Renovation Tips For A Complete Newbie!


Today, I am starting a series I have been wanting to write for quite a while—renovation tips! In each post, I will be addressing repeat questions we have received from our readers. I’ll give my tips, experiences and opinions, and someone else from our team will jump in as well! I hope these will be very helpful to you, as one of the biggest goals of our site is to help you feel empowered to take on projects. You can do it!

Today’s question is: What are your renovation tips for a COMPLETE newbie?

Elsie: Jeremy and I now own our third home together. In each home we took on more and larger projects. I think it is extremely wise to start small and work your way up! HGTV shows (and even the room tours on this blog!) might make big renovations seem a lot easier than they really are. You see the stunning before and after photos, but what you don’t see is the stress, time, improvised living in a ripped-apart home and money it takes to achieve these dramatic changes.

So today I’m going to focus on renovation projects I think are a good place to start for first-time homeowners!

Restaining floors. If you have an older home with original wood under carpets, having the carpet removed (or doing it yourself) and the floors redone in a modern color (I love very dark OR very light floors personally) is one of the projects that gets a lot of bang for your buck! Even if you hire a professional to do the whole house, it can be done for a price far more reasonable than most other major renovations, and I’ve been told by realtors that is a way to add dollar-for-dollar value to your home (meaning you can mark up your home price equivalent to the amount you spend on your floors). It makes the whole home seem newer and having floors that match (as opposed to difference color stains or carpet) makes your home feel larger as well.

Painting walls, cabinets and trim yourself. Painting things white can modernize your home A LOT. There is a time to respect original wood. But this is more for a home that is 100 years old … not cabinets installed in the 1980s! And even then, I think the homeowner should do what they really want … but maybe that is another topic for another day.

Painting walls, cabinets and trim yourself is time consuming, but extremely budget friendly! Updating cabinets, bookshelves and vanities that come with your home will save THOUSANDS compared to ripping them out and replacing them. Sometimes you can even keep your cabinets and just replace the doors if you really don’t love them.

Here’s a post about painting cabinets with chalk paint and here’s one on refinishing kitchen cabinets. Bottom line: Painting whatever your home comes with is always easier and cheaper than ripping it out and replacing it with something brand new.

Updating your backsplash.Adding a tile backsplash to your kitchen or bathroom is an ambitious, but doable project. And if there is already tile there that you hate (but don’t want to rip out), try painting it. And if there is no backsplash at all and you can’t fit tile and supplies into your budget, try this faux backsplash DIY or this plank backsplash.

Replace countertops. Replacing old countertops with stain-resistant stone is a great way to spend your renovation budget. We love quartz and solid surface. You can do this in your kitchen and/or bathrooms. I like to make this a very high priority in any home I remodel because A – your counters will still look BRAND NEW when you move and B – it can really freshen up a space! Depending on the size, you may have to save up for a bit, but having counters replaced is so worth the investment! The other thing that’s cool about it is that it can be done in a day—so you don’t have to worry about living in a construction zone.

I personally like to get lighter-colored quartz since it feels a little more modern to me than most options for granite.

OK … I could honestly go on ALL DAY, but I think these four items would get you the most bang for your buck (or work!) for a newbie renovation.

Now I’m tossing the baton to Laura to hear any additional tips she has!

Laura:  I’ve done my fair share of renovating since leaving my college dorm (and that includes renovating a whole house by myself in three months while my husband was on tour), so here are a few smaller tips to keep in mind that can really make a difference when you pair them with Elsie’s good larger projects above!

Replace old/outdated lighting: It’s amazing how different a room can feel with a cool statement light installed. I usually like to leave that detail until last in a room because it feels like you are kind of placing a finishing crown on top at the end. While a large or unique fixture can make the biggest impact, even smaller switches like the lights I changed in my hallway makeover can really move the renovation needle as well. We love this shop for beautiful lighting—I think I have something from them in almost every room of my house!

Switch out hardware: Switching out old outdated styles of cabinet hardware, door handles, closet pulls, etc., is a small detail, but sometimes it’s the hardware that really dates an item or makes it pop in a good way. Choose a color that goes well with the rest of your furnishing choices (like silver, chrome, brass, gold, or black) and keep your overall design aesthetic in mind as well (so, should they be modern and simple or more complex and intricate).

Find and stick to a color scheme: There’s nothing quite as soothing as being in a house that has a distinct color scheme, which is carried throughout the whole space so each room feels connected and a part of the larger picture. You should still use slightly different shades of your main colors sprinkled throughout or it can get a bit boring, but that overall cohesiveness will give your space a finished and thought-out feel. And don’t feel like you have to use that scheme forever either! I’ve definitely changed mine over the years based on what I was into or current trends, so you won’t have to keep it forever if you grow out of it. If you don’t know what your color story is yet, don’t worry, we’ll show you how to find yours!

Thanks so much for reading! We are keeping a running list of questions, so feel free to let us know any you have in the comments! xx – Elsie

Credits // Authors: Elsie Larson and Laura Gummerman. Photo by Janae Hardy for our Habitat for Humanity house project (which is a great budget renovation resource—so go read those posts!).

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  • I love that you share all those tips with your readers! I have moved twice so far in my life, but only between small rented apartments. If I have a house of my own, this will definitely come in handy! So thanks for sharing!
    https://www.makeandmess.com/

  • Love this! We just bought our first home about 7 months ago. We bought a fixer upper, but of course we want to do all the things! We have done everything by ourselves, from painting, ripping carpet and now renovating our kitchen. All of it has been super budget friendly and so fun! We love every bit of this journey. We have definitely found our flair and use it all over the home. Thanks for the tips 😉

  • I’m going to follow this one very closely, my SO and me are buying and we’ll have a big project on our hands! Exciting times ahead but also challenging, but I’m sure I can benefit from your wise advice

  • These are such smart tips… Honestly I wish someone’d said this to me three years ago when we renovated. Since we’re about to redecorate, though, I have a feeling a lot of this will end up coming in handy! Thank you so much for sharing them.

  • I love the idea of this series! I bet you know tons of helpful advice and I’m looking forward to reading allll about it 🙂
    that said, this post goes way above what I’d consider “newbie projects”. Redoing your floors? repainting rooms and especially cabinets? I would consider those major projects that take tons of time, plus a good bit of skill and/or money. Can you even sand and restain floors while living in a space?
    I would encourage you to scale down the projects you recommend in this series. Switching out lights or matching colors seems a lot less daunting than an entire re-paint. Remember you’re renovation pros by now!

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