What Interior Designers Wish You Knew Before Tackling a Renovation

Chic living room with gray sofa.

Design: Kate Lester Interiors; Photo: Amy Bartlam

Embarking on a renovation is stressful. Whether it be a full-house gut, a minor one-room remodel, or simple cosmetic updates, it can be a daunting process.

Being nervous is completely understandable, but luckily, there are many great sources one can look to quell anxieties. We tapped top designers for their best renovation and remodel advice—and you're going to want to take notes.

Meet the Expert

  • Sarah Stacey is the lead interior designer of Sarah Stacey Interior Design in Austin, Texas.
  • Joyce Pickens is the owner of JDP Interiors, a full-service interior design firm based in Los Angeles.
  • Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors is a Los Angeles-based designer who has been practicing luxury residential and commercial interior design for over 15 years.
01 of 03

Interview Contractors Extensively

Modern open layout wooden kitchen.

Design: Stacey Interior Design; Photo: Molly Culver

Texan interior designer Sarah Stacey of Sarah Stacey Interior Design most enjoys working on new construction projects or large remodels, where furniture is included in the scope of work. But, before beginning a renovation, she highly recommends interviewing contractors extensively.

“Make sure to compare quotes from apples to apples,” Stacey says. “There is usually a reason one is much cheaper than some others—go into your remodel with a good idea of what materials you'd like to use and make sure the price is included. To this day, I still have to make sure everything I've selected has been accounted for even with very detailed drawings."

Bright vibrant living room with red rug and florals.

Design: Stacey Interior Design; Photo: Molly Culver

She even suggests that homeowners request to meet with their contractors to go over drawings and plans at each stage, that way, everyone has a very clear understanding of the process. 

Looking for supplies? Head to Instagram and check out where your favorite designers shop or visit a local showroom. And if you're looking for a contractor, always ask your interior designer for referrals.

02 of 03

Planning and Timing Are Key

Moody living room with large sectional.

Design: JDP Interiors; Photo: Amy Bartlam

L.A.-based designer Joyce Pickens has a passion for renovating historic homes and has learned many lessons along the way when it comes to a seamless design and construction process.

For one of her recent projects, Plymouth, the designer was hired to revamp a home that once had loud tile from the previous owner, she recalls. “It was so fun to rip it out and install something that was more in line with the style and history of the home," Pickens notes.

Bright modern dining area with gold pendant light.

Design: JDP Interiors; Photo: Bess Friday

Proper time to plan and create an amazing set of drawings is crucial to avoiding a lot of headaches during renovation.

When it comes to projects, big or small, planning and timing are key. “Please call your designer way ahead of time,” she says. “Proper time to plan and create an amazing set of drawings is crucial to avoiding a lot of headaches during renovation,” she says.

And when it comes to vetting contractors, she agrees with Stacey. “If you’re using a designer, they always have a great set of suppliers that are pre-vetted and a preferred team they work with," she explains. "Trust them and their people—it will make for a much more seamless process than using a friend of a friend's 'guy.'"

03 of 03

Be Unafraid to Speak Up

Coastal bedroom with black bed frame.

Design: Kate Lester Interiors; Photo: Amy Bartlam

Hermosa Beach designer Kate Lester has done her fair share of renovation projects. Her biggest tips: move out during a renovation, select everything, print the spec sheets, measure, and finally, don’t be afraid to get creative and disagree with tradespeople. 

“I can’t tell you how many times I have had to explain to my clients that they just cannot live in a single bedroom with one bathroom, three kids, a dog, and no kitchen, while they take the rest of your house to studs,” she says.

Chic living room with gray sofa.

Design: Kate Lester Interiors; Photo: Amy Bartlam

Come prepared with inspiration images, ask questions, and explain the unique details you are most excited about. Then, work together to make them happen—and don’t back down.

Take it from her: do yourself a favor and allow room in your budget for alternative and comfortable lodging during a large-scale remodel.

Another tip is to advocate for your own unique or unusual design ideas. “Pretty much 50 percent of my job is explaining my unique idea to a tile installer or cabinetmaker,” she says. “Come prepared with inspiration images, ask questions, and explain the unique details you are most excited about. Then, work together to make them happen—and don’t back down.”

Always allow a 20 percent buffer to your budget and to your timeline. Allow for inevitable delays due to product backorder, shipping time, or weather. 

Yes, renovations can be stressful and time-consuming, but there are a myriad of ways to make them exciting, an opportunity to learn, and a positive experience for all involved.

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