How to Survive a Renovation with Your Life Intact

When you decide to embark on a renovation or build project by yourself, you are undoubtedly chomping at the bit to dive headfirst into the millions of decisions that need to be made. 

It is so easy to jump blindly into the thick of your time-sensitive and budget straining renovation or build. Because of the timelines, I don’t blame you!

But before your mind races off into finishes/specifications/defects/electricals etc., I just want to make sure we do this the right way!

How do you achieve this?

Let’s look at the absolutely crucial fundamentals of nailing a renovation before you even begin! This is about starting on the right foot, on the surest and quickest path to your ideal project outcome – that dream home that was designed to perfection, built on time and to budget in a fun adventure that involved minimal stress.

Having managed large portfolios of residential projects in my design firm, as well as renovating projects on the side with my hubby, I’ve had to come up with some foolproof ways that MAKE SURE I get through every successful project with my head on, and my work/life balance intact.

Got a pen handy? Jot my following project life-savers down… or copy and paste them somewhere safe. I’m grouping them in 2 categories: Project tools; Personal care.


Project Tools:

1. A Great Team

Let’s be clear about this right now. The project you’re about to start is a considerable undertaking, and it will take a lot of players working together to get it done. Think about it. After your idea is down on paper, you need to design before you build. Each of these processes will involve liaising with different teams of people doing different types of things to get the job done. Even when you’re designing and overseeing the build, you will need to employ various experts, trades, builders, contractors, joiners, electricians etc. etc. to do what you can’t.

Like with all projects, having a great team is CRUCIAL to ensuring amazing outcomes. It won’t just make your life easy, it will help you ENJOY the process of renovating and building. After all, this project should be fun and not stressful. You want to be able to flex your creative muscles and manage the project rather than run around fixing other people’s mistakes and getting into disputes about who will bear the cost burden of said errors… NAIL THAT A-TEAM! We break down the crucial fundamentals of how to achieve this the smart way in our Project Manager’s Survival Guide.

2. A Watertight Plan

‘A failure to plan is a plan to fail’. Heard this one before? Same applies to interior design, renovation and build projects. When the stakes are so high (we’re talking big budgets, long timeframes, and building your freakin dream house here), you cannot afford to let a lot go wrong.

Build a strong foundation from the start with careful, clear and achievable plans. This will provide you with a good map to navigate through every stage of the design and build process. The best plans can be read by anyone and mean the same as they do to you. In interior design, these are called Design Briefs. Once you complete this, you can pass your plans, mood boards and documentation to your team of suppliers, contractors, trades etc. and all be on the same page. We go through this thoroughly in ODS’s Design & Briefing package.

The important thing is that your plan is realistic and achievable. These are in terms of timeframe, budget and other resources such as your time/your team’s time/the availability to achieve what you need to without external factors impacting.

Once your plans are set, you can determine your process for executing them in a manageable and timely manner.

3. A Program

So once you’ve got your brief, solidified your plans, you’ll most likely have the ball rolling on your renovation and build. The best thing to do here is to create and consolidate programs between you and your builder.

Programs contain start and end dates as well as signaling the major milestones. This is important to map out so that you can loosely track your timings by milestones and review upcoming ones with enough time to ensure they’re good to go. The program will be provided by your builder and will be bound by your contract with them.

Knowing when you will hit certain milestones, and when you will be finished allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel when things get rough. You’ll know that you will be in your new home in x weeks/y days/ z months… so you can count down to that!

4. Regular Communication Rhythms.

Speaking of smooth communication, let’s have a look at how to nail this crucial project management skill!

I don’t need to explain the benefits of strong communication, do I? You’re working with a whole team of suppliers, contractors, trades, builders etc. You’re all on different parts of the project tracking at different timelines on multiple components and trying to work in tandem to make good time. SO MUCH can go wrong when simple miscommunications occur. These cause delays in timeline and most likely impact the budget negatively. Nooooobody wants that!

I avoid these seemingly inevitable miscommunications by setting up very regular communication rhythms with key stakeholders on my projects. Things like locking in regular site meetings and a particular time every Monday or regular debriefs go along way. This is where you can discuss progress, resolve issues, answer queries or raise them. Trust me, this one is a lifesaver! Keeping this up will ensure that you know you’ve been heard, that you’re on track and that everyone is beating to the same rhythm.

5. Enlist Help

You may have chosen to do this yourself, but make sure you have a trusted board of advisors around you to help you troubleshoot or bounce feedback off when needed! Enlist good help that you can TRUST. If I were you, I’d want to ensure that I get the best advice possible whenever I hit a roadblock or have a question that Google can’t answer reassuringly.

The best help is expert help. This includes experienced renovations, builders, architects and interior designers you may know. If these don’t exist in your immediate surroundings, then find some experienced voices you can rely on! Open Design Studio offers the ‘Design Insider’ for ongoing support and help. There you can bounce off our community of designers as well as get real-time feedback from our studio’s team.  That way you can ensure your project stays on track and that you get answers as soon as issues come up!

Personal Care

6. Time Boundaries

Clear boundaries and personal space from your project is a MUST. You’re designing a home from home whenever you can squeeze the time into your day. It would be so easy to fall into the trap of thinking, talking and stressing about it all day.

Your personal time is precious. Designate time for when you must put down the tools and stop talking shop! Your mind will be better returning to the project refreshed than if it were running a continuous dialogue around it! If it helps, allocate non-negotiable hours for personal priorities, to spend with your children, or when to quit talking shop with your partner.

7. Sleep

This sounds obvious, but in deep renovation freak out cram mode, sleep is one thing that is always compromised. Even if you are working 9-5, running after your kids and are renovating your home, you neeeed to carve time for sleep. This goes for any and everyone in the world no matter what they are doing. If you don’t believe me on the importance of sleep, Arianna Huffington has a lot of pearlers to share about this which you can read about here and here. It will change your life and impact your project outcome for the better if you received the rest you need every day.

8. Exercise

The more stressed and busy I am, the more I make time for exercise. Alongside all the wonderful health benefits, I exercise to achieve balance. Energy in/Energy out. If you’re stressed, get that energy out with a good burst of exercise.

Things I like to do include going for a run, walking my dog, a quick pilates class or yoga. Making time for these things is making time for success. Your achievements won’t give you much joy if you don’t have the health, vitality, and clarity of mind to appreciate them.

9. Date Night

Speaking of boundaries and carving time for you, you need to also carve time for your loved ones. Make sure you keep connecting with your spouse on the personal level. It may seem like a strange suggestion, but this is something I’ve been appreciating a lot of late.

When my hubby and I are both working so hard on our separate businesses while renovating on the side together, home time can just be a giant work dialogue until sleep. Remember that all these things you’re doing with your partner is about building a future together – but don’t let that detract from the right here/right now. A weekly date night helps my hubby and reconnect, enjoy and nurture our relationship without letting our projects consume us.

10. Remember Your why

When times are tough, keep focused on your end game. I like writing my big ‘WHY’ down somewhere visible that I can flick my eyes across whenever I’m stressed. What is your build or renovating goal? What is the reason you’ve taken on this exciting project? Write that down. You might need the visual reminder when times get tough! The road is made easier when the destination is very clear.


Ps: Shout out to my two members Sharon and Graciela who both inspired me to share this!