Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Alex and I have been renovation super stars for the last 2 years. We’ve completely transformed the first floor and are working on the second floor of our home and did almost all of the work ourselves. 

But sometimes it’s nice to leave certain things to professionals. Like a kitchen renovation.

Our kitchen is a decent size. It’s much larger than what you typical end up with in an older Toronto home. But it’s ugly as sin. And it’s a giant square with a pretty inefficient layout.

Alex and I could have installed a new floor, new kitchen cabinets and even handled the plumbing, but we wanted a completely new space. Something that was not only beautiful but was functional too.

That’s why we decided to hire an architect. Not an interior designer. An architect. We wanted someone who would transform our house, not just renovate it.


Alex and I had a basic list of things we wanted:

  • A new kitchen (fully functional, open concept to the rest of the house, somewhere to eat breakfast, lots of storage)
  • A new bathroom (with sink and toilet)
  • A place to take off boots and coats (and store them)
  • A connection to the backyard (via new windows and deck)
  • Some structural changes (like new stairs and the removal of that damn structural wall in our dining room)

That’s where we started, anyways.

We’ve never hired an architect before and we weren’t really sure what to expect.

Finding an Architect

The first step was finding some architects to meet with. I knew some people from work who had had work done on their homes, so I asked for recommendations. We got the names of two people who came highly recommended. I also did a lot of googling and looking at websites (as well as Houzz) and found some interesting ones as well.

In the end, we met with the two who came recommended and a third who we found on Houzz.

The Consultation

The consultation is very important. The architect we found on Houzz billed us for her time but the other two met with us for free (which is the norm). They all met us at our house and looked around to get an idea of what we had to work with.

The Proposal

After each consultation, the architects provided a proposal for their work. It was strictly about their fees and their role in the project. Some were open to negotiation, others were more stringent. In the end, the estimate for fees turned out to be between 14-18% of construction costs. It wasn’t surprising to us (we work on major construction projects and design fees are usually about 15%), but when it’s your own money it feels like a lot. At the same time, if the design isn’t good, then the rest doesn’t matter, so it’s well worth it (in my opinion, anyways).

Real Estate Check-Up

Before we confirmed our scope and hired an architect, we met with our real estate agent to give us advice on our scope. This meeting is where things changed significantly. He recommended that we finish the basement and place our bathroom downstairs instead of trying to cram it into the kitchen. Renovating the basement would give us an entire extra floor of living space, which would yield great returns. He didn’t think we should replace the stairs, however. They’re expensive and we’d be losing a lot of character. 


When we added everything up – the kitchen renovation, new stairs and underpinning – we were looking at a $160k+ renovation (plus contingency). 

We decided that we simply didn’t want to take on such a massive project at this time, so we decided to phase the work. Phase 1 would include a new basement (underpinning, new drains, a bathroom reno) and Phase 2 would include the kitchen renovation. Phase 1 would happen this summer, but Phase 2 would have to wait a year.

Hiring an Architect

We were originally going to work with the fanciest architect we met with (the one who billed us for her consultation) but we decided that we would work with our second choice for the basement renovation. Not only was she much more flexible in terms of scope, but she would also work with us to create something that we could build ourselves. Plus, if this goes well, we might end up hiring her for our kitchen renovation.

Our architect will program the basement (meaning she lays everything out for us, but doesn’t do a detailed design of the space) but include enough detail so that our underpinners know exactly where to put the drains.

So now we’re not doing a kitchen renovation anymore, but instead doing a basement renovation! It’s far less sexy, but I think it’s the right choice!

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