Our House Renovation: Lessons Learned

I see renovations all the time working in the flooring, kitchen and bath industry, and growing up the daughter of a contractor. But there are a lot of things that I didn’t learn until I went through a renovation myself, in my own home. This post isn’t about mistakes or regrets, it’s about the lessons I learned through the renovation process that I know will help me in future projects. And if you are thinking about starting a project, or are in the midst of a renovation in your home, I’ve consolidated all of the major things I learned through the process; so hopefully this will be helpful information!

If you’re new here, you can read about the details of our house renovation here, here, here, and here. And here are some photos of our kitchen, which is still in progress, as is our bathroom. (Isn’t every room a work in progress when you’re a homeowner?)

1. Live in the home first.

When I bought this home a few years ago, I was living in a rental down the street. It made perfect sense to completely renovate the home before my lease was up, so I can avoid living in all of the dust. Living through a kitchen and/or bathroom renovation does not sound like fun, but looking back, I would have lived in the home before demoing it. The kitchen and bath didn’t need a complete overhaul, I just wanted cosmetic changes that could have been done over time.

Kitchen and bath before:

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I am not a very patient person, and I finally had a house that I could make exactly like I wanted (or thought I wanted) so I wanted to start immediately.

Had I lived in the house prior to the renovation, I probably would have made different choices. I would have found out that it’s not realistic to put white floor tiles in the only bathroom in the house. I would have realized that I get very, very little light in the kitchen and would need to take that in consideration when making selections. I would have been able to take my time on choosing new appliances, paint colors, everything.

Don’t get me wrong, those months where me and my family worked every weekend and some week days on this house were some of my best memories (dad would probably say differently). It was a lot of work, but I learned a ton, and had quality time with my family.

I think in the future, if the situation allows itself, I’d prefer to live in a home first before making big decisions like I did. It would have allowed me to spread out projects financially, and there are some things you just don’t know about a home until you live in it.

2. Bring samples home.

I tell my clients this ALL. THE. TIME. Everything will look different in your lighting, compared to the lighting in a showroom. I didn’t follow my own advice and picked everything but the paint, in the showroom. FAIL!

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I knew I wanted off white cabinets (white- white would have been too white for a home built in the 50s) and this off white went great with the granite and tile. Because cabinets usually take at least 4 weeks to come in, we measured for and ordered the cabinets before I even signed my name at closing. If I had brought the samples home, I would have realized that the cabinets would appear less off white and more yellow in the kitchen’s lighting. I think they only bother me, but I probably would have picked a different color if I brought the sample to the house. Lesson learned.

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While on this topic, I also would have ordered a larger floor tile sample (most flooring companies should allow you to do this, I recommend it if their only sample is a small swatch). I put 20×20 charcoal gray tiles on the floor. I love the tile, but if I had brought an actual tile to the house, it would have been clear to me that it would greatly darken the room.

3. Patching plaster is a pain.

Our whole house has plaster walls and we’ve spent so much time patching it, which is almost impossible unless you’re an expert (to make it perfect anyway). The cabinet installer used probably every shim he had, and then some, in order for our cabinets to be straight on our very bumpy plaster walls.

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Plaster is messy to remove (and may contain some asbestos) but it probably would have been easier to just remove it in some areas where we were working and replace it with drywall. That would have also given us the opportunity to put insulation in the outside walls. We have to be strategic on what we put in what cabinets because of the lack of insulation. If we ever own another home with plaster walls, we’ll definitely take this into consideration.

4. Patience.

This probably goes along with #1 but it’s worth repeating because it affects every aspect of the renovation process. I rushed through this renovation so I could just move in and start living in the home. Those DIY shows are NOT realistic at all. No one starts and completes a renovation correctly overnight. It takes time, adjustments, and necessary changes along the way. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way and will absolutely take my time in future projects.

Overall, I love our house, and I know the renovations definitely helped, not only the value of our home, but also the quality of our life here. Sure there are some things I probably would have done differently knowing what I know now, but the home feels like ours and I’m very happy with how everything turned out.

Have you gone through a major renovation? What lessons did you learn?

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