For most people, sometimes even experienced designers and contractors, the toughest part of a remodeling project is visualizing what the space is going to look like afterward. A set of plans is a great first step, of course, but they often don’t give you the three-dimensional perspective you need to really see the room and experience perspectives, traffic patterns, light, and all the rest.
So, once the demolition is complete and the room is bare, do some simple experimenting. This should occur before anything goes back in, including wiring, plumbing and drywall, since this is your one opportunity to make changes in the original plans if you catch something you don’t like.
Get it on tape
The easiest place to start is on the floor, with masking tape. Refer to your plans and tape out the major immovable components of the remodel, such as walls and cabinets. By doing this full-scale right on the floor, you’ll see firsthand how the room begins to close in certain areas and how traffic patterns begin to emerge.
If you’re adding new windows or doors, use newspaper and tape to create them full size on the walls, in their exact locations. Again, this will give you a much better visualization of how they interact with the flow of the room.
Break out some cardboard
Now it’s time to get even more creative and do some three-dimensional building with cardboard. It’s an extra step, especially at a time when you’re anxious to get the real wood and nails flying, but a little time spent here can save you some critical mistakes.
Using cardboard, tape, light wood such as 1-by-1-inch or 2-by-2-inch, and a staple gun, build some full-scale models of some of the major components of the room. Large, used cardboard boxes are often available from appliance and furniture stores — ask first — and you can cut them up and piece them together as needed. They don’t need to be pretty, just the correct size.
For example, for a kitchen remodel, you may want to lay out cardboard counters at the correct height, supported by cardboard legs, then build a three dimensional cardboard island. This will really let you see firsthand if you have enough room for all that. On the floor, tape out the dimensions of the open dishwasher door, or the swing of the refrigerator door, and verify firsthand that you’re comfortable with all the clearances.
Another good use of all this cardboard and newspaper is to help you see what’s going to happen to the light in a room. When you first strip everything out, there’s nothing to block all the light streaming in from the windows. But what happens when those wall cabinets go up in the kitchen, or when that tall linen storage cabinet gets set in the bathroom?
You can either build a cardboard cabinet of the proper size, or simply tape newspaper to some strings and then pin the strings to the ceiling in the proper locations — anything that will block the light from the windows in the same way the new cabinets will. Then you can assess how much of an impact they’ll have, and perhaps move them or alter them if needed.
Top it off with some fake furniture
Furniture is another thing that dramatically impacts traffic flow, but often doesn’t get taken into consideration until after the remodeling is complete. Here’s your opportunity to do it beforehand, and perhaps make a critical change or two.
With all that tape on the floor, you have a good layout of where all the walls, cabinets and other main components are going to be located. Using some cardboard, make full-scale, two-dimensional models of any large pieces of furniture, such as a couch, dining room table or bed. These don’t need to be three-dimensional, since you’re concerned only about how the footprint will affect traffic patterns, so just tape together several pieces of cardboard and then cut them to the correct final dimension.
Label your creation so you remember which piece of furniture it is, then you can move it into different locations to try different room layouts. Once again, this full-scale playroom will let you make any necessary changes to your original plan.
Once you’re happy with everything, leave the tape in place on the floor for the time being. As long as you’ve placed it accurately, it’s a great help to the electrician for taking measurements when placing can lights and ceiling boxes!