Are any kitchen remodeling projects on your horizon this year? If you share this kitchen, chances are you will also share some of the decision-making that comes with a renovation.
And believe me, kitchens are a high-stakes game.
I’m halfway through a full renovation of a Victorian house in Beechmont with my best friend and business partner, Mike, as well as four renovations in a possible complete overhaul of a small building we recently purchased in the old Louisville. We probably have more, shall we say, heated discussions about kitchen design than the rest of the spaces combined.
We managed to overcome all of our differences (with concerted effort!), but it got me wondering: what are the best practices for two or more people renovating a kitchen together? This could be married or cohabiting partners, roommates, a multi-generational family situation, or other duos like Mike and I who are unrelated but share conception responsibility.
Luckily, Louisville is home to the perfect person to talk about the subject with. TK Wismer of the Department of Interior is an interior designer who originally went to school for communication and jokes that she is actually an interior mediator.
Does that sound dramatic to you? Then you must never have stood in the aisle of a home improvement store wondering how the hell your co-renovator could possibly like that hideous (for you) tile. And quite simply, renovations are stressful.
They “sometimes stir up feelings that have nothing to do with a renovation,” says Wismer.
Whether it’s between couples, friends, business partners, or family members, “it’s about our communication, our power dynamics, our approach to finances, and all of those things will come out…you think of a home renovation like it’s just ‘OK, we’ll choose the tile and the colors’, but there will be other emotions that will be stirred when you walk into it.
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Right off the bat, I discovered starting this business with my friend that we would quickly learn each other’s triggers, whether it was in the way we interacted with trades people or with each other. A conversation about whether we go for a single bowl white farmhouse sink or a stainless steel double bowl is much less about the material in question, but about how we both feel when our recommendation isn’t. automatically accepted.
So how can you get through a kitchen renovation and keep the relationship afloat? Wismer shares some wisdom.
Have a clear list of responsibilities, tasks for a renovation
In many cases, “one part would say, ‘oh, it’s all up to [the other person], I don’t really have a say,” says Wismer. “But generally you’ll find that people’s opinions start to come out, regardless of the level of participation.”
Also, remember that decision fatigue is real. So while it might sound nice to a control freak like me to say that I’m responsible for making all the decisions, it’s really exhausting to make the final decision on your own.
It can make the decision maker hypersensitive to even a “little criticism as you go through the process”, she added.
“I like to tell people to work independently at first and make a list of your wants,” especially when one personality may be the strongest. “It’s good to get that list of your top priorities and then compare them, see where there’s a crossover, see where you kind of have to negotiate, and balance the different wants.”
Anticipate, especially for the renovation budget
It might seem obvious, but given how hot a topic money is for all of us, having open budget discussions from the start is key, says Wismer. And definitely build a “nice big contingency because there are always things going to happen”.
Also plan the timing, adds Wismer, also knowing that a project that should take weeks could take months (or more!).
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If you live in the house where you work, plan how you will manage the kitchen. And maybe decide if you want to move during part of the peak period, because that’s when anger can flare up, she says.
Treat your renovation like a business
Even though in my case it’s literally a business, because it’s with such a good friend, you can forget to treat him like that. But we should all approach decision-making and communication like any other business, says Wismer.
Schedule a specific time to talk about decisions or problems, she suggests. Otherwise, one person might spill things in conversations here and there while the other might not be in the best headspace to discuss it.
Do your homework ahead of time to be prepared. “And if you can’t reach an agreement,” she says, “schedule the next meeting like you would in a corporate setting.”
Consider hiring a renovation referee
Sometimes you can come to a decision on your own. Mike and I went round after round debating appliances, especially colors. I desperately wanted a matt white Bertazzoni range and he wanted stainless, preferably a cheaper option. I made my case (a few times) and conquered it. But we could not agree on whether or not to have senior cabinets.
So we moved on to what Wismer calls arbitrage by bringing in interior designer Laura McGarity (who helped renovate my home kitchen) to consult.
That’s the role designers sometimes have to play, says Wismer. They “are not there to not completely pander to every whim, because you have more knowledge of what is trending, what is going to be a good decision. So, really, sometimes designers have to step up. …And when you’re at an impasse and you’re wasting time, money, all of those things are affected by how long it takes you to come to an agreement.
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We couldn’t order cabinets until we resolved this issue, so we agreed to accept Laura’s decision. In this case, his call was aligned with Mike’s preference, so I accepted defeat (hopefully, though I probably don’t).
Keep an eye on the price
With so many possible conflicts along the way; and with the stress that comes with decision fatigue, missed deadlines, conflicting subcontractors, bloated budgets, and other disasters large and small, it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing this.
But “it’s never too late to reset,” says Wismer. This may include admitting that you need help and bringing in a designer or a contractor. Or reopen the lines of communication and bring everyone back to the table. “Get everyone back into positive headspace and complete your common goal.”
While renovations have the ability to drive people apart, “they also have a great ability to bring people together,” she says.
Ask yourself the question, she says, “what is our idea of happiness at the end of this?”
And keep that vision in your mind. Maybe “you are sitting together on your new island having a cup of coffee. It’s perfect.”
“There’s nothing more fulfilling than standing in a space you’ve created together,” she says. “You have successfully completed the project. You collaborated. It was a rocky road, but now you are reaping all the benefits of hard work.
Tell it to Dana! Send your restaurant “dish” to Dana McMahan at [email protected] and follow @bourbonbarbarella on Instagram.
This article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal: 5 Kitchen Renovation Tips and Tricks for Home Renovations