You have some sort of picture in your mind of how you want your house to look, to function, to feel.
But how do you communicate that to your architect, and to the people who'll be building the walls and installing the countertops?
The key to success in a new home improvement or remodeling project is making sure all parties -- you, your architect, and your contractor -- all fully understand that picture in your mind.
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Collect and organize
Whenever you come across something that appeals to you for your house, take a photo of it; tear the page out of the magazine; or print it from your computer. Even if the photo or drawing only has a tiny thing you like, get it on paper.
An easy way to find lots of images is to pick up "home design" and "home decorating" magazines at bookstores or home improvement stores. A great source is the website www.houzz.com, where you can create an "idea book" from hundreds of thousands of very high-quality photographs. You can also get inspiration from Zillow's Dueling Digs.
Once you have some images, get a binder of some sort and organize all your photos and clippings into groups by room -- and keep it updated.
It's easy to think that your job, as the homeowner, is to come up with solutions for your project. And while there's definitely a time for that, it's far more important that you first focus on defining the problem.
That means carefully and honestly examining your daily life in relation to your house -- does it really do what you want/need it to do? The more detail you provide about what does and doesn't work in your house the better you'll be able to evaluate proposed solutions.
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Ask all your household members for their thoughts, in detail -- after all, they've got to live in the house, too!
Write everything down, no matter how small or "crazy" it may seem. It's through this kind of honest introspection that you'll be able to identify your real needs.
A successful design and construction project depends on equal expectations; the more you know about design and construction the better! There are many great books and websites that can help you better understand your house, and the issues you should know about to ensure a successful project.