What motivates homeowners to remodel? Motivations differ in emphasis, but most renovations attempt to solve problems with the existing house, improve its utility and comfort, increase property value, and better represent the owners' tastes.
Remodeling becomes remuddling when original character and integrity of a house are lost in renovation process. This is usually the result of misguided improvements, making inappropriate changes for the period and style of house, or additions that overwhelm original scale and features.
In contrast, a successful remodel resolves shortcomings and improves livability of a house without losing its architectural character. Changes are compatible, maintain historical continuity, and satisfy objectives with the least disruption to original design.
Remuddling occurs when a house has been neglected or abused, and its quality diminished. Period and original style may have lost favor, and "modernization" is prescribed as the cure. In other cases the neighborhood has deteriorated or been up-zoned for higher density, which reduces care and investment in existing houses.
Respond to the uniqueness of house. Research your house in the context of its place and time, and cultivate a historical perspective. This will help in making appropriate decisions during the renovation. Identify and prioritize what the house needs. What repairs are most urgent? Which improvements will have the most impact? Don't accept the view that architecture is like fashion, a progression of styles making those before obsolete. Understand the original builders' design intentions, and consider changes from their point of view.
Resist renovation experts who do things only one way—their way, and impose the same solutions on every project. When interviewing consultants, ask to see their best completed projects that integrate new and existing work. If you are considering removing original features, like doors and windows, resist junk said to be equivalent. Be skeptical-- snap-on window grilles are not the same as real muntins. Resist advice that insists you must modernize your house “to protect your investment.” Many people prefer living in a vintage house for its character, quirkiness and charm.
Is doing it right worth the effort and expense? All renovations require time and money. Some of the best are not apparent when completed, and seamless with existing. The best additions appear inevitable. Serial remodelers love to be asked: "How did you find such a great house, and so intact?" Yes, it will initially cost more to use real materials, hire competent builders, and make substantial improvements. This is not a fluff and turn strategy. You may not be able to sell the house immediately and make a fortune, but good renovation has historically been a sound investment. Authentic materials and traditional building techniques that have withstood the test of time will in the long run be less expensive than expedient solutions. You will also have the enjoyment of living in a home that is well resolved and suits you.
Houses have a kind of genetic make-up, the products of building traditions and cultural circumstances when they were built. As such, they can be distinguished by type, style, date, and historic building tradition. We find considerable diversity within these constraints, and a wide range of expressions in every region and period. In adapting your house it is not necessary to slavishly adhere to its original design. Circumstances change with time. We do not look the same at fifty as we did at twenty, yet our character remains the same. We cannot become something we are not, and it is the same story with houses.
To successfully renovate a house accept its character. If your house was built over 30 years ago, it can be placed in a historical context with a wide spectrum of examples. What were the key ideas and impulses of period and style? If we can see the house from the original designers' point of view we are more likely to appreciate what they did. At least we are in a better position to judge. Should we restore the vision, or adapt it? How have living arrangements and expectations changed since the house was built?
Whatever direction your design takes, it should be plausible for the house. For instance, reworking a Mid-Century Modern as a Cape Cod cottage makes little sense since the two styles developed almost in opposition. The impulses that led modernists and colonial revivalists were quite different. Mixing details from incompatible styles can only muddle the design. Better to take a weak design, and improve it on its own terms. Draw solutions from examples of the same period and style that better accomplish what you need. When a new owner moves in, earlier owners' misguided improvements are the first to go. Integrity prevails over fashion.