Things to Avoid When Renovating…by Someone Who Has Done It a Dozen Times

published Jun 8, 2016
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(Image credit: Provided by Robert Novogratz)

The Hollywood Hills castle is the 12th home we’ve designed for ourselves. Our first project was a townhouse in Chelsea NYC in 1996. Along the way we’ve been pretty proud of most of the homes we’ve done, but in hindsight we’ve made many mistakes — due to inexperience, to budget, to trends — you name it. We’ve learned that whether you intend on staying in your house or selling it two years later, you should always think about resale value, as many times your own personal taste might not be the taste of the majority of the prospective buyers looking at your home.

We’ve always walked a fine line of doing something unique yet still appealing to the community. People’s tastes have changed in the last 20 years, as the world is becoming more and more homogenized; so many of us are lucky enough to be able access great design through the internet, yet as a result, people latch onto trends and all design starts to look the same. As much as we pull inspiration from others, as all designers, artists and musicians do, we try with each project for the home to be a reflection of us, not of the latest design blog. As a result, even though most of our homes have sold at record prices, many of them took longer to sell than most people would like. Not everyone has wanted the unique touches we’ve enjoyed putting on projects.

We’ll tell you a few mistakes we made.

We’ve learned that whether you intend on staying in your house or selling it two years later, you should always think about resale value, as many times your own personal taste might not be the taste of the majority of the prospective buyers looking at your home.

(Image credit: Provided by Robert Novogratz)

The most fun we’ve ever had on a job was building an entire home with artifacts from Paris. Cortney and I love Paris – we went there on our honeymoon. We were inspired by Balthazar, a French bistro that had just opened in SoHo when we were building the home in the 90s. We did some really cool things within that house, the coolest probably being the cathedral windows we incorporated. Yet, we made the house way too personal. We brought in an entire bar from Paris, used colorful tiles, and had custom windows made. We loved the house, don’t get us wrong. But not every buyer wanted the house to look like a French bistro.

(Image credit: Provided by Robert Novogratz)

One of our best houses we’ve built was on the west side highway in New York. We pushed it a little with the art on the house. We covered the facade of the house and garage with colorful siding made by London’s Richard Woods, who we’ve always loved. The facade garnered international attention, photos, and press, but it was way too specific for most contemporary buyers. In renovating, there’s always a double edged sword; if you build something super contemporary or traditional and someone wants that, you may get a better price for your house. But if your house is taste-specific and doesn’t fall into one of those categories (and this one certainly didn’t), you may have a tougher time finding a buyer at a decent price. Luckily, we still ended up selling the house at a great price, but it was not easy.

(Image credit: Provided by Robert Novogratz)

One house we designed that was great and sold at a record price was 5 Centre Market Place in Nolita. We painted the walls white and installed oak floors that didn’t break the bank. We used pops of color in the window treatments and art. We spent money on the windows, which made the house.

We’ve noticed that spending money on the basics – the windows, the kitchen, the bathrooms- really is an investment that gives back. Because the property was such a canvas, it appealed to more people than other properties we’ve designed and had more prospective buyers. We’ve also designed a few boutique hotels and have found that people love the boutique experience of mostly white walls and of open spaces, as long as fun and humor are incorporated in the space in some way.

We took these lessons we learned to the Hollywood Hills castle. We updated the house but kept its bones mostly black and white—contemporary yet classic. We spent the most money on Schotten & Hansen wood floors and on Torrance steel windows, feeling both would be create a great canvas for the house. We’re known for color, but where we did use color, it was very muted— a soft pink in the master bedroom, a navy focal wall in the kitchen, and a powder blue on the ceiling of the turret. Paint can always be changed to white, so there’s no risk. We felt that keeping the house more uniform, similar to Centre Market Place, will bring more people to the table when we eventually decide to sell, and if you know anything about us, we eventually will sell.

New York and L.A. are obviously two different places. In New York people pay a premium for location, whereas in L.A. people not only consider location but also space. This heavily influenced where we spent our money in the renovation; we made the outdoor landscaping a priority and invested in Dedon outdoor furniture which totally made the outdoor space. We pulled inspiration from the SoHo house in West Hollywood, which is wildly popular, and created a dining area outdoors that’s timeless and festive.

We’ve also noticed that in L.A. the materials are less modern overall than in New York. We took a cue and gave the home a country modern vibe (if that’s really a design scheme), and took chances with graphic tile designed by Commune, a group of designers that are super popular in southern California. Yet we still incorporated what we love about New York living— loft styled spaces— and opened up small rooms to make larger, open spaces. We raised ceilings where we could, which didn’t cost a lot but gave the rooms a much grander feeling. We also installed a sound system throughout the home. We’ve worked with everyone from Bose to Crestron, and we couldn’t be happier with the Sonos system we installed. It’s so easy all 9 of us can operate it. There’s nothing like walking from room to room and hearing the same music playing. The beauty of designing a home with a boutique hotel vibe is that you can rent it out through sites like One Fine Stay and earn back the money you spent renovating it. With 7 kids, we’re always hustling to make a dollar, and so we’re always open to renting the spaces we design.

We hope this is helpful if you’re thinking about resale value. No matter how wonderful your specific tastes are, if you sell your house, the buyer will always want to make the home their own. Even if you never sell, your tastes might change over time. If you build your house with that in mind, you can change your home’s look more affordably with art and furnishings and keep your home more as a template.

Things To Avoid When Renovating:

  • Expensive finishes just because. On one project we installed zebra wood, which is not only the best wood in the world but also some of the most expensive, and looking back we should have stuck to quarter sawn white oak, which is a fraction of the price and still as effective.
  • Expensive appliances just because. We installed a Traulsen refrigerator on one project, which was one of the most expensive refrigerators on the market at the time. It broke all the time. Expensive doesn’t always mean the best.
  • Bold exteriors. Putting art on the facade of your house is pretty cool but might not be as cool to the neighbors.
  • Wallpaper everywhere. If you’re going to install wallpaper, use it on a focal wall instead of going crazy with it. Wallpaper is very specific and tough to take down.
  • Complicated technology. It’s great when everything is pre-wired but make sure it’s as simple as possible to use, otherwise you won’t be able to use it unless you’re an MIT grad. What ever happened to the on and off buttons?