Published on January 8, 2021

In a field where women reportedly account for only 10 percent of the labor force, these groundbreakers are building a more inclusive industry. Here, they share their tips for tackling a renovation—or a new career.

Bozenka Shepherd, Cofounder of Woodward Throwbacks

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Courtesy of Woodward Throwbacks

How to Save
If you’re knocking down a wall, save all that lumber. Make shelves; construct a coffee table. Plane down reclaimed wood for a less rustic appearance—it will look buttery but still have character.

Where to Splurge
Spend your time and money on the kitchen—it’s the heart of the house. Build or buy simple cabinets and go all out on custom doors to get the style you want without going over budget.

What’s Next
We’ve put all our furniture, wall cladding, and hardware online, and as soon as we post something, it sells. People are reinvesting in their homes—without ever leaving the house.

Bella Weinstein, Founder of Handyma’am

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Photography by Ethan Hickerson

How to Save
Do it yourself as much as you can. In my 164-year-old home, I’ve knocked down walls, exposed brick, replaced kitchen cabinets, and plastered surfaces.

Where to Splurge
Don’t cheap out on your tools—you’ll buy five inexpensive ones instead of one that would have lasted you project after project.

What’s Next
As the need for sustainable housing increases, renovations will only become more important. Older materials are often better, so keep what you can—like refinishing floors instead of replacing them.

Jean Brownhill, Founder of Sweeten

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Photography by Rich Gilligan

How to Save
A “rip and replace” renovation, where you don’t change the locations of fittings or appliances, is especially cost-effective. Also, commit to the design and materials early—and don’t change your mind mid-construction.

Where to Splurge
Spend on the things you touch on a daily basis, like doorknobs or the faucets on your sinks.

What’s Next
Division of open-concept spaces—if you’re working from home, you don’t want to hear your partner’s phone call or your kids in the next room—with materials that allow for openness but also acoustic separation, such as clear-paned glass.

Katherine Moore, Carpenter

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Photography by Claudia Fran

How to Save
You can learn a lot about doing things yourself by simply following other builders on Instagram—I love Christine Williamson’s (@buildingsciencefightclub) how-tos.

Where to Splurge
Having an outdoor hangout drastically expands your living space. I built a deck from cedar—it cost considerably more than composite or pressure-treated wood, but I wanted something sustainable.

What’s Next
People are buying houses sight unseen, and I’m noticing a rising desire for sheds and alfresco retreats. Everyone wants a place to escape.

Katherine Fontaine, Founder of Actually Design Build

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Courtesy of Katherine Fontaine

How to Save
Create a detailed breakdown of the whole scope of work. Things like electric and plumbing cost what they cost, but you can often save on finishes, such as tile.

Where to Splurge
Custom built-in cabinets. They can add so much character while also making a small area more functional.

What’s Next
I’ve received countless calls for offices from neighbors since the pandemic hit. People at home with kids need a separate space to work, and these houses were built from the ’20s to the ’40s, so there are always renovations to be done.

Joan Barton, Founder of Dirty Girl Construction

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Courtesy of Dirty Girl Construction

How to Save
Plan a budget—from framing to finishes—and stick to it. Don’t get caught up in stuff you think you have to have.

Where to Splurge
If you’re going to spend extra, make it an investment for resale (a kitchen or bathroom update) or a creature comfort to give yourself (like a good walk-in closet or outdoor oasis).

What’s Next
Complex supply chains are causing longer lead times for luxury materials, so we’re using more locally sourced finishes now instead of things from overseas. We’re putting our industry back to work.

Our Winter Renovation issue is here! Subscribe now to step inside Leanne Ford’s latest project—her own historic Pennsylvania home. Plus discover our new rules of reno.

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