I’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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
My 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.
FYI- 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!