Kelly Watson’s household is big — and it will soon become a bit bigger.
Watson and her husband, Asvin, are parents to two children, 18 months and almost 3, with another on the way in mid-February. They also employ an au pair who lives in their four-bedroom, two-story home in Powell.
“We have a lot of people in our house,” said Watson, 36, a physician assistant who is currently studying business at Ohio State University. Her husband, 37, is a surgeon at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
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With both parents working or studying from home much of the time because of the coronavirus pandemic, the couple decided to turn a first-floor sitting room into an office, adding French doors.
But what about when both Kelly and Asvin had things to do at the same time?
Working with remodeling firm The Cleary Company, the family decided to finish their basement, which — among other improvements — had enough room to accommodate an additional office that also will double as a room for out-of-town visitors.
“If we both are doing work, one of us can go to the basement to that extra space and use that to do our work while the other is in the office,” said Kelly Watson, whose basement office/room addition will be part of an overall basement renovation project, also to include another bedroom, full bathroom and TV area, costing about $120,000.
The Watson family is among countless central Ohio homeowners who are embarking on creative home renovation, remodeling and redecorating projects during the pandemic. The projects often reflect the practical needs of families who have lots of people and not enough room, but in other cases, they simply add variety to spaces that might have grown stale.
“I talk to a lot of my remodelers — sometimes once a day with a few of them — but at least once a month,” said Pam Patter, the executive director of the central Ohio chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. “They all said that last year was at least equal to 2019, which, considering the situation, is great.”
The momentum is likely to continue in 2021: According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies’ recently released Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity, money spent on home renovation and repair projects is predicted to reach $352 billion this year, representing a 3.8% increase over last year.
Patter can believe it, given how far out some local contractors are booked — many already into April or May.
“I can’t see this year being anything less just based on how busy these guys are,” said Patter, adding that she receives calls from homeowners asking for referrals but often has to deliver the news that most contractors are booked. “It makes me feel really bad because there’s nobody available to get started.”
Part of the reason for the spike in projects: Homeowners suddenly have time — lots and lots of time — to evaluate their surroundings.
“Because they are at home, they’re noticing the tired old countertop,” Patter said, though some homeowners are going much further than cosmetic changes.
With entertainment and sporting events curtailed, basements are being redone as basketball or soccer courts — “I’ve seen quite a few simulated golf courses,” Patter said — while families who might have considered moving have decided to stay put, with some modifications.
Columbus residents Julie and Garth Garlock, retirees in their 60s, have lived in their four-level-split home for close to 30 years, but when they recently looked into buying a new ranch home, they found that prices were high, even if the home needed updating. They also were reluctant to make a move amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
“With the pandemic, we weren’t crazy about the idea of moving anyway, and this just helped us say, ‘You know what, let’s look and see what we can do here,’” Julie Garlock said.
The Garlocks decided to bring the benefits of ranch-style living to their current home: Last year, in what Julie Garlock said was a six-figure project, The Cleary Company added to their first floor a mudroom, laundry room and, replacing an upstairs master suite, new master bedroom and bath. An existing sunroom also was extended about 8 feet.
“They started the work in the end of July, and we had our final inspection the week before Christmas,” Garlock said. “We utilize every inch of the space we added on. We have no dead space. It’s all livable.”
The upstairs bedroom will be turned into a guest room.
Some homeowners are adding rooms, but many others are finding ways to repurpose what they already have. Carving out spaces for office- or schoolwork is likely to remain a top priority in the new year, said Katie Florjancic, a designer at The Cleary Company.
“A lot of homes that we’re going into right now may have a dedicated den at the front, … but a lot of these dens don’t necessarily have doors attached,” Florjancic said. “We’re closing in those den areas with double doors.” Such projects would typically cost between $6,000 and $8,000.
Other home offices just need a little TLC.
Jennifer Mason, her husband Rob, both 49, and their three children have lived in their 1927 home in Upper Arlington for about 15 years. They had made cosmetic improvements before embarking on kitchen and basement renovations. But this past year, they decided to refresh a room that had, at one point, been intended as a workspace.
“Over the years, it had really just become a catch-all area for anything that didn’t otherwise have a home,” said Jennifer Mason, an attorney at Abercrombie & Fitch who now works virtually much of the time. “There was no good dedicated space, particularly for me to work.”
The Masons hired interior designer Andrew Miller of Tru Grit Design in Columbus. Besides cleaning out the clutter, Miller added fresh white paint, new carpeting, soft lighting and live greenery for a cleaner, calmer aesthetic. “Plants really change a space,” Miller said. “Get away from the faux stuff — try some real.”
To complete the look, the plants are accented with framed prints of pressed ferns to decorate wall space. Most significant, a corner desk was added to take full advantage of the room’s windows — a simple change in room arrangement that made a big impact.
“It’s elegant but simple,” Miller said. A comparable home-office refresh would cost between $6,000 and $10,000, he said.
Aside from cordoning off work areas, homeowners are warming to the idea of delineating other spaces throughout their houses, including those built with open-concept floorplans.
“I don’t think it’s going anywhere, but I think people are starting to swing back into spaces that are a little more closed-off in order to have that privacy,” said Kellie Toole, an interior designer in New Albany.
Simply painting or adding wallpaper to an area can help set it apart. “Paint can create that in the most affordable way,” said Florjancic, who points to the wide variety of colors, textures and sheens to achieve varying looks and feels. For example, dark hues can be used to set a mood in a den or study. “Sitting and reading, it’s a little bit more cozy,” she said.
Accent walls can also be created by using wallpaper, which, despite the dubiousness of some homeowners, has been gaining in popularity. “What you think about is your great-grandmother’s awful wallcovering,” Miller said. “There are a lot of different options out there today.”
Toole has her own solution for setting a space apart: “I can do it in four letters: rugs.”
Short of a full renovation, kitchens are also prime candidates for a fresh coat of paint and other cosmetic updates.
“Maybe it’s getting the cabinets, if they can be painted, painted, or changing out the hardware, maybe updating the lighting,” said Miller, adding that white cabinets now face competition from warmer tones. “That’s another trend that’s happening — a little bit more of rustic-style, cottage-y,” he said.
Gray and white kitchens can be revived with an island with a hearty wood grain, Toole said. “Holy moly, can we please get rid of subway tile?” she said. “Colored tiles and patterned tiles are all coming back.”
No matter their particular project or personal taste, central Ohioans agree on one thing: the time is right to make their houses homier.
“Because everyone is home so often, those ‘wouldn’t-it-be-nice’ wish-list items are a little bit more: ‘Well, maybe this isn’t a wish-list,” Florjancic said, “maybe this is something that’s going to help bring more happiness to our home.”
Before getting started
With renovation or remodeling projects booming in central Ohio, it can seem as though there is a contractor on every corner. No matter the size or scale of a project, however, homeowners looking to hire renovators should never sign on the dotted line before embarking on some homework first.
Here are some tips to make sure your renovation ends up being everything you hope it will be:
Seek referrals from neighbors or friends who have had work done on their homes. Also good for referrals are Realtors, bankers or lenders, who likely keep tabs on reputable contractors (and bad apples). Once you have several candidates, check out their listing on the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) or previous client feedback on Google Reviews. “You want to make sure that they’re insured, bonded and licensed, and they also cover their employers and any subcontractors,” said Pam Patter, executive director of the central Ohio chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). A company or individual contractor without a website could be a red flag.
To enable homeowners to look at a renovators’ work up-close, NARI sponsors spring and fall tours of renovated homes. “You can check the quality of their work,” Patter said. The events also enable prospective clients to meet the renovators in-person. “You’re going to spend some serious time with these folks, so you want to make sure that you like them,” Patter said. NARI hopes to present another tour in early May.
Settle on your project
Price-shopping among contractors is always a good idea, but make sure that you are comparing the costs on the same project or accounting for variables. “This guy might be using certain materials or have a certain design that is totally opposite what somebody else is doing,” Patter said. Instead, nail down your plans and then seek the best person to do the job. Estimates should be received in writing, and contracts should be signed before the first nail is hammered.
Never pay in full upfront
Because many renovation projects can run into six figures, financing is usually a given. Even on smaller projects, however, payments should never be made in their entirety at the outset of a job. “If somebody asks you for … the total amount of the job upfront, run as fast as you can,” Patter said. A receipt should be given upon completion of the job.
Make sure the work is guaranteed
Inevitably, problems can emerge after the completion of a job, so make your contractor stands behind his or her work. Patter said that NARI’s code of ethics requires remodelers to address complaints immediately.
Sources: Better Business Bureau, HGTV, National Association of the Remodeling Industry
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Renovation boom: Many Columbus-area homeowners updating homes to better suit their needs