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Renovation Solutions: Couple makes investment in family with remodel

We love to use this column to share clients' experiences with our readers. Our mission is to bring light and understanding to the field of residential architecture.

Being architects ourselves and talking about this next client’s experience feels like we are coming from a strange position. However, we know a lot of people can relate to Russ and Bianca Shepard, so we wanted to share the honest conversation we had with them about their remodeling experience.

The Shepards are a young couple with one child and, at the time we met them, one on the way. With this new life circumstance change, they had to review their house. They had already created a lovely master suite on the lower level. Now they needed another bedroom for the new little one and more usable gathering space for their growing family.

“We had two children in rapid succession,” Bianca said. “I was pregnant with my second child when we started the remodeling process. We needed an extra room for the new baby.”

If this was going to stay their family home, the 1922 brick bungalow in Sugar House needed to change to better fit their family’s needs. They could see their basement had lots of potential and square footage to tap into. They knew they could turn the poorly remodeled basement into a great living space with another bedroom and bathroom for their growing family.

Ultimately, they knew with the right remodel, their already great house could be even better and morph into something they could live in for a long time. Choosing to remodel was the easy part; deciding which path to take to get what they wanted out of their remodel was the harder choice.

They decided if they were going to spend the money on a remodel, they wanted to hire a professional team. A contractor and architect would provide checks and balances. They found the right team for them, and the design process began.

In the remodel, they added a bedroom and a bathroom on the lower level, creating a house with three full bathrooms and four bedrooms. They also upgraded their existing laundry room, better organized their storage space and rebuilt the steep, narrow staircase.

Stairs in older homes can be tricky. Many of these houses were built with "cellars" or "basements" meant to be used for storage, mechanical rooms and perhaps the laundry area. The idea of actually living in the basement and reclaiming that area as usable square footage came later. The original stairs not only violate modern building codes, they are usually inconvenient, if not downright dangerous. They typically have steep/high risers and skinny treads, along with a narrow width of the entire staircase.

Now that we are often changing our basements into lower levels, having a safe and comfortable connection between floors is important. Rebuilding staircases is a challenge because the upgraded versions always take more space than their original counterparts.

One of the reasons Russ and Bianca had bought their home was because it had a newly constructed garage on the property. There was an unfinished space above the garage which was more square footage this family could remodel and use. By finishing this space, Russ gained an office area, and the family has a large recreation room for their use.

“We don’t think of our house as an investment in the sense that we are looking to get more money out of it down the road," Bianca said. "This is our family home. It was an investment in our family, our life and our quality of life.”

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@renovationdesigngroup.com