Where to Start When It All Needs Work

Despite what it looks like on Instagram, few of us have the financial bandwidth to completely renovate before we move into a new home. So where and how do we get started when everything needs to done?

funky living room design

Design by Jay Jeffers | Photo by Matthew Millman


My first recommendation isn’t always popular with my clients, but I usually suggest living in a space for six or so months before making any big decisions, plans, or purchases. It’s helpful to get an idea of how the house works in its existing state and see what needs to be tweaked, updated, or started over from scratch. If you are taking on a renovation as an amateur, it can be difficult to anticipate all of the details that help a space function properly, and spending time living in the home first will go a long way. Then, finishing one room to completion each year is a manageable pace that should offer time to budget and plan for each space.

Of course, it is helpful to have a general idea of each room so that you can create a cohesive whole-house design, but honestly, that is likely to lead to a lot of design fatigue. If you need help, bringing in a professional designer can help form a plan of attack. I offer 90-minute consultations where I can help you troubleshoot a complex issue or offer suggestions if you are feeling stuck, and if I take on any homework from that meeting — like a floor plan or rendering — I will bill at my hourly rate.

To make the most of that time, bring as much as you can to that meeting, including the all-important budget! Of course I can help you narrow down where to spend and where to save, but I cannot offer any meaningful help unless I know what is available to spend.

bedroom with grasscloth

Design by Heidi Caillier | Photo by Haris Kenjar


While you are living in the home and formulating your plan, I suggest having a professional give it a once-over to identify any issues with the electrical, plumbing, h/vac, or the roof — this is especially important in an older home. These can be expensive systems to repair or bring up to code, and getting them out of the way first will help keep your budget in line down the road and minimize unforeseen issues.

I get asked frequently what small things to do to while you are waiting to decorate a space, and again my opinion is an unpopular one, but I like to leave things pretty much as they are — I find it is a good incentive to save and plan so that the room gets finished sooner! If you just can’t live with it, paint it all white to give yourself a calm, blank space to start with. If you have room in the budget and a firm grasp on the decorative plan, you may go ahead and invest in light fixtures that will be used later when the room gets its makeover. But trust me, going room-by-room will be much more satisfying than adding items here and there and not having any spaces that feel “finished.”


library with curved velvet sofa and vintage rug

Design by Pappas Miron | Photo by David Land

If the scope of the work is mostly decorative and not a whole-house renovation, I typically start in the kids’ rooms to help them feel settled and at home as soon as possible. I am very passionate about helping my clients recreate a restful retreat in their own homes, so my next focus would be the primary suite. Many people leave this as a last priority, but YOU are the one paying for the home and the updates and you deserve to reap the benefits! It’s also nice to have a finished space to escape any disruptive work in the home down the road as you progress through the house.

Then, most clients are eager to move on to the more public spaces of the home, and often living rooms, dining rooms, and kitchens need to be addressed together to get the flow just right. Any adjacent outdoor spaces should be done at this time, as well. Then, I would finish it off with any bathrooms still left undone, followed by offices, playrooms, or secondary living spaces.


If you're beginning your own renovation and would like to collaborate, please get in touch!