How to Avoid Project Creep and Stop Home Improvement Mistakes Before They Happen

Not a week goes by that we don’t help someone out who is experiencing project creep. Project creep, one of the top home improvement mistakes, happens when homeowners set out to change one “simple” thing in their home only to realize, halfway in, that to do the job right, more is needed. The following example should help you avoid project creep and can be applied to a change in your bathroom, a change with your flooring, a change with anything, really.

Your Hideous Kitchen Countertops: An Example

We all hit that point where we know the kitchen countertops must go. They’re outdated. They’re worn. They’re ugly, hideous in fact. You’ve lived with them long enough and it’s time for them to go. But, you still like your backsplash – you had it changed a couple of years ago – and you see no need to change your cabinets right now. You plan to do that in a year or so.

So, you decide to move forward with just the countertops. You’ve picked out your pattern, measurements have been taken and installation has been scheduled.


  • Have you considered your sink? Is your current one acceptable? What about when you decide to change your cabinets? Will it still be okay?
  • Have you considered the height difference between your new countertop material and your old ones? Will there be a gap between your backsplash?
  • Have you considered how you will slide your old cabinets out from under your new countertops when you decide to change them next year?
  • When you change your countertops next year, will you want to stay with the same kitchen layout?
  • If you think you may want to change your kitchen layout, what will you do about flooring?
  • And if you think you may want to change your kitchen layout, what about the plumbing? Will you want to move your sink? If you want to move the oven and microwave, how will you get the gas and electric lines moved?

We could continue asking questions about the kitchen, but what we really want is for you to avoid home improvement mistakes altogether by asking yourself:

“What else is related to this project?” and “What else could possibly be affected if we decide to change X?”

After you’ve asked these questions, make a list – a thorough one. You may be surprised about how things are interconnected and how changing one “simple” thing may mean changing many.

And always, after you’ve made your list, seek a second opinion. Or, if you have no idea how things are connected in the area you’d like to change, ask for help. Talk to a friend who’s been through a remodel. Talk to a contractor. Or, better yet, bring your plans and ideas with you and stop in to see us at Eheart. We’ll be happy to take a look. In the end, your project will go much more smoothly if you are proactive and work to understand the complete picture ahead of time.

Also, if you’re just starting to think about remodeling, check out our handy Home Remodel Return On Investment Guide  It’s full of stuff we think everyone, who’s doing a remodel, should think about and will definitely help you avoid additional home improvement mistakes. 



Remodel or Move? That is the question.

If you are like most homeowners, you have a list of things you’d like to change in your house. You may not have written it down, but it’s definitely in your head. In fact, if someone asked you what you’d like to change, you’d rattle off an answer with the few top things. Some of those things may be small. Some, on the other hand, may be big, like a remodel. If it is a remodel you’re thinking about, and you know you have the finances to move a project forward, then we have some things for you to consider..

Should You Remodel or Move?

Most people, when thinking of  a remodel, don’t think about moving, but in our experience, we think the “remodel or move” option must be addressed. First off, ask yourself this, “What about my home isn’t meeting my needs?” If the answer is location, it’s probably time to consult a realtor. If the answer is, “I don’t like where the staircase sits,” it’s also probably time to consult a realtor. Although we are regularly amazed at what a contractor can do to the internals of a house, there are certain structural things that financially put a remodel out of the question.

Considering, however that a contractor can do a lot to the interior, and your answer lies more along the lines of, “I don’t have enough space in the kitchen,” or “I don’t like the layout of the master bath and bedroom,” or “I wish the space between the living room and the kitchen didn’t feel so closed off,” then it’s time to explore a remodel.

A Set of Fresh Eyes

Once you’ve addressed the “remodel or move” question and hit on remodel as an answer, it’s time to get some help. You look at, and live in, your house each day. This makes you biased about certain things. You may not see some possibilities that someone else may see. We recommend you bring in a neutral party who does this regularly, who can look at your house and give you options you might not even consider. Preferably, that person can also look at your house, listen to your suggestions and say, “Yes, that’s possible within your budget,” or “No, that’s not possible within your budget but you might consider doing this.” You’ll be amazed at what someone else can see that you might not.

Can You Live in Dust and Chaos?

If you’ve never lived in a home during any sort of remodel, you might not realize what an impact it has on your day-to-day living. Imagine your master bath being out of commission for a week. Now imagine it being gone for four weeks. You’re sharing with your kids, trying to get ready in the morning, routines get thrown off…It can be hard. And it’s not only bathrooms. Ever thought about life without countertops and a stove? Microwaves and crockpots and takeout only go so far.

A remodel will most certainly disrupt your daily patterns.Workers will be coming in and out of your house all week and often times on the weekend in order to meet deadlines. And no matter how neat and tidy your contractor is, there will still be dust, dust and more dust. (Hint to avoid a big portion of the nuttiness: Figure an 8-week furnished apartment or short-term rental house into your remodel budget. The people we see who do this have a much better experience and the work can often move faster as the contractor doesn’t have to work around a family living in the home.)

Have Fun With It

All of the things we have mentioned take time and energy during any remodel. But once you’ve decided to move forward, for the right reasons of course, make sure to enjoy the process. Too often we see people get stressed out about colors and fixtures and floor plans and more. They lose sight of why they want to do the remodel instead of making the entire process enjoyable. Remember, you’re choosing to make your home a better one than you have right now, and what could be more fun than that?

Remember, there are other things to take into consideration when it comes to remodeling. Here’s a handy Home Remodel Return On Investment Guide we think everyone, who’s doing a remodel, should think about. 



What is a Designer’s Process?

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been presenting the benefits of using a designer and how to prepare to work with one. Once you start, what does a designer do? What process does she go through?
1. Initial Consult. Once I’ve become acquainted with the client, I find it very helpful to visit the client’s home to get an idea of their taste and style. This is also a great opportunity to get a feel for the scale of the space being redecorated or remodeled and an opportunity to see how the client lives so that my design can address the functional concerns the client has. At the conclusion of this meeting, I like to sit down with the client (and spouse, if applicable) and get a complete perspective of what they like and don’t like, goals for the space, specific functionalities to address, and design preferences. I take pages and pages of notes, which I refer to throughout the process. At this time, I also have the client nail down a budget for me. Check out last week’s post to understand why this number is so important at an early stage. A follow up appointment is scheduled.

2. Design. Between the initial consult and the scheduled follow up, I pull together a design for the client. Most of the time, this includes a finish palette (tile, flooring, slab, etc), fixtures (plumbing, lighting, fixed cabinetry, etc), and furnishings (furniture, accessories, artwork, and other items that are not permanent fixture to the home). I lay out the finishes on my design station and invite the client to take a look.

3. Follow Up. At this appointment, the designer “casts the vision” for the space and explains the design elements and functional considerations that will be put into place. The client has the opportunity to make changes–perhaps they see a tile they aren’t fond of or want a carpet in a slightly darker color.

4. Design Retainer. Once the client has received an overview of the initial design concept and finish, fixture, and furnishings palette the designer has proposed, the client has the opportunity to accept or reject the design. If they choose to accept the design, they enter into an agreement with the designer for the amount they have budgeted for the space and the designer collects a percentage of this fee. If changes to the design need to be made, they are completed and the client and designer meet again to discuss, as needed.

5. Measure. The designer accompanies the quantifier to the client’s home and identifies where and how materials are to be installed so that the quantifier can draw up estimates for the design. At this time, some or all of the finish samples may be brought to the client’s home so that they can view them in the space they will be installed in.

6. Design details. The designer selects what are often unseen “details” that are critical to the job. For example, the designer will select plumbing valves to work with the plumbing that was selected. At this time, the designer also creates finalized drawings of custom cabinetry and detailed elevation drawings for the installer. The designer and the quantifier pull together final estimates for materials and labor. These estimates, along with all drawings and tear sheets are provided to the client.

7. Close. The client overviews the final estimates and, finding that the project has been designed within the budget parameters which were originally established, provides payment for materials and installation. At this time, the design will obtain sign offs on all materials from the client.

8. Ordering. The designer provides finalized documentation to the accounting department, who orders all of the materials.

9. Installation. Once all materials are in, the appropriate installers are scheduled to begin work. The designer meets the installer and client on the first day of installation to verify any last minute details. Installation commences. The designer and/or project manager drop in periodically to assure installation quality and execution of the design.

10. Final walk through. Once all work is complete, the designer schedules a time to come and see the finished space and get a tour from the client! If there are any finishes touches, they are addressed at this time.

Preparing to Work with a Designer

As you consider what your home improvement budget will allow, we’re taking the opportunity to explain what the benefits are to engaging an interior designer early on.  And while this may seem a bit self serving, we think you’ll be glad to establish continuity in your space, follow a logical sequence for your projects, save money, and have fresh ideas for your project.  Want to know more?  Read last week’s post that explains all of this in detail.

This week, I’ll be explaining how you can prepare to work with an interior designer.  Read on:
Settle on a budget.  We know that talking about money makes people nervous and that you haven’t remodeled in the last five years, so maybe you don’t know what things cost in this market.  Perhaps you aren’t sure what you’ll spend yet and your priority is loving it–so you’ll spend a little bit more if you can assure you’ll love the end result.  Bottom line, though, everyone has a budget…they usually just have a difficult time articulating it.  If you can’t quite put a number to your budget, ask your self what number would make you nervous or keep you from doing the project.  If you aren’t sure what would be reasonable, ask your designer to give a general ballpark as to what she thinks the project can be done for.  If you can communicate a budget, Eheart’s designers will get you there.  We have a creative trick or two up our sleeves and can help you get creative about your materials, decide where to spend more and where to spend less, and ultimately balance your budget with a beautiful design.

Get ideas.  Walk through your home and make a list of the things that you really do like.  Page through magazines at a book store and buy the ones that have pictures of things you think are stunning.  You don’t have to like the whole magazine picture to flag it–maybe you just like the paint color, or just like the way it feels, or the lighting…  Once you have a pile of clippings, your designer can page through and probably name your style.  Most people have a fair amount of consistency in what they pick initially and it usually communicates enough that a designer can get a feel for your taste.  Every designer is different, but I like to walk my client’s homes before pulling together finishes for them.  If I see their space, I can pull together what I think would make sense for what they have and what they love more quickly and more acurately.  Coming into our showroom can also help.  We’ve got bathroom and kitchen vignettes, so you can get a feel for how knotty alder cabinets might look in your space, or how a mosaic tub face would feel, etc.

Here’s a letter I recently received from a happy client who came in skeptical about using a designer:

We’d just like to thank you again for all you’ve done for us over the past month or so.  When Bob and I first decided we were going to remodel our master bathroom, I was really excited.  I had a vision of what the bathroom would look like, and couldn’t wait to jump in and get started.  I searched store upon store, but couldn’t find what I was looking for.  Either the quality of the products was sub-standard, or the products were outrageously expensive.  I even spent hours looking on the internet, but to no avail. 

On a whim, we stopped by Ehearts.  We had been there before, but never worked with a designer.  We assumed we wouldn’t be able to “afford” a designer, or that they would never be able to work within our budget.  But then we met you, Emily.  You said you would definitely be able to work within our budget.  The first time you came to our home, I took you on a whirlwind tour, showing you what I liked and didn’t like about our house.  Then I took you upstairs to the master bathroom.  Immediately, you knew exactly what it was I was hoping to achieve, without my even talking about it.  But more than that, you had design ideas that I never would have thought of.  You envisioned much, much more than I ever could have, and I absolutely fell in love with your design.

On our way to Ehearts to see what products and finishes you pulled together for us, I prepared Bob in the car.  I told him not to fall over when you presented the design and how much it was going to cost us.  As we approached the table with the design layed out, I gasped.  Everything was STUNNING!  Better than I ever could have imagined!  But in my mind, it was not do-able within our budget.  I was so disappointed.  When you told us the price range for the design you presented, it was my turn to fall over.  It was within our budget!  How could this be possible? 

As we worked to iron out all the details, we very much appreciated all you did to help us remain within our budget.  You worked extra hard to provide us with products that met all our needs — stunningly beautiful, yet reasonably priced. 

–Bob and Mary Kay Meininger

Why Work With a Designer?

As you begin to think about what your home improvement budget will allow this year, consider engaging an interior designer early on.   
Isn’t that more expensive?  Won’t I get a design that reflects the designer’s taste, not my own?   How hard can it be…I know just want I want?  
These are common objections that we tackle day to day as we tell people about what we do as designers.  This month, we’ll be addressing some of these common objections, tell you what it is like to work with an Eheart designer, and give you a couple of ideas of how to prepare to work with one of us. 
So, why work with an interior designer?

Establish continuity through your entire space.  Most people can’t do it all at once.  Perhaps they do a room or a two at a time, or do finishes in a room and then update furnishings down the road.  Regardless of how it gets done, most people complete their home over a series of projects–not a single overhaul.  An interior designer can help you establish a long range plan for your design that will create continuity through your entire space.  That way, when the last project is finally done, your whole house looks tied together and you don’t have to go back and redo the first few rooms to mesh with the last few.
Save money.  I had a client come in the other day to ask for my business card to give to a friend.  She’d been at a holiday party a few nights before and heard her friend talk about getting ready to do their kitchen.  We had just completed the design for her master bath.  She said “You know, I look back and think…we could have done it ourselves and spent more money than we wanted to, settled on materials, and had a space that looked like we, well, did it ourselves.  Instead, we got a creative design, stayed in our budget and have the peace of mind that everything is going to go smoothly.”  This client’s statement captured what I try to convey to people all the time.  Designers are familiar enough with people in the industry, products, and creative methods that will help you do what you want to do without breaking the bank.
Clever, fresh ideas.  Part of a designer’s job is to stay on top of trends, new products, and new construction methods.  So, by working with a designer, you’ll be sure that you’re not just recycling ideas, color schemes, and materials from three years ago.
Do it right the first time and avoid headaches.  Interior design possess nuances even seasoned designers cannot explain…like why toilets don’t come with seats, or why faucets don’t come with drains.  By engaging a designer early on in your project, you’ll get things ordered correctly and avoid costly replacements or surprise costs.

Establish the correct sequence of projects.  Since most people change their homes in phases, an interior designer can help you settle on a logical sequence of those phases to avoid costly redos down the road.