Double Your Remodel Dollar With Design

15 min read Give yourself – and your home – the gift of design thinking this season and every season.

Design, used properly, can double your remodel dollar. Focusing on design can make every purchase more effective and every change more magical. 

You may be asking, “But Della, what’s so magical about design? Won’t I add value by just choosing a beautiful backsplash tile?”

And, sure, beautiful tile is great.

BUT design thinking can help you supercharge your tile choice, and every single other choice, by helping you put the right tile for you in the right proportion and the right place for your home.

Thinking about what matters to you, how you live in this space, and your remodeling goals is going to help you double your remodeling dollars.

Using design means considering everything you could do as part of an update or project that might improve your home down the line, bring it back to into alignment with its original style, or provide economies of scale for layout tweaks or other changes.  Whether you’re hiring design help or just taking the time to think through updates a little more carefully, give yourself (and your home) the gift of design.

In Today’s Episode You’ll Hear:

  • Why design adds value to your mid century home. 
  • How to supercharge every remodel decision you make through design.
  • The importance of designing for how you actually live in your home, instead of how HGTV says you should live. 

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Read the Full Episode Transcript

Design used properly can double your remodeling dollar. You can make every purchase more effective, every change more magical. The same product installed in one way versus another can be basic or fabulous. So give yourself and your home the gift of design thinking this season and in your life. Use design to calibrate your house to the precise life you want to live in it. Hey there. 

Welcome back to Mid Mod Remodel. This is the show about updating MCM Homes, helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host, Della Hansmann architect and mid-Century Ranch enthusiast. You’re listening to season 10, episode eight. So today’s episode is based on a somewhat organically occurring pep talk I recently gave to the homeowners inside of the ready to remodel program. This will give you a glimpse of how I keep them hyped up and on track.

And for reference, we were just about to schedule the Layout Buster Challenge Workshop. This is one of my favorite bonus elements of that program. It’s a weekend workshop that I always say will be 90 minutes of looking over the knotty problems that have been coming up for mid-century homeowners inside of ready to remodel. They’re largely following the master plan method to solve their own design problems. Something you can also do, but occasionally they’ll just run into a spot where they’re not coming up with good ideas. And that’s what the challenge workshop is for. They bring their layout challenges to me and I get my iPad out and solve them in real time. Uh, when I say it’s supposed to be 90 minutes, that’s such a lie. Uh, the first year, I think it actually was under 90. The second time we did it, it came in well over two hours.

And this last time it was nearly three. But we had a brilliant time solving these challenges and really bringing up the value of what can be done to the house using the power of design. The resource of the week this week is my free guide to using nooks to think about your house. This is the best resource I have for viewing your home as a collection of useful spaces rather than rooms that have specific room-by-room guidelines. And that actually came up on a call this week on the ready to remodel office hours call. One of our homeowners had asked about how to light a tricky area in a mid-century home. And this is a common problem for mid-century homes because they don’t have as many built in light fixtures as a contemporary, a modern built home does. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because what it allows you or what it forces you to do is to really use the light sources in your house to create spaces, to create nooks.

So, we specifically were talking about their living room, and my first question is, what do you do in your living room? Is it a TV space, a listening space, a hangout space reading? The answer was some tv, some reading, some social spaces, and a display of collections. So we talked about how we could use light, both room general light and task-based lighting to create proper moods and scenarios for each of those proper uses. Anyway, um, check out the nooks freebie. It’s just a touchpoint on that concept that I think you’ll find really helpful and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. As always, you can find that at midmomidwest.com/nooks. I firmly believe. And if not, you can find it at the show notes page with references I’m making in this talk and a transcript of the conversation at midmodmidwest.com/1008. 

So I wanna talk about wherever you are in your master plan process, and perhaps you’re not even begun yet, or perhaps you’ve started to dip your toe into some of the parts of, uh, discovering your house or doing a little bit of dreaming on your own, distilling your personal style wherever you are, that’s fine.

Design thinking comes best after you’ve done those first three pre-design steps, but it also happens organically throughout the process. And here’s where I’m preaching to the choir, both when I talk to you, my podcast listeners, and when I spoke originally about this to my ready to remodel students. The value of design should be obvious to you. But I want you to remember how much of a gift you can give yourself. How much is possible to literally double your remodeling dollar with design. 

This is the most valuable thing you can invest in in your home. You can maximize the resources that you have. This is where you can do more with less. You can do more with more. This is the real potential for value in your home improvement choices. This is where basically every material, every choice you make can be supercharged by just putting it into the right proportion into the right place.

Thinking about one spot for the versus another, thinking about what you really need. Giving yourself the gift of design thinking is more valuable than any individual material or product you’re going to choose for your home, thinking about personalizing your house to the way you really want to live in it and improving on the things about the house that the original builder might have overlooked at the time. This isn’t just me saying it, remember I’ve recently chatted with Adrian Kenny on this podcast. He’s a realtor in Denver who specializes in mid-century homes, and he said, I love, I love hearing a realtor say this. He told us that cash on the Barrelhead, a mid-century designed house in one of his neighborhoods, literally has twice the square footage value of a builder grade mid-century era house on the other side of the same neighborhood location, the same materials the same.

It’s not made out of Swarovski crystals. They’re made out of the same old growth timber being chopped down and turned into mid-century houses at the same time. The difference is in the design. The power, the gift of design, has literally doubled the value of those houses. And we can do the same thing in your house. It was true of basically all the mid-century designed houses, all the post and beam houses, the creativity that was put into the build of even a simple builder-grade house like my own is just to choose lovely materials to use them in well organized way to try to make the most of what you have. This is where I would point you to the example of Frank Lloyd Wright, who is if not a mid-century designer, certainly a designer who was still operating the mid-century period. And his Usonian houses are a perfect jumping off point example for a great mid-century design.

He did not build or design his Usonian houses out of very high-end materials. He built them using a lot of plywood and builder-grade lumber, concrete block and brick. And in some cases, he stole those materials from other projects. There’s a hilarious story about the Jacob’s House, which is right in my own neighborhood, which is the first Usonian house designed and built. And while that project was going up, he was having trouble keeping it under the very low budget he’d set for himself. And so he had his apprentices go over to the Johnson wax building that was being constructed at the same time in Racine and steal the bricks from their construction pile to use in the Jacob’s house. You can tell because those bricks have a unique curvature, which you can see show up in some places in the walls of the Jacob’s house.

But the point is he wasn’t building it out of fancy brick. They were just the brick being used to construct another project. He was putting them together in a way that was ultimately so graceful, so startling that people still come to visit that house, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site that was built for under $5,000. You heard that right. That house was built for under $5,000, partly due to having stolen the brick to build it with, but it was not an expensive house. It was not a fancy house. It was a well-designed house. He used materials that were simple and put them together in creative ways. He used wood all over the interior as a finished material as often as he could because he thought that that would add warmth and life to the space. He thought about how spaces would flow together and how small spaces could be open to each other to make them feel larger.

Now, he didn’t always think about the way that his clients would want to live in the home as much as he should have or as much as you can for your own home. So this is actually something you can do better for yourself than Frank Lloyd Wright could do for his clients. You can ask yourself, what is the way I want to live in my home? What will make my home more valuable to me? This is what every homeowner should do when they plan a home improvement project, but most don’t. They will spend the same dollars that you might to replace built-ins, put in new flooring, updated plumbing fixture. They have the same budget for paint and tile and trim, but your remodeling dollars are going to go further. And it’s not necessarily about hiring an expert, although you might choose to hire an architect or a designer, an architect or a designer can be incredibly useful and valuable to you.

I’m always happy to advise you and work with you, but you don’t necessarily do better with someone else telling you what you want. If they aren’t listening well, what you yourself can bring to your design thinking is to make your home improvement choices as personal as possible. Customization really matters. So this is where we come back to the micro master plan process. Whenever you’re designing anything, whether it’s the kitchen knife, drawer handle, or the replacement of your roof, thinking about what matters to you, your priorities, how you live in this space, your goals is going to help you make more valuable choices is going to double your remodeling dollars. And this is where we can do better for our mid-century home updates than the people in the past who have remodeled our homes before us. Because let’s be real, most remodeled mid-century homes are not better houses now than they were before they were remodeled almost all previously remodeled.

Mid-century houses have two distinct flaws that you can easily avoid with a little design thinking and value. The first obvious mistake easily visible to our eyes as lovers of mid-century design, is that most of these past remodels of mid-century homes ignore the design DNA of the house. In the eighties, this meant pulling out the original woodwork and putting back a lot of fluted oak cabinets and door trim trying to turn its style into a neo Victorian from a simple mid-century home. In more recent years, that same mistake, ignoring what the house is, has led to the farm house-ification of so many ranches. Switching out original pine cabinets and doors for white painted shaker drawer funds and six panel drawers for the original slab style. This is a mistake, and it’s the same no matter what other style the remodel is trying to shoehorn onto a ranch, it doesn’t fit the home’s original style, so it can only be aesthetically pleasing to the owner for as long as that particular trend is trendy.

A trendy kitchen this year is guaranteed to be tired in five or 10 years at most, and I think we all wanna see our remodeling dollars last a little longer than that. The other mistake almost always made in that kind of remodel, the people who remodeled your house before you, is that even while they were replacing doors, drawers, cabinets, counters, trim and more at great expense. Those previous remodelers were not as a rule, harnessing the power of design. And that’s why you see the original, somewhat awkward solo cook, mid-century kitchen layout, perfectly preserved and recreated in nineties era Neo Victorian finishes. We’re still confronted with the kind of lose style of a cramped single owner, single cooked mid-century kitchen, but now with formerly trendy out of period finishes. It’s the worst of both worlds. And quite frankly, it has always baffled me. You can do better. With design, you can do better.

You can go into the process of replacing or updating anything, your house, if you can keep what’s original, if you can keep it. But if you need to replace your kitchen cabinets because someone else has already done it, or if you’re rehauling overhauling the finishes in some place because they’re in poor repair, think about how you can also bring design into the process, not just new stuff. This is where design can really double the dollar value of your remodel in glaringly obvious ways. So let’s go back to the kitchen. Think about how you can perfect and customize your kitchen for yourself. Where do you go to reach for storage in your kitchen? If you’re a baker, you’re going to need a different amount of storage and you’re gonna need storage in a different location than if you’re the kind of person who just heats up takeout and leftovers every night in your kitchen.

If you’re that second kind of person, that’s fine. If you’re a heat up takeout person, you don’t need a very spacious kitchen. You might need one that has more open space and beautiful shiny surfaces that never really get dirty. You can put some of the details into the places where you’re going to spend more time, touch more things, maybe your birding room, your office, your bathroom. If you are a baker, it might matter less to you that your kitchen looks a particular way. Other than that, it’s simple anesthetically pleasing. But if it is packed with hidden storage, that’s gonna be a more valuable remodel to you. So I want you to think about how the design choices you make, where you put your energy and where you put your money in the remodel are always based on the things that are most important to you.

And I want you to think about every time you’re touching a space, an area of your home, are you considering everything you could do within that touch, within that update that might improve it down the line? What might come up in the future for that space? For example, let’s talk about a simple kind of unsexy part of the house replacing your roof. Most mid-century houses, um, most mid-century ranches have asphalt shingle roofs. More California modern styles often have a built up roof, uh, or now sometimes it’s been replaced with a membrane roof. Replacing a roof is expensive and it’s kind of boring. You might change the look of your house a little bit by choosing one color over another, but it’s not exciting. It doesn’t feel like it’s gonna improve your life. However, you could put in a skylight, you could put a skylight in any time of year, anytime you need to.

You can hire a professional to install a new skylight, but it’s never going to be easier, uh, for you to flash it and insulate it and integrate it into your roof system more properly than when you are replacing the entire surface of your roof. Everything can then be sealed up and done more neatly and more efficiently. Skylights were and always are an incredibly powerful design improvement to a builder-grade mid-century house. Most mid-century houses, most builder-grade ranches don’t have as much natural light as they could. And bringing in daylight is good for our souls. We’re feeling that right now as the winter days close in on us. So transform your experience of being in your house on a day by day basis by bringing in more daylight. Do that when you put in a roof replacement.

If you’re residing your house, that’s the time to think about adding a window. Again, you can have a window installed at any time, but it’s never going to be easier to add windows. Or if you’re improving and repairing your windows, there’s never an easier time to make them a little taller. It’s easier to cut out actually to grow them downwards. Keep the header, the top part of the window the same, and just cut a little bit lower into the exterior siding below the window. This requires no structural change whatsoever, but brings in more daylight, more fresh air, more views. This is also the place where you might choose to make an investment in a better insulated window, or you might not. If you do, if you’re replacing a window, it’s a great chance to think about how you can make a window bigger, how you can change the shape and operation of the window to make it more mid-century appropriate.

Sometimes this has a different price point. Sometimes it’s literally choosing one product over another. Choosing not to get those fake grills to put in to turn the house more towards the craftsman angle, but to keep it properly appropriately. Mid-century, you can double your remodeling dollars or dramatically increase both your literal return on investment and the way you experience being in your house every day. If you just essentially keep your eye out for constant opportunities to improve as you repair and replace around your home. So every time you’re making a change, try not to just replace a thing you’re fixing with exactly the same thing, but think about, can I do something a little better? If I’m replacing built-ins, can I change the configuration slightly so it works better for my cooking style, my family’s way of being in the kitchen? If I’m replacing a broken thing, can I replace it with something better?

Or if it had been replaced in the past, can I bring it back to into alignment with its style of the house, can I come up with something that is a product that will work better for my life? The value of design, the way you can really use design to double your remodeling dollars is to do more than just touch the surfaces, more than minimum necessary. You can always make your effort of doing something that’s necessary, count as a two-fer, doing maintenance you needed and also improving your life. Let’s take one more micro example. The way you organize the exact same product can transform its effect. You’re fixing a problem and shining up surfaces. You need to choose a new back splash tile for your kitchen. Now you can choose the very same product, a subway shaped tile, and if you put it in what’s known as a subway pattern, where it goes in an offset set of lines, this is going to read as very HGTV.

This is going to read as very 1930s cottage. Whereas if you turn those exact same tiles vertically and stack them in a grid pattern so that each corner aligns up with the others, they’re suddenly going to feel more contemporary. If you turn them on their sides and stack them in a grid, they’re gonna feel a little more mid-century original, like a reference to a mid-century stack bond brick pattern, which you might even have on your house in some place. So with those three orientation changes, you’ve just taken the exact same material at the exact same price point and told three different design stories by reorienting it in one way or another.

This is true from the macro to the micro scale. On the macro, how do you think about adjusting layout when you do big picture maintenance things? If you’re replacing every object in your bathroom, this might be the time to scooch some of the plumbing fixtures around and get a better flow. When you’re replacing all of the cabinets in your kitchen, this is your opportunity to make layout changes. If you’re putting in a small addition, how will that addition work best to improve your relationship to the outside of your house, to draw you out into your yard to make better connections between the parts of your house that already exist?

I want you to think about what really lights you up when you make these choices. I don’t want you to be afraid of personalizing. I don’t want you to be afraid of choosing color. I don’t want you to be afraid of choosing bold mid-century materials. Give yourself the gift of design. When you plan updates for your home, whether you’re hiring, design help, or just taking the time to think things through a little more carefully before you place orders and start calling up contractors. You will not be sorry.

Not only will you improve the way you live in your house, you can add actual value. You can increase the value of every dollar you spend in your house. You won’t be sorry. And look, you don’t have to be an accredited design professional in order to think about how you can make your homework better for you, feel more playful, joyful, effective, light, bright, warm, cozy, dim, comforting, whatever you want it to be, with effectively the same materials and the same cost of materials using design.

All right. There’s my little pitch, my little soapbox stand of how design is important, and I want good things for you. If you need help digging in on some of that design thinking, you can always reach out to us at Mid Mod Midwest. For a start, watch our free masterclass on how to plan a mid-century remodel to fit your life and budget by going to midmod-midwest.com/masterclass. I’ll talk you through a bunch of the design things you can bring into your house, a bunch of the thought processes you can use, and how to harness the master plan method to really take the time to have the good ideas and capture them that will double your remodeling dollars with design.

Or if you just want me to solve your design problems for you, you’ll want to either schedule a one-hour consultation call to get an hour of design thinking infused into your process, or jump right into our queue for a Mid Mod Midwest master plan, and let us surprise and delight you with design elements you hadn’t even thought of for every part of your home.

You can grab the nooks workbook, watch the free masterclass, or apply to work directly with Mid Mod Midwest. Plus read the transcript of this episode all at mid-modmidwest.com/10 0 8. That’s all for now. Next week on the podcast, we’re gonna be talking about how you can use the holidays to up your game in design thinking. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, you’re already busy. Why add remodeling into the mix? Note: I’m not suggesting that you do remodeling during the holidays, just that you use this time to catch and keep great design ideas. I’ll tell you all about it next week. So long for now, mid mod remodeler.