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Transformations: Planning Makes Perfect

A design pro dives into a renovation project—and invites you along

By Tobi Fairley

Welcome to a new column that will follow the renovation of my home. I’m excited to have you with me on my yearlong adventure, which will be capped off by an exclusive look at the completed project. And why is the column called Transformation? Two reasons. First, because having a home that’s transformed, beautiful, and that works for you can change your life. It really can change your outlook and your mood to come home to a lovely environment. Second, because I may love remodeling projects even more than new construction. There is nothing like the thrill of transforming a house that doesn’t function for you and making it fit all the needs of your family.

Right now, we’re in the planning stages. Just like anyone else facing a major home renovation, at the top of my priority list is budget, creating a functional layout for my house, and surviving the dust, dirt, and disruption of a renovation.

Weighing a realistic budget against what you really want for your house can be a chicken-and-egg situation. I like to put together a wish list of what I really need to make my house work for me and my family, and then look at our budget to see what may have to be scaled back or what might need to wait for another day. On this wish list can be both construction and decorative elements, because the bones of the space and how you decorate work together to create the finished project you dream about.

Tobi’s Layout Priorities

  1. Swap the dining room and study to get more dining space.

  2. Make the new study part library, part TV room, and a dash of man cave.

  3. Enlarge the kitchen for better function and storage by taking space from an existing laundry closet.

  4. Expand the master closet. Enclose a dysfunctional, awkward mudroom area to make it part of this bigger closet space.

  5. Make the master bath more functional by removing a large garden tub. Replace it with a sleek undermount tub and expand the master shower. Also add a window for more natural light.

Most renovations end up costing more than you think they will—unexpected issues often come up. As a design professional, I know where I want to splurge and where I need to save to make my money go further, but I also want a cushion in my budget for any contingencies.

Splurging on the areas that get you the most return is always a good idea, and that usually means kitchens and bathrooms. The budget for a kitchen renovation alone can quickly get expensive. About $5,000 will get you some small cosmetic changes but not much more; $15,000–$25,000 will let you pull out old appliances (or a few of them) and maybe slightly change your floor plan, but it usually won’t let you move plumbing or electrical. At $25,000–$45,000, you may be able to take out a wall and upgrade to better fixtures and cabinets if your kitchen isn’t too large. At $50,000 or more, you’re probably going to get closer to your dream kitchen, with custom cabinetry and professional-grade appliances. Many of the stunning kitchens you see in magazines and online cost well over six figures to create.

One important tip: You have to be honest with your contractor (and designer) about what you can afford. That will help you set priorities for now and understand what you may be able to phase in later.

Next month, we’ll look at my favorite topic—color.