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Publication Date: 2020-01-16

Design Insights

Designer to the Rescue: Deciding Between a Renovation and a New Build

When a family of six first realized they had outgrown their small home outside Birmingham, Alabama, they thought about rebuilding – until Christopher Architecture and Interiors and the clients decided that they could improve the value of their current home and enhance the quality of their lives with a major renovation instead. Chris Reebals, president of Christopher AI, and his team, which included project designer Madeline Hoisington and interior designer Lydia Smith, worked collaboratively together and with the clients to reimagine both the exterior and interior environments. They left the existing foundation intact, along with the exterior walls, and built a second story to give the clients more space. For the interiors, they selected a fresh, sunny color palette and simple, standout furnishings that complement the beauty of the architecture.

When Reebals finished the renovation, he revealed a contemporary Southern estate, complete with a sunroom and comfortable patio, and with plenty of room for the whole family. This past fall, the company opened up the house for tours to benefit Lifeline Children's Services, an adoption agency that the clients had worked with to adopt two of their children. Here, we talk with Reebals about the architectural design of the house and the challenges that come with large-scale renovations.

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Photo by Leslee Mitchell

Q: What were the most important spatial considerations during the renovation?  

A: Providing a venue to express their family interests and values drove everything — from the desire to provide a sanctuary for adopted children to the whimsical colors. The most important consideration was accommodating a multi-faceted programmatic requirement while making the home very customized to their specific family make-up. Always, when working on an existing home, it is a challenge to create a fluid and efficient layout within the confines of the existing footprint.  It is akin to a puzzle with very strict parameters. To meet the needs of both adults and children, we created different kinds of spaces, focusing on room relationships (providing some open spaces for family gatherings) and private enclaves (to provide a respite from the endless energy of younger children).

Photo by Leslee Mitchell

Q: What else did the family need to feel comfortable in the home?

A: They wanted the design, from the architecture to the decor, to feel comfortable and livable. In other words, they didn’t want the house to feel stuffy, like a mausoleum. In order to accomplish this, Christopher AI incorporated warm colors and playful finishes. We also created spaces that were tailored more to the adults. Natural light was a very important component. Washing the home with the warmth of natural light — bringing morning sun into the breakfast area and providing afternoon sun on the patio were some ways we enhanced a feeling of warmth and comfort in the home.

Photo by Leslee Mitchell

Q: When you’re advising clients who are debating between a renovation and a new build, what do you think about?  

A: We think about what value the existing home might bring. In other words, often the foundation alone can make up to 20% of the cost on a residential job. If you can reuse the foundation, that could save money. Other factors are zoning: often we maintain an existing footprint to comply with a grandfathered zoning ordinance.

Photo by Leslee Mitchell

Q: Which organization benefits from the showhouse, and why did you choose them?

A: The family and Christopher AI chose to partner with Lifeline Children's Services, which helps families interested in adoption, from placing children to counseling and offering financial support. The family was very grateful for Lifeline, and as we got to know the organization, we (the design team) fell in love with what they do.

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