written by Melissa Dalton
In the past year, our homes have taken on new significance. We relish the comfort they provide, while pondering possibilities for making them even better. We asked three Oregon designers to weigh in on how they’d recommend homeowners spend $50,000 in home equity. Turns out, a little can go a long way, if you know where to use it.
People tend to look at the question of remodeling in two ways, said Sarah Westhusing, interior designer and founder of House of Milo, a Bend-based studio which tackles everything from new builds to renovations. “The first are the people that really focus on return on investment,” she said. They only want to invest an amount in updates that they’ll recoup when they sell the house. For that group, Westhusing suggested remodeling the kitchen or a bathroom.
Regarding the kitchen, several factors, such as the size of the room and the quality of finishes will affect project cost, and high-end kitchen remodels can easily soar past $100,000, so the designer offered tips for getting a custom look for less. For example, since bespoke cabinetry can easily eat up $40,000, Westhusing proposed researching prefab options, such as those from IKEA. These can be paired with semi-custom fronts in an array of styles and finishes, such as those from the Oregon-based Kokeena. For a built-in look, buy a cabinet-depth refrigerator that’s flush with the cabinets, hide appliances such as the dishwasher behind a cabinet front, or carry cabinetry up to the ceiling.
In the bathroom, replace an outdated vanity, update the faucet, and change light fixtures for a big impact. Costs rise significantly when moving plumbing, and a bathroom overhaul can clock in just as much as a kitchen refresh. “I’ll tell you, a bathroom and a kitchen are close,” said Westhusing. “Bathrooms always blow people away, how expensive they are, because there’s a lot of plumbing.”
Westhusing grew up visiting the job site of her family’s commercial construction business and was trained from a young age to appreciate the details that compose a room. If return on investment isn’t a primary concern, the designer recommended thinking about the things that will inject personality. “Between Pinterest and HGTV, we’re all moving towards this really homogenous look,” said Westhusing. “So, I’ve been pushing people to think about, how do you make your home feel more special, or what are ways to add character?”
For example, an accent treatment that incorporates texture, like wall paneling or applying tongue-and-groove to the ceiling “is really an affordable update that adds a little soul,” said Westhusing. Or, fit flexible solutions to rooms with multiple uses, such as installing a fold-down Murphy bed in an office, to create a workspace that can be readied into a guest room.
“The first question I’ll ask is, how long does a homeowner plan on staying in the home,” said Matt White, a design consultant and general manager at Neil Kelly in Eugene who has been in the business for about thirty years. “If someone is planning on selling that home within two years, then usually we’re talking about a much different project than if they’re planning on staying there forever.”
For those that know they’ll be moving soon, White proposed that they first address anything that needs to be fixed, such as what might be singled out by a home inspector during inspection, so that you don’t run into issues during the selling process. (This could vary, depending on the homeowner’s strategy. Large-ticket items that are not as visible could be a concession off the sale price, as long as leaving them as-is doesn’t create a bigger maintenance problem.)
White advised using the $50,000 to spruce up dated features. That amount could cover a range of items, from faucets to new hardware: “Floor coverings, paint and light fixtures, those things are almost always going to be worth it,” said White. Also, take a hard look at the home’s curb appeal, such as the landscaping and front door. “Entry doors can make a really big difference in a first impression,” said White. “Put a brand-new entry door on an older home and it looks like a new home.”
And if “return on enjoyment” is more important, feel free to go bold with the choices: pick a favorite paint color or make a statement with light fixtures, which can utterly transform a room, White said. “If you’re staying long-term, put quality items in that are going to last a long time, so that you’re not going to have to remodel again.”
Portland-based architect Melody Emerick, loved the question of the smartest way to spend $50,000 on your home because she had to answer it in her own home remodel. “I think everybody thinks about the big projects, like doing a kitchen, or bathroom or adding on,” said Emerick, co-founder of Emerick Architects. “But $50,000 doesn’t always get you as much as you’d hope, and those [types of projects] are more daunting. So, I’m looking for the biggest bang for the buck.”
Emerick recommended a suite of changes that eke out more personal enjoyment from your home. For White, this included new paint and statement lighting. “Whenever I feel like I need a pick-me-up, I will paint rooms in my house,” said Emerick. “I love it, and it feels like a whole new room.” Emerick also advocated for creating a connection to the outdoors, possibly through new windows or French doors. This will bring in more natural light and frame views to the garden. Add on a patio or a deck, and you have the makings of an outdoor room that “feels like a little escape, and makes your house feel bigger,” said Emerick.
Another handy tactic with a big payoff is to identify architectural elements that you touch on a daily basis, such as the front door knob or the kitchen faucet, and swap out the flimsy for more substantial, higher-end pieces that look right for your house, and have a pleasing feel to them. “You’re touching them a hundred times in a week,” said Emerick. “Have it be an experience that you find beautiful and functional–that’s a great investment.”
Lastly, consider hiring a local craftsperson to customize storage solutions, such as building a good-looking cabinet for a vinyl collection, or outfitting the pantry with top-notch shelving, or fashioning a gorgeous vanity that holds all of the odds and ends.
As far as worrying whether such projects are too personal to be appreciated in resale, Emerick had some advice: “I’m a huge believer in always doing it for you. If you do, there’s somebody else out there who’s also going to value it. So, take a stand. Do whatever gives you beauty and meaning. This is your home.”
“Whenever I feel like I need a pick-me-up, I will paint rooms in my house. I love it, and it feels like a whole new room.”