Published on August 9, 2018

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photography by CODY GUILFOYLE

Even if you haven’t binge watched every season of Fixer Upper (though, let’s assume you have) or gone through a home renovation of your own, you’re probably clever enough to know that every remodel comes with its ups and downs. The ups, of course, being when you score your kitchen countertops for half the price or are able to cut enough costs to get your dream bathroom and your dream master closet. The downs? Toxic mold, moisture stains, faulty wiring, leaking, roof damage, dated heating system… you get the picture.  

An important part of taking on any home improvement project—whether you’re renovating the entire house or giving the kitchen a much-needed makeover—is accepting the inevitable issues that will arise along the way and addressing them head-on. Ignoring a big problem or rushing to find a solution not only means you’ll probably end up with something you never really wanted in the first place, but it can take a serious toll on your wallet.

While some mistakes are simply unavoidable (hey, no one saw that structural wall coming!), the more aware and prepared you are about some of the most common renovation mishaps, the more likely you’ll be able to avoid the missteps that will cost you the most. Among the many things you need to know before you renovate a house (like, how to set a budget and when to select your team), understanding what not to do is chief among them.

To help you get through your renovation journey—tears-free, of course—we took some of our most pressing renovation questions to the pros and asked them to share the most costly mistakes they’ve ever seen a client make during a remodel. Because, hey, the best way to succeed yourself is by learning from the miscalculations, careless oversights, and straight up failures of others, right? Read on for 11 major mistakes to avoid, according to interior designers.

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photography by AARON BENGOCHEA

Problematic Cabinetry

You spent hours scouring Pinterest to piece together the perfect kitchen scheme. Now, finally, everything you had once imagined for your dream cookhouse has come to life, down to the very last knob. But, wait, why does the knife drawer keep bumping into the wall? Non-functioning custom cabinetry is Utah-based designer and blogger Sarah Gibson’s biggest pet peeve.

“I had a client who splurged on custom cabinets in the past, but didn’t take into consideration important design elements. The dishwasher wouldn’t open unless a cabinet was shut, the fridge couldn’t open all the way, the traffic paths were not large enough, etc,” Gibson tells Domino. 

It was a shame to spend a fortune on totally custom cabinets and millwork when they didn’t enhance the function of the space.”

Before you get caught up in picking out paint finishes or hardware, think about the types of tools you frequent the most and how you move about your space on a day-to-day basis. When all is said and done and you can’t easily grab your most essential cookware, you’ve got a problem. Triple check everything before it’s set in stone—a cautious eye never hurt anyone.

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photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Funky Kitchen Layout

Much like cabinetry, the overall floorplan of your kitchen should encourage continuity. While flow (often defined by one’s ability to move and see about a space with little to zero effort) is an important element in any room, it’s especially important in the kitchen. For Justina Blakeney, bohemian queen and creator of The Jungalow, the problem “usually has to do with appliances not fitting in designated areas.”

Whether you’re planning on blowing out room for a massive chef’s kitchen or making over a galley, remember that, no matter how large or small the space, imprecise measurements and hasty decision making can lead to a disruptive layout.

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photography by AARON BENGOCHEA

A Bad Tile Job

Unless you have had plenty of practice tiling or frankly don’t care if your work comes out a little crooked, don’t use your bathroom or kitchen refresh as an opportunity to DIY for the first time. “Not consulting a professional when selecting tiles for kitchen and baths” is Atlanta-based designer Tavia Forbes‘s number one faux pas. “It pains us to have to rip out new construction.”

And we’re not just talking about the install, but the inspiration process too. With so many options to choose from (Are you set on subway tile? How do you feel about fish scale? Would you go for something super geometric?) it’s easy to feel lost. Before you start your search, make a mental note of the color(s) you’d like to use and overall aesthetic you want to achieve. Having a set vision in mind before you even take your plans to Pinterest for general inspiration will help you narrow the search down immediately. If you still need help sourcing ideas and are working on a tight budget, Forbes suggests going to a high-end showroom for inspiration and then sourcing similar-looking options elsewhere that you can actually afford.

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photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Not Your Dream Sofa

Newsflash: Sofas are a serious investment! Think of it not as bonus crash pad that will ultimately accumulate food crumbs and stains, but rather a living room staple piece you’ll have forever—not because you’re style won’t change (because it will), but because they’re too damn expensive. Even a piece as simple as a sleeper sofa can cost a small fortune. Ergo, try not to make any rash decisions, even though you might feel tempted to order something semi-cheap online and be done with it.

Not ordering your dream sofa because of the lead time (or ordering an ordinary couch simply because you’re sick of watching TV from the floor), is a huge mistake. “Buying a placeholder piece of furniture is just as expensive as buying the wrong thing because you will never be happy with it,” says Atlanta-based designer, Andria Fromm.

For the best sofas money can buy, check out our complete guide to designer-approved couches here.

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photography by Michael Wiltbank

Decorating Too Much, Too Fast

Moving into a new home is exciting. But with that excitement comes a pressure to fill every corner and cover every wall, right off the batt. Sure, this ASAP mentality means you’ll get to host your housewarming party sooner than you expected, but you’ll also be doing a lot of settling in the process.

“Many people feel the need to purchase all of their decor and furniture at once and fill their homes to the brim. Much to their dismay, they regret their choices and are also left with an empty pocketbook,” explains SoCal-based designer and award-winning blogger, Anita Yokota. “My advice is to take your time with your living space.”

“If you just moved into a new home, let your home vibe be your guide. Live in it for a while. Do not impulsively buy things to fill up empty spaces, or buy something expensive just because. Buy things that really speak to you! Be patient and hold out for pieces that you truly love!”

Haphazardly decorating your space will get you nowhere. Don’t do it with your sofa. Don’t do it with your art. Just don’t do it!

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photography by Aaron Bengochea

Poorly Hung Art

When you’ve taken the time to collect pieces that you really love, but don’t take the time to actually hang them properly, you’re doing your art a major disservice. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to elaborate gallery walls, but to stand alone works as well. Art that’s hung either too high or too low can really mess with your perspective, suggests Joanna Hawley of Jojotastic. Because we instantly gravitate toward objects at eye-level, people will be able to tell that something is off the second they walk into the room.

A good general rule of thumb to follow when hanging a piece of art on a blank wall is to set the top of the lowest piece 58 inches above the floor. When you decide to add other artwork in the same vicinity, leave at least two inches around each frame on all sides. If you’re attempting to hang a very large (very expensive) piece of art, consider bringing in a pro to do the job instead of putting a bunch of unnecessary holes in your wall. No matter how much a piece of art cost you, if it isn’t hung properly it will always look cheap.

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photography by AARON BENGOCHEA

Ignoring the Real Problems

“Neglecting roofs or plumbing in need of repair to focus on the interior finishes, then watching beautifully installed wallpaper or wood flooring damaged by leaks and needing to be replaced” is the most cringe-worthy mistake Natalie Myers of Veneer Designs has ever seen a homeowner make.

We all know that the real fun in moving into a new space is being able to decorate as you please. But even though dealing with electrical and plumbing isn’t as glamorous, these fundamental elements are the glue that holds everything together. Before you jump into all things “pretty” address the real issues head-on. Being in denial isn’t going to change the fact that water is leaking all over the brand new pink settee.

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photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Not Consulting the Pros

Stop! Put the hammer down. Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Am I actually the right person for the job?” We get that being your own contractor is a great way to cut costs—and we’re all for a serious DIY—but if you’re doing more guessing than knowing, you’re more likely to make costly errors.

“We had a client demo themselves before bringing in a contractor and our team. They removed a wall that shouldn’t have been moved and it was really expensive to fix!” recalls designer Shea McGee.

Poorly-executed design plans aside, safety should always be your number one concern—especially on demo day. Case in point: Breaking down a visually obstructive wall isn’t worth a broken arm.

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photography by Cody Guilfoyle

Zero Design Plan

“Poor planning always wastes time and money,” says designer Becki Owens. In case you weren’t aware, well-designed rooms don’t just fall out of the sky. Crafting a cohesive aesthetic takes time and thought. “I always try to make out the spaces I design so I know if the furniture will fit before I start purchasing. It’s worth it to take the time to create a design plan. It will save you from a lot of headaches and loss of money,” Owens adds.

To keep trial and error to a minimum, first, start by figuring out your style. Do you gravitate towards the Bohemian? Would you consider yourself a minimalist? Is Scandinavian something that speaks to you? Are you a diehard traditionalist? Even if you don’t necessarily fall into one of these categories, assigning yourself a label (or two) will help you narrow down what types of shapes, colors, materials, and textures you want to incorporate in your space.

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Incorrect measurements

If there is one tool designers always, always, always, keep in their bag, it’s measuring tape. Precision is key, especially for tighter spaces and custom features. There’s nothing worse than having your new kitchen countertops arrive and not fit because you were off by the slightest inch.

“Any time measurements aren’t properly taken (measure twice, cut once!), you end up with a costly mistake… curtains that are too short, a sofa that is too big,” explains Dee Murphy of Murphy Deesign. Sure, being scrupulous is time-consuming, but it’s worth it.

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photography by Michael Wiltbank

Crooked Floors

Hardwood floors can instantly warm up a space, so we don’t blame you for wanting them in your home. But beware: Things can quickly go awry if they’re not installed correctly.

“If hardwood isn’t natural to your climate, you need to make sure the wood acclimates to it before it’s installed. If it hasn’t adequately acclimated, it will buckle and warp. I have seen contractors leave wood floors in a home for days without installing it to avoid this costly mistake,” warns Kahi Lee, one of the designers on TLC’s “Trading Spaces.”

No matter what type of flooring you end up going with, make sure your contractor has experience working with the material and understands its unique quirks.


See more stories like this: 

Where to Splurge vs. Save When it Comes to Renovating

This Is the First Step When Planning a Renovation

Experts Share Their Top Tips for Budget-Friendly Renovation

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