Given the amount of time you spend in your home, it should be the most authentic expression of yourself, your life, and your passions. If you binge-watch HGTV like I do, living in a home that resists your attempts to personalize it, to make it your own, is more than discouraging, it's unsettling.
Which is why, after eight months of living in a house with smelly wall-to-wall carpet, faux wood paneling, and grimy wallpaper, my fiancé and I were fed up. So we took out a loan to do a kitchen renovation. In the two months before our wedding. Argh.
But, just look at the transformation of our ugly duckling 1960's home:
We were fortunate that our contractor stuck to a strict timeline and the renovation was finished in two months to the day. When we returned from our wedding (having decided on a delayed honeymoon), we were so grateful to come home to a finished home. A home that was ours. But the process was not without its low points. Here are a few tips I took away from the experience, for you intrepid renovators out there!
When it comes to quotes, embrace the rule of 3's
Rob and I abided by the rule of 3's. Three quotes from every vendor. This sage advice from my parents served us well as we lined up the professionals that would be in our house every day for the next two months. By asking around our friends and colleagues, we obtained many names and numbers to call to quote the various jobs on the house. It was also crucial to have recommendations from friends and people we trusted. This isn't simply thorough research- it will save you a lot of money!
We were delighted to find original hardwood floors under the carpet of most rooms in our home. They only needed a little bit of work to make them look brand new. The first guy that came to check them out gave us a quote of $10,000! We were shocked. Our contractor could do it, but he was going to charge us an additional percentage that brought his quote over our budget. Strike two. Finally, our painter recommended a friend of his who quoted us $4,500. He did a beautiful job for less than half of what the first man asked for. Rule of 3's. You won't regret it.
Consult an interior designer/architect
If you're a DIY-er, I salute you. Kudos to you for not only having a vision for your project, but for implementing it in such a way that you are proud of the finished product. There are projects I like to tackle on my own, like writing! But a kitchen renovation with a plan to knock down walls was a little out of my comfort zone. We enlisted the professional opinion of a friend of ours to draw out our ideas on paper.
Hire an interior designer/architect if your renovation is of this magnitude. The cost was marginal, compared to the total expense of the project, and it was well worth it to have a trusty someone to carry your vision the whole way through- negotiating with contractors and repairmen, battling over paint colors, and, lest we forget, knocking down walls.
If you're reading this in Chattanooga, Laurel Powell Designs rocked it. Highly recommend!
Use Pinterest shamelessly
I had been using Pinterest to collect ideas for my home for months- long before I even moved in with Rob! When we started the renovation process, however, the concept of Pinterest felt girly and childish when confronted by daunting things like budget and CMU walls (that's construction talk for concrete).
Finally, in a consultation about our new kitchen cabinets, the subcontractor asked me to share my Pinterest board with him. So did Laurel, our interior designer. Even if some of the posts were unrealistic, it was the best resource for showing our contractors our taste. Another great resource for ideas and inspiration is Houzz.
Be firm about what you want
During a home renovation there are a lot of professionals coming in and out of your house with different suggestions and opinions. Understand the mechanics of your home well enough to know what is unrealistic, but stay firm about what you want in the final result. For example, we had to have a post in the middle of our island to support a load-bearing wall. At some point a subcontractor was adamant that we put two columns in to make the space appear "even." Fortunately, I had come home to check in with the contractor and was able to explain that adding a second column would only unbalance the space. Keep your vision clearly in your head and be ready to stand up for it!
Ask yourself, "is this my forever home?"
Inevitably, renovations such as these that require more than a cosmetic facelift go above budget. Be prepared. It's easy to snowball with all the bells and whistles that are available to consumers these days. Understand what you want from the space that you are rebuilding, and know where you want to spend money. For example, I love cooking and had long been unsatisfied with the electric stovetop I had been haranguing with to cook something as simple as Saturday morning bacon. Gas is unavailable in our neighborhood, but I had done plenty of research on the wonders of induction cooktops. The cooktop was more expensive, but it was a purchase Rob and I had anticipated.
Our mantra for the whole renovation was "this isn't our forever home." No, we do not need beautiful painted tiles for the backsplash, because this isn't our forever home. We don't need the extra strong stove vent because this isn't our forever home. We don't need top of the line appliances because this isn't our forever home. Research your products and vendors. Know yourself, and know what you want to spend money on. Choose good, well-researched products that are reasonably priced.
Life will get messy. Let it.
This is the space we were living in during the renovation. Until we had to move all of this into our bedroom so the contractors could tackle the living room. Rob and I certainly tested our relationship before the wedding! It was impossible to cook without a kitchen (I nearly lost it when I was cooking pasta and the spoon I was using to stir the sauce fell into Sage's dog bed and became covered in hair), and any dishes we used we washed in the bathtub. We ordered take-out almost every night. My wedding diet was Papa John's, I kid you not. But, I made up for unhealthiness elsewhere. We may have had Papa John's for dinner all the time, but I also drank green juice every morning during the renovation and ate salads for lunch. Thank goodness for the Whole Foods juice counter and salad bar.
Life will get messy. It will be uncomfortable. Just breathe and accept it. It will get better.
Have a sense of adventure
Once you've accepted the messiness, be playful. Your renovation is an adventure; treat it that way! After a hard week of delayed work and late appliances, I drove to a little pho place that Rob and I love and set out a candlelit picnic on what remained of our den floor. We had become so accustomed to using paper plates, but to boost morale I brought out our usual dinnerware even though I would be washing the bowls in the bathtub later.
Our renovation lasted from January-March, the chilly months in Chattanooga. Bundle up, watch a show, read a book. Think of it as living in an adult blanket fort, or camping inside!
Be one with the house.
Doing a home renovation is nothing short of chaos. Try to carve out a moment or two to sit down in your changing space to reflect on the life of your home. Rob and I are the second homeowners of our house. A whole family grew up there before us. It was built and decorated to their needs and taste. The husband was a handyman, his wife a talented gardener. Appreciate the lives and moments that your house has seen and be grateful to it for undergoing enormous changes. If homes have feelings, then ours was tired. Our renovation has brought it back to life and I am thankful that it did not present many barriers along the way. So find a corner, sit down, and observe the changes happening around you. It makes the experience all the more meaningful.