Use this remodeling framework to plan your ideal MCM update

7 min read Design a well rounded remodel that turns an every day ranch into your dream house with this easy three part framework borrowed from … the Romans!

Want to make sure you’ve thought of everything when you design a ranch remodel? This easy three part remodeling framework will make sure you are covering all the bases in your MCM home update!

People remodel for many reasons.

Some people are looking for an updated style kick and want to make their home as chic as the influencers’ online

Others might have pressing maintenance issues: you’ll call a contractor ASAP when your roof starts leaking!

Or they might make changes to their homes because the house isn’t  working for the way they live anymore. Some clients of mine need more space for their kids, others are empty nesters looking to make their homes suit a two person household.

Whatever YOUR reason, it is easy to fixate on that initial impulse. Don’t let that be the driver of the whole remodel project.

But a really great remodel addresses all of those elements together. It will update your look, handle necessary maintenance and code technical issues, and tune up the way the house works to make your life go smoothly – all in one smooth move. Realistically, one prolonged, chaotic, expensive, and dusty move.

If you’re going to invest your time, money and enthusiasm into a remodel, you might as well get as much out of it as possible.


  • How the ideas of Roman architect Vitruvius still guide designers in our analysis of good buildings. The Vitruvian triad of firmitas, utilitas and venustas reminds us to consider buildings qualities of structure, usefulness and beauty. [2:59]
  • Learn how this three part remodeling framework – structure, layout, and aesthetic – helps you plan your own perfect remodel [5:09]
  • A side step into more theory with a great book recommendation: ABC of Architecture by John O’Gorman. Seriously its a favorite and its only 107 pages long! [6:01]
  • STRUCTURE: make sure you’re planning for nuts and bolts of your remodel, not just the shiny finish! [7:15]
  • USEFULNESS: a remodel should be about more than instagram pictures – take the opportunity to design a house that improves your life [8:20]
  • Check out three handy visualization exercises to help you make sure your remodel goes below the surface of things! [9:34]
  • BEAUTY: and a remodeled home should also be stunning. Quick tips on how to search out and catalog the best design inspo for your remodel [12:38]


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This remodeling framework is perhaps one of the most general topics I’ll cover in this first season of Mid Mod Remodel. It can and should be applied to ANY remodel of ANY style or era of house. But as always, I think it’s particularly important to have great planning process in place for your Mid Mod remodel in order to push back on the world’s tendency to lead you away from the mid-century era and into a more contemporary conventional quality.

Vitruvius and the essentials of good design

Vitruvius  wrote the book on Greek and Roman architecture in his magnum opus, Dei Architectura. That’s on architecture to  us. It was finished around 20 BC and covered his thoughts on everything from sun dials to aqueduct designed, to how to set up your own water clock. He covered science, math, geometry, astronomy, medicine, meteorology, philosophy, and architecture.  

Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of that so called Vitruvian Man illustrates his idea that buildings should relate to the dimensions and proportions of the human body. Perhaps less famous among laypeople but well known to every architecture student is the trivia sees theory that all good architecture must reflect the synthesis of firmitas, utilitas and venustas. Or as you’ll find it, written on T shirts of architecture, nerds, firmness, commodity and delight.  

There’s a great name website called This Is Indexed, run by Jessica Hagee, who summarizes punchy ideas onto index cards daily.

She shows this concept perfectly in a sketched venn diagram. The three circles are marked: durable, useful and beautiful. And the intersection between all three is marked simply good design. Check out the link in the show notes if you want to see her perfectly clear index card diagram.

The ABC of Architecture

Can check out a lovely little book called the ABC of Architecture by architect John O’Gorman. He covers a lot of ground in only 107 pages – a fact well attested to by the copious annotated post its sticking out of my copy in every direction. It’s well worth a read by any architect or interested lay person.  

The ABC of architecture also extends that Vitruvian triad ( beauty, usefulness and structure) to the three main types of drawings that architect used to describe a new building or remodel: the plan, the section, and the elevation.

A section deals with structure how the foundation supports the walls and how they hold up the roof. We use it to show where mechanical systems will fit between floors and how the building will be wrapped up to seal it from the elements outside.  

Floorplan shows the layout of spaces, and to a certain extent it addresses how people move through and use them.  

And elevation is a flat view that shows one side of a building straight on. It merges the plan in the section and deals with things like size, proportion of windows and doors, the way roof lines interact with each other, and the overall massing of the building – that is, how imposing or compact does it feel? In other words, the beauty.

His point – and mine – is that these three elements underpin nearly every part of how we think about a building.

The three pillars of the ideal home remodeling framework

So, back to that venn diagram.  

While it’s possible to pay attention to one or two of them more than all three,  any really good remodel is going to address EACH of these components. It’s very useful to use this framework to consider your design, because it catches an element near and dear to my heart and often missed by amateur home remodelers who are motivated by having seen something cool in someone else’s house or on the Internet, and wanting to simply paste it on to their own home without fully considering the holistic design.  

For you, a homeowner who was invested in a home you  live in now, use on a daily basis, and one day sell –  looking at over your coffee, enjoying it aesthetically, and taking pictures to share with your friends on Instagram – you want to incorporate all three of those elements.

So how does this work for you? Let’s take a deeper look at the three pillars in this remodeling framework, beauty, usefulness and structure.

Think about structure and mechanics

Let’s get structure out of the way first. Replacing a roof or furnace is a deeply unsexy part of a model, but often needs to be done. And you want to make yourself aware of the maintenance status of your home right at the start of the design process to avoid unpleasant and expensive surprises later. This one can get technical, but you don’t have to be a master electrician or an expert plumber in order to manage a good remodel.  

Remember to improve the layout

The second element of the remodeling framework is usefulness in the ABC of architecture. O’Gorman points out that the Vitruvian triad can also be applied to the three major parties involved in remodel: the owner, the designer, and the builder.  Owners, he says, tend to be most concerned with the way their houses working. The builder will focus on structure and make sure it’s built right, and the designer will worry about the aesthetics.  

I actually wonder about this these days. His book was written in 1998 before Pinterest, Instagram, and HDTV laid their stamp on the remodeling industry. These days, I feel like my clients are more likely to come to me focusing on the look of their house, and one of my first contributions is to point the conversation back to the functional, talking about floor plans as well as pictures.  

It does seem that the usefulness of a remodel is the element most likely to get left out of the equation, (at least on a creative level) in a small, owner-driven remodel. If a  homeowner reaches out to their friendly, neighborhood handyman about expanding a kitchen, for example, they’ll likely have a bunch of inspirational images pulled in advance. And their builder, being a responsible professional, will make sure that it’s built durably. But it’s common for neither of them to really step back and consider the bigger picture.

Imagining a whole new version of your home is really challenging and a very personal thing to do.


And make it beautiful!

Finally, we get to third element of the Triad, the beautiful. This is the fun part, I think, for all of us. But we have to acknowledge that a cardboard box with a beautiful interior decor is not a house. Once we have the other two elements (the structure and the usefulness) well in hand, we can go nuts with Pinterest and Instagram.  

Collecting your inspirations and organizing them into sub topics is one of the most fun, early steps of a remodel design. When I worked with a client on a Mid Century Solutions Package, one of the first things I do is create a Pinterest board for the project and break it out into sub folders for the various areas the home we’re going to address. I share that board with the homeowner immediately so that we could add to it together, and they can watch it grow as I fill in inspiration.  

With a smart phone in your pocket, you are always able to capture a fun product, a great, inspiring vintage home, or a good idea on the go. Start documenting these long before you get to the final design review, and you’ll be sure you covered all your bases.

You’re ready to go!

You need to cover all three elements of this remodeling framework.Your home will need to be solid and strong with the good structure and functioning building systems -that’s your electrical plumbing, heating, and air conditioning. It needs to work for your lifestyle and make every day and every part of the year go more smoothly. And it needs to be beautiful and please you visually.  

When you bear all of those things in mind, you get the perfect mid-century remodel.