Reflections in Design

Reflections of Nature Help Inform Design: Sky reflected in a mirror

Reflections of Nature Help Inform Design: Sky reflected in a mirror

This is an interesting series of photos that can inform our use of reflection in designed spaces. We usually think of mirrors, as this title suggests, as something having to do with vanity. That is a reflection of ourselves and placed over a vanity cabinet. But mirrors reflect a great deal other than people. They can accentuate shapes and play a big part in lighting design. They can make a shall room feel larger and a dark room appear lighter.

Finding Value in Remodeling

Custom Cabinets in Bryan, Texas Remodeled Bathroom

Custom Cabinets in Bryan, Texas Remodeled Bathroom

One of the biggest obstacles to remodeling for many folks is the expense. Unfortunately, the alternatives can be even more expensive, both short term and long term.

Moving vs. remodeling: Leaving the memories behind

Many of our prospective clients are trying to decide between remodeling and moving to a house that better matches their wants and needs. Remember that the soft costs of moving, as well as the hard costs of moving, can be exorbitant.

Have you seen the cost of moving lately? You might be surprised at what it takes to move a household today even to another neighborhood in College Station or Bryan. Of course, there are other major hard costs involved in moving to a new home. Don’t just think of the closing costs. Remember the costs for refreshes on your current home like new interior paint and landscaping, staging, inspection-related repairs and cleaning. It all adds up.

The soft costs—your time and energy—can be even higher. If you don’t hire a moving company, the cost in your time to pack, unpack, and market your current home for sale is hefty. Add to that the considerable cost of your precious evenings and weekends spent trying to find that “just right” home and your valuable time can be monopolized for many months. Perhaps the largest soft cost, though, is the sentimental cost of leaving a space with so many memories connected to it. Those memories have a significant, yet unquantifiable, value to most people.

DIY vs. remodeling: Everything in moderation

Another alternative is to “do it yourself” (DIY). This is a good alternative if employed in moderation. Just don’t neglect to do a soul-searching reality check on your construction abilities before you begin.

DIY shows on TV are very popular. Those shows and their sponsors (like Lowes and Home Depot) would have you believe that you can remodel virtually anything without any prior experience. Not surprisingly, the big box home improvement stores sell massive amounts of products that are never used because unsuspecting homeowners bite off more than they can chew. Worse than the materials that are never installed are those that are installed poorly. For example, if you have never used a circular saw it might not be a good idea for you to build a multi-level deck. DIY jobs can put safety—not just aesthetics—in jeopardy.

That is not to say that a motivated homeowner with the right attitude, good training, and ample free time can’t do good work. But there is more involved than just craftsmanship. Building science is more complicated than is depicted in home makeover programs and requires knowledge and skills that range from architecture to engineering, from electrical to plumbing, and from heat to moisture management.

 DIY remodeling: a cautionary tale

We are called in to fix DIY project fails frequently. Sally, a client we worked with not long ago, spent much of her time between her college studies refurbishing an old house she had inherited. Sally was a wonderful woman. She was very laid back and patient—just the sort of personality that is often associated with great attention to detail that is the hallmark of good craftsmanship. In fact, Sally had done some beautifully detailed woodwork and we were impressed with her trim work. Sally hired us a few years after college because she noticed a few soft spots in her floor. Sadly, while Sally’s craftsmanship with trim was top quality, she did not understand building science and had made a few errors in moisture-proofing the structures. The rot was not limited to the floor joists, either. This DIY project stands out because Sally was a gifted woodworker.

Very often it is the DIY work of a previous homeowner – or so we are told – that is the cause of our homeowner’s headaches. I’m not sure what it is that makes men feel like they must have competence with construction tools and knowledge of building science without ever having taken a course. Even brilliant men with PhDs express self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy because they cannot build a deck. Few carpenters feel that way if they cannot lecture on differential equations. My advice: Be real with yourself—and your family—about your abilities. Avoid a future headache and the cost of re-doing a DIY project gone bad.

Low-balling your remodeling project: buyer beware

Another alternative to reduce the cost of remodeling is to hire the low bid “contractor.” This is fraught with risk. In Texas, you have to have a license to sell a house or cut hair but not to build or remodel a house. The cost of entry into the construction field is low. Let the buyer beware.

Low-balling your remodeling: another cautionary tale

Mark was like many of our potential clients: He had his bathroom remodeled the year before he called us and now there was mold on the walls, the cabinet drawers were hard to open and shut, and the paint was peeling. He had done what he thought he was supposed to. He had solicited bids from three different remodeling contractors and accepted the low bid. The contractor stopped taking his calls after the second time he called to have the problems fixed. Mark did not hire us but hired someone else to try to fix the problems. After tearing out the tile and opening the walls, his second “contractor” moved to California. Last we heard, Mark had put his house on the market.

Cost to remodel vs. cost to build new

Remodeling often seems expensive when it is compared to the cost per square foot of new home construction. That is not an apples-to-apples or even an apples-to-oranges comparison.

New homes are often built en masse in an assembly line process that results in significant economies of scale. By contrast, remodeling is done to meet a homeowner’s exacting needs and wants within an existing structure. It is much more time consuming but, in the end, the homeowner gets a very personalized and professional product.

So, yes, professional remodeling can be expensive. But it’s much more expensive to move, to try to do it yourself, or to employ a lowball “contractor” to remodel your home—the keeper of so many precious memories.

Bring Remodeling Outdoors with an Outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchens can be the perfect addition to your home in the College Station Summer!

Outdoor kitchens can be the perfect addition to your home in the College Station Summer!

Spring is here in College Station and Bryan and summer is just around the corner. Everyone already wants to spend more time enjoying the outdoors! It’s a perfect time to start planning and building your outdoor kitchen.

A great outdoor kitchen is at least a couple of notches above a nice patio furniture set and your portable barbecue grill. We all love that picnic feel, but if you are going to spend your evenings entertaining or just relaxing and enjoying the cooler evening temperatures outside, you may want more amenities. Plus, an outdoor kitchen is a great way to keep your home cooler by avoiding the use of your oven and other appliances inside.

You can start your unique outdoor kitchen by placing a grill into stonework and creating custom-built counter-tops on either side.  This gives you easy-to-navigate areas for food preparation, cooking, and serving.

Next, you can add lights so that you won’t be limited to enjoying your outdoor kitchen during daylight hours. You may either choose to run electricity or install battery- or solar-powered lights. Since you want to enjoy the natural light as much as possible, you really just need enough light to be able to prepare, cook and serve safely. If you choose to run electricity to your outdoor kitchen, you can also add a small refrigerator to keep your favorite beverages and condiments handy.

Here are a few other ideas:


For shade during the summer, you can build your kitchen under an existing covered porch, add a pergola, or buy a large patio umbrella.


Adding a water line to your outdoor kitchen will allow you to install a small sink for food preparation and clean up.


Add a fireplace or portable fire pit if you want to keep using your great outdoor space when the weather turns cold or just to add a little ambiance for the adults and a way to make s’mores with the kids!


A gas line will allow you the option of barbeque fuels and adding a small cook top or oven can stretch your outdoor culinary choices even further.

The possibilities for your outdoor kitchen are numerous and really depend on the frequency that you intend to use your kitchen and your budget. You can always start small, building around your existing home’s features and your existing barbecue, and add on next year.

The key is to make it cool, keep it classy, and enjoy our wonderful spring and summer climate here in Bryan and College Station.

We also love Screened in Porches

Home remodeling in College Station and Bryan: Trending in your favor

College Station home remodels are in your favor.

College Station home remodels are in your favor.

It’s a good time to be a homeowner in College Station and Bryan and a great time to consider remodeling a home you love. In the last blog, 9 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE REMODELING YOUR HOME, we outlined the major factors that influence decisions on whether to renovate a home or buy another.

Remodeling decisions may hinge on considerations that are more about the value of your home as a place—that perfect backyard oasis, a warm and welcoming neighborhood, and the great memories your house elicits—than about its value as an asset. However, homes are significant financial investments that require careful protection. As a homeowner, you will want to inspect your investment annually to avoid any degradation . You may also wish to reinvest in your home to keep it fresh and updated.

The good news: our local real estate market is in great health. It’s a great time to remodel and recoup a significant percentage of your costs.

Typical home values strong and getting stronger

Working with our friend Randal Allison, a Keller Williams real estate agent, we examined a few trends in College Station and Bryan for homes similar to the majority of our remodeling clients’. Those are homes:

  • Built between 1955 and 2005;
  • Valued at $250,000 or more;
  • That have at least three bedrooms and two baths; and
  • Are a minimum of 1,800 square feet.

We reviewed 2016 sales and found 220 homes in College Station and 56 homes in Bryan that fit the criteria. The average price of the College Station homes was $349,147 and averaged $309,721 for the Bryan homes. College Station averaged $130.85 per square foot with a maximum of $227.64 per square foot.

The current values for a few of our neighborhoods are below.

Home trends occurring in College Station.

Home trends occurring in College Station.

Lowering price per square foot may mean lowering quality

Although these are interesting statistics and encouraging for homeowners, it’s important to keep the dollar figures in context. Price per square foot is the primary measure that most home-buyers use to evaluate a home purchase. This is a bad way to calculate value.

To get a home’s cost per square foot down, quality is compromised. A quality fixture or appliance will last longer, work better, and reduce operating costs when compared to “builder grade.” Quality options, not price per square foot, is where the real value in a home is found. If you amortize your investment over the next 10, 20 or even 30 years, you will find that an initial investment in quality work and products is much cheaper in the long run.

Price per square foot is also not very useful when considering remodeling. The price per square foot for remodeling a kitchen or bathroom with tile, cabinets, countertops, plumbing and extra electrical work is very different than the square foot price for remodeling a simple bedroom, for example. We invite you to read further on why we think using price per square foot (look up link) alone to calculate a home’s value is unwise.

 Great time to remodel in College Station and Bryan

Overall, the trends shared by our friend Randal Allison means that the homes of our typical College Station and Bryan remodeling clients are increasing in value. They are still very much sought after, making it a great time to consider remodeling and reinvesting in one of your largest assets. 

For more information to help you consider your next remodeling project, check out Remodeling Magazines Cost vs. Value for more information.

9 questions to ask yourself before remodeling your home

Kitchen Window looking out to a College Station backyarad.

Kitchen Window looking out to a College Station backyarad.

Should we stay or should we go?

Many people ask us, “Should we remodel or should we move?”  Our answer is always, “Well, that depends.” There is no doubt that remodeling is a larger out-of-pocket expense than buying an existing home that doesn’t need remodeling or even building new. So it’s a good question and the answer depends on many factors. Here are a few questions to guide your decision-making process:

1. How long do you plan to stay in your house?

You will recoup less of your remodeling investment if you plan to move within two years. Here is a good resource for the return on investment for home remodeling projects.

2. What are you trying to achieve?

It’s important to consider whether you can achieve the aesthetic and functional results you’re looking for in your current home. There are some limiting factors for remodeling projects—including lot dimensions and your home’s “bones” or the foundation, heating, plumbing and electrical systems—that are more difficult to overcome no matter how creative and professional your contractor is.

3. How much do you love your home?

Homeowners with a strong attachment to their current homes should factor that into the decision-making process. Your home can be the keeper of many pleasant memories that are difficult to replace.

4. How much do you value your lot?

Often our clients’ motivation to not relocate is as much about their lot as it is about their house. You may not be able to replicate a corner lot with an ancient shade tree in the backyard even if you find a house with that perfect kitchen.

5. How much do you love your neighborhood?

A desire to remain in a neighborhood is also a frequent motivating factor for remodeling. There is significant value in having neighbors you like or even just know—unfortunately, something that is missing in many of today’s neighborhoods. You may also value the neighborhood’s amenities or its proximity to schools and stores.

6. What is your remodeling budget?

If the amount you can spend is less than the cost of moving, then choosing to remodel rather than move is a no-brainer. Even a modest remodeling budget can begin to make your home more current and comfortable.

7. Where does your home’s value fall in your neighborhood?

If you own the most expensive home in the neighborhood, the return on your remodeling investment will be lower. However, if you plan to stay in your home for an extended period of time, your decision may be more about maximizing enjoyment than finances. 

8. How likely are you to find a home that you wouldn’t remodel? 

It is not uncommon for us to have a client decide to move and then call us a year later for a remodeling project on the new home. Because homes are so personal, it is very difficult to find one that is just right. If you’ve already invested in a larger mortgage, it may be more difficult to afford a remodel.

9. How much do kids factor into your decision?

The quality of nearby schools is a major consideration for most families with school-age kids and may even be the reason you bought in your current neighborhood. Disrupting the children’s school and social lives may be another key consideration. Even if you have not made close friends on your block, the kids usually have made connections in the neighborhood and at school.


Deciding whether to move or remodel is complicated because it involves so many considerations outside of just the wood, wiring and windows that make up the building that houses your life. Remember that both remodeling and moving can be fun and exciting or stressful and harrowing. Taking the time up front to evaluate all of the factors will help you weather the experience, come what may.

The next blog will share trends in home valuations within a few College Station and Bryan neighborhoods to provide more context for your home renovation decision-making process.