Remodels Done Right: The 5 Essential Human Factors Driving Successful Remodels

5 Human Factors of Successful Remodels

“It is much easier to build a strong relationship in the beginning of a project than it is to salvage a strained one later on.”   -Austin Hill Shaw, Founder of 3 Lights Design and Inventor of the Full-Spectrum Client Intake

Given all the time, money, and material resources that go into even simple remodels, it is easy to see them as primarily material pursuits.

But really, at their core, they are primarily human pursuits.

Remodels are initiated by humans, designed by humans, and built by humans.  And ultimately, remodels are here to serve humans, to improve the lives of the home or business owners, and, ideally everyone involved, in tangible ways.

But such results are almost impossible if the importance of the relationships between the people involved are strained, neglected, or outright ignored.

Still, far too many architects, designers, building professionals, and clients fail to grasp this essential point: At their core, remodels are not material pursuits, they are relational pursuits.

And if a project has any chance of being a success, the health of the relationships between all the parties involved must be intentionally cultivated from the start.

The Full-Spectrum Client Intake as a Tool for Building Strong Human Relationships

In our quest to address this problem head on, and to honor and to underscore the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships as the most important underlying factor driving successful design projects, 3 Lights Design has pioneered a number of innovative, human-centric solutions, including the Core Needs Design Method, Intention Setting, Collaborative Construction, Love Your New Space, and Post-Project Check-Ins, all of which are designed to strengthen our human-to-human connections with both our clients and our fellow building professionals.

And, in order to get a remodel off to the best start possible, we always begin with an in-depth interview, what we call the Full-Spectrum Client Intake.

The Full-Spectrum Client Intake is a process that leads our clients through a set of  six, very specific, carefully crafted questions that ultimately produce a concise, coherent narrative, a narrative that reveals the remodel, renovation, or new construction’s “true north”.

But even more importantly, the Full-Spectrum Client Intake allows the 3 Lights Design team to get to know our clients, and our clients to get to know us, which, again, builds the single most important aspect underlying a project right from the get go: connection.

As it’s name suggests, at the heart of the Full-Spectrum Client Intake is our desire to experience the client as a full person, including their wants and needs, their beliefs and values, including their successes and struggles, all with the goal of helping them come up with a design that both reflects and supports their unique ways of engaging the world.

The 5 Essential Human Factors Driving Successful Remodels

While the Full-Spectrum Client Intake provides us with a clear sense of the clients wants and needs, it also creates the foundation for the 5 essential human components driving successful projects to flourish.

These 5 essential human factors include:

  1. Rapport
  2. Trust
  3. Efficiency
  4. Creativity
  5. Problem Solving

Let’s take a moment to look at each of these in more depth, see how each of them build strong human connections, and how, ultimately, those strong human connections provide both the driving force and the heart behind successful remodels, renovations, and new construction.


The first is rapport. By asking questions and listening to the answers with curiosity and genuine interest, the 3 Lights Design team intentionally builds connection, which allows us to know our clients and their project not only on a programmatic level, but on a deeper, more personal level as well.

And it’s not just a one way street. It’s not only an exercise in gathering information about the client. Like any good relationship, we use the interview process to share about our lives, too, which further strengthens our connection, humanizes the process, and bridges the gap between us.


Next is trust. Building rapport naturally creates a sense of both goodwill, that we have each other’s backs, and camaraderie, that we’re in this thing together, which develops trust. Trust is at the heart of any good relationship and absolutely essential for the success of a building project.

Remodels, renovations, additions, and new construction are some of the biggest financial investments a person will make in their lifetime. Not only that, such projects often have long timelines in that they typically evolve over a period of months, sometimes years.

The construction phase in particular can be disruptive to the clients lives, especially if they choose to live in the home or work in the office during that phase. But with trust firmly established in the beginning, when challenges arise, (and, due to the complexity of even simple building projects, challenges always arise) they can be addressed much more skillfully.

Sadly, many architects and designers fail to communicate with their clients with any depth until a challenge arises at which point it’s too late. Without a foundation of rapport and trust built into the relationship, the communication is more likely to become contentious, causing the project to quickly go off the rails.


Third is efficiency. By building rapport and trust through the Full-Spectrum Client Intake right from the outset, there is a quality of joy, spaciousness, and playfulness that makes everything go much more smoothly. Not only that, as designers we don’t have to waste time guessing what our clients want, the intake itself allows us to experience the project through our clients’ eyes. So, by getting to know our clients right from the beginning, learning about their wants and needs and beliefs and values, we are typically able to come up with very personal, very powerful design solutions right from the start.


Fourth is creativity. The Full-Spectrum Client Intake promotes genuine collaboration by giving everyone a voice and valuing everyone involved, which optimizes creativity.

Unlike some architects and designers who view creativity as a gift that only certain people are born with, 3 Light Design views creativity as a defining trait of being human. Designers are naturally creative.  Clients are naturally creative.  Contractors, engineers, and building officials are naturally creative, too. As a defining trait of being human, 3 Light Design also views creativity as a basic need for true fulfillment.

Now, I imagine that many of you may be saying to yourself, “Yeah, yeah. Well, I’m not creative” or “I’m not the creative type.” I get it. I get it because there has indeed been a long history of many seeing creativity as a gift that only certain people have.

In the building trades, for example, the reigning belief is that architects and designers have it while contractors and engineers don’t.

But, without belaboring in the point, creativity isn’t limited to only certain human activities, such as the arts or innovation. It is way of being, an open, curious, and responsive way of being that can be applied to anything.

In this light, an architect who isn’t open to the suggestion, nor curious about how a client actually uses her home, and just wants to repeat a design solution that worked for him or her on a previous project is employing little or no creativity.   By contrast,  a contractor who shows genuine interest in the client’s needs, asks lots question, and comes up with a solution based on the present conditions is being highly creative.

Great ideas can come from anyone.  And, as was mentioned before, not only do we interview the clients, we share openly about our lives, too, including both strengths and weaknesses. By sharing up front that we designers are perfectly imperfect human beings like everyone else, it levels the playing field between the so-called “expert designer” and the so-called “know-nothing client”, which gives license to us all to share our ideas freely and openly with one another.

Moreover, in the words of Richard Rudd, a visionary in unlocking true human potential, “When the authority [the architect or designer] becomes the servant and the servant [the client] becomes the authority then the relationship really hums with power.” As a result, creative and innovative ideas and solutions don’t just come from the lead designer, they are invited and welcomed to come from everyone, including the clients, including the contractor, including city officials and everyone else who cares to share their unique perspective. (For more on the subject of creativity as defining human trait, check out The Shoreline of Wonder: On Being Creative by 3 Lights Design’s founder, Austin Hill Shaw)

Problem Solving

The final element is problem solving. Due to the complexity and time lines associated with remodels, renovations, and new construction, challenges inevitably come up. A roofline that worked well in plan view is revealed to block an important window when drawn in elevation. A city official mandates late in the game, that there needs to be a third parking space on the site plan. The contractor’s initial demolition reveals a large area of dry rot that needs to be repaired.

Again, if a crisis marks the very first time all parties involved get together and try to communicate with any depth, the results can be disastrous. Without having built any rapport or trust up front, fear and resentment can quickly rear their ugly heads.

On the contrary, having the designer and clients go through the Full-Spectrum Client Intake upfront, rapport and trust are already part of the project’s DNA, which allows everyone to listen to one another, take a breath, assess the situation, and come up with a solution. Moreover, when approached accordingly, the so-called problem often reveals something absolutely magical: some unforeseen opportunity that improves the project in ways that no one could have even imagined.

When people trust one another and work in a truly creative and collaborative manner, the project takes on a life of its own and magic is truly possible.

Your Remodel Done Right

If you want to get your remodel, renovation, or new home or office off to the right start and are looking for help building a strong and mutually respectful team, please reach out to us and let’s explore what we can do to help.

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