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Lessons Learned: 10 True Tales of Renovation Regrets from Our Editors

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Lessons Learned: 10 True Tales of Renovation Regrets from Our Editors

July 14, 2023

We write about renovations for a living. Still, when it comes to our own remodels, we’re far from immune to the hiccups, road bumps, and outright regrets that so often come along with house projects. Here, we humbly submit our own snafus; instances of remodeler’s remorse that still, if we’re honest, nag at us; and things we’d do differently if we could.

Reader, learn from our mistakes—and share yours, if you like, in the comments.

On trends:

“I regret using a dark grout in my kitchen reno. I was going for a classic subway tile look, and it is…for a cool NYC bar.” -Fan

dark grout: great here (see the designer is in: an optimist at home in notting  17
Above: Dark grout: great here (see The Designer Is In: An Optimist at Home in Notting Hill; photograph by Chris Tubbs), not so much in Fan’s space.

On taking your time (and light switches):

“When you’re remodeling, you never want to reschedule. Who knows when they’ll be available again? So in the middle of our kitchen renovation, when the electrician became unexpectedly available one morning, I didn’t say, ‘Come back another time; I haven’t really thought about outlets and recessed ceiling lights and light switches yet.’ Instead, I figured he and the project manager would know what they were doing—they were experts, after all. I wish I had postponed that appointment. By the time I returned from work that day, I realized that they had installed too many recessed lights (who wants to cook in an operating room?) and didn’t put in a light switch in the spot where we’d most likely need one. These mistakes weren’t egregious, but they could have been avoided had I 1) figured out the lighting stuff beforehand 2) spoken up and asked the electrician for more time.” -Fan

On the littlest details:

“Check, check, and check again. One morning a van showed up at our house in Mill Valley, reminiscent of the Sean Penn van arriving at Ridgemont High. An affable crew headed to the kitchen to complete their work, painting the cabinets and installing the cabinet pulls. It took a year for me to realize the cabinet pulls were askew—each and every one.” –Julie

a glimpse from julie&#8\2\17;s mill valley kitchen. photograph by matthew w 18
Above: A glimpse from Julie’s Mill Valley kitchen. Photograph by Matthew Williams.

On practicality:

“I do wish we’d thought harder about storage, but we didn’t. (It’s a bungalow, so there’s no loft space.) As a result we have to be quite ruthless with what stays and what goes, but that can only be a good thing. I’m not sure anyone really needs a roof full of old exercise books, do they?” -Nell

On high-maintenance materials:

“I kind of regret choosing soapstone counters. Love the look, did not enjoy the maintenance.” (You can read more about that particular episode here.) -Fan

planned out storage: crucial in a tiny space. (read more about christine&#8 19
Above: Planned-out storage: crucial in a tiny space. (Read more about Christine’s adventures in storage—from way back in Remodelista’s early days—in Living Small in London.) Photograph by Kristin Perers for Remodelista.

On eco options:

“With all the new research, I regret installing a gas stove instead of induction. If only I’d renovated after the Low-Impact Home book.” -Justine

On slipperiness:

“When we decided to redo the battered wood floors that came with our 1950 house, we chose a safe, middle-of-the-road brown stain and a wax finish, both of which I now regret. I wish we had gone with a darker—or dramatically lighter—shade. What we have feels neither here nor there. And as for the twice-a-year applied maintenance wax, it makes the surface as slippery as ice—causing more than one unassuming guest to nearly wipe out. But we’ll never again remove all to redo those floors, so we always wear slippers with treads.” -Margot

On not cutting corners:

“A major regret of our house renovation in Mill Valley is not insulating the roof when the whole building was taken down to the studs. At the time it seemed like an easy way to save some money, but in the 20 years since completing the renovation, the lack of insulation made for a main living space that was often hot in the summer and required extra heating in the winter. Recently, we decided to replace our roof earlier than necessary to install the insulation, which was becoming even more necessary with the higher temperatures. But it has made all the difference.” -Josh

justine&#8\2\17;s kitchen, as seen in an oldie but a goody: rehab diary: dr 20
Above: Justine’s kitchen, as seen in an oldie but a goody: Rehab Diary: Dream Kitchen for Under $3,000.

On communication:

“My partner and I bought our first house a month ago, so my remodeling regret is all too fresh. We wanted a natural, matte Danish look for the (orange- and espresso-hued) floors, and it made sense to refinish them while the house was empty, but we had a quick turnaround. We hired a local floor refinisher to sand, then began the straightforward but still arduous work of applying Rubio Monocoat ourselves.

“Midway through finishing the downstairs, the oil just didn’t look right. It sort of had a ‘purple mountains majesty’ hue to it. Rubio recommends sanding to 120 grit, and when I texted the floor finisher to ask what he’d used, he replied: 80. In my rush to get it done, I’d never mentioned the Rubio nor asked about grit. By that point, we’d committed—in funds, sweat, and sore backs—and had to keep going. The floors have grown on us, but I learned my lesson: communicate. We’re doing our upstairs floors the same way now—and had the floors sanded to the right grit first.” -Annie

annie&#8\2\17;s floors, two apartments ago. photograph by mel walbridge fro 21
Above: Annie’s floors, two apartments ago. Photograph by Mel Walbridge from Is It Worth It? Luxury Starter Sheets from Sferra’s Alma Line.

On perspective:

“I feel I have so many remodeling regrets and yet also none. Our home isn’t perfect but it’s home and it feels right for our family. I think the thing is to not take it too seriously. Yes, there wasn’t enough money in the budget for porcelain light switches, but that will come in time and if it doesn’t, then maybe it wasn’t that important in the first place. I think it’s easy to lose perspective on these things when you’re in the thick of it.” –Nell

The common thread? No project is perfect (and, we say, all the more interesting for it).

For more remodeling tales from our editors, see:

N.B.: Featured image by Matthew Williams from Julie’s place: see Before/After: A Remodelista’s Refreshed Parlor Floor Flat in Brooklyn Heights, NY.

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Frequently asked questions

What is the content of the article 'Cautionary Tales: Editors' Renovation Regrets' about?

The article 'Cautionary Tales: Editors' Renovation Regrets' on Remodelista is about some editors sharing their regrets and lessons learned from their own home renovation projects.

Who wrote the article?

The article was written by Remodelista editors.

What kind of renovations are discussed in the article?

The article covers a range of home renovations, including kitchen and bathroom renovations, as well as whole-house renovations.

What can readers learn from the article?

Readers can learn from the experiences and mistakes shared by the editors, helping them avoid similar pitfalls and make more informed decisions during their own renovation projects.

Are the renovations discussed in the article considered successful?

Not all the renovations discussed in the article are considered successful. The editors openly share their regrets and mistakes, highlighting the importance of planning and research before undertaking any renovation project.

Can readers find inspiration for their own renovation projects in the article?

Although the article focuses on lessons learned from renovation regrets, readers can still find inspiration and ideas by understanding the aspects that did work well in each renovation project.

Is there any advice provided in the article?

Yes, the article provides various advice and tips from the editors based on their renovation experiences. These insights can help readers make more informed decisions and potentially avoid costly mistakes.

Where can I read the article?

You can read the article 'Cautionary Tales: Editors' Renovation Regrets' on the Remodelista website in the 'Posts' section.

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