I get this question A LOT, mostly from friends and family who can’t afford (or don’t want to) hire a designer and contractor and feel like they want to tackle some remodeling projects themselves. Well, I found this in a book called STYLED (you should get it if you don’t have it) and I had totally forgotten about this section. The thing is five years later, with a lot more experience, I had so much to add (or negate) about what I originally said about whether you should hire or could DIY. So below you’ll find the original advice and my current 2020 commentary, with some helpful links to articles if you are doing said project.
Ahem. Here’s what she said…
“In the process of styling your home, you’re probably going to get inspired to tackle a heavy decorating or renovating project. There are some things anyone can do and some things I wouldn’t recommend unless you have plenty of time and are willing to fail a lot before you succeed. Here is a quick guide:”
Replacing Dimmers or Upgrading a Light Switch
Then: Definitely something you can do yourself, it’s just a Google search away.
Now: Brian just put in dimmers and replaced out kitchen outlets to add USB things. He’s truly never been more proud of himself for not having to hire a handyman. If he can do it, so can you.
Then: Do this yourself if you want to spend the time. If it’s just flat prepped walls without a lot of molding or ceiling, then no special skills are needed and any mess-ups are easy to fix. Keep in mind that one room normally takes one day.
Now: I actually LOVE a painting party and think that we should revive them, but for clients we obviously pay a professional. Speaking of painting, here are some of our favorite paint posts: Our Favorite Whites & Gray Paints, Our Go-To Neutral Paint Colors, Our Favorite Non-Neutral Paint Colors, Our Favorite Pastel Paint Colors For Grown-Ups, 12 Bold Blue & Green Paint Colors We’ve Tested, Design Mistake: Paint A Small, Dark Room White
Then: With a few folks to help, you can do this yourself, but the cuts are the trickiest part. If you have a more straight, square room, you have a better chance. As long as you are comfortable with a table saw and are good with measuring then go ahead. Installer charge anywhere from $1.50 to $3 per square foot, depending on experience and how licensed they are.
Now: OK, last weekend we attempted to lay flooring ourselves for a volunteer project and after 3 hours we had only accomplished one row, literally 12 feet of flooring. We chose the “click” vinyl wood flooring for how “easy” it is, but if your wall isn’t perfectly straight (which most aren’t) then it’s going to be exactly the opposite of easy. We gave up, returned it (thank you Linoleum City for being so kind to take it back) and are opting for either wall to wall carpet or carpet tiles.
That being said… Sara and her boyfriend, brother, and dad all laid the flooring for their house on their own. But her dad had laid flooring before (for his own house) and it still took about three days of nothing but flooring install, a few problem-solving breaks, and was very tedious. So yes, you can DIY but it will take a long time if you haven’t done it before and might be very frustrating.
We hired someone to lay down wood herringbone floors in our LA house and it took way more time than that (and therefore money), but I wrote a whole post about it if you are thinking about doing it yourself.
Staining or Painting Furniture
Then: Do it yourself, unless it’s a serious antique or mid-century gem. Refinishing furniture is just so satisfying; once you try it a few time you’ll master it quickly.
Now: I still totally agree with this. We recently updated this chair and had so much fun.
Then: You can do it. This is especially successful if you just want a quick update. Don’t buy tile with the intent to paint it; painting is a good “we like the shape just not the color” solution.
Now: Yes, you can paint but definitely do some research (this post just came out and seems thorough, and a few of our readers pulled it off here), and know that walls will hold up better than flooring that scuffs.
Then: It’s not worth the risk and headache, so hire this out. I know people who have done this themselves and they have harrowing stories to tell for the first few times. It’s hard to succeed – there are patterns that need to be matched, seams that need to be cleaned and if you mess it up, it’s really difficult to repair. You might actually lose money on the paper itself. Pricing varies on the experience of the installer but I think you can budget $600 to $1000 a room, and one to two rooms a day depending on how fast he or she is.
Now: I agree, except we’ve done a decent amount of temporary wallpaper installation ourselves, and it’s totally doable. (Check out our romantic glam bedroom, a boho 70s inspired bedroom, this home office makeover, and this sweet nursery for examples of how we’ve used temporary wallpaper. But it will take time (at least a full day with two people). If you are looking for wallpaper we have one of the best online here out there, by the way.
Then: Now, this is a different beast from painting furniture. For lacquering, the piece has to be sprayed, it needs to be guarded from all dust (like in a tented room or booth), and it requires really long drying times. Hiring this out is expensive (a small side table costs around $100; budget $300-$400 for larger pieces), so make sure you really want that high-end lacquer look.
Now: 100% Still agree, check out why here.
HIRE OR DIY – IT’S A TOSS UP
Skim Coating Your Walls (or Getting Rid of a Texture)
Then: You can do this yourself but it’s very laborious and messy and you need many special tools. The process involves a combination of plaster the walls and sanding them over and over again. But I know people who have done it themselves for the first time and it worked well. Hiring someone is expensive (because it’s so time-consuming); you can figure a room might cost around $1000.
Now: Please read this post about how we could have saved so much money in Portland by not obsessing with getting flat walls. At the mountain house we painted over the drywall with a spray, then went over it with a hand trowel to give it some texture which saved so much money on making sure that the walls were PERFECT. And it’s so pretty, so please do that.
Then: This is not difficult, but it is a commitment. There are a few ways you can hire someone to do this. You can get a painter to spray it (not quite as durable but looks good, take only two days, and is a cheaper solution), or have someone properly lacquer, which can take four to five days with drying time (estimate between $1,800 to $3,000 for a kitchen). But if you set aside a few weekends, you can do it yourself. Watch tutorials to make sure that you use the right paint. Remember that you often have to paint the inside too, replace hardware (including hinges), and redrill new hardware, and normally that quote above covers those annoyances, too.
Now: I just want to reiterate how important it is to use high-end lacquer paint for cabinetry and have a professional do it, unless you are very experienced. Our paint is chipping so bad at our LA house and it’s only been 3 years. I have no idea why but yes, I’m frustrated because I thought we hired someone really high-end.
Replacing Light Fixtures
Then: This depends. If it’s just swapping in a new fixture in a new-ish house, that is often pretty easy. Watch some tutorials online. At the same time, there have been so many times my electrician has told me that what he thought would be simple turned into something complicated because older houses sometimes have super-weird wiring. You can often find someone on TaskRabbit or Craigslist who can do this for $50 a fixture (for a simple flush mount). A properly licensed electrician can get expensive, but you’ll know it will get done right.
Now: I’d like to recommend the trade of electrician as a career for anyone that wants to make a lot of money, have very little overhead, work for themselves and not bring any stress home at night. I’m telling you, based on what we paid for the Portland project and the Mountain house, at $150 an hour (or more) and typically booked on one project for 8 hours a day, this can be seriously lucrative and has a great work/life balance. The electrician we hired in Portland owned 3 income properties and had bought his first one at 28. Also plumbers, though maybe not as glamorous. Or you can just hire Jess, the official EHD in-house electrician, who has installed light fixtures for just about everyone on the team at some point (usually 1am the night before a MOTO photoshoot).
Then: You can do this yourself, but if you have the resources (aka the dough), then having a handyman or art hanger install everything is a real treat because the heavier and more important the art, the more you want to make sure that it doesn’t come crashing down.
Now: For all you DIY-ers check out one of our many posts how on how to hang art: Affordable Large Scale Art, Design Mistakes: Generic Art, The 7 Things You Need To Know Before You Try To Hang A Gallery Wall, Think Outside The Frame: Wall Hangings Are The Cure For Your Boring Walls and 15 Ideas For Hanging Art
Then: You can do dining chairs, benches, and stool types by yourself, but when it comes to anything more major, I’d say hire this out unless you know how to do it and like to take risks. Just like wallpaper, if you do it wrong, then you’ll have wasted too much money on the material.
Then: You can do it yourself, absolutely, but I often don’t because it’s just so strangely hard to get them perfect. Hanging curtains so that they just “kiss” the floor isn’t rocket science, but it is time-consuming and easy to mess up. You need to attach the curtains to the rod and lift it, mark it, and then take it down, take off the curtains, hang the rods, rehang the curtains, blah, blah, blah.
Now: If you want to know our #1 post of ALL TIME, it’s “Hanging Curtains All Wrong” with a how to do it right solutions.
Then: You can do it, but I don’t, probably because I have little patience for small measurements. Tiling is tricky unless you have a really simple pattern with tile that doesn’t need to be cut.
Now: I really want to tile myself, and someday I will. But for now we wrote a recent “Tile 101” post and “Tile Rules – 4 things you should know before picking tile.”
Then: If you are comfortable with a table saw, love to measure, and have two weeks to spare, then by all means DIY. My husband, Brian, and his friend have been replacing ours for some time now. It doesn’t take a high level of skill necessarily, but is time-consuming and can be frustrating if the cuts aren’t perfect.
Now: I could never do this due to the importance of “details” and “measurements” but good news, it IS doable. Sara’s brother installed all the baseboards in her house having never done it before. It took a while, along with some plaster to fill in some un-perfect gaps, but it got done.
That concludes our trip down memory lane. I think in general I still feel pretty good about most of the recommendations I made in the book. What’s so great about this site vs. the book is that you all can actually comment and respond to all of these ideas. Please, if you have any personal experiences that can help us all in the “DIY vs. Hire” world then we’d love to read them in the comments.
In case you want to know what else we think everyone is doing wrong check out these design mistakes: The Generic Sofa Roundup | Rugs That Are Too Small | Painting A Small, Dark Room White | Bad Wood Finishes | How To Hang Curtains | How To Hang Art Correctly | Generic Art | Not Having A Plan | Who Pays For Design Mistakes | My Biggest Design Mistakes -And What You Can Learn From Them