How to Start a Project

Do you have something in your home that is bugging you? Cabinets that are old? A laundry room layout that is less than ideal? Are you ready to do something about it, but you’re not sure where to begin? Let’s break it down.

Every project looks so different and each client’s needs are slightly different. For the sake of this post, I’m focusing on home renovations.

Often times, prospective clients will come to me (in a rush) needing their kitchen designed ASAP. They’ve had a meeting with a contractor, but he can’t finish the bid until they’ve made selections and they have a mental deadline they want their project done by. HELP! Here’s the thing. Your contractor doesn’t want to be a designer too. They don’t want to price a project based on hypothetical options. If they price paint-grade cabinets and you ultimately decide on stain grade, there will be a price increase. That doesn’t look good for them, and it will be immensely frustrating for you.

My advice is to get all of your ducks in a row PRIOR to meeting with a contractor. Do you have a few strong Pinterest images that show what you’re drawn to? I’d start there. Start pinning or rip out photos from magazines. Make a list of things that bother you about your current space functionally. This helps focus the project so that we’re on the same page about how your space will work for you.

Inspiration Image. Design by: Studio McGee


Don’t stress out too much about the photos. I like to look through them and often times find common denominators. I can also help guide you in finding a direction that is applicable to your space and budget. This is key. Sure, you love that image with the tall windows and loads of natural light – but if putting a window in your space isn’t in your budget, than that image is really not ideal to use as inspiration. Make sense?

So, as you can see, hiring a designer as early as the conceptual phase is helpful for getting the project off the ground. I don’t think people realize that a lot of a designer’s job comes in the planning phases. Material and fixture selections and applicable drawings – all of this is crucial for a contractor to form an accurate bid.

It’s also important to consider the timeline for these things. Drawings and selections take time. So be sure to plan for that. It’s in your best interest to do your due diligence up front so you eliminate costly mistakes during construction. The more time I spend planning for your renovation is less time the contractor spends waiting, and ultimately the less money wasted.

A few years ago I sat down with a contractor I work with frequently and we discussed making this process the norm. They would set the expectation that interior design planning came first, so they could then formulate a well-thought out and detailed bid. What we found is that budgets were more in tact at the end of the project and more often than not, we met our deadlines. I’ve since started this with another contractor and we’re finding similar results.

Understandably, clients want to do their research and get questions answered before committing. And that’s OK. Just know that realistic expectations are set through proper planning and process. That might take some patience and an initial investment to get going. Construction is a big deal though, so it’s worth it to get it right the first time.

Cost is something that can really vary depending on your team and scope. For example, I am working on a project that includes a kitchen and two bathrooms. I’ve already spent 30 hours on it and they are starting demo next week. This includes drawings, selections and a couple of revisions that are typical. I’d imagine I’ll be at 40 to 45 hours by the end of the project including site visits. That is a lot of time up front, but like I said – less time spent on the back end.


It’s also normal for contractors to charge a retainer to produce a bid. Getting bids from all of the sub-contractors is time consuming. In order for accuracy, they have to touch base with every sub-contractor and go through the details of your job. It can take up to 2, sometimes 3 weeks to get that information compiled. That is quite a bit of time away from jobs already under construction, so the retainer ensures that everyone is committed to the job.

I hope this is helpful as you start considering home projects. It’s never too early to start!



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