THE STAHR RENOVATION AND BEING YOUR OWN architect pt. ii
walls were framed, the roof was up (to prevent any further weather-related catastrophes), and windows had been installed. While this was a great starter course, it certainly could not compare to the final product.
It has been about six months since we spoke to Gregg about his home, so it is only fair that we give a quick recap before we delve into the update. Seven years ago, Gregg and his wife, Tiffany, bought a remodel-ready home in Wheaton for its good bones and great neighborhood. The Stahr's knew that Wheaton would be the perfect place to raise their family, even if their Cape Cod-style home was not. And in a tale as old as time, they made the decision to see the statue within the marble, so to speak, and design their own dream home, rather than waiting for a readymade one to fall into their laps. In the fall of last year, the Stahr's decided to commence Operation Dream Home in the form of an addition and renovation. The primary goal was simple: to increase space. Their family of five—with pets—wouldn’t comfortably fit in the original 1100 square foot house forever. Before starting their project, Gregg and Tiffany knew that the target design factors included expanding the kitchen and dining area and adding a second bathroom to the second story. As they went through the design phase, they additionally decided to rework the floorplan to situate all the kids’ bedrooms upstairs, which lent itself to a better overall flow in the home.
As is the usual course for any design project, the Stahrs had their share of trials and tribulations during construction. Namely, an uncharacteristically rainy winter that left the roofless house vulnerable, so much so that even the biggest tarps couldn’t protect it. Thankfully, Gregg’s home has advanced past the chaos of the winter rains now that we are revisiting his journey! Let’s hear from him about the second half of construction, making his aesthetic choices, and admire the beautiful, finished home he has designed!
Studio21 Architects: So, how does it feel to finally be done?
Gregg Stahr: There was a myriad of feelings as the project wrapped up but, it really does feel amazing to finally be done.
S21: We last left off in March, when you were about halfway done with construction. Can you tell us a little bit about the final stages of the construction process? How did it go?
GS: Construction as a whole can induce stress in a lot of different ways; during demolition, we definitely had the panicked thought of, “what are we doing?!”, because at certain angles our house looked like the aftermath of some kind of natural disaster. Unfortunately for me, with the rain my home endured, that disaster scenario became much more real. I don’t think my being in the industry sidestepped any of the anxieties as much as I initially would have guessed. I felt the same range of emotions that all homeowners go through during a design project. With any design project—especially a home—the unexpected happens, and it’s part of the process to come to a point where you’re doubting yourself and wondering how it will all come together again.
When you and I last spoke, I had barely passed that first half of construction where the big structural changes happen. Getting the roof, siding, and windows up alleviated a lot of that initial stress, but the second half of construction comes with its own set of worries and headaches. In the last half, the biggest struggle for me was coordinating the schedule. In the first months, it really is stepwise—your excavator digs for the foundation, then concrete gets poured, etc.; it’s one trade at a time. In that final half, though, all of these different trades need to get in to work in the same time range and others, which got hectic. I would liken it to choreographing an extremely chaotic ballet. And to make it even more fun, sometime the trades don’t always play nice with each other, so you also can play the role of mediator!
started to really think about how they wanted their spaces to look, and it was interesting seeing them stress a little—just like mom and dad—when it was time to finalize their decisions.
For my wife and I, the aha moment was when the kitchen cabinets were installed. We had made our cabinet choice back in December, and we had almost forgotten what we picked. It was a relief seeing them installed because we still loved our picks, and it made us feel like we really were approaching the finish line.
S21: Speaking of selections, can you tell us a bit about that process?
GS: Making the selections choices for your home is absolutely one of the most fun aspects of the whole journey, but it’s crucial (and crucial often means stressful). We had picked a lot of finishes months before, which I highly recommend for my clients. Even with all of that work done earlier, we still had to make many more decisions, for things like tile, countertops, and paint colors. There was a lot of schedule coordination with the selections as well, because you have to make sure your orders are placed enough in advance for them to arrive onsite when they are needed for installation.
What I will say, though, is that the sheer number of choices and options out there for finishes are quite overwhelming. They say that you make more than three thousand decisions when building a home and now that I’ve done it, that number feels eerily exact. My wife and I were very much on the same page with our overall aesthetic, which I’m sure avoided many disagreements. That said, we cannot thank our interior designer, Renée Dion of the Dion Group, enough for helping us with our tile choices. We had made many trips to Floor & Décor with zero success; with so many options and blank canvases in our bathrooms, we really struggled to narrow things down. Renée’s ability to understand our vision was exceptional, and she narrowed down our options to a few simple decisions. We could not be happier with how those spaces turned out.
clients to ensure your team is a good one, so they handle all of that without stressing you out.
S21: Is there anything you would have done differently, looking back at the whole journey?
GS: Now that we have moved back in and have had a chance to make ourselves at home, we can honestly say that we wouldn’t change anything about the design of our home. The space we created is working exactly as we envisioned and has enhanced day-to-day life. As for the journey, hindsight is 20/20, as they say. Going into construction, we felt optimistic about saving our existing hardwood floors and much of the drywall and insulation on the first floor, where we weren’t intending to do work. My motivation for that was purely budget-based, a huge priority for most homeowners. Last winter’s rains proved too heavy, and the stage of construction that our house was in proved too exposed, and our hardwood floors were damaged beyond repair and water had gotten behind the drywall. Maybe it was a karmic backfire from my optimism about keeping those original pieces. While the extra cost to replace these items was something we hoped to avoid, in the end it worked for the better: we know now that our walls are better insulated than before, and we were able to pick the lighter shade of flooring that we ultimately wanted. Ultimately, we could have saved a lot of stress in December if we just decided to remove the floors and drywall from the get-go, but no one can predict the future and good intentions don’t always have good outcomes.
S21: Do you think your project experience differed at all from a homeowner who isn’t in the industry?
will manage your project considerately and keep your best interests in mind.
S21: What advice do you have for any would-be renovators?
My best piece of advice, like I said before, is to find a good team for people—an architect and general contractor—with whom you feel most comfortable working with. You, as the homeowner, are an important part of the team that will make this a successful project. I won’t sugarcoat it: home renovations are a long and arduous process, but they can also feel incredibly rewarding when you are working alongside people who make you feel comfortable and confident even in the most stressful of circumstances. When a homeowner comes to Studio21 Architects, I like to educate them on what’s involved in the project process in that first meeting. Knowledge is power, and every homeowner should be aware of the thousands of decisions that need to be made or the fact that there simply is no such thing as a 100% problem-free project. I believe that it’s a disservice to my part to not provide that knowledge right from the start, because the single most necessary decision you make is whether to embark on this adventure at all.
As an architect, I don’t have all the answers, but I want to make sure that our team provides homeowners with as much information as possible to make informed decisions that they feel comfortable with. So, my best piece of advice? Find the team right for your project that will answer your questions and teach you about the process along the way.
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Written by: emma halliday
Emma Halliday works as the Marketing Coordinator at Studio21 Architects. For each of our newsletters, Emma conducts interviews, writes articles, and formats the pages to make sure they reflect the great design we value so strongly at this firm. She may not be an architect, but she certainly makes sure that the marketing materials have architect-worthy design as well!