1. A designer is essential. I never would have thought this before working with one, probably would have judged it as an unnecessary extravagance, something that only people with a lot of money do. However, now that I’ve worked with a really good one, felt the ease and comfort of the process and seen the final results, I would absolutely do it again. We didn’t use a designer for our kitchen because it was an unplanned project all around, (what we thought would be a small repair to the floor under the dishwasher caused by a leak turned into “surprise, your whole subfloor is rotten and in order to fix it we have to gut your kitchen”). Because we could barely afford the remodel, which was really more like a really expensive repair, and were doing everything by ourselves, we choose the cheapest, most bland and basic materials. It looks fine, but it looks like an apartment, is no one’s idea of a dream kitchen. Our bathroom, in stark contrast, is the nicest thing I’ve ever had. Our designer’s ability to translate what we liked into a manageable set of choices, any of which would have turned out beautifully, made the whole project so much easier. We had access to her discounts so were able to buy nicer materials than we would have on our own, and she was able to connect us with a really good contractor. If it weren’t for her, we’d still be standing in the tile aisle at Home Depot, crying because we didn’t know what to do.
2. Just as important as skillful, the people you work with should be good. What “good” means is probably different for everyone. For me it means that they were nice to us, friendly, had a good sense of humor, were good to our dogs, respectful of our space and our time. The crew that worked on our house brought a roll of carpet to put down where they’d be walking, always cleaned up after themselves, apologized for being late, asked permission to use the other bathroom or get water from the kitchen sink or wash their hands, let us know what was going on, who’d be working on what and when they’d be there, asked for clarification to be sure they were doing exactly what we wanted, and always asked if it was okay if they needed to stay late. We could text our contractor any time with questions, and even though he was supervising the work rather than doing much of it, he was always around, checking in and making sure things were going okay. He even showed up on the final day to do some of the tiny things, like hanging mirrors and such, because they’d run a day over and his guys were on another job. Again in contrast, the primary people on our kitchen job were great, but the subcontractors were jerks, made me so uncomfortable, and didn’t always do good work, and the only time I saw our contractor was the first day when he gave us the estimate and the last day when we wrote him a check.
3. Having a good sense of your own style and needs is important. For example, we needed a detachable hand held shower head because we give our dogs baths in that bathroom, which also meant we couldn’t have a super deep tub because the sides needed to be short enough that they could jump in and out. Even though it wasn’t super clear, I was able to give our designer a pretty good description of our style, which really helped her narrow down our choices. I told her,
I’d describe our style as cottage/cabin. We love Asian things (more Japanese than Chinese), bamboo, wood blinds, wood floors (although we don’t want to have them in this bathroom), seagrass baskets, plants, thrift store finds, old quilts, piles of books, collections of sea shells and rocks. Clean and rustic? If we could, we’d live in a beach cottage or mountain cabin or old farmhouse year round, so a space that’s relaxing, natural, and not too fussy, comfortable, lived in but loved. And yet, we also love the style of a 60’s ranch house, and Danish Modern. Here’s a link to a few color palette’s we like, are a lot of the colors we’ve already used in our house: http://design-seeds.com/home/entry/succulent-hues36, http://design-seeds.com/home/entry/color-reflect, http://design-seeds.com/home/entry/cut-tones5, http://design-seeds.com/home/entry/succulent-hues37
4. You don’t have to agree to anything you don’t want. You can have a slightly shorter cabinet made even though it’s shorter than the standard if you just happen to be slightly shorter than the standard yourself. You don’t have to have granite countertops, or any other type of stone or tile. You don’t have to have the typical extra towel holder by the second sink next to the door if you are so annoyed by that sort of thing that you ripped the last one out of the wall. And if they find a live phone line in the wall, you don’t have to let them connect it to an outlet in your office if you don’t want one. And you don’t have to pick one of the light fixtures your designer suggested if there’s another one you like even better.
5. Not everything will go as planned. Anyone who has ever done any kind of remodeling will be able to tell you this. You just don’t know what they’ll find when they rip down the drywall, and you can’t predict what other sort of hiccups there might be with materials or schedules or even weather. Whatever it is, it will work out in the end, so roll with it.
6. There will be lots of questions. You will be asked lots of questions and you will be asking lots of questions. Thank goodness for texting and a contractor who is quick to respond.
7. A lot of artists have day jobs. I thought it was super cute how the main guy was always singing to himself on the job, and then I found out he’s a songwriter, is in a band. And our designer teaches design as her main gig, but could easily spend all her time making lived spaces beautiful.
8. Opt for the upgrade, it will be worth it over time. We were able to get really beautiful tile, and a gorgeous cabinet and sinks, and really nice hardware, all of which we might not have selected on our own, but which makes such a difference.
9. I’m not good at giving myself nice things. There’s a really struggle there, not that I don’t think I deserve it but more like I think everyone does too and if other people can’t or don’t have nice things, I feel selfish or greedy giving it to myself. So instead I have things I don’t love or that don’t work for me, and feel a different kind of bad.
10. Giving yourself a beautiful space ripples out. Suddenly you want to make the rest of your space nicer, clean it up and make it equally beautiful. But it’s more than just the physical space. For me, it impacted how I treat myself. I gave myself something nice, and it makes me see all the other ways I’m not taking care of myself, not treating myself so well, and I want to do better.
11. The cost, the effort and the expense, will be worth it. It really is that simple. As with most good things, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
12. Having people in my house was harder than I thought. Even though they were good people and they were getting lots of good work done, it was really hard. I’m an introvert and an HSP, so all the human contact and the noise was a lot to process. And on many days, they were here around 8-9 am and didn’t leave until 5-6 pm, and there just wasn’t enough time to completely decompress from it before someone was back again. I was actually glad for the few times someone was going to be late or we had a day where someone only worked half a day. It made the whole project take longer, but it was nice to have that space. I think the dogs did better with the chaos than I did.
13. Nothing will ever be perfect. I know people who will nitpick every little thing, demanding things be made absolutely perfect, believing that standard is even possible. I learned during this project to love the tiny imperfections — the place where something isn’t exactly straight, or the spot where there’s a scratch or ding, or the slightly off-centered element. I love the reminder that imperfection, impermanence is our natural state, and am grateful for the awareness that it’s beautiful anyway.