Take these steps to ensure that your project runs smoothly and you get the most for your money
Renovating a stand-alone house and renovating a condo unit can produce similar-looking results, but the processes can be very different. Each renovation of a condominium space comes with its own limitations, possibilities, and strategies, all of which you should consider before beginning a project — even before purchasing a space. To make sure you aren’t hit with any unpleasant surprises, here are some things to consider before diving into your condo design project.
1. Know the rules.
The first thing to understand before planning a condo renovation is the relevant policies of your condo board. Your board may or may not have policies that affect cosmetic decisions or material selections, but most likely it will have policies about what days and times renovations can take place, when materials may be brought into the building, which elevator can be used and so on.
Not checking on these logistical details in advance can cause massive headaches later when trying to schedule deliveries or tradespeople. Your board may require a permit or approval to begin any form of work.
Policies such as these are in place to keep your neighbors happy, so overall they are a positive thing. However, they can slow down a renovation process, so you should give yourself a long timeline. Discuss a projected timeline with a knowledgeable board member and your designer or contractor, and then add at least two months to the timeline so your expectations stay realistic.
2. Know who you’re renovating for.
Once you know what your board will and will not allow, you have to figure out who you’re designing for.
By this, I mean whether you are renovating the space to add to resale or rental value, or to add to your personal enjoyment of your home. In some cases it is possible to achieve both. But realistically, a renovation usually will lean more toward one or the other, with different approaches for both, so it’s important to decide which should take priority and be honest with yourself about that choice.
When designing for yourself, you should still consider how long you will be in the space and prioritize work based on this estimated timeline. For example, if you expect to be in a space less than five years, you may want to focus on adding pieces you can take with you, such as plug-in sconces and upgraded furniture, rather than replacing fixed materials such as tile.
When renovating for resale, you usually get the best return on investment by focusing on a few key areas and skimping on the pretty but unnecessary details.
Kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, flooring, tiling, door hardware, and cleaned-up walls are all usually smart investments.
3. Know your limits.
Many of the points in this article may seem to be about things you can’t do, but it’s important to know your project limitations before you fall in love with an idea that you won’t be able to turn into reality.
Tight condo spaces sometimes include odd-angled walls or intrusive columns, but that’s often because they cannot be moved structurally. It’s important to know which walls and other elements can be removed or opened and which ones cannot, so bringing in an expert to consult early is wise.
4. Move the eye, not your fixtures.
Usually, bathroom fixtures cannot be moved any significant distance — at least not without a massive expense — which means you’re going to have to leave that toilet where it is, and you may not be able to add that second sink.
What you can do, however, is restructure how the eye sees the space. By choosing some finishes to blend away and others to stand out, you can make the eye focus on the most beautiful elements.
Try copying this formula: Install a glass shower panel or minimalist shower curtain, all-white fixtures, and pale white or off-white tile. Then use a bold or rich vanity in a quality finish to act as the statement piece that defines the room. Alternatively, use a plain white vanity and a stunning accent tile — it all depends where you want the eye to be drawn.
5. Lower your lighting.
Speaking of moving fixtures and walls, you should keep in mind that many condos have cement ceilings, which means you won’t be able to drill into them much either.
You will notice that many of the spaces featured in this article have dropped ceiling panels over the kitchen to allow for new overhead elements to be installed. This can be helpful when looking to add new lighting (especially recessed pot lights) or make any other ceiling-related changes such as rerouting your ventilation or using a new hood fan.
Depending on the fixtures you want to add, this can require a 6- to 12-inch drop. It’ll be a noticeable change in ceiling height but only in a small area and usually not so much that you’ll be hitting your head.
6. Build up instead of tearing down.
Richly detailed moldings are popular for traditional houses, but condo projects often include them as well to give a home in the sky the same richness and traditional elegance as classic earthbound abodes. However, getting this look isn’t as simple as just tearing down the old, plain molding; the door frames that your condo unit comes with are probably metal and not easy to simply remove.
Rather than attempting to replace your door frames, you can look to build them up by adding a “backband,” or a molding meant to layer over an existing frame. This results in deep moldings, which deliver a definite feeling of grandeur. You may not want to stop at just the door frames once you see the effect.
7. Stay flexible.
I find that clients often come into renovation projects with a lot of decisions already made about what they do and do not want, not just in a more general sense, but sometimes in very specific ways.
For example, clients often want a large fridge, or a king-sized bed, or a double sink. However, being flexible on some of these details is smart: When you see what you can get if you’re willing to make a trade-off, you may realize some of those priorities aren’t must-haves after all.
For example, being willing to use a smaller fridge can free up a lot of space for storage that you can then use for all sorts of luxuries you may not have thought of.
8. Don’t be afraid to paint.
You may hate a dramatically dark paint job. Or you may love it but worry what the next owner would think. Ultimately, the risk of choosing an unusual paint color is overrated. While painting a whole room (with several coats) may seem like a big hassle to undo a dramatic paint hue, it’s a fairly small part of the budget for an entire renovation.
When you eventually resell, you should assume that you’ll repaint at the time to update to a fresh coat in a trendy shade. In the meantime, painting the walls in hues you love will give a lot of life to the space at a relatively lower price than many other potential upgrades.
9. Work with a third party.
When working within the rules of a more strict condo association, it can benefit you even more than usual to work with a designer or tradesperson. These pros can go beyond just the essential contractor duties and help coordinate the many deliveries. That way, the arrival of furniture and materials is streamlined to fewer individual trips, with materials arriving only when needed.
This will avoid the inconvenience of needing to book the elevator dozens of times and having materials stacked up inside or outside the unit for a long time before they are used.
For example, at my design firm, we usually try to have furniture pieces collected by a single delivery company rather than using the delivery services of each individual store and supplier. This way, they all arrive at once and are moved into the unit by movers we have worked with before. It avoids a lot of dings in walls and unexpected delays, which in turn leads to a smoother project overall.
10. Stay somewhere else.
If at all possible, complete a condo renovation while you do not live in the space. Either do the work before you move in or find a temporary residence for a week or so during the most intense part of the construction, such as when you won’t have a bathroom or kitchen for a few days.
Staying with friends, family or even at a hotel for a few days can turn your mid-renovation nightmare into a fun trip or staycation. You’ll experience much less stress, and you’ll enjoy the process more without having to see the ugly, messy in-between phases of construction when clients most often freak out.
Some condo buildings even have guest suites that you can stay in for a few days so you aren’t far from home. You may not even have to pack.