Helpful tips for remodeling or renovating

Shoshanah Siegel

Whether you have been in your home for years or are a new owner, here are some tips about remodeling, updating or renovating your home.
I have worked with more than one family who has had horror stories about their contractors and how they wished they never had undertaken the task of doing anything to their homes.
Recently, a client of mine told me that they are actually thinking of putting their home on the market because the remodel had dragged on for over a year and a half. Last month the contractor suddenly walked off the job, just when they were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The excitement and enthusiasm has now turned to sadness and frustration.
Some people have found themselves losing all of their savings on work not done right. Finding a reputable contractor or vendor is a very common concern. There are popular shows on TV, such as Holmes on Homes and Rescue my Renovation, that tackle the headache of renovations gone bad.
You can do your due diligence in finding a good contractor, but how can you make sure that the process goes relatively well, while keeping your sanity and stress to a minimum? Here are some insights from reputable contractors and experts in the remodeling and design world. Here is advice on what they would like from you, even before you approach them about working on your home. Yes, the building process can be fulfilling and exciting for everyone.

Art for In Living Colorweb

Do your homework
It is much easier for you to get what you want if you first figure out what you want. Remodeling and renovating are expensive, so ask yourself why you’re remodeling and what you need to get out of it. Is your family expanding? Are you attempting to increase your equity for a quick turnaround? Are you fulfilling a lifelong dream?
Though you may not be starting a remodel, update, or renovation on your kitchen first, for this article I will discuss the process for this room, which can also be applied to any other room you’ve selected.
Let’s say you want to work on your kitchen. Your kitchen should reflect your lifestyle. It should accommodate your cooking needs, provide the type of space you need for dining and offer plenty of storage. Here are some questions you might ask yourself:
• What is working with the space and what is not? How many people will be cooking and gathering here? What are the traffic patterns needed to move around with ease and efficiency?
• What is the size of the space? Would you need to expand the room for your needs? If you are planning on opening up to another room, are you sure it is not a load-bearing wall? This might require structural work and unforeseen costs.
• What is the connection of the kitchen to adjacent rooms? Do you want an open floor plan?
• Are you remodeling your kitchen within the existing footprint? Any changes, will cost more, but you may really need and want this.
• What is the condition and age of the building? You might find yourself needing to upgrade your electrical or plumbing.
• What is your budget? You may have Champagne tastes on a beer budget. On the Real Simple website (, they state that “Before you meet with a contractor or an architect, you’ll need a ballpark estimate— then both of you will be able to talk honestly about what’s possible. (P.S.: It’s a good idea to build some padding— at least 10 percent is recommended— into your number, for all those unexpected “uh-ohs” and “might-as-wells” that will crop up.)”

Make a wish list
I suggest making two columns: one column with your wants and the other, your needs. That way, when faced with tough choices down the line, you’ll have a clearer picture of your priorities—what has to happen now and what can wait. (A second bathroom upstairs might be a must; a stainless-steel Viking range, maybe not so much.) Creating a wish list also allows for a dialogue between family members and compromises that might need to be made. The more detailed you are, the better.
For a variety of reasons, many of my clients do their renovations or remodeling in stages. When we first moved into our home 20 years ago, we really lacked funds to remodel the kitchen of our dreams. We did most of the work ourselves and learned a lot along the way. Also, when we needed to install new plumbing in the house, we had the plumber add the needed connections for us to possibly add another bathroom in the future. Our plumber told us that by doing it then at very little cost, we might be able to save money in the future.

The cart before the horse
I remember an art teacher of mine who used to say “Go from the general to the particular.” In this case, it means creating a preliminary floor plan and elevations showing the layout and cabinet sizes. You really need to figure out what will go where, how many square feet you will need, and ultimately how much this will cost before you hand off the project. This will give you a starting point for an estimate of costs. This might even determine what fixtures and finishes you might consider.

Fixtures and finishes
Some start the process by looking at appliances, others at photos of kitchens. Even though I do this for a living, I continue to create ideabooks and folders of pictures for myself and my clients. I also check out products and ideas on, go to open houses, and look at showrooms, books and magazines. Any chance I get, I go to large stores to look at new items.
By going through the selection process, you will find your style, whether it’s modern, classic, traditional, cottage or a personal style in between. You probably know if you want a white kitchen, a natural wood kitchen or some color. Your ideas can be as formal as creating a notebook with folders, or it can be a folder with a group of photos.
Now you need to make your final selection of finishes and fixtures. This usually includes:
• Cabinetry construction type, doorstyle, finish and color
• Countertop material
• Refrigerators and other appliances
• Kitchen sink and faucet
• Light fixtures
• Flooring
• Backsplash
• Decorative hardware

Asking the right questions and creating a plan
No matter what room(s) you are planning to remodel, there are numerous sites that provide free checklists, ways to organize yourself and the tools to create a floor plan and select items you may want and the pricing.
Both Lowes and Home Depot have great websites and staff to assist you. You can also find tools and options at,, and . Want more assistance? There are sites online that charge a fee. I would check out the free sites first.

Nothing is set in stone
Remember that at this point you are in the planning stages and that your scope of work and your budget will change many times during the design process as you become more educated and able to determine what you want and what you can afford. As a homeowner, you’re not expected to walk into this knowing what everything should cost. Remember, this is an educational process.

First things first
Be sure to check your calendar. What is your timeline for the renovation? If you want a major remodel of your living room for the holidays, don’t wait until the middle of September to start talking about it. You won’t want to install a new roof during the winter, just as you might not want all your family visiting in the summer when you’re remodeling your bathrooms. You want to give yourself enough time to think through the process and be as informed as you can.

In my next article, I will cover topics on how to hire a contractor and other professionals and ways to make sure you get what you need to complete the project on time, within budget and with the least amount of headache and stress.

Shoshanah Siegel provides color consulting as well as space planning, remodeling, upgrading and staging through her firm Your Color Diva. She can be contacted at (562) 427-0440, or Her ideabooks and portfolio are available at .


Leave a Reply

Related Posts