How to Survive a Home Makeover

Ladder and supplies in a room ready to be repainted

Just thinking about all the possible things that could go wrong with a home makeover can make you sick with anxiety. Fear not, follow my three survival tips: be prepared, be patient, and, if necessary, be willing to pivot.

Preparation is key.  Determine your needs and budget (including a 10-20% contingency reserve). Hire a top-rated contractor and purchase quality supplies. Get your home ready; for example, during a kitchen makeover, you’ll need to pack up your belongings and set up a mini kitchen in your dining room or garage – or maybe you need to move out altogether or go on vacation during the renovation. Expect dirt and dust and be prepared to clean nightly.

Get everything in order, then wait. Supply chains are still backed up; kitchen cabinets take 4-6 weeks for delivery while windows require six months these days. Once things get going, other setbacks may pop up. Take a deep breath and be patient.

Perhaps most importantly, be ready to pivot, if necessary.  If your floor tiles are back ordered, skip the stress and choose another pattern. If a tear down reveals extensive termite damage or mold, the cost to repair the issue may mean you buy less expensive light fixtures or eliminate the crown molding you wanted.

Let me share a recent experience with you.  A client ordered $4500 worth of kitchen cabinets and countertops from one of the big box stores to upgrade her home office.  She patiently waited the six weeks for delivery, then the store’s contractor had seven days to call to set up the installation date, yet he never called. After three weeks, I then told the store manager that the contractor had three more days to call or we were cancelling the order.  At this time, the manager mentioned the name of the contractor for the first time and said the chain only had one installer for the entire eastern half of Massachusetts – one installer for kitchen cabinets, replacement doors, whatever you needed.  I left the store and I researched this company at the Better Business Bureau only to find they had only one star (out of five) with comments saying clients would have rated less but the system wouldn’t allow zero!  OK, time to cancel and pivot. 

We started over and headed to Cape Cod Lumber with our plans.  Before placing the final order, we asked about installers, and they gave us the names of three they recommended.  Since I had previously worked with one of them in my own home, I was confident that we were getting a quality tradesman.  So, we placed the order and gave the contractor a heads up that we’d need him in four weeks when the cabinets came in. In the end, the cabinets are beautiful, were installed in one day, and I met a new kitchen and bath designer that I would highly recommend to future clients.

Life is mostly beyond our control.  To survive home renovations (and maybe life in general), be prepared, be patient, and be willing to pivot.

Barbara Graceffa owns and operates Secretary of the Interior in Quincy, MA offering creative solutions at reasonable rates. Learn more about her decorating, downsizing, decluttering and home décor sewing services, decorating workshops, and quilt programs and shows at, and enjoy her art quilts on Instagram @secretaryinteriordecorating. You can reach her at 617.921.6033.

By Barbara Graceffa

Barbara Graceffa, CEO of Secretary of the Interior, serves decorating clients; assists with professional organizing, home staging and moving assistance; teaches on these subjects; and delivers quilt lectures and trunk shows.

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