|Inspired by this floor I saw on Houzz, I made it a focal point in my bathroom renovation.|
Preparing for a renovation project and wondering what to expect? Projects vary, depending on the room you are renovating and the scope of changes. But the process, from inspiration through execution, remains pretty much the same. Most renovation projects follow these phases in this order.
Phase 1: Inspiration
|This bathroom on Houzz has too many focal points|
In a kitchen you might choose a professional range and a colorful backsplash as your focal point or a copper farmhouse sink and a patterned cement floor. Then go plain to neutral on your other choices. It’s the neutrals, such as subway tile, that create the backdrop against which your focal points stand out.
Our bathroom layout is your standard mid-century New York City apartment bath. The only thing it has going for it is a standalone shower stall. This meant that I could have a deep soaking tub without an enclosure as my main focal point and I wanted it to have a marble deck and apron. I fell in love with a floor tile from Heath Ceramics Dwell Collection that I knew was going to make a strong statement. After settling on these two, my other choices needed to be plain – white porcelain sink and white field tile for the walls and a contrasting gray subway tile in the shower. It was tempting while ordering the sink to consider a marble top or while standing in the tile studio to consider adding some flashy glass boarder tiles to the shower. I resisted, and I’m glad I did.
Phase 2: Planning
Once you have a good idea about what you like, depending on the size of your project it might be time to meet with an architect, especially if you intend to change the floor plan of your house by, say, bumping out a wall or adding an addition.
I didn’t require an architect on our home renovation. But I did have to do a lot of planning, some of it pretty technical. I read up on and learned a lot about what goes on behind the walls of a bathroom, spent hours on the phone with the Kohler reps to understand what kinds of plumbing valves I needed to order, and drafted this shower configuration to have ready to show my contractor:
My shower configuration was fairly simple. It can get complicated. If you are dreaming about multiple wall sprayers, you need to know the size of the pipes in your wall. The standard behind most walls, especially in older homes, is 1/2″. If your shower configuration calls for multiple body sprayers, that likely requires 3/4″ pipes – certainly in the supply lines. And then you have to learn if your water heater is up to the task of supplying enough hot water. Do you want the shower heads and sprayers running at the same time? Or do you want each controlled separately? This decides the number and types of valves you need to order. The fixture style can also impact your valve choices behind the walls. You need to discuss all of this with your contractor so that you know what to order. My bathroom order contained about 20 products.
If it’s a kitchen you are renovating there will be double or even triple that amount of products to order. Now might be the time to consider hiring a kitchen planner who will help you with this. All of the big box stores have kitchen planners on site to help. And if you are taking advantage of a seasonal sale, this can be a good way to go.
Or perhaps you are planning to use Ikea cabinetry. Go in first to look at styles and colors, then mess around a bit with their online planning tool before meeting with one of their kitchen designers. If you like Ikea’s prices and love their organization tools but worry about your kitchen looking too “cookie cutter”, consider buying just the cabinet boxes and having the doors custom made. Companies like SemiHandmade and Dunsmuir, make doors in all kinds of beautiful, even exotic, woods to exactly fit Ikea cabinets. You simply buy only the boxes without doors, then send the company a copy of your final Ikea purchase order. They will make doors to your wood finish and/or paint color specifications at a very reasonable cost.
The SemiHandmade doors made this kitchen of Sarah and Rupert Samuel at Smitten Studio something rather special.
Phase 3: Hiring Your General Contractor
Much has been written about hiring contractors, and I’ve read a lot of it. The horror stories about bad general contractors are enough to keep a person from even embarking on a renovation project. I’m not here to tell you any scary stories. I’ve been hiring contractors for more than a dozen years and I’ve had only good experiences so far. How do I account for this good contractor karma?
I do what the experts say to do:
- Get recommendations
- View past projects
- Get everything in writing
- And pay in thirds (first third on contract signing, second halfway through the job, third upon completion)
When I am interviewing, I look at the person’s past jobs. Remember, you are not judging the taste of the homeowner, but looking at the workmanship of the contractor – is everything symmetrical and finished looking? If not, ask for explanations. Was the job a similar complexity to yours? Are you comparing gut reno bath to gut reno bath? Full scale kitchen reno to full scale kitchen reno? If you can get in to see one of his current job sites, do it. Is the job site neat and tidy? That’s a very important flag to me.
|My go-to contractor, Henry Almeida of Almeida Renovations in Kew Gardens|
Above all, I look for a contractor who will collaborate. No project is ever perfect. There are going to be problems, so just expect that upfront. You will invariably have to troubleshoot together with your contractor, sometimes in stressful, time-strapped situations. I look for a contractor with a collaborative spirit. Not a supervisor, not an employee, not an advisor, but a partner. For your own part, expect to be a good collaborator also. You will at some point have to compromise on something you wanted or have to quickly change a product order. These things happen.
|Subcontractors installing marble tub aprons and deck|
Phase 4: Ordering
Once you’ve decided on a general contractor, you are well on your way. He will hire subcontractors and oversee them and the work that has to be done.
But did you know that ordering everything is on you? Not just the choosing, but the actual ordering. Unless otherwise specified your contractor will likely be supplying only framing supplies and perhaps some finishing wood like baseboards if stipulated in your agreement. Some contractors will be happy to order your tile or other products for you if agreed upon and they sometimes can get a contractor’s discount for you. Make sure that anything that you expect him to order is detailed in your contract with him.
Ordering is stressful. The moment you start putting down your credit card against all your dream finishes brings a jolt of reality. First, it’s a lot of money. But more than this, it forces you to come to a decision and rule things out. You may think you made up your mind about something, only to realize that you are still vacillating. Get real with yourself quickly; your timeline depends upon it.
|Our bathtub arrived damaged and had to be replaced|
Sit down with your contractor and walk through your plans before purchasing. Have him take accurate measurements of your rooms so that you can place your tile or flooring orders. Make sure that the products you want are supported by the electrical and plumbing systems behind your walls.
Purchases that will need your contractor’s input include:
- Square footage for every type of tile you are using
- Flooring square footage
- Paint amounts/types
- Size and weight of bathtub
- Toilet rough-in specs
- Shower valves that will go behind the wall
- Size and dimensions of appliances
- Electrical specs for kitchen appliances and jetted tubs (some will require a dedicated line)
- Light fixtures – if pendants, for example, how low can they hang?
- Placement of outlets and switches
Phase 5: Demolition
Home shows make demo look like fun, as homeowners take a sledge hammer to old fixtures they dislike. In reality, for a person who values cleanliness and order, it is dreary and depressing.
Make sure you have stipulated in your contract that your contractor bag and remove all debris promptly, especially if you are trying to live in your home while it’s being renovated – which I do not recommend. I have a line in my agreements that the job site will be swept up at the end of every day. I learned this from one of my contractors who always includes it in his proposals.
Your contractor will lay down stiff boards and paper to protect floors that are already finished. And he can also close off finished rooms by hanging plastic. But for the next 4-6 weeks you will be looking at something like this. And it can get very tiresome very quickly.
If you are renovating a bathroom in a home that only has one bath, forget about trying to live-in during demolition. The toilet could be out for days, depending on your order timelines and certainly the shower and bath will be out for weeks. If you are renovating a kitchen-only, you might be able to get by if you set up a table in your bathroom with washing up supplies and a morning coffee station. But it’s not pleasant. Avoid it if you can.
Phase 6: Framing
Phase 7: Electrical & Plumbing
Phase 8: Plaster & Wallboard
Once the rough-ins are completed – and if required in your area, inspections – insulation, drywall, and plaster can commence.
Phase 9: Finish Work
This is the phase where cabinets and countertops, moldings, floor refinishing, and painting happen. I personally love this phase, because the debris is disposed of and visually things are starting to come together.
But this stage is where the rubber hits the road for the home owner. If you did a good job planning and ordering, your products are coming in. Some are fitting as expected, some are not. You will find yourself running to stores or making online orders with expensive next-day or two-day delivery to make up for mistakes.
On our current home reno project, in the 11th hour we realized we needed different finishing tiles for the beveled field tile in the bathroom. I had to find them, special order them, and pay an exorbitant overnight delivery fee to get them in on time. Even so, I counted myself lucky that the whites actually matched – if you have ever tried to color-match white tiles from two different product lines you will know how very many shades of white there are and what a miracle it was that I found a match. On a previous project, the supplier sent the wrong shower body and it was installed in the wall and tiled over before anyone realized the mistake. I had to run out of work on my lunch hour to buy a different type of spout with a diverter that would be needed the next day. Sadly, it meant that I couldn’t have the Purist spout that matched my handles that I had my heart set on. Though initially I felt crushed, I located a spout from another product line that looked okay with the Purist cross handles. These things happen. You have to roll with it.
In the end, it all worked out, and we are happy with our bathroom.