Welcome to Part 2 of our interview with lifestyle blogger, Jamie Robinson. I interviewed Jamie two weeks ago and she shared with us her move to suburbs story from New York’s Upper East Side to Scarsdale, NY (Part 1 interview). Jamie and her husband purchased a 1950’s fixer-upper and spent weekends commuting in from Manhattan to do the home renovation in Scarsdale, NY themselves all while going to law school and planning a wedding. Here is her amazing home renovation story…
Briefly describe your renovation
If I could describe the renovation in one word, it would be overwhelming. But, it was totally worth it in the end when everything came together! Our home hadn’t been touched since the 1950’s so everything was completely dated. I will admit that many times I thought it would never come together, but it eventually did and it helped that the house had “good bones” so we didn’t need to change a bunch of things structurally.
How long did it take to renovate your home?
From demo to move in day the renovation took 9 months. We did not anticipate it taking that long, but there were some hiccups along the way. We were also planning a wedding and getting married during these 9 months and commuting in from the city on the weekends to work on the house so all of those things caused some unexpected delays.
You did a lot of the work yourself, can you tell us more about it?
We did all of the demo ourselves – it was my husband, myself, and my father in law and it was a lot less fun than they make it look on television! We also did all of the tiling for 3 bathrooms and some painting. However, at the very end we needed to move in because our lease was up so we hired a local crew to help with the painting. We also outsourced electrical work and plumbing.
How did you find your contractor? What suggestions do you have in finding a contractor?
While we did the majority of the work ourselves, we had some connections within the community through family for certain contractors in the area for things like electrical and plumbing. My best suggestion is to read reviews and use apps like NextDoor and Angie’s List to find reliable contractors. Speaking to someone in the community who has actually used the person is the best way to find someone reliable…unfortunately, it is fairly common to hear of contractors taking your money and run or just stop mid-way through a renovation without finishing the work. It’s definitely important to do your homework ahead of time- ask around and compare prices. And if something doesn’t seem right, go with your gut, because it probably isn’t!
Do you consider your renovation to have gone smoothly? If not, what happened? Any lessons we can learn from this?
I won’t sugar coat it and say it went smoothly, it was a lot of stress! We did the majority of the renovation ourselves…those home shows make it look a lot easier than it actually is….and it seems like every time we turned around there was another unexpected expense or delay. The demolition alone took weeks to complete and we weren’t even moving any structural components. Like I said before, this house was stuck in the 1950s and there were tile and wallpaper everywhere (even on the ceiling) so projects that looked pretty easy ended up being really time consuming. It’s important when looking for a house to really take a look at all of the little things that will go into the renovation because scraping 5 layers of wallpaper takes longer than taking a sledge hammer to a wall.
You mentioned a few hiccups along the way- can you elaborate on this?
The biggest hiccups had to do with vendors not showing up. And it was very challenging trying to line-up contractors when we couldn’t be in the area during the week since we were both working and going to school in the city. And to make it worse, we were under a time crunch because we had to move out of our apartment when our lease was up. My advice would be to have patience going into the process and also not to be afraid to call any vendors/contractors over and over again if you aren’t getting a response. Especially if its a busy season or they have other work, you will be placed on the back burner unless you are proactive and on-top of everything they are supposed to be doing.
Another hiccup we had was finding unexpected issues during the demolition. For example, we were tearing down a bathroom shower and found out that the entire floor underneath was completely wet and rotted through…that was a scary experience thinking that someone could have just fallen through the shower floor at any point had we not demolished it! It’s definitely necessary to anticipate having some issues along the way and needing to make changes to your budget!
Did you use a designer?
We didn’t hire a designer, but that’s probably because I secretly want to be on HGTV! I found a ton of inspiration from Pinterest and online research. We wanted a “Transitional” style home which is a mix of traditional and contemporary and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of achieving that.
What about sourcing items like tiles, bath fixtures, cabinets, etc. Any tips on where to look to get these at a good price?
We sourced things from all different places – Home Depot, online dealers for things like appliances/fixtures. I found all of our marble countertop vanities and bathroom fixtures on Wayfair and Overstock.com. For our cabinets, we used a cabinet company and then we installed them ourselves. The countertop is caesarstone and that had to be professionally cut and installed. Most of the light fixtures and hardware for the kitchen were sourced from Houzz.com, Wayfair.com and Overstock.com. My best advice is to shop around, especially online. Most of these companies allow returns so if you get something and hate it, you can always send it back. Houzz.com was a great place to start to find ideas and useful that they have links to products. I found my kitchen cabinet pulls from Houzz.com and they were exactly what I wanted at a fraction of the cost of every other hardware store without sacrificing the quality (it was heavy/high quality). It takes extra work on your end but I think it is totally worth it and saved us a ton of money!
What part of the renovation was the most difficult for you?
I would say the most physically and mentally difficult part was definitely the demolition. It was much more than just knocking down old cabinets and walls. The labor is really intense and seems to be never ending. I was also in charge of doing a lot of the wallpaper removal because I obviously couldn’t lift things like my husband could. Honestly, I never want to see wallpaper again in my life! It was mentally draining spending my weekends just scraping it off. And it was never just one layer of wallpaper, there were always multiple layers and many times those had been painted over too! I also think that having patience to wait and see the finished product was another difficult thing about the renovation. It’s easy to get excited early on without realizing how long the whole process takes from start to finish. Sometimes when we weren’t seeing results it was a little defeating. However, in the end we are really happy with how everything turned out. But, the work is still never ending, now we need to work on more decor like the dining chairs, certain rooms, etc…that’s a whole other process in itself!
Any tips/advice you can give to someone doing home renovation?
The one piece of advice I can give is that if you are truly going to take on a fixer-upper and do it primarily on your own, then you really need to mentally prepare yourself for delays and the stress! It can be really defeating when it looks like nothing is coming together and honestly we were ready to walk away several times! Also, don’t try to do things you really just don’t know how to do (electrical, plumbing, etc.). You also need to go into the renovation with an open mind and some idea of your budget, and then your REAL budget. You will definitely have unexpected expenses but you also can get creative and figure out ways to plan for these by giving yourself various options with things like décor, tile and flooring choices, etc. Remember you can always upgrade your light fixture later, but ripping out electrical and walls are a lot more costly if you don’t pay to do it right initially! In the end, it is really awesome to see everything come together and you can truly be proud of everything you’ve done each day that you are in your home. It also makes having a housewarming party even more fun when you can explain exactly what you did to make the house look like it does!
If you were to do it again, what would you do differently?
We would probably hire someone to help more with the demolition and the finishing work. The demo is just really messy and not as fun as it looks and the finishing work is very tedious. Also, I highly recommend that you don’t try to take on a home renovation while planning a wedding!
About Jamie Robinson
Jamie Robinson is the lifestyle blogger behind A Hint of Gold Blog, a dog mom, and a mom-to-be living in Westchester, NY. Originally from Pennsylvania, Jamie moved to New York City and then to the suburbs while finishing her Juris Doctor degree. When she is not blogging, she enjoys exploring life in Westchester with her husband and her French bulldog. She is a foodie and is always on the hunt for the best food around.
@ahintofgoldblog on instagram
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