My Biggest Renovation Regrets, Part I (Projects I Wish We Had Done Differently)

One of my favorite pastimes in our new (old) house is to wander from room to room and comment on my many, many renovation regrets.

It’s fun – the husband LOVES it.

I may be a home decor blogger, but I’m by no means immune to mistakes. On the contrary – logically speaking, the more projects you tackle, the higher the chance of one going awry.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re gutting and renovating an abandoned house that was previously left to rot for 20 years. You have zero experience in home improvement but are forced to make a million decisions a minute. Each decision requires YEARS of research, but you have a full-time job, making it virtually impossible to dedicate the necessary time and effort to every single detail.

Add to that bank deadlines (which we had to extend by, oh, practically a year), budgets (which we blew six months into the renovation), difficult contractors who quit mid-project (don’t even get me started on that one) – and you’re guaranteed a disaster (or five).

Now, let me pause and say that I absolutely adore our house, despite it being a work in progress spanning over 19 months (!!!). In light of our situation and the many, many limitations we’ve dealt with, I’d say we freakin’ rocked this renovation. But now that we’ve lived here for almost six months, I can’t help but notice opportunities for improvement – or rather, 10 projects I wish we had done differently.

Thankfully, the husband and I both have a healthy perspective on the situation. It’s just stuff; we’re not brain surgeons saving the world or anything, so don’t take this post as a “Woe is me!” cry for help.

Okay? Great! Let’s get started.

No. 1: The Kitchen Cabinet Layout

Before you jump to your own conclusions on why the kitchen is on this list, a disclaimer: We still have quite a bit to finish in the kitchen:

  • Install filler pieces around the fridge;
  • Build out the wall cabinets to the ceiling and add molding for a seamless, custom-built look;
  • Cover the gaping holes underneath the base cabinets with toe kick boards.

All that to say: Don’t let those unpolished spaces throw you off.

The kitchen was THE most challenging part of the house renovation. It was originally part of a bigger sunroom, and the space where the kitchen sink begins was the beginnings of what we assumed would be a guest bathroom. However, neither of the spaces were functional or finished. The original kitchen was way in the back of the house – as far from the living room as you can imagine. Obviously, that layout made no sense, so the floor plan had to be reconfigured.

After drafting a million and one possible floor plan re-configurations, we finally settled on a layout with the least disadvantages – and this was it.

Basically what I’m trying to say with all these rather lengthy disclaimers is this: I added the kitchen cabinet layout to our list of renovation regrets – but I honestly have no idea how it could’ve been laid out any differently. because BELIEVE ME I tried about a million different floor plans, and none of them worked as well as this one…

Except that this one doesn’t work as well as I’d imagined, which brings me to my main point.

One of the issues with the current layout is the corner base cabinet. We store our canned goods down there, and while I have no problem with the access, I imagine not everyone is going to like squeezing into an awkward corner for a can of artichokes or what-have-you. Of course, I considered eliminating the tall pantry on the left, moving the fridge to the wall and extending the counter top space so that the corner has more access.

But the square footage of the kitchen is quite small, so I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough space to store things. Boy, was I wrong. Literally half of those cabinets are empty or almost-empty, so getting rid of the tall pantry would’ve been the best choice.

The moral of the story: If you can, live in the space before you renovate so you can figure out how you use it and what works vs. what doesn’t.

My Biggest Renovation Regrets

No. 2: Settling for Narrow Windows

One feature you often see in older homes are low-sill windows, where, if you’re standing next to the window, the bottom barely reaches your knees.

While I adore and appreciate the charm, I need lots of natural light to remain a semi-funcitonal human being (can you relate?). So it’s no surprise that I wish the windows in some of the rooms weren’t so narrow.

The regret comes from the fact that we had to replace all windows either way. But no matter how much I asked and pleaded with the husband, he didn’t want to rebuild every single window frame. At the time, in light of just how much else had to be renovated, rebuilding the window frames seemed like too much unnecessary labor. Plus, windows ain’t cheap, y’all – especially big ones.

As a result, the nursery, master bedroom and master bathroom are a tad bit too dark for my liking (the nursery, especially).

I did convince him to install a larger window in the living room, which allows in so much natural light (and, of course, makes me quite happy!)

The lesson here: Natural light does wonders for mood and productivity; if you’re already remodeling 90% of the wall, go ahead and add that 10% to install bigger windows.

My Biggest Renovation Regrets

No. 3: White Tile and Light Gray Grout in the Bathrooms and Laundry Room

The next renovation regret is an obvious one.

If you ever find yourself considering white tile with light gray grout for your floors, ask yourself these simple questions: Am I a brunette? Do I have long hair? Do I often brush my hair in the bathroom?

If the answers are “yes,” ABORT THE PLAN!

I originally wanted geometric, black and white floor tile. But after much consideration, the husband and I decided it may look far too busy in our small home (wrong conclusion!). I then considered black hex tile (so dreamy…) – to which the husband also said no.

The white tile alone wouldn’t be such an issue – if it wasn’t for the light gray grout (which looks totally white in the photo below).

Why?! Why in the world would anyone choose white tile and light grout for the floors?! More importantly, why didn’t anyone stop me?

Melodramatics aside, I’m seriously considering trying out grout paint (it’s a thing!). With the fun shape of our arabesque tile, the strong contrast between the tile and (possibly charcoal?) grout would lend just enough drama to (almost!) resemble the geometric, black and white tile of my former dreams. Le sigh…

The moral of the story: Don’t listen to your husband (totally kidding!). A patterned or darker tile is perfect for masking dirt, dust, and your gross, shedding hair.

My Biggest Renovation Regrets

No. 4: Mudroom

The only reason the mudroom made the list is for its current lack of functionality and order.

That rattan chest? It’s a temporary solution that serves as a landing zone for anything from random receipts to shoes to hats to the legs from our vintage clawfoot tub (I kid you not).

The brass mirror? It has since moved to its permanent spot – the entryway.

That massive closet? Don’t you dare open it – unless you want to be attacked by a mess of boxes, coats, and who-knows-what-else-is-hiding-in-there.

I have grand plans for this space – like an office nook where the chest currently stands – and hope to make them happen soon…

In the meantime, though, this room feels like a total waste of space.

The lesson here: When redesigning a room, functionality should be at the forefront of your brain. Also pay attention to your family lifestyle. Don’t just add a mudroom because it seems like a sensible thing to do.

My Biggest Renovation Regrets

No. 5: Guest Bathroom Vanity

Let’s talk about projects gone wrong because you’re forced to make last-minute decisions because of pressing deadlines.

In the span of the last 19 months, we’ve dealt with QUITE A FEW of those. In fact, I could write an entire book about just that!

One prime example is the vanity cabinet in our guest bathroom.

We purchased the cabinet long before we had added the guest bathroom – but before you cry out, “How stupid… Why would you do that?” allow me to explain.

We scored our 60″ master bathroom double vanity and this guest bathroom vanity on Craigslist. A local home improvement store was going out of business and selling both pieces for $300. Both items served as showroom pieces and in perfect condition.

Needless to say, we got a REALLY GOOD DEAL. If you’ve ever shopped for double vanities, you know that alone runs upwards of $1,000.

The vanities were put in storage and forgotten as we worked on other, more-pressing projects.

Then, with days left before our bank inspection deadline, we were scrambling to finish a million projects. One of these projects, as you may have already guessed, was the guest bathroom.

Just an FYI – You must have a functioning bathroom for the house to be rendered “livable.” Who would’ve thought, right? (Totally kidding!)

Oh, but good thing we already had the perfect cabinet!

We ran out to Lowe’s and purchased the least offensive vanity top, congratulating ourselves on scoring the cabinet ahead of time.

Oh, how wrong we were…

Long story short, the standard-size vanity was too deep to fit into the bathroom. We had to cut into the doorway molding.

It never even occurred to me that we might need a shallow-depth vanity. I don’t think I even knew at the time that such a thing existed! Regardless, we had no time to search for an alternative. So we’re stuck with the scenario below.

The moral of the story: Measure everything a million times, then have someone else double-check your measurements.

My Biggest Renovation Regrets

Now, I know you’re expecting renovation regret number six, but oh my, this post is getting rather long!

If you are still reading, THANK YOU. Tune in next week for Part II of our biggest renovation regrets. In the meantime, tell me this:

If you’ve ever tackled a remodeling project, what were your biggest renovation regrets? Let’s commiserate!

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28 Comments

  1. Pingback: Our Best Renovation Decisions, Part II

  2. We want to reorganize our kitchen, and we would like to refresh the space with nicer cabinets. Thank you for the tips on your kitchen remodel, it was very helpful.

  3. Pingback: Our Best Renovation Decisions, Part I | FOXY OXIE

  4. Pingback: Setting the Mood in the Bedroom with Minted.com Artwork

  5. Pingback: My Biggest Renovation Regrets, Part II (Five More Projects I Wish We Had Done Differently)

  6. Oh gosh, my parents have redone every single room in my childhood home, I think you and my mom could have an hours long conversation about kitchens! We’re been through quite a few in the 20+ years my parents have been there!

    Hopefully the rest of the renovations go well!
    xx
    fAshley

  7. One of the things that I wish my house had more of is natural light. I can’t seem to keep plants alive because of tho,s and I feel like it’s always not bright enough. It’s interesting to hear your regrets – I want white tiled bathroom, so that’s interesting to read about!

  8. I can totally agree on the white tile horror! lol It gets so dirty and you can see everything. Definitely want to have a darker natural stone tile. :) Especially for us long brown haired gals. Those strands get everywhere!

  9. I’m really interested in buying a house and doing major renovating. Was it difficult to get enough loan money to finance your remodel? (I’m not talking creditworthiness but the process on getting the bank to loan extra money in addition to the purchase price.) Now that you have gutted an entire house, do you feel your remodel cost was a savings as opposed to building? This post was very informative as I think through future options and so good to read about it from someone who is learning as she goes…

    • Hi Krista! You always ask the best questions – ones that give me so many ideas for future posts, so thank you for that! As far as getting a loan, it’s the easiest step of the entire process. You simply obtain a regular mortgage loan with an additional amount for repairs. The only caveat of this type of loan is that the repairs have to be done within a certain amount of time – because a mortgage loan is specifically for property that is in livable condition, so if your property is not, you’re given that six-month deadline to make it so. As I mentioned in the post, we ended up having to extend our deadline quite a few times, but that is generally not the norm because by law, the bank has every right to take away the property if you’re not finished remodeling in time. Now, I am not a financial advisor by any means, so take our experience with a grain of salt. I’m willing to bet that different states have different laws, too, so I’d definitely do your research. For example, I know certain states offer financial incentives for anyone who purchases and remodels a house in a historic part of town.

      I must explain, though, that the main reason we bought our property was for the nearly 7 acres of land (in a part of town that is rapidly growing). Looking back, if we could do it again, both the husband and I agree that we would still purchase the property but tear down the old house and built from scratch instead of repairing. If you decide to go that route, you’d need to obtain a construction loan, which comes with its own set of stipulations. That is not to say that remodeling an old house is not worth it – ours was just far too old and decrepit, and we ended up spending more than twice the money budgeted for repairs (which, ultimately, came out of our pocket).

      All in all, though, when you consider the amount of our loan along with the additional out-of-pocket money we put into repairs, the property is still a good investment, because the land alone is more than worth that amount. I hope that makes sense – I know that not including dollar amounts makes the whole thing a bit confusing, but if you have any more questions, ask away!

  10. I agree about the natural light. I think it makes a house so much more pleasing! I actually really love your home!! By far my favourite house that I have seen on a blog.

  11. Your space is so beautiful Oksana! My mom’s house has been under renovations for years now because contractors have been a disaster lol. Only 1 out of 3 showers work and 2 out of 4 toilets are working!

  12. Oy, thank you for sharing this! I’ve always hoped I would have the opportunity to renovate or design my space. I will definitely keep these in mind and be on the look out for part two!

  13. This post came at just the right time for me! I’m planning a kitchen renovation, and I plan to have my fridge and stove arranged just like yours. I hope you won’t mind if I ask you some pretty detailed questions! Is it because of the fridge sticking out that it’s hard to get into that corner cabinet? What is the minimum you’d add to the space to the right of the fridge? One more question: what are the dimensions of your corner cabinet?

    Thanks so much! I found your blog just a few days ago and I’ve enjoyed it!

    • So glad to hear that, Peggy! The corner base cabinet is 38×38, and it has two carousels inside and an inverse bi-fold door that definitely makes access easier. The fridge, though, does have an impact; turns out that a counter-depth fridge isn’t counter-depth, after all. By the time you get the ice maker hooked up and all necessary cords plugged in, it sticks out a good five-six inches. If possible, I would recommend carving out a small alcove in the wall behind the fridge for all the plug-ins so that the back of the fridge can sit flush against the wall. Another option is to add just one more cabinet to the left of the corner cabinet (any size will do), which would shift the fridge slightly more to the left, giving you more leeway around the corner cabinet. I’ll be talking about this issue in greater detail in part II of the post, if you want to check back for a more extensive answer. Let me know if I can help with anything else!

  14. Such a great post. I really appreciated hearing your thoughts & reasoning behind everything. Not a downer post at all, just realistic!

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