Lessons Learned: Guest Suite Reno

In case you missed it, I recently shared our renovated guest space. Our house has three bedrooms: three on the top floor and one in the basement. The basement bedroom has an attached bathroom and it made for a natural choice in guest room, but it was in desperate need of some updating.

To see pictures of the final bedroom, you can check out this post,

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And to see pictures of the final bathroom, you can check out this one.

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While Justin and I have done many small cosmetic changes to our previous homes, this was the first time we hired a contractor and did major renovation work. We learned so much from the project and today I thought it’d be fun to look back on the project as a whole: what we learned, what we loved, and what we wish we did differently.

Lesson #1: Plan Extra for Timeline and Budget

I had read somewhere to plan for a project to take 10% longer than expected and cost 10% more than expected. So we planned for extra time and money . . . and we were still way off. Our initial timeline of 5-6 weeks stretched to almost four months and we went over budget about 25% from our original estimate.

One big reason for the blowup of our original timeline and budget was the shower. When the old fiberglass shower was removed, we discovered unused space behind the wall and decided expand the shower to be much bigger and include a bench. This dramatically altered the timeline and budget with more time, more labor, more materials, and more money. We knew this and decided to allocate more money towards the project. And now that we’re on the other side, I can confidently say it was 100% worth making these changes. We love the shower and all the space it now has for our guests!20191030_202714

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Even with the changes to the shower, we still went over our adjusted budget. There were a few things that we didn’t initially take into account, such as a new shower fan and heaters for the room; however, a lot of our problem was that we knew the things we needed to buy on our own, but we didn’t actually plan out exactly what we would buy beforehand. Which leads me to my second lesson…

Lesson #2: Plan out ALL materials in advance

We knew we needed drawer handles. We didn’t plan which ones in advance. We knew we needed a shower door. We didn’t plan which one in advance. We knew we needed a light fixture, tiles, a counter top, faucet, a shower head, towel rods . . . you see where I’m going here. We didn’t plan any of this in advance. I waited to make those decision as we went along because I wanted to see how the room was coming together to make sure that whatever I chose was going to work.

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The problem with not knowing these details in advance is that we didn’t really know how much we could allocate to everything. We just had a general fund that we had set aside for the project and when we bought a shower door, tiles, towel hooks, etc, they just came out of the pool of money.

Looking back, this seems like a really obvious rookie mistake, right? I didn’t know how much each item was going to cost, and I was just choosing the items I liked as we went along. I was trying to stay balanced (i.e. I splurged on a shower door but said no to my dream mirror and chose a cheaper option) but in the end, the lack of planning is one of the reasons we went over budget. I really should have gone through and priced out every single item we needed to buy beforehand. That way I would have known exactly how much I had to spend on each item, and if there would have been items I wanted to change or add as we went along, I would’ve been able to adjust other items accordingly to stay in budget. Planning every item also would have helped me to see all the little items that I wasn’t initially thinking of, such as a shower valve, light bulbs, etc. to make sure we planned for everything.

#3: Don’t buy things too far in advance

This sounds like the opposite of what I just said, but while there were many things I should have planned in advance, there were also things I bought in advance that I shouldn’t have. For example, I bought not one, but TWO mirrors in advance. I thought I would use one for the bathroom mirror and couldn’t decide which one, so I got both. Unfortunately, I used the measurements based off the old mirror size. I didn’t know that the vanity would be raised or that the new light fixture would hang down further. The space for the mirror ended up being smaller than before and neither mirror worked in the space. Not only that, but I bought them too far in advance and they were both outside their return windows!

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Luckily, one mirror was able to be used in the guest room above the vanity table. The other mirror is still in the box but I do think I know where I want to put it now. Still, these were silly purchases to make so far in advance!

#4: Get clear on your vision

Probably our biggest lessons learned came from the bathroom vanity situation. I knew I wanted to change the vanity, and told our contractor we’d be replacing the old one, but didn’t have a clear vision for what that would look like. Demo had already begun when I decided I wanted to do a floating vanity. Then we realized the way the plumbing had been done wouldn’t work with a floating vanity and would be way too expensive to change. This shouldn’t have been shocking. We definitely could have looked at the plumbing from the get go and realized our limitations.

Then we decided to keep the old vanity  with a few updates and just replace the countertop. I searched and searched online and in stores for a pre-made one that would fit wall-to-wall, but couldn’t find one. We were already 3 weeks into the project when I talked to a local company about getting one made. We wasted seven weeks before switching to another company (read the whole story here).

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While I’m ultimately really happy with how the counter top turned out, if we would have honed in our vision for the vanity, realized we just needed a counter top made, and reached out to multiple companies from the get-go, we would have saved a ton of time and a whole lot of headaches and frustration.

Also, we would have avoided another hiccup, which was . . .

#5: Choose similar materials at the same time.

I chose the floor tile, shower floor tile, and shower wall tile all together. Then the tile guy brought in some samples for the shower threshold and bench. Then I chose the vanity top after all that was installed. Now, looking back, I wish I had chosen ALL the materials together. The one thing I really don’t like about the bathroom is the shower bench top.

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The option presented to me by our tile guy is fine. I like it enough, and it seemed like the best option at the time. But I don’t like that we had to use two pieces instead of one and now that all the other materials are in, it just doesn’t feel quite right with the rest of them. I really, REALLY wish I had used the same material on the bench top as we did on the counter top, but I didn’t know what that material would be when we did the shower.

This is a good example of many lessons learned together. I could have loved the bench top if I had a clear vision, if I had figured out all the materials and chosen them together, and if I had . . .

#6: Allow time to figure out what you really want

Because of my poor planning and because I didn’t have all my materials at once, I allowed myself to settle for something that was just okay. When my tile guy presented this top as an option, I didn’t research further. I wasn’t crazy about the tile, but I didn’t hate it and thought it was probably the best option. Yes, I should have started thinking about the materials earlier. But I also should have allowed myself a little time to look into other options to find something I loved instead of feeling pressure to just pick something and settle for just okay. I should have asked to delay the decision a day or two to look into other options.

#7: Test paint on the surface it will be on

I talked about this a little in the reveal post, but when I went to select a trim color for the guest bedroom, I tested it out on the wall because the trim wasn’t installed yet. Silly me! I knew to test it on multiple places throughout the room because light can change slightly throughout. I knew to test it next to the wall color to make sure I liked the contrast. And I liked the color I chose . . . until it was actually on the trim. The color looked different on the wood trim than it did on the wall (duh!) and I didn’t like it on the trim. So I had to go and re-paint all the doors trim. I love the new trim color, but it was tedious and annoying to re-do and had I just tested paint on the actual trim pieces I could have avoided the whole thing.

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#8: Get opinions from multiple contractors/companies

When we first started planning, we reached out to two contractors. I’m so glad we did, because only one of them proved to be reliable (obviously, this is the one we chose). Then when it came to vanity tops, I looked at multiple companies but only followed through with one (because at the time, this was the only company I could find with the material we wanted). Obviously, this company was not a good choice and we had to go back to the drawing board and find someone else. Lesson learned: always get multiple opinions/quotes/etc.

Overall, I love how both rooms turned out. In many ways, it fulfills and even exceeds my original vision for the space! We learned a lot from the whole experience and I know that the lessons learned will be valuable help to us as we continue to go through the house room by room and make this house into our dream home.

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