After I had figured out the essential plan of the multi-functional space that was to become my home and ‘the improvised life’s Laboratory, I started bringing friends by to get their opinions and input. I also hired an interior designer to consult for a short time, to consider my ideas, challenge them, add to them, as well as help source the many items I would need, from sinks and plumbing fixtures to door knobs. Hiring a consultant for a fixed amount of time is a good strategy if you you’re don’t have the resources to hire a someone to see the project though, or don’t need start-to-finish service.

I met Scott McFarlane through friends and liked ideas he’d come up with for their recent renovation, as well as his attention to detail. Although I have a strong design sense, it was clear that there was A LOT of things I could use advice on. I hired Scott to consult on critical elements of my plan so architect Emily Johnson could draw up plans that contractors would understand. Scott and I spent many hours in the empty apartment busting holes in walls, tacking up images I’d clipped from design blogs, measuring, brain-storming.

Scott came up with A LOT of clever solutions to some extreme design problems (all pictures below are from the in-process days of the reno).  For starters,he suggested replacing the squat 6’5″ doors with 8′ doors, so their vertical lines would move your eye UP, making the low 8’2″ ceiling look higher. This image of the bedroom-in-progress with spaces for 8′ doors (top) and the bedroom before (bottom) with 6’5″ doors show the dramatic difference:

door size before after splice

…Here, newly-built 8′ tall storage cabinets expand the sense of space…

door size comparison


photo: sally schneider
photo: sally schneider

Scott gamely “explored” what was behind or in the walls. Here, he wanted to see what exposing the concrete block behind the sheetrock might look like….

Scott McFarlane exploring

Although I didn’t always agree with his ideas, the collaboration between us proved to be incredibly useful and illuminating. Scott is great at envisioning possibilities and embraced working with the constraints i.e. challenges-at-hand (and this space had A LOT of them). When we discovered that it would add $20,000 to the budget to raise the ceilings, Scott said: “You don’t have that money; we’ll figure out other solutions“.  And when we hit one particularly gnarly and unexpected obstacle that made my heart sink, he said gamely:  “It’s a wrinkle but it’s not insurmountable”. The very positive gist:  that there were always solutions, and even if we didn’t know the answers at that moment, we’d find them.

Scott introduced me to showrooms that designers generally only inhabit, so I could see a range of possibilities and get the lay-of-the-land…

bath showroom

Scott even spoke to a couple of contractors with me, to clearly convey what it was that I wanted to do — on an extreme budget.

Scott McFarlane w a contractor

I’ll feature some of Scott’s most impressive design solutions in future posts, like the brilliant moving wall that hides a 15′ x 2.5′ workspace, and a refinement that took the corner window illusion to another level!


Scott's drawing

Scott proved to be an invaluable resource in those early stages, a lesson in the usefulness of hiring the occasional ‘expert’ who can help you fulfill your vision and teach you what you need to know, fast.

Related posts: introducing ‘the improvised life’s new ‘laboratory’
sneak peek: improvised life’s new space + our cool optical illusion design solution
project + reno lesson: embrace the unexpected……… things won’t go as planned
home planners and other ways to envision a space
harlem lab renovation: ‘before’ photos
harlem reno: first hang out in the raw space and dream
reno planning: bust holes in walls to find out what’s there!
reno 101: how to find an affordable architectural plan-maker

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6 replies on “budget reno + life strategy: hire a project consultant

  1. I always love these posts about your lab, and would never have put these details together myself: the extra height on the door, and the huge cost of raising a ceiling, (let alone heating that space on a cold day like today.) That mirror /window has always been a favorite of mine. Now I have to look for a photo of that corner with the dining room furniture there..

  2. The mirror window is on the list of things to photograph. Coming soon. (It’s swell!)

  3. I have had the great pleasure to work with Scott – his passion and commitment to his craft is noteworthy – the only thing better than one mad scientist in the laboratory is two mad scientists!! On a more serious note, I have found it makes great sense and is often budget savvy to work w/an “expert” who has immediate resources and experience that help to develop and facilitate your vision – and as a voice of encouragement and support when the challenges arise – which inevitably do.

  4. “… there were always solutions, and even if we didn’t know the answers at that moment…”

    We’re facing our own house renovation, and this post gives me such hope in facing what is a very intimidating and complicated process. It isn’t always easy to discern how well designers communicate until well into the process, a lesson hard-learned through our first architect. We’ve found a second firm, and their skill at conveying ideas and incorporating ours has made them a joy to collaborate with, and we feel the end product will be better for that.

  5. You’ve brought up a great point: communication styles are EVERYTHING, and most problems come from people not communicating effectely, misunderstandings etc. That’s probably the most difficult thing to suss right off the bat. So several early meetings where you ask a lot of hard questions can help. Also, make a great contract/agreement OR work short term.

  6. Drawing things out are very good to do. Make sure you do your home work and look up the sizes online. Renovation can take a long time but worth it.

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