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Renovations 101: Where Do You Start?

After living in my cute little home for more than 3 years, i’ve finally decided to take the plunge and embark on the most difficult design and renovation that i’ve ever done.  Designing for myself has definitely been a lot more challenging than designing for clients, but I thought i’d jot down some of the steps that you can take to help guide your renovation process that have helped me on my journey.

Step 1: Plan in Advance & Make a List of Immediate Must Do’s and Eventual Must Do’s. 
When I first moved in, I dedicated a little budget to things I wanted to do immediately.  Unless you have a large upfront budget to renovate everything on your list (or take out a line of credit to do so), which will eliminate the need to live through a renovation,  you will likely be able to make a list and separate the “immediate must do’s”, and “eventual must do’s”.

My house was also decked out in a washed out peach color that I couldn’t stand, so it was painted over.  To personalize it, I also did (an admittedly horrible DIY job at) painting the kitchen cabinets from a dark maroon to white and adding quirky hardware.  My eventual must do’s included an overhaul of the kitchen and master bathroom, which I will be tackling this month.

Step 2: Start Budgeting – Knowing How Much to Budget
T he next step is to start setting aside a fund for your renovations. Many people ask me “how do I know how much to budget?” A good place to start is to present your list of things you want to do to 2-3 contractor or renovation companies like us, so they can give you an estimate on how much your renovations will cost. Even if you aren’t ready to pull the trigger on the renovations right away (which you should definitely be upfront about with whomever you are getting the quote from), it would be a great starting point.  Make sure you ask them explicitly what materials are included.  This will make a huge difference in the overall price.  Always budget a contingency fund (below).

Step 3: Always Keep a Contingency Fund
Always add a contingency for things that don’t function like they should (especially since so many homes today are sold without the condition of a home inspection). I had to replace the roof within one year of living here. I’ve had other clients who have move into homes without knowing there were serious plumbing or other issues that needed to be fixed.

Step 4: Start Collecting Images of Spaces You Like
Start by collecting magazine tear sheets and saving images of spaces you like. There are some great resources out there that make that easier than ever now, such as Houzz and Pinterest.  In fact, before starting any project with clients I ask them if they can, to start a look book or board with one or both of those sites. I ask them to save photos they like and let me know what parts of those photos they like and sometimes what they dont like. For example, they might say “I like these light fixtures, but not the tiles.” Or, “I like the clean modern feeling of this space”. It’s then a designer’s job to interpret this within your budget. It’s also wise to show these images to your designer/contractor for budgeting purposes. For example, some of my clients have shown me $60,000 kitchens with high end cabinetry, $2,000 faucets and $4,000 light fixtures, while their realistic budget is $35,000. A good designer/contractor should be honest with you and let you know exactly what you can expect for your budget and help you stretch your dollar.

Step 5: Design Process – Narrowing Down the Design
 If you’re anything like me and have been collecting images you’ve saved for years, you can certainly work that to your advantage. My motto has always been: If you loved the look of this kitchen 5 years ago, you’ll love the look of it 5 years from now. Trends come and go, so it’s important to sit down with your designer to talk about how the design will translate into your every day life for years to come. Currently, i’m making mood boards by pasting in my favorite designs and finishes that i’ve liked for at least a couple years, which will help guide me to make decisions that I wont regret 5 years from now. You might start with as many as 30 images, which can dwindle down to as little as 1 using the process below.

Step 5a: To help yourself with the process, ask yourself or your designer these questions:

1. What is it about this space or finish that I like or dont like? 
For example, i’ve been looking at hundreds of white kitchens online, but each of them sits on a different flooring or have different back splash that give completely different looks. I need to narrow down the style that works for the overall design of the house.

2. Will it work together with the other design features or layout that i’ve chosen? Which of these features are priority?
There are certain things about my house that I can’t or dont want to change, including the general layout. Also, as a designer, I am privileged to get all the new up and coming finishes

3. Does it work for the particular space that i’m designing for? 
As much as I have always loved herringbone flooring, I decided that I would rather put something large scale since my house is relatively small to help expand the space.

4. Does it fit within my budget? 
I’ve been in love with the Bertazonni heritage collection range since I saw last year, but alas it’s not in the budget. After much stretching and pulling on other items in my budget I decided that in the end it wasn’t worth it.

5. Does it fit within my lifestyle?
A good designer should always consider function as something of equal importance as form. Many of my clients have young kids, so as a result that always needs to be taken into consideration. Do you need to sacrifice some space for storing toys? Do you have pets who might scratch up the flooring? You might need to consider a hand scraped flooring or UV coated floor.  A gorgeous piece of statuario marble for the island might be beautiful to look at but if you’re not okay with the eventual stains that come with it, you might want to consider quartz or another material.

Step 6: Signing With A Contractor/Designer & Prepping for Renos
After you’ve agreed on a general budget and have signed on with a contractor/designer, you should give yourself ample time to prepare if you are able. Consider hiring a team with a designer, contractor and project manager (like Creative Design Therapy :), who can help you prepare for all the necessary adjustments during renovations. I’d like to write another article on that later on, but a lot of preparation goes a very very long way in minimizing the time line of a renovation.

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