It’s All In The Details

If you’re making your way over here from Sherry and John’s fabola blog at Young House Love (formerly This Young House) – welcome!!  Take a look around, and I hope you stay awhile.  And for all you regulars, thanks for stopping by!!

Oh happy day!  I must admit, I’m pleased as punch to be featured on Young House Love today – they’re pretty much like the Holy Grail of home-inspired blogs.  So, thanks guys – you rock!

As you can see from the before and after pictures of our den and kitchen that are posted today on This Young House, we did a pretty massive renovation last year – I’m talking down to the studs in almost every room of the house, and even taking down a few walls – in some places we had to remove rotted flooring, so you could literally see the dirt under our house from our kitchen and den (and a few other rooms).  We knew that the house needed a lot of work, so communication with our contractor was going to be key.

Here are a few tips on making sure that you and your contractor are on the same page from the very beginning of your renovation.

1. Know what you want. Your contractor wants you to be happy with his work – after all, he’s counting on getting a good referral from you.  But there’s no way for your contractor to get it right if you don’t know exactly what it is that you want from him.

The first decision that you should make is what you and your family need from the house.  Do you have lots of kids?  If so, then you may need to add an extra bedroom and a family room.  Do you entertain every weekend?  Then an open concept kitchen and living area is ideal for you.  The function of your home should always be the jumping off point, as it will influence every decision that you make in your remodel.  Do you like the layout of your house?  Does the backyard function like you need it to?  Do you need both a tub and a shower – do you have enough bathrooms?  These are all questions that you should ask yourself right off the bat.  In our case, we knew that some slight changes needed to be made to the floor plan of our house – for example, the house had a great layout but  the kitchen was totally cut off from the rest of the house, so we knew the wall between the kitchen and the den had to come down.

Next you should decide what “feel” you want your house to have.  Do you want it to be modern?  If so, then you know that you will want all of your fixtures to be sleek, with minimal ornamentation like crown molding.  Or are you more traditional?  Then crown molding will be important to you.  If you don’t know what style or feel you want your home to have, don’t fret – there are millions of magazines, websites and design blogs that you can look at to gradually get a feel for your own style.  Take advantage of all of these resources!  Pull pictures out of magazines, save pics from websites, and create your own file of inspiration photos for your home.  In our case, I flipped through tons of magazines to find inspiration for how to deal with our frightening fireplace – I fell in love with this photo of a rustic yet composed stone fireplace:


We kept this photo in mind when we picked out our stone for the fireplace, and gave it to our mason when the time came to rebuild the fireplace.  The mason actually pinned this photo to the wall and used it as a reference the entire time he was constructing the new facade of the fireplace – we couldn’t be happier with the results:


Remember that it’s just as important to figure out what you don’t like – know your likes and dislikes exactly so that you can feel secure in each design decision that you make for your home – that way you’ll ensure that you absolutely love the finished product.

2. Learn every square inch of your house.  This may sound silly – of course you know your house!   And you do know your house, but not in the way that you need to be familiar with it to tackle a renovation.  When you get into a renovation, you will suddenly be bombarded with questions from your contractor that you never expected – how many light switches do you need for this room?  Where do you want those light switches?  Exactly how many inches are we moving back that wall?  What are we doing with this floor vent in the middle of the dining room floor?  Or worse, your contractor won’t ask you questions and will just assume that you want to leave that funky floor vent in the middle of your dining room floor.

Now that you know what you need and what you want, you can easily tackle each of these issues as they come up by just familiarizing yourself with all of the ins and outs and quirks of your house.  Once you take a closer look at your house, you may be shocked to discover that your main bathroom doesn’t have any outlets, or that you won’t be able to open the back door if you place your furniture in the arrangement that you’ve envisioned.  This is the time to take measurements of your home and furnishings to make sure that it all works together.  Take note of where the light switches are in each room, and if they’re in a location that’s functional for you.  Do you need more light switches?  Do you want the lights to be dimmable?  It may sound like I’m telling you to get down to the tiniest of details, and you’re right – no detail is too small when it comes to a renovation because in the end, it’s the details that really matter.  Little details that are overlooked will add up and result in a home that either doesn’t look right or that isn’t functional for your and your family.

When you’re taking notes about your house, be honest with yourself – does your house have any structural issues that need to be addressed?  Is the foundation sinking, do you need new cross-vents to keep the joists under your house dry, do you need a new roof, do you have adequate insulation?  These are all the details that aren’t sexy but they will impact the integrity and resale value of your home, so they need to be addressed.

3. Put it in writing.  Now that you know what you need, what you want, and how to put it into action, it’s time to communicate this plethora of information to your contractor.  Just telling him your plans while you’re walking through each room is not going to cut it.  You want and need an accurate bid on your project and you want the end result to be just as you envisioned, so take the time to make a detailed, written “renovation plan” of every change that you want your contractor to make to your home.  Yes, it’s time consuming but it will save you a lot of headaches and heartache in the long run.  And if you’re using a construction loan to finance your project your lender will require this detailed information anyway, so you might as well do it right off the bat.

I recommend breaking your renovation down room by room.  This makes the task of communicating what you want a little less daunting for both you and your contractor.  In our case, we made categories for each room, the patio and the exterior, as well as categories for structural changes and renovations that were to be made throughout the house.  Below is the exact renovation plan that we gave to our contractor:


Of course, it is to be expected that some changes will need to be made to your renovation plan – random, unexpected things may come up, you might change your mind about some projects, or certain “wants” may need to be cut for budget concerns.  In our case, the renovation plan definitely evolved over time, but having a written renovation plan to give to our contractor right off the bat enabled us to get the most accurate bid possible, and it made sure that we were on the same page with our contractor from the very beginning.  All of our preparation was definitely worth it, and resulted in a home that we absolutely love.

These are easy steps that you can follow to make sure that your communication with your contractor is as open and honest as it can be.  What steps did you take to make sure things got off on the right foot with your contractor?  Any great stories that you want to share??  Let’s hear it!

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  1. Samantha says:

    Love your site, like you I am a big fan of thisyounghouse, and like you they are pretty much responsible for kicking off my interest in blogging about stuff to do with the home.( I also spend far to much time checking out other peoples’ blogs though, so thanks I now have another one to keep up with!

  2. Liz says:


    Thanks so much for stopping by!! Guys, you should definitely check out Samantha’s blog at – great stuff!!

    ~ Liz

  3. lauri says:

    can you tell me the color paint you have in your kitchen? the entire makeover is beautiful. thanks, lauri

  4. Denise says:

    I’m so glad I visited your blog after seeing your pictures at TYH. The renovation of your fireplace is a fantastic story. I thought (at first) that you had veneered over some of the rock and painted what remained. We’re about to put an addition on our old farmhouse. I’m inspired to blog the adventure!

  5. Liz says:


    I’m totally smitten with that paint color, too! We also used it in our master bedroom and bath – it goes with everything! The paint color is “Toasted Almond” by Pittsburgh Paints, 414-3. Good luck!


    I can’t tell you how nervous I was about that fireplace – I’m so glad it turned out!! (And it turned out to be a much easier and less expensive process than we thought). Good luck on your addition (and hopefully your new blog), please keep us updated on how its going!

    ~ Liz

  6. christy says:

    I think your stone fireplace is even nicer than the inspiration photo. You should submit it to a magazine!

    I love your detailed list – very impressive! I’m curious – how long did the entire renovation take? And you couldn’t have lived in the house the entire time, did you? And finally – how did you find such an amazing contractor? I’m just curious because I’ve heard so many contractor horror stories!

    Our house is finally (almost) complete and we better not be moving for a while, so this is just idle curiosity!

    And please forgive me if you’ve answered any or all of these questions elsewhere in your blog – just point me to the right posts and I’ll happily read them!

  7. Liz says:


    Yay for your house almost being finished!! Our renovation took about 3 months – and you’re totally right, there’s no way we could have lived there during the reno! We actually sold and moved out of our townhouse last June and didn’t have anywhere to live because our contract on another house had fallen through during the inspection. My parents were ridiculously nice and let us live with them while we found another house and then during the renovation. They deserve major props for not killing us. :) It was actually really nice because my husband got to be really close with both of my parents.

    As for the contractor, that took a lot of trial and error. :) My husband was awesome and got lots of referrals and actually scoured our neighborhood newspaper for contractors. We found one contractor that we really liked, but he ultimately realized that he drastically underbid the job and pulled out of the project. That was fine, but it was right before we were scheduled to close on our new house, so that kind of threw everything into a tailspin with the construction loan. Luckily, we were able to push back the closing, my husband found an awesome new contractor (through the neighborhood newsletter), I personally checked out a lot of his referrals, and everything worked out. We were all in a tizzy at the time, but in the end it was totally worth it!

    ~ Liz