Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Building and Renovating

Back in the mid 1990's I did a series of interviews with some architectural students at the University of Manitoba. They were studying accessible design and interviewing people with a variety of disabilities. They wanted our input on what we liked and didn't like about various designs and especially what we liked and didn't like about where we were currently living. It was interesting to get their perspective on design and see how their interpretations changed after speaking with those of us with disabilities. I had never paid much attention to design before that - although I already had a pretty good idea of what I liked and didn't like - I just never bothered trying to label or describe it.

Spending time with those future architects got me curious to learn a bit more about the whole process. I still can't tell a lot about design, but at least I understand a little more of what goes into the process of creating and building that design.

Doing any home renovating can be a real headache - not just financially - but it can also be a strain on all those who normally inhabit that home. Trying to co-exist in makeshift conditions while construction is taking place is often stressful and chaotic. Several friends and members of my family have built homes and done remodels over the years. They all have a few battle scars and stories to tell. One apartment that I lived in, needed major work done on it. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I ended up living there while the work was being done over about a month. It wasn't fun! I've also been through two remodels with my parents.

Our old farm house was built my grandfather back in 1910. It was your basic two story farm house with three bedrooms upstairs and a living room, dining room and kitchen downstairs. A full bathroom was installed on the main floor in later years. In 1967, my parents did the first of two remodeling jobs to that old house. They took the second floor off and extended the main floor with a large dining room and living room. The old ones were turned into three bedrooms. It took several months to complete the work. In the early 1980's they remodeled the old kitchen and added a sun room. The house was 1600 sq.ft. (40'x40') when it was all said and done.

I was almost 10 when they did the first one and don't remember a lot - other than it was a very small and crowded living space during the construction. The second one I remember quite well. Once my parents decided to redo the kitchen, mom and I poured over magazines and cupboard designs, trying to decide what would be the most useful features and layouts. The demolition and construction only lasted a few weeks, so it wasn't too bad. We just made sure that we had a lot of food prepared ahead of time in the freezer as we had little space to prepare or cook from scratch.

Have you ever watched any of those home improvement shows that take dilapidated old homes and remodel or restore them? There are tons of them out there! It is amazing what they can do with some of these old buildings and the technology that can be incorporated to make them into homes that are livable and energy efficient.

I know that there are many people who live in horrid conditions and don't really have the opportunity to do the remodels and makeovers they'd like. There is only so much that the average person can do on their own. It takes a lot of money and skill to do a most of the necessary work.

I used to watch Extreme Makeover Home Edition for awhile, but frankly found most of their work to be a little too extreme and probably a lot more than many families would really need or want. Given how quickly those homes are constructed (7 days from tear down to completely finished new home), you have to wonder just how sturdy/durable they will be over time. I also wasn't too impressed with the pull at your heartstrings moments that they trotted out in every episode. It often came across as using the families problems for better ratings. You can't help but wonder, how many more homes could be built, if the money that the show spends on constructing these extravagant homes was used to build more moderate sized homes with less excess. They could build even more if you threw in the production costs and the earnings of their design team"!

No, if I am going to watch a home renovation show it's going to be the granddaddy of them all: "This Old House" and "Ask This Old House"! I've actually been watching them for over 10 years. It's not that I know much about what they are doing, but I find it interesting to see how they make the design choices and adapt modern technology to suit the time period of the house in repair. To be honest, I really can't stand a lot of the old styles with the ornate woodwork and plaster details. Then there is some of the gaudy wallpaper, tapestries and furnishings that went into these homes! You couldn't pay me enough to live with some of those styles. Okay, maybe you could - if you had a big enough bank account, but I doubt most of you would be willing to pay me that much or even live with some of that stuff yourself!! Do you really want to dust all those nooks and crannies? I'd be scared of breaking some of those furnishings/fixtures or spilling something that would leave a stain! There really is no accounting for some peoples taste - or lack thereof!

I really don't know a lot about architecture and design, but I've never been a fan of ornate designs/detail, print fabrics, bright colours or even wallpapers and borders for that matter. I know what I like - clean simple lines without a lot of detail - that way there is less to dust, clean or brake! I love natural woods like oak and pine, that are just lightly varnished to bring out the natural beauty of the grain.

I think all of us have fantasized about our dream home at some point. We've all seen photos of houses we liked. We've passed by homes and thought that it looked like the kind of home we'd want to live in. We have seen certain features in homes and thought that it would be great if we could have that in our own home! We've all seen homes in magazines and on TV and wondered what it would be like to live in our own "dream home"

So, IF you could live in any kind of home, what would it be? A cottage? A chateau? A ranch house? A mansion? A condo? How would you decorate? Would there be a yard? The possibilities are endless!

I've never owned my own home. Ever since I left my parents farm, I've always rented. I'm actually pretty content where I am, but there are times that having my own space and a yard would really be nice. Renting, has always been my best option, but it hasn't stopped me from doing a little day dreaming about what my ideal home would be.

So what would be my dream home you ask? Well, you'll have to read my next post (April 24) to find out!


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