How do you know where it’s smart to cut costs, and where it’s wise to spend on top quality? Here, our room-to-room guide for smart spending on your renovation
Before Breaking Ground…
- Hire a reliable contractor and a skilled interior designer or spatial planner to help you make smarter decisions and avoid mistakes.
- Set clear renovation goals and priorities in advance to guide your daily decision-making.
- Plan to remodel in stages and spread out your spending over time. Better to buy quality furniture gradually instead of cheaper versions.
- Save up to 5 percent on renovations by renovating during the “slow season” — the winter — when contractors and designers are looking for work (and not Erev Pesach just to avoid cleaning your old kitchen). They’ll also have more time to advise you, and you’ll get better service.
Aside for the obvious costs of materials and labor, make sure your budget includes these often-overlooked expenses:
- architect and interior design fees
- rental fees if you need to move out for a few months
- appliances and furniture
- tax or legal fees
- Your renovated space will make the space adjacent to it look outdated. Consider what you may want to do next.
- Tack on another ten percent for unforeseen issues and upgrades
FYI: There are plenty of DIY guides about how to upgrade any room at extremely low cost. And sometimes we can successfully cut corners in a renovation and be pleasantly surprised with the results. This article however, is geared to those ready to do a low-risk, quality renovation while on a budget, not DIYers or those looking for cheap renovations.
The Living Area
The name says it all. These are the rooms in which we hang out, host guests, read, do homework, eat Shabbos meals, play games, and bond with the family. They store our seforim, artwork, and Judaica. Aesthetics and function are both top priority.
Where to Spend
- The floor is always the first place to start choosing materials — it sets the decor tone for the rest of the room. No skimping on flooring in a high-traffic living room! It’s very complicated to fix the floor at a later stage. Invest in a quality material such as hardwood, parquet, stone tile, or porcelain. A hardwood floor is always a good investment. It creates a homey atmosphere, it’s enduring, and it cleans easily. Hardwood could mean engineered wood or solid wood, and there are different factors you’ll want to weigh when deciding which one to go with. Ask your contractor which type is most suited to your current subfloor and moisture conditions. Porcelain tiles are also very in right now and can give a room a very updated look. They wash well, will never scratch, and are super sleek.
- Spend on focal pieces. The pieces in the living room that attract the most attention and create the atmosphere should cost the most money. A quality, durable, and comfortable couch that will serve as the most functional and focal piece in the living room is worth the investment. Your seforim shrank or china cabinet are often the first item you notice when entering the room and may be worth spending more on. Also remember that low-end bookcases often cannot carry the weight of a full seforim library in the long run.
- A hanging light fixture and elegant window treatments, which elevate the whole room, are focal features worth the splurge.
Where to Save
- You can likely find side tables, coffee tables, and even the dining room table at a more affordable price point. (And if you usually keep your dining room table covered, you’ll want to take that into account when deciding whether or not to splurge on it.)
- If you don’t plan to use curtains as a design feature, inexpensive window treatments can do the job.
- Take your time with accessories such as throw pillows, blankets, area rugs, flowers, and other display items. Keep an eye out for deals on trendy accents to update your look at minimum cost. Larger throw pillows give a pricey impression yet don’t have to cost so much.
- If you’re planning a feature wall with wallpaper or a different color paint, pick the smallest of the possible walls. Paint colors and materials for feature walls can be pricey and you can often achieve the same feel in a smaller space.
- “Negative Space” — the absence of design — is a powerful design tool that costs nothing. The empty area around an object eliminates distractions and brings the design element into focus. So if you spend a lot on a focal piece of furniture or decor in the room, balance the budget by leaving plenty of negative space to highlight it.
- As a general rule, modern furniture and decor, comprised of clean, sleek lines, and less elaborate in detail, is less expensive than elaborate furniture pieces.
Glam on a Budget!
Elegant molding that frames the room where the walls meet the ceiling gives a rich, finished look.
“Choose classic colors for features that are hard to change such as paint color and furniture so your home will remain fashionable long term. Add character to each room with items you can change easily.”
—Ruth Nachshon, Interior Designer
It’s the smallest room in the house, yet it needs the most maintenance. Your bathroom never gets a vacation, and it’s worth doing correctly. A face-lift and re-glazing the sink and tub can be a nice refresher but are usually only temporary, especially in our active households.
Where to Spend
- Any reliable contractor will tell you that it’s critical to put money into the infrastructure of your renovation. If you’re installing new sinks, showers, and toilets, you must first redo the plumbing. In many homes where the pipes are old, this is crucial to a successful renovation. However, even in newer homes, this is important for the simple reason that you need your contractor to take responsibility for his work. If your brand-new shower is hooked up to the old plumbing system and a few months after your renovation something isn’t working correctly, who is to blame? The current contractor will blame it on the old plumbing, and the old plumber (if you can even find him!) will blame it on the new contractor. If a contractor advises you to save money by hooking up to the existing plumbing, beware: It may come back to haunt you!
- Waterproof the bathroom. Go the extra mile now and prevent water damage and leakage that can only be rectified by another bathroom makeover. In short, as long as you’re ripping up the floor and re-tiling the walls, invest in any fundamental plumbing changes within the walls and floor that will prevent problems later.
Where to Save
- It’s unnecessary to pay for a custom vanity in the bathroom. You can find good quality, inexpensive bathroom vanities at a home supply store. Plan your bathroom space with these stock sizes in mind, so you won’t be forced to build something custom.
- The high price tag on faucets and other bathroom accessories are often for the latest modern design. Look for high-quality older models.
- If possible, don’t change the location of the toilet, sink, and bathtub. This can get quite costly.
- Wall tile is less important than floor tile. Fashionable wall tile can be quite expensive. Choose elegant, simple, quality wall tile to complete your bathroom at low cost. You can make plain tiles more exciting by arranging them in an interesting geometric pattern or choosing contrasting colors. A powder room with just a toilet doesn’t require wall tiles at all. Give it a pretty paint job and save.
- You typically need to purchase 10 percent extra inventory. You may be able to choose the same tile for both floor and wall to keep that cost down. For even more savings, cover all your bathrooms in the same tile and request a bulk discount.
- Purchase a pretty curtain for the bathtub instead of investing in shower doors.
- To achieve the look you want, spend a bit of money accessorizing with a beautiful mirror, pretty towels, and an attractive floor mat, and save on the bigger expenses.
Glam on a Budget!
Use a mirror to make a smaller room feel larger.
Install a smaller bathtub in the kid’s bathroom to create more space and save on water.
We spend a third of our lives in this room just sleeping! It’s where we recharge each night and prepare for each new day. It’s also a room that needs great systems for clothing organization, homework, and often toy storage. Finally, it’s an opportunity to express the individual taste of each member of your household. To accomplish all this, the bedroom needs to be both appealing to the eye and highly functional.
Where to Spend
- The bed serves as both the focal object and main purpose of this room. Put your money where your mattress is. It’s worth investing in a supportive and comfortable mattress.
- If you’re purchasing bunk beds, you can try to get away with a cheaper version for the girls’ room, but please invest in a tank for the boys’ room! (For those not in the know, a bunk bed in a boys’ room doubles as a jungle gym.)
- The closet requires the biggest investment to keep a bedroom operating at its max, but that doesn’t necessarily mean spending money on expensive materials. Spend time and thought on planning closet space. Assess your belongings and accessories, and then research closet organizers and custom solutions. Hire a professional to make this space work. If the closet works, the room works!
Where to Save
- Neutral colors in bedroom furniture are usually cheaper. Purchasing a charcoal blue bedroom set for a boys’ room will cost a lot more than something similar in white.
- Painting your door a darker color gives a high-end look without actually spending money on a high-end door.
- Install laminate flooring, which imitates expensive wood flooring. Do your homework before purchasing. Beware of suspiciously low prices on laminate flooring; purchase a high-quality brand.
- A simple night table is all you need. It doesn’t get so much wear and tear (unless the kids are jumping from it). It’s a landing spot for your Krias Shema card, glasses, and a book or two. We usually don’t store important items in there.
- Although most kids’ bedrooms are outfitted with a desk, we all know that the most popular place for homework is the kitchen or dining room table. The desk usually becomes the room’s official dumping ground. Keep that in mind when deliberating how much to spend on a desk.
If your’re customizing your closet interior, always request that the holes for the shelf pegs run the entire length of the closet to give you more options for shelf placement. And always request more shelving than standard. Space your shelves close together in the closet to minimize dead airspace and to avoid overly tall piles of clothing.
Glam on a Budget!
Splurge on eye-catching closet and drawer handles to give the room an upscale look.
—Ruth Nachshon, Interior Designer
The kitchen is, hands down, the most important room in the house: the home for weekly Shabbos preparation for family and guests, Yamim Tovim, family simchahs (often self-catered), not to mention the daily preparation of nutritious meals for growing families. How about the homework, baking sessions, birthday parties, and late night schmoozing? And let’s not forget the Pesach scrubdown….
We work our kitchens hard and we can’t afford to cut corners. When putting in a new kitchen, you want it to be long-lasting. The secret to renovating a kitchen on a budget is not where to cut but who to work with. Make sure to use a trustworthy contractor or kitchen company. Work with someone who clearly explains your options and understands your style and needs so that you can create a quality kitchen that fulfills your wishes and fits your budget.
Where to Spend
- Spend money on strong materials for cabinets. You do a kitchen once. Consult with a professional to learn about your many options. You end up saving money not having to redo work as a result of buying poor quality materials.
- The floor in this room must also be a durable, quality material. If you’re tiling your floor, check the “grade” of tile given by the company before investing in it to make sure it’s suitable for floors. You’ll be staring at it a lot so choose something you absolutely love. Lay the tile down on the floor to view its true color.
- Purchase tiles and materials in reputable stores that stand behind their products. Although this may cost a bit more, it will save you if complications arise. Save money by choosing a classic design and not something trendy.
- Spend on all the possible water points and electrical points you may need in the kitchen for the present and future. It’s much easier to do this now.
- Drawers in the base cabinets are an important feature worth investing in: Good quality, smooth gliding, and spacious drawers literally change your entire kitchen experience. Use the best and strongest hardware you can afford.
- The countertop is the workhorse of the kitchen. Invest in a quality countertop. Quartz is particularly popular now. It washes well, doesn’t absorb dirt, won’t scratch, and looks great.
- Spend money on quality major appliances. Save in the future by purchasing energy efficient models.
- Design a kitchen to meet your personality and needs. You aren’t going to magically become a neater cook just because everything is new. Consider all non-cooking activities which take place in your kitchen and accommodate for them in the design. Do you need a paper storage area? Do you need an arts and crafts section? A rechargeable storage drawer for your laptop or phone? Now is the time to invest in these details.
Glam on a Budget!
Do a little pantry styling and create a uniform look by purchasing elegant glass jars or sleek plastic containers to store your ingredients in.
A high gloss cabinet finish gives the room a larger feel, and they’re easy to clean. A matte finish provides a more traditional look but dirt and finger prints are less noticeable than on gloss. To get the best of both, try a high gloss finish on the upper cabinets and matte for the lower cabinets.
How to Save
- Get clarity! There are endless materials you can put into your kitchen. The cabinets can be built from solid wood, plywood, MDF, or particle board, and the quality of each varies from supplier to supplier. If your cabinets are not solid wood, you’ll need to select a paint color or veneer option. Figure out the best option for you by discussing it with the professionals who understand the products. For those in Israel, where solid wood is usually not an option, Mr. Binyamin Spinka, owner of Kitchen Connection Israel, a kitchen- carpentry company, recommends Formica. “Most of the attractive high-end options such as paint and veneer are delicate and will wear worse over time than HPL laminate (a.k.a. Formica). Formica is the most durable and water-resistant substrate available, and many carpenters in Israel use it to cover all the wood surfaces in a kitchen, inside and out. In my experience I’ve found that Formica is the most suitable kitchen finish for a frum family, and, notably, the price point is good, too. The selection is vast and you can create the gamut of ambiance, from earthy, to traditional, transitional, and ultra-modern.”
- Avoid excess novelties. Choose wisely before investing in the latest kitchen cabinet innovation. Look at organizing products to see whether you can recreate the same functionality without the spend.
- Only buy doors. If the interior of the cabinets are in good condition, you can give your kitchen a fresh look by changing or painting the doors instead of replacing the entire cabinet box.
- Use alternate countertop material. If you are planning a lot of counterspace, choose a less expensive material for areas subject to less wear and tear, such as a breakfast bar. This could also serve as an additional design feature in your kitchen.
- Get wider drawers. The hardware is the added expense. Instead of multiple drawers, install one wider drawer and divide it into sections on the inside. This way you benefit from maximizing the space, enjoying the quality hardware, and saving by purchasing less of it.
- Don’t go cheaper, go with fewer. Mr. Spinka advises not to purchase cheaper kitchen hardware but rather eliminate hardware where you can. Design your pantry with adjustable shelves instead of pull-outs, and accessorize them with organizational items instead. Invest in the features in the kitchen that will help you most often, but don’t install cheaper hardware to get it all in.
Yael Wiesner, Professional Organizing and Interior Design Consultant, is the author of “How Does SHE Manage?” (Feldheim 2012, 2016) and helps women worldwide plan and manage their homes through her private appointments, teleconference courses, and training program.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 603)
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