Is there a fixer-upper in your future? If so, we wish you bonne chance and a soupçon of patience, plenty of good luck – and the golden ticket: a good contractor.
We love a renovation and the extreme satisfaction of taking the before to the after. There’s simply nothing like it. We know renovations are serious hard work – you’re dealing with years of other people’s taste and maybe some hidden problems – but we’ve found that a little organization and focus helps the process go smoother.
We’re fresh off a really wonderful renovation in Paris. Yes, it included many late, late night calls with our wonderful contractor; hours sourcing hardware, fabric, art and accessories; as well as packing up seven suitcases full of custom curtains and pillows. It was hard work but the reward was so sweet. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog – and if you’re a renovation nut like we are, you’ll love it. And, in other news, Ann’s in the middle of a fancy condo re-do that we can’t wait to see (she’s making us wait until she’s completely finished!)
We’ve done renovations in our back yards and across the ocean. Hands-on and via email. Inches and centimeters. Did we make mistakes? Oh yes, but we lived to tell the tale and we hopefully won’t be making those same errors again. More than once we probably could have used a little birdie chirping these tips in our ears.
1. Do your homework
Whether it’s an architect or a builder you’re hiring, do your homework. Check references, call past clients and visit completed projects. Ask lots and lots of questions: were projects completed on time and on budget? Were there any red flags? How were the subcontractors? Are your professionals knowledgeable about local permitting, rules or regulations? Is there a contract in place that spells out the nitty-gritties, like insurance, payments and how change orders are processed? How is the accounting handled?
2. Speaking of change orders…
Changes mid-steam can be expensive – both to the wallet and the clock. They also have a tendency to sneak up on you so plan, plan, plan ahead so you know exactly what the scope of construction is. Of course you can change your mind, but sometimes it comes with a price. Our motto: just be ready and be prepared to pay, if necessary.
3. Expect the Unexpected
We’ve all got those bumpy-road stories: what about low ceilings and bumpy load-bearing walls that can’t be moved in a 19th century Parisian apartment? A completely undetected utility line running right under the construction zone? Bathrooms that need to be brought up to code? Despite all that planning, Mr. Renovation has a funny way of playing a joke on you. Grin and bear it and plan for it – and know that your project will probably run a few dollars higher and a little bit longer than you planned. If it doesn’t: congratulations!
4. Have a vision
Start a design file (how did we ever live without Pinterest) to organize and stash your design ideas and inspiration. (Meg: I know how we used to do it! I had a gigantic binder filled to the brim with magazine cuttings. I carted that thing to every meeting – and it was heavy.)
Think through your floor plan and yes, it’s okay to obsess over every little detail. That’s what makes a custom job so unique and special. The hundreds of decisions required for a job will run the gamut from bath and kitchen fixtures to flooring, door and cabinet hardware…and of course, paint!
5. Talk it out
Figure out a good system of communication with your team. I love texting but sometimes it’s good to have an email thread of conversation that everyone can refer to when memories get hazy. Ann was able to complete not one, but two, renovations in Paris – while she was in Atlanta – via email, text and telephone. It helps that she’s completely fluent en francais.
We like to tell our builders and contractors to be sure to give us a heads-up for upcoming deadlines. No-one wants to be that client who hasn’t picked out paint colors, door styles or hardware. Sweat the small stuff early on and get those pesky little details decided on as soon as you can. That might mean sampling paint colors, trialing hardwood stains or even cutting out furniture templates to see how a room is going to lay out. Building or renovating has a strict order of sequence: the very first thing you need to pick out is your plumbing hardware!
7. Think Ahead
The worst is when you move into your lovely, spanking-new renovation…and realize that there are no outlets on the wall next to the Christmas tree. Or, the switch for the cute outdoor light is actually downstairs in the basement for some reason. Or you forgot to put outlets in the island. I kept a notebook next to my bed for all these odd little electrical thoughts that would come to me in the middle of the night. If you’re building from scratch, don’t forget floor plugs in your living areas. And, our mantra: dimmers, dimmers, dimmers.
8. Figure out where the bang for the buck is
We love figuring out a focal point (or points!) and then going for it. Ann cleverly used a faux fireplace in her beyond-charming (and tiny!) Paris apartment as a focal point to ground a drop-dead gorgeous Louis mirror. At the Nest, we figured out pretty quickly that iron windows looking over our beloved covered porch was where we wanted the most bang for the buck. Take advantage of a view or elevate that room you spend the most time in (yes, it might be the kitchen!) and plan on going for it.
9. Spend the most you can – on certain things
Not counting furnishings, figure out what’s important to you. I love solid, heavy doors and good windows. Also, substantial and proportionate baseboards and good light fixtures. One treat: we had an IT wiz come install all our electronic stuff: the tvs, internet and security. His guarantee? We never, ever have to call the cable company again. That alone was worth it!
There are usually some corners that can be trimmed if necessary – and we figure that half the time, the only person who notices or cares is us. Can’t replace all the hardwood floors? Match the existing ones and cover with a gorgeous dark stain or white paint. Is the top of the line hardware out of sight, budget-wise? Splurge on your dream door handle for the front door but go with something else on interior doors.
10. Be creative – and have fun!
We like to have fun while we’re designing and renovating – and think nothing of bringing multiple suitcases stuffed full of pillows we’ve carefully specified for certain jobs – or scouring local sources for the perfect accessory or fixture.
We all know that even the best laid plans can go awry so the keys to successful renovation is being able to go with the flow and plan, plan, plan as much as you can.
Most of all, our humble advice is this: plan as best you can, make your decisions in advance as you can…but most of all, enjoy the transformation of your little caterpillar to a gorgeous butterfly.