Dare To Change Your Interior Configuration
Updated: Oct 6
It seems almost impossible to switch or move your kitchen or bathroom to another part of your property. Yet DBe founder Tambi Kat says that ambitious projects like these are not only do-able but often offer a great value enhancer for your home when it comes time to sell. “In most cases, changing a bathroom to a kitchen and vice versa is usually a big deal, depending on the location of waste lines in vicinity to these spaces,” he says. Two major considerations in interior reconfigurations (and where most of the time and expense appear): the structural work and the plumbing relocation; more specifically, waste line relocations. Waste lines are “gravity fed” downward, so planning takes some thought and strategy.
Unlike waste lines, copper lines can be run in almost any direction. That’s because they operate under pressure, which means hot and cold water lines can be placed just about anywhere. Care should be taken when placing copper water lines in exterior walls due to freezing during the cold months. Bathrooms are often more difficult to relocate because of the sizable waste line that connects to the water closet. The challenge is to find the space within the existing framing so that the waste line can remain hidden once the work is done. Otherwise, an overhanging eave (soffit) has to be built, so that the waste line can drop below the ceiling beams.
The ultimate aesthetic goal is to retain a flat ceiling, but it’s not always physically possible. It often depends on the floor on which the project is located, and what lies beneath on the floor below. For instance, a “finished” cellar no longer allows exposure of pipes, making it hard to move them as needed. An unfinished cellar, usually sporting exposed pipes, makes it easier to move the rooms on the floor above. “If these configurations — especially plumbing configurations — happen on the garden level, it’s really easy to do,” Tambi says, “because we have the cellar right below it. All the waste lines and supply lines are already fully exposed unless it’s a finished cellar. But usually changing layouts on a garden level is very easy.”
On the upper floors, of course, the plumbing work also needs to be properly covered. The waste lines must remain within the joists, or soffits must be built that drop below the ceiling surface.
Still, soffits are not always the only solution. DBe works with structural engineers who can design structural applications that can be placed in floor joists so that ceilings can stay flat. DBe designs the reconfiguration well in advance. Before any serious construction work begins, DBe carpenters, plumbers, and engineers perform probes to investigate what clearances exist — or don’t exist. That usually determines where a bathroom or kitchen can be relocated, as well as which walls can be moved. Floors are also closely examined to see if there are any structural issues. More often than not, DBe will likely require their engineer to inspect openings. Sometimes, though, probing is not enough — more substantial demolition may have to be performed in order to explore any remaining clearance questions.
From there, design floor plans — with various options — are created and presented to the client. The current rage for open floor plans is driving requests for reconfigurations. However, structural concerns could arise while changing wall locations and wall framing. If a wall is being taken away in order to open up space (for example, the wall between the kitchen and living room), the weight that was originally being carried by that wall still has to be accounted for in the redesign. Common reasons for reconfigurations: owners may not like the historic layout as is, or the bathroom could be set in an unusual or inconvenient location. Owners also may prefer, for example, a walk-in closet where the bathroom currently sits, or they may want the kitchen to be relocated to the back of the house, facing the rear yard. “It’s all dependent on taste,” Tambi says.
The differences between reconfiguring a brownstone and a condo/co-op are usually significant. Most multistory buildings, depending on the year that it was built, are either steel-frame or concrete. Historic brownstones are most often wood frame. Therefore, there are more structural implications in a multistory building, depending on where the reconfigurations are taking place. That’s because the construction is more monolithic.
Usually, interior partitions don’t have any bearing on a multistory building. In a brownstone, though, even a little wall can have structural implications. You won’t know until it is probed. And even newer buildings require structural integrity and plumbing clearances if you want to relocate a bathroom or kitchen. Moving or adding an additional bathroom or bedroom adds tremendous value to a property. Converting a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom, or a one-bathroom to a two-bathroom — or even a half bath — increases the value of the property substantially, Tambi says. It also increases the quality of life.
Another thing it creates: a precedence. In a condo or co-op, adding and moving rooms allows shareholders and property owners to follow your lead, and improve the overall value of the building. Of course, not all condo/co-op boards are on board with big changes. They often limit modifications and become gun shy at any talk of design evolution, especially the idea of removing walls. If this is the case, Tambi suggests that you hire a good architect and a filing professional to help convince the board of the long-term benefits of a reconfiguration. DBe works with several firms to allow for professional review of a project’s feasibility and proper presentation to your condo/co-op board. Other amenities can include HVAC. A new air conditioning or heating system in an older building can add a great deal of value. For a landmark property, you’ll have to get the exterior condenser locations approved by the Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC), but it may be worth the trouble.
“Most boards won’t even entertain a discussion without a full set of plans,” Tambi says.