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10 Design Tips Learned From the Worst Advice Ever

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Bad advice is like a stomach flu in a small home. Sooner or later, everyone gets it. But when it comes to bad home design advice, unfortunately it’s not just a 48-hour ordeal — it can drag through a lifetime. 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard not to listen to your best friend, mother or uncle telling you what’s best for you and your home. Sometimes, though, you just have to take that advice in stride, kindly say, “Thank you” and then go with your gut. 

We asked Houzzers what was the worst home advice they’d ever been given and, ironically, a lot of great advice got unearthed. The most important takeaway? “Whatever the worst advice we’ve been given, kudos to all who said no.” 

1. Learn two valuable words: “Um, no.” When someone suggests something to you, you might find that what you really mean to respond gets buried in formality and politeness. “Well, that’s a good suggestion. I see your point; I guess I could consider painting my fireplace, but let’s hold off on that for a little bit …” 

Sometimes what you really need to say is flat-out, “Um, no. I don’t want that.” 

When a house inspector suggested to badlelly, “Sure, the parquet floors are in great condition, but if I were you, I’d replace them all with some nice laminate,” the response was simple: “Uh, no.”

Suedee spoke a couple of choice words when a builder’s consultant said there was no need to add insulation to the interior walls for sound absorption, even for the wall between the main bathroom and the family room: “Um, awkward.”

 

2. You definitely don’t have to listen to loved ones. Just like you have to find the strength to be curt, mastering the art of rejecting advice from the people you care about is key. Watch how it’s done. 

“Hi, Mom! Good to hear from you. What’s that? I should install blue carpet like we had in our kids’ rooms growing up? Ha! That’s a great idea. We could pretend it’s shark-filled water in the living room when guests are over. I’ll keep that in mind. Anyway, I’ve got to go. Thanks for the suggestion. Love you! Bye.” 

See how easy that is? The last thing you want is to be stuck with something you hate just because you wanted to please somebody else. 

Take it from marthafish: “When house shopping, most of the houses I liked were near busy roads. The Realtor and my husband convinced me that I would get used to it and it wouldn’t bother me. And according to the Realtor, I wouldn’t hear it inside my house. Wrong! It drives me crazy. I can’t sit outside. New windows are on my list of home improvements.”

I’m sure indianpatti’s mom had the best intention when she phoned up to “express her extreme dislike for the drapes in my home. ‘Y
ou should get the European lace curtains like I have.’ OMG! Our home is modern. Lacy curtains? LOL!” writes indianpatti.

Jdingles learned the hard way. “Back in the ’80s, I had a gorgeous red velvet high-back chair. My friend said she hated it and that I should give it away. I did. Months later my chair was on the cover of an interior design magazine. The new owner described it exactly as mine and got it from my local goodwill for $10! She designed her entire room around the chair — just as I had imagined.”
 

3. In fact, you don’t have to listen to anybody at all. There will always be people around who want to offer their two cents. By all means listen and take the idea into consideration, but don’t be afraid to employ the “Um, no” strategy (see point No. 1). 

“An investor friend told us not to buy the home we were considering,” says LB Interiors.” It needed work, and most people could not see beyond what was not there. I saw its potential. We were young and were starting out with our first home. Wrong advice, as we live in one of the best areas and, with being artsy and creative, have made many worthy changes over the years. It was a great decision.”

A Realtor told jae_57 to list the house “at $40,000 less than what we wanted because the 180-degree view of the Sierra Nevada mountains wasn’t that big a deal. We didn’t do it. Sold in a matter of weeks for above asking.” 

4. Pssst: You don’t have to like granite. No, really. You don’t. I swear. Do your own research on materials. You might find that quartz or butcher block (shown here) works best for your living needs. 

“I was told I must get granite counters,” says Darzy. “No, I don’t. I love the uniformity and no maintenance of quartz.”

Closet Classics of Andover says the worst advice received was to “get black granite countertops. They are so hard to keep up with and keep looking clean. Even the slightest fingerprint or smudge shows up. I wouldn’t do it again.”

Spurfnickety also deflected the peer pressure about granite countertops and was happy to do so. “I have always loved soapstone. We installed soapstone and after seven years have absolutely no regrets.”

 

 

 

5. Newer isn’t always better. There will always be someone tempting you to rip up, pull out and replace with something newer and shinier. Trends come and go, but the past always has great character. Look at what you have, how it’s aged and how it has held up. You might find that what you have is the best you can get. 

Bungalowmo knows this firsthand. “Worst advice: ‘You should rip out those old drafty windows and put in vinyl.’ Anyone who knows me knows what I did with that advice. And yes, I jiggled the handle afterwards.”

 

6. Don’t take the first no as your answer. There may be times when you’re told what you’re asking for just isn’t possible. But you might just have a contractor who doesn’t know how to do what you want, and instead of admitting this, will try to steer you in a different direction. In this day and age, almost anything can be done with the right professional and for the right price. 

Luciana stuck with her dream and ended up with the kitchen she wanted (shown here). “The kitchen seller told me I couldn’t have a grand-piano shape for the island because most people like straight lines,” Luciana writes. “I couldn’t understand why he kept on refusing to even show me how it would look. I realized he actually didn’t know how to use his software to draw free lines. He only knew how to design a kitchen using the standard cabinets/appliances featured by his computer program. Luckily for us, a more computer-savvy colleague of his heard me insisting, realized the problem and showed him what to do.” 

7. Never, ever let anyone touch that. Whether it’s a great view, an old floor with character or an architectural wonder, don’t let anyone talk you into taking away what you love most about your home. 

ASVInteriors’ home has gorgeous views of a lake and mountains, but an architect suggested covering them up. “We detailed our plans carefully. He returned proudly with a plan that would have put up 2-meter by 3-meter glass panels in green, white and blue all around the sides and front of the house to effectively pen us in. That went nowhere,” ASVInteriors writes.

Take it from S. Thomas Kutch, too: “The worst advice ever was a kitchen remodel in a beautiful Craftsman-style cottage. The owners had contracted me to design and manage the construction. The finish carpenter they had brought on wanted to distress all the clear fir Craftsman woodwork in the house with a blowtorch to give it more ‘character.’ Hey, I was kind. I made sure he only hit his head once on the granite front steps as he tumbled down them.” 

8. Guess what? You may be able to leave that tree just where it is. Why do people hate trees so much? Linda was told hers was too close to the foundation. “The tree was probably a hundred years old when the house was built, and that was 83 years ago,” she writes. “I am not about to cut down a healthy tree just because it has huge leaves that have to be raked. Not to mention the thousands of dollars needed to remove the tree and the thousands to add central A/C to replace the value of a permanently shaded roof.”

Donnamay53’s husband insisted they remove the Japanese maple tree in the back because it was blocking the view to the backyard. She convinced him otherwise, and last year a family of birds moved in and nested there for a few weeks (shown). “Are we glad we kept the tree?” she says. “You bet!”

Fondag wasn’t so fortunate. “I was told to sprinkle weed blast around the edge of our new fence. The very next day, the leaves began to fall off our beautiful silver maple tree, and within a week it was dead,” Fondag writes. “I was just sick. And by the way, it didn’t kill the weeds.” 

9. Don’t you dare skimp on paint. It’s no secret that a fresh coat of paint is a rather inexpensive way to make a space look great. That’s why it’s not wise to skimp on it. 

Just ask Erin. A paint store employee convinced her to go with a cheaper paint. “Terrible advice!” she says. “The paint was horrible, and I was stuck with it because I already started using it. Never get cheap paint! Never!” 

10. Don’t think bigger is always better. You might think more space will solve all your clutter problems, but you might find that you’ll just fill more room with more junk. You might want to reconsider your lifestyle before you jump at the chance to upsize. 

For example, Amber was told she could never have enough bedrooms. If a three-bedroom house is good, then four, five or six must be amazing, right? “Yeah, I have used the extra rooms as guest rooms, sewing rooms, even a train room, but they end up as junk rooms!” she exclaims. “That extra box spring or old mattress? Broken chair that I should have thrown away? The boxes or art I am not currently using? They all go into those useless rooms that I pay to heat and cool. Now I’m moving into a three-bedroom. It’s just what we need, but I have a lot of junk to get rid of.”

6 Reasons to Hire a Home Design Professional

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Who hasn’t heard that regular trips to the dentist can prevent the spread of tooth decay? Even though sitting in that chair isn’t the most enjoyable way to spend time, most of us know that a dentist has the knowledge and expertise to check all aspects of our oral health. Similarly, residential designers (architects, interior designers and others) bring a wealth of knowledge and skills to make sure all aspects of remodeling and custom home projects go as smoothly as possible. 

Talk with almost anyone who’s ever tried to do a construction project without pro help, and you’ll likely hear one statement over and over again: “I wished I had hired a designer.” Even in smaller projects, like a one-room remodel, once you open up those walls, situations arise for which only an experienced professional can apply his or her creative problem solving to save time and money. 

Here’s why it’s worth it to hire a designer. 

1. You’ll save time. You may not know how structural choices can impact the installation of the mechanical system. Or about options for new materials or technologies that might be cheaper, better or more appropriate than what you are familiar with. Figuring those things out takes time, and lots of it. A skilled professional will have this information at the ready for you. 

Plus, with advances in technology, new building envelope techniques are coming on the market with increasing frequency, and new, tougher energy-efficiency requirements are transforming how walls are constructed and bringing an end to many traditional building practices. So it’s more crucial than ever to have someone on your team who understands how your building assembly meets current building code requirements. 

These codes are typically complex texts that are difficult for those outside the building industry to understand. When designers submit drawings to the building authority, a plans examiner reviews them and issues a revision notice to address any variances from the current codes and construction standards. 

A well-informed designer with up-to-date knowledge of building science can get building projects through with the minimum number of revisions. Since each revision takes time to be completed, having fewer revisions will allow you to get your permit faster. Low-quality or incomplete documents can delay your construction. Hiring a designer will help ensure that your project meets relevant codes so it can progress smoothly through your municipality’s process.

This could save you many sleepless nights and potentially weeks on your project trying to determine what is needed to satisfy the code requirements. 

2. You’ll get their expertise and understanding of the overall construction process. The basic function of a designer is interpreting your needs and coming up with a professional plan for any building project. Although you may hire him or her only for this task, the designer will also provide a wide variety of other resources to make sure the whole building process goes off without a hitch. 

Depending on your needs and budget, a designer can guide you through the relevant building application process, research planning legislation, assist in the hiring of surveyors and general contractors, recommend subcontractors and manage the construction phase of a project on your behalf to ensure that building plans are accurately followed.

Trying to do this yourself would mean hours and hours of research and potential delays. 

There are many types of designers working in the home building industry. Some are licensed professionals; others are builders who have expanded their services into design as well as construction of custom homes and home renovations. 

Design-builders and unlicensed designers make up a large contingent of the individuals working in the procurement of custom homes and renovations. They tend to be cost effective and can be the right fit for your project, so long as you find a reputable person to work with. 

Architects are generally more expensive to hire but bring to a project a broader set of skills 
and talent that can result in both an exceptional project and an exceptional experience. This 
results from the additional work an architect puts into coordinating everyone involved in your project, as well as the unique skills and knowledge related to current technology, materials and construction processes. 

That said, not every project requires an architect, and not every design-builder can deliver on your vision. The rule of thumb is that the more unique and challenging the project is, the better suited an architect is for it. 

3. They speak the language. Because so much information on your project is communicated using two-dimensional drawings, there are many conventions on how planssections and elevations are interpreted. Your project revolves around translating the 2-D drawing to 3-D construction using wood studs, insulation and other materials. 

There can be misinterpretations of these drawings, which gives rise to confusion about how building elements go together. Especially if the drawings show something that the contractor might not be familiar with. Or if the contractor is busy and hasn’t had the time to really look at certain parts of the drawings, critical elements of the details can be overlooked. A designer knows how to stay on top of this.

On a recent project a client who was supervising his own construction project found the contractors hadn’t correctly followed the detail drawings. They had inadvertently switched the location of the vapor barrier from the warm side of the building envelope to the cold side, where the wall meets the floor. Doesn’t sound like much, but most problems with mold and rot in building are cause by prolonged periods of condensation occurring within the wall and floor assembly. 

Over time the presence of moisture will give rise to the mold’s bacteria and fungus, which lead to rot and structural failure. The only way to fix this was to rip out several courses of brick all around the house, costing the client almost $10,000.

Having someone onboard who speaks the language can prevent these costly missteps. 

4. They’ll be your advocate. If you’re having problems with contractors on your project, it might be tough for you to verify that they are properly carrying out the intent of the drawings, or even which contractor is actually responsible for the issue. 

It can be hard to know where the responsibility for one contractor ends and the other begins. Time and again we’ve seen things get overlooked or improperly constructed early in the process, which affects contractors later in the job. And if that earlier contractor has left to another job, it’s oftentimes difficult to get the person back onsite to fix those mistakes. Plus, it’s costly for new contractors to fix another’s mistakes. 

We had one client who didn’t elect to procure our construction management services. He had to bring in a second team of drywall contractors near the end of the project to fix the poor job done by the initial subcontractors, who wouldn’t come back to fix areas that weren’t up to standard. It cost the client an additional $3,500 out of his pocket to fix the mistakes that weren’t caught earlier.

Substandard drywalling can cause a whole host of problems at the finishing stage, not the least of which is uneven tile, because the tile contractors can’t get a straight line to adhere tile. Problems that may not be very apparent when looking at a whole wall of drywall under construction lighting are magnified when the tile is on and the pot lights are showing areas where the tile doesn’t meet properly or is uneven.

Contract administration can be accessed on a fixed fee or an hourly basis. Expect to budget 3½ to 4½ percent of your construction cost to this for a typical project. 

5. You’ll get their design sense and attention to detail. A designer translates your needs to functional spaces but also makes them beautiful. Good designers are consummate three-dimensional thinkers and can use their abilities to find special opportunities in a design that might not easily be understood in two-dimensional drawings. Additionally, they are always keeping up-to-date on trends in local and international design. 

If you want a space that has lasting appeal and adds to the value of your investment, you need to hire a designer. Designers have the skills to include the features that will maximize your house, while making sure your project runs smoothly. 

Not all architectural details are reflected in drawings. Architects can also specify plumbing fixtures, expected quality levels, finishes, electrical fixtures and other related information that’s communicated in drawings or in specifications written for the contractors working on the project. If the architect does not prepare written specifications, then you could be faced with change orders, which can slow down the process. 

Change orders are instructions to the contractor to make an onsite change from what’s specified in the contract documents. It can simplify construction based on site conditions, but it also can add costs when it requires redoing part of the construction due to oversights. 

6. You’ll get access to other skilled pros. Being in the design business means meeting lots of other pros who also work on residential projects. From structural engineers to painters, your designer probably has quite the network of skilled contractors who can get the job done within the given budget. 

And, again, the point here is that the additional cost for a quality design team can mean savings in the long run. I think one of the contractors we are working with said it best with a quote at the bottom of the company letterhead, which reads, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”