In every renovation (or large design project), you have to make 459,000 decisions at the same time and statistically not all of them can be right. Some of them you might notice in the moment, or soon after you move in but there are the things I’m writing about today I didn’t notice for over a year OR TWO. So obviously these aren’t a huge deal, but a huge part of having less regrets is simply experience, and the last three years with three renovations in my house taught me a lot and it’s stuff that I want to share (so you can at least have the knowledge to avoid those same mistakes). Some aren’t a big deal, some are. Some are worth changing, some aren’t.
So here are the seven lessons, with the level of regret, level of annoyance/cost to fix and whether I am going to change it or not.
Lesson #1: Watch the Scale of Your Lighting
I have an issue with scale, which I didn’t realize until recently. The semi-flush mount lights in my master bedroom, the kids’ shared room and the playroom are all too big. While I like the simplicity of these lights a lot (and I would absolutely use them in a different project), they are too big for these rooms mostly because the height of the ceiling is standard and these hang down about 16″ and are 20″ wide. Their presence feels too big when you are in the room and visually they really stop your eye thus making the room look almost smaller. Had they been glass or a fixture with arms instead (essentially less “visual weight”) the size could have worked. I also fear this is trend-driven as smaller light fixtures are trending right now…but I just wish these had less presence and didn’t stop my eye when the windows are really what you want to look at here. We need the light, but I don’t want to see it as much.
Level of Regret (1 being low, 10 high): 6
Level of Difficulty to Change: 3. It’s the cost of the light, of course, + one handyperson labor which would probably be 1/2 hour each light. Hot life tip: BECOME A HANDYPERSON. Boy are good ones few and far between and at this point the going rate in LA for a GREAT one is $60/hour. I’m desperate for one that is actually available if anyone knows anyone. I will NOT share this info if you give it to me, I promise.
Will I Change It? Yes. We are redesigning Charlie’s room right now to be a shared room with Birdie so I will likely switch it out and I’m FINALLY designing the playroom that I’ve put off (much to my own embarrassment because it’s the first room you see when you walk in).
And yes, the sconces are too big so they will also be reconsidered. I will donate everything to Pen + Napkin who will install them in a home of a family who is transitioning out of homelessness. They will go to a good home, I promise.
Lesson #2: Don’t Mix Too Many Flooring Materials…
…thus chopping up the space and making it feel smaller. Let me put a huge caveat on this: older homes with tons of charm have different finishes on floors and in a way, it’s what makes them feel more custom and charming. However, when you have an open floor plan a house will feel more seamless and thus bigger if you reduce anything that stops your eye and chops up a space. Now, does that mean you shouldn’t have tile in a powder bath? Nope. Go for it. But you don’t need to and wood is fine in a powder room as there is no bath/shower. I learned this at the Portland house by our contractor because we were going to put tile in the powder room and he asked “Why? It will only chop up the first floor, cost more in labor and materials, and it’s not necessary.” All good points. We didn’t and yes it makes everything just feel more seamless. Do not rip out your 70-year-old vintage tile that you love, but this is something to consider if you are renovating.
In our house, you can see THREE different flooring finishes from the front door—the wood flooring, the penny tile in the powder and the cement tile in the laundry room. After two weeks up at the mountain house, I came back and this house felt small and messy, chaotic somehow and I realized that this is one of the reasons. It could have been more simple. The penny tile is fine but yes white grout on a first level bathroom wasn’t my smartest move. Then in the laundry room, the cats (RIP) would relieve themselves on the floor all the time despite our custom cat box and the porous cement floors are kinda ruined (don’t put cement floors in high dirt/traffic areas unless you really love the aged/stained look).
Level of Regret: 5. I want it all to be the same floor but since I didn’t notice this “mistake” for almost two years, it must not have bothered me that much.
Level of Difficulty to Change: 9. It’s the inconvenience of construction + days or weeks of labor with multiple subcontractors. It requires demo, removing the toilet, vanity, washer/dryer and closet system to put down wood flooring of which I don’t have so not only would I have to buy then stain to match OMG I JUST FELL ASLEEP.
Will I Change It? Nope. It would require so much money, time and annoyance. Besides, it’s just not that big of a deal. But it’s something I think is good for others to consider. Again, also know that if you do the same floor throughout your house and the same tile in every bathroom, it will look contractor grade and basic, so you want to consider all your finishes and make sure you are renovating to get a custom home. But changing the flooring in an open floor plan isn’t always the way to do it.
Lesson #3: Believe in the Pocket Door
I have NO idea what the reasoning was here and maybe we didn’t have space to shove the pocket door all the way back before the support beam, but guys PLEASE make sure that you are using a pocket door whenever possible to save space. And be careful what styles of houses you put a barn door in. I really don’t think that we were allowed to do a pocket door, but I wish that I had come up with some other solution.
Level of Regret: 6
Level of Difficulty to Change: 8.5
Will I Change It? Nope. If anyone can come up with a different solution, please let me know. That whole area is just so awkward. The first thing that you see when you walk into the house is that barn door, the laundry room and the super awkward and always messy playroom. I want to close it all up, straighten out the architecture, add French doors into the playroom and then you are automatically directed into the living room when you walk in and not even tempted to go the other way but Brian Henderson is staunchly opposed to reducing the flow and light of the house. I get it, but I just want it to be less awkward. I can’t really invest the time/money (and honestly the stress) into figuring it out. MOVING ON.
Lesson #4: Don’t Add (or Mix) Unnecessary Finishes (Unless You’re Doing the “Modern” Version of It)
I know that I have overdecorating tendencies (really reigning them in on mountain house). Now, I love paneling, but these walls were plaster and so pretty so why did I put basic cheap beadbeard over it? And when it’s all styled like that, it looks cute, but as many of you know, I feel the 2″ beadboard + powder blue + drapery made it lean more ’80s than I had intended.
Level of Regret: 10
Level of Difficulty to Change: 6. I’ll need to get a team of people to demo it out without (hopefully) damaging the original door and window casing. Then, we’ll see what condition the plaster wall is in underneath because surely it was glued and nailed to it. Then it will have to be repaired, patched, painted, etc. Now, this could be done over spring break so it won’t be too annoying and I think it’s only one contractor (for some reason when there are multiple subs involved, it amps up the annoyance/stress so much).
Will I Change It? YEP, unless you can convince me to just paint it all one color (white…I now know that I don’t love a dark room in this house) and then maybe I’ll calm the eff down. Since I have to design this room for our kids to share anyway (right now there are two twin mattresses on the ground), I want to actually see if I can get to a place where I’m, you know, PROUD of my design and not making excuses for it.
Lesson #5: Consider Exposing Your Original Ceilings Or Utilizing the Height (When Possible)
As you can see, our bedroom is where all those windows are and the roof is peaked (technically it’s considered a “half-hip” roof and not a traditional gable). At the mountain house, we busted through the ceiling in the master bed and bath and BOY DID IT CHANGE THOSE ROOMS. I hadn’t thought of it and our architect suggested it and I’m so glad he did.
Back in the day, the architecture of the exterior was one thing, and the space inside didn’t always utilize it. Or maybe they just liked creepy attics.
Now, this is expensive as you likely will have to move your HVAC ducting, vents, and potentially insulate and re-clad (unless you find that you have amazing original exposed wood, but if so that means you can’t insulate. Our last house didn’t have insulation in favor of the exposed ceilings and man was it hot in the summer.
But as you can see, the room isn’t huge and that height would have made it feel so much bigger, although I’m not convinced it would have been worth the cost. The point is I didn’t even THINK about it and that is the lesson. The house we finished shooting this week had an exterior turret (like a castle) but inside it was a flat 8-foot ceiling. So the new homeowner broke through it all and it was just 15 feet of empty space just sitting there ready to be exposed. So if you are renovating, look at your roofline and get into your attic to see if you can use any of that height to make your ceilings taller.
Level of Regret: 3 I really like that room (and barely anything has changed) and its good enough.
Level of Difficulty to Change: 10. It sounds like major construction to me with multiple subs and at least a month of inconvenience.
Will I Change It? Heck no. If I could go back in time, I would have just gone up into the attic (which I’ve never been) to explore and see what we were working with and what the possibilities were. THAT’S the lesson here: just think about the possibility of a higher ceiling and figure out if it’s even possible before getting too far along.
And if not? Do this:
Lesson #6: Add Skylights If You Can (and It’s Appropriate)
The kids’ bathroom doesn’t have a window but I could have put a really pretty (and architecturally interesting) skylight up there. And no, this is not because I have a partnership with Velux so I’m dropping a “you should get a skylight” anytime I can. I just really really love natural light and wish we had put either a window or a skylight in this room, but since we had already dug into the house and the ceilings were so low, a window might have been weird, but a skylight would have helped. A reader pointed that out two years ago, post construction, and I was like SHE’S RIGHT.
Level of Regret: 5
Level of Difficulty to Change: 5 (I think). It’s mostly just a framing issue (one contractor) and then, of course, you have to order and pay for the skylight. My contractor up at the mountain house gave me an estimate of $500 – $750 for framing and installing each skylight (skylight not included) so I don’t know if it’s the same here, but that’s a general ballpark (that didn’t seem too high to me).
Will I Change It? I don’t think so, not because I don’t want it but because I’m so swamped that unless it can just happen without one decision to make from me then I think I should wait until at least after the book. I do think there is something magical about laying in a bath and seeing the sky, but since it’s not MY bathroom and not MY bath, I just have to de-prioritize this project and focus on the kids’ rooms that need my attention.
Lesson #7: Consider Outlet and Lightswitch Placement and Style
The LA house renovation was three months from start to finish (with a month of planning/drawings) which is INSANE but it also means that a lot of opportunities were missed because we didn’t have the time to think or prep for them. Not a big deal, but one of them was outlet placement in the kitchen. The two on the island and the garbage disposals all could have been at least prettier if not relocated to be less noticeable and most of the outlets on the backsplash could have been under the cabinets.
Up at the mountain house, we have these from Forbes and Lomax and boy are they wonderful. I wish that I had done under cabinet outlets instead of the white outlets on our tile, and then for the switches, I wished that we had splurged on prettier versions. Now, I think this is actually a perfect example of something that you can update later and in the midst of so much cost of a renovation, don’t worry about this and know that you can switch it out.
Also, Brian only recently switched out the island outlets to have USB outlets, too.
And yes, I could probably keep going (for instance, not putting a tub in the master bathroom when we had the space, etc.) but those are the biggest seven things in my home that hopefully will help you in your future renovation. We’ll probably work this year on some of the things I noted I’d likely change, so stay tuned for Los Feliz house 2.0 (sort of).
But before we go, I want to know…for anyone who’s ever renovated a home, what things did you step back and look at after the fact and think “ugh! I should have done this instead?” in terms of functionality or better interior architecture? See you in the comments to hear all about it.
Check out all of the reveals from my Los Feliz Home here: Updated Living Room | Powder Room | Jack and Jill Bathroom | Living Room Update | Charlie’s Big Boy Room| Master Bedroom | Master Bathroom | Living Room | Kitchen & Dining Room | Elliot’s Nursery | Backyard | Closets | Laundry Room | Elliot’s Nursery Update | Family Room Update | Kitchen