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Open Floor Plans and Universal Design

by admin - August 25th, 2015
Posted in: Design, Interior Features, Remodeling, Tour of Remodeled Homes

By Judi Russell

It seems like homeowners can’t get enough of open floor plans. Remodeling contractors say many of their clients call on them to move or take down walls, enlarge kitchens and dens, and eliminate dark, cramped formal living and dining rooms.

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Fleming Construction.

Living and dining rooms occupy some of a house’s prime real estate, says Carrie Norris of Grand Homes & Renovations. But the rooms are seldom part of the action, so people would rather add that space to the kitchen, creating one roomy living/cooking/dining area where families and friends can congregate. Norris, who has an open floor plan home herself, says they are great for entertaining. The only drawback she sees is a lack of privacy and quiet, which can be a negative for families with small children.

It’s important to get professional advice before taking out a wall or two, of course, Norris says. It can be expensive, but working with an experienced contractor can make it affordable. Norris says most of her clients don’t make resale value their first consideration when deciding whether to open their houses up. “It’s just to improve their day-to-day life and how they function as a family,” she says. But homes with a spacious open floor plan do get a second look from families shopping for a new home.

Adding on to a home’s footprint is another way to create large open spaces, but it can be tricky blending the addition and the existing home. Carrie Norris, who owns Grand Homes along with David Kruse, is working on an addition to a home in Waterbury, taking care to match the brick and other building materials. In the house that Grand Homes remodeled for this year’s tour, the company took out a whole floor, opening the house up to the second level. “That’s kind of unique for us,” Norris says.

By taking away formal living space, Construction Professionals was able to create a walk-in pantry in its tour home, says Marilyn Struecker. She, her husband and their son work together in the business. In this home, the newly created pantry does more than just store canned goods, Struecker says. It’s a working pantry, with a countertop and outlets, where homeowners can use and store a toaster, microwave and other small appliances.

Sometimes large-scale remodeling projects become even larger once walls are removed, Struecker says. Recently Construction Professionals did a major “gut” remodel. Plans called for leaving a shower. However, once mold was discovered under the drywall, the shower had to come out as well.

“You just never know what you’re going to find when you start opening up walls,” Struecker says.

Another unpleasant discovery contractors make is subpar wiring, often the unsafe result of a DIY job. “You have to fix it,” she says.

One way to guard against surprises is to be frank when discussing the budget with your remodeling company. “We have a lot of people that don’t want to give us their budget for fear we’ll make (the project) that big,” Struecker says. The clearer you are about what you can spend, the better the company can price out the project and help you make choices that won’t bust your budget.

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Firstcall.

Experts caution homeowners not to be too quick to knock down walls. “There are a lot of little ways to create openness beyond just a wall removal,” says Ben Trannel, owner of Red House Remodeling. Removing a bulkhead or soffit, creating more natural or artificial light and using clear, not frosted, glass are all ways to open up a space.

Flowing your floor and cabinet choices from room to room also avoids breaking up a space into choppy areas. If you add a mudroom, for example, Trannel suggests using woodwork and cabinets similar to those in the kitchen. The same is true with hardwood; using it throughout the main floor of a house can make the whole level seem cohesive.

Trannel is well-versed in the architecture philosophy of “universal design,” which translates into constructing (or remodeling) a home with an eye to its owners aging in place. To that end, he recommends such modifications as using levers rather than doorknobs. “It’s easier to push down on a lever,” he says. Other touches that make life easier include:

– Using drawers rather than cabinets.
– Installing rocker light switches.
– Creating wide doorways, no-step thresholds and countertops at the correct height for people in chairs.

When should you consider remodeling your home? Trannel says sooner is better than later. He recently redid a home that was only two years old. Its owners loved the house and decided it made more sense to start enjoying it right away, rather than wait for things they didn’t like to wear out before replacing them. “The house was new to them, whether it was new or old,” he says, “so they made it theirs.”

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