This year, we’ve been actively renovating our mid-century modern Seattle home. We’re replacing the roof, repairing the garage, remodeling the kitchen, and gutting the downstairs bathroom. This process has brought to mind many helpful ideas about what it takes to prepare for a home renovation and when to start the various tasks as you get ready to renovate. We’d like to impart our learned experience to help you prepare; especially, if this is your first project. We’ve been updating portions of our home for 18 years, are not new to the process, and have used that experience to generate this list of helpful tips for making it through.
Preparing for construction during a pandemic can be quite challenging, but we hope these tips and insights will help you prepare ahead of time, at your pace, finding as much fun and creativity in the process as possible. Finishing these “little” projects are early project investments that will get you closer, step-by-step, to creating your authentic home.
Our first tip – Anticipate that it’s not going to go in a straight line.
Starting the Process
We started prepping our home right after the New Year, months before the contractors were scheduled to arrive on site in May or June of 2021. It’s important to understand that contractor’s schedules here in Seattle are all over the place right now, and our project officially started in early August. The bulk of our project was set for summer and fall – The bathroom demo, garage demo, and roof renovation set for summer to avoid the rains and the kitchen demo and bathroom updates following in the fall.
We started prepping our house six to seven months before the scheduled start of the project. We often planned to work on one room each weekend, so we weren’t making decisions while tired. Decision making while tired can often lead to regrets – those should of, would of, could of scenarios. With our method of spreading out the work over time, short spurts of work led to thoughtful choices about what to keep or not keep, what to store or keep out for use during the project, and working on paint color mock-ups knowing that finding the right brown would take time. Working as a team was also important, especially when there were differences of opinion, schedule conflicts, and family obligations competing for our time. By spreading out the work, we attempted to mitigate a pile up of difficult, rushed decisions.
Some days we limited our work to just 2 hours, because we knew it was an awful task we were up against. Other days, we divided and conquered to keep our momentum going.
Here’s a list of examples of just a few of the types of choices that had to be made along with how we handled some of our purging tasks as we went through the various areas of our home in preparation for the project:
- Determining what set of snow chains were current for our vehicles. We found 3!
- Seattle’s winters aren’t very snowy – Do we keep the snow shovel and salt?
- Purging books out to little free libraries in the neighborhood to avoid throwing them away. We even found a few new books in the process!
- Our neighbors with two little kids were gifted the old Harry Potter books.
- Old furniture donations – those coffee tables from grandma that had been sitting in the basement for ten years finally found their way on to a new life through donation.
- Paint color mockups were explored before construction with the goal of approving our colors before the contractor arrived. Funny enough my husband picked completely different colors of white and dark colors than I did (See below for our process of making this a fun decision!).
- Thinking about what to do with all our roses. Give them away free on the street or relocate them? Here we did both. Four plants were relocated and two were put on the street and labeled free.
Home warranty files and appliance manuals were reviewed and recycled. Yes, we found an abundance of paperwork to get rid of and it felt great!
Before we even had a contractor on board, we started prepping the garage. We looked at all the cabinet shelves and got rid of stuff like paint and paint brushes, yard items like grass seeds and fertilizers, car cleaning products, and an old 1960s vacuum cleaner. We disposed of a few items leaning on garage walls – an overused broom with worn bristles, a well-used mop and an old lawnmower.
Old latex paint cans were opened and combined with kitty litter to dry and dispose of with regular trash. Gardening tools like pruners, a rake, and a weed whacker were stored in our basement. Sorting through all the items in the garage meant some things needed to be donated, many were trashed, and a few required hazardous waste disposals which comes with a fee in Seattle.
Whatever we kept ended up neatly stored or placed in carefully labeled boxes, so we’d be able to place them back into service once the project was completed. For example, we now have boxes of gardening tools and accessories, Duraflame logs, spare towels for cleanup, and an edited painting supplies box.
Often, it’s not as simple as putting things in organized boxes. To have them ready to go when it’s time to put items in the newly created spaces, we wanted them laundered and folded, so we did that work as well. This is why starting well in advance is such a great idea. No doubt it’s a lot of work, but it’s also an incredible opportunity to purge old and unused items to create more space with good organization.
Purging in the kitchen and laundry room was an exercise in determining how long an item has been around and if it’s been kept in use. We set a rule that if an item had been unused for five years, we’d get rid of it. We found food that had expired, spices that were too old to use, and pots and pans that were never used. We found vases, trinkets, old candles, and duplicate home cleaning products that were not needed. For all the areas in the home we purged and boxed, it triggered the most trips to the Goodwill. Depending on the age of food items, some of this also ended up as food bank donations.
Bathrooms can get complex during a renovation project. We have three in our home, two on the main floor, and one in the basement office. Our project included a renovation of our basement bathroom, and because of the kitchen renovation, one of our main floor bathrooms would become a temporary dish-washing station. And when we say temporary, we mean several months. Using a bathroom or other area for dishwashing means lots of extra trips between spaces carrying dishes and food items before and after making meals. You’ll find your routine, but it’ll take some getting used to.
If you’re going to be living in your home while the renovation is happening, this could also mean everyone in the home will be using the same bathroom while other bathrooms are in their demo or construction phases. Challenging, but doable! Prepping items and making schedules and space for everyone can be done well.
Before the contractors demo’d the downstairs bathroom, I spent a day taking down towel bars, the mirror and artwork. Some items were donated to the Second Use store in Seattle, bathroom accessories were going to be stored for spare parts at our cabin bath, and artwork would be stored in flat files for reuse. We needed to clean out the cabinets, toiletries, as well as to launder and fold towels that would be packed into boxes for long-term storage. We even relocated our lower-floor fire extinguisher to a different and convenient space.
Kitchen Remodel w/Multiple Bathrooms
With a renovation like ours where we’re living in the house during construction, there were still many areas of the house that needed to be packed up. We kept out a minimal number of items for food prep such as pots, pans, dishes, and cups. We don’t normally like to use paper plates or disposable cups, but for the time being, in order to minimize dish washing, we’ll be using a few. We moved a bookcase upstairs to hold essential kitchen items. We bought a toaster oven for roasting and baking, and a one-burner hot plate for making soups and boiling eggs. We also have a microwave available.
This doesn’t have to be anything less than a step up from “glamping.” Saturday night we made steaks with roasted potatoes, and turmeric spiced cauliflower. We put it on dishes not paper plates, and we cleaned it all up using the bathroom sink, carefully using paper towels to clean off plates as a pre-wash because there’s no garbage disposal in the bathroom!
Dust is a significant consideration with a partial-home renovation project. It’s standard practice to put up painter’s plastic around all the spaces to be demo’d to mitigate dust and separate living areas from construction areas. But even with the plastic dividers, dust will still migrate into the areas of the house that aren’t under construction. This means packing up anything that you don’t want covered in dust as well as draping furniture that will remain in the home during the project. We keep our vacuum handy and we use it often. We’ve draped upholstered furniture and take the draped sheets outside to shake off about every two weeks to avoid buildup. This also helps to decrease the incidence of stuffy noses due to dust in the air.
Pulling artwork off the walls is a good plan, along with any items you might typically keep on tables as décor – vases, mirrors, decorative lights. While you may opt to have a contractor do some of these things for you (we had our contractor move our 51” round teak outdoor dining table), we find that choosing what we’d like to keep from getting dusty or broken before the contractor arrives brings a certain peace of mind.
If you do decide to allow the contractor to handle some of this, it’s good to know that placing notes on items for clarity is super helpful. Contractors bring in extra hands during demo and they may not be tuned in to the project well. It’s ok to put a note on something to say, “Please do not throw away,” “Please protect,” or any other special instructions. Because we’re interested in keeping the spirit of our mid-century modern home, before work started, we personally took down the vintage kitchen lights to avoid them breaking or being mistakenly taken away.
During the Project
It’s helpful to approach the project with your sense of humor intact. Things will be noisy and dusty, and surprises will happen. We recently caught our new puppy Enzo with Pex tubing in his mouth – hah!
We were also surprised that despite all our prep work, we still had a few things left in the cabinets when the construction team arrived. There was more packing to do! Did we get everything packed? No – but we are looking to the future when our project is done. Will your project include laundry room upgrade? If so, you may need to head out to the laundromat during the project. When I told my husband Thomas this, he replied, “That’s a bummer!”
Besides the early prep we discussed where we cleaned out, prepared, and packed items for future use in the new spaces, we also needed to determine where we’d be storing these items. For us, we opted against getting a storage unit at a place like Public Storage. We had a room we liked to call the “junk room,” and this was the location we chose to store items we’d packed up for the renovation. While that sounds easy enough, this actually required that we purge and organize the junk room as well. This was another part of the prep project and created another round of cleaning, purging, and donating.
There will always be surprises during any significant home project. Whether it’s finding the puppy with questionable items in his mouth or realizing we forgot to leave something needed out of the boxes we packed, things are going to deviate from the plans. It’s just a part of the reality and complexity of these projects.
For example, we can plan to be kitchenless for a “few months” as this will depend on the lead time for the stainless-steel counter to be installed in the kitchen. It could take until Thanksgiving, or it could take until Christmas. To get our stainless-steel counter means getting in line for the job with local contractors who are providing these installations for restaurants, hospitals, and other residential customers. After the drawings are done, there’s fabrication and then execution of the installation. There have been many delays in production and shipping since the Covid situation started, and so many families are doing home projects, it’s impossible to guarantee when there might be a hiccup in delivery of a chosen item – tiles, plumbing valves, decorative lights, etc. – for the project.
Even paint is in high demand and may be sold out for a time. When we tried to get a custom color prepared, we were told, “It’ll take days to figure out a custom color, you should use Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams,” and we found that even those suppliers were sold out of some paint types.
Despite all the small but doable challenges, we made a particularly fun process out of our paint selections. I selected a number of trim and field colors for our garage and took a day to actually paint the samples onto the garage in order to see color relationships in real time, real space, real light. It was a full day of careful labor, but after the project was done, we shared an extra special meal for dinner and casually came out to observe our options in the evening light. We shared our thoughts and input, and it was lovely to be rewarded for the diligent effort with a great evening of delicious food, open-hearted discussion, and collaboration as a team on the home we’re creating together.
Extra Helpful Tips
Be patient! Be flexible! And be a team player! Realize that all the members of your team are doing their very best to get the project to completion as they all have schedules that they need to see through to completion. Realize that all the scenarios and situations of today’s construction world are under a fair amount of duress and make the best of it by taking it easy on yourself, giving yourselves plenty of lead time to prepare your space, and use it as an opportunity to connect and collaborate with your loved ones on what you’re creating in your home.
If you’re feeling too strapped for time or super busy with work and family to the degree that taking the time to prepare your home feels like too much of a burden, there’s help available! While we opted to do much of our prep work ourselves, you may be better served by hiring a professional organizer to help you sort, donate, pack and prep your space before contractors come in. You may also opt to use off-site storage away from home. Many of my clients do hire organizers to come pack up their space. They’ll show up with boxes and wrapping paper and will take it wherever you want to store it. This is all about doing what’s right for you, in your situation and we simply want you to know you have options as well as the details of what’s involved, no matter what options you choose.
The bottom line is that you will need to get EVERYTHING out of the space before it’s demo’d and reconstructed. It’s a huge job and it’s not always fun, but it must be done before the contractor comes into the house to do the work. Planning it up front prepares you and reduces your stress during the renovation process.
I like the phrase “Plan the work, work the plan.” With some thoughtful planning and fun, we completed the prep work feeling good about making these accomplishments. Now we feel the lightness that comes after purging, packing, and organizing and we’re very much looking forward to the day when construction is done and we’re unpacking our old stuff into our renovated home.
If you’re looking for recommendations or guidance on this process, AKJ is here to guide you through. We’re experienced not only in working on our own home renovation projects, but in guiding so many of our clients through their version of this process. We’re skilled, we know the ropes, and we’re here to help.