Renovating Your Kitchen? Here Are All The Reno Mistakes To Avoid – Crowdsourced From Our Readers Who Have Been There & Done That
Earlier this year Emily wrote this post and posed the question, “what do you wish someone had told you before you renovated or designed your home?”. Not surprisingly you guys delivered some juicy tips and cautionary tales (seriously, there were over 400 comments!) and there is no way we couldn’t share. In fact, y’all gave so much great advice and “buyer beware” tips that there were far too many to include in one post. Don’t worry, that just means that we will keep this series going (if you guys are into it) and we decided they would be best digested according to room. So today we have compiled every kitchen-related design mistake that have been lived and learned by you, our lovely EHD readers. These tips are guaranteed to save you time, money, sanity, or all of the above so you renovators and DIYers definitely don’t want to skip this one. Here we go.
From Teresa: Stained wood cabinets are much easier to keep clean and maintain than white painted cabinets. I have painted cabinets with both the expensive pro classic enamel paint and a gloss wall paint – both types chip easily and have to be touched up. I would choose stained wood any day over maintaining a paint finish on cabinets (my cabinets were already painted by a previous owner both times so repainting was cheaper and faster than stripping the cabinets and staining the wood).
From Leslie: I wish I had known to seal (front, back, edges) the scribed MDF apron cabinet-front surrounding my farmhouse kitchen sink. Water inevitably drips down the front of the sink when a certain someone (to whom I’m married) washes/cleans up. Over time, water drops damaged the MDF, which made the paint bubble. Eventually, I will have to replace…and the paint will not match the rest of the cabinets. So I will have to have all cabinets re-painted. Caulk could have helped delay this process too. When I replace it, I will order an extra cabinet front, have them both scribed-to-fit, and painted (at the same time) as a backup replacement for the future. It’s cheaper than a new husband.
From Julie: Make sure to leave about an inch below the ceiling and the top cabinet in case the ceiling isn’t level from front to back. I put mine snug to the ceiling with flip top cabinet doors on top. They won’t open all the way because of the pulls and the cabinets won’t stay open bc I can’t get them to 90 degrees.
From Sarah: When planning drawers/shelves/cupboards, really take inventory of your stuff and think about where it’ll all go.
From Bee: We renovated/gutted our old New England carriage house in 2004-ish. I wish someone had told me we didn’t need upper kitchen cabinets. We have plenty of storage, and they distract from the other features. Huge regret.
From Rebecca: Highly recommend outlets in cabinets, and on the side of kitchen counters/islands. So handy in the kitchen and bath (in cabinet allows you to keep your hair tools plugged in, which is amazing).
From Kim: Tell your cabinet maker what kind of sink you are putting in your bathrooms. We had a cabinet replaced in our powder room/half bath and didn’t tell him it was a vessel sink. It’s way too high for kids even with a pull-out step built into the toe kick of the cabinet.
From Missy: One of the best things you can do for your kitchen is add under-cabinet lighting. Using smart plugs and making them Alexa-enabled is a game-changer when you have messy hands from cooking.
From Leila: Start with the walls and the floor. If the previous owners had wallpaper, get rid of it, as it will take one more coat of paint while you’re renovating and look lovely for five minutes but then start bubbling in the steam of cooking – at which point you’d have to hope and pray your new kitchen survives workmen trying to remove paper and plastering around your new units. Same goes for floors – always do them first and then install your new cupboards, unless you’re only planning to put some lino down. Also, painting existing cupboards is only a good plan if they are wood – never mind the tricks of getting a special primer to paint over laminate – just cut your losses. Any kind of stick-on thing does not work – tile paint/tile stickers/worktop “wraps” – and will end up falling apart and looking terrible and being a complete nightmare to remove.
Also From Leila: Sanding the floors is always worth it and looks beautiful, no matter how awful the boards looked to begin with! Plus oil is much easier and more forgiving than varnish to apply, can be patched easily, and has a lovely natural finish that brings out the wood’s character.
From KJ: Always run all of your flooring under every cabinet and into every closet. It allows you (or future owners) the option of moving things around without having to redo all the flooring (so wasteful). Having the same flooring in closets allows a “secret stash” of matching flooring if needed in the future to fix/patch anything. Always buy an extra box or two of your flooring (or extra carpet). It’s a pain to store but might come in handy for future repairs.
From Michelle: Choose how you want your floors to transition (ie: tile to hardwood, hardwood to carpet, etc) before laying ANY FLOORING over your subfloor.
From KD: Dark wood floors look beautiful right after they are finished and then are a complete nightmare to keep clean and dust-free. Also, be sure to think about the softness of the wood you use – my parents found out the hard way that the wood they selected didn’t hold up well to high heel shoes and occasionally clumsy people in the kitchen dropping things.
From Miriam: Dark hardwood shows every dust mite and crumb. We have dark hardwood floors, we love the colour but we also have 3 kids under 8 so…there is a lot of mopping and vacuuming required to keep the floors looking clean. We should have gone with medium brown or something lighter definitely.
From Diane: Think twice about installing heated floors. We have heated floors in the main bathroom and kitchen, under ceramic tile. They only work in certain areas on the floor, which means that to repair/replace them, we’d have to tear up the entire floor. It’s just not worth the expense of having the little luxury of walking on heated floors for the few minutes you’re in the room. Slippers are cheaper.
From Brigitte: In an older home when installing new ceiling lighting that uses LED lighting, know that you will need to replace the old dimmer switch. I did not know you need a special dimmer switch that works with LED lights or the LED light flickers or does not turn up to its full force until a new dimmer switch is installed. So if you are installing new tech in an old house make sure the new tech is replaced from beginning to end.
From KD: Upgrading the lighting can change an entire room (and be prepared to find out that previous owners cut corners on electrical work).
From Heather: Recessed lighting can be really harsh and not give great light, particularly if you have low ceilings. LED light fixtures are often too dim and it’s hard to figure out the right temperature (3000k? 4000k?) for your house. I prefer lighting with bulbs so I can change brightness and temperature. Plan for overhead light, task lighting, and ambient light. Under-cabinet lights are awesome.
From Brandi: Test your lightbulbs before installing canned lights. I installed 8 canned lights last year and put in white but now I wish they were a softer white or yellow. I wish I would have bought different ones and tested them and then I could have returned the ones I don’t want. I now don’t want to spend money for a second time for 8 different lightbulbs.
From HKW: Think about where you might want your electrical. I was very focused on choosing light fixtures but realized very late in the process that we needed an outlet in the pantry and had to get that added into the scope of work. I wish we’d also added an outlet inside the bathroom vanity to plug in ugly toothbrush chargers and that a couple of our outlets were just a wee bit higher or lower to accommodate furniture.
On Choosing Materials
From Allison: Pick out all your materials. I mean everything, from the water barrier on the outside, to the windows, cabinets, etc. Many contractors will use the cheapest and pocket the difference.
From Kathryn: Beware of doing a small refresh if the options you are choosing will not match your eventual vision for the space. I picked countertops for a kitchen refresh that worked with my cabinet color, but hated the cabinet color and changed it a few years later. Now I’m stuck with countertops I no longer like! Better to save up and do it all at once, or be cognizant of what your eventual plan is so that you make choices that will work with your long term vision.
From Kate: Don’t use expensive items like custom window treatments as your chance to add color/pattern. When you hate them a year or two later you’ll be stuck with them unless you have no budget/don’t mind the waste.
From Lynn: Black granite (or dark wood floors) show every speck of dirt and dust. Don’t do it!
From Kristine: I wish someone had told me that tearing out our nearly all-white kitchen and moving to stainless steel appliances and dark granite countertops would suck all the natural light out of our kitchen. For someone who likes a light-filled room, this really threw me. Thankfully we went with a medium-light tone cabinet which kept the kitchen from becoming a cave.
From Amy: Pay extra for durable kitchen countertops. We cook, spill red wine, have kids that color on bar, etc. Porous surfaces are too stressful for the type of living we want to do in our home. Marble is gorgeous but I need to be able to squeeze a lemon when cooking and not have a panic attack!
From Heather: If you want to keep a surface clean (like kitchen counters), then make sure it’s a surface that actually shows that it is dirty. If you don’t care if it’s clean or not, then pick a surface that hides dirt/stains/etc.
On Designing For Your Needs
From HerselfInDublin: A pull-out bin in a lower cabinet in your kitchen is the single best thing you will ever do for yourself in your home. And the smaller the kitchen, the better an idea it is.
Also from HerselfInDublin: Also, you do NOT need a draining board. No draining board in the history of kitchens has been aesthetically pleasing, empty or full. They eat up usable countertop and as their sole function is to have stuff sitting on it draining, that’s what you do with them so you constantly have unsightly dishes ruining the look of your oh-so-thoughtfully designed kitchen. I didn’t put one in and as a result, I never leave stuff to drain – I actually dry it up (twelve years in and I’m still astonished by this, but it’s true). You can get portable drying racks that you put up and take own, but honestly I just use a tea towel which I then hang up to dry because who would leave a wet tea towel permanently on their countertop? Not one visitor has ever noticed I don’t have one, either, even when they’re helping clear up. Do yourself a favour, leave it out.
From Karen: Those spinning racks in corner cupboards are useless! Just do a shelf! Also if (like my kitchen) you have 2 of them then put the access on the other side so it’s not a corner!
P.S. From EHD: A few people do like their corner spinning racks so it’s really just preference and something to think about.
From KD: If you entertain a lot or have a large family – two dishwashers. They get way more use than a double oven.
From Sarah: Plan around dishwasher loading/unloading. What will the flow be in putting away your most commonly used items? (Love that I barely have to move when unloading the dishwasher, despite a big kitchen.)
From Bry: Beware the too wide drawer! The trendy ones that are half the length of your countertop or whatever. Super annoying to work in the kitchen when you have to keep telling people to move so you can open a drawer even several feet away!! More width standard drawers but deeper to fit stacked pans or boxed pantry items are easier to work around.
From Riki: If you use a garbage slide-out, make sure it can be open at the same time as the dishwasher. For example, not either or due to a 90-degree angle. I was shocked at how often I want to access the garbage/compost/recycling while cleaning up the kitchen.
From Caitlin: The best advice our architect gave us was to make the house we want and need based on how we live, versus trying to keep up with the Jones’ (neighbors). This helped us stay within our budget and while we didn’t add lots of square footage, we were able to splurge on a beautiful kitchen with Heath tile, a Wolf range, etc.
From Eva: If you cook often, you need a full-size range hood. Most range hoods only cover half of the range (in terms of depth – they will cover the back burners), whereas most of the cooking happens on the front burners, which won’t be covered. We recently changed to a full-sized hood, and it made all the difference with regards to minimizing cooking smells and grease. Time and time again, I see kitchen designs even on EHD that don’t have hoods, and I always presume these designs must be for people who do not cook. Hoods are essential, in my opinion.
Also from Eva: Open shelves next to the stove will require constant cleaning if you cook. Same goes with art or mirrors (???) behind the stove.
From Sheila: Consider accessibility options, even if you don’t need them now. There may be a time when you’d like to host an elderly family member or when you or a family member faces mobility options during an extended recuperation. Having a bathroom, including a walk-in shower with space for a bench and a hand-held shower head that can be reached and controlled by someone seated on that bench, on the main living floor is highly desirable as is a means of entry from the car parking area into the house with a minimum of stairs. Depending on the area, light switch/doorknob heights may be set by code to be at wheelchair-accessible heights. If not, it should be considered anyway.
From Lisa: Avoid a kitchen with only one entrance/exit so more than one person can be in the kitchen without bumping into each other. Have specific plans for locations for trash, recycling, composting, and dog bowls.
Also from Lisa: Plan a “drop zone” for backpacks and purses and groceries. Imagine the trip from car to kitchen with armloads of groceries and adjust accordingly.
From Ellen: The 2 BEST things we did in our kitchen remodel were adding a small prep sink in the island and having a pull-out sprayer faucet at the main sink. My SIL does (did until Covid?) so much entertaining and it has always been a struggle to get to the single sink (which is often piled with big platters and such). We have a small prep sink directly across from the fridge and our big sink under a window next to the dishwasher. I am thankful every day for that pull-out sprayer and prep sink!
On Hiring Help
From HKW: Choose your GC first. We had to have some structural work done and had already contracted with an engineering firm (the same one we had evaluate the house during the buying process) before we landed on a contractor. We thought that would move things along, but it actually caused some communications issues about who was going to do demo and the order of operations and ultimately resulted in delays. If we’d had the contractor in place first, they would have managed the engineer and been able to bid the job more holistically as well.
From Tara: We did a full renovation of our home (north Texas) in 2019. We utilized an interior designer (who is also a dear friend) and I think that was the #1 tip I would share. If you don’t think you can afford it, you’re wrong. The time and frustration she saved us along with her relationship with our GC are priceless. Not to mention the intuition they had about things as we went along that they just took care of and we didn’t have to stress about was SO valuable.
From KD: You WILL regret working with any contractor who presented you with a plan that was much cheaper than competitors. There is a reason they are cheaper and it’s usually because they cut corners on things like permitting, qualified labor, cleanup, etc. Quality work costs money. If you are looking to save or really can’t afford to contract out with a quality contractor, either wait or DIY.
From Greta: If using a general contractor or a design build firm, ask about the subs! We did a beautiful renovation on our home using a design build firm that we loved – except the HVAC! Not sure why they chose the subs and equipment they did, but in the years since when we’ve brought in our preferred heating and cooling maintenance company, they are left scratching their heads on the HVAC choices that were made.
From Justin: Don’t expect the plumber to know how far the tub should be from the wall, or how high the slide bar should go. Do your research and be ready for everything so that you’re not making 8 am decisions on the fly.
Also from Justin: Tile guys and contractors play it safe. Playing it safe = big grout lines. If you want thin modern lines, have that conversation up front. They may prefer a certain tile to achieve your vision.
From Katie: I wish I would have really understood how construction loans work – but from talking to our title company manager (the title company disperses the funds for the draws), there is a lot of variety in bank rules. Our bank is a more difficult bank to work with for construction loans. Because we kind of shared the responsibilities of the general contractor with our builder, we had to pay for almost all of the downpayment out of pocket and wait to get reimbursed when it was complete. So we were paying out of pocket for 50% of flooring, cabinets, countertops, tile, and 100% of anything purchased by ourselves like light fixtures, and didn’t get reimbursed for several months. That all adds up to a lot!! It would have been better to be prepared for that.
Also From Katie: Again, this is specific to our lender – but it was something I didn’t even realize that we should have asked our lender about – how they determine completion and if they will pay draw requests. Some lenders are easier about paying draw requests than others. Our lender uses an old school percentage-based completion percentage worksheet – old school like the pdf looks like it’s been copied/scanned a bunch of times – and we had trouble getting one of our draws approved because our initial down payment for the plumbing/HVAC (they would pay those down payments) were throwing the entire percentage completion worksheet off. So we needed to be drawing say 40% of the total loan amount, but they were saying only 30% was complete, so they didn’t want to approve it. It was a huge headache. After I got that draw through, I made them send me the completion worksheet (the old school scanned PDF) and made sure that all future draws were right in line with it….although the completion % worksheet definitely had problems – like it didn’t account for major utility expenses at all, even though they were 7% of the total construction cost. I understand all of this a lot better NOW and in the future will never use a bank that uses this type of construction completion % worksheet for a construction loan.
From Rusty: Treat your tradies (contractors) well. They like you = they go the extra mile.
From Cici: Never, ever let someone else (i.e. your contractor, designer, project manager) sign off on the final order of kitchen cabinets without you seeing and agreeing. Despite having detailed mockups, a list of cabinet dimensions and details, our contractor seriously messed up our kitchen cabinets and we had to pivot or delay the project another month.
From Viktoria: Keep a very close eye on the budget!! and have regular meetings with your main contractor about money and where you are compared to what has been budgeted. They will not like it, but at least you know what is happening. The biggest anxiety about a renovation is when you feel like you are getting ripped off.
Also from Viktoria: Put everything in a contract, never agree to anything based on a handshake and have a construction attorney lined up just in case!!!! You might not need it, but when you do it is very important to have someone protecting your rights. If you disagree with your contractor on how to handle an issue, have a home inspector come and give a third-party opinion. They will only charge a couple hundred dollars, but it will be the best money you have ever spent.
From Mary: Be the annoying (but not too annoying!) client to a contractor. Walk down the work regularly that it’s all matching up to your vision and what you discussed. Ask questions (with pictures if communicating via text or email!). It is their responsibility to correct things they have done incorrectly, but it’s much better for the overall schedule if they are caught and corrected early. My mom gained a foot in her laundry room by catching a recess that was framed out that wasn’t needed for her house’s HVAC design (townhouse construction but each unit was slightly different). I caught several small things that they were able to correct throughout the process rather than waiting until the end and adding time to when they were out of my hair and I could enjoy my space!
Also From Mary: Communicate your expectations for working hours if you are still living in the space but also be realistic. They probably can’t work around naptimes, but they can work around weekend events at your house (like my daughter’s 3rd birthday party), finishing each day by your dinner/bed time, etc.
More Good To Know Tips
From Rusty: Plan in environmentally friendly and passive solar changes. You’ll save $$$ and the planet. Gotta say it… THERE IS NO PLANET B. That means no garbage disposal, outdoor clothes drying space, a place for a composting system, LED lighting, solar panels, an inverter system (battery storage if you can afford it), windows facing the right directions and exclusion of windows for the same reasons, no inappropriate roof colours (light for LA to reflect the heat), and plan on choosing and installing energy-efficient appliances like heaters, cooling, washing machines, etc, insulation everywhere you can squash it, soooo many more things….basically…. THINK FIRST AND CHOOSE FOR THE PLANET because it saves your hip pocket too!
From Emily: Take some time to learn some DIY skills, but know your personal strengths and weaknesses and bring in the pros when needed. Ask your handy family and friends to guide you while you’re learning, watch some YouTube videos, there’s a lot you can and should learn how to do.
From Rebecca: Do not start until everything is ordered!!! Product delays held up A LOT in several projects, and many custom items require lead time. Didn’t think about that when I was starting out.
Also from Rebecca: Combining projects saves so much money too (for example, having the tile guy come once for multiple bathrooms or kitchen/bathrooms saves $$$).
From Jill: 1. If you can afford it, move out of your home during construction. I had a meltdown in the depths of winter while we were living in our home, our ONLY toilet backed up and, yes, I had to use the construction porta potty.
2. Specify EVERYTHING IN THE CONTRACT. Hours of work, brands, colors, sizes of everything from windows and doors to tile, carpeting, doorknobs, cabinets, light fixtures, switch plates and outlet covers.
3. Yes to drawers in the kitchen! My recycling/trash pullout cabinet is THE SINGLE BEST CABINET and I wish I had put one in my laundry room, too!
From Heather: Never use flat paint if you live with kids. We loved the matte finish but could not clean it. If I wiped it down with anything – water, Magic eraser, etc, it would leave a spot and touch up paint never worked either despite being from the original paint can (I read it might have to do with different temps while drying?). Anyway, now I paint all walls satin or eggshell. Most people know this, but we thought we could get away with flat paint. We couldn’t.
From Elizabeth: If possible, I think it is very helpful to live in a house before you do any major work to it. What is important to you and how you flow in your house may play out differently than you think.
Also From Elizabeth: Make as many design decisions as you can before demo even starts! I am not good at making decisions on the fly (as may be obvious from my previous comments), and it is very stressful when a contractor is demanding you make a decision on the spot about where the light switches are going to be because the electrician is there now and it is going to cost him and you more if he has to come back. You can’t plan for everything, but you will save yourself time, money, and agony the more you can do ahead of time.
Alright my friends, I don’t know about you but I feel MUCH more prepared for a kitchen renovation project than I ever have. I am sure we have only scratched the surface, so if you have more to add please do so down below and let us know what room we should tackle next. xx
Opener Image Credit: Home of Allison Pierce | Styling by Velinda Hellen & Erik Staalberg | Photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for EHD | From: Working With What You’ve Got – An $8k Budget Kitchen Makeover With A Lot Of Vintage Charm