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5 Tips for A Faster Fixer-Upper

Jaime Chiang is an interior designer creating fresh, functional spaces for startup offices and private residences in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Renovating your kitchen often starts with a bright vision: a new space that reflects your personal style and supports the way you want to share meals with your family and friends. You gather inspiration, research the process passionately, set your design aesthetic, and select the right tools - like Matterport Scenes.

Recently, I had 6 weeks to resurface the cosmetic finishes of an outdated kitchen in a house that’s 80 years old. As renovation fate would have it, I ended up tackling a bit more than expected at the start and needed to extend our limited budget and project timeline to 7.5 weeks in order to get the job done.

Before diving into your very first or next kitchen renovation, whether it’s a simple cosmetic refresh or a complete down-to-the-studs remodel, here are a few tips that can help your renovation project run more smoothly.



Jaime’s 5 Tips for Remodeling

1. Choose your team of local experts wisely and invest some time getting to know them. Find design and build professionals you feel comfortable communicating with and get multiple bids (at least 3) for the job before you settle on a final decision.

  • Ask your personal network for referrals & recommendations. This will give you a sense of how much things should cost in your area. At the initial consultation, ask questions about how you'll work together and about their processes. By doing a detailed walkthrough of your job site with your design ideas in hand, you’ll get a good sense of how they communicate. You’re in this together to the very end, so be sure to define the rules of engagement, understand how you’ll handle conflict, and know what communication channels are best clearly up front to get things off on the right foot.

  • Hire for local experience. Local experts will often have a depth of experience working with your city or county’s planning department. Their expertise will help you navigate through complex building and permit codes. They should be able to consult you throughout the process and explain the pros, cons, and options available to you each step of the way. Their professional insight can ultimately save you a great deal of time, stress and money. If available, ask them for client references to hear how well they worked together with others.

2. Get the contract details in writing to a point where you feel secure. Ask for a well-written contract that covers all aspects of your project: timeline, pricing with itemization of labor, payment schedule, insurance information, permit information, handling of debris and cleanup, as well as a process for how changes to the initial estimate will be handled along the way -- and there are always changes.

  • Be sure the contract clearly defines the scope of work. The contract should ensure that both parties feel comfortable with the scope of work ahead and may include any special instructions discussed in the consultation for the project. Some things worth addressing include whether there will be fees for in-store pickups of materials and determining who will be responsible for managing and coordinating specific tasks like permitting and scheduling inspections.

  • Identify key check-ins in advance. The contract serves as a general project plan and can identify specific milestone check-in points to see how the work is progressing along your timeline. Defining clear milestones will help your project stay as close to schedule as possible.

3. Take accurate measurements and enable your team to capture them the smart way. When dealing with kitchen renovations, which are more technical in nature than other rooms of the house, it’s absolutely critical to have precise measurements for every inch of the design. Accurate measurements will lead to clearer estimations of the cost and volume of required materials.

  • Take measurements at critical points in the project. There are critical points in the design and build process where measurements should be taken:
    1. Before demolition - to have a record of the current space for design.
    2. After demolition - once rough materials (e.g. drywall, piping, wiring) are in place to get a sense of the exact positioning of elements.
    3. After cabinets are in place for countertop and appliances installation.
    4. After the project has been completed for a record of the finished space.

  • This sounds like a lot of measurements to track, and it is, which is why many experienced interior designers and contractors pride themselves on taking thorough measurements efficiently, and for good reason. It takes time to coordinate site visits, which everyone wants to minimize, and time to physically record each measurement. Every now and then, a specific measurement (width, height or depth) might be missed. For instance, you might forget to measure the thickness of the recessed window frame, the space between the back of the stove and the wall, or the height of the baseboard.

  • Use tools like Matterport Scenes to help you document and easily access measurements you may have missed. Now with Matterport Scenes’ mobile app, gone are the days when missing one small detail meant having to trek back to the site with a tape measure and pencil in-hand. With Scenes, I was able to make a complete 3D model scan of the kitchen in less than 10 minutes instead of manually measuring the site over the course of a few hours with the risk of missing a measurement. Having the app in my pocket allowed me to design and select materials with the ease of knowing that I could open it and look up the dimensions I needed on the spot. It also allowed me to go back into the app and find measurements my contractors needed without having to go back to the project site. Nothing is more accurate than referencing an actual image of the space, where I can drop measurement points to drive decisions instantly.

4. Brace yourself for the unexpected. No matter how well you feel you have defined your budget at the start of the project, once the walls are down and you’re looking at the bones of your kitchen, you’ll likely encounter a few unexpected challenges that stand in the way of your perfect renovation vision. The old water lines, gas pipes, or wiring may need repairs or repositioning to be brought up to code. Or, after demo day, you might see that there’s water damage or wood rot in certain spots that need to be addressed before you can layer on your design.

  • Build in a buffer for budget overages. There’s almost always some incremental work to be expected when working on old houses that haven’t been updated in decades, so prepare a 10-15% reserve built into your budget. Implementing this buffer will mitigate the shock once you look under the surface. With each new issue discovered, there are associated costs for labor, rough materials, and permits which may impact your overall design. Clearly track and document your labor and materials costs as you go so you stay on the pulse of your day-to-day project spend. This careful planning will allow you to make decisions with confidence and clarity. And remember, stay calm and carry on for a smooth renovation.

5. Find your communication rhythm and make space to connect with your team. Like any relationship, you and your team of professionals will find a rhythm of communication that keeps everyone informed with the details needed to forge along and make progress.

  • Be prepared for site visits and to be on call. Regardless of how much you plan to be involved in the renovation journey, at a minimum, be ready to make several site visits. Be on call over the life of the project for your designer and contractor to address issues as they arise (and they will). Be prepared to make runs to the store for research and purchases. Shop online to hunt for the best prices, and tackle elements (e.g. appliance selections) that may make better sense for you to research vs. leaving it in the hands of your team. Ultimately, only you know exactly what you want and how the space needs to work for you. The more informed you are, the more confident you’ll feel about each decision you make.

Watch a video about Matterport Scenes below: