appreciation of open floor plans and tastefully modern interiors. Our informal lifestyles need open plan spaces that are better suited to the way we live. Creating beautifully designed open floor plans, modern kitchens and baths that find the right design balance and mix to work with older homes – are exciting design challenges. When done right, it is very satisfying.

How do you advise your client’s on approaching a home remodel from the concept stage to surviving the renovation?

At Wentworth we have a proven written process that work well for our clients and projects. We take our clients through a thoughtful design phase. We inquire about their needs for the project, explore design options, develop project pricing (with options if necessary), and then prepare detailed construction drawings and specifications that enables Wentworth to provide our clients with a fixed-price construction contract.

Every detail of their project is considered and evaluated. In terms of living in the house during the remodeling – if a home is being partially remodeled it is often practical to zone off that portion of the house and allow the family to live in the house with minimal disruption. With kitchen remodels, we help our clients set up temporary kitchens in a basement laundry room. If the project is a whole-house remodel, it can be wise to move out during the remodel.

What do you think are the biggest mistakes homeowners make when embarking on a major remodel?

Many homeowners start with an unrealistic scope of work and budget and hire the cheapest contractor. I advise homeowners to plan long-term (10 years or more) when doing a significant remodel and to budget accordingly. Some clients ask us to prepare designs for a master plan that allows them to do the remodeling work in phases, as they can afford it. A well designed, high-quality remodeling project adds value and livability to a home so it will never be a bad investment.

What are some of the most common difficulties you’ve found in remodeling upscale homes? How can they be avoided?

Construction is by nature messy and unpleasant. If homeowners are going to be easily stressed by the disruption of a remodel, it may be best to move out of the house temporarily. Our staff makes every effort to minimize the dirt, noise and disruption with zipper walls and frequent cleanings, but it is, after all, construction.

What can homeowners do to ensure they have open lines of communications with their remodelers? What can they do to improve communication?

Regular scheduled site meetings and good communication (email and phone) with the project’s lead carpenter and production manager are best. During the design phase, our architects can answer questions about the project and address design questions throughout the project. During construction, the staff working on the project (lead carpenters) are the most informed and helpful. Our construction team takes progress photos to send to clients and co-workers which is always beneficial.

What types of conversations should homeowners have with remodelers before embarking on a project?

Homeowners should learn the credentials for the people and firm they are interviewing. For a design/build firm you will want to know if the architects are licensed,and if the the design team are employees, not subcontractors These ensure the design and construction drawing phases are seamless.

You will also want to know if the carpenters are employees and not subcontractors. Your contractor should be licensed in your jurisdiction, and have proper liability and workman’s comp insurance. There should be a two-year warranty on their remodeling work and the firm, and members of its staff need to be EPA lead safe certified for lead paint.

How can homeowners retain the original character of their home during a remodel?

Protecting the original character and architecture of your home is important because it enhances the existing home and protects its market value. Architects who are skilled in residential design are the first step toward making this happen. Having a skilled construction team that is able to replicate old moldings and trim, or properly install windows and doors will help to make a well designed remodel appear seamless.

Any final pieces of advice to homeowners on embarking on a remodeling project they’re proud of?

If you want a remodeling project that you can be proud of there are a few simple tips. Plan enough time – remodeling projects are complicated and custom. Homeowners often do not know how complicated these remodeling projects will be. At Wentworth, with our expertise, we make it look simple. It’s necessary to prepare designs options, pricing, construction drawings, specifications and permits before building the project. So plan accordingly. Budget a proper amount of money and be flexible, plus hire professionals for both design and construction. Do it right so you don’t have to redo it.

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Written by Del Thebaud

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