We start and end most of our days at home. But does your home lift your spirits? Does natural light penetrate deep into rooms? Is there an effortless flow from space to space? Is there a spot for organizing shoes, coats and backpacks? And if you love to cook and entertain, you may be dreaming of a bright kitchen with abundant storage cabinets and counter space.

What makes a dream home is different for everyone, whether you're dreaming of building new or revitalizing the home you already have.

On April 18, a panel of local architects — and homeowners — will explore today's smart home-design strategies at "Your Home, Your Way," a residential architecture and design event presented by AIA Minnesota (the American Institute of Architects) and Star Tribune.

We asked the four architects on the panel to offer ideas on how to make a home more livable and how to make remodeling projects more affordable, as well as some of their favorite innovative materials and the future of green design.

MARK LARSON

Rehkamp Larson Architects • rehkamplarson.com

Wise improvements: The best use of existing square footage is to improve the flow and circulation in a floor plan that has dead ends and bottlenecks. Opening up a wall, moving the kitchen or adding a 2-foot bump-out can be transformative. And easy access between indoor and outdoor spaces can make a house feel larger and more pleasant.

A strong foundation: Don't cut costs by eliminating a project that will be tricky and expensive to do later. People will put a crawl space under an addition and wish they had put in a full basement to finish later — which wouldn't have cost much more. Get the bones of the house right the first time. It's easier to add cabinetry or improve detailing over time.

What's hot in the kitchen? It's the epicenter of modern living; hardwood, cork and Marmoleum floors are nice, soft surfaces to stand on. There's also an emphasis on ways to bring in daylight and outdoor views. In older homes, remodeled kitchens borrow details, such as crown molding and brackets, to complement and connect to the rest of the rooms. The island is the hardest-working piece and is where clients are more creative with colors and materials.

Wide-open spaces? Old houses were so cramped and closed off, but now the design of the great room has gone too far. People have realized that the popular open floor plan can be noisy and feel uncomfortably cavernous. The key is to size spaces properly and define rooms by changing ceiling heights.

Refresher course: If a major remodeling isn't in the budget, replace the countertops, cabinet doors, hardware and lighting in a tired kitchen. Replace drafty windows, and, if possible, add new ones in key locations. A few well-placed windows can make a big difference in airflow, daylight and views.

Sweat equity: Homeowners can stretch their budget by doing DIY projects at the very beginning — demo and cleanup — or at the very end — painting and staining — of the construction process.

Green-minded: We try to use materials that are renewable, have low energy costs and are locally sourced. Hardwood floors can be resanded over time, and a metal roof lasts two times longer than asphalt. Quality materials that last and look good for a long time are key.

What an architect brings to the table: We can figure out what's desired and what's possible — and find the sweet spot between the scope of the project and the budget. Construction is expensive, so it's important to get the design right.

CHRISTOPHER STROM

Christopher Strom Architects • christopherstrom.com

Smart spending: In an old house, improve energy efficiency with new windows and insulation. An updated kitchen is worth the big investment because it's where we live today. Make sure communal spaces work well so you will fall in love with the result.

Client must-haves: Remodeled kitchens are the biggest request. Others are a practical, organized mudroom with a drop zone and a separate master bathroom — in many older homes, parents are sharing with the kids. Create spaces where the family can be together, as well as a place for kids to hang out with friends. For day-to-day living, the open floor plan is most appealing.

Flex kitchen: Centrally located kitchens are taking on some functions of the family room, for example, sitting areas with a couch or chairs. Huge islands are used for serving, prep areas and a workstation. We are using minimal upper cabinets so more natural light can flow in.

Livable for the long term: Consider future mobility with a master suite on the main floor, or a space pre-designed — such as stacking closets — to put in an elevator later.

Warm and cozy: Eventually, it will become the norm for homes to be built with energy-efficient continuous exterior insulation — like wrapping the building in a sweater.

Why hire an architect? We ask lots of questions during the design process to understand a client's needs, their priorities regarding budget and what they are passionate about. Are you going to be here for five years or for the rest of your life? We show them several design options for their project. You get a lot more than a roll of drawings. We come with a fresh pair of eyes to pinpoint issues such as adding windows up high to bring light deep into a space. How moving one wall will unlock possibilities for an improved floor plan. And instead of adding square footage, we look at allocating resources for reconfiguring the existing space.

BRENT NELSON

Peterssen/Keller Architecture • pkarch.com

Midcentury makeovers: More people are renovating 1960s and '70s homes in the first-ring suburbs near the city. The layouts align with a modern lifestyle — more open spaces and a strong emphasis toward the backyard. But they need updating, new lighting and appliances, and better connections between spaces. Master bedroom additions with all the amenities are also popular.

Create space on a limited budget: We [architects] examine ways to better use the existing footprint to save money. When doing a renovation — or an addition — we keep the palette simple for a clear, bold vision. Clients are savvy with Pinterest, and bring us a thousand images of what they like — but don't relate to each other. It's a great tool, but needs to be focused.

Artful kitchens: The kitchen can be a beautiful art form, with integrated appliances and cabinets that feel seamless and clean. Daily life revolves around the big island, a multifaceted utility space used for everything from making meals to staging parties. The back prep kitchen, a luxury because it takes up space, is becoming more common. It's a place to hide dirty dishes — and caterers.

Laundry on the list: Along with mudrooms, there's emphasis on creating a good laundry room with storage, clothes-drying, folding and ironing areas, built-in hampers — and lastly, good lighting.

Long-lasting qualities: It's easy to over-design. We keep it simple, elegant and enduring. High-tech spray-foam insulation is great for the walls and ceiling. But we like old-tech on surfaces — hardwood floors that last 100 years, stone tile and other natural materials that are durable. And having ample natural light will make a space always feel good.

The future of homes: I'm excited about solar roofs generating electricity. It's inevitable we will use our roofs that way, and the solar panels will be better integrated in the shingles — to not make such a visual statement.

Why have an architect in your corner: Residential architects often have different areas of strengths — some excel at historic home restoration or midcentury modern design. We help clients identify priorities and provide many solutions for problems. And we have lots of experience getting permits, working with the city and contractors.

CHRISTIAN DEAN

Christian Dean Architecture • deanarch.com

Smart square footage: Many of our remodels involve reconfiguring and reallocating existing spaces — such as an underutilized front room turned into a home office or becoming part of a new kitchen. Building within the existing footprint and going up — instead of out — can save money. Adding a three-season porch or outdoor living space makes a small house live larger.

Not bigger, but better: When building new on urban lots and first-tier suburbs, we scale the home to fit in the neighborhood and not overcrowd the other houses. Building as small as you need also saves money on heating and cooling. Durable and low-maintenance construction materials, such as metal siding and concrete walls, have become more affordable.

Big impact for the cost: Invest in quality siding, high-performance windows and insulation. They give the house longevity.

Blend old and new: There's a renewed interest in modern architecture. You can give an older home new life by building a modern addition that's still complementary to the original architecture.

Most bang for the buck: In an older home — a kitchen update and expansion and a nice mudroom off the garage entry are what people want today.

Future of home design: The bigger picture is designing for more multigenerational shared-living situations. The trend will be smaller, smarter, more durable and energy-efficient.

Hire an architect because: Our decisionmaking, planning and prioritizing can help you get the best value for your construction dollars. We are an advocate for the homeowner, and starting the journey in a good place can make the biggest impact on the overall budget.