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Anthony Wilder on how the pandemic has changed remodeling
Anthony Wilder, founder and lead architectural designer of Anthony Wilder Design/ Build, joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for our Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: It seems as if everyone in my neighborhood is remodeling. Given the hardships of the past year, why do you think remodeling is so prevalent right now?
A: I think the answer is twofold. First, when the pandemic led to families sheltering in place, there was a renewed focus on the home. We needed our homes to function as offices, gyms, outdoor entertaining areas and more. Because people weren’t investing in vacations and other social activities, they began investing more in their homes. Second, the shortage in housing inventory is leading to remodeling rather than moving.
Q: What are the top remodeling and redecorating requests you’ve received this year?
A: Kitchens are at the heart of the home, and the pandemic has led to people wanting to make them multifunctional: having storage for bulk items, adding work and homework areas and creating entertainment spaces. We just remodeled our own kitchen; my wife and I added a huge island with ample storage that can accommodate up to nine people. We’re seeing this a lot, and everyone wants an open concept. Many people are rebuilding decks to extend the living space off the kitchen. Home offices are in demand, and we’ve seen people convert attics, basements and even pantries into office spaces. I think people will continue to work from home, at least part-time, so homeowners are investing in making the space work. We’re also seeing wine cellars, pools and pool houses.
Q: How can I create curb appeal? Even though we recently renovated, my house looks rundown from the outside.
A: Adding curb appeal increases the value of your home. Good design takes into account the overall character of the neighborhood. I’m partial to porticos, because they create a focal point on your home’s facade. Landscaping is essential; you can have the most beautiful facade, but without thoughtful landscaping, your house will look like a box that doesn’t belong in its setting. Thoughtful lighting and hardscape design make a huge difference.
Q: Are free-standing bathtubs a trend or are they here to stay?
A: Free-standing tubs are here to stay. They are sculptural, like pieces of art, and they provide a more spacious, transitional design. Older tubs with jets are difficult to enter and exit and to keep clean.
Q: When my gym was closed, I considered incorporating a home gym in my basement, but figured it would be cost-prohibitive. Are there ways to incorporate a home gym that won’t break the bank?
A: There are plenty of creative ways to incorporate a home gym. I worked with a client who wanted a home gym in an unfinished portion of their basement. Like you, they wanted a simple solution. To define the room, we designed shoji screens and backlit them with soft lighting to create the illusion of natural light. Instead of finishing the space with drywall, we painted the ceiling black to create height, installed rubber flooring and used floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the front wall. We also incorporated a workout space under the stairs in another D.C. basement.
Q: Have you seen any specialty products that incorporate sanitation technology?
A: We’re seeing a demand for UV lights in HVAC systems to clean the air, as well as UV lights in water lines in pools and hot tubs to reduce the need for chemicals.
Q: What trends are you seeing in outdoor living areas? And what are your tips for making your exterior multifunctional for entertaining and relaxing?
A: People are craving human interaction with family and friends where they don’t have to wear their masks, so outdoor spaces are very popular. Indoor/ outdoor kitchens, outdoor living
rooms and pools are in demand. Everyone wants a three-season space. Some of my favorite elements in creating a great three-season room are heated floors, ceiling fans and a welldesigned opening to the outdoors, such as a garage door or sliding screen door. An outdoor fireplace and landscaping are also must-haves.
Q: What renovations have the highest return value? I want to update my kitchen cabinets and counters, but I also want to do something cool in my tiny backyard/side yard.
A: Landscaping has the highest return on investment with regard to resale. If it’s either/or, I’d go with the backyard. A Solo smokeless firepit ($269.99-$599.99, solostove.com) can create a focal point. Use small hedges for a sense of privacy and to define the outdoor space. Add a water feature if possible.
Q: It seems as if all home-project quotes are wildly expensive. We were surprised at the quotes we received for simple projects, such as a small concrete pour for our driveway. Is this a temporary issue of supply and demand while tons of people are stuck at home?
A: Remember, an estimate is a guess until you have working drawings. Yes, we’re seeing skyrocketing prices due to high demand for renovations and pandemic delays. Whenever something is in high demand, prices increase; however, I believe the current prices are not sustainable. In my opinion, prices will level out, but we don’t know when. It’s unpredictable, and my advice is to be prepared for final costs to be more than anticipated. I have always told this to my clients, but it’s especially true now.
Q: I live in an older home with a low ceiling. How can I make it appear higher?
A: We would raise the header into the framing of the floor above to add height. Also, to create the illusion of height, we often incorporate linear windows that draw the eye up.
Q: How do I bring back the whimsy and fun in my home? After hundreds of days at home, it feels tired and boring.
A: Start with an exterior facelift, which will transform the feeling of your home, so you fall back in love with it. Trim back shrubs and landscaping to allow for more natural light, both outside and inside.
Q: In my basement, I have a floor-to-ceiling fireplace. Are people still painting fireplaces? Should I use a whitewash or regular paint? What color should I use?
A: Painting a fireplace is a key element to finishing an interior space. You can use a metallic or flat finish, depending on the aesthetic you want. Metallic paint is a pleasant surprise in a more contemporary space, and whitewash is great for a more traditional space.
Q: What are the hottest trends in kitchens?
A: Finishes that are easy to maintain are quite popular. Quartzite countertops and smaller grout lines or no grout lines are popular. Steam ovens are one of the most efficient and healthy ways to cook.
Q: I have wood floors that can’t be refinished. Is there a good material that isn’t wood but has its look?
A: A good option is synthetic flooring that looks like hardwood, because it’s maintenance-free and doesn’t crack, warp or shrink.
Q: Is refinishing a basement or remodeling a bathroom better for resale?
A: Remodeling a bathroom is better for resale value, unless you need more space. You use bathrooms every day; you probably won’t use a basement as often.
Q: We want to build a large addition onto our house, but we’ve heard from friends about pandemic-related construction delays. We’re hoping to complete the project by next summer. Is that possible?
A: Your friends are correct. My best piece of advice is to identify the firm you want to work with and start soon. Begin the design process as early as possible, and communicate your needs with your architect. They can help you develop a realistic timeline. A trusting relationship between you and your designers is critical, because you’ll need to make timely decisions when
selecting finishes and materials. As for whether it’s possible, I would say it’s feasible, depending on the size and scope of your addition and the products and finishes in it, but starting the process now is key. Certain materials, such as appliances, have lead times as long as four to six months. Permit timelines are unpredictable. We’re also finding that many homeowners who know what they want are willing to wait to get it, and that pays off in the end.
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Read the rest of this transcript and submit questions to the next chat, Thursday at 11 a.m., at live.washingtonpost.com.