Remodeling rules to live by

Fancy finishes won't make up for lousy floor plan

One Sunday a while back, I dropped by an open house that had just been remodeled and put on the market. It was a speculative renovation, otherwise known as a "flip." In keeping with the usual modus operandi of such projects, the builder had refitted the modest mid-1960s rancher with shiny granite countertops, gridded plastic windows, glossy prefinished flooring, and so on.

This familiar slate of so-called upgrades, as painfully predictable as it was, wasn’t the real problem, though. The builder had also made some heavy-handed changes to the home’s original floor plan, evidently hell-bent on pumping it up to the overblown market standards of recent years. And here he made a classic amateur mistake: So busy was he swaddling the place in glitzy finishes that he completely overlooked a number of eye-popping flaws in his "improved" design.

The worst of these was the layout of the entry and living room — probably the very last place you want to screw up a house. The builder, convinced that a really huge living room would impress potential buyers, had combined the former living room and master bedroom areas into one gigantic rectangular room with — drum roll please — no windows at all.

Oh, the front door (which led directly into the room, another no-no) did have some glass in it, but this captured only the feeble light from a shadowy, roofed-over porch. Rather than the effect of extravagant space the builder was after, his living area felt more like the rumpus room in a church basement.