December 9, 2010

top ten tips for a successful renovation or custom-build

In November 2010’s House Beautiful, Annie Selke gave the most wonderful advice to anyone contemplating a renovation.  So much of her advice rang true for any type of building project – whether it is making the selections that come with a builder-style home, designing a custom home, or remodeling an already existing one.  Just in case you missed the article, I’m going to highlight (what I consider to be) Annie’s top tips (in her words, not mine) … and then fill in with my two cents.

1.  Get the experts – like a good architect – in early.  Be very clear about what you want, and then listen to them.  They know what they’re doing.

Listening to the experts means listening to everyone –  including the craftspeople working on your home … from the electrician to the painter to the cabinet makers.  They have worked on hundreds of homes and they know what has stood the test of time.  That being said, don’t be afraid to challenge what they think if it’s something you really want.  When my hubby and I custom-built our home, the painter tried his hardest to talk me out of doing black interior doors … saying, among other things, that they wouldn’t wear well.  Eight years later, my doors still look great … and my house wouldn’t be the same without them.  Sorry, Rasford.

2.  Spend money where you will appreciate it, and don’t obsess about resale value.

I still regret putting a phone jack in our kitchen.  It interrupts my backsplash (albeit in a tucked-away corner) and, because we have one of those expandable cordless phone systems, we don’t need it.  I put the jack there only because, just in case we needed to sell, I figured a future buyer would be looking for it.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

3.  Off-the-shelf products, chosen carefully, can offer an affordable, custom look for cabinets, windows, and doors.

The key here is “chosen carefully.”  Spend time looking at high-end custom pieces to figure out what you can replicate in an off-the-shelf product … and what you can’t.

4.  Don’t rush to purchase furniture just to fill the space.  Allow time to find things you love that really work in each room.

I’d rather live in an empty space that one filled with things put there only because they were cheap, convenient, or ________________ (fill in the blank).

5.  For hardware, stick to a uniform finish throughout the house.

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, of course, but is an easy way to ensure continuity throughout your home.  But mixing it up can be interesting, too!

6.  Keep a basket with samples of all of your materials – flooring, paint chips, hardware, tiles.

You’ll need this when you are going to make your next selection.  Trust me, your tile depends on your granite, which depends on the finish on your cabinets … and so on and so forth.

7.  Set up an Excel spreadsheet with your product specs – names and style numbers, prices, contact info – for everything.  It will be a big help if you want to add on, repaint, or repair damage.

You’ll be amazed at how often you need this.  Think about when your kitchen side spray stops working years later and you need to order a replacement part.   Not like it happened to me or anything.

8.  Integrate technology – Wi-Fi, cable, sound systems – from the start.  It’s much easier to run the necessary wires when the walls are ripped to the rafters.

All technology gets dated eventually, so don’t worry about that.   You have to start somewhere.  I never thought I would enjoy music in my bathroom as much as I do.

9.  Factor kids and dogs into the master plan, and be realistic about the wear and tear a room with have to take.

You may not have kids or dogs now, but you never know where life may take you.  Oh, and kids and dogs are messy.  Very, very messy.

10.  Even if renovating is just a dream, keep a notebook of things you like.  It’s never to early to start.

Pick out what appeals to you … whether or not you think it will “work” for your space.  Ideas translate more than you may think.  Oh, and I don’t care if your notebook is a box into which you toss randomly torn pages.  You will want a variety of photos to refer to … and you’ll also be interested in how your taste changes … or stays the same.

For all of Annie’s advice, click to read the full article. 

Just in case I wasn’t clear enough at the beginning, all of the tips are Annie’s from the House Beautiful article.  I numbered them, but did not otherwise alter her words.  The text in italics following the numbered tips offers my thoughts on what Annie had to say.  


    Dec. 09, 2010
    My biggest mistake in my current place is that i didnt factor in the dogs that much. We are using the large pantry just for their dog cages and shelving with dog treats etc. However the floor is white tiles with white grout...I NOW know this was a mistake. I literally clean it everyday. I am thinking of placing a small thin rug in this area to avoid having to clean the tiles so much... :)))))))
  • Sheila Zeller
    Dec. 10, 2010
    Thank you for sharing! And you are so right, so many of these tips are 'why didn't I think of that' moments you don't want to be saying later. For #4, my fill-in-the-blank would be ...or given to you!
  • Laura
    Dec. 10, 2010
    So true! Loved that article and love your input too. Sometimes it's so hard for my clients to wait to furnish their homes. I always tell them to live in the space for a little while before rushing into a large purchase. So worth the wait! Have a great weekend Traci!
  • sarah @duchess fare
    Jan. 03, 2011
    many thanks traci for the scanning credit! this before & after is wonderful, with so many smart design ideas. looking forward to reading your upcoming posts in the new year.
  • alison @olderthanjesus
    Jan. 15, 2011
    I found you via Maria at Colour Me Happy. What a great article. I'm building, after a fire, which isn't ideal, although building a home is a dream come true. I really liked your response to #1 about listening to the professionals but filtering out what's right for you and YOUR home. So easy to type, but it can be challenging/mentally draining to do so. Thanks for the great and informative post. I'm bookmarking you.
  • Anita
    Jan. 16, 2011
    Thank you, thank you for your timely post. I am in the process of finding a designer, cabinet maker etc . . . to renovate my kitchen. (my accountant hubby will love your: 'keeping track of it all on excel' idea) Especially #2. I have had moments of 'hmm maybe I shouldn't do 'something' because of resale value.' I will do what I really want/love Thank you for your permission!

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