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Making the Most Out of a Remodel

Celebrity designer Hilary Farr shares her tips.

By Rebecca L. Rhoades

Nobody understands the effect a quality renovation can have on a house and its occupants like Hilary Farr does. For more than a decade, the Toronto-born, London-raised interior designer has been convincing unhappy TV families to stay in their current residences by transforming their properties and giving the frustrated owners all the features they crave. As co-host of HGTV’s popular “Love It or List It,” which entered its 12th season this past November, Farr takes tired, outdated and cramped dwellings and re-imagines them into stylish and, most importantly, functional abodes.

We caught up with Farr, who recently launched Hilary Farr Designs, a trio of furnishings, rugs and lighting collections with well-known manufacturers Braxton Culler, Kaleen and Grandview Gallery, to talk about her do’s and don’ts for making the most of your current living situation.

Interior designer Hilary Farr is known for the stylish home makeovers she performs on HGTV’s “Love It or List It.” She gave this once-isolated and drab kitchen new life by knocking down a wall, reconfiguring the appliances and adding bright white cabinets and a large center island.

Phoenix Home & Garden: What are the main reasons people choose to remodel their homes?

Hilary Farr: Usually, the decision comes down to space. The homeowners feel that their house is too chopped up. They want to create open concepts and connect main living areas, not just visually but also physically and functionally. Another reason is that they feel they are busting at the seams; that they just don’t have enough space. For example, the number of bedrooms doesn’t work anymore, or they need an extra bathroom. Today’s homeowners also read design magazines and seek out ideas on the internet or TV. This gives them a huge window into possibilities they never knew could be achieved. These outlets have really opened up people’s minds to what their own houses can be as opposed to just making do with them or moving on.

PHG: How do you know when it’s best to remodel or find a new residence?

Farr: One of the most important factors is location. If you want your children to have the continuity of staying in a certain school, you have a huge connection with your neighbors or

you’re simply in a neighborhood that functions well on all levels, then renovation is definitely the way to go. Beyond that, it’s all about value. You don’t want to put too much into improvement and find that you have this dreamy home but you now live in the most expensive house on your street, unless you know you’re going to stay there for at least 10 years in order to see a return on your investment.

PHG: When should one call in a professional?

Farr: I tell people to shy away from anything that is complicated. Bathrooms present a lot of difficulties. It’s very easy to rip out a bathroom, but it’s not that simple to put everything back together again. There are all sorts of code issues that DIYers don’t know about, such as clearances for water closets, for example. If you re-install a tub, you have to make sure that the overflow is working properly and that the floor can carry the weight. If you’re tearing down walls, you could create new problems, such as removing a load-bearing wall, or come across really expensive things that you weren’t counting on, including wiring or plumbing that needs to be replaced or uneven flooring. An expert in the field can give you an educated estimate about what they anticipate finding.

PHG: How can an interior designer help someone make the most of a home remodel?

Farr: We’re very good at re-imagining space. First of all, we’re fresh eyes. Beyond that, we can usually tell which walls are doing what in terms of structure. Designers know how to use textures, paints, wallpapers, trim and flooring to completely transform the way a space looks and feels. We help with the scale of your furniture and can figure out which rug is going to create a personality, a uniqueness, a beauty that wasn’t there in a perfectly ordinary room.

PHG: What single change can make the greatest impact?

Farr: It’s such a cliché, but the kitchen truly is the heart of the home. That’s why so much time and effort is spent on kitchen remodels. Renovating this room can affect how a home functions. Taking down a wall, widening an opening or creating that connection I mentioned earlier can also add value not only to your house but to your life, as well.

PHG: What are some simple ways to update a house?

Farr: Think about your biggest square-footage areas. If you have hardwood floors, refinishing them and staining  them in a different color will transform your home. Change up the paint on the walls. Choose interesting colors or consider adding some wallpaper. Lighting is one of the most important elements in any room. Add sconces or lamps. Improve the entire ambience of a space by installing dimmer switches. In the kitchen, change the backsplash, or if the cabinetry is perfectly fine but you don’t like the doors anymore, reface them. Add new hardware, and you’ve got a new kitchen. Refresh the bathroom with new towel bars, a new faucet and some gorgeous, fluffy towels. Upgrade the mirror or replace a messy shower curtain with a glass enclosure. Little things can make a huge difference.

The streamlined column of the Hyde Park Table Lamp by Hilary Farr Designs for Grandview Gallery is accentuated by a classically dimensional pattern in a hip saffron crackle glaze. “Yellow is back, and it’s really resonating,” says the designer of the brilliant shade that has crossed over from fashion into interiors.

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