Here are 3 tips for a smooth apartment renovation if you're buying materials yourself

By Nathan Tempey  | March 6, 2018 - 9:00AM

Choices that seem easy from afar get tougher once you're in the store with a budget and a deadline looming.


Renovating your apartment is a process fraught with potential complications, and way more so if you insert yourself into any part normally handled by a professional. In the course of recording our recent Brick Underground Podcast episode about renovation, we heard that guest Emily Gilbert, an architectural photographer, saved money and realized some of her aesthetic visions when redoing her Windsor Terrace apartment by buying her own paint and bathroom tile, among other things, but that this created a whole new set of headaches. Over the course of the episode, Gilbert and our other guest, Jean Brownhill, founder and CEO of Sweeten, a service that helps connect apartment owners to contractors (and a Brick sponsor), shared some tips for keeping snafus to a minimum should you choose to go this route.

Here are three that we thought were especially useful.

1) Know that you may be saving money, but you're taking on stress

Buying bathroom tiles yourself can be a way to save money, particularly if you know a guy who knows a place, but be clear-eyed when you take on this task, and understand that it's not going to make your life any easier.

"One of the things that folks sometimes forget is that you did save a bunch of money by taking on the responsibilities of the general contractor, but you don't do that for a living, and if you had paid more, you wouldn't have taken on that stress," Brownhill says. "It is a super stressful job. Especially when it's your own and you're like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to have to live here for the rest of my life...' When you're in the tile store, it feels like, 'How is this going to represent my personality?' 'Is this what I thought I would live like when I was little?' 'What are my friends going to say when they come over?' All this stuff keeps coming up."

Maybe you enjoy this sort of trial by tile, or there's no way there's any more money to put toward the renovation, and no way to scale it down. But it's worth a sober look at the options before you head for that Zipcar to southern Brooklyn.

2) Make sure you have all the materials at the apartment before work starts

"For those folks who want to do a lot of the designing themselves and a lot of the material selection, I think that's so fabulous," Brownhill says. "The thing is that you should really get it all ordered and at your job site before you have even one person walk in. It will save you so much stress."

"I agree with that 200 percent, because I ran into that," Gilbert says. "We would be ready to do something, and then something would go wrong, and [the contractor] would be like, 'Okay, we're going to go work on this. Where's that light?' And I was like, 'Wait, I haven't found that light yet...' And it held up the project."

3) Keep track of names and numbers (of people and supplies)

Gilbert says it was helpful for her to keep a binder with every name, phone number, and receipt that she accumulated in the course of buying materials and reaching out to contractors. This way, she had a go-to resource for making new orders, returning things, or following up with questions.

It's also a good idea to think of what you might need in the future, when all the paint has dried.

"I also wish I had made a binder for the future, with lists of what rooms are painted what color, and what tiles went in what room, and where I got everything," Gilbert says. "Now in our basement storage we have 12 different containers of paint, all different shades of gray, because I like gray, and I'm like, 'Which room was this in? Which room was this in?' And I wish I had that second binder."

For more tips and real-life examples, the full Renovation Episode is here:



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