Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/joelka5/public_html/blog/wp-includes/cache.php on line 36

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/joelka5/public_html/blog/wp-includes/query.php on line 21

Deprecated: Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/joelka5/public_html/blog/wp-includes/theme.php on line 540
Group 41 San Francisco Architects - Modern Architecture

Renovation on a Budget


Contrary to what some architects may want you to believe there is some renovation work that does not require the involvement of an architect.  Even most municipalities’ building departments recognize a homeowner’s right to do minor cosmetic improvements without an architect’s licensed stamp or a structural engineer.  It is important that the owner be careful about respecting these boundaries, however, both in terms of their property values and for bona fide life safety issues.  ”Just moving or opening up a wall” is not necessarily a minor operation, and can have serious structural consequences, even when it is not on the exterior of a home.

However, keeping in mind that there is a wide latitude of work that the ”weekend warrior” can undertake, this article is meant to help him or her find ways to make the most of home improvement dollars.  Even when doing these sorts of projects, it is still advisable to pull a building permit.


True cosmetics like new tile, fixtures, faucets and fittings, and light fixtures, can be replaced without architect’s involvement, though in some urban locales a licensed electrician and plumber are required.  In our experience as developers, we have found that many times, online retailers are able to cut prices even lower than local wholesale operations, especially in the lighting and plumbing trades, because these typically work on such tight profit margins anyway, that the online companies can save by not maintaining showrooms and sales staff, so they can slightly undercut even the local wholesalers.  We frequently do major development projects as well as smaller remodels using ”drop shipped” products from online retailers.

Some of our favorite resources for especially terrific modern products these days are:



Some of the best ”weekend warrior” projects are the little space savers and storage projects that are a godsend in everyone’s home.  Someone once told me that ”….you can never have too much money or too much storage space….!!”  While I’m not sure I subscribe to the philosophy, I think most people have a lot of stuff they want to put away.

Finding ”lost space” is astonishingly easy in most homes.  Spaces underneath staircases, ”thick walls” around closets that were framed out to align walls and ”soffits” where ceilings were dropped down are places that have empty, unused space in them.  Many of these can be recaptured elegantly as nice, do-it-yourself projects.

  • THICK WALLS Framing contractors frequently double up stud walls in many places, even in newer homes, in order to ”flush out” or make walls even.  If you look carefully, you may find these in your own home.  It is important to be careful to note than many times, walls will contain plumbing pipes, heating ducts, and other building systems, but in many cases, they will be completely empty.  A simple ”stud finder” from your local Home Depot store will help you find two studs where you can open up a small area of the wallboard and take a look inside, making the re-patching relatively easy if you find ”spaghetti” when you open it.
  • SOFFITS Many spaces, for example, above kitchen and bathroom cabinets, above and around closet spaces and the like, are sometimes built out to ”meet” the cabinets or doors, with nothing more than airspace.  Again, some judicious investigating would be a good way to find some of those lost spaces.


JUST PAINT is one of the most magical renovation tools available to every homeowner.  What you can do to make a space sing by simply using color and texture creatively is extraordinary.  Taking a blandly painted off-white room and giving it a strong accent wall color, or an overall wash of rich pastel can transfer the feel of a space.  Be bold.  If you decide you don’t like it, it’s easy enough to paint over again.  The only consideration is that, if you paint a highly saturated color, then repainting light color back over it will require at least two coats of light primer, so be careful when considering strong, deep colors.  Textured and glazed paints can also require additional preparation when painting over, but they offer a rich feel as an accent, and can add dimension to a space.   Other options include adding tonal accent colors to moldings, and choosing focal points for color, like at the end of hallways.  We also like to use ”Photographic White” or ”Dead White” for ceilings, which makes a room look larger.


Instead of making a sanded mess of refinished floors, we have recently come upon a new floor refinishing process that we like which doesn’t use sanding, but rather a non-toxic chemical system to strip the floor and refinish beautifully.  They can do the work in one day, and it is totally child and pet safe.  Nice option that doesn’t require totally sealing off or moving out of the house.

There are other ”sandless” floor refinishing methods as well:


There are endless options for low-cost improvements.  I like to think creatively by looking through books and magazines, and shopping at rummage sales.  You never know where a great idea may come from.

Happy renovating!

Email Joel about this posting at

Comments are closed.