Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lessons from the Dust

A long time ago, in one of my comments, someone asked me to do a post about what I learned from doing a kitchen renovation. I'm bossy by nature, and love giving advice, so you all get to suffer through this--I think you have Jaime R. to thank!

Lesson #1. Prioritize. Everyone told me you will fall into the trap "As long as we are doing x, we might as well do y." So true. Our whole reno started because my husband suggested putting in wood floors and of course we couldn't put in dark wood floors with our oak cabinets so we had to paint the cabinets and then we couldn't have white appliances with white get the drift.

Now that the reno is done, if I had to pick only one thing to do, I would get new appliances. They are great for resale and they instantly update the kitchen. And guess what is the one thing everyone compliments in my new kitchen?--the fridge--go figure. (But I do totally love my cabinets and floors.)

Lesson #2 Accept that you can't do everything at once. This is an off-shoot of lesson #1. I really really wanted to paint. But after doing the floors, Sam wasn't going to do another dang thing in the house and I don't blame him. I also really wanted to replace our track lighting with cans and some cool pendant lights...and replace our blinds with shutters. But you can't do it all. You can do it little by little:

Bad track lighting

Lesson #3. Get a ton of bids. You never know how much something is going to cost until you bid it out. Some things were way more than I thought--like the granite counter tops. Other things were a lot more reasonable than I thought--like a new banister. You never know until you get the bid. Also, I loved asking all of the contractors for advice. You never know who is going to have great ideas.

Lesson #4. Sometimes you should hire the contractor who gave you the first bid and look no further. This is a direct contradiction to Lesson #3. The first guy that gave me a bid on my tile was awesome. He called me back immediately and his prices were amazing. I knew I liked him. I didn't need to shop around. Additionally, sometimes your time is worth more than saving a few bucks.

Lesson #5. Go with your gut. I really struggled with some of the choices in my kitchen. Do I do a white island or a black one? Everyone told me I had no black in my house so I shouldn't do a black island. I knew I always wanted a black island. I did it anyway and I love it. On the railing, my contractor told me to do a stained end post. I saw a white one in Pottery Barn Kids and decided to go with that. I really love it and I'm glad I didn't let a contractor talk me out of it.

This is our banister before the floors were finished.

My granite guy tried to talk me out of the black granite sink. I'm so glad I didn't let him. Sometimes contractors have good advice, sometimes they are just looking for the easy way out. Go with your gut.

Lesson #6. Break up with bad contractors. You know the ones--flaky, dishonest, etc. There are too many contractors out there right now looking for work. Don't waste your time with anyone who doesn't call you back or doesn't show.

Lesson #7. Demand perfection or ask for discounts. I can be a real be-atch. I always get my way. My motto is: If I wanted a job done half-way I'd do it myself. I got a sweet deal on my granite because it wasn't the slab I spent hours picking out. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and get a little crazy.

Lesson #8. You can save a lot of money doing things yourself. You can also end up in divorce court. I love Sam. I also love my new floors. But I'll be honest--I don't love that we are going on five months and the trim still isn't completely finished. (Hi Sam!) The husband works a full-time job. We had a preemie. A million reasons the job took forever. I'm so glad we saved so much money and the floors are beautiful but if you can afford it, pay a professional. You may just come out even on what you save in therapy:

Sam getting 'er done

Lesson #9. When you are in the middle of the reno, it will feel like forever. There were some dark days when I was walking around on sub floor with no appliances and no counter tops and I wanted to pull my hair out. In retrospect, it doesn't seem that bad. Keep your eye on the prize. And thank the good Lord for fast food.

Lesson #10. Don't sweat the decisions too much. You're not curing cancer. You are picking out granite and new appliances for crying out loud. Whatever you get will be so much better than what you have that you will love it. I have a whole file on my computer of pictures of kitchens I love. I also have a binder of pictures I've pulled out of magazines. It is easier to show someone what you like than to tell them.

Lesson #11. I couldn't stop at 10. The job will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you anticipated. Bank on it.

I could go on and on. I'm no expert but I feel like I know so much more now that when I started. Is anyone still here? Thanks for indulging me!



Oh man, that's some good advice girl! We have been hemming and hawing on all kinds of decisions, flooring, paint, blah blah blah. Scott is taking on the floors himself...gulp! Remind me to keep my mouth shut when I'm tired, frustrated and still feeling fat in three weeks and it's not done. Your kitchen looks fantasticaloy wonderful. You chose well. Love th sink esepcially...oh and that fridge--I just want to lick it it's so pretty!


My keyboard is seriously distressed. Sorry for typos.

The Mostess said...

I thought we were going to get your top 2 tips, but this list just kept going...and going...and going...

Well, you know I have no trouble going all biz-natch on the phone or in person when wronged. I'm glad we have that in common.

I used to fall into this "nice girl" trap where I felt bad about being assertive. Not anymore! Lancer bought me this business book for the working girl (office work, not hooker work)that said to negotiate for yourself like you were negotiating for a demanding boss. Never accept lame excuses, poor service, etc. That advice was invaluable!

We learned the hard way that thing do always take longer, cost more, and are always more complicated than you think. We had to rip out our entire back patio after some guys did a crap job, and we didn't pay for any of it!

Back to your kitchen--I love it, and I'm glad you love it too. I know it's not cancer-curing important, but I do think it's important to love all of your choices.

Did I make fun of your long-winded ways earlier? Like I have room to talk.

PS--Enjoy Ashley and the boys next week!

Granite Shop Calgary said...

Use of granite makes your home beautiful...

Denise said...

Brooke, you can totally do the shutters yourself for very little money. They have these kits at the big hardware stores and you just add or subtract little strips of wood until they are the right sized. I did them in our kitchen. Seriously, so easy and under $50.

Ashley said...

Unfortunately I don't have a reno on the horizon, but these seem like good tips. Mostly the part about the wonder of fast food.

Heather said...

I'm so non-confrontational...I don't think I could call up and yell at anyone, although I know this is an effective technique. If I ever need to yell at someone, I'm calling you to do it for me.

Dave & Kami said...

It looks soo great! Well worth all the crap you went through. Hey BTW what color did you paint/stain your banister?? I love it and want to copy it!:)

brooke said...


I couldn't tell you. My cabinet people painted the white part the same as my cabinets which is not a true white but not cream either. They stained the railing part to match the floors. I had nothing to do with the entire banister staining/painting process. sorry!

Jaime said...


It's brilliant! It looks fabulous. I think you struck the perfect middle ground of not over renovating. I am going to continue to live vicariously through you for a whole lotta years more until Mr. R coughs up a dream kitchen for me.

And we r coming July. Can't wait to kiss that little man Mitchell!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. We just bought a house and we are looking to start renovations as soon as we move in. We plan on doing stuff little by little and I just LOVE all of your advice. Appreciate it!

Liz said...

Keep your notebook of ideas....I would love to take a gander at it just in case I ever get to take a wrecking ball to my kitchen.

Em said...

I think your new kitchen is the most beautiful kitchen ever.

And I love the changes and your list so much that if I ever do a reno on my home I'm just going to hire you on to make all the decisions for schmooze the contractor, or be-atch your way through it all. However you did it, it worked.

BTW, sorry that Blogger blew up that last post I commented on. It was mortifying to see my scary face and comment 6 or 7 times and then not being able to delete them.

Raderstorf Family said...

Lesson number 13..maybe, I can't remember what number you finshed off on....Hire a General Contractor to do the entire job. That way you have someone on your side managing the Subs for you. A GC's Granite guy would never dream of installing an incorrect piece of granite. Also, all subs that work for GC's are insured and Workmans Comp exempt which will protect the Homeowner in case of any mis-haps in the homes. And the most important reason to hire a GC meeting up with and shopping around Subs.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for the great tips--love the insight! :) Your kitchen looks awesome! So happy it's "done" for now.

Confessions of a Sleep Deprived Mother said...

Love it! I also agree with the paying someone being equal to what you would pay a marriage therapist. That's why we decided to just pay someone to finish our basement. Done in 5 weeks, done right, and happy marraiges abound. Had we tried to do it ourselves, it would have taken five years and we would have gotten divorced before the basement was ever done. Some things are just worth forking it out.

Linde said...

We're just starting to talk about redoing our counter tops--you're right--one thing leads to another....same way with our backyard and what we want to do.

Your place looks great!!

alexandra said...

I love your advice! Back in the old days when we lived in an area where we could afford a home, we reno-ed the kitchen. I learned all those lessons the hard way! (I am still learning to distinguish btwn choosing items of decor and curing cancer,though) All so true, esp the contractors! Your house looks amazing and I really do think Sam is awesome to have done all those floors by himself.