How to Choose Materials for Kitchen and Bathroom Countertops

We’re excited about this week’s post because we’re discussing building materials for some of our favorite rooms in the house to design: kitchens and baths! This post is going to be a bit more technical than most. We’re really getting into the nitty gritty of selecting counter top materials, including the pros and cons of each. First, let’s talk about tile:

Click to Shop this Tile

When considering what tile to choose for a countertop, you’ll want to think about hardness and thickness. Look for tile that’s a Class 3 hardness rating on the Porcelain Enamel Institute (PEI) scale. Generally, standard countertop tile thickness is 5/16 inch, though sometimes you’ll see quarter inch tile used.

Two Most Popular Tile Types:

  • Ceramic is the most common and least expensive countertop option. Ceramic tile is crafted from pressed clays and finished with a glaze to protect the porous material from water and stains. This can look dated when using 4×4 tiles, op’t for large slab Porcelain tile without seams instead. 
  • The second most popular tile type is porcelain. We love Porcelain! Composed of clays and minerals fired at higher temperatures, porcelain is a more durable surface, but is pricier and more difficult to install than ceramic. You’ll want to make sure you have a great general contractor on the job!

Design Details to Consider When Choosing a Tile Countertop

  • Size. Choose from a variety of sizes: from tiny mosaics up to 48-inch squares.
  • Finish. Smooth-glazed, matte, hand-painted, crackled and printed. Less glossy finishes help mask damage overtime.
  • Grout. Grout can be tinted to match or contrast.
  • Accents. Tiles can be inlayed near the range as an integrated trivet or seamlessly installed up the wall for a matching backsplash.

Solid Surfaces/Quartz Countertops

Solid surfaces and quartz are a popular selection because of their durability and how low-maintenance they are. Engineered quartz countertops are stain, acid, scratch, heat and impact resistant and, because of their non-porous surfaces, quartz doesn’t need to be sealed like natural stone countertops do, and any scratches can be easily sanded out. Made from resin-bound crystals, quartz gives the illusion of its natural counterparts, but without the same demand for upkeep. Quartz is also available in a range of colors and patterns, and ranks close in popularity to the perennial top choice: granite.

Stone Countertops

Granite & Marble

Granite, of course, is a popular choice, but it’s a surefire way to date your kitchen! We hope in  reading this guide, you’ll be open to less popular, but more timeless countertop options. Marble and granite surfaces are popular for their tough-as-rocks durability, but they do need to be resealed regularly to protect them from stains. (Granite, once a year; Marble, every few months)

Soap Stone Countertops 


Highly stain and bacteria resistant, soapstone is a non-porous natural stone that’s available in a range of gray tones with subtle veining. Unlike other natural stones, soapstone doesn’t require yearly sealing but regular applications of mineral oil will mend surface scratches, deepen the stone’s color, and add sheen. 

You’ll recognize soapstone from historic homes’ countertops, but is being used more frequently today in modern homes as countertops and sink materials.

Travertine Countertops

Travertine stone has a pitted surface that needs to be filled and sealed so it doesn’t trap food and bacteria and absorb liquids. This makes it more high maintenance than other countertop surface options. 

Concerete Countertops

Concrete countertops are highly customizable: They can be stained any color and even the texture can be customized. Concrete countertops also mix well with a variety of other finish materials, such as glass, tile. Because of its customizability, concrete counters can be on the pricy end. Concrete is heat and scratch resistant; it captures the heat as the temperature in your home rises and releases it when it cools.

Wood Countertops

For a cottage, woodland look, consider butcher-block style wooded countertops. Popular wood types include maple and oak. In the kitchen, wood countertops are both decorative and functional: they’re great surfaces for meal prep. Wood countertops are also an economical option for your kitchen, and unlike other less-expensive options, wood countertops are heat resistant. That said, wood countertops need to be properly sealed because they’re susceptible to cracking and and warping from water damage.

Stainless Steel Countertops

Modern and easy to clean, stainless steel is a sleek, low-maintenance choice for a modern kitchen. The reason you see stainless steel in industrial kitchens all the time is because they don’t need to be sealed or filled and never require more maintenance than a simple wipe-down, making them one of the most hygienic choices. Stainless steel also pairs well with numerous other styles and materials. Unless you’re opposed to stainless steel aesthetically or because of it’s often-high price point, we really can’t recommend it enough! The only other con is that you can’t cut on it the way you can with wood.

Formica / Laminate Countertops

As the most budget-friendly option, we’re seeing a resurgence of laminate countertops. They’re also increasing in popularity thanks to new patterns resembling natural stone, wood, and quartz for a fraction of the cost. Laminate is popular in retro, mid-century looks homes, but are highly stylized and trendy. They’re fairly low-maintenance and practical, but if chipped or damage, it’s nearly impossible to repair without complete replacement. 

Glass Countertops

Glass countertops are pricey, but are increasingly popular because of it’s sleek modern aesthetic. Glass countertops are easy to keep clean, and its non-porous surface makes it stain-resistant. It’s one of the most hygienic countertop materials. Not just any glass will do, however; for durability, choose glass that’s at least 1 inch thick and tempered.

The Bottom Line on Kitchen Countertops

Tile complements a variety of styles, whether traditional, contemporary or Southwestern. The heat-resistant material is ideal around ranges and cooktops, but its uneven surface isn’t ideal for baking centers.

How to Light Every Room in Your Home

Lighting in Layers

Lighting is decorative, yes, but it’s also a practical necessity in every home. When you’re picking out lighting for your home, you’ll want to think like a designer: think of lighting a room in three layers: The first layer is your general or ambient light, this is the source for most of the light in a room. Secondly, think about the smaller sections, or vignettes in your rooms where you’ll need task lighting. These are spaces where you may find yourself reading, cleaning, cooking, applying makeup, etc. Lastly, think about lighting as decorative accents– these are more architectural light sources that serve as much decorative purpose as plants or art, while still illuminating the space. Read on for more specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home:

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Bathrooms

In lighting your bathroom, it’s best to avoid overhead sconces because they cast shadows on your face making you appear tired, giving you big bags under your eyes. Op’t instead for sconces, which should be wall mounted at the same level as your face, typically that measures 66” from the floor, with one on each side of the mirror. This direct and balanced light on your face which will make you look your best. For an ambient night light, undercounter light strips allow you to see without turning on the lights full blast. This is great for those midnight bathroom breaks.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Kitchen

The kitchen is the heart of the home and needs the most variety of light for cooking, cleaning and just showing off, so you’ll want to use a variety of task and ambient lights. This includes under cabinet (at the counter and floor level, recessed lights, or ceiling mounted fixtures like Chandeliers or Pendants above island). While cooking and cleaning, having overhead and under cabinet lighting will help you see what you’re doing. The under cabinet light strip will add more light to the work surface of the counter.  Without them, sometimes the cabinets cast a shadow on the counter making it difficult to see what you’re doing and you could chop your finger off.  (Trust me, I’ve done that! But it was also after a bloody mary, so…. Perhaps that’s a story for a separate blog post on kitchen safety!)  

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

And when you’re not in the kitchen, keeping the under cabinet LED light strip, inner cabinet with glass doors, and Island lights on dim, allows the kitchen to be the highlight of the home: a star even while it’s in the background. A natural approach is to center the sink between 2 windows for natural light along with installing a can light or pendant directly above the sink so you can see what you’re doing when cleaning dishes.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Dining Room

The dining room is where you are encouraged to bring on the drama! This is a room where you’ll want your lighting on controllable dimers. Beautiful lighting from a chandelier will cast gorgeous light on dinner guests so that everyone looks stunning. Wall sconces, and decorative mirrors will also help to bounce dimmed light around the room.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Living Rooms

Although it’s popular, we’re not a big fan of multiple recessed can lights in rooms, because they can make a ceiling look like swiss cheese.  Again, it’s best to think in layers of lighting.  Floor lamps, table lamps, chandelier, ambient like a reading lamp, directional plant lighting, or art lights. Consider how much natural light sources might come from the windows, candles, or the fireplace as well. And much like in the dining room, chandeliers are great for bouncing light up and off the ceiling rather than casting light directly on someone’s face casting shadows.  

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Bedrooms

Think soft, subtle, and simple in the bedroom: Nightstand lamps or hanging pendants on either side of the bed, a chandelier above the bed. In closets, choose lighting above the rods or inside the cabinetry. Op’t for either a pretty pendant, ceiling mounted fixture, or recessed lighting.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Focal Points, Hallways, and Stairs


In choosing lighting, think like caveman: Light is the source that helped them navigate in the right direction, towards safety. If you have a long hallway, have a light at the end. If you have beautiful art, light it in a way that will highlight its depth of color. If you have stairs, make sure the steps are lit to prevent anyone from accidentally falling.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Landscape

Think of lighting in terms of distance – the house or close to the house, mid range and street level. Don’t forget to light the street numbers so visitors can see your address. Consider uplights on plants and trees, path lights to guide guests from the street to the front door, wall sconces around the perimeter (perhaps, on motion sensor), front door chandelier or sconces on each side of front door.

Read on for specific tips about choosing lighting for every room in your home

Entry

First impressions are everything. Make it big and bold, illuminate the entryway. If you have a tall ceiling with a window above the door, hang a chandelier so it’s completely visible from the exterior.

A Couple Lighting Terms You Should Know:

LED Lighting
Use warm white light, staying away from anything that feels unnatural with a cold blue undertone to it.

Dimmers

Dimmers are great. They save energy and offer flexibility in bright lighting for cleaning and working, or low ambient lighting.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

So you’ve got the keys for your new home–now what? It’s time to get to work renovating your new house, but you don’t know where to begin. Home renovations can be extremely overwhelming, especially to new home buyers. So read on for our top 10 tips to keep in mind when renovating your new place.

  1. Plan Appropriately

Budget, design, and schedule ahead of time. You don’t want to get impatient and dive in head first, or you’ll inevitably find yourself overwhelmed and over-budget! With that said, you do want to be flexible. Various issues often arise throughout the design-build process, which we wrote about in a separate post here.

2. Prioritize

Separate ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ Some home improvement projects are purely for vanity’s sake, which is fine, but don’t prioritize these over those that will improve the function of your space.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

3. Keep a Contingency

Keep a realistic contingency (will vary based on the scope and age of your home) 7%-10%. If you don’t use it, you don’t lose it – buy new furniture or go on vacation from renovating your home.

4. Test for Toxins

Before beginning any home renovation, you’ll want to have your contractor test for lead and asbestos. 

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

5. Think Outside

Don’t forget the outside of your home! Add some curb appeal with some custom landscaping and utilize your outdoor space as a living space. Outdoor kitchens and living rooms are among the most in-demand outdoor renovations. We wrote all about how you can revamp your outdoor space here.

6. Small Facelift Vs. Major Overhaul

It is tempting to want to do everything at once and get a little overzealous in doing so. Realize when something just needs a small facelift instead of a complete redo. Consulting with a designer or general contractor can help you figure this out, which can save you lots of time and money in the long run.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers

7. Take Your Time

Do it right – don’t rush things and cut the wrong corners by doing things like buying cheap materials that won’t stand the test of time. Consult with your general contractor who can help you come up with a realistic timeline for your renovation.

8. Add Value

Consider what is adding value to your home. Adding a pool in your backyard may be tempting, but it’s more likely that kitchen or bath renovation will better increase the value of your home, if renovating is all about getting return on your investment.

10 Home Renovation Tips for New Home Buyers9. Think Long-Term

Part of adding value to a home is making sure it’s built to last! You don’t want to be too trendy – think classic in terms of style and materials, especially if you’re renovation with reselling your home in mind.  

10. Hire a Great Team!

Home renovations can be incredibly stressful when you try to do it all yourself. Leave it to a professional but make sure you’re hiring the perfect contractor for the job. We wrote all about how to vet your general contractor before you hire them in a separate blog post here.

7 Landscaping Tips for a Breathtaking Summer Garden

Ahh…Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home. Rather than treating landscape architecture as an afterthought, you want your landscape to live in harmony with the architecture of the home by creating a nice flow throughout the yard or garden. Because our firm is predominantly working on Southern California residences and commercial spaces, naturally lending themselves to indoor-outdoor lifestyles, Summer landscaping is always on our minds. Read on for 7 ways to think differently about your Summer landscaping:

Shannon Beador Real Housewife of OC Newport Coast Home SoCal Contractor + Lori Dennis

1. How is the Space Being Used?

Just like designing the inside of a home, determining the primary use of the space will help guide all of the design choices. So consider how you are going to use the space. A place for kids to play? Pets that need a secured area to run around? A space for entertainment? A more intimate space? Privacy? Sun vs. Shade?

Shannon Beador Real Housewife of OC Newport Coast Home SoCal Contractor + Lori Dennis

2. Start with a Focal Point

Your focal point(s) which can be anything from a large statue to a small bench or gate. From there, work outwards: consider your walk ways. These paths can be a fun place to play with materials and curves.

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

3. Take Your Time

Don’t rush the process. Rushing through landscaping leads to sloppy mistakes, a hodgepodge look, and dead plants. It is better to divide and conquer and do little bits at a time to create a pulled together look. This will allow you to focus on the intimate spaces and create something you really love that works with the environment.

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

4. Listen to Mother Nature

Consider your environment first and know what mother nature will allow you to do. You don’t want to plant a bunch of beautiful shrubs, only to find out later that they won’t survive the climate. Be sure to do lots of research based upon the environment you live in ahead of time!

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

5. Be Strategic

Strategically place plants to provide shade in some areas of the yard or the house to reduce energy use in the hot summer months, provide privacy from neighbors, and hide ugly things like AC units and deck support systems. Make the most out of what you choose! Consider things that will serve multiple functions (like a tree to provide shade, serve as a backdrop for something, and grows fruit!) Divide the yard up into spaces (in planning and incorporate that into the setup with hedges or pathways) to create more interest and intimacy.

Shannon Beador Real Housewife of OC Newport Coast Home SoCal Contractor + Lori Dennis

6. Add Visual Interest

For smaller houses: consider tall trees to draw your eye up. Plant bolder colored plants closer up and lighter/ pastel colors farther away to give a sense of depth. And play with scale! It adds more interest to the eye. Repeat elements (color, texture, shape, etc) throughout the yard to create cohesion. This can be done with flowers, plants, and non-plant materials such as the materials of the patio or deck. Which reminds us…

Summer Landscaping: everyone appreciates a bucolic landscape when they see one, but it’s often an overlooked aspect when designing a home

7. Don’t Forget About the Non-Plants!

Most people get carried away with plants when they think of landscaping and forget about non plant materials such as decks, patios, pots, etc. These can make a huge impact. Incorporating lighting so you can enjoy your space at night is also incredibly important as well! Do just enough to guide through the yard/garden and keep with the ambiance. Solar power lights to line walk ways are a great way to do this. And string lights add charm to your gathering spaces.

If you’re more of an inside person, maybe an indoor garden is more your speed: Check out our partners at Lori Dennis Inc’s comprehensive guide to Indoor Plants–find out which are the most low-maintenance and the benefits of each here.

Is Your Home Smart Yet? How to Control Your Home with Your iPhone & Other Game-Changing Home Technologies

From our phones to our homes, technology is an intrinsic part of our professional and personal lives, and that’s not stopping anytime soon. Whether its purpose is sustainability, affordability, or simply luxury, these home technology features are in-demand and changing the way live for the better.


Keeping It Cool

Advancements in home and design technology are making it easier than ever to go green. Window shades like the Lutron Smart Shades are controlled wirelessly and are also sensitive to heat and brightness levels indoor and out for the ultimate shade, which helps keep cooling costs down. Similarly the Nest Learn Thermostat automatically adjusts itself with the season and promises to pay for itself by saving homeowners up to 20% in cooling costs.

For convenience, the iHome ISP5 Smartplug or apps like the Apple Homekit enable homeowners to control the temperature of their home from afar. Your home can be adjusted to the perfect, comfortable temperature before you even get home from work! The Lutron Caseta Wireless system works similarly to lower the shades in your home from your phone.

Safe Smart House

It’s now easier than ever to protect your family and home from invasion with alarm systems like the iSmartAlarm, which comes with window sensors, door sensors, motion detectors, and cameras. Users can control the system via an app that also has the option to monitor and control a home’s lighting, thermostat, and smoke detectors. Or First Alert Onelink systems, which includes Wi-Fi enabled smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, a smartwatch, and a smart tracker for personal items like keys, a Wi-Fi safe, and a Wi-Fi programmable thermostat — all compatible with Apple’s HomeKit system and can be controlled via your iPhone.

Nearly everything in your home can be controlled and kept safe by your phone: the Kevo Smart Lock, for example, enables keyless entry to your home, using your iphone as a key. And with the August Lock and Door Bell Camera, see who’s knocking at your door from your iPhone screen.

Smart Kitchens

Refrigerator technology has come a long way, if you can believe it! The LG Mega Capacity French Door Fridge is aesthetically charming and makes food last longer by sensing humidity levels inside. The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator includes a smart screen for busy family schedules and grocery lists and can even take pics of food on the inside so you know what you need at the grocery store.

Smart Bathrooms

Smart shower features like the Moen Smart Shower allow homeowners to control digital elements from the outside of the shower, including preset buttons enabling more than one homeowner to program desired water temperatures for a personalized shower. New digital tub fillers feature hidden speakers that emit sound waves, which envelop and gently resound within the body to calm and soothe, while a heated surface with three heat settings customize the surface temperature  for spa-like relaxation. Talk about taking your bubble bath to the next level!

Smart Garage

The Chamberlain Whisper Drive with wifi capability has a quiet, motor that can pull all garage doors, control the lights in your garage and is the only all-in-one option on the market! The Lyftmaster MYQ Universal Smartphone Wifi garage door opener is an affordable alternative, but includes less features.

HGTV 2017 Smart Home| Photo By: Brian Rozar/Auto Imaging Inc

Smart Laundry Room

Smart laundry washer and dryers like the LG Smart Thinq or the Whirlpool Smart Washers with Six Sense Live, can control loads from afar, let you know when a load is done, and even detect when detergent is running low.

Smart Controls

Need a butler? Smart home systems like the Amazon Echo, the Wink Hub, or the extremely affordable Google Home all come pretty close! Acting as your digital personal assistant or house manager, these systems can do everything from controlling lighting, playing your favorite music, or sync all of your personal devices.

How to Choose the Right Tile for Every Room in Your Home

Choosing the Right Tile

The materials you choose to install in your home are a big factor in both the aesthetic and function of the design of your home. Porcelain, glass, natural stone, marble, ceramic, all have different advantages and disadvantages that come into play based upon budget, location, and how they are used.

Lori Dennis For Tile Bar - Choose the Right Tile
Click to Shop this Tile

Choosing Tile for Bathrooms: Go for the Grip!

When choosing tile for your bathroom and shower floors, an aspect of tile you should take into consideration is its viscosity (how slippery or not the surface is). In areas like the bathroom (especially the shower) use an anti-slip tile or smaller application tile with more grout lines as a safety measure. The shower floor could use even smaller pieces of tile or mosaic where the grout will offer more grip.

Choosing the Right Tile - Aging in Place - Lori Dennis and SoCal Contractor

In one of our Aging in Place / ADA / Accessible Living projects, we used small mosaic tile on the entire bathroom floor that continued seamlessly into the shower without using a curb, (which can be challenging for those who have a hard time lifting their foot or leg.)

Click to Shop this Tile

Choosing Tile for Kitchens: Backsplash and Walls

Backsplash and Bathroom Walls are a great opportunity to have fun and make a statement — Go for color, 3-D texture, rough stone, or antique glass.

Although you’ll still want to be careful about the placement: We had a project where we installed large slabs of antique mirror for a kitchen backsplash. Although the client was careful while cooking, their cleaning crew was not and had banged pots against the wall and broke the glass. We replaced the large glass with smaller bricks of glass and did the same for another project.

Lori Dennis for Tile Bar
Click to Shop this Tile

Choosing Tile for Outdoor Spaces

Something to consider in choosing outdoor tile is its UV resistance. If you’re going for natural stone, a non-polished finish would be a better choice to install around pool deck or a walkway with greater exposure to rain and other elements. Chlorine and salt can do damage to stone tile, so, in general, we recommend trying to avoid this type of tile! Instead of stone, op’t for a porcelain tile.

Glass and glazed porcelain make for awesome pool tile material. Glass is the most popular pool tile, but also the most expensive. If you choose this tiling, be sure to select an iridescent color for the shimmering results! Mosaic tiles are another great idea, as it gives the designers some creative flexibility when it comes to installing the tile.

And don’t forget: When installing tile outdoors and around pools, chemical resistant grout is a must! And to prevent powder staining, you will also want to make sure that your installer is using a grout release.

Click to Shop this Tile

Where Does Tile Come From?

Last, but not least, let’s talk about the tile’s country of origin. You can get the same tile at $2/sqft from China, $8/sqft from Israel or $15/sq. ft. from Italy. Most of the time, country of origin is a good indication of the quality of the stone, (and telling your guests that your powder room walls are “Italian marble” can be so satisfying!)

5 Dreamy Swimming Pools that Will Take Your Breath Away

  1. Customizing a Mediterranean-Style Pool

    In this Medditerranean project, we added elements like the pots at the edge and stone coping, to integrate the pool seamlessly with the rest of the home.

    Generally speaking, the style of the pool should match the architecture of the home. But nowadays, any type of pool can be completely customized to match the style of the home. Although zero-edge and infinity pools are more of a modern design, and standard pool is considered more of a traditional feature. 

  2. Mixing & Matching Styles: An Infinity Pool in an Old World Luxe Home

    An infinity pool is a swimming pool that continuously flows over the edge, giving the impression that it merges into the ocean or other surrounding landscape.These pools are more expensive to construct since they requires a few more elements for this design to work: A trough around the spilling edge to receive the water, pumps to fill the pool so it can overflow. And it must be built accurately so it overflows evenly all over the edge.

    Infinity pools are a beautiful application in the correct environment. Some designers might argue they don’t work well in a traditional home but we think that if executed correctly, an infinity pool could be a stunning feature in any style home, like this one:

  3. Bringing the Beach Home: Wading Area/Beach Feature in the Hollywood Hills

    The wading area is another newer pool feature. Reminiscent of a resort pool, the “beach area” or in the professional lingo, Baja shelf is a great feature for parents with little kids or someone who wants to chill out in the shallow water. In this Hollywood Hills home, we added a baja shelf which emphasizes the house’s modern, indoor-outdoor feel.

    Another cool design in the zero edge design which has the water line come up even with deck surface creating a continuous looking surface. This design requires the same elements of an infinity pool and often times you will see both in the same pool.

     A Traditional Pool in Lake Sherwood

A classic pool with coping that matches the hardscape, makes the pool as an integral part of the backyard. Timeless, blue, water-edge tiles and light color plaster will keep this traditional pool looking fresh and refreshing for decades.

Lighting & Sound in the Pool: Real Housewife of OC Shannon Beador’s Newport Coast Home

Pool lights are in important part of the pool design. A pool is an expensive landscaping feature and should be lit properly to take advantage of the beautiful design (In addition to the safety aspect).

Dive much? underwater speakers are all the rage at parties, sound travels well underwater and it is really cool to dive to your favorite tunes. Sites and sounds will amplify your pool design and make it a showcase in your backyard, day or night!

What Does a General Contractor Do, Exactly? The 8 Steps in the Contractor’s Build Process

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home:

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

1. Securing Permits

The contractor is responsible for pulling the permits and obtaining the Certificate of Occupancy. There has to be a clear plan already in tact before the contractor can even ask for a permit. They have to submit any existing plans and the construction documents where the new plan is designed to obtain a permit. So there is a lot that goes in before this step to make sure the plan is what the buyer wants and then permits are given once a plan review is completed. The contractor will have to submit a permit application, a permit fee, and construction documents. Obtaining a permit can take a day or up to several weeks. Scenarios that you would need a permit: new construction or additions, alterations made to a building, certain types of repairs, etc. Obtaining the Certificate of Occupancy means that all the codes are met and the space is move-in ready.

2. Ordering Building Materials

Choosing materials that are suitable for the use and safe are the top priority, ie flooring used in a bathroom should be the right type for the application- waterproof, slip resistant, and not just “pretty”. The next critical concern is affordability. Does the material selected reflect your budget? For example, you don’t want to run out of money before completing your purchase because you went overboard on the most expensive tile. In our most successful projects there is communication early between the homeowner, the design team, and the contractor to ensure that the materials being selected fit into the budget and the application of the materials is in line with the budget. Don’t be fooled by an inexpensive price per square foot for material if the installation cost per square foot is outside of your budget.

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

3. Demo

This stage is quick, but messy! It’s exciting because this is the first thing you can actually see happening. Up to this point, everything else has been happening behind the scenes. The demolition process is noisy, so make sure any surrounding neighbors are made aware ahead of time! This part of the process, however crazy, is not mindless: there are extensive plans that have to be drawn up for this part of the process too. You won’t want to try to go at it alone and DIY. Though it seems straightforward and cost-effective, it’s more complex than you may think. It takes an experienced team to know what to keep and what to throw out.

In a remodel, you want to be extra cautious about what needs to be demolished. Communicate this clearly to the designer and builder, and have a clear system set up with duct tape or spray paint that directs the builders.

Let’s break this section down even further in steps: 1) Building and structural surveying (so the team knows what they’re dealing with); 2) Removal of hazardous materials (such as asbestos). This has to be done by a specialized team prior to completing demolition. 3) Make demolition plans which include: structural support systems, methods to be used, sequence, location,etc. 4) Finally, demolition!

If you are still going to utilize an existing space rather than building from scratch: be aware that you may discover skeletons hiding in the closet that you’ll find during this phase which could lead to cost increases. It is also a good time to sort out all of the problems your property may have accumulated over the years and do it right this time. Listen to the contractor who is tell you to “consider this…” because s/he probably knows what they are talking about.

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

4. Rough Construction

This is the phase where frames of walls, the electrical conduit, plumbing pipes, and ductwork are put into the house. Nothing is necessarily hooked up yet. During rough construction, you’ll begin to see rooms start to form and how they relate to each other. The frames of doors, windows, and floors are done usually with exterior siding in place. Frame inspections are necessary to check out the frame from inside the structure and the building materials. Separate inspections are made for electrical, plumbing, and mechanical; however, they can happen at the same time (preferable). There’s typically a rough-in inspection during this phase and then a final inspection once they’re all hooked up. The designer will probably be present here and there throughout this phase to make sure everything is lining up as planned and to approve. This is also a good time for and red flags to be raised from the client or designer. Fix whatever it is now before you get further in the process where it will cost more time and money. What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

5. Installing Finish Materials

Getting closer! Finish materials will be picked out by the designer and approved by you. This phase is not just about aesthetics, there are codes that have to be complied with as well. Most codes are concerned with commercial spaces when it comes to this phase, but there are still some that are relevant for residential. This designer will worry about all of that though. During this phase, there should be someone checking in to make sure there were not any miscommunications/mistakes in the ordering process, and that everything is being installed properly. Things that were considered in the design process (like the installation patterns of things like tile) are being implemented. During this process, you’ll begin to see the layout coming together.

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

During this phase, you want to think about practicality: Think about grout, for example: White grout gets superrrrrr dirty, or do you need to choose a trim? (solid slab is the only time where you wouldn’t need a trim)

During this phase, designers and contractors monitor installation techniques, tile especially. You want an experienced team to lay down tile or else it will be bumpy and uneven. Make sure that no one get’s lazy on things like starting in the middle of the room so the flooring is centered.

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

6. Punch List

You don’t have to worry much about the punch list — this is for the designer to make and worry about, but it’s good to know about as the punch list is an imperative part of the process. A punch list is important because it is a compilation of smaller details that may be overlooked without the help of a seasoned professional. As is life, nothing will ever be 100% perfect on install day, so the punch list is made to ensure anything that needs to be refined will be. It’s a great system for managing expectations. It defines all items that need to be addressed before final occupancy. An actual punch list will need to be created so that all of the different people working on your home with you have a clear vision of what is left to do. It is exciting that everything is coming to a completion, but still take special note during this phase on things like trims that don’t match up, a door that might not close properly, or missing hardware. Then, it is the subcontractors job to actually get the things on the list done. This is the meticulous final task to delivering a successful project.

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

7. Payment

It’s likely that your contractor will document a payment schedule in the contract. Review it and make sure that you are comfortable with the terms and are able to secure financing or have funds available. Not paying on time can and usually does result in slowing down your project. If trades and sub-contractors are not paid, they will leave your job and work on other projects.

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

8. Lien

Liens are issued if you don’t pay the people who did the work in a timely manner. This is their way of getting you to pay what you owe. If a subcontractor isn’t paid, they file a claim. Think of the lien as a kind of the warning phase before a lawsuit. With a lien, you also cannot sell your property without a clear title (this would be a reason your title wouldn’t be clear).

What will happen if there is a change in the scope of work?

When the scope changes the process starts with what is called a “change order.” Change orders are a reality throughout projects because it’s likely you’ll change your mind about

what you want, add things or the project or financing takes a turn. Have a very clear clause in your contract about how the contractor will record, handle and bill for the change orders.

What happens if the construction goes past the stated finish date?

Construction is a business with many moving factors and unfortunately, this happens more often than not. There should be very specific parameters in the contract about a completion date and the rewards for hitting that target. It’s important to keep in mind that there are factors that are totally outside of the contractor’s control. It’s important that your contractor stays in communication with you about any unexpected delays or issues so you can work together on a realistic adjusted completion date. It is frustrating to wait, but much better to do it right the first time, as opposed to rushing and receiving an inferior project.

What does a contractor do, exactly? From designing to securing permits, ordering building materials, and demolishing to the earliest construction stages and installation of finish materials, we’re always educating our clients on what the design/build process is actually like. We’re demystifying the design/build process so you know what to expect before you start working with a contractor on your home renovation. Once the design plans are in place, these are the steps that need to be taken before the contractor can begin building your new home

When It’s All Over

Much like a traditional fairy tale, you never see after happily ever after on design shows– they always end with the room reveal and neglect to show you the clean up and process for once a job is complete. So you’ll want to ask…

What is the procedure for waste? Does your contractor take the waste to a dump?

Agree before you begin on what the disposal process will be and who is responsible for the costs.

Are you interested in recycling or donating some items?

While we always advocate for recycling materials, it is generally a more expensive process that just throwing away old materials and appliances.

What kind of documentation will I receive when the project is done?

When a project is completed, a certificate of occupation will generally be granted. When payment in full is made, you receive a lien release. A lien release is issued when a customer has paid a contractor (and his sub contractors) in full. The contractor can no longer place a lien on the property for work performed and not paid for. You may want an operation manual for the home’s systems and technology and a well marked electrical panel. You should agree with your contractor on what will be provided and add it to the contract prior to beginning the job.