House & Garden Tours 2011

Get design and remodeling ideas for your home or apartment

A garden on house tour in Brooklyn, NY

With spring weather not firmly entrenched around the nation, the house and garden tour season is getting into gear, providing an excellent opportunity to get style ideas for your own house or apartment.

Tours of Renovated Homes
When many people think of house tours, they immediately envision well-known homes of historic or architectural significance, like the White House or Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut or The Octagon House in San Francisco — sites with a mostly unchanged, museum-like quality.  However, the best renovation, decorating, and furnishing ideas often come from houses, townhomes, and apartments that have undergone extensive renovation or remodeling, giving them a more up-to-date look that might be more in line with current tastes.

In Brooklyn, New York, for instance, the Park Slope House Tours includes many buildings with 19th-century exteriors but updated interiors that range widely in approach, from the Victorian to the highly contemporary to the eco-friendly.  Like many tours, the Brooklyn series is run by a local historical society, and many tours of new and renovated homes around the nation are organized by the American Institute of Architects, such as those offered by the San Francisco and Seattle AIA chapters.

Virtual House & Garden Tours
Taking a broader view of house tours, walking, driving, or bicycling is not necessary in these Internet days, and even overseas house tours are available online, like Buckingham Palace and other homes of the British monarchy.  On the website that you’re on now, for instance, Bob Vila takes you through several house and garden tours, such as a “green” apartment in the South Bronx and Frederick Law Olmstead’s house  in the Boston area.  And you can also find house tours on YouTube.com, including celebrity homes, such as the Versace house  in Florida and several Hollywood homes (though film or video quality can vary widely).   And on a very practical level, virtual tours are often available on homes for sale.

A garden on house tour in Brooklyn, NY

Checklist for House & Garden Tours
The in-person experience, of course, remains unique — and provides the most fun.  Often, tour providers supply floor plans, brochures, or renovation information that one can save for future reference, and depending on the tour rules, you might take snapshots with a regular or cellphone camera.  While on the premises, there’s nothing to stop you from taking notes when going through a checklist of key areas, focusing on the areas that need to be addressed in your own home, on your budget:

Renovations & Remodelings

  • What types of materials were used, either to achieve historical accuracy or to modernize the property?
  • Were there changes in the use of space, such as an expanded kitchen or new storage areas?
  • How were major systems updated, such as electricity, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning?
  • What eco-friendly changes have been made?
  • Do you notice special considerations for children or pets?

Floors & Walls

  • How were the floors finished?  What type of stain? Wide or narrow boards?
  • Is there a rug design that you like (perhaps you can find a similar one that fits your budget)?
  • Would the home’s color scheme work in your house or apartment?
  • Is there an interesting use or choice of wallpaper and window treatments?
  • How were special situations handled, such as interior brickwork?
  • Do smoke detectors and other safety devices blend in with the home’s look?
  • What styles of artwork work best in particular homes? 

Lighting

  • Do you like the period fixtures or would you prefer more modern lights?
  • How have the windows and/or skylights been designed or updated?

Kitchens & Baths

  • What type of look do you prefer? Are there accessories (e.g., mirrors, clocks) that would work well in your own space?
  • What types of appliances are being used?
  • What interesting finishes are in the home, such as cabinet knobs or granite countertops?

Living Areas

  • Does the tour home have some unique furniture pieces that would work for you?
  • Are there arrangements or combinations that you never considered?
  • Have TVs, stereos, and other electronic devices been integrated into the space?
  • Do you like the fireplace masonry and hardware?

Outdoors

  • Do you see any interesting ideas for plants, flowers, or garden arrangements?
  • Can you tell what type of outside lighting is being used?
  • Are there intriguing deck or patio ideas, such as layout, lighting, furniture, or grilling/cooking setups?
  • Do walkways and driveways have design elements (e.g., brick borders) that would work at your home?