Moved to renovate – Baton Rouge families realize their dream homes with savvy updates, upgrades and additions

A new house can be built from scratch with nearly any amenity a homeowner can dream up. But there are things that few new-construction budgets can buy: A sense of character. An established neighborhood. A personal history with the house—including baby’s first steps and growth spurts documented in pencil on doorframes.

That’s why so many Baton Rouge homeowners choose to remodel their existing homes rather than start from the ground up. Like the three families highlighted in these pages, more and more residents eschew building anew in favor of turning their existing houses into what they’ve always wanted.

“When you love your home, its location and your neighbors, renovating to meet your needs is a great alternative to building a new home or moving away,” says residential designer Matt Voelkel, who recently helmed a remodeling project for Ann and Mark Bowen. (See “Outside the box”)

The uptick in renovations isn’t a trend limited to the Capital City; remodeling rates are higher than ever all around the country. Remodeling of existing homes is anticipated to peak at nearly $151 billion in 2013, up 19.8% from last year, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. What’s causing the surge? Harvard experts say consumer confidence is back to pre-recession levels, and the growth in sales of existing homes is giving new homeowners more opportunities to tackle renovation projects.

But there is something specific to the phenomenon of Louisianans, more than residents of other regions, endeavoring to make their homes grow with them. According to the National Association of Home Builders, markets in energy-producing states, including ours, are projected to be the first in the country to return to normal housing production levels. And even closer to home, the Baton Rouge metropolitan area was recently added to the NAHB’s First American Improving Markets Index, a list of housing markets that are considered to be “on the mend.” The designation comes from having shown improvement in areas including housing permits, employment and house prices for at least six consecutive months.

Home renovations themselves are also growing. “Generally, the evolution of renovations over the past decade has been one that moved from those limited to kitchens and bathrooms to whole-house renovations with additions,” says architect James Sullivan, who serves as chair of LSU’s Department of Interior Design. “These renovations radically change the house in size and sometimes in style.”

Remodeling a home in Louisiana often takes a very different tack from improvement projects elsewhere, because of practical concerns as well as a strong sense of regionalism. “Louisiana homeowners really like living in Louisiana, so they want their houses to feel like they’re in Louisiana, not Tokyo or Sydney,” says architect Kevin Harris, who transformed Sandra and Keith Cox’s home. (See “Radical renaissance”) “The appreciation of culture here is really, really strong.”

That cultural sensibility is reflected in style choices, while the major decisions of what to change and where are rooted in other, geographical considerations. “Climate and lot versus house footprint size are big factors,” says architect Lionel Bailey, who guided Valerie and Stevie Toups’ renovation project. (See “Calm after the storm”) “In northern areas you might see a basement becoming a family space and little emphasis on outdoor living, while in Baton Rouge, family space means indoor and outdoor rooms that focus on pools and patios and yards.”

The key to any successful renovation is keeping the family’s needs—both present and future—in mind. For the Toupses, that meant creating a gracious, open great room for all to gather in, while the Bowens longed for light and lush views and the Coxes sought to capture an exotic romance in the everyday. No matter the motivation, there’s always a moment when the architect knows he has hit his goal.

“To see someone realize the transition that happens when a house becomes a new home after a renovation,” says Bailey, “is very special.”

Check out these remodeling Do’s and Don’ts.