8 Brilliant Home Reno Tips We Learned from Before & Afters This Year

published Dec 30, 2019
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Credit: Miriam

Taking on home renovations is gratifying, but it’s also a big job that’s often full of surprises and challenges. So this year, we wanted to take a peek behind the curtain of some of our year’s best Before and After projects and get some tips, tricks, and words of wisdom from renovators who went through it all themselves. Here, some of the top takeaways:

Postponing move-in makes the process easier

Sarah and Nick Wissinger did a total renovation on their master bedroom after they moved into their house, skim-coating the walls, replacing the baseboards, adding new trim around the windows, installing new lighting, putting up wallpaper, and more. What helped them make it through the year-long process? Never even moving into the room to begin with, says Sarah. “We lived in our guest bedroom exclusively, knowing we would be renovating the master bedroom first,” she says. “I think it helped that we never moved in and then temporarily move out of the master—we just slept and lived in the guest bedroom the entire time.”

If you’re hiring pros, it can make for extra headaches (but also some learning opportunities)

The biggest surprise for Miriam when she was renovating her bathroom? “That you can’t really expect the workers to pour their heart into your project, like you probably do yourself,” Miriam says. She had contractors do some of the heavier lifts in both the powder room reno featured in Apartment Therapy and her full bathroom, including plumbing the room and laying the tile. But that led to some hiccups, including five days at home without any working toilets—yikes! They dealt with the setback with “a portable toilet and lots of humor,” says Miriam, but she advises double-checking and taking copious notes.

The plus side of hiring? Miriam paid close attention to how the pros installed the tile, and this month just laid her own tile in her family’s kitchen remodel.

It’s OK to take a breather—it can help you find what you really love

When Lucy Hamilton submitted her living room to us, it looked fab—but really, it was only at its halfway point. The first round, which featured fresh paint, wallpaper, stick-on tile around the fireplace, and more, took two months. Lucy and her husband did it bits at a time, pausing when they needed to—and taking time to redo things when necessary. (The first round of floor redos used a sealer that turned the newly white floors yellow. “I was crying,” Lucy says. They ended up doing them again, and succeeding on round two.)

But once they got to this (extremely stylish) stopping point, they put the room on pause while they waited for things to calm down at work and life’s business to settle. When they finally had time to pick the living room reno back up again, Lucy chose two new wallpapers—including a floral splurge over the fireplace she fell in love with—and couldn’t be happier with the “done” point.

Sometimes going over budget helps with your next project

When Kalila took on her kitchen renovation, her initial budget was just $5,000. To make the most of that money, Kalila did nearly everything herself—tiling, painting, and even learning to build her own cabinets. However, to take on that task, Kalila needed to purchase a table saw. That, among other tool purchases, put her about $1,300 over budget. Even though it wasn’t planned, Kalila says it was money well spent: “I’ve built several other furniture pieces since my kitchen renovation,” she says.

Oh, and Kalila, who built all her own cabinetry, says the hardest part of the remodel was actually finding shiny black appliances to match the ovens that were already in place—which goes to show you the biggest challenge might not be what you think it is.

A mood board can help you stick to your budget (and so can lots of time)

Claire Kennedy and her husband Liam are renovating their entire UK home, so they had to be extra strict about their budget when it came to their bathroom. The most they wanted to spend was £3,000—tricky, considering that the bathroom needed to be completely gutted. In addition to doing all the work themselves, with the help of both of their dads, the couple also made sure to plan extensively. “I have a mood board  for how I wanted it to look, and just took my time sourcing items at the right price,” says Claire. “If we couldn’t afford them, I didn’t buy them.”

The hardest piece to source? The tub. “We wanted it to look freestanding but without taking up too much floor space,” Claire says. “The one I found fits to the wall at one side but from the sides and front appears freestanding.”  

In the end, the couple’s slow-and-steady strategy paid off: They were able to do the whole bathroom for between £2,500 and £3,000 total.

Credit: Ashley Wilson
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Opening up walls might give you not-so-welcome surprises

Ashley took on multiple renovations in her 1905 home, including the enclosed porch-turned-laundry-room. One of the biggest expenses in the remodel was her planned tankless water heater installation, which was $3,000. “We are so happy that we switched from the inefficient, ugly water heater, but it was an expensive choice,” Ashley says. But that expensive choice unfortunately led to more reno work, when the tankless heater was installed and revealed that there was major rot in one of the walls. That wall had to be completely removed, says Ashley. “For a few days the laundry room was open to our backyard! It was replaced, but it was an expensive and stressful update.”

When vaulting the ceiling, Ashley made another discovery: a huge bee hive. “Luckily, there were no live bees,” says Ashley, “but that meant that the ceiling wasn’t properly enclosed.” Ashley and her husband had to do extra work to insulate and close off the roof to prevent any more bees from making a home in their now happy, rainbow-infused laundry room.

Getting creative materials can help keep costs down

When Elise and Adam set to work on their bathroom, they knew they didn’t want to exceed $5,000—but they also knew it needed a gut renovation. So in addition to doing all the labor themselves—plumbing, tile, electrical, and more—the couple also turned to unexpected places for materials. Adam built the vanity (a first for him!) using reclaimed wood; it has a rustic look that, Elise says, “turned out better than I could have envisioned.” For the countertop and backsplash, Adam cut pieces from remnants that the couple found at a tile shop. “It’s an affordable way to go for a small project like this,” Elise says. And now that Adam’s knowledgeable in stone cutting, they both feel ready to use the skill in their next project, too. It’s the budget gift that keeps on giving!

Sometimes you just have to resort to trial and error

When Marie Vlasic renovated her beloved RV, Carmen, this year, she found a lot of irregularities. “This was my first RV makeover so much was unexpected. Nothing in the RV is square so everything had to be cut to fit,” Marie says. Especially difficult: the ceiling, which she wanted to have a tin tile look. For the project, she used textured wallpaper, but it wasn’t exactly straightforward. “It was trial and error to get it to stay up,” Marie says. “I wound up using spray adhesive and staples.” Fortunately, says Marie, when it came to the extra work involved in the project, “being an RV it was easy to deal, not like remodeling a home. It was a fun remodel, so I didn’t sweat the extra time.”