Renovate or Excavate?


What makes a property a good candidate for renovation?  What features should a homeowner look for before making a purchase?  And is it really better to fish or cut bait, starting fresh with new construction?  Read on as Patrick discusses his perspective.

What makes a home prime for renovation?

First, I look for a home with strong original architectural detail, both inside and out.  Proper solid to void relationships of windows and doors are key.  Original interior detailing is just as important – the less a floor plan has been modified over time, the simpler it will be to change to meet today’s wants in your renovation.

Second, I’m looking for a home that was originally built with high quality materials.  Brick exteriors and slate roofs are superior materials that typically make a good start.  Ideally, the house’s structure should be in pretty good condition without a ton of deterioration, rot, or mold.  If the house is in significant disrepair, a renovation can certainly be done, but a homeowner should be mindful of additional remediation costs which must be included in the budget.

Third, I would seek out a home that can scale to meet your wants and needs.  This doesn’t have to mean finding a large home for your large family.  Very successful renovations can transform smaller scale properties for a large family’s lifestyle.  In those instances, it’s about finding a special home on a site of adequate acreage which might allow a client to add square footage to the original home, or add living space via outbuildings to achieve their goals.

What makes a successful renovation?

In any renovation that my team undertakes, the goal is to recognize the dominant scalability of the original house prior to augmentation.  The original structure must take the lead, and that hierarchy must be respected even as changes are made.  In this way, a large program on a smaller property is possible, as long as the main house is not upstaged.

Allowing the main structure to lead, however, doesn’t necessarily mean leaving it untouched.  We engage a variety of tactics to shine light on the old while sensitively adding the new.  In one home renovation, we added exaggerated chimneys to each end of the original, more modest, brick structure in order to give the old house some verticality and allow it to shine.  That whole house renovation, now complete with an attached carriage house, new mudroom and back courtyard, is as functional and beautiful today as it was when it was first completed 85 years ago.

When is it time to cut bait and start anew?

Sometimes a structure can’t meet the wants of a family, and in that instance, we will undertake new construction.  Even so, we are ever mindful of a client’s site, zoning regulations, and the surrounding neighborhood in order to make a home seem as though it has always been there.  For example, in one particular project, we keenly placed the newly constructed home on the precise location where the original home stood on the property.  Today, driving by that property, it seems as though the new construction we created has been there forever.

Other times, a home is in such rough shape that a renovation would be prohibitive.  We run into this situation occasionally on Martha’s Vineyard, where 300 years of wear and rot sometimes can’t be saved, much as we might wish.  In other cases, a homeowner will consider it a point of personal pride to undertake historic preservation at any cost.  In one instance, we renovated a vintage 1682 Edgartown property, in which the house – replete with beetlebung rot – had to be raised to stabilize the foundation below.  Not even the hurricane which came through while the house was jacked up could cause the collapse of this home – it was as though the structure itself was as proud and strong as the owner.  Post and beam by post and beam we restored the property to its original glory, even replicating the blacksmith shop in the basement, creating a bar out of the old workspace.  A project like that takes a client with the fortitude and resources to shepherd a property into its next life.

Beyond the basics, however, renovation and new construction alike must always take scale and volume into consideration, along with the topography of the site, the character of the neighborhood, and even the spaces in between structures to create a successful program.  I want the end resultwhether it be renovation or new constructionto seem as though I was never there, to be an enduring home my clients will enjoy for the future.

Feel free to contact us for more information about renovating your own property, or developing the home you’ve dreamed about.  In the interim, we encourage you to find meaningful inspiration in our portfolio.