Anyone who's ever rented an apartment can share the burning sentiment of wanting to gut the bathroom and start anew. Cue visions of waterfall marble countertops and Apparatus Studio sconce–flanked vanity mirrors to replace that shoddy textured tiles and any leaky plumbing. But when the time finally comes to buy your first fixer-upper, those dreams can soon turn into nightmares when renovations take a turn for the worse: Costly contractor mistakes and improperly installed fixtures can pretty quickly kill your daydreams.
So how do you know which home improvement mistakes to avoid in your bathroom as a first-time renovator? We turned to Portland-based interior designer Max Humphrey for answers. By paying attention to every detail of the project, from having a lighting plan from the beginning to hiring the right contractor to specifying the width of your grout before installation, you can save yourself unfortunate mistakes that will not only leave you less than satisfied with the end result but also potentially have an impact on your resale value. Take notes on how to bring your Pinterest board to life the right way—this is bathroom reno 101.
Bathrooms can be expensive to renovate, but trying to save every penny won't get you very far. "You already know you're going to go over budget with your bathroom renovation," says Humphrey, "but a common mistake is hiring the contractor who gave you the lowest bid and buying the cheapest materials possible. I would advise spending the extra money on a contractor who comes recommended by a friend or colleague, and then saving a little cash by using more-utilitarian materials like white subway tile and neutral flooring or countertops." Having to fix construction mistakes will likely run you over budget, so hire someone you can trust to save yourself in the long run.
It's a lot harder to hardwire additional lighting once you've renovated, so having a lighting plan early on is essential. "No one likes getting ready with only overhead lights," says Humphrey, who knows all too well the unflattering shadows it can add to a face. "Adding ambient light isn't a huge wallet burner if done right. I always like a pendant light in the center of the room and sconces on either side of the vanity mirror whenever possible. Natural light is a huge bonus too, so if you have an opportunity to add a window or a skylight, it will always be worth the extra money."
People care about buying eco-friendly cleaning products and even furniture, but the environmental consequences of mass-produced building materials are seldom considered. "Buying green materials is not only more sustainable, but it's also a good investment for resale," says Humphrey. "There are many smaller manufacturers out there for tile and plumbing fixtures that can really detail out the manufacturing process. Buying green materials doesn't necessarily cost more—if you do your research, you can find a bargain and be good to the environment."
One of Humphrey's biggest pet peeves? "My clients are still requesting glossy paint on the walls of their bathrooms and kitchens since it's easier to clean," says the designer, who knows the finish can look very builder-grade and show imperfections, especially in older homes. "A few paint companies like Benjamin Moore and Dunn Edwards all have flat paint that is still wipeable so you can get a high-end look that's still family friendly."
Moroccan tiles, patterned cement flooring, and copper plumbing fixtures may be trending, but Humphrey warns that they might not be the best long-term investments. "If you're thinking about resale, it's important to stick to simpler materials for surfaces that can't be changed out easily," he says. "You can always express yourself with paint or wallpaper and bring in colorful art, a whacky shower curtain, or a statement pendant light."
"It's easy to look online for bathroom inspiration and forget how many dozens of little decisions go into the design," says Humphrey. "Things you might not think about (and that your contractor might not bother asking you) can make a big impact on the overall space." Humphrey suggests hiring an interior designer to stay on top of small details like the width of the grout line between tiles (for reference, he likes it as small as possible), countertop edge details, shower door hinges, shower curb material, vanity hardware, shampoo niche lining, shower tile height, and more.
This post was originally published on September 21, 2016, and has since been updated.