Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top 5 Tips for Renovating an Old House

Each time my wife and I finish renovating a home, I tell myself that I will never fix up an older home again.  And yet, I find myself in the midst of yet another time consuming, budget sucking makeover that is sure to last well into the next decade.  Each time we finish a house, we suddenly get bored and romanticize about the next project around the corner.  I fully understand the appeal of wanting to buy something unloved and turn it your own masterpiece.  The reality however, is that most people are not really good at managing a project like this and jump into it with both eyes closed.  To that end, I've put together my Top 5 tips for those about to leap. Having done this dozens of times for myself as well as clients, I can honestly say that these are the best lessons to learn:

1- Don't do any work immediately unless you have to.

I understand your old home may need a new roof or a heating system or something else really important.  However I have seen too many homeowners take down walls or rip out kitchens well before they should have.  I always advise people to live in the home for 6 months before doing anything major.  Experience how the sun moves through your home.  Figure out where the cold leaks in or where you may need to change doors.  This kind of exercise will not only save you money in the long run, but allow you to make more informed decisions about what changes are necessary.



This kitchen didn't require a full gut as originally planned.

2- Don't start work without a REAL budget.

Most homeowners have no idea how much things really cost.  The internet is full of bad information on how to 'do it yourself' and save thousands.  I once had a client who spent over $1000 on tile that he installed himself and wondered why the tiles were all popping off of the floor.  Products like tile have associated components (underlayments, grouts, sealers) that go well beyond the cost of just the tile itself.  He ended up having to rip all the tile out and start over.  There is also no substitute for qualified labor, which is not cheap.  I would suggest getting bids from a qualified contractor for anything you want to tackle.  Even if you don't use them, it's good to get a reality check before starting any project.  You can also hire an Architect to give you some ideas and estimates based on their recent projects.

3- Use the internet as a tool, not as a school.

Websites like Houzz and Youtube give people lots of inspiration and advice on how to create the home of their dreams.  There is nothing wrong with using Pinterest or Houzz to save boards full of ideas you can take and make your own.  Be careful though when it comes to implementing those ideas.  Just as colors look different on different screens, you must be familiar with the existing conditions and the nuances of different environments.   People who have installed wood floors in humid climates often find that the floors don't stay down for long.  Professionals understand these things and videos are no substitute for hands on experience.

4- Understand your goals.

Are you renovating a starter home that you plan to sell in five years?  Do you plan on never moving and raising a family here?  Make a list of the top priorities you have for the renovation and then determine if those make sense with your goals.  It may be cool to turn your garage into a great home theater  but your future buyers may not think so.  

5- Be honest with yourself as to how much you can do.  

There is nothing more frustrating than living in a renovation that never ends.  It places a great strain on a relationship as well as makes it difficult to move on with your life.  If you have a realistic budget in place, plan to get some help with the tougher stuff that might take you alot of time.  You might be able to lay a wood floor in a weekend, but tiling a bathroom could possibly take you a month of weekends or more.  If you follow steps 1-4, this one should be pretty easy to figure out.

In closing, remember that your home is your castle.  Fixing it up may be alot of work, but the rewards can also be great.  If you take your time and do it right, you are more likely to protect your investment as opposed to becoming a cautionary tale. Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Job Hunting 101: How to apply for a job in Design

Although today is a cold winter's day in the Northeast, Spring and Summer will be here before you know it. Many students will be on the hunt for new jobs and internships and it is never to early to start your search.  We tend to get ALOT of applications and resumes and I am always amazed at how applicants choose to showcase their talents.  I don't know who is responsible today for teaching the fundamentals of resume and cover letter writing, but I can tell you there is a definite shortage of those people.  I actually try to respond to most applicants because I feel most employers probably just delete poor applications.   This year I wanted to go a step further by putting together a brief list of things to consider when applying for a job.  Most of these are specific to Design, although I'm sure you could apply them to most vocations. 

Rule #1 - A Cover Letter is Important

I can't tell you how many people don't include a cover letter in their application.  For me a cover letter serves as an introduction to how a candidate carries themselves.  It displays attention to detail, how they speak, and if they have a personality.  A cover letter should be its own document, not  a paragraph in an e-mail.  It should be on some sort of letterhead (ideally one that you designed) and it should be free of grammatical and spelling errors.  In my opinion, it should also be tailored to the firm you are applying to.  In a perfect world, the candidate should be familiar with the kind of work that we do and why they are applying to work with us.  

Rule #2 - Sweat the details

Design is all about details.  The more attention you pay to your details, the more confidence that I have about hiring you to pay attention to mine.  Look at the e-mail address you are using for your contact information.  It should be a professional address at a known domain.  You wouldn't believe the weird e-mail addresses I've seen.  Also, make sure to send PDF documents that can be opened easily.  Don't send Word files that change on the user when they open them.  If I don't have the font that you used to create your document it won't look right when I open it.  Note what the hiring company is requesting in the ad.  If they ask for a portfolio, send a portfolio in a separate document.  Don't send me a link to a web site where I have to look for your work.  Also make sure your skills match what the employer is requesting.  If they are looking for an industrial designer, make sure your resume isn't focusing on interior design.  Again, it all sounds pretty basic but very few people take the time to get this stuff right.

Rule #3 - Find a way to stand out

Not everyone can have the best resume or portfolio.  That doesn't mean you wouldn't make a great employee.  You can still get my attention by doing some simple things.  In the cover letter demonstrate that you have at least looked at my web site and have an opinion on our work.  Make sure that your resume looks like you 'designed' it since you are supposed to be a 'designer'.  Look on the web for examples of great resumes by graphic designers and Architects.  A resume doesn't have to be electronic only.  Don't hesitate to print out a cover letter and resume and send it by mail in a flat envelope.  Something that lands on my desk is more likely to be seen than something that lands in my inbox.  Be creative.  Include a card with your best recipe in your application.  People remember things like that.

Rule #4 - Don't avoid your weaknesses - embrace them

Most resumes have huge gaps in them.  Whether it's a particular skill set or strange dates of employment, they are always there.  I don't have time to play detective as to why the parts don't add up.  If you are lacking a particular skill address it in your cover letter.  You might say "I realize that I don't have an extensive background in 3D modeling but I am currently working with the software and expect to achieve proficiency within eight weeks."  If you worked at a supermarket instead of a good firm, discuss what skills you learned there that might be applicable.  The most successful people don't start out successful.  They get there by working through adversity and making the best out of each opportunity.  

Rule #5 - EDIT, EDIT, EDIT

If you are applying to an employer that you have never met before, you have to put your best foot forward.  You may have four or five years of school work, but I don't want to see it all.  I want to see the best of those years.  10 great images are better than 40 average ones with 10 great ones mixed in.  Trust me on this one. The ability to critique one's self is a mature and desirable attribute.  If you aren't able to objectively look at your work then you won't last long in a collaborative environment.  That's not to say you can't bring them to the interview and pull one out if the conversation turns that way.  I'm just saying it's easier to get your foot in the door if you only show the best of your best.

This goes true for resumes too.  I don't need to know that you had four part time jobs while you were in high school.  I don't care if you haven't had any jobs provided that you acknowledge this and turn it into a strength.  Adding filler to any resume to make it look substantial never works.  I'd rather see candidates add images of their work to the page than a lot of irrelevant information.  If you're not sure about what you should put on the page, go to your career center or a job fair to get some critiques before you send anything out.  A little investment in this area goes a long way.  

Alot of the above information seems like common sense but I can honestly say that in the hundreds of resumes and applications that I have received only a handful have followed these rules.  Put your best foot forward and follow these rules and I can guarantee you will have a higher rate of response from prospective employers.

Good Luck out there!