Create a realistic budget, then cut it back by 15%. Put the extra 15% in a separate bank account (one that you can’t touch without penalty would be ideal). A smaller budget will make you look harder for deals, be more creative with materials and phase the project in stages to spread out your costs. The more I have to spend, the more I will spend, so I give myself less to work with.
Shorten your contractor’s timeline when you give him the job. Just distort the truth a bit — tell him you need to be done by June 3rd when it’s really July 3rd. Chances are, he’s going to miss the deadline, so this way you’ll wind up closer to your actual deadline.
Stick to the plan. The most time and money gets wasted in changes that are made to the original plan.
Don’t pay in full until the job is done. Many designers phase their projects into three phases and require payment at the end (or sometimes the beginning) of each phase. This is a good way to gauge progress rather than just randomly handing out cheques, so it is a good idea to ask to have the project phased in this way. When the last phase is compete, review any discrepancies with your contractor and complete the final payment after the list has been addressed.
Get quotes from several recommended contractors. I have the good fortune to see lots of renovations, and when I like what I see, I ask for the names of the contractor and designer, along with any background information.
Make sure there is mutual respect and good communication between you and your contractor. You’ll be spending a lot of time together, so you need to get along. Before you hire someone, meet him or her. And by the way, they’re interviewing you too. Just because you ask them to do the job doesn’t mean they necessarily need or want to. The same advice goes for hiring a designer.
If you can, try to avoid living in a renovation unless you can properly seal off the space. I once visited my friend while he was renovating and he had cleverly divided the reno into stages in the front and back of the house and installed heavy doors with plastic weather stripping on all 4 sides to block the dust and dirt from his living space. Install plastic walls with zipper closures in open concept spaces. I moved into my parent’s house during my first house reno and into my boyfriend’s place during reno number two. For reno three, the two of us moved into my parents’ together! Staging your reno in shorter phases means less mess, but also that the reno will take longer to complete.
Use materials in clever ways to bring your costs down. A few examples include using high 1 x 6 planks of paint grade wood as dramatic modern baseboards, running basic white subway tile full height on a bathroom wall for a spa effect, applying affordable mouldings to basic drywall and plain core doors to create an old world Parisian feel, and trimming standard sash windows with chunky mouldings to make them feel custom. My favourite houses aren’t the ones where a fortune has been spent — it’s the ones with ingenuity and originality that I admire and remember.
Classic looks will last the longest and save you money down the line. Think white walls, French antique walnut oak floors, paneled walls, seagrass area rugs, shaker trim, recess paneled kitchen doors, chrome fixtures, apothecary lamps, white hex and subway tile, pedestal sinks, black accents and a mix of wood and antique and modern classic furnishings.
Brian Gluckstein once told me that if you start to renovate a renovation, it’s probably time to move. It probably means you’re just bored. He’s right.