I'm doing so many remodel design projects these days. Our area is full of 20+ year old homes that need some TLC. If you are thinking about remodeling whether it's kitchen, bathroom, an addition, whatever, this is what you should be doing whether you are hiring a designer or not.
1. We've all heard this....start building a photo file for style ideas so that you can narrow down what you want your end result to look like. The most important thing to pinpoint here is the atmosphere or feeling about the space. If you just start to pull things that appeal to you, you will begin to see a pattern. That pattern will dictate the overall design scheme for your space. For some clients that translates to a hard binder with categories divided up, or it can also just be some photos found online. I tell all my future clients to go to houzz.com and build an ideabook with their own annotations. They just e-mail me the link. We've gone all paperless now you know!
2. In your file you can also get specific. If you see some tile or cabinetry or paint colors, etc. that you LOVE and would like to have in your space, save that photo and note what it is you love about it. I would advise not to get too married to any one item you've identified though. The most important thing is identifying the overall look you want. You might fall in love with a specific item that doesn't really work in that particular design direction you like. I had a client who fell for an onyx harlequin mosaic tile for her bathroom. She wanted an Asian contemporary bathroom. Um-hmm....didn't work out so well.
3. If you are doing a kitchen, start researching appliances. These are very personal and there is such a wide variety of types and qualities available. While a designer can advise on style or finish, you will be the one using it, so do your homework and visit some showrooms and start looking at pricing. The biggest part of a kitchen remodel budget outside of cabinetry is usually appliances. Deciding between something like the Kitchenaid Architect's Series or Viking/Subzero will make a huge impact on your budget. It's also very important to the layout and electrical/water locations.
4. For a bathroom, start researching plumbing fixtures. Again, these have a huge range of quality and price. It helps to understand how much things cost so that your mouth doesn't fall to the floor when you get your quotes in from the contractor. So you want a Waterworks tub and a car wash shower. Do you know how much that costs?
5. Costs. Think about your budget. How much can you spend on this space? Is it enough to do what you want? In a kitchen remodel, if you figured out your appliances and generally know what to budget for that, then you can kind of see how it's stacking up relative to how much you have to spend. For example, if you have $50,000 for a kitchen remodel and have decided to go all high end on appliances, then you've basically already spent your budget. If you've got $25,000 to spend on a bathroom and you want a $10,000 tub then you will need to make another selection. I think it's important in any remodel to bring everything up to the same level of quality. Don't leave something in the room that is going to bring down the rest of your renovation. I also think you shouldn't spend all your wad on one thing and have everything else be mediocre.
6. Allow time. You need time to plan this properly. It takes about 2 months at least to get a design for a space with selections done ready for a contractor. That's me. All designers are different. And if you're a homeowner doing it yourself, it may take longer. Typically, if my client is paying for my services for complete project, then we have a bid packet that will go out. It contains the floor plan, elevations, details of cabinets and/or how finishes stop and start, electrical plan, finish specifications, and a finish schedule, as well as general construction notes, cabinetry specifications, and then the fixture specifications. By fixtures I mean, lighting, plumbing, hardware. If we can get all this tied down and specified, it makes it sooo easy for a contractor to price out and build. It's easier to get multiple bids and compare apples to apples.
Typically people want their homes tidied up and projects finished by Thanksgiving for fall projects and by summer for spring projects. If you wanted a project done in the fall, you should have started back in the spring or no later than June booking a designer or designing the project yourself. If you want a project in the spring, now is a good time to call to book a designer to start the design in October or November, if you want to be ready to start when the kids go back to school in January. Most busy designers (and if they aren't busy, maybe that should give you pause) have to work projects in with others and need time to plan their schedules. If you are doing this project yourself, you have to fit in shopping for tile, etc. with your life too. Remember, you don't have all these suppliers at your fingertips. You will have to do more running around and spend more time doing research so that you can figure out which supplier has what you want and what products are out there for you to use.
Now you're ready to start the design. Be open minded, considerate, realize that going for the cheapest is not always the best, and above all, know that professionals in this field are not trying to take advantage of you or take your money for nothing. It's in their best interest to make you happy.