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#054: tackling major renovation projects in your home + pro strategies from a residential architect with katharine macphail

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I have an amazing guest on the show today and we are talking all about home renovations. I have Katharine MacPhail who is an architect and also the host of the Talking Home Renovations podcast with me. 

Renovating spaces can be really intimidating. There can be a lot of unexpected challenges along the way. We are going to dive into how everyday women can approach renovations so they can achieve their dream space and transformations whether they are DIYing or hiring out parts of the project.

You can download this episode from Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsStitcher, and Spotify – or listen to it below!

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in this episode:

[02:31] Katharine’s story

[04:57] Where to start with home renovation

[06:14] Budgeting a home renovation

[10:30] Tips for pivoting when things don’t go your way

[13:23] Roles of different team members during a renovation

[19:46] Making changes to the design plan when already in progress

[25:12] Outsourcing with professionals 

[29:03] Finding help that is the right fit

[33:50] Splurging vs. Spending on renovations

[38:39] Creating realistic project timelines

[44:13] What Cara is obsessed with this week

[47:17] Trend Talk: Shiplap

[02:31] Katharine’s story

Her specialty is single-family homes, so additions and renovations to homes. She lives outside of Boston and Arlington, Massachusetts. It’s very densely built already so they’re not a lot of new houses. Her clientele is just average homeowners who have average houses that aren’t really everything they want them to be. So she spends a lot of my time doing third-floor renovations, basement renovations, or small additions. She really tried to help people figure out their spaces and how they can best use the space that they already have. 

She’s been doing it for about 25 years now. She went to architecture school in California, but she is from Massachusetts. She moved back to Massachusetts, had three kids, and homeschooled them. She started her podcast a year and a half ago. She teaches some classes to homeowners through her local community or sometimes does online classes.

[04:57] Where to start with home renovation

Planning is really key. That’s where you figure out what you don’t know and then you work on knowing it right? The first thing to do would be to understand what you need? Start by asking yourself these questions. Why do you need to do what you’re doing? Why now? How are you coming up with the space that you need? Is it something that you saw on Pinterest or is it because your dining room table is too big for the space? So look at your problem and see if there are other ways to solve it besides construction.

I always encourage people to look at their problem and see what else they could do, what their options are. So planning is really important. Next would be developing your team and getting your team set up. That could mean an architect, interior designer, landscape designer, a contractor, or it could also just mean that you’re doing everything yourself. 

[06:14] Budgeting a home renovation

Then think about how much you think you could afford to spend on your house, or how much you want to spend on your house.  Check with a real estate agent and see if the neighborhood’s going to be able to support it, and then talk to a banker to see whether they would finance even if you’re not really going to be financing through a bank. 

[10:30] Tips for pivoting when things don’t go your way

It is all about planning and kind of understanding what you’re going to do and knowing that most of the things you can know. So for example, if you’re going to take apart a wall, just take it apart slowly so you can see what you are working with. Just take it slowly and examine what could be happening. Get to know your house, Just know that there is always a solution.

[13:23] Roles of different team members during a renovation

You could just use general contractors, tell them what you want, and they could just do that. And they just do it. If you’re just doing a single room, hire an interior designer and talk to them about what they can offer to you. Communicating what your project is and exactly what you are looking for is really important. When hiring team members really vet what they could do for you. There are a lot of architects now who are offering what they are calling a second look, where they take a look at your plan. 

[19:46] Making changes to the design plan when already in progress

As long as you kind of understand the structure of the building that you’re working with there shouldn’t be any surprises structurally. Sometimes things happen so definitely stop and reassess everything. Draw out or document however possible, what it is that you want. Talk to everybody involved and see what the solutions might be. There is a solution to the problem. Communicating exactly what you want to someone is really key. 

[25:12] Outsourcing with professionals 

You need to plan out the project and realize who are going to be the players.  There are many things people can do by themselves, but they might want to hire electricians and plumbers.  Electrical is really important to hire out because it’s a fire hazard and I think you’re actually supposed to hire an electrician. 

Think to yourself Is this something I’m interested in doing? Do I want to do this and if I do want to do this, how do I learn how to do it? It all takes time so really. Anything is achievable but it’s just time. If you hire the full team they can take care of everything for you or you can be completely hands-on and do it yourself. 

[29:03] Finding help that is the right fit

When finding the right team members to help, it is all about the gut instinct. So if you meet somebody and you’re just feeling like it’s hard talking to them or they’re just not someone that you enjoy even being around, it’s just not gonna work out well throughout the rest of the relationship. In the beginning, you should be excited about the person you have hired.  You want to make sure they are interested in the job and if you want to try different things you always want to make sure they are willing to experiment. It is a balance between their work being high quality, and the working relationship.  It’s all about relationships. 

[33:50] Splurging vs. Spending on renovations

Anything you can touch you’re going to notice the quality of it.  That would be things like door knobs or handles. Things that you might not think about would make a difference in your everyday life. You can also get less expensive versions, less ornate versions of the thing that you value.  Oftentimes you can create the same look in another way and actually save money. 

She encourages people to splurge on something so that every time they see that thing, they can feel very happy. Also, remember the space doesn’t have to be completely done. You can do it to a point where it’s functional. Then you don’t have to pressure yourself into making all those decisions and spending money that maybe is outside of the budget. Then upgrade that later when you find something you’re ready to commit to or you really kind of have lived in the space and know what you want. 

[38:39] Creating realistic project timelines

The most important thing is setting your expectations in a realistic way. Right now it’s even harder because of COVID. You’re relying on people showing up when they say they’re going to show up. You don’t have control over that and things happen in your own personal life too. Not having expectations for a timeline is probably the best idea, or just being conservative in your estimate, so that you’re not upset and disappointed. It always takes longer than you think it is going to take.

[44:13] What Cara is obsessed with this week

Cara is obsessed with something she never thought she would be obsessed with and that’s because it’s a productivity tool. If you know anything about the way she works as a creator and as a human, it is kind of making everything up as she goes,  living in the moment and being excited about whatever comes her way. 

But it turns out you can’t do that with everything, especially not home renovation projects. So she has this little hack that she’s started using for her DIY projects, but also for bigger projects when she has to be hiring someone. She uses a task management software, so something free you would normally use for a business like Asana or Trello. This lets her visually organize everything happening with the project, all in one place. She loves that it’s digital so she can use it on her desktop or phone.  Cara loves using productivity tools for planning home projects. 

[47:17] Trend Talk: Shiplap 

This week’s trend may be controversial so don’t get your feathers ruffled and don’t get offended. Trends are just a specific style being expressed at a specific point in time in a specific way. In short, do whatever the heck you want. you live there, and it’s your house. Cara personally says the shiplap trend is over and on its way out.  But if it’s for you and you love it, go all in.  Think of layering on top of it or changing the color if you’re feeling like you’ve had it for a while you want to refresh it. So shiplap is dead unless you love it. 

connect with katharine mcphail

instagram: @talkinghomerenovations // podcast: talkinghomerenovations.com

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