How to Prioritize your Remodel Dollars

 Image courtesy of Getty Images

Image courtesy of Getty Images

One of the most overwhelming aspects of remodeling is knowing where to prioritize your spending, and how to avoid the pitfalls that we hear about so frequently. After 14 years of helping clients navigate their remodels (and completing a few on my own home) I’ve developed opinions about where it pays to spend and where it doesn’t.  

Don’t spend money:

  • Randomly as you stumble across deals, without a well developed plan of attack (especially if it will be unfolding in phases).

  • On fads or trends – it will be money wasted in a few years.

  • On something you want impulsively, and in your heart you know you are compromising, but you want it RIGHT NOW!

  • On trying an untested vendor or a product sight unseen. If you can’t see it in person, make sure that someone you trust has used the product or vendor and had a good experience. Avoiding surprises is the name of the game.

  • On accommodating the priorities of friends rather than your own. For example, don’t buy something just because your neighbor has it, or you think it will impress others. Buy it because it will make you happy or your life easier.

  • Did I already say “because it is a good deal”? I can’t say it enough. Believe me, if the price seems too good to be true, it usually is. (Here is a funny example – we noticed a little doll sized bench show up outside our elderly neighbor’s door. His son said “Oh – we are returning that – dad ordered it online because it looked like a deal.” Ha! Extreme case, but perfect example.)

Do spend money:

  • On talent and expertise different than your own. Hiring a professional with experience will save you money AND headaches (they’ve already made, AND learned from, the myriad of issues that can sneak up and bite you!)

  • On uniqueness. For example, custom furniture can be considered a work of art rather than just a piece of furniture. You are also less likely to get tired of something if no one else has it and you aren’t seeing it in all of the stores.

  • On quality. If something functions well and lasts for years, it will save you money in the long run.

  • On architectural elements that cannot be changed easily (flooring, doors, windows). You’ll want to like them for a very long time.

  • In areas you will enjoy and appreciate often. For example – use the fabulous tile you’ve fallen in love with in your own Master Bath or Kitchen rather than a less visited area of the house.

  • On features that will save you money or effort in the long run. For example, converting recessed bulbs to LED or retrofit trim seems expensive initially, but it will save you money and trouble over time since LED bulbs rarely need to be replaced (the projected life of one bulb is over 30 years!)

  • Lastly, it’s true what they say about being prepared to spend 10-20% more than initially planned. It’s not because the contractor is unethical (assuming you got good references!) – it’s because discoveries occur in a remodel and circumstances arise where it makes sense to address new areas or broaden the scope. Make sure you have flexibility to make the right decisions. 

In summary, remodeling can be a good investment if done right. Create a plan and set aside time and funds so that you have flexibility to make good decisions. It will be more successful, less painful, and you’ll have the best chance of enjoying it for years to come!


Functional Tools for an Efficient Home

 Photo Credit An Indoor Lady

Photo Credit An Indoor Lady

At this moment I’m having to calm myself, as I am on a plane (I’ve been in CA supporting a family member undergoing cancer treatment) and visitors are arriving to my home in Austin while I’m gone. I had to leave the responsibility of cleaning the house to my kids and my husband, and I guarantee it wasn’t done to my standards. There is probably dog hair in places it doesn’t belong, computers and mail on the counter, and oh dear – maybe even something smelly in the trash! Did they even think to empty it while I was gone? Gasp! Okay. Breathe. It will all be fine, and hopefully these visitors actually LIVE in their home too and will excuse any non-Pinterest moments in ours.

Recognizing these feelings prompted me to think about the pursuit of home perfection. It’s an impossible goal and something I should have let go of long ago (friends reading this are thinking ‘is it possible? Will Laura be able to actually let go of this?’). When you think about images online or in magazines, you don’t see mail on the counter, shoes on the floor (unless they are adorable shoes - not Birkenstocks or dirty sneakers!) and laptop computers on the dining table. And yet, the tasks of daily life require these practicalities, and to constantly work to hide them feels a bit futile. It evokes the image of a gerbil on a wheel. And having the recent perspective of holding hands with a relative as she puts life on hold to battle cancer, it feels all the more stupid. 

So what is a design conscious person to do? I will say, working in this industry I am frequently exposed to nifty new strategies for home efficiency. There are many technological advancements and innovative new products, all designed to : 1) make tasks easier, 2) conceal unattractive necessities, or 3) make functional tools prettier. If you think about how you live and are mindful to incorporate these strategies into your home design, you can improve the efficiency of day-to-day life and keep clutter to a minimum. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Outlets with built-in USB ports, and plugs in hidden places such as cabinets and drawers. Legrand offers many clever options, but selections are also available in big box stores and can be easily installed in your existing home.

  2. ‘Smart’ controls for lighting, window shades, thermostats, and door locks, that you can use to accomplish these tasks remotely. Nest is one of the most well-known brands, but others have come on the scene. Many of the products can be controlled with your phone or paired with hubs such as Alexa and GoogleHome.

  3. Function built into kitchen cabinets, for necessities such as trash & recycling, dog-food, and storage for appliances, spices, knives, etc. to keep counters clear.

  4. Function built into laundry and mud rooms. Companies such as Rev-a-shelf and Haefele offer built in ironing boards, drying racks, and retractable hanging rods.

  5. For items that are most useful left in the open, opt for something with an attractive design. Here’s a shameless plug for a product I designed for a client in CA: it’s a ‘mudroom hook wall’ that we created to add function to an oddly shaped little room off her entry. We paired this with a custom walnut bench to create a unique space that’s as stylish as it is functional (shown here below).

Photo credits: End images by David Duncan Livingston, Center photo by Morgan Gutzwiller

New offerings enter the scene daily, so if there are functional limitations in your current home, or if you are remodeling or building new, be sure to think about how you live and investigate new products on the market. It can improve efficiency, reduce clutter, and give you more time to spend doing the things you love!

Feel-Good Design

 Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

The Human Experience

Recently I was inspired by a documentary about Ilsa Crawford, a British design visionary who’s approach to interiors prioritizes the ‘human experience’. This concept resonated with me because in my view, design is about much more than visual interest, symmetry, and color. It’s about whether a space speaks to us on an emotional level. It’s not about being fancy, or show-casing expensive materials and possessions. Good design is about enhancing the experiences of daily life, and it can be enjoyed by each and every one of us.

Over the years there were instances where it became clear that interior design affected me on a different level than most. When I made a career leap from high-tech to start my design business, I said to my husband ‘I am so excited that I can finally contribute to society in a way that feels meaningful.’ Not wanting to be insensitive, he sort of chuckled and said ‘Are you implying that interior design is a humanitarian service that benefits the world?’ I looked at him puzzled, like ‘Well... of course!’

It's Personal

There are also times when I felt completely affected by a space and was shocked to learn that no one else felt the same. For example, there was a Christmas when my young boys surprised me by putting up the Christmas tree. I came home to find our furniture arranged in sort of a giant circle, with the tree and TV as the central focus for all of the chairs and sofa. Despite being thrown off by the arrangement, I appreciated the thought and tried to welcome the fresh take on our living room. After 5 uneasy minutes of sitting and pretending to watch TV, I jumped up and said ‘Okay! Is NO ONE else disturbed by this!?’ I had to re-arrange things before I could finally relax.

‘Feel-good design’ means different things to each of us. For some it is about freshness, organization, and efficiency. For others, it’s about quality and comfort. I would argue that interior design is not just a visual art, but that it taps into all of the senses. It’s about touch, smell, and texture, as well as form and function. Can you think of a moment when you walked into a room and it just felt right? A restaurant? Hotel? Friend's house? Pay attention to that feeling and try to identify what about it felt good to you. Are you a minimalist? A maximalist? Are there certain fabrics that make you say "ahhh"...? Some of us are drawn to open spaces flooded with light, and others a speak-easy lounge with leather and stained wood. I have friends who love to be surrounded by books. For others, that would be their worst nightmare.

The End Goal 

One of my primary challenges (and greatest joys) as a designer is to determine which qualities of a space will strike that special chord for clients, when they might not know it themselves. Each project is a unique puzzle, and every outcome a custom solution. Home is where you come to relax, recharge, and let your guard down. The more you know about yourself, the more easily you can create that haven you'll want to come home to.