You’ve been dreaming about that house for years. You’ve planned the kitchen cabinets you’ll use and which tiles will adorn the bathroom. You’ve chosen the dining table and the color of the walls
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Ah, but is your checklist complete? Did you mention to the contractor that you picked decorator floor tiles for the bathroom that require a special sealant? Did you neglected to tell the architect you’d purchased a wider-than-average refrigerator that will take up more kitchen space than the plans give it. Did you give good thought to how much stuff you’ve accumulated over the years – a diaper changer you’re saving for you future daughter in law and the exercise machine you’ve promised yourself you’ll take out of storage? Have you left enough storage space for it all?
The seemingly endless, and often boring, details often get overlooked or get lost in the communications between homeowner, architect, builder and subcontractors.
It’s not much consolation after you’ve shelled out a few thousand unbudgeted shekels to move a wall or discover your bath floor coming undone a few months after it was put in, but you’re not the exception. We all make mistakes like these and we all realize them when it’s too late, since we didn’t devote enough time to planning, or because we chase after popular trends or prepare a budget that is off the mark.
Usually, these mistakes stem from the fact that we haven’t grasped that homes are a complex product that have to address functional as well as aesthetic concerns that often clash. The planning has to take into account physical and financial limitations, as well as seeing the big picture of how the apartment will look and function, together with the little picture of details such as faucets and electrical outlets.
Looking at the technical plans that contractors append to contracts illustrates just how complex a home really is, even when it’s a standard model.
Here’s a list of common mistakes that are made in the planning stage, along with some useful tips that may help you avoid them.
Leaving the planning till the end
Planning a new home or the renovation of an older one is a long and costly process, involving many professionals. The first and probably most significant mistake many Israelis make is to avoid in-depth planning, jumping straight into the stages that are more fun, such as choosing a living room sofa and light fixtures. However, planning itself requires aforethought.
“If you don’t plan adequately and do the preliminary work involved, many problems can crop up later,” says architect-interior designer Einat Cohen-Gritzman, who specializes in planning in kitchens and bathrooms “For example, if you know in advance that you want a refrigerator with an ice maker, the contractor will install a water outlet behind it. If you remember it too late, he’ll have to open up the wall again, which will cost you extra. Without pre-planning, you create problems for the contractor, which holds up completion of the project and costs you more.”
A bathroom for each room
Contractors today often build apartments with a bathroom for each bedroom. That is supposed to radiate affluence but unless you are seriously affluent enough to own a very big home property consider what you are losing.
“We see this often in projects designed by contractors because it’s considered more elegant, but in practice the result is smaller rooms and tiny bathrooms,” says architect Tehila Shelef. “Public spaces become limited, since everyone in the house has their own bathroom. Guest toilets are small, with sinks that get installed in awkward spots because there’s no other way to fit them in. It only makes sense to have a bathroom for every room when you live in a huge villa.”
The neighbor’s living room is greener
Israelis love to follow decorating the latest decorating trends, even when they make no sense and in any case we’ll look dated in a few years. They are influenced by what they see at their friends’ homes, even friends who have a completely different lifestyle.
“They see a huge window in their friends’ kitchen and immediately want the same for theirs, even if their kitchen faces pipes running down the side of the adjacent building rather than a tree-lined boulevard,” says Shelef. “I recommend sticking with classic and timeless styles, since a home isn’t a sofa that you replace every few years. Forget the trends and keep in mind what really suits your personal needs.”
Too many appliances overwhelm the kitchen
One of the focal points of any house, a modern kitchen has more appliances than any other room to fit into limited space. “Many things have to fit into the kitchen,” says interior designer Iris Shamir, “beginning with the larger appliances such as the fridge and oven and ending with smaller ones like a water bar, a coffee machine, a microwave oven, a kettle and toaster If you don’t leave a reasonable space between one kitchen work area and another, you’ll be left with a tiny spot for cutting your vegetables. You have to work with a precise list of items and see what goes where, and which utensils go into which cupboard.”
The fridge is too large for the space
Another common mistake is not leaving enough space for a large appliance and then purchasing a refrigerator or oven that doesn’t fit. “I worked with a couple who did major renovations, which included planning a niche for a refrigerator,” says Eran Siv, chairman of the Association of Renovation Contractors in Israel. “They proceeded to buy a side-by-side refrigerator that didn’t fit into the niche, which added significantly to the cost of the job, since the niche had to be redone. This happens with ovens, too. Older ovens were almost always 70 or 80 centimeters [approximately 28-32 inches] wide, while today they come as wide as 120 centimeters or more.”
Open spaces can spell trouble
Open spaces have many advantages but one major drawback is that they often reveal what you might prefer to keep hidden. A kitchen that opens onto the living room risks guests seeing a sink full of dishes and a cluttered countertop. A parental bathroom open to the sleeping area, children or guests may see things that are best left behind closed doors.
“It’s true that this is trendy, but it’s not always appropriate,” says Shelef. “The main question is how open to leave things, completely or partially? Sometimes it looks great, with an open vista from one end of the apartment to the other, but you shouldn’t insist on it at all costs.”
Storage: Too much or too little
The more people live in a home, the more storage space they need, especially as many people have a tendency to hoard. The problem is that we don’t always correctly assess the amount of stuff we have and don’t plan the right amount of storage space. That mistake can cut both ways, with either too little or too much space.
“If you don’t have enough storage, things will just lie around the house, creating a mess and an aesthetic problem,” Shamir notes. “So it’s important to understand what we actually have and how much storage space should be allocated for it. For instance, the planning should allow for closets that are sufficiently tall and deep, so that access is easy.”
Siv talks about the opposite situation: Planning too much storage space and then having nothing to fill it with. This often comes at the expense of other space in the house. “I had a client who wanted a large closet and gave up two rooms for it. He miscalculated and ultimately the closet remained half empty. It’s very hard to estimate the space needed for storage, and it’s easy to make mistakes when planning how much is actually needed.
You’re a couple now, but you’ll be a family
Most of buyers and renovators focus on the present, forgetting that in a few years family circumstances and needs may be different. We may need more rooms for new or growing children, or space for hosting overnight guests. “I don’t think we should build a house that will suit us for the next 30 years, but we shouldn’t think only of the next two or three years either,” says Shamir. “If you’re a young couple, plan an apartment that will suit a family within a few years; try to include an extra room for children. If you’re an older couple whose children are already thinking of leaving home, that requires a different type of planning, such as more space for hosting guests, or a more spacious parental unit at the expense of the other bedrooms.”
A new living room without old sofas
You’ve taken down walls, set up a kitchen with the best appliances and chosen the most beautiful tiles for the bathroom -- but when the time comes to furnish the apartment, you’ve run out of money. After investing in the larger and more significant items, you move into a new apartment that has a shabby living room, with furniture that doesn’t match the rest of the apartment in size and color. Instead of a glorious living room, you’ve created an eyesore.
“This is why I always ask about the budget before we begin,” says Shamir. “I don’t need precise figures but it’s important to know if we’re talking about 200,000 shekels or 900,000 shekels [$50,000-$225,000]. We need to list the expenses in great detail, not forgetting even items that seem small, such as a coffee should be carried out with a budget in mind, so you don’t end up spending 8,000 shekels on a kitchen faucet when you haven’t budgeted for living room curtains.”
The dining table dominates the space
You’ve left enough money for furniture and appliances, and you want to give the apartment a warm and inviting look. You need to prepare before going shopping.
“Many people go on a shopping expedition and choose furniture that looks outstanding,” says the architect-designer Cohen-Gritzman. “They bring it home only to discover that it takes over the entire space. Some people buy an expensive painting and then frame it, only to discover it’s lost on the large wall where it’s hung. To avoid this, it’s important to take pictures of the relevant space in the apartment and go shopping with a measuring tape in hand. When you see something you like, measure it carefully and see if it’s right for the space it will occupy in the house.”