Remodeling Pleasure and Pain: Five Tips For Survival

I'm a remodeling maven.

I've remodeled three separate kitchens, three bathrooms, two living rooms and added two half bathrooms all in one home.

What kind of mansion do I live in? Well, it's about 2,500 SQ, two story big old box built sometime in the 1940's.

It used to be a single family and sat in the middle of 2 acres in the suburban community of Palo Alto. Now it is on a corner 10,000 SF lot with driveways on both sides.

Things change over time. The original owners sold off several parcels as the area began to suburbanize from the little ranchitas with fruit trees gave way to multi-housing zoning and apartment buildings.

However, the house stayed intact with enough land around it for plenty of fruit trees and lots of area for kids to play football on the expansive lawn.

After the kids grew up and moved away, Mom and Dad decided to get some income out of the "big old box" and began to add on and carve up a couple of apartments in the home, keep the top 1250 sf for themselves and rent out the bottom.

With large rooms and tall ceilings, the upstairs still felt like a full house while downstairs managed one two bedroom apartment of 800 SF and a large 450 SF studio. The laundry room was accessible of from outside so everyone had access to the laundry room.

The inside stairwell that connected the floors was walled up so each apartment has it's own entrance from the outside. Each feels like a separate home on the small piece of land.

When I took over, 60 years later, it was time to upgrade. Hence remodel all the kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms and add a couple of half baths. It was a vertical learning curve. In the beginning I was overwhelmed with too many decisions and a lot of insecurity.

What would other people think of my choices? What is everyone else doing? What's new? What's right? Should I use porcelain or natural stone tile? Go contemporary or traditional?

Here is what I learned: It doesn't matter. What matters is what I think is right and the way to go about a multi-room remodeling is to break it down.

1. Focus on one room at the time. Get the full concept and materials picked out for one room. Number the rooms after that, such as Bath #1, bath #2 etc.

2. Consider a theme for the project. Is your home contemporary or transitional? Think of theme in terms of a fully spare architectural feel or more traditional in a Victorian sense or is your home somewhere in between.

3. When considering materials, keep one thing in mind: Will you get tired of looking at something. Does "it" look cute now, but after a month you will wonder what you were thinking?

4. Don't go with trends. Something may be big now, but is the design going stand the test of time. A trendy backsplash will scream what year it was installed.

5. There are no rules, no good, bad, right or wrong. What is "right" is what you want. It's your house and your money. Don't let anyone else tell you what you should pick or spend.

As I progressed in my multi-room remodeling experience I became much more adept at project management as well. I learned a very important lesson after the first bathroom: Always, always have all your materials waiting for the contractor, not the other way around. Have every towel rod, door handle, trim piece picked out and waiting to be installed. If the contractor doesn't give you at least one month to pick your materials or can't tell you how many square feet of tile you need for a room, get another contractor. Those are basic to a successful job and a professional contractor.

Finally, never remodel with what you think other people will want when you sell your home. No one buys your home because of the color of paint you used or the tile you chose for the bathroom. No matter how beautiful you think your choices are, no one else cares or they are going to wonder, "What was she thinking?" People buy homes for the location and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. Everyone is going to put their own finger print on the house, so do what you want.