Remodeling? Here’s where you can start

Jeanine Matlow

Making structural changes to your home can be a major undertaking. So when a Homestyle reader who is considering a two-story addition wrote that she didn’t know where to begin, I knew she was not alone.

Even after discussing the project with others, the Plymouth homeowner still felt unsure about the first step. Should she begin with a designer, an architect or a builder?

I spoke with two local pros who offer suggestions for getting a construction project off the ground.

Barbi Krass, director of design for Colorworks Studio at the Michigan Design Center in Troy, recommends a team approach.

“If the three disciplines work together and have a relationship, it makes all the difference in the world,” she says.

Initially, Krass suggests meeting with a designer who is well versed in construction, both in terms of specifications and communication.

“It’s really a good idea to communicate your wish list to a builder and an architect through a designer,” she says.

For instance, an architect might have a blueprint that shows a window going all the way down to the floor when the homeowner wants a desk on that wall.

The designer knows the intention for the room and can work out these details in advance, making the project more economical in the end.

“It is then the builder’s job to execute the plan,” says Krass.

When all three use the same program, like CAD, it’s easier for everyone to stay in sync. “It’s really effective to be working from the same platform,” she says.

In the end, Krass says it’s all about communication. “It’s a very fluid project when there’s mutual respect. If your team hasn’t worked together before, make sure there’s synergy and they want to work together.”

A good team will also manage your expectations so that you’re happy with the end result.

Sam Dworkin, owner of On-Site Building in Sterling Heights, says it’s often a good idea to start with an architect and designer when working on an addition. “It’s a good way to get the whole concept and bring it to the builder to see what’s feasible,” he says.

Once the customer approves, then the builder can get involved.

Dworkin also says it’s important to make sure your builder is licensed and insured. “Get references and ask to see their work on their website,” he says. “A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

It might also be possible to see a project in person.

“You want someone who will treat your house like it was their own,” says Dworkin. “We put in the proposal that we’ll clean up at the end of the day and we make sure the homeowner doesn’t feel like a stranger in their own home.”

Lastly, get everything in writing. “Have a contract and a signed payment plan,” he says. “Make sure you have everybody’s expectations set up front with change orders, etc. You want to have all your ducks in a row.”

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Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at