Renovation Mistakes & Design Nevers

By Kate Riley March 15, 2017

The most recent update on the flip house revealed our flooring installer cut the edge of the flooring in the master bathroom too short. I had plans for a floating vanity, and he assumed we were installing a cabinet base, so the vinyl planks were trimmed to where he assumed the vanity base would sit. I didn’t make it crystal clear to my installer that the flooring was to go all the way to the wall which means I have to have him come back and redo the flooring.

These things happen with any renovation. There was also that time I had a contractor remove a soffit for cosmetic reasons only to discover it was there to cover necessary pipes and I had to pay to have it built again. Oops!

Every space remodel teaches me something new. I have yet to experience a perfectly smooth renovation where expectations are met from start to finish. Some of the lessons I’ve learned over time? Budgets are key, but often I go over the budget with unexpected expenses (ahem, that tile I simply must have) so with that expectation I add an “extra expenses” column to anticipate it. Remodels never ever finish on time so I relax, breathe deeply, and expect that when I’m given a date it most certainly won’t be done by then.

Last year I came across a great article on Houzz called “design nevers” with tips from readers sharing their personal renovation and decorating experiences. For any of us who have lived through a remodel, we have stories to tell, some of them headaches or mistakes, some are success stories.

Some of the tips I agree with in the article: “Never ever do something because it is a trend. Do it because you love it”. Yes to that! Wood beaded chandeliers and ikat fabric? Yep, still loving both in this breakfast nook.

Another good one: “Never ever sign a contract/agreement without reading it. Read the whole agreement — each and every clause. Understand what you are reading/signing. If you don’t, ask someone. Make sure everything you were promised verbally appears in writing.” I’ve been burned on this before, so these are wise words.

Some of the tips in the article I don’t agree with. “Never paint a bedroom until you’ve picked out the bedding”. Not necessarily. If you’re painting a bedroom (or any room) a soft neutral with muted undertones you should be fine most of the time, and you can layer later with the fabrics you choose (like in this shelter family room.) However if you’re opting for a bold hue on the walls, then the textiles in the space should be considered.


Another tip I don’t agree with? “Never put the kitchen sink in a corner.” On the contrary, a corner sink can totally work, especially one that sits underneath windows; my brother’s kitchen remodel is the perfect example of that.


Never leave subcontractors alone on a renovation. Try to be there 24/7.”  Not always true and often impractical. Yes, I’ve heard horror stories from friends about how subs have gotten things way wrong, so yes constant communication is soooooo very important but I think breathing down their neck 24/7 is a not necessary. Give clear instructions, let them get started on the work, have them send you photos of the progress, and check in every few hours or at the end of the day.

I love being a part of the conversation in the design and home improvement community. As much as I await the glorious final reveal of a space, some of my favorite posts or comments are always the lessons learned. Perhaps you have some insight to share or a story to tell?

What’s one decorating or renovation lesson you’ve learned on your home improvement journey? If you’ve written about it, feel free to share the link!


  1. Rules are meant to be broken in the right situation! Trust you gut is not one of them!

    Don’t always just trust the opinion of your contractor. Sometimes they say something that might be easier for them! I recently shared my experience reinstalling flooring here:
    – Amanda @

  2. I have t ask how the dishes make it to the dishwasher in your brother’s kitchen if the dishwasher door is open and you are standing at the sink per usual location when loading dishes. Love your work and tips!

    • I think he just has to move to the left and bend over a little more to the right at an angle. Good for the oblique muscles :)

    • I’ve had this exact configuration in my kitchen for 30 years, and I can tell you it is annoying to load/unload the dishwasher, and my obliques don’t seem to have benefitted all that much from the “exercise” – ;-).

  3. I am in the middle of a big reno at our house ($140k, we are updating the kitchen, living, family, and dining rooms – a major structural wall was removed, two sunken floors raised, new windows/french doors, entire new kitchen and new layout, etc), and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the process because…..of my contractor. He is FABULOUS! He is honest, he is hard-working, he keeps a tidy jobsite (we’re living here), and his quality of work is top-notch. We have weekly meetings (mostly because I need to pay him for work completed), and go over things. Before we started, he encouraged me to select as many fixtures/etc as I could (and order them) – the more decisions made ahead of time, the better. This I found to be helpful, so when it came to deciding electrical work, that was the only thing I had to focus on (with his guidance, of course). We are also lucky b/c our house (a Southern CA custom home built in 1978 – two rooms have vaulted ceilings!) is well-built, and so far our only unexpected expenses have totaled $825; I know we are very very lucky on that front (and we’re only half-way through, so I’ll knock on wood). No matter who tells you otherwise, you MUST have a contingency budget. Even if everything is planned out and accounted for, there will be things that come up, things you never thought of. The bigger the reno/budget, the bigger your contingency should be – after all, you don’t want to make sacrifices at every turn. I have learned (real quickly) that everything costs more than you think. Another good thing about my contractor is that he let me take over aspects of the project I wanted to – so I directly coordinated (and am paying for) the flooring, the cabinets, the countertops, and the painter. This allowed me to get bids from more than one person (which also proved educational – the more people you talk to, the more you learn) and decide who I want to work with. I was very clear with my contractor though that I did not want to step on his toes, and honestly the more he handles directly, the less stress and work for me.

    So my bottom-line comment: find a good contractor!

    • Wow Karen, so much wisdom there! I agree, the contingency budget is key (you’ve been lucky!) and purchasing things in advance. I made that mistake with our home expansion 10 years ago, with two little ones at home I didn’t have time to shop in advance and ended up making tile choices that I later regretted. Thank you for your insight, and good luck with your reno, sounds like an amazing house!!

  4. We just went through a total gut/remodel/expansion on our home this past year. Overall I thought things went pretty well. One thing that did happen was in a very small foyer that lead from the living room out to the patio. We had a lot of discussion with our designer about which direction the door was going to open as we were going to have a built in cabinet on one side and a floating bench on the other. I walked in near the end of the job and our cabinet had been placed and the final bolt was going into the floating bench and they were beautiful. The only problem was that they were on the opposite sides of the foyer from where they should have been. Our designer told the builder “when you enter the foyer” the cabinet should be here and the bench here. What she didn’t say was when you enter the foyer from the “living room” not the “patio”. She was entering from one side and he was from the other. He was totally willing to take it out but we left it as he had it installed and in the end it really worked out well. So, I guess my tip, is make sure you are all pointing in the right direction when discussing placement of important items that could be difficult to change.

  5. We built a house many years ago and I picked out paint colors for each of the main living areas. I also picked out a trim color for the entire house. One evening we were in the house and noticed paint cans set out for work the next day – a can of eggshell and a can of semi-gloss in the WALL colors in each room. So I called the painter. He was planning to paint the TRIM in each room the same color as the walls! I pointed out that I had chosen a trim color for the whole house, but he argued with me that the current style was to paint the trim the same as the walls……….what the what???!!! Another lesson I’ve learned about paint came out of this same incident. Evidently we never disposed of those (brand new) cans of colored trim paint and my husband got them out and touched up eggshell walls in several rooms with the semi-gloss paint. UGGHHH – what a mess!!!

    • OMG never listen when a contractor says “the current style is….” that’s code for “makes my life easier” !!! I hear you about the touchup too, Matt did that with the ceiling touchup he reached for eggshell when the ceiling paint is flat and you can see the difference in the sunlight. Someday I’ll get around to repainting the whole ceiling to cover that, oops :)

  6. Good points to consider even if you’re not doing a major reno. I agree with you about the “never a corner sink”, especially if it has windows. If it comes with the house you buy, there can be challenges as Momma Bear points out, but if you don’t have the luxury to gut the kitchen and start from scratch or the footprint of your kitchen can’t be totally changed due to other constraints, you make the best of what you have. Your bro’s kitchen is long and narrow and he has a tiny sink, my kitchen is a larger u-shape with a wider sink but the dishwasher ends up next to the sink and my inlaw’s custom built kitchen is quite a bit bigger but they have a corner sink with the dishwasher next to it. The glory of all three kitchens is that double window (even though I’m vertically challenged and it’s hard to reach all the way to that corner). I get what Momma Bear is saying. It was probably a challenge for Nate and Liz in the old kitchen, and it’s probably still a bit of a challenge, but you do the best you can with what you have, think through it (hopefully) and move forward. I think my corner sink is smaller than normal – I applaud them for making that truly small corner sink work with two little ones.

    • He echoes a lot of those sentiments too Sandy but he’s the cook and she’s the cleanup in their relationship (most of the time) so they just take turns at the sink and make the best of it. :)

  7. When we built our house, I let our flooring guy talk me out of the tile that I wanted for our shower and bathroom floor. What I wanted would have been more labor intensive for them and they were on a tight schedule. I still regret it three years later and I want to kick myself every time I think about it. Communication is also key. They grouted everything without asking me what color I wanted. I had vowed never to have white grout again, and there it was in my brand new bathroom. It looks terrible now and I wish I had spoken up. In short, don’t be afraid to stick to your guns and speak up when something isn’t right.

    Also, the family/friend contractor hook up isn’t always the best option, but that’s another long story.

    • So true Carmen! You must speak up. I’ve had contractors give me the slanted eye look when I speak my mind because they’re used to doing it a different way or working with more dated looks or products. My brother had that grout thing happen in his kitchen but the opposite, with dark grout. He had a beautiful marble herringbone and they started to grout it with black and it looked like tire tracks. He had even purchased the off white grout for them and they STILL used a dark grout, what? How does that happen? Anyway, he caught it early and they had to remove all the dark grout. But all’s well that ends well, he got what he wanted in the end :)

  8. every contractor I’ve used on multiple flips keeps forgetting I don’t want the countertop to extend up the wal because I Want the tile backsplash to cover the whole walk. I’ve had to have them remove it several times. Frustrating.

    • I’ve had this problem too Paige, so many contractors assume I’m using granite for my countertops and to include that lip. What? No. Tile looks best when it meets the horizontal edge, that’s the more modern application. :)

  9. Kate,

    I’m a long time reader of your blog but very rarely comment but I felt compelled to agree with the point made that rules are meant to be broken. I think your home should be a true reflection of what works for you. It should be your personal escape and customized to accommodate your own lifestyle. I wanted to offer a link to a free e-course I just recently launched to provide some tips on a process I came up with for personalizing your home. Please feel free to check it out here:

  10. I have a corner sink and I hate it! As Momma Bear pointed out it makes for tight quarters when loading or unloading the dishwasher and inevitably my husband and I both need to get to the sink at the same time when making dinner or cleaning up. That would definitely make my “never” list!

    • I can imagine a corner sink does prove more difficult with two people cooking or cleaning together, thanks for sharing!

  11. Finished a whole house renovation last year and my #1 tip would be to NEVER consent to “time + materials” Not knowing any better and trusting our contractor too much ended up being an open checkbook!

  12. We did the right thing by putting paint samples on large boards so we could see what colors we liked. What i didn’t do was double check the paint cans to the sample boards. Thankfully the painters only completed one large room and bathroom before the mistake was discovered. The painters were upset and said that it never happened in all their years and it was the stores fault for mixing the wrong color. The rest of the paint job was rushed because the painters (after repainting those rooms)were trying to stay on schedule to hurry and move on to the next job. Lesson, double check paint to original sample board/swatch.

    • that happened to me too but even worse, the painters got to the point where they sprayed a first coat and it was bright yellow all over my first floor, when I chose off white. Big mix up at the local Kelly Moore, your story reminded me of when the painters never checked to make sure the color was the same as the sample. it happens!

  13. If you have a tradesman who has done a great job for you and are looking for a different type of tradesman ask for recommendations. My husband and I are our own contractors and found our amazing plumber through a recommendation from the man we hired to build our walkway; we found our electrician through a carpenter we trust. These individuals often work with other subcontractors on projects and know who does quality work and who doesn’t.
    Also, get multiple bids on everything. The difference in cost never ceases to surprise me. When we got bids on redoing our driveway the difference between the lowest and highest bid was $6,000; when we wanted to run a gas line for our new gas stove one quote was more than double another quote. This is not to say go with the cheapest quote you get but always shop around.

  14. My neighbors just hired another neighbor’s company to paint entire interior, install shiplap and paint exterior trim. Estimate 4 days. 4 weeks later, still not finished & another company hired to finish painting. Neighbor report: Well, they do good shiplap. Also, the crew kept telling her, ‘we do a great backsplash….’ Although I really feel bad for my neighbor, somehow this story still made me laugh. Moral: Don’t hire a tile guy to paint your house.

  15. 1. my pedestal sinks in the bathrooms are caulked to the wall–so I had to unhook the drain plungers b/c they don’t work properly, not enough room behind the sink.
    2. plumber was installing pedestal sink directly over my heating vent, would not stop and proceded to do it even after I pointed out that was not a smart thing to do. They had to come back and take it out.
    3. Make sure your builder centers any arches over lights. I wanted to install pendants where my can lights are but it would be so obvious that the arch is not centered.
    Those are my mistakes (and the contractors).

  16. My recommendation after quite bit of reno this past year is to try and check in frequently and let them know you’ll be coming by. They hate it (understandably) when you drop in without warning- imagine your boss just dropping by to “check-in” at any given moment. Telling them when you’re coming allows them to prep the space and have questions prepared for when you arrive. Design decisions will crop up, no matter how much you plan ahead. Always make sure that the contractor knows that you WANT contact and that his calls/texts/emails are not bothersome. You’ll be far more likely to receive your desired finished product if you do!

  17. Never assume the guy installing the toilet paper holder knows not to put it under the towel bar! Yup…walked into the hall bath and the master bath and both had the TP holder right where the wet towel would hang on top of the roll of paper. I asked him to tell me what was wrong with that installation and he just gave me a questioning look. These were the ceramic holders that require a portion of the wall be removed to install them. Needless to say he was not a happy camper when I told him they had to be moved. Vikki in VA

  18. I am so impatient, and want the first reasonable person to give an estimate to get to work. My husband, on the other hand, even after he’s very happy with an estimate, will continue to get bids. And it’s amazing, you learn something during every interview.

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