Designer Trick : Planning & Managing Projects

Designer Trick : Planning & Managing Projects - roomfortuesday.comI’ve got a new Designer Trick post for you, and today we’ll be discussing a part of the design and renovation process that isn’t as creative, but is very necessary… planning & managing projects. You’ve made the moodboards, you’ve floor planned, and you’ve even picked the perfect paint color… now what? I’m sharing my best tips for planning and managing projects once they’re underway, after you’ve got the fun part (design!) nailed down. I’m also including my best tips for working with contractors, if you aren’t into the DIY route. Click through for my process!

Designer Trick : Planning & Managing Projects -


My biggest piece of advice is to set a schedule & plan the progression of your renovation- things have to happen in a certain order. For example, your countertop fabricator can’t come take a template until your kitchen cabinets have been installed. They also need to have the sink installed and the faucet you’ll be using at the job site (even if it’s not installed). It wouldn’t make sense to schedule your stone fabricator before the general contractor installs cabinets. I find it easiest to sketch out a timeline of all of the tasks that need to happen, in the order they need to happen. It’s nice to see the progression on paper! In fact, all of our plans live on paper before they come to life.

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Order all of your materials in advance. Most home items and building materials have a lead time. You have to coordinate freight shipping and it’s so much easier to have everything you need at the job site BEFORE the renovation even starts. Before the sledge hammer starts swinging for demo, I like to compile all of our supplies in a safe place or designated area (usually another room or spot in the garage). Once everything is accounted for, the project can officially begin. I keep a file of everything I purchased and mark it complete once it arrives. It’s also important to unbox items immediately and perform a quick quality check. I usually cross it off my list, snap a photo (to ensure damage doesn’t occur during installation), and mark the item as received. Nothing is worse than opening a box a month or two later, only to find a damaged product. When your contractors are able to begin or you’re ready to tackle those DIY projects, you’ll have everything ready and waiting (instead of the other way around).

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Set up a file or master folder that includes important information- product specs, warranties, contractor contact info & availability, receipts, etc. Having this information compiled and well organized will provide quick answers to questions and will make it easier when you’re mid project trying to locate something.

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Scheduling might be one of the most difficult parts of renovation project management. This is the time to refer back to your master plan and task timeline. You’ll need to line up your preferred contractors in the appropriate order. If we’re using the kitchen example again, it would look something like this: general contractor (demo), electrician, plumber, drywall team, tile, general contractor or finish carpenter (cabinetry & millwork installation), stone fabricator, painters, electrician & plumber (for final fixture installation), etc. I’d also recommend scheduling your trade people on different days. I’ve found it’s too chaotic having different trades compete for physical space when working in the same room. It’s never as efficient and mistakes are more likely to be made. Time is also wasted as someone is always waiting for another contractor to move out of the way.

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Be prepared to make a decision or two on the fly. This is the part that trips a lot of people up… and if you take too long, it could throw off your entire project schedule. Go in with an exact plan, but also prepare yourself to be flexible and open to change. 99% of the time, some part of your plan will have to adapt throughout the construction phase of the process. Trust your design instinct, get creative, and decide on a solution that is even better than your initial idea. Did you know I ended up swapping our counter cookbook storage and wine rack in our kitchen at the last minute? It’s pictured below. The wine was initially going to live on the right side of the sink, but the X centerpiece wouldn’t fit. It ended up working better on the left side, so the empty storage ended up being a great use for cookbooks instead- and the placement is even better!

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When it comes to actually managing the people you hire for a project, remember to treat your tradespeople with kindness and respect. I know that seems obvious, but it’s tough to find good contractors and tradespeople. When you find your preferred people, make it EASY for them to work with you. Be super organized, answer questions thoroughly and promptly, communicate efficiently, pay them in a timely manner, and if you like what they’re doing- give them praise. Whether it’s a compliment or a cold beverage on a hot day, little gestures are much appreciated.

When I used to work for a design firm, our trade team was apart our family. They’re such a valuable asset! We even celebrated the holidays together (designers, tile installers, electricians, etc… all sitting around a table). I took the time to learn the names of their children and made a point to ask how they were doing, and got to know them on a human level. The best working relationships and project outcomes occur when we treat each other with dignity, respect, and kindness. I promise when you do that, your contracting team will work even harder for you. Our window installer pictured below, is still one of my favorite contractors.

Designer Trick : Planning & Managing Projects - roomfortuesday.comMy last and most important piece of advice for project management is to over communicate (sketch ideas, text, call, follow up, and let your tradespeople know EXACTLY what is expected). It makes the job easier and the outcome is much better for both parties. Communication is key for a successful and beautiful project.

Designer Trick : Planning & Managing Projects - roomfortuesday.comFYI- if none of this sounds appealing to you… check out this post on what it’s like to work with an interior designer. Spoiler alert, the majority of designers offer complete project management and have their own dedicated trade team. If you don’t have the time to manage your project, there is always that option! Otherwise, I’d love to hear your feedback and questions in the comment section. Was this post helpful? Have you ever struggled to manage (or find) contractors? I’ve found the best recommendations are always word-of-mouth referrals. I will say… once you find the right person, it’s important to cultivate a positive relationship so you can work together in the future. Talented and dependable contractors can be difficult to come by, in my experience. Hang onto the good ones!

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  1. Gulp. That’s such a daunting list! (Although you laid it out so clearly!) Taking inventory and photos is so smart, but definitely a step that might not occur to me. The scheduling would absolutely be my least favorite part! I have never tackled a job requiring more than two trades, and thankfully they communicated with each other. Finding skilled tradespeople in our area is so difficult! Despite my best efforts to communicate clearly and assertively, I have had a couple of really unsatisfactory experiences. (My original hardwood floors had to be refinished twice, and I was actually yelled at and threatened by the supervisor?!) Since I am not a designer or someone who is likely to use a tradesperson more than once, what sort of feedback do you think is useful or effective? Yelp reviews? The BBB? A personal letter? Plain old word of mouth? Let’s just say, if I ever do get to create a dream kitchen or bathroom, I’ll definitely be hiring a designer. (👋)
    I hope you are having the best time with your family!

    1. Taking inventory is my favorite part of project management, haha! Unboxing all of the pretty materials and fixtures, and crossing it off a list really speaks to my organized self. At my old job, juggling multiple teams of contractors was definitely a challenge at first, but once you get it down- projects go so much more smoothly (and clients are happy). It is REALLY tough to find good, respectful, talented, and professional contractors. I’m so sorry you had to deal with negative and rude experiences in the past. Threatened by a supervisor?! That’s completely unacceptable. I would definitely write a review, a letter to the owner of the company, and then the BBB as a last resort. They would never get another referral from me at that point. If you hate this part of the process and don’t have the time to find or manage your own contractors, hiring a designer is definitely the way to go. Stress-free!! We are having the best time with Emmett’s parents. We’ve been in the mountains the majority of the time and it has been so wonderful spending lots of time outside. Hope you had an awesome hike & yoga over the weekend :) xo

  2. Great tips Sarah! I have only contracted out for very few jobs. At the old house we hired someone to install our tile, and another to stain and seal our hardwood floors. I still have the invoices from those jobs because they were both quick, efficient and clean…that’s hard to come by. At the new house we were fortunate to find a great team of painters, and an awesome team of arborists; I keep stacks of their business cards for when friends and family ask for recommendations. That’s something else that builds a great relationship. When our painters painted the eaves last year, people in the neighborhood were asking us about them, and I handed out business cards to all of them, and spoke highly of the quality of their work. When they came back for the fence (in the middle of quarantine), they told me they got so many calls for jobs in our neighborhood after they did our eaves; they were very appreciative and thankful. I think that’s something to remember. If you find a great team, keep their info; use them over and over, recommend them whenever possible. That truly shows that you value their work beyond the convenience of you not having to do it yourself. It supports their family in a way that one individual can’t provide. And they’ll do a great job for you time and again. Question: how do you decide on the timeline portion of a project? I think that’s the area I personally struggle with, because I always think things will happen much faster than they really do. Lol. Thanks for sharing such great tips for project management!

    1. It sounds like you’ve been able to find excellent contractors, Lauren! Such a great point on referring those who do an excellent job to build a good relationship. That’s definitely a great tip and an awesome way to support a small business and the community. To answer your question about determining a project timeline, I always add padding to the schedule. Having lots of experience in this, I can usually guesstimate about how long a specific project will take, but I’d recommend chatting with your contractor before setting the schedule. They can give you a better idea of timing… then add padding! Projects always take longer than expected. The good contractors are always booked, so I’d also recommend calling months in advance to get on their schedule. That will help speed things up. Since we take the DIY route more often than not, Emmett & I try to create a project calendar and stick to it (just to keep us on track). Hope this helps :) Have a great week! xo

  3. THIS is so good Sarah! I too am curious how you like to find trade people (Peggi had good question)? I always ask my friends first then I go to an app that our area neighbors use (Next-door) to post these questions on but still curious about your answer.
    We used a general contractor 10 years ago to do our master bath and we really liked him as a person. He even attended our son’s football games. The only negative I had is that he was not detail oriented. For example, when it came to finish work like caulking, he was messy. Where the tile ends, he didn’t suggest a corner round tile. We are about to hire painters to do 75% of our house and that is one thing I am going to be a stickler for is finish work and detail. In his defense, I have learned a lot more and will be better prepared.
    Your Designer Trick posts are so detailed and helpful. Thank you for these.
    Hope you are enjoying your time with family and the weather!

    1. Great question, Danna! I think word-of-mouth referrals are always best- experiences from people you trust (neighbors, friends, family members, etc). I also think portfolios are helpful (so you can see the caliber of work a contractor is accustomed to), as well as online reviews (yelp, next door, social media, etc). When I worked at an interior design firm, we were not allowed to pass along the names or information of our trade partners (because they were exclusive to us), but some professionals are willing to share referrals. For example- a tile guy you love working with may have a friend who is a wonderful electrician. I’ve found trade recommendations to be very helpful! It’s tricky working with someone who is a friend and a great person, but their work isn’t to your standards. I think that sometimes makes it more difficult to address those issues. I think letting a contractor know EXACTLY what is expected up front is always helpful. I always ask about shoe covers, cleaning policies, permits, etc. It’s ok to ask LOTS of questions before deciding if you want to work together. I’m so happy you like the Designer Trick series and feel it’s helpful :) That makes me so happy! We’re golfing with the family today, which is something I’ve never done in my life (HAH!), so it should be interesting. Have a great day! xo

      1. Thank you both for the responses. Finding the right person for the job isn’t easy but you feel like you hit the jackpot when you do!
        Sarah, don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to keep up. Have fun and ask if they are okay with you tee’ing up each ball…you are new to the game and it will allow you to have make progress in your game. That’s what helped me when I started. Have a great time!

        1. Most definitely! Once you find the right people for the project, it’s smooth sailing :) Such helpful golf tips, thank you!! I’m looking forward to trying it more often. So fun!

    2. Working for a cabinet company and obviously doing our share of home remodeling, a pro tip is to call the material suppliers (not big box stores, but specialty materials dealers like high end flooring, tile stores and even exclusive lumber yards) And ask them if they have recommendations. You won’t always get an answer but they know who buys the most from them and who has a good reputation…

      1. Ohh yeah! Great tip!! Asking the pros and suppliers for their preferred sources is always a good way to find reliable contractors.