10 Lessons I’ve Learned From Our Home Reno (and it hasn’t even started)


Renovation time inches closer every week, though the timeline is still fluid based on permitting and materials. Being reno virgins (we have lived in this townhouse for close to 12 years and this is our first major project), there is much to consider – not only about the design process and the cost involved (yikes), but also about the impact it will have on our lives both during and long afterwards.

A structural change in living space feels like an opportunity. It’s a chance to design something that, once completed, hopefully results in a more efficient layout so daily living seems a little more effortless and enjoyable. Since this is a townhouse, nothing on the exterior will change, but we do have a weight-bearing wall inside that is being cut back and requires reinforcement beams, etc. We plan to live here during construction and bounce between our other two floors – right now, that’s the part contributing most to my anxiety. I’m busy thinking about how to store things and how we can arrange existing furniture to limit discomfort.

It feels like there is take-away value to be gleaned from every conversation with every professional involved, and also any friend or acquaintance who is undergoing (or has so in the past) an overhaul of similar scale. So, strike up a conversation with everyone you meet! You never know when you can gain wisdom from a veteran that could save you from a major future misstep.

With that, here are the 10 lessons that I’ve learned so far (and we haven’t even taken a hammer to one wall yet):

So this happened… and I jokingly texted my kitchen designer to draft FASTER!

1.Choose to work with experts that you have confidence in and enjoy conversing with. Make them locally recommended, detail-oriented, responsive specialists with a proven track record. I’m talking to these people a LOT. There are no walls open yet and they already feel like friends. The fact that I am sure of their expertise makes things a whole lot less stressful and I’m comfortable asking questions and challenging certain recommendations. I hope they enjoy me as a client in return.

2. Consider the livability of construction during the earliest phase of planning. My priority is the main floor of our unit – the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, and the floors. We had thought about installing a basement bathroom someday but it wasn’t at the top of the list. Turns out, we’re opting to do it first. Knowing that the main floor will be out of commission for months, having a full bathroom in our primary shared space will prevent the inconvenience of having to travel two floors up every time we need to use a toilet or sink.

3. Know your design “personality”. Do you like things to be modern, cozy, transitional, timeless? Do your homework on Pinterest, Houzz, and similar sites that will allow you to collect photos to present to the people you work with, so they can envision things similarly and create a sense of cohesiveness. This holds true for architects, builders and even interior designers later on, if you choose to use one.

4. Design with the intention of giving everything a “home.” The very start is the optimum time to dream up a space that is uniquely right for your family (as you are not limited to just storage pieces and added accessories). You can maximize available space. You can also fashion options to ease access and store the items you use most. On the most recent Mother Like a Boss podcast episode, host Kendra addresses this very issue – she jokes that “if she were to write a book, it would be called I’ll Bring it Up the Next Time I Go Upstairs, and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.” My personal project this week is to dump out all the kitchen drawers (nine!) to see if I can get away with only three (what’s currently drafted). Deeper drawers for pots and pans will be utilizing that under-counter area, so how many existing items can be simply tossed? Can things be stored elsewhere in the new layout?

Hood of my dreams, we will be together soon…

5. Ugh – Expect it’s going to be more expensive than originally thought. Once appliance shopping is over and exploratory visits are made (“oh, you’re gonna need an ejector pump for a bathroom down here”), some less important improvements might need to be reconsidered or delayed to remain in the budget ballpark. I picked a hood for our oven whose cost might necessitate us skipping the fridge. LOL

6. Delay decor choices that can be made at a later phase. Often, items like tiles for a backsplash or lighting fixtures for a bathroom can be left for the final round. Details in a completed room might look more bulkier or smoother than you envisioned and demand a different complement, even if its a minor variation on your original selection.

7.Purge all the stuff (and then purge again). I am making a concerted effort to donate as much as possible – to other local families, to Goodwill, to the Veterans, to local hospitals and preschools that might need toys we’ve grown out of – it still doesn’t feel like I have made near enough headway!

8. Match white cabinetry to trimmings. If you are opting for white cabinets, select the same shade as your baseboards and crown molding. You don’t want either one looking dingy or yellow-tinged next to the other.

9.Keep a sense of humor, if possible. Things will go awry. (I’m aware of this but it will still rock me when it does!) Listening to Young House Love’s podcast in the car is reminding me to keep things light. In each episode, home transformer extraordinaires John and Sherry hand out useful renovating and decor tips are super honest about the DIY snags they’ve encountered in the five homes they’ve worked on. I love her design sense and their website is an amazing and unintimidating resource. Highly recommend – they feel like friends you haven’t met yet.

I know what you’re thinking… who would ever want to replace this thing of beauty?

10. Embrace the role of primary project decision-maker. After so many years together, I’ve learned that it’s ok if your partner doesn’t watch HGTV too. My husband could care less if we live with ill-fitting original cabinetry and green speckled formica for the rest of our days, or if we even renovate at all. I could view this as a lack of participation, but I don’t – truth is, it’s his gift to me. He just wants me to be happy, so “don’t force him to choose something arbitrarily.” He’s allowing a design-obsessed control freak to make selections without having to compromise her taste. He knows I’ll take him into account. The fact that a man who hates nothing more than being uncomfortable is willing to dwell in the basement for many months is akin to him penning me a love sonnet. Thanks dear. 🙂

Are you about to renovate too? Did you just complete a project? Share your comments and tips below! We can all learn so much from each other…

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