Well hello! Parker from Team TLD, here! Welcome to my personal version of Hindsight Is 20/20. My home has been my ongoing project (sometimes not going) for 5 years, this November. I bought the home with all the ideas and plans that one could have as a first-time homeowner AND then tack on, as an Interior Designer. That is a lot of vision mixed with a lot of I have never done this before. 1319 (the project number I have assigned to this house for all the Home Depot pro perks) was built in 1947, full of character and quirks - original hardwood floors and some linoleum, cute little faux fireplace with old school gas furnaces, original oversized single pane pulley windows with 20 layers of caked-on paint…you get the picture - some good, some bad.
All that said, I made the decision that I was going to take this on all myself (as much as possible). I started with smaller projects, ones I felt I could tackle without a problem. Deep cleaning, painting, removing old red (yes, red) blinds. After every little task, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Then, this month, it was finally time to tackle my arch-nemesis in the house, The Kitchen. Even though countertops get installed tomorrow, and my backsplash is still in boxes in my garage, I thought I’d share with you just a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far in hopes that when you tackle your first big renovation project, whether DIY or with the help of a contractor (the problems will be the same), it will go more smoothly for you. So here we are, in no particular order, my lessons learned.
HAVE EVERYTHING THERE BEFORE YOU START
This one may seem like a no-brainer, and maybe it is, but when looking at a kitchen it is easy to know the big things you will need and have a plan for those vs. all the small things. Or even the things that were a little more technical than I, the visual Interior Designer, would know off the top of my head. I had cabinets picked and laid out for weeks, appliances I was gifted in my garage for months, and had picked up the backsplash tile the week before. All of which is fine and dandy, BUT what I didn’t think about buying is extra sheetrock to patch where mine would be damaged from ripping things out, or figuring that I’d go pick up a new sink once I see the cabinets set. Well, guess what, mid-renovation, I realized I didn’t like the one the store had locally, so I ordered one, and had to wait. If I had a dollar for the number of trips made to Home Depot or the overnight Amazon deliveries I made, let’s just say the things I missed would have paid for themselves. If I could do it all over, I would tackle each detail individually BEFORE. I would walk through each minor step and create a list of sorts, things I knew I would need, and even things I could potentially need so that I could jump from one task to the next without delay. Even as I write this, I think I would have loved to look at each step with a person of that trade and have them ask me “do you have this or that”. Because it’s inevitable that someone would know something I needed that I didn’t have.
HAVE A PLAN OF ATTACK FOR THE ORDER OF EVENTS
Speaking of delay… remember that list I said I wish I made to help me figure out what I needed for every step? I also would have loved to have that list as a plan of what to DO first. Step one is easy, rip literally everything out. But then what? What comes first: the chicken or the egg, the cabinets or the floors, electrical or plumbing? It is kind of the same story, we know the big picture, you obviously can’t put in countertops without cabinets, but WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL STUFF. I found myself calling in favors the day of to have outlets moved before I could push my cabinets back in place, or painting my kitchen ceiling at 10 pm the night before the floors were going to be done (true story). I created more stress for myself AND the people I had brought in to help by not having a step-by-step detailed plan of attack. That being said, I’d like to thank the gentleman installing my countertops for his patience in allowing me to reschedule 3 separate times. Take my advice people, figure out what all needs to be done and then figure out WHEN it needs to be done (aka the sequencing).
EXPECT TO SPEND MORE MONEY THAN YOU THOUGHT
All of these unknowns and my now obvious lack of planning brings me to mistakes number 3 and 4. Never, I mean never, expect that you know exactly how much your renovation is going to cost. I say this as a designer who manages projects and a DIY renovator. You don’t know what is going to be behind that piece of sheetrock when it's removed; you may suspect, but you can’t know for sure. In my case, it was a 50-year-old eroded cast iron pipe that had to be replaced. There are always going to be unexpected costs to a renovation project, whether it is as dramatic as mine or it is merely 500 trips to Home Depot that added up. Some of this is bound to happen, but here is what I wish I did differently. Oh yeah, the same thing I’ve been saying, PLAN FOR IT. I had a budget; I knew what most items were going to cost and had the money set aside. But if I could do it all over, I’d set aside more. There is a reason we designers build contingency fees into our budgets, it’s because you just never know. It’s the nature of the beast. You’d think that with this as my profession, I would have done the same for myself, but I didn’t. The cobbler’s kids have no shoes. So you do it, set aside an additional 5-10% of your overall budget so that you aren’t caught off guard by additional expenses.
EXPECT TO TAKE MORE TIME THAN YOU THOUGHT
This might be a little redundant at this point, but expect your project to take longer than you thought. Whether you are living in the construction zone (aka me) or are staying elsewhere, I highly recommend making arrangements should things get a little off schedule. If you had told me when I started this whole thing a month ago that I would still be living without a kitchen sink and the water line to by washing machine turned off (because it connects to my dishwasher) I would have, you guessed it, planned better. But unfortunately, this applies across the board, poor planning or not. Things just take time, and there are so, so many moving parts and pieces that one thing or another is bound to cause a delay.
BALANCING PRICE OVER PREFERENCE
My last and final mistake could be taken two ways. One extreme to another. As I have said probably too many times now, I process all thing's renovation with a designer’s brain. That means I’m with you, I LOVE all the latest do-dads and upgrades, the flawless marble backsplash, and the custom cabinet millwork. But I am ALSO… a giant cheapskate. So when I went about planning my kitchen renovation I knew I had a budget, I knew I wasn’t going to be living in this home forever, and so initially I selected what I wanted based on cost, the cheaper, the better. And here is where I made my mistake, I selected things that I didn’t love, things that did excite me, even things that went against what that good ole designer brain knew. I’ve found that excitement is 100% necessary to get you through the grueling part of a renovation, and I learned that the hard way. I found myself making changes to my selections DURING the renovation process because the more I got into it, the more I realized that I really wanted or needed it to be something else (case in point – changing my sink selection and waiting for it to be delivered). If I have learned anything, it’s that there is a balance between price and preference. Maybe you don’t need to spend bookoo bucks for a marble backsplash when porcelain has the same look, but maybe you do need to drop an extra hundred dollars on a sink that will serve the purpose it should - holding 2x more dirty dishes.
As I said, this renovation isn’t quite over for me, and I can guarantee I’ll make a few more mistakes (maybe a whole second blog post of them, who knows). But hopefully, my struggles become your victory as you tackle your first renovation, big or small!