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Expert Tips on Home Renovations and Additions: An Interview with Nick Daveline of NLD Design Architecture & Interiors

By Nick Daveline

Please tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

NLD Design Architecture & Interiors is a full-service architecture firm (CT lic.#12903, MA lic.#50607) specializing in new construction, additions and renovations. Our expertise covers a range of residential projects. We've worked work with developers on large tracts of land designing multiple unit types, including everything from master planning the site to interior trim in each unit. We work with home builders and contractors who either want a spec house or need an architect to work with the potential buyer to custom design a new home. We also work with individual homeowners helping their dream become a reality. Whether it's a new home, an addition or a renovation, we offer the services to meet our clients' needs.

For individual homeowners, our typical projects range from small kitchen renovations to whole-house remodels with additions, to large estate planning and new construction. We are able to provide design services for the complete project - from site planning and the exterior shell of the building, to construction methods and building systems, as well as the details of the interior including cabinetry, tile, flooring and paint. We have a passion for well-crafted architecture and strive to design authentic stylistic solutions that synthesize form, durability and beauty with today's functional demands.

What are some of the most popular renovations or additions for homes in Connecticut?

Some of the most popular renovation projects are the typical kitchen or bathroom upgrades - new cabinets, new flooring, new fixtures, new paint, etc. Everyone is already familiar with this trend. These are the rooms homeowners are most interested in, as well as the rooms that most appeal to future home buyers. But these are also the basic, low-impact, low-cost, cosmetic-only projects.

Surprisingly, the most popular renovation and addition work NLD Design has completed in the past few months (and we're talking over 70% of addition work going through our office) involves adding up, not adding out. What I mean is homeowners are taking their single-story houses and adding full second floors. This keeps the home's footprint the same, doubles the finished space, and totally changes the exterior volumes, shell construction and aesthetic of the home. The end result is practically a brand new house.

What are a few of the biggest mistakes that an architect or builder can make on a home renovation or addition?

The biggest mistake a builder can make is to over-promise and underdeliver. This stems from three areas: 1) The builder is not qualified for the work the homeowner wants to complete. 2) The builder wasn't thorough in the evaluation and didn't completely understand the scope of the project. 3) The builder under-bid the project to get the job, but in an effort to still make money, the quality of the workmanship and materials is sub-standard.

The biggest mistake an architect can make is poor communication. It's essential for an architect to understand the exact needs and wants of the client. Proper communication helps manage expectations on both sides and ensures the client's vision is achieved in the end.

While both the architect and the builder can make mistakes on a home renovation or addition, but the homeowner can also make mistakes. The biggest of which is what I call the ready-fire-aim approach. Too many times I've encountered homeowners who dive into a project without enough planning, research, understanding or patience. As a result, the project is never really finished, always over budget and never achieves the original goals.

Is there anything that homeowners can do to help prevent those mistakes?

For the homeowner, it's easy to avoid the ready-fire-aim problem. Planning a renovation or addition project is like planning an excursion into the wilderness. Would you do it without a guide, map, compass, food, water, supplies? Obviously not. During the next project, have a clear plan, have a set budget, have a design that sufficiently documents the vision so it can be built. In short, hire the right professional for the job.

Communicate with your architect both before and during your project. At the beginning, be very clear about what you need, what you want, and what you don't know. Ask questions - there are no strange, dumb or inappropriate questions. The real value in an architect is not just the design skill but the ability and responsibility to help the client at each step.

Avoiding the over-promise, under-deliver pitfall is the most difficult. The homeowner needs to interview several builders, see the work they've done before, understand the builder's limitations, be comfortable with the builder, be sure they will make a great team member and receive a thorough, line-by-line estimate that identifies everything included and not included in the bottom line number.

What is the key to great design that a homeowner is going to be happy with?

There's not a single key to great design. Great design is incredibly complex, involves both the art and science of building, constantly seeks to balance client priorities with creativity and problem-solving, and is the culmination of a passionate team of people. But the following five areas are good starting points to achieving success.

Understand and analyze the site to maximize potential. Even for additions, the site conditions have a huge effect. Climate, topography, wind, views, orientation and neighbors all make a difference. And keep in mind, location is the only thing you can't change.

Programming and Plan Layout:
Bigger is not always better. We seem to forget that. Designing the right rooms at the right size is critical. Making the plan specific and efficient maximizes the dollar and even makes the design feel indulgent. Too often the inexperienced move walls, change angles or relocate spaces. This results in plans and exterior elevations that are not congruent with strange jobs and bump-outs. This is not only an aesthetic problem but also wastes money because it's inefficient in the design process and in construction.

Systems and Science:
Great design is not just the aesthetics but also how the building systems (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, equipment, insulation, windows, roofing, siding) are integrated. Systems must be designed to achieve the aesthetic goals and function at maximum efficiency. One size doesn't fit all. Each project needs the right type of system for its specific conditions. Issues of longevity, durability and true cost over lifetime are significant.

Exteriors and Interiors:
Scale and proportion are critical to design, both on the interior and exterior. You can't achieve a great design without a balance of both. Volumes, massing, spacing, location and size all use rules of scale and proportion to govern how each component and the whole communicate with the individual who experiences the building.

Attention to detail is a hallmark of an exceptional home - all surfaces, including their color, pattern and texture, enrich the character of spaces inside and out. Each component should have a clear message. And each detail should be appropriate for its location, fit with the others and harmonize with the whole design into a cohesive vision.

What's the best way for people to contact your company?

They can contact NLD Design Architecture & Interiors, 2842 Main Street #296, Glastonbury, CT 06033, 860-990-9316,

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