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Design

7 Big Design Lessons (Ahem, My Mistakes) That Can Apply to Every Renovation

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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).

Kid Safe Vintage Sophisticated Rug Playroom

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…

Traditional Modern Tudor Reclaimed Barn Door Enty Way1

…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

Emily Henderson Modern English Cottage Laundry Room Persil California Closets Photos 26

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)

Emily Henderson Modern English Cottage Tudor Charlies Room Reveal11 Edited

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.

Emily Henderson Modern English Cottage Tudor Charlies Room Reveal3

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)

Emily Henderson Backyard 702

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.

16 0617 Realsimple Eh Patio 0973

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.

Emily Henderson Modern English Cottage Tudor Master Bedroom Reveal1

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)

Kids Pull Out Vanity Childrens Bathroom Wallpaper

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

Emily Henderson Modern English Cottage Tudor Dining Room Kitchen Reveal1 2

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.

Emkitchen 117

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 RoomPowder 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 

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Amy

Hi Emily, thanks for sharing some tips with us to consider when we are renovating. I have a question about cement tile. We are renovating our mudroom and got the same feedback on not using cement tile in high traffic areas so ended up choosing a porcelain with a cement look. I was wondering how the tile is holding up on your outdoor patio? Does the patina look just work better outdoors?

The tile is aging consistently and is sun bleached in some areas, but considering that my house is 100 years old it doesn’t bother me at all. I feel like the tile is aging along with the house, so it works. But knowing that it does age, it is something to think about if you have a newer, more modern house xx

Laura

We just got finished building a house. Now that we are living in it, I wish we would have put an electrical outlet by the back door. There is room for a console table, and it is where I naturally want to charge my phone. But, we didn’t put a plug there. So we can’t. I wish we had thought through where we wanted to charge all of our things in the building process.

emily

Usually you can add new outlets. ask an electrician!

Lisa

We built our home too- and while we can live with a lot of aesthetic ‘mistakes’ the electrical outlet placement is our biggest regret. Especially during the holidays. It definitely takes a lot of forethought to know what you might want to plug in where but I sooo wish I had thought about it more.

Alison

Never say “can’t” unless you’ve already talked to an electrician! They really can work magic depending on where your other electrical in the room runs and whether you have any basement space (if you have a basement?), etc. I just got an outlet on the side of my kitchen with the longest counter top and it is life changing! I can’t believe no one had ever installed one, and luckily my electrician was able to do it without too much fuss and no damage to the finished areas of my house!

Sarah

Agreed with the other repliers – an electrician can usually add an outlet pretty easily depending on the nearby wiring! We had one inaccessible outlet in the center of our bedroom wall (right in the middle of where our bed would be), so our electrician added two outlets – one at each of our nightstands. Now we can charge our phones, have lamps, etc.! Highly recommend asking – it’s not too late!

Lena

The tile in our boys bathroom. Once it was down, I knew it was all wrong but I kept it because we had been without the bathroom for almost five months. I wish I would have just ripped it out and replaced it with something I liked better. Also, always check the heights of the apron on bathtubs. Again, the bathtub was much lower than the original. I was focusing on the panel instead of the tub itself which was a mistake. I’m happy I learned these mistakes prior to us moving into our forever home so I hopefully do not make the same mistakes.

Amy

Hi Emily, thanks for sharing with us lessons and consisderstions for us to consider when we renovate. When renovating our mudroom, I so so wanted to put in cement tile but we received similar feedback that it’s not the best for high traffic areas. We ended up choosing a more durable porcelain with a cement look ( side note- blog post idea- round up of porcelain tiles that have a cement look). I was wondering how the tile is faring on your outdoor patio? Does the patina look just work better outdoors?

loveley

i usually love all the stuff on this site and am a daily reader, but this post just made me sad. we’re just regular middle class, and i’ve been reflecting on gratitude and how there are millions of people in the world that would kill for what we have, so we should always be grateful for everything we have. and then today, this post was about all the regrets and “embarrassments” of emily’s home, which is probably the 1% of this country, and probably 0.0001% of the world, and which is styled beautifully. i feel like this post really could have been done in a less “regretful” or “embarrassed” tone and more of a “here are some things to think of if you’re renovating” tone. i’m not trying to shame or poo-poo this post, i know a lot of work and time went into it. but i see what a consumerist and unhappy society we have and how everyone seems to be on a constant quest for better to make them happier. there’s a real lack of just being content and happy with things. and it is only more obvious when you’re looking at “regrets” in a home as beautiful… Read more »

Karen

GREAT post! Prior to our renovation, I spent MONTHS perusing the web for blog posts about reno regrets and mistakes, trying desperately to not have any (or too many) since I was the “designer” for our project. During our kitchen/common areas reno, the stone fabricator had installed the white quartz on the cabinets along the wall. The marble was still in the works (backsplash and waterfall island), so I had a few weeks to walk past/through the kitchen at different times of days – and every time, gosh darn it, the quartz bothered me – it was a dingy white, especially on my cool-white shaker cabinets. Finally, in a design frenzy, I pulled the trigger on a Friday afternoon and went on a mad hunt for PURE white quartz. I found it in a slab, and by Sunday I was telling my contractor to pull out the existing quartz and pick-up the new quartz slab. We repurposed the prefab quartz in the mancave, installing it on a dark wood built-in bookcase. Looking back, I am SO GLAD I changed this out, when I did because it was the easiest time to do it. I learned a few valuable lessons –… Read more »

Kim

Curious as to what pure white quartz you picked! I’m looking for a white white and it’s hard!

Ana

She’s a designer, that’s her job. And renovating her home was part of her job to create content. Don’t take everything so serious.

KP

Let’s give Emily a break and let her be a human. I get she has a blog and business but have you never done something in your home that makes you cringe? It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean your home is not beautiful or that you don’t appreciate it. It doesn’t mean you are going to wastefully rip it out and do it over. And let’s say you are – I think it’s ok to strive for improvement and tweaking over time. That’s what this blog is about, tweaking and playing and having fun with your home, getting it to be a place that inspires and excites you. So Emily picked out a light fixture, turns out she doesn’t love the scale of it, and she might swap it out in the future and donate the old one. What’s the issue? If the focus of the blog was just being content and happy with things, Emily would have bought a new house, moved her furniture in, been happy with it and called it a day. There would be no blog. I thought the tone was appropriate and in line with what you suggested: “will I fix… Read more »

Tara

Here here!

Tara

Here here to KP that is 🙂

Cece

I don’t think you’re looking at this post the way it’s intended. The point is that renovating a house is a really costly business, and nobody wants to be living with avoidable and expensive to remedy regrets. But it’s SO HARD to think of everything in advance, when decisions are flying at you every which way. I think the aim of this is to help other people avoid pitfalls.

Seriously though, I live in a very average (and rented) house and while I’m by no means a discontented person, some of the design features like position of plug sockets, bathroom design etc drive me mad and bother me on a daily basis. Good design is about the way we live in our homes – so if we can live in them in a more contented way by designing them more functionally in the first place, then I’m all in favour.

CL

I agree. I don’t think Emily intended to sound sour grapes and I understand it’s her job and she (admirably) devotes herself passionately to her job, but the tone of regret here bummed me out. That house is beautiful, and while a designer like Emily could probably make any house even MORE beautiful, the striving for perfection when there is no such thing is just stressful.

cate

Yeah, I have to echo this about the tone. I get the “regrets” – anyone has them about house decisions. But things are portrayed here as awful that just aren’t, even for a professional designer. If we always want perfection, we’re always going to be searching for it, because nothing is perfect. I hope you find pride in your house, flaws and all, because it is beautiful.

FivebyFive

“sorry if this is too heavy for this post or site, but i’m just being honest.”

You’re not being “honest.” You’re being judgmental.

Emily is a designer and a stylist. So of course she would be “embarrassed” by things she regards as DESIGN mistakes. It’s her job. Doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful for all she has. That’s just you rushing to judgment. IMO, publicly revealing her design mistakes here to help readers avoid them takes quite a bit of guts, given her line of work.

Sally

Yes! I worked with a woman who said regularly, ‘I am just being honest’ then you knew to step back…because she was gonna start flinging barbs. It was as if saying that phrase inoculated her so she could say anything at all. (And don’t get me started on ‘I am sorry but…’. Just stop right there!
No need to continue!

Gabrielle

100% agree

Sharon

I don’t see anywhere where Em calls these “embarrassments”. I read this as an educational post on things to consider so they’re done correctly the first time. and we don’t waste time and money.

As Em says in this article, light fixtures she replaces will be re-purposed to a home for someone previously homeless. Those of us who have followed her blog for any length of time are aware of all the charitable organizations Em has been involved with. Some of us are here to learn to do the best we can when decorating our homes or those of friends or clients and a post like this is helpful!

thank you Em for your always interesting content!

Herself in Dublin

I get it that this post clashed with your world perspective today, but that just means that today wasn’t your day to read an interiors blog. Because they are always about something aspirational and consumerist and more than most of their readers are likely to be able to have in their lives. And if you’re honest, that is the reason you read Emily’s blog at all.

We all have to find a way to be grateful for what we have and concerned about what others don’t have and also allow ourselves to aspire to something better and maybe more luxurious without feeling guilty. After all, that’s presumably what you also want for people who don’t currently have your own advantages. I think you have to work on how to do this for yourself, and give bloggers like Emily a break for talking about these things, and give yourself a break for enjoying that.

Bethany

I like it when Emily talks about her design mistakes, so this is good content that I won’t criticize. But I do agree that the house is beautiful as-is, and I don’t personally consider these “mistakes.”

Christina

Loveley, I agree about the underlying tone and feeling sad after reading it. The Charlie’s room part of this post particularly struck me the same way. I agree with Emily that the beadboard probably wasn’t necessary, but now that it’s there ripping it off and fixing the plaster underneath seems like an unwise use of time, money, and stress. Just paint it all white! We did a major reno 10 years ago including replacing the roof, taking the kitchen back to the studs and bumping out into thin air upstairs to add a new bedroom and bath upstairs. My father-in-law was our contractor/architect/foreman/everything-except-electrical-and-plumbing guy. My only real regrets are the paint colour we chose throughout ( it’s a 2/10 regret and eventually we’ll change it, once our kids are older) and that instead of using the same stone on two undercupboard counters in the pantry area as across the kitchen on the “real” countertop, we opted to save money and put wood counters there since it wasn’t a real prep surface. That’s maybe a 2 or 3/10 regret. The major reno took about 8 months and that got us to being able to move in but it was only maybe… Read more »

Jane

I can understand where you’re coming from and it’s wonderful you’re trying to practice more gratitude. However, this is Emily’s job. Her house isn’t just to live in, it’s to create content for us to learn from and enjoy. And while “biggest embarrassment” might be bordering on hyberbole, it gets the point across!

Christen

There’s always got to be one of these!

Melody

I understand your sentiment. However, how about looking at it from another angle? This is Emily’s job/work/career. If you made mistakes or did things that could be improved in your own job you’d feel the same way. I’ve definitely made mistakes at work that have caused me embarrassment and regret. I don’t think Emily is sharing this list because she’s unhappy with how her home looks, she’s sharing the lessons she learned from her career that could save both newer designers and regular homeowners time/money/energy – something we would all do when mentoring less experienced colleagues. Hope this helps you feel a bit better.

Beth

Yes, Emily’s house is beautiful and designed with expensive finishes. But beauty isn’t the only consideration. It also has to function for her family. I would certainly regret laying down expensive, beautiful tile that doesn’t hold up well to foot traffic. As a reader, it’s helpful to know that. I don’t think she’s being ungrateful, just honest.

The biggest problem as I see it is that she rushed into a renovation in order to have content for the blog. Had the family lived in the house for a while before renovating and better understood how they would use each space, they may have been able to avoid some of these regrets.

Sona

I hear you and agree that sometimes we forget to be thankful for all we have. But, this is her business so it makes sense that her homes are in a constant state of change. Based on reading Emily’s blog for years, I truly believe that she is full of gratitude, always mindful of how much she has, is very willing to give back and to teach her children the value of things.

stacy

You are the one choosing to spend your time reading an interior design blog, that by nature focuses on aesthetics, consumerism and material belongings. Do you see the irony in your comments? I just finished building a house and I think Emily did an excellent job highlighting aspects that are easy to miss- I am still grateful for having the opportunity to build my own home, but I could have learned and made better decisions from almost all of the points she made.

Tracy

Hello, @Lovely! Welcome to your existential crisis about capitalism! Personally I tend to get depressed about beauty blogs. Gorgeous women who make me look like a troll griping about their appearance and shilling clothes that I consider a total waste of money. Whereas this type post I’m like “Hooray! Emily is a human! She makes mistakes just like me! And she shares mistakes so I don’t make them!” Haha jk I make a ton of mistakes. In other words, to each their own, we all need to take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are, but … yeah, capitalism, dude. The worst system compared to literally every other system. And I will admit I have NO INTEREST in listening to someone talk about how lucky we are, and how life is AMAZING, and how we need to be mindful and watch the sunrise sometimes. For that I could listen to my super boring yoga-obsessed cousin who is in the peace corps (she’s a wonderful person, but it is insanely exhausting to listen to her as someone who has experienced major life tragedies, appreciates life every minute without droning on about it, while she has experienced zero in the loss… Read more »

Rae

You are awesome Tracy. Interesting conversation and I love your take on it!

loveley

YIKES. clearly my comment about this post brought out the aggro in some people here. interesting. anyway. i went back and read the post again to see if i still felt that way. i still kinda do. sorry. i’m NOT personally attacking emily or saying she is ungrateful as some people here seem to think. i actually like how she usually shows her awareness. I’m also NOT saying that we can’t enjoy content about interiors. obviously i do. my comment is more about a constant strive for better/perfection in general and society, which makes me sad, and how this post made me think of that. the “embarrassment” part that i referred to was about her playroom: “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 I only had that reaction because “embarrassment” is such a negative feeling kinda word and i hardly think that room is anything to be embarrassed about. it’s gorgeous already. that’s it. the end. : ) everyone… Read more »

SC

Loveley – I’ve felt the same way as you for a while now about this blog. I check in about once a week vs the daily read it used to be. The full blown consumerism is just too much for me.

Kim

Lovely, I think there was a rush to judgement about your comment. I happened to agree with you and didn’t feel like you were attacking Emily at all. Just suggestions on maybe a different way to present the information. ?

Stefanie

I know wonderful Emily is probably more well off than we are, but she’s DEFINITELY not in the 1% of this country. her home has beautiful details but they’re well within many middle class people’s budgets.

Joanna

Cheer up love! May be in your current state of reflection a style and design blog might not be the place for you

Lisa

thank you for always being so open and letting us learn from your ‘mistakes’ 🙂 also just wanted to pop by and say that the new site design looks GREAT and is also much more practical for reading on the phone – thank you EHD Team! <3
(and @some other comments complaining about this being first world problems: I'm mean yeah sure you're right, but if you are in the privileged position to be able to spend money on a house, I do really appreciate tipps that might help not spend even mooore money on said house later and also just be really happy with what I accomplished – so I found this post really helpful. thank you putting you out there and writing it!)

Janette

This makes me feel great. We just finished a nine month remodel on our new to use place, and I (along with the architect and builder) did all of these things right…….. And I’m not a designer/decorator. There are no regrets here. Our house is gonna be in a local magazine in April. Thanks for the virtual pat on the back.

Erica

For your laundry room door, I can’t find the picture but House Seven Design recently did a kitchen with beautiful custom double swinging doors. I’ve also seen vintage ones with half glass panels so they would still let the light in for Brian?

Jennifer

Another quick fix would be to change out the barn door hardware, from your current black to white, making it disappear into the ceiling and wall.

Gail

Yes! That’s exactly what I was going to say–a double action door would be so much better here than the barn door! It’s hard to tell the exact space from the photos…but if you had the room to case it and do the same look door as the Powder Room door, it would make that space seem so much more streamlined. You could add an oval “view panel” in the top to let some of the light into the Foyer.

Oooh I’ll look into it. Thanks guys xx

Chris

I was just wondering- why not a glass paneled regular door for the laundry room? Is there a reason that room can’t do an inward-swinging door? (Genuine question, I’ve never installed a door and don’t know the rules.)

Rose

I don’t mind the beadboard in Charlie’s room. I think it fits the style/architecture of the house. I think you might open up a can of worms by pulling it off, unless you cover it up with a different type “paneling”. I also think that there are always regrets when building/remodeling. Even a team of people can’t think of everything. ? But it so helpful for you to share yours. Thank you.

Juanita Hendriks

Agreed with poster above! If you will have two kids in this room— those painted walls will not stay pristine for long 😉 better to have beadboard at the height you have it, to guard against sticky singers, toys smashes… whatever any regular kids get into ! You can choose a marvelous “Emily inspired color” and make it an inspired part of the design. You will be so happy you kept this beadboard in there while your kids are growing up… promise 😉 … and as noted from Rose: avoiding the can of worms and construction issues that comes from ungluing the beadboard.

Lane

I don’t get this comment. I just don’t relate because we’re not that dirty as a family and we also have a long haired dog. On top of this, refreshing walls by painting every 10 years or so should be considered normal. I don’t know why it isn’t in the US. Kids’ rooms might need new paint a bit more often as they grow and their needs and color preferences change. Good paint allows for light cleaning if there’s a spill.

Susie Q.

I agree. If this were my house I’d just paint the beadboard the same color as the wall, maybe in a glossier finish. Bear in mind why these things were originally invented: paneling protects the wall. Chair rails allow you to push furniture (chairs) against the wall without damaging it. Attics were designed to insulate a house, which was necessary in an era where there was no air-conditioning or central heat.

Liz

So excited to see you tackle the kids’ room and play room! Thanks for sharing!

Gwen

Re. the barn door on the laundry room door, would there be a way to put it on the wall inside the laundry room? If it’s too short you could consider two half barn doors that slide onwards (like French barn doors)

Asuncion

Hello from Madrid, Spain. I love your blog, your style and your advice. This post is excellent. I am renovating a country house near Madrid. I regret not having thought about enlarging the windows down. I only considered to make them bigger to the ceiling, which is impossible. Reget, 10, impossible to redo as new windows already installed.

Sarah

My biggest renovation regret is my kitchen lighting. WHYYYY didn’t I have more varieties/locations of lighting installed? The overhead lighting is so bleh. It’s a 9 on the annoyance scale and probably a 6 on the pain-to-fix scale, so I really should just fix it!

Lane

Installing lights under the cabinets is not that difficult, see turorisls. You can also add wired sconces or table lights where there is no water. You can also rewire your ceiling lights and add/separate them from pendants if the placement is good. None of these would cost more than what you’d pay an electrician when you remodeled.

Gwen

Regarding the barn door on the laundry room, could you simply move it to the inside of the room? It would involve shifting down the cabinetry a few inches to create the space but seems not too complicated.

Michelle

Hi from South Africa! I also though of that and like a nerd went to the diagram from the original makeover, the wall seems to short and the cabinet seems to be anchored on it lol

Could it not be changed to a swing door that rests inside on the cat commode wall, if you swap it for a door with a frosted glass panel you’d have light and less visual clutter ?
Massive fan, I am currently renovating a house and these tiny decisions are so much fun!

Chenell

Regarding taking down the headboard: DON’T DO IT!

Definitely just paint the kids’ shared bedroom white. You are probably never going to get it back to the original gorgeous plaster, and then you’re going to be doubly frustrated having gone through so much to try to get there.

Painting it all white will give you a nice neutral base for all of their shared things, and make colors pop in there.

On another note, I read another well-intended comment about gratitude and just appreciating what you have, instead of regretting that things aren’t perfect, or buying into a consumerist mentality. To that I can only say that I agree. BUT when you spend time and money during a renovation, it is inevitable that you will have some regret. Each of us can only live the life that we have. And yes, you can be grateful and regretful at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. Just my two cents.

Chenell

“Beadboard.”

Thanks, autocorrect…?

Megan

I just finished a gut renovation. A couple things are bothering me. 1) I also painted a room dark, it’s the one dark room in the house—I’m trying to live with it and see. 2) we should have put skylights in the back of the house which is north-facing. 3) MEASURE YOUR SINK FAUCET RADIUS! who knew? I opted for a larger kitchen faucet because we have 3 very large windows behind our sink and the faucet is too big. It hits too far forward in the sink. We swivel it to the side for now. I know I can replace it but after a huge renovation I don’t want to spend the $$ right now.

Allie

These are all super helpful! We built our house and I just wish we would’ve put more thought into the exterior. It was the first decision and after months of interior decisions, I felt like we had our style but our exterior had already been signed off of for a long time. It’s still very beautiful, but it doesn’t feel unique in any way. Way too expensive to change, but I tell myself no one builds a perfect home – hence even Emily Henderson writing about regrets 😉

HA exactly. I’m sure it is beautiful and yes, mistakes are often a part of the experience 🙂

Molly

What’s the story with Charlie and Birdie’s rooms? Are they just going to share for the time being? is her room going to become a guest bedroom? Just wondering what lead to the decision to redesign Charlie’s room as a share for both of your kids?

Hilary

The one thing I find most jarring about your entry is the very heavy, black hardware for your barn door. Could a solution be to replace or re-coat the hardware to be white or wall color so it would blend in better?

Andy

Hi Emily!

I’m a handyman and a recent homeowner in LA. I’m also a high school math teacher:) I’ve made so many mistakes but that’s the only way you can really learn.

Anyway, I change your light fixture! I can also mount TVs. I even put it my own farmhouse sink:) My IG is @doantrip if you’d like to see all my handy work!

Mallory Osteen

Maximizing southern exposures! We bought our house at the tail end of renovation, so while we got to pick all the finishes, the bulk of the work had already been complete. The kitchen was expanded and a master suite added onto the 1940s bungalow, but WHY WOULD YOU PUT A WINDOWLESS LAUNDRY ROOM ON THE SOUTHWESTERN CORNER OF THE HOUSE?! Luckily they put in a lot of windows elsewhere so the house is plenty bright, but it would have been so wonderful to put windows all the way around and make a sunny breakfast nook overlooking the backyard. Also, because of that laundry room, the only way to see into our backyard from the main part of the home is through the french backdoors. What’s the point of a pretty sunny backyard if you can’t see it?

Jo

Yes! Light in my main living room is not great. We have almost 30 sum of glass but it is tinted due to afternoon sun and the room is so much darker than I thought. I need to add a window for the winter light/ warmth and skylights for the general area.
My other big regret is the tile in my bathrooms. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it and it is so hard to replace that I should have kept looking until I found something I loved!!

A.B.

Would you ever paint the trim on your exterior windows (and the iron grating) to match the current blue or a complementary dark color? Could you swap out the barn door hardware for a more modern/smaller version in a lighter metal tone? Get a paintable wood outlet cover to match the island?

Not a regret, but wish we had installed a speaker system to play music through the house.

Liz Johnson

I learned a on of lessons on my first house renovation and just finished my second. On the first house I let the original texture on the walls dictate what texture new walls would be so I didn’t have to re-texture the entire house This happened to be the ‘drag’ where they spray it on and drag a trowel over it. I Hated it every single day. it looked messy, uneven and rough. Spend the money. Re-texture the walls in an entire home before you move in all of your furniture. You probably wont get a level 4 in any older home but you can at least get a level 3. So worth it. Please note in older homes walls are not going to be perfect, you may see a couple of slight imperfections, but smooth walls are so much better than rough textures walls no matter the imperfections.

Casey

We remodeled a crazy house a few years ago (it had a hot tub in the kitchen!) and I have a list of many things I wish we would have done differently- mainly the STUPID way I let the contractor convince me to design my son’s bathroom. Ugh. It’s comforting to read this and know that even designers make mistakes! ?

Stephanie

Biggest regret is not updating the plumbing when renovating our 1950’s bathroom. All the walls were out so it was the best time to redo the plumbing but it didn’t even occur to me. All I was thinking about was tile and aesthetics, which may end up getting ripped out sooner than later to replace the plumbing >.<

Patricia

I had cream colored carpet installed in a room next to the back door. To the garden. You can figure out what happened. Constantly battling tracked in dirt and litter. Cream in an upstairs bedroom? Fine. In a heavily traffic zone to the outside? Stupid.
Years later my husband suggested pulling up all the main floor carpet and refinishing the wood floors. We did it and loved it.
We’d previously had the wood floors redone in the living room and dining room … while all the furniture was out (and before the floor guys came) we decided to repaint those two rooms. Old plaster walls really suck up paint. And while we were painting, the floor guys called and said they were coming one day early. Could have planned that better….

Sarah

If Brian can swap out outlets, can’t he swap out light fixtures? It’s basically the same skill. I don’t understand the need for a handyperson here… (Understood if it’s a time issue, but that’s not the way it was explained.)

Also, I don’t see a huge issue with the beadboard. It looks great in the pictures. If you’re not happy with it because the combo of beadboard + color + draperies make it too 80’s, why change the most difficult-to-change part? The color and draperies would be infinitely easier and cheaper to address, and arguably make better content because they’re more attainable swaps that your readers can follow along with.

Brandi

I 100% agree with this about not needing a handyperson to switch out the light fixtures. My husband and I are not handypeople but we have swapped out about 10 outlets and 4 light fixtures in our home, including replacing a ceiling fan. It’s really easy if you are able to do the basic wire switching and there is already a fixture box.

Therese

While switching fixtures in a new house can be super easy, it’s often MUCH more difficult in an older house. We’ve changed many fixtures in our 90-year-old house, and it’s usually an hours-long affair involving multiple trips to the hardware store and rigging up something that allows the old junction box to fit the new fixture. Some fixtures just don’t fit. It can be a time consuming PITA even for professional electricians.

FivebyFive

Our biggest (and dumbest) mistake was when we renovated our basement. It had a half-bath and we went back and forth about whether to add a shower. Ultimately, and very shortsightedly, we decided not to, and leave it as a half-bath.

FYI, the correct answer for whether you should add a shower to a basement half-bath is always YES.

Funny how blind you can be to certain realities in the midst of renovation. That urge to “just get it done” overwhelms reason at times.

P.S. Funny thing about your light fixtures. When I scroll up enough to remove the light fixture from the picture, I can immediately tell you are right about it being distracting. With the light fixture visible in the picture, my eye is drawn right to that fixture. But when I scroll up to remove it from the image, my eye is drawn immediately to the windows. Huh.

Catherine

What a great article! You are a huge inspiration to me, and to know that even you feel like there are some things you wish you could have done differently makes me feel better about my own designs. If I could change anything about a previous renovation – it would be to build a wall in our office where we just did a half wall. When we try and work in there at night when the kids are down, I’m always afraid I’m going to wake them up. It would be a loss of light, but a gain in usability for sure.

Christine

My biggest regret with my renovation was not getting samples of every finish and tile that I picked out before I chose it. I really understimated how many different ways “white” can be interpreted – and specifically got very screwed by a Pottery Barn vanity that was labeled white with nickel fixtures and is definitely almond with chrome – and even simple things like white subway tiles don’t match from one brand to another. Five years later and to this day all the different shades of white in my bathroom and kitchen drive me insane. My kitchen is IKEA and even all of their pieces labeled “off white” aren’t the same color as each other! WTF!

Asuncion

Another regret and advice: Be very careful with white tones: I bought white doors that looked in white in the shop because of the light there but in my house with day light they looked cream color, darker than the color of the walls. That’s horrible, doors can be whiter than walls but no the other way round. Removing the doors was not an option so I had to coat them (professionally) in pure white. They are beautiful now, but it cost me 800€.

Allison

We just finished a remodel, too. In our kitchen we got really long upper cabinets, which hold a lot and are pretty. But they are so long that you can’t place a blender or anything else tall (soda stream) anywhere but the front edge of the counter. Not a big deal but I didn’t think about it. (I’m in NY, so it’s a galley kitchen, no big open island.)
I also didn’t think about exactly where the kids’ beds would go in their rooms so their outlets aren’t in the best places and you can see them between pieces of furniture.
On the positive side, we dropped our ceilings and got overhead lighting, even though we don’t have very high ceilings. Very happy we did that. Makes the apartment feel a lot brighter and I don’t have to go around turning on floor lamps.

Shauna

Running the new hardwood to the second floor which we didn’t renovate. New floors would have brightened up the space and helped with consistency throughout!

Sarah

We just renovated our kitchen and family room and I, unfortunately, have some regrets. I wish I’d put a few more design details into our kitchen. We did white shaker cabinets, which I love, but because of our low ceiling height we couldn’t add the glass door features that I had originally envisioned (I just have too many random things to go in my cabinets), so we just have the regular fronts. We do have some open shelving, but it didn’t look as dramatic in person as it did in the drawings. Also, we opted to have an open stainless vent hood, but now I wish we would’ve designed a really beautiful cover for the vent – this is what I usually notice first when I see someone’s redone kitchen and it is what has that awe factor. I can add one, I guess but with windows on both sides of the vent, not sure we have the space. The other major thing is our backsplash. I found a pic on Houzz of this beautiful subway tile in a stacked pattern and I fell in love with it. Once I saw that I had my heart set on it for… Read more »

Jessie

Is there any chance that darker grout would give it more of a wow factor for you? The fact that it didn’t look blah until the grout was in is what makes me wonder that. I have no idea if this is possible, but can you stain grout a darker color, like you can stain concrete? Just throwing an idea out there in case it could save you some money and headache down the line.

Cristin

If the house has hardwood floors, refinish them before you move in! We were so exhausted getting the bedrooms done with emptying out all of the furniture and clothes, that we still haven’t done the main living areas!

Paula

OMG! Thank you!!! I needed to hear that you, the goddess of everything gorgeous, makes mistakes!!! I actually think those sconces in your playroom are huge and totally overpowering, and I have never thought wrong about an Emily Henderson room (sobbing).
But seriously, thank you for doing this post. I looove skylights and am considering entering into your contest. Everyone warned me ahead of time about our meeting with an electrician, however, we are renovating a house we haven’t moved into yet, and everything was gutted, so it is extremely hard to foresee where things will feel natural, like switches, and phone chargers! That was a very hard decision, the electrician kept saying, how about here, and I was just like, ummm… okay, I guess? And thanks for the tip about floors. Could you chime in about hardwoods in the kitchen?? I know you have them I’m very worried how they will look over time in a very hard working kitchen but doing tile is not something I want to consider.

Cynthia

Hi Paula. We put hardwood in our 1920s kitchen after a painstaking removal of three floors to get to the sub-flooring. We have had to refinish the kitchen floor three times in 27 years due to the wear and tear. And that’s a move out for three days situation so not great. I do love the look though and am happy they match the adjoining hallway and dining room.

Jenny B

Putting a runner in the kitchen, especially under the sink/dishwasher area, and if it works on your plan in front of the oven as well will totally protect wood floors in a kitchen. We put a long vintage looking runner that is in front of the sink and oven and our floors are pristine 8 years later.

Felicia

For the door situation, why not replace the laundry room door with a normal door and then add a set of paneled glass doors to the playroom? That way you still get the light from the windows, but it feels less awkward and like it’s own room.

Kelly

I have done pretty extensive remodeling of my house and my 2 regrets:
1. Being impatient and unrealistic about what I could get for my budget. I wish I had waited, saved more and been able to to splurge on priorities more than I did.

2. Not using an architect and interior designer. I think lots of your regrets above would typically be addressed for the average person by using these professionals. Yes, the cost seemed out of my reach, but in fixing regrets/mistakes, and the frustration of having to live with things that cannot be changed now, they would have totally paid off in the long run! If i had been more patient and incorporated these costs into my budget, I would have gone slower but been happier in the long run!

Molly

I have a friend who is a decorator and I’ve heard a lot of stories about how he could have saved people $ if they had hired him before the reno. For example, a couple who paid a huge amount to have wall to wall windows in bedroom. They had to order custom windows to get the size they wanted. Very expensive. Then they hired my friend, who immediately put curtain panels in the corners. The panels covered up part of the custom made windows,
so in the end they could have just gone with regular size in-stock windows. I would not begin a reno without consulting a variety of professionals first. They’ve learned the hard way what mistakes to avoid.

Katie B.

3/4 of the way into a massive renovation (we re-built every wall, doubled the size of the house, and have done almost all the work ourselves) there are more than a couple of things I’ve learned. Currently, as we’re working on our second bathroom, the regret I have is not thinking through the niche in the shower or the medicine cabinet placement ahead of time. We didn’t frame those recessed features in, and now have to do surface-mount medicine cabinets and the shower nook is off-center. I didn’t realize how many details and finishes we’d need to have decided on when our house was made of nothing but sticks. It seems obvious now but sure didn’t then. I love this post!

Pamela

Hi. Reverse the laundry room swing on the door so it comes out into hallway, then use a door with smoked or filtered glass to hide the laundry room mess but allow the light to flow into entryway.

Juanita Hendriks

I have to agree with putting in a 180 degree swing door (like restaurants have to their kitchen). You can have a solid unobtrusive door put in, painted same color as your walls… so it blends. If you need light coming from the laundry room, as the poster above suggests, put in some filtering material (glass or polycarb panels?). Or, use a mirror. I have always loved a skinny mirror across or near a front door! It will bounce light around, and you get to take a good look as you are leaving the house. Pivot hinges, not expensive! https://www.zoro.com/kaba-ilco-pivot-hinge-right-hand-dark-bronze-ip-10-rh-du/i/G0118590/feature-product?gclid=CjwKCAjwycfkBRAFEiwAnLX5Ia9Kyn9cF3SAJBz2cwT94N7lt-kSBw8BwgdYFXzIPRzOwz99ht3QUBoCrvYQAvD_BwE

Kari

This is such a great post. Really appreciate hearing your thoughts looking back on projects. So much to be learned that way. And a couple hit close to home for me and some renos I’m considering… you probably saved me a few of my own mistakes!

Ahh so glad this post could help xx thank you and good luck 🙂

Valerie Sensinger

Regarding the wainscoting in Charlie’s room, you could paint wall and trim out all in the same light colour, which would modernise it. (Though it wouldn’t match the white trim in the rest of the house) You could also do light wallpaper above and a light coordinating colour on the wainscotting, keeping the white trim…that could be fun and unexpected depending on the colour you choose.

Pamela

Hi again. Also, just paint out those island outlets. They will disappear!

gayle

Emily As usual great tips. When we purchased our current house there were things about it we absolutely loved – layout, lots of windows, yard and size of rooms; however, there were many things we did not like, paint colors, kitchen & bath finishes, flooring throughout the house (all the carpet was horribly soiled, the tile floors were builder grade and we saw them in every single house we looked at during our search, and what wood floors were in the house, were poor quality and laid incorrectly. All of these were purely cosmetic changes as all the cabinetry throughout the house is top quality and we actually like the finishes and layouts in all the rooms were excellent. We’ve slowly fixed things one at a time but still have tile floors and bathroom finishes to be done AND we now need to replace our front door and our patio door just as part of being an older house. In retrospect we should have had a contractor come out at the beginning to give us a cost for doing everything at once – BEFORE we moved in. It would have been less expensive and we’d be done. Now when we… Read more »

Heather

love this post — thank you!

Bethany

Honestly, as a Brit, all these things make your house seem more English, which as I recall is originally what you wanted. Maybe time to accept that you don’t like pokey, comfy, cluttered, quirky English style when it comes to your own home 🙂

Kim

This!! It’s so blaringly obvious this house is not her natural esthetic.

Jolene

Yep- have done this! We designed and built our last house. I had trouble with the arrangement of the 2nd floor bedrooms and bathroom. Once it was rough framed, I immediately saw what would have been a better solution, but my husband thought it was too late to change. After a couple of years, I realized I also would have liked to put our bedroom in the basement on account of ridiculous amounts of wind. But who would have guessed that…

Megan

Thank you for your transparency! What if you put in matching doors with frosted glass for your powder and laundry rooms? Can the laundry door swing in? It might be awkward especially with the what looks like the lightswitch, but you could keep the door closed and solve some of the visual business and still keep things bright.

Morgan

I love these. I’d add to put in ‘smart’ outlets, thermostats, lights, etc at the get go even if you’re not ready to right away turn your bedroom lights on/off with your phone. One day you’ll want to and i think the prep will be worth it!

Ooh yes that’s a good point!

Josh

Thanks for sharing this and for being a REAL person with your designs. It takes a lot to be transparent about critiquing your own designs. I agree with everything you listed, especially the barn and pocket doors. For some reason, I’ve never been able to get on that bandwagon of barn doors. While everyone else seemed to love them, I felt that they are not timeless and will go the way of wood paneling and shag carpet. I love your designs and the great personality that you bring. It’s why you’ve been my favorite designer since your Design Star days.

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