Renovation Budget & How to Spread Your $ Further

Hi Everyone,

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last two posts concerning small renovation projects. If you missed them or would like to review or read the amazing comments, you can find the potential kitchen Design mistake post here.

And, help for a pinky beige, some say pink-beige bathroom tile, which you can find here. By the way, Robin changed the lightbulbs, and please check the post to see what a difference it made in how the colors read!

Today, as you can see from the headlines, a topic I’m sure many of you have something to say about.

 

A Renovation Budget.

 

More specifically, let’s discuss great ways to save money. However, maybe of even greater importance when trying to save money with certain aspects or products can get one into trouble. By trouble, I mean this:

1. The job ends up costing more than it would have, had you not done the so-called cost-saving measure. That cost comes from fixing the mistake.

2. The renovation takes longer than it should. That could result in a larger outlay of funds, not to mention the inconvenience of living with a never-ending renovation that should’ve been completed six months earlier.

3. Plus, the inherent stress of watching your bank account drained of your life’s savings or a big chunk of it.

Now, you already know some of these aspects I’m about to bring up. But many of you might not have considered them. In any case, it never hurts to review.

 

Most of this I already knew, but some of it, I didn’t until recently.

 

And, I’m sure a year from now, I’ll come up with a whole bunch of other ways I could’ve saved money, time, and energy. Or, things I wish I had done differently if I could.

Have I made any mistakes yet?

Oh my, yes!

In my case, if only I had asked my architect neighbors of a great kitchen cabinetry company back in January 2021, I could’ve had this job finished a year ago. As it happens, they also used Crown Point Cabinetry and also recommended them to dozens of their clients. Oh well. It was worth the wait. Working with them has been a joy every step of the way.

 

However, this is a great place to begin discussing the renovation budget and great ways to save money.

 

Try not to be in a rush to get the job going as soon as possible.

In my case, this was not one of the mistakes I made. In fact, I am wondering what kind of crazy I was to think I could “line up a contractor” in the few days I was going to camp out in my new place upon closing in early November 2020.

I remember telling my darling realtor, Maureen O’Hara:

“The first thing I’m going to do is tackle that staircase.”

Haha! Delusional, much? Well, let’s just say wishful thinking.

I did and truly still do hate that spiral staircase. But, you guys know what happens. I moved in, and it bugged me, and so did the kitchen. However, I was so busy transitioning my life and business to a new city and STATE. And, just dealing with the day-to-day, I stopped seeing the staircase after a while. Well, sort of.

 

Still, I must admit that the fugliest railing ever makwa a great ballet barre.

 

Moving on. As many of you have witnessed, or at least in part, from the dozens of drawings I’ve produced for the last 2.5 years, it is wise to do careful planning, bearing in mind your renovation budget.

 

This begins with hiring the best professionals to help you do the job.

If this is a major renovation and involves anything structural, I highly recommend you hire a licensed architect. Or, an architectural interior designer who most likely also has a license.

 

What is an architectural interior designer?

 

They are designers who understand building systems and codes inside and out and can also do construction drawings.

Don’t all interior designers do construction drawings?

No. Designing a space and creating a construction drawing are two different skill sets. However, many people don’t do each equally well.

 

Construction drawings are like a foreign language.

 

It’s like when you know a second language but understand it better than you can speak or write it. I understand everything that’s on a construction drawing, but to create one is something I would struggle with.

While I did do construction drawings in interior design school, the heavy-duty drawings were only in two courses, and those were well over 30 years ago! In addition, in my years of doing residential design, I never had to do a construction drawing.

 

So, why does one need an architect AND an interior designer?

 

Well, you might not. But, most likely, you do. Or at least, you need to work with an architect with a strong design bent, or they have a firm with at least one interior designer on the staff.

Aren’t all architects also designers?

Well, yes, some are incredible designers. However, some aren’t as strong in that area.

 

It’s like saying, aren’t all writers also good bloggers?

 

Again, no. And even though I write for a living, I do not call myself a writer unless I’m purposely trying to sound pretentious. haha

While there is a tremendous amount of overlap between interior design and architecture, an architect, first and foremost, is looking at the structure. Many are less concerned with the intricacies of the design.

 

What if you work with a highly experienced builder who designs and designs construction drawings?

 

In that case, you might not need an architect. These are known as design/build companies. However, please know this doesn’t necessarily mean the fees will end up being less. In fact, they might end up being more than if you hired each independently.

My architect is charging approximately 5% of the cost of the job.  However, if a design-build company is 30% higher than your GC, your renovation budget might go further if you hire a designer independently. Of course, this isn’t always the case. It’s just something to be mindful of.

 

Wait, Laurel, what about DIY jobs?

 

Okay, I know there are a few readers who’ve had a lot of experience renovating and flipping houses. If you have a talent for design and have worked with a builder for a while, that’s a different matter. I would never even consider doing my own renovating. I wouldn’t consider it any more than I would trying to deliver my own breech twins.

But, let’s take Renovation Husbands who are renovating their Dorchester (neighborhood in Boston) home and documenting it on Instagram. They have fabulous taste, and their home is lovely.

While they are doing a lot of the work, (or at least, appear to be), I’m sure they have professionals helping them.

 

Another way people try to save money is when hiring their general contractor.

 

That, right there, is a separate blog post. I’m sure many of you have horrendous stories to share when you hired the one whose bid was the lowest. Then, with the job 75% done, he walked off the job, leaving you scrambling to find someone who could finish it.

This is not to say that the cheapest is going to do a bad job or walk off the job.

 

Okay, you’ve hired a terrific architect and interior designer.

 

You might also need a kitchen designer if you’re doing a kitchen. No worries, you can work with many kitchen designers on a consultation basis. That’s what I did, and am so glad. I worked with Susan Serra, who I’ve mentioned on the blog, before. While I knew what I wanted, she fully understood the technical limitations and also came up with some ideas I hadn’t considered. Plus, she has this terrific 3-D software that lets you see how your design will look.

 

I would call Susan if you need a kitchen consult. She loves working long-distance.

 

Of course, it’s vitally important to work with a competent general contractor you feel comfortable with.

 

But, before you start, one way to save money on your renovation budget is to hone in on what you want.

That goes for decorating, as well.

Sometimes people know what they don’t want,  but haven’t a clue what they do like. And, herein lies the problem. (I talked more extensively about this issue here.) The architect may come up with design after design that you don’t like. Those extra revisions are going to cost you money.

 

This is why working with an interior designer can be very helpful.

 

They are looking at your entire project. Again, it might only be on a consultation basis. Or, they can also source and procure products for you. Architects do this as well.

Always have a clearly worded contract that spells out who does what.

 

But, here’s the bottom line with getting terrific professionals to help you with your job and aid in having your renovation budget go further. They will:

 

  • Aid in keeping the job moving along.
  • Trouble-shoot in the middle of the job
  • Help the builder fully understand what he is building
  • Assist you in creating the space of your dreams.
  • Help you with sourcing.

In short, they will be available to help you not make costly mistakes.

To put it in concrete terms. If you are doing a $500,000 major renovation, spending the “extra” $30,000 could help keep the job at only $450,000 with fewer headaches.

 

Okay, it’s been several months; you have a beautiful design and construction drawings that you love and a team of talented and highly skilled professionals.

At this point, you will have a good idea of how much it will cost to do the job.

 

Aside from permits and whatnot, the rest of the expenditures are the items you will put in your home.

We are talking about:

 

  • architectural elements such as doors, windows, and mouldings.
  • cabinetry
  • flooring
  • stone and tile
  • appliances
  • HVAC
  • hardware
  • lighting

And, oh, man. Are you ready? I already have two ceiling fixtures. One for the entry and one for the kitchen.

 

But, does anyone want to take a guess how many more I need?

 

I need 19 more light fixtures upstairs. That’s not including the four table lamps I already have.

For downstairs, not including three existing table lamps, I need 7 more fixtures.

That’s 4 additional light fixtures and 22 sconces.

But, this is where the difficulty lies if funds are tight.

Nice things are expensive. If I got every light fixture I wanted to use and was paying retail, the cost would be over six figures.

 

Well, I don’t have six figures to spend on lighting.

 

I don’t have five figures, either. That means I’m going to have to be creative.

There is a lot of attractive, cheap lighting in the marketplace. Where it usually falls short is in the finish.  However, some of you might remember this post where I took a cheap lamp and made it look pretty darned good (virtually) with a little paint and a nice lampshade.

 

So, for today, please feel free to talk about anything you’d like concerning renovations.

That includes:

  • Horror stories or near misses.
  • Or, ways you saved a project.
  • Maybe something didn’t work out, and it turned out to be a blessing.

 

However, if you have some ways that you saved a lot of money to stay within your renovation budget, please share those too.

 

And, I’m not talking about getting everything on Facebook Marketplace, yard sales, second-hand shops, and the like. Of course, those are all terrific ways to save money on your renovation.

For Monday evening, I will focus on some expensive lighting I love. It’s a sconce I’ve adored for the last 2o years after I saw one in John Rosselli’s showroom. I shared several beauties in the Ralph Lauren – how to get the look post.

 

John Rosselli - Furlow Gatewood Hurricane sconce - wall sconces
Here’s an exquisite example in this very old article about Furlow Gatewood and John.

Furlow Gatewood home entry living room

 

Furlow Gatewood had several of them in his homes.

 

Furlow Gatewood architectural gem

There were four in the entry of Cuthbert House.

 

Furlow Gatewood front door with Anglo Indian Sconces

 

furlow gatewood rod collins - white ceiling fan

 

All Furlow Gatewood images are by Rod Collins.

 

So, please stay tuned. I’ve been scouring the internet and came up with something interesting I’d like to share.

 

OneMansFolly_Georgian sconces - Furlow Gatewood

 

Above, from Furlow Gatewood’s Peacock House, a triple anglo-indian sconce! Remember when we examined Furlow’s palm fronds? I recall he had them made in India. Hmmmm… maybe he had the sconces made, too.

Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll report my findings Monday evening.

xo,

 

PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES

 

And, also the

Nordstrom Anniversary Sale

***Ground Zero for the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.  (There, you will find widgets for home furnishings, women’s clothing and beauty products hand-picked by Melissa T and me.) It’s still early access through the 16th. But, on Monday, everyone can shop. So, this is a great time to create your wish list. Popular items do sell out quickly.

 

Are you planning on doing some shopping on Amazon sometime soon?

 

All you need to do is click this link and forget about it if you’re not ready to shop now.

I will earn a small commission at no extra expense for any orders you make within 24 hours of that click. Your purchases help keep me afloat and help me purchase those 26 light fixtures. lol

 

Amazon ad

23 Responses

  1. Dear Laurel,

    I’m a longtime fan of yours who reads your newsletter pretty consistently. I’m also a person who formerly had paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia episodes, from my teens through my late 20s. No, it didn’t go away on its own. And my cardiologist suspected it was Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome. It caused me to get nauseated and faint while running. But worse, my heart would race to 220 b.p.m. and stay there for 8 or more hours.

    I went undiagnosed for years, despite seeing many cardiologists. I finally went mid-episode to the ER and caught it on EKG, mid-episode. It was the only time in my life I didn’t have to wait more than 60 seconds to go from front doors of ER to seeing a doctor, since the episode also gave me chest pains and made it difficult to breathe.

    The ER doc didn’t diagnose it. But Marcus Wharton, M.D., a Duke cardiologist did. And then, when he put the stethoscope to my ears in office when I was feeling normal, I heard the telltale sound of this disorder in my heart myself, even.

    He said it would worsen as I aged until I no longer wanted to go out in public. So your story sounded familiar. And that’s what caught my attention.

    However, I’ve not had an episode since age 27. And it’s not because it went away on its own. It didn’t. Marcus Wharton, M.D., surgically corrected it for me.

    What he did was put instruments in my heart, reaching them via an incision in my groin. He threaded all the wires and tools up through my femoral artery to the left ventricle of my heart. And he used radiofrequency waves from the instrument to surgically ablate the ectopic AV nodal tissue that was causing the disorder in my heart.

    They kept me awake, but sedated the whole time. Recovery was an overnight stay in Duke Medical Center (hospital), followed by taking it super easy for a handful of weeks.

    He promised me I’d never have another episode. And he was right. I haven’t, for more than 27 years now. My heart will occasionally try to go into tachycardia, though even that attempt is rare now. Regardless, my heart cannot go into tachycardia now. Its attempt fails every time – stopping the proposed, aberrant rhythm within 2-3 beats.

    I don’t know if he could help with your condition. And I was told he moved to South Carolina several years later to take a job closer to the coast. But I really think you should look him up and contact him. If he’s retired by now (possible, though he was young when I met him), he should at least know someone who can still do the procedure and do it well.

    Not all cardiologists are trained to do this procedure. And I saw some of your replies that noted you had a great medical team. I’m sure you do. But the best thing to have is someone who both specializes in this particular procedure (Dr. Wharton did), and someone who has done a literal ton of these procedures. He has. That’s the doctor who’ll know if it could work for you, and whether he can do the procedure on you.

    I hope this helps. For me, it’s a blessing to not have to deal with the condition any longer. I’ve progressed to training like an olympic athlete in my 40s, even leg pressing 960 lbs., 17 reps, 5 sets, squatting 320 lbs. for same, and running five miles without even needing to open my mouth to breathe. That’s how strong and well my heart is now.

    Take care,

    Dr. Susan Rodzik
    (Ph.D., Biochemistry, B.S. from Duke University)

  2. Hi Laurel,
    I waited over 5 years for a discontinued light fixture from Currey and Co. that I got from Ebay but it was worth the wait!! I paid under $500.00 for a $3,000.00+ light fixture and I love it so much. I have found many wonderful furniture pieces(wood) that are so well made on ebay, too.

  3. So much good advice – from Laurel and all who post here! My tip for the day is really a repeat of what Laurel mentioned some time ago. When searching for sources for anything:
    1. Take picture with your phone – of an actual object, a picture of it from magazine, online. Save it to your gallery. Crop the pic to include just what you are looking for.
    2. Go to: ima ges.go ogle.c om When you post this, eliminate the spaces.
    3. Click the icon of the camera, and then the saved pic from your gallery.
    I was looking for realistic selling price for an antique washstand pitcher. My search turned up several sources. One for $775 (1st dibs)!! and one for $60 (a lady in the midwest). So tip #2. If you have found what you’ve been wishing for on 1st dibs, it might be good to look elsewhere as well…

  4. Investing our own time has saved us quite a bit on our remodel. My husband and I are retired and relocated, downsizing to an older brick ranch near our son. Our son did a DIY demo on walls our home inspector told us weren’t support walls and kitchen cabinets while we cleaned up and took away the materials for savings – no special skill needed. We needed to change the location of the kitchen sink and main bathroom’s bathtub. We live in a small town and hired a plumber/electrician to do the work needing to be done because the family owned business had been in business for nearly fifty years. You don’t stay in business in a small town if you’re not reliable, skilled and trustworthy. They were also able to do the carpentry work to close old doorways up, make new walls/ doors, install new stock cabinets, lay tile, replace all the wiring and plumbing. They had worked together many years which speed up the work, saving us money. We checked in with them at least once a day and were accessible if they needed us to make a decision or buy needed supplies and deliver them so their work wasn’t held up. We chose neutral materials in stock at our local home building store which saved us significant money and time. Researching the internet for items that were going to have to be ordered through the home building store also saved time and money. I chose a bathroom cabinet on sale through an online retailer that was half the price if I chose a particular green rather than navy blue. I can paint it later if I want!

  5. Those beautiful sconces in Furlow Gatewood’s house are by David Duncan in NYC and also available on 1st Dibs. There are several options for the carved wood back plate and clear or colored glass. You may be right about them being made in India. I’ve been circling them myself and you’re right, stunning but VERY expensive.

  6. I learned the hard way NOT to rely on the “designer” supplied by the contractor. We just finished a bathroom remodel and I am terribly disappointed with the tile choices. On hindsight, I realize the designer’s job was to give a few ideas then move us towards a decision as quickly as possible. They did not help us see pitfalls in color change with lighting, they did not warn us about buying tile online (quality issue); nor did they warn us that what we chose and had a sample of would be very different in quantity since the tile had variation. Turns out we had been issued a sample on the extreme end of the variation type, and the result is we have a tile that looks grey instead of white, and very shiny instead of soft. When the designer told us “by george I think you’ve got it” we were so relieved, b/c decision making is hard and we are not experienced renovators. However. We didn’t got it. We are living with our mistake b/c it would cost around 10k to change the tile. However, the room does not have the look and feel we envisioned.

  7. What a great post, and such insightful comments!

    Another suggestion for hiring a contractor: just bc he did “X” for you in the past, may not mean he can do “X” now, or knows enough to do “Y.”

    Our friends hired a contractor to put on a new back deck, and tie in the roof on the new build – no small feat. He did an excellent job, and so they reached out to have him update their front deck, and add a cement sidewalk. After tearing up their front yard, he left a half-finished mess and disappeared. It took some time to find out that he suffered from substance abuse, and that he had been incarcerated. They had to rip out everything & start over.

    And while DIY can be an assurance of quality & cost-saving, as one ages, DIY can become really difficult. I used to do all my own painting & sewing, but my hands can’t do it all anymore. So I’m delegating these tasks & inspecting the work.

  8. We’re DIY-ers because my husband is incredibly capable at nearly all the renovation skill sets, and I am incredibly good at visualizing what could and should be designed to suit a space and live in the home with pleasure and ease. Sad for me, my dear guy doesn’t much LIKE to work on houses (metalwork or cars, yes) and doesn’t have as high a regard for good, cohesive, elegant design as I do, which means we buy fixers and get them redone on a tiny budget, rather slowly and with arguments! Lately I am learning a few more skills so I can do more things to our home without waiting on hubby (and sometimes avoid arguments too).
    Our newest home needs the kitchen completely redone and rearranged (our first kitchen gut job), so I got a kitchen consultation with Susan Serra for my 40th birthday this year, a gift from my mom who understands LOL. I have had her name saved for years thanks to you, in case I ever did need to do more than a facelift on a kitchen! It was so worth it as I knew it would be. I met with her to look over my design, which was as well thought out as I could manage, but I am well aware that I don’t know everything. She pointed out a couple things I missed, and helped me with other issues that I knew needed addressing but I was clueless how to think through. So thank you Laurel for the affordable and wonderful recommendation!

  9. My husband and I have done 4 homes remodels 2 complete to the studs over the past 35 years and we’re still married! We are the GCs so we hire our tradespeople. First 3 homes we had a very good team of plumber electrician drywall carpenter and a very experienced interior designer who worked with our kitchen bath designer.
    We bought supplies pulled permits ran the project. By acting as GC we saved 30-40 percent. Our interior designer we paid time and material as well as our tradespeople.
    Our latest home we needed to hire a whole new crew because we moved out of state and most of our crew had retired. We became our own interior designer and relied on kitchen bath designer for drawings etc. In Scottsdale most remodeling doesn’t require permits where we needed to was new electrical panel and gas lines.
    We spent $375k including $100k for top of line Pella windows. Our carpenter said if we had hired the GC he worked for we would have doubled our construction cost that’s how much labor has gone up.
    We did this last remodel 2020-2023 at first no GC would even take on our home unless we spent over $500k that’s how busy they were.
    Being a GC is a full time job we both worked at this role.

  10. Currently have an entire house renovation, restoration, demolition, new build project I am about half way through on a house built in 1870 and with additions in the 1920’s. Started by interviewing architects and did very through research before selecting one. The architect we selected had a GC he worked with on many of his projects and we did the same research on him. So far we have not had any major issues other than it is costing more than we wanted to put into the house. If anyone is interest they can check it out on Instagram at bigmonsterhouse.

  11. Such helpful comments.

    Now on my third renovation, some of my lessons have been similar to others. First, I do extensive research rather than rely on the advice and opinion of one contractor. I learned early that the difficulty and cost of a job has a direct relationship to the contractor’s skill, experience and willingness.

    Second, I’ve learned to wait, shop and research some more. Unless, of course, it’s a vintage or antique piece at a local consignment or thrift shop. But I’ve gotten incredible online deals by waiting and watching the sales cycles.

    I’ve learned that very few people have my imagination, eye for design and ability to visualize a space, which means they get freaked out by the work or the change. I’m told, “It’s fine the way it is,” or “You have to have everything perfect!” No, not perfect but I want it done right and the way I want it. These are the same people who walk into my home and are blown away by the transformation. So I’m very careful who I talk to and even more picky about who I listen to, like Laurel.

  12. Hello Laurel, My recommendation would be to read books about the entire design process and principles, not just to decide I want this latest couch or those fancy tiles. This will enable you to generate your own good ideas, to see how everything flows together, and also to communicate more easily with design professionals by speaking the same language. (Just as learning to play the cornet, at least a little, taught me to appreciate better the efforts of professional cornet players.*)
    .
    Also, keeping what is original, if in good condition, can save lots of money, in addition to respecting the original design. For example, my last house in Cleveland had its original 1950’s kitchen, all in good working order. I actually liked the maple cabinets, Formica counters, and linoleum floor (which looked especially good after it had been waxed–now I understand all those pearl-wearing housewives in old commercials obsessing about waxing their floors!). Ripping it all out and installing a McMansion kitchen in an older ranch house would have looked ridiculous and cost a bundle.
    –Jim
    *Speaking of brass instruments, ask your son what he thinks of Arthur Pryor, my favorite of all trombone players.

  13. Elizabeth, I totally agree with your posting. Single at 71 I decided to build a house as I’d always wanted to. During the design phase I needed to simplify some of my dreams. Doing so was difficult during the process but in the end allowed me money for travel, dining, decorating, grandchildren and otherwise enjoying life whereas that abundant crown moulding, bathroom marble and stone floor might not have given me the same joy. I chose well for myself. No matter your budget there is always something you have to question in regard to greater happiness.

    I’m certain that hexagon tile in your bathroom will continue to be lovely as hexagons are timeless.

  14. I wish I had searched online court cases for pending and past legal actions against certain people / companies I hired. Had I done that in advance I would have made different choices — even with referrals and reference checking.

  15. I bought a lot of antique light fixtures and decorative items on online auctions. It saved a ton of money and made the house look less new and more custom. It has developed into a hobby for me as I’m now buying old light fixtures and restoring them.

  16. Greg, I’ve heard that the most expensive words in renovation are “while we’re at it…..”

  17. Maybe what I’d add to this astute post is blindingly obvious, but….. think very hard during the planning about all your other priorities, and the marginal utility/pleasure and COSTS– in money, time, headspace, and relationships — of all your choices. Especially since you know that everyrthing is going to be more expensive and time-consuming than you anticipate. I love my condo. But it’s in a 100-year-old building, where the plumbing and wiring need to be babied, in a town with aggressively conscientious building inspectors. My daughter lives in Australia and I still hope to see Karnak, not to mention any future koala bear grandchildren. So…. the upcoming age-in-place bathroom renovation keeps the old hex tile floor, and replaces the clawfoot bathtub with a low-sided bathtub, instead of a walk-in shower that would require re-doing plumbing pipes and drains. C’est la vie, as GL would agree.

  18. I have a great relationship with my architect, my kitchen designer, and my GC, but they don’t have a great relationship with each other…lots of sniping and backbiting and finger-pointing. I wish I had paid the extra money to hire a project manager for my whole-house remodeling. It would have saved me time and money (and stress!) to have a referee/judge. Another big way to save money is to avoid spending it in the first place. I have fallen into the trap of thinking “while I’m doing everything else it would be foolish and petty not to do _____.” That myriad of small adds has reallyy aded to my total cost. I should have set clearer boundaries up front or increased my original budget to cover the potential adds.

  19. My biggest expense came from adding on to the original plan. I kept adding things to my contractor’s to do list. I thought it was easier if these things were done before I moved it.

  20. Great advice Laurel. If we all chip in with examples you might have enough for a blog piece we can use to convince those baulking at paying design costs (or too impatient to wait for the design process, dear husband) that good design saves money. Here’s a couple of our mistakes, which would have cost double if we’d finalised flooring: relocating study door, £700; swapping out bath for shower in a newly renovated bathroom, £1,200 (luckily we had enough tiles left). I also have repainted the main suite four times (£500) because I’m trying to work with the wrong coloured carpet in the bedroom (£600). We will take a resale hit (who knows how much), because an ad hoc floor plan has made furniture placement a chew in almost every room, and created a very difficult flow in the kitchen. Other people’s examples would be very useful. (Actually, our biggest financial mistake was not tearing the house down and building from scratch.) I can’t stress it enough – get professional help. Design the whole house, even if you’re doing it up over time. It needs to be cohesive, it needs to flow, and unless you’re a genius it’s almost impossible to make that happen on the fly.

  21. I have plenty of horror stories, but they’re so specific that nobody would learn much from them!
    Work on our house was put out to tender to reputable contractors by the architectural office which specialized in the restoration of historic buildings and had done the initial survey before we bought the ruin. This was no guarantee: we were lucky with most of the contractors, unlucky with two, with disastrous results in one case, and a mix of good and disappointing results in the other. Research your contractors, word of mouth is a good thing, talk to your neighbours!
    In order not to waste money, make sure you put the big money into the fixed finishes and appliances, the things you’re not going to be changing, and into the technical stuff, insulation, ventilation, electrical system, things like that. On a big renovation, budget for 33% more than the estimates. We did, and it still wasn’t quite enough. We lived with concrete sub-floors for 14 years in two rooms because we couldn’t afford to finish them at the time.
    Labour is an ever-increasing part of the costs. Anything you can DIY saves money. The simplest thing is painting, and if you’re prepared to take your time and give it care, you can do a better job than the professionals. Warning: in an old house with plaster over stone or brick, you need breathable (= microporous) undercoat as well as breathable paint or you’ll be in trouble. We found that out the hard way, having taken advice from a paint company which turned out to be totally wrong. Since I’m the painter, rectifying this has not been very expensive except in terms of hard work and dust — you don’t want to have to sand your walls back to bare plaster, trust me, I’ve done it!
    As for other fittings and furniture, my method is NEVER to buy something at first sight. Examine the item, look around, see what you can get that’s similar and more budget-friendly. You’re going for the look of the space as a whole, don’t go crazy over details. The only exception to this is brocante buys, you have to buy it when you see it or it’ll probably be gone, but be prepared to haggle. Here’s an experience from yesterday. We went to a big professional brocante, and separately we both looked at an early 19th-century armchair. My husband was quite smartly dressed, I wasn’t (I never am for such expeditions, more important is to carry a tape measure, the F&B colour card, cotton gloves with rubber studs and a large sturdy bag). The vendor’s price to him was quite a bit higher than to me. (We decided together that we didn’t like it enough anyway.) Moral: look as poor as you can, within the bounds of credibility!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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