Got renovation advice?

January 7, 2015

renovation-adviceThis is a reader-participation post in a big way, so if you have something to offer on this subject, anything at all, know that it will be welcomed.

We’re renovating and I’d love–no I NEED–your advice. Renovation advice. This is my second attempt at the project, because just the idea overwhelmed me last year and I took solace in the escape that travel provided.  This year, M is going to take a bigger role, so I feel more comfortable.  Three months of mess is what we’re preparing for, although we expect contractors to tell us that it’ll be quicker.

Surely some of you have been through this and have renovation advice that will save us a boatload of aggravation.

So here is the backdrop for my questions:

No, that's not my kitchen.

No, that’s not my kitchen.

Kitchen renovation

What started all this is that our modestly-sized kitchen is bisected by the door to the laundry room and garage. We’d like the two sides to look more cohesive, to minimize the bisection –without moving walls.  One wall on the smaller part of the kitchen is dominated by a large window that overlooks a really pretty part of our garden. There, we will move the window up two inches (making in two inches shorter) to install  built-ins on the sides and a long counter across the window wall. We’ll eat casual meals at the counter (looking at the garden) and will enjoy having additional culinary work space.  We’re avoiding a kitchen table as it would only emphasize the bisection and we’re the only ones who will eat there as we have a dining room with a large table for entertaining.

We’re tearing out all of the current cabinets in our kitchen, the sink and the stove to replace them with … something else. So new cabinets for the entire kitchen are needed, along with a sink and a gas stove.

Family room renovation

We’re also finally furnishing the family room –doing a bit of a makeover and maybe some custom shelving and cabinets.  It’s a smallish family room with a fireplace we’re redoing with gas. One of the walls has French doors to the back yard and garden. There will be a big (but not massive) TV screen and I have my heart set on a sectional with a chaise so we can relax. That’s the key word for the family room: relaxation.

Part of the kitchen is visible from the family room, so I require color palettes for both rooms that would coordinate but are not identical.


Some of the colors in my living room, which do NOT need to coordinate with the new stuff.

About color

I love color. M. is color blind and sees only reds, oranges and yellows, but they are not the most restful base colors. We prefer bright color for accents, only.  The base color of our living room, which is NOT visible from the kitchen/family room, is purple so I don’t want to duplicate that look.

Color is a possibility for our kitchen counter tops–both the long counter we are installing on the window wall but also the counter in the working part of our kitchen.    I am not a fan of the normal granite colors (grey, brown, black, beige) and patterns and am inclined to do something more colorful and maybe even wild for one of the counters (at least), something my designer says is bad for resale. But resale is not one of our considerations, because we are “aging in place.”   I do like patterns and colors that make a statement, and that statement is for me–so the palette will be one that I can look at every day and smile.  No problem with two different but complementary countertop colors or a pattern and a solid.

Color is also a possibility for some or all of the custom cabinets in either room. Our designer likes that idea better than the colorful counters, but I think there is a compromise.

We intend our family room to be the place we spend most of our free time, so we’d like it to be more restful than our colorful living room and our soon-to-be bright kitchen.

color_icons_red_helpSo here are a few of my questions:

What did you learn from your own renovation that we need to hear?

Or what would you do if you were going to renovate–what do you miss having?

In your own renovation, what kind of cabinet and drawer configuration was most useful?

We’re upgrading the  gas range as it doesn’t heat evenly. Do you have recommendations?

We are replacing the kitchen sink. What worked best for you?

 And now, palettes:

I’m looking for color palettes for each room that would coordinate. I’m going to show you some color combinations I respond to. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, so I’m asking if you see any trends in what I like, combinations that immediately pop out because they seem to keep showing up.

Given what I’ve said about our general needs and desires, what are your thoughts on what you see below?


I’m not sure I like that shade of green, but the palette is restful.

There’s something about that blue-grey. Today the word “cabinets” came up when I looked at it. Not sure which room.

The thing about throw pillows is that they’re meant to be accents and so there’s no hesitation about combining fun colors.  These are some that spoke to me.


Teal and turquoise have always appealed to me.



I like that grey-green above and here for a sectional, with pops of pillow color. But it’ll be a dominant mass of neutral so the cabinets and other furniture need to have accents.

Take the lime out of this & I like it.

Take the lime out of this & I like it.


It’s a nice blue that requires accenting.

Product_PKH10740_Image_1 Product_SVF25059_Image_1And some other colorful design elements:

turqoise white

I feel this is too vanilla and needs some accent color. Your thoughts?

When I say I like colors in countertops, this is what I mean.

When I say I like colors in counter tops, this is what I mean, although this one’s bathroom-y.

Or this!

Or this! No fear. I love it. I could see having this in my kitchen, although no room for an island.

teal bkdrop

Too much white, but I love the color pops.

I like this in theory, but I’m afraid it is too bland for me and I’d get sick of it quickly.

blue backsplsh

This has a warm feel, thanks to the grey and blue.

See why I’m confused? I have a lot of “loves.”


Love the door color and how color is used on the cabinets.

This would be lovely in a country kitchen. I don’t rule it out for our home, but we’re not in the country.


My kitchen’s not big enough for this, but if I’d renovated last year I would have used this color. This year, I don’t think it’s enough.

This is typical of me–I’m changeable.


Kind of interesting.

But I don’t want it to look beachy.


Keeping the tones right prevents this from looking Christmassy.


This is kind of interesting.

I loved this right away. Peaceful.

Product_DVN16459_Image_1 Product_EXA10074_Image_1So, thank you in advance for anything you can contribute that will help make this project go more smoothly. In all ways.

56 comments on “Got renovation advice?
  1. I like the softer colors you’ve shared…but my real advice is around the aging in place bit. It’s important and difficult to imagine the scenario fully. In our case we knew my husband was headed to a wheelchair so we borrowed a wheelchair and my son wheeled around the house to see which door jams needed to be widened etc. Could a wheelchair get past any protruding fixtures, are there sharp turns where a wheelchair or walker would have trouble? You might look at passageways and the height of your built in table by the window if you truly want to make this house work in the worst case scenario.

    • I think that’s good advice –and we aren’t going that far right now. We’re not moving walls or changing doorways, just making some cosmetic modifications to the two rooms. The house is pretty open with large doorways, which was what i liked about it– but I could see the BRs possibly being problematic to a wheel chair if needed. That kind of change would need to wait, though. It’s far more than we want to do right now.

      • Gotcha, just thought since you were redoing cabinets you might want to take that into account… I’ve now done 3 kitchens, one as part of a full house remodel for handicap accessibility. It’s a lot of work and requires one to think beyond the present moment.

  2. Donna Hanton says:

    It sounds like you already know this Carol, but allow more time, and more money, than estimated. Having a contractor you trust, but also that you can communicate with is crucial. We had to fire a contractor (also a friend – don’t do that!!) after the first project in a reno. The next one we hired made up for that bad experience. Knowing what you want is key – ‘helpful’ folks will make all kinds of suggestions. If I’d followed their advice, I would have ended up with a fridge in my dining area and a dishwasher that you would have to turn completely around to load and, when the door was open, would have pinned anyone at the sink up against the cabinets!! It sounds as though you have clear ideas though about what you do and don’t want. That’s great. As for specifics, I love the colour palette that has the Miami spice at the top – lovely neutrals, lights and darks and with a pop of colour that would be easy to accent. One of the best choices we made in kitchen cabinets was to have pull-out shelves in lower cabinets, to make items at the back easier to reach without so much crouching.
    A bit long-winded, but hopefully something useful in there for you. Good Luck!
    (P.S. you probably know this too, but patience, lots of patience! And wine (or whatever!)

  3. Linda Roy says:

    We have custom kitchen cabinets, and I wanted two large storage drawers for bakeware, baking dishes, measuring cups, etc., and one shallower drawer for spices, etc. They’re next to the stove and really convenient. I’m so glad I talked my husband into it because I love them. We have a Jenn Air down draft gas stove, which I also love. No need for a range hood; it pulls smoke and steam down and out of the kitchen through a vent in the center of the stove. It also has removable burners on one side that can be swapped out for a grill and a griddle. We use that a lot. Happy renovating!

  4. This sounds like fun! Is it sad that I looked at the stove before the hot guy? I miss my gas. I had it for 20 years until I moved to SC now it’s electric and I hate it! The blue tiled kitchen is beautiful but I’m thinking that color blue on the cabinets instead of the wall. With frosted glass on the cabinet doors with the walls a sort of “gray”. Then a darker gray in the family room with the blue under “typical me”. I used this as my accent color in my bedroom and splashes of red like a couple of pillows and a statue of two lovers that makes a heart. The “grayer” colors I’m thinking ( I know it’s not technically gray but anyway the one on the left for the kitchen and the one on the far right for the family room again under typical you. How did I do?

  5. Laura says:

    Add months and at least 15% to your budget. Stuff happens and despite your beautiful way of walking through the Universe it will happen to you too. I vote for a very muted base palette and utilize the big colors for accents. The island in the picture is fabulous and artistic but would look messy with kitchen tools, food, or place settings on it. Avoid busy granite, you’ll tire of it.

    I’m sure your designer told you this: look at your wardrobes and go with colors you favor in clothing.

    Go for a gas cook top, five burners: four round burners and a large burner in the middle. Electric ovens with convection ability.

    A large single sink, very deep with a tall faucet so you can place a pasta pan under it.

    Go to the South of France while this is happening.

  6. liv says:

    The only thing that jumped out at me was the color in the countertops. The problem with not going neutral is you’re stuck with that palatte until you replace it again. And countertops arent something you replace every day. So make sure you’re really happy with it.

  7. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    I LOVE the one you said has a warm feel. That is exactly my style. We built our house 18 years ago and the kitchen was the most important room to me. I like your color choices a lot. I think it is best to go mostly neutral with splashes of color that can be changed if you get sick of them.

  8. Kim Tackett says:

    We did a kitchen reno a few years ago and did Ikea cabinets, which we love (especially the dishes and pots and pans in drawers). What I learned is that we changed as we went along. Things I had in mind as must haves at the beginning have way to new ideas. Obviously, if you’re concerned about resale, you should go more neutral, and then get your pop with the back splash, lighting, and even appliances. By the time we were done, I was so over making decisions, we couldn’t even face new dishes (or the backsplash, so we did ours in chalkboard…which we’re just now replacing). My daughter gave me some advice a few weeks ago (the one working on her masters in architecture). She said to really think about how your home serves you, and how you use it. For instance, she said our home was for lounging around and making stuff. And she’s right. My guess is, if you and M. define how you really use and love your home, then the choices will be easier for you. Have fun!

  9. Kim Tackett says:

    Also, I see a few images from…check out their blog, fresh hues as well.

  10. PatU says:

    My take would be to make the expensive changes, such as cabinetry and countertops to be more conservative or you will be sick of them once again when they become dated. Add color in paint and accessories. Those can be changed easily.

    If you had a small counter space off on it’s own, that could have a fun piece of color.

    But then again…You might be changing your entire life around in ten years, so do what you want!!! (I always think about resale value, though.)

  11. Kathy Harter says:

    I think the kitchen is critical, so be careful about discounting resale on your choices. If you have an island, the cabinets and counter top can be different from the rest of the kitchen. I did love the picture you showed with the wild glass island counter top. Note in that picture, the remainder of the kitchen had neutral counter tops with more color pop in the back splash. The cabinets were neutral. If you have a galley kitchen, you can use accent color cabinetry around the range and range hood. I would not put 2 colors of counter top in a galley kitchen. Recycled glass counter tops have a fabulous array of colors and could provide the color statement you want.

    Drawers or pull-outs are critical and I prefer drawers for the pots and pans. Check the depth of pullouts, they need to have at least 3.5 inches and heavy duty rollers. If you have lots of specialty kitchen items, discuss this with the designer so you have the proper storage for baking pans, mega blenders, big mixers, etc. If you can accommodate wall ovens, they are easier on the back.

    Since the kitchen is seen from the family room, the color scheme needs to flow between the two rooms. You can accent the wall behind the TV and built ins and get bold with color. I think you keep the major pieces strong and neutral and bring the color in on the walls and accent pieces.

    To reduce the dust in the rest of the house. Have the contractor build a plastic containment wall with a zipper door. You will not regret spending the money. The dust is incredible. We swept the remodel area every day. Check your a/c filters each week also. Post a picture of your current kitchen to help us better visualize. Good luck! I am sure you will be so happy when its done.

  12. Robin says:

    All I have to say is Benjamin Moore “Misty Memories”. We have it in our kitchen and several other rooms in the house. It is a very special light gray with a warm touch, just a tiny hint, of lavender. I could live with it forever.

  13. My number 1 advice. Don’t let any of the people you hire get ahead of you in payment. If they do, usually they don’t finish. Negotiate this in advance. Best of luck Carol!

  14. Jo Heroux says:

    My first and most fierce advice…always consider resale! Life changes can’t always be seen in advance. Reselling can be the difference between bankruptcy and happily ever after. We never planned to sell this house. We are now looking at closing on that sale this week. Our plan WAS to live here summers and head south for the winters. Six months each. Financially….that couldn’t happen so we are moving south permanently.

    Okay…second…use your love of color every place EXCEPT the countertops. They are too expensive to replace every time you get tired of the color or pattern. Choose colorful tiles for backsplash and walls and be creatively wild with these which you can change reasonably i expensively.

    Blending two rooms is easy enough if you think it through. Use the same pallet in different order in the two rooms. Maybe the soft colors in the living space and the bolder ones in your kitchen or visa-versa. Whichever makes you happy. Those colors can be mixed and matched at will and changed just as easily.

  15. Haralee says:

    Exciting! It looks like a color change in bottom cabinets would be good for you. OR a very colorful backsplash?
    My kitchen sink advise. I suggest one long enough to fit a cookie sheet. If you go for a double sink then the smaller side should have the disposal. I like a duel fuel range. Gas for the stove top and electric for the oven.
    It is stressful to have all these strangers in your home but the end result is worth it, a mantra!

  16. Tammy says:

    Dear God woman, this is work! I’ve renovated more than once (glutton for punishment). Kitchens are the hardest because you only have one in your home. Hard to get around it. I love warm colors with bright pops. Your colors are fabulous and all work well together. No matter can add 4-6 weeks onto the estimated date of completion. Draw lots of pictures to show and tell your contractor and crate the puppy. I would suggest that the items that provide you the “pop” factor be interchangeable so that you can change it up as years go by. My living room is black and coffee with lots of pop of reds and oranges. I can always change the pop to blues and greens if I want without changing out the big stuff. Excited for you….all good things, my friend.

  17. Tammy says:

    Dear God woman, this is work! I’ve renovated more than once (glutton for punishment). Kitchens are the hardest because you only have one in your home. Hard to get around it. I love warm colors with bright pops. Your colors are fabulous and all work well together. No matter can add 4-6 weeks onto the estimated date of completion. Draw lots of pictures to show and tell your contractor and crate the puppy. I would suggest that the items that provide you the “pop” factor be interchangeable so that you can change it up as years go by. My living room is black and coffee with lots of pop of reds and oranges. I can always change the pop to blues and greens if I want without changing out the big stuff. Excited for you….all good things, my friend.

  18. I see a trend in the color palates you have chosen. Every one save the last have an orange and a blue. The ikat design is very in and I actually bought a chair in this design this last fall. I think it will be around for a while. Walker had some very good suggestions for design. If you are rearranging be sure you have the foundation design right then begin to think about finishes. But I bet all your contractors or designers will tell you the same thing.

    Keep us posted. This looks like fun.


  19. We lived through this a year ago. Sooo glad we did it but sooo glad we are over it. I had some somewhat professional pics take because I wrote about it for a magazine. I’ll try to find a link to post here. It’s funny. We did the blue and cream combo like your first pic. I first wanted a solid surface, solid color counter, till an organizer friend advised against it saying that a solid color showed every spot. So I went with a composite, granite like. I wanted to pick the colors of counter and cabinets so I didn’t do granite. I love your color. Go for it!

  20. Since you are aging in place, I say have fun with your colors. No need to bow to “neutrality” a concept I hate anyway. I love your colors. I would pick something for your kitchen that you always dreamed of having but never thought practical. You deserve it!

  21. This is quite timely as I’m currently collected ideas for a kitchen redo. I love the white cabinets in a few of your pics above. I’ve settled on a red brick accent wall (well, two walls), white cabinets and black countertops… because all that goes with many other elements of my primarily Venetian (red) plastered kitchen walls with marble (black/gray streaked) accents.

    So, based on that, you can see my color choices are likely not in line with the calm/cool colors you might love.

    One thing I DO think you might appreciate for more counter workspace: I plan to put my sink in the corner, where counter space is usually wasted.

    I look forward to more from you on this… as I may want to nab some of your ideas. Good luck!!

  22. Doree Weller says:

    I’m like you; I love color. You mentioned that you’re changeable, so I would say that for anything permanent, like a counter, go more neutral. For paint and accents, go wild with whatever colors you like, as you can always change them if you change your mind. For years, I did wild and crazy, but I got tired of painting every time I moved, so these days I do neutral with paints as well and decorate with accents. In your palettes, you have at least one close to neutral color, so I’d say go with that color for the walls, and choose crazy accents. You seem to like patterns (on the pillows), so you could do stripes or stencils on the wall. Pinterest has tons of tutorials. Enjoy! I like your style.

  23. Twenty one years ago we bought our property and built our home. We built it thinking we’d stay here longer (it’s now up for sale) so thinking I may get MS flareups we wanted a ranch. We built the hallways wider in case of a wheelchair and built the countertops higher up so as not to have to bend down as far. We put grab bars in the showers and near the toilet and two railings on either side in the garage for the 2 steps in. As far as the rest? See what makes you happy, sort of a feng shui thing. That’s all the advice I can give you. We went with our hearts, built our dream house and it’s a part of me like my right arm.

  24. I’m exhausted just reading this! It brings back traumatic moments of our own renovation, like when I noticed the painters hadn’t moved the washing machine to paint behind it and I threw myself on the couch and screamed at everyone, “You’re fucking killing me! Do you think I’m an idiot?” I do have to say that made everyone work faster and way better, so my advice is to stay on top of everyone and not just be sweet and offer them snacks all the time like I did at the beginning.

  25. Risa says:

    Sink suggestions: think about a double sink. Really comes in handy quite often. And a faucet with a detachable nozzle will allow you to fill anything, no matter how large. Paint suggestions: you can always go 1/2 strength (or even less) to get just the shade you want. We did this all over our house when we rebuilt it after the fire–and during subsequent make-overs of kids’ rooms. Your local paint store will be able to do this for you as many times as you want–and since color is so important, you can make sure you get just the version you want. If you can, allow enough time to see samples of the color on your walls at all times of the day. In my experience, most are darker than they appear on the chip so the dilution will get you closer to the ideal color and allows you to really customize it. One other thing I learned: go with materials that are easy to get. The stuff I wanted for a kids’ bathroom counter top was imported and took forever to arrive, which slowed things down during construction. I agree with a lot of other comments, so won’t repeat stuff. I’ve lived through two remodels and a from-the-ground-up rebuild, and expecting the unexpected is part of the drill.

  26. Kathy says:

    I am also planning to redo my kitchen so this is timely and helpful for me. My favorite palette is the tropical hue and I like your green.
    I think a double sink is a necessity but equal area in both sides-my current is a standard on one side and a smaller sink on the other side. The only use for the smaller sink is drying pots -a definite waste of space for me.
    One of my must have in terms of cabinets is a pull out drawers for pots and pans.
    Can’t wait to see your finished kitchen

  27. I’m not the person to offer advice in this area. My redo experience is long but largely unsuccessful. Have you ever looked at the Luscher color test or Berlin and Kay’s work on biological consideration of color perception?

  28. For about $500 you can get a designer to help do a layout and color palette for you. That can save you thousands of dollars in mistakes. Color is very tricky. I knew the palette I wanted but every color comes in zillions of different shades and the lighting in the room, the furniture, etc. can make a color look totally different. A designer helped with the various shades (it cost me $125 for her help) and it saved me a ton. I love my Wolf range and would never get a different brand. But if you don’t cook a lot it’s probably not worth the expense.

  29. Michelle says:

    I would just work everything around that guy in his underwear….

  30. Stacey says:

    Hi Carol – My kitchen was renovated two years ago (down to the studs). I agree with others who said to plan on it taking longer than expected. The estimated four to five weeks ended up being nine because the cabinets had the incorrect finish. I did take the neutral route for the cabinets, backsplash and flooring. By doing that it’s easy for me to use brightly colored accessories (curtains, decorative items for cabinets with glass doors, countertop pieces, etc.) that can easily be changed out to keep it fresh. The granite counter has a bit more color with quite a bit of movement, which helps keep things from looking bland.

    Good luck!

  31. Alex Edmun says:


    This is really cool! We are looking into buying our first house and will have to remodel the kitchen of our house, most likely! SO this is very helpful.

    And yes you are absolutely right color combination is the thing which enhances your house beauty and completes the look of your house.

    I like the colors in counter tops and these designs are so unique. I want to try it also in my kitchen and matching door color with your kitchen drawers… such a brilliant idea.

    Thank you so much for posting such an amazing post… I like it very much… Keep on posting.

    Alex Edmun

  32. Happy Hiller says:

    Great read! Thanks for your posts!

  33. Alex kevin says:

    I like your ideas,
    You know what I am looking to change my windows and doors and I guess you have provided the best solution for my problem, I am really glad that I found your blog, thanks for such wonderful sharing

  34. Excellent !!!

    Thanks for share this information about the kitchen renovation. Its really helpful post!

  35. HomesCute says:

    Hey Carol, I could really use your advice on this. I live in CA and my market is too expensive for me to make anything unless the numbers are perfect, so I’m investing out of state and was wondering what your opinion was because I will be states away and not able to be on the sight while the renovations are happening, it’s making me stressed. I really want to do renovate but won’t be able to while I’m at work here in CA.

  36. pigno says:

    HrHi Carol – My kitchen was renovated two years ago (down to the studs). I agree with others who said to plan on it taking longer than expected. The estimated four to five weeks ended up being nine because the cabinets had the incorrect finish. I did take the neutral route for the cabinets, backsplash and flooring. By doing that it’s easy for me to use brightly colored accessories (curtains, decorative items for cabinets with glass doors, countertop pieces, etc.) that can easily be changed out to keep it fresh. The granite counter has a bit more color with quite a bit of movement, which helps keep things from looking bland.

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