We may not be professional contractors or flippers, but in our eight years of home ownership and two houses, we have tackled quite a few big renovations and remodels — two kitchens, four bathrooms, two exteriors, a new porch, and a new garage… so far! It’s no secret these kind of projects are super stressful and can be overwhelming, but we’ve learned a lot in the process, mistakes and all. So we wanted to pass along some of what we’ve learned so that it can hopefully help eliminate some of the stress if you’re thinking of taking on a big project.
(Our current kitchen, post-renovation)
1. Don’t rush into it. We knew before we even put an offer on our current house that we wanted/needed to renovate the kitchen, and that it would be a BIG project, like tearing-down-walls-and-moving-the-whole-kitchen-into-a-different-room big. But despite knowing that from day one, we lived in the house for something like nine months before we actually started the reno, and we spent that entire time thinking, planning and fine-tuning the design. Forcing ourselves to wait meant that we could learn exactly how we actually used the space, what we didn’t like in the old kitchen (corner sinks!), and what storage space we really needed. If we had rushed in, we wouldn’t have had a space that worked quite as well for us in real life.
(The master bathroom in our old house, post-renovation)
2. Test it before you commit to it. It’s one thing to see a plan on paper or a computer screen, but a totally different thing to actually live with it in person. How many times have you ordered something online and it’s so much smaller/bigger than you thought, even if you looked at the measurements first? When we were planning the placement of our kitchen island, we literally took a full pot of water and carried it from where the sink would be to where the stove would be, to make sure that it wasn’t too far to walk with a heavy pot of water. We did this over and over until we were exactly sure of what dimensions would work best for us. It felt silly (and heavy) but it was totally worth it! We also tape out where rugs will go before we buy them, tape out where cabinets or shelves will go — it’s easy and saves so much potential trouble in the long run.
(The kitchen in our old house, post-renovation)
3. Plan your storage. When we designed the kitchen in our current house, we made a big list of all our kitchen items and decided where they would go before we even finalized a design. We actually made a print out of our kitchen plan and wrote what would go in all the drawers/shelves/cabinets before we ordered a single thing. That helped us determine how many drawers we’d need vs. how many shelves, as well as the approximate height between shelves in the pantry, etc. Think also about where you’ll want the things you use all the time to make your space the most efficient, like when you’re standing at the stove, you will probably want quick access to mixing spoons. Where will the heavy stand mixer go? Where do you want your pots and pans? These are all the things that you can think of before you design a kitchen if you’re starting from scratch, which is so much better than making do after the fact.
(The garage at our old house, which was built from scratch)
4. Make as many decisions as possible before the project starts — but expect a million more questions to pop up. The last thing you want is to delay everything for weeks because you haven’t yet decided on countertops when it’s already time to install countertops… um, speaking from experience. And to go along with that, no matter how much you’ve planned ahead, expect a million questions from contractors, and some of those questions you will not care about AT ALL, especially as the project drags on and you’re getting sick of it all. Just go with the flow and remember that experienced contractors often know what’s best, so you can ask for their recommendations if you have no idea/have given up caring (hey, it happens).
(Our current kitchen, during renovation)
5. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Despite your best efforts, sometimes things just don’t quite turn out the way you wanted, whether it’s work not being finished well or a miscommunication between you and your contractor that has something in the wrong place. For me and Andy who aren’t the most assertive people, it can be really tough for us to speak up when this happens, because we don’t want to offend anyone or we feel really bad about embarrassing them, getting someone in trouble, or making them redo the work. Over the years, we’ve had lots of occasions where we’ve had to say something or have something changed/fixed and no real drama has ever ensued. A good contractor wants you to be happy with the job they do, so speak up the earlier the better and get it done right. Plus, they’re totally used to and expect to make changes along the way, so it’s no big deal. It’s your house and your money, after all! If they end up complaining about you behind your back… so what.
(The guest bathroom at our old house, post-renovation)
It’s fun going down memory lane and looking at these pictures from our old house. I gotta say … we did a good job. Haha! That was a beautiful house, and it was such a joy to have the opportunity to make it even more beautiful along the way. Oh I just loooove renovating!!!
I’m sure there’s a ton more things that I could add to this list. Do you have tips you would add? Or any renovation questions you’d want to ask us? Let us know!!