Is it more fun to re-imagine an existing house or dream up a space from scratch? We asked six designers—Arianne Bellizaire, Jessica Duce, Lauren Graback, Jacob Laws, Kevin O’Gara and Avery Solmssen—whether they prefer to work on new construction or renovation projects.
“I prefer renovations. I find it satisfying to be able to preserve an existing property and transform the spaces with updated finishes or new layouts, repair or reuse existing hardware, and salvage what can be made new again. It has been my experience that clients tend to want to renovate for a sentimental reason. Reviving what they love and breathing new life into a home is rewarding.” —Avery Solmssen, Averylily, Honolulu
“I prefer to work on new construction for a few reasons: You don’t have a client living through the madness the way you do with a renovation. In most renovation projects, the clients are there to see the good, bad and ugly of a project’s evolution, and it is very disruptive to their daily routines. In a new construction situation, the client is removed from the day-to-day chaos, and even if they are doing weekly drop-ins on-site, there is a sense of detachment that allows the project to flow. The second reason I prefer new construction projects is because, in many cases, we are at the table early enough to work through layout and flow challenges with the client and architect so that the home functions optimally. We can also incorporate interesting architectural elements and intentionally create visual balance with things like window and door placement from the very beginning stages of the project, instead of the costly process of trying to improve on these elements in an existing home.” —Arianne Bellizaire, Arianne Bellizaire Interiors, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
“Like anything, it’s a matter of the project being the right fit. It’s like dating—you know when you know. I [generally] prefer historic renovations, but I have a few favorite architects who create such gorgeous new builds that I’m sure would be just as fulfilling. I tend to be drawn to old structures—the history, the stories, the architectural integrity, and the re-imagining while paying homage to the past. There is a reverence that a designer pays to the original house because those are the clues you’re given to figure out the puzzle. Plus, there’s something really lovely about layers of time, eras and multigenerational styles stacking up, and utilizing all of those intangible aspects of design to reinvent the story of the space. That’s what I love most.” —Jacob Laws, Jacob Laws Interior Design, Charleston, South Carolina
Pros and cons
“If I had to pick, my favorite is renovations. I like the challenges that tend to come up with working with what you have and needing to re-create what works for the client. I am a bit more creative when I need to work around or modify a home. It is exciting to start from scratch, but I do love whenever we can be more sustainable and update without completely starting over. Drawbacks to new construction in my experience are a lack of realistic timelines. Clients also seem to struggle with scale and decisions made early on that can affect the whole project. On the other hand, the drawback to renovations is that you really never know what is going to be behind the walls. Even if the client has drawings, there are always surprises. On the remodel of my own home, when they opened up one of the walls, they found a bowl that someone had placed to collect a slow leak. Crazy!” —Jessica Duce, JDuce Design, Spring, Texas
“I prefer working on renovation projects. While new construction allows a level of customization that renovation sometimes cannot, I love how renovation projects present challenges that allow you to problem-solve and be creative in ways that new construction doesn’t always push you to do. I particularly love working on historic renovations where I’m able to honor the original character of the home while weaving in the personality of the current homeowners.” —Lauren Graback, Studio Piacere, New York
“As a designer who appreciates constraints, I find renovations to be the most satisfying design puzzles. They typically give a helpful foundation for how a client is living and the background they’re coming from. New construction gets trickier because you are redefining your client’s lifestyle from the ground up, so it’s most helpful to get in as early as possible to avoid inefficiencies or wasteful replacements in the interior selections. This also requires a respectful collaboration with the builder, so in some ways you are managing multiple clients!” —Kevin O’Gara, Kevin Francis Design, Atlanta