I am sharing this article from 2017. The original article can be found
Design shows on TV might lead you to believe that you can complete a dramatic interior makeover in three days — or even in just one night. However, in reality, anything worth doing needs time to be done right. Renovating a single small bathroom can easily take three months from initial design research to finished construction, while a fuller renovation of several rooms or a larger room (like a complete kitchen overhaul) can take half a year — sometimes even much longer. This may sound pessimistic, but there are truly many benefits to giving your design project a healthy timeline. Here’s some honest advice for why and how you should plan out your project on a realistic schedule, whether you’re working with a designer or on your own, and no matter what the project size.
Do Your Research
Whether or not you work with a designer or tradespeople in your project, you should do some research before the project gets fully underway. Gathering ideas and browsing for a wealth of inspiration will help you solidify and express your dream design. I often collaborate with clients through Houzz, sharing ideabooks to get a better sense of exactly what they are looking for in a space. Saving inspirations over the course of many months — even years — will give you plenty of ideas to work with when the time comes to truly begin designing.
Collecting photos of beautiful rooms and spaces is a good first step, but it’s important to look at the various spaces you love and try to find elements in common that stand out to you.
For example, you may find that many spaces you love have lights in a silver metallic finish, or the same shade of wood floors. Try looking past the most obvious elements and notice the background details that sometimes can really set the tone for the space. These often become the most key features for getting your design started on the right foot. A designer can help a great deal during this process.
Weighing different options and details often takes longer than you might think, and if you wait until the last moment, you might make a hasty decision that you could regret down the line. No one likes buyer’s remorse. So give yourself plenty of time to do research on every conceivable choice you’ll have to make on material, color, style and more.
The Permit Reality
Besides researching your dream design, you’ll also need to look into any existing conditions that must be dealt with. This includes building permits you may need to obtain, especially for bigger projects like building an addition or digging for a basement.
It also includes finding out as much as you can about the space you are renovating, such as existing CAD plans or documents from past construction projects, as well as calculating a realistic budget for the project. Knowing any limitations or obstacles ahead of time will help ensure that you set an achievable goal and then reach it with flying colors.
Build Your Timeline
When most people imagine a design project, often what they picture is the time a crew of workers will be in their space or, if they are DIYing, the time they themselves will spend physically working on a project.
A major aspect of the construction phase that people tend to overlook is the time it may take between when you decide to begin construction and when the relevant trades and materials are actually available. Depending on what products you’ve ordered and what trades you require (tilers, plumbers, painters, glass fitters), you may not be able to begin construction on a moment’s notice.
Design Phase Timeline
A thorough design process should be given two to six months. Projects usually involve more decisions than people expect, so plan for two months for a single room, and four to six months for a multiroom project. Here’s how that might break down:
- One week to one month. Calling relevant city departments to find out about building codes or requirements. Consulting on-site with experts (such as an electrician or a mold inspector). Getting the space professionally measured, especially for heavy construction.
- One to three months. Gathering and reviewing inspiration images. Consulting with your designer (or a confidant), with back-and-forth conversations to truly define your goals and style.
- Two weeks to three months. Shopping for materials, furniture and finishes. Comparing options for styles, prices and tradespeople, and referring back to the inspiration.
Construction Phase Timeline
If you go into a project assuming that you can get it done in four weeks and then find out that all the local wallpaper hangers or skilled tilers are booked up through the next six weeks, that will really throw a wrench into your plans.
Likewise, if you fall in love with a certain type of tile, light fixture or upholstery and then realize that it will take 12 to 16 weeks to arrive from overseas, that’s a major issue. But not if you plan for it.
When shopping for products, you’ll often find that only one or two finishes will be in stock in your local area. Ordering items and materials from elsewhere in the country will likely take four to six weeks, as the company will need time to pull your order together and then ship it with proper care. If you’re ordering a custom or made-to-order product from overseas, expect a timeline of 12 to 16 weeks or more for manufacture time, shipping and clearing multiple customs.
By giving the construction phase ample time, you will avoid a lot of stress, and you won’t be restricted by having to choose in-stock items and whatever tradespeople happen to be available. This will allow for more comparison shopping and more choices of products. Here’s how the construction timeline might break down:
- One to six months. Delivery of products. Even if your project doesn’t involve any tradespeople, most items you order will take at least four weeks to deliver, plus four more weeks for items coming from overseas, and another four weeks for anything custom-manufactured. Plus, don’t forget that a serious snag in the shipping — such as a held-up shipping container at customs or a production snag like a holiday during the manufacturing period — can add another four weeks or more.
- One to six months. Actual construction. Expect one month for a single room and up to three months for multiple rooms at once, or even six months or more for an entire home. Some of this may overlap the delivery time, but some of it may not be able to start until after items (like flooring or plumbing fixtures) are delivered, so it’s best to plan at first for them to be separate steps if you are using construction materials that could take a long time to ship.
A “buffering” video on a slow website can drag on for what seems like forever. Similarly, when in the middle of a remodel, you might feel as though you’re watching the project fail to load quickly enough. It’s natural to feel impatient and want things to move as fast as possible, but sometimes a bit of buffer time can be a good thing.
Whether it’s delayed shipping containers held up at the border or undiscovered situations hidden in long-closed walls, a sudden twist can temporarily hold up your project. You can never count on a major renovation or redesign to follow the ideal minimum timeline.
Adding buffer time to the start and end of your project timeline leaves room to tackle the unexpected, and designers know to always expect the unexpected.
- Two months or more. Add at least two months for unexpected emergencies to whatever timeline you end up estimating. In other words, if your project must be done by a certain holiday, event or move-in date, you should really aim to have it done two months earlier, just in case.
Here’s an example of a reasonable timeline for a complete renovation of an average American kitchen (about 160 square feet).
- One month. Inquiring about and acquiring any relevant permits and building code knowledge while researching design styles and inspiration photos.
- Two months. Shopping for cabinets, cabinet handles, countertops, backsplash tile, flooring, sink, faucet, lighting, bar stools and more. Decisively choosing paint colors and finishes, window treatments, and details such as outlet placement or switch plate styles.
- One month. Delivery of locally stocked materials to occur during demolition of existing kitchen, meaning construction can begin ASAP.
- Two months. Buffer time. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. This will account for project snags — for example, if a base cabinet arrives damaged, meaning that the counter, sink and backsplash can’t be installed until the cabinetry supplier redelivers, and the counter manufacturer is busy and needs four weeks to cut and deliver the counter.
A planned timeline of six months (but actually finished in just five, phew!).
Be Realistic With Your Budget
Spend your time wisely: Be honest with your designer, and yourself, about what your budget is and what that budget will be able to get you.
Clients sometimes want to avoid giving a budget because they assume that the designer will attempt to wring every cent out of it, or they assume that the project will cost less than it will and that it will simply all work out on its own.
Doing an early consultation with a professional just to set a budget for your project can help guide you, so consider having a meeting before you begin a proper design process and then taking additional time to assess your priorities.
Ultimately, if you set a well-considered budget from the beginning, that number can always be adjusted up or down as the decision making progresses. Without that starting point, renovators often get to a place later in the project where they are suddenly shocked by how the numbers are adding up. With a budget to follow, you and your designer can avoid sticker shock when you see everything added up, which in turn avoids having to restart the design process or leaving the project half finished.
When to Start
While design inspiration can strike at any time, there are certainly better times than others to start your project. If you want your project to be finished before a specific event, you’ll want to add a healthy buffer to your timeline.
Keep in mind that while you and your trusty designer may be there to work on your design project for as long as it takes, the many trades and other people along the way may be unavailable at times due to holidays, vacations, other projects and many other factors.
For this reason, it can be wise to begin your project in the off-seasons, rather than during the spring and early summer, when many people are trying to ready their homes for entertaining. And when it comes to the winter holidays, forget it! If you try to complete a project during busy, holiday-packed November and December, just know that you may have to call many tradespeople before you find one who can fit your project in.
Start a few months earlier in advance or, better yet, plan to have a perfect design together by the next year, and enjoy taking your time with the process. After all, designing your home should be fun, not stressful. Follow a realistic project schedule, and your design dreams will become a reality in no time.