Home Renovations Made Simple - 10 Steps to a Creating a Positive Experience

This past fall we decided to renovate the kitchen of our two bedroom condo. Outside of the fact that I may be certifiable for starting in September when our first child was due in December, I tried to make it a logical and low stress project. I started with a vision of what I wanted, shopped and sourced to create this vision, and made changes to the design as needed or as my eyes were opened to something new that worked better than what I originally had in mind.

Based upon my experience with our renovation and lessons learned while working with an interior design firm, I wanted to share 10 Steps to a Positive Renovation Experience. These steps will help you ensure that your project is completed according to your vision and will provide you with the means to track and measure your decisions as you move through the process.

Note: I like to use an Excel Workbook for tracking a renovation. Use a separate tab for the steps, below, and another tab for general notes.

1. Define your overall budget. By this I mean specifying how much you would like to spend on the entire project. This is important because it will determine where and what you are shopping for. At the start, you will find it challenging to categorize your budget. However, as you interview various contractors you will soon see what portion of your budget will be spent on labor - usually a major expense. The remainder of your budget will be for everything else. You will define your budget for all these items a bit later.

2. Create a list of 'must-haves' and next to each list 'why' you included each. This will serve as a point of reference when something tempts you to divert from your original plan. Sometimes it makes sense to do so when the replacement is better/cheaper/faster but sometimes you will realize that your original vision makes more sense.

3. Similarly, draw a detailed sketch of your original vision to serve as a point of reference. Nothing fancy but just enough so that you can understand your desired layout. Again, with further research and the input from relevant professionals, this may change but your drawing and list of 'must-haves' will be important reminders when the options seems endless and the friendly recommendations too many to count.

4. Gather images and samples. This is a very fun part. Sit down with a pile of magazines, surf the internet and collect the interior images that appeal to you. Price range and feasibility don't matter initially, it is all about fleshing out your concept. When the time comes to make choices based, in part, on your inspirational images, you will be surprised at how resourceful you become in order to fulfill your dream. For instance, I fell in love with a gorgeous glass backsplash in a design magazine. I soon found out that a similar backsplash in our kitchen would blow our budget but was able to find large, 12" x 18" glass tiles that provided a very similar effect and were inexpensive.

Organize your favorite images together in a binder with clear sleeves. Make notes on the pages of what you like about certain elements. This is a great tool to help you choose finishes, materials, hardware, etc. The picture will give you another viewpoint of, for example, an ebony-stained hardwood floor. This viewpoint will remind you why you chose that item and inspire you to keep looking. Bulk up your binder images with samples of materials and clearer photos of wallpapers, side tables and cabinet hardware so that your vision is clear.

5. Gather options. You have a general idea of what you want so do some broad research to find out where you should be looking. You want stainless steel appliances? Do you want a $1500 version or a $5000 version? As you would guess, they are located at two different stores. Compile a list of vendors with detailed notes of the products they carry, price range, lead time and shipping, etc.

6. Create a shopping spreadsheet. Here is where you take your list of 'must-haves' and bulk it up with the little details. It is the 'to-do' list for shopping and so include even the smallest item. Using your work gathering options, put an approximate budget next to each item so that you can focus as you are shopping. Using the excel spreadsheet addition function you can easily tally this budget column and redistribute the funds as needed.

Print your shopping and option spreadsheets, tuck them into your binder with your images and samples and have it handy when you are shopping to keep you focused.

7. Create a product comparison spreadsheet as you shop. A product comparison spreadsheet is very helpful as many companies often carry similar products. Simply use the first column for the item name and create a series of columns for such things as material, dimensions, cost, shipping info or whatever makes sense to you. It will make choosing one model over another much more straightforward.

8. Gather your confidence. You've done your homework, have collaborated with your vetted contractor on the details of the project, now go forth and enjoy the process. Yes, I said enjoy the process. It will probably not go even close to how you imagined it would. It will take longer, there will be surprises and setbacks, but there will be many fun learning experiences, chances to broaden your horizons, and the opportunity learn to live with a little chaos in the process. Note: my experience working with an interior designer taught me that the only thing you can count on from project to project is to be faced with a slew of new challenges. Contractors that worked without issue before now show up days late, the vendor sent the 12-week lead time light fixture with the wrong finish... at the very least you have a crew of new personalities that make every project an adventure. So treat it as such and try to be flexible.

An important point is to be very clear in your communications during every stage of the process. When something is discussed orally, it is a good idea to send a follow up email with the important points of the discussion. If you place an order over the phone, ask for, and check thoroughly, an order confirmation. There is bound to be some point where a minor discrepancy pops up and it will be infinitely helpful for you to have had the documentation on hand to avoid any resulting disagreement.

9. Set aside your emotions. Yes, do enjoy the process, but forget about taking the attitude customer service representative personally, or thinking that you have the worst luck - the delivery of the cabinets was delayed again. Sometimes it is worth a phone call to the vendor to share a piece of your mind (and they should appreciate the honest feedback) but sometimes it is worth remembering that no one is perfect and mistakes will happen despite everyone's best intentions. It is probably not worth getting upset about and if you have everything tracked it will be easily worked out.

10. Push forward to reach your goal. Stay positive. Considering that it takes plenty of time to finish any major renovation, it is our fall, our spring, the month we are planning our sister's wedding or taking a month off to spend with our families, our lives. So instead of looking at it as a means to an end do your best to live in the moment. You will enjoy the finished product so much more when you get there.

11. Enjoy. All of your hard work has paid off. I recommend keeping a final copy of all of the spreadsheets, receipts, product manuals, etc. organized in the same binder as the product images and samples. It will provide a useful reference for all of your purchases and also remind you of how far you've come.

View an overview and before/after pictures of our kitchen renovation here.

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