So you want to finish your basement! Where do you start?

With space at a premium, homeowners are increasingly looking down towards their basements to up the space and value of their homes. Finished basements allow you to create space for whatever your heart desires, whether a spare bedroom, home office, movie den or rental unit.

But once you’ve explored all the possibilities your imagination sets free, where do you start? With the flooring? The insulation?

Finishing your basement can seem overwhelming. It does involve some fairly set steps - here’s a quick guide. Even if all you you’re looking to do is hire a contractor, this is useful information.

1) Design, and get permits

The design phase is where you get the chance to dream, and create! Once you’ve decided what you’d like to create, it’s time to put your ideas together and produce a floor plan, which becomes the blueprint that keeps you from going off-course during the project.

A well-thought out floor plan can save you tons of time, and a lot of costly mistakes. Measure, and make your floor plan on graph paper or on one of the many available apps.

Your final layout needs to be approved by your city, and the Ontario Building Code requires that unless you draw your own, the plans you submit for a building permit have to been drawn by a person or firm who possesses a BCIN (Building Code Identification Number), which is proof of qualification to do so. If your contractor is going to prepare the plans for permit application, make sure he has a BCIN. While talking about permits, if your contractor tells you a permit is not required, check with your city building department. He may be telling you that for reasons we won’t go into here.

Tip: The wasted space under your stairs can be transformed into an office unit, built-in storage, a washroom or a bar.  

2) Get rid of moisture

Check for any water issues in your basement – pools of water, mould, drips or drip stains. Look for any cracks in the foundation walls (and repair if necessary) and make sure that the ground is graded away from your foundation.

Even after taking care of any moisture issues, your basement can still become a damp place. Keep it cool and dry by adding a vapor barrier to both the walls and floors before framing and finishing these surfaces.

3) Frame

Now you can start building the frames of the basement walls according to your design. When framing, you’re building a skeleton outline that will help when installing your walls, making them strong and durable. It also allows you to see your project take shape!

4) Install electrical and plumbing

Doing the electrical and plumbing work yourself is very rewarding and can save you a lot of money. However, keep in mind that unless you have done it before, there is a steep learning curve if you decide to go this route, so factor in your time and safety when comparing DIY costs and contractor hire.

If you do decide to do the electrical and plumbing work on your own, you still need a permit for both types of work, and you must have the plumbing inspected by the city and the electrical by the Electrical Safety Authority. If you don’t and you have to make a claim on your insurance, if the insurance company finds out that some non-inspected work is present in your house, they may deny the claim.

5) Install HVAC and insulation

Basements need heating, ventilation and even air-conditioning. They also need proper insulation, which is key for energy-efficiency and comfort, so make sure that your HVAC and insulation meet your long-term needs (be sure to check city building requirements).  

6) Install drywall

This is where you see your basement really take form. All the framing, wires, pipes and insulation are replaced by actual living spaces. Although this stage is the most labor intensive, it can be the most satisfying. This is another opportunity to sub-contract, because besides labor-saving benefits, contractors can bring great pricing and much better finished results than most homeowners are capable of!  

7) Painting, trimming and flooring

You are nearing the finish line! This is where your walls, doors, ceilings and trims get their new colours (note: it’s much easier to paint doors and trims before they’re installed). It’s also time to get creative – you can stain floors instead of installing carpets or hardwood, choose fun wallpapers or layer textiles and patterns. Cool tiling and different types of metals can add character to bathrooms and kitchens.

8) Furniture and finishing

For the final stage, install items like shelving, door knobs, switch covers and any other finishing touches. Once you’ve done this, it’s time to bring in your furniture and personal items to style your space exactly how you like it.


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Trendy colours vs. classic colours for your home – the pros and cons

When you’re about to redesign your home, it can be tempting to go with the latest trend in paint colour, such as ultra violet, Pantone’s 2018 colour of the year. But will this bold shade of purple stay in fashion? Most importantly, will you love coming home to it day after day? While a fresh coat of paint can give your home new character, you must first decide what colours express your personality – long term.

Trendy colours are fun, unique, often dramatic shades of paint that make a statement about who you are. They are fashionable, add character to a space, and attract admiration for their unapologetic distinctiveness.

On the downside, they can clash with your furnishings, artwork or décor. Trendy colours can make a room seem quite busy or steal the spotlight from your accessories. Think also that just like the ever-changing trends in fashion, six months down the line your paint colour might be passé, which means you could need a costly repaint. That lime green you once loved so much might even become distasteful to you in five years! What’s more, if you’re thinking of selling your house in the future, a trendy paint job can turn away potential buyers, reducing your home’s value.

Classic colours, however, are timeless. They don’t suffer from changes in fashion or taste because they are mindfully neutral. It’s why they stand the test of time. Often warm and inviting, they are simple and elegant, and can easily be adapted to different styles. You’re also most likely to attract a wide range of buyers if your house sports a classic look and feel.

There aren’t that many disadvantages to classic colours, other than that they are impersonal and can become boring. Simple whites, creams and greys, while elegant, can also be seen as cold, unless warmly lit. What’s more, classic colours usually don’t reflect your personality or lifestyle.

One way to overcome this is by using accessories at express your tastes. These are more easily changed regardless of whether they are anchoring pieces like an item of furniture, or statement accessories like soft furnishing and rugs.

So, what do you do? Do you risk going with your favourite shade of yellow, or do you stick to an elegant off-white?

Ultimately, it depends on your budget. If you’ve got cash to spend, why not experiment with colour? However, if your preferred colour palette changes with your mood, perhaps it would be better to stick to classic colours for your walls and use colour for dramatic trims and accents, colourful furniture and cabinetry, or artworks and throw pillows. That way, you’ll get the best of both worlds.

If you need a coach to help you navigate the world of home renovations, Your Renovation Mentor is just a call away. We offer a FREE 1 Hour Consultation for anyone who needs help planning or managing a renovation project. Call (647) 427 7200 or email

Give a room a makeover for under $500

Homeowners often postpone or even give up the idea of renovating their home interiors because of perceived costs. But it’s not always expensive to give a room a makeover. While it is not unusual for some people to spend thousands of dollars on home makeover projects, it is entirely possible for you to give your space a fresh look for less than the cost of a single piece of boutique furniture.

So, how do you achieve that?

I’m here to tell you the secrets to giving your room a makeover that will do you proud, and impress family and friends… all for under $500!

Step 1: Understand what’s working and what isn’t in the room (Free)

Ask yourself what you like about the room and what you would like to change. Once you have established that, decide how you intend to use the room. If it’s a family room, will you use it for viewing media; will it be a play space for the kids; will it have room for your office?

Step 2: Create a theme (Free)

The next step is to visualize how you want the room to look and function. Decide on the colours you will use, the layout of the furniture for ideal movement of people into and out of the space (both existing as well as new pieces), and accessories.

Step 3: Paint the room (approximately $200)

Painting your walls is the single most dramatic change you can effect in a room makeover project. Getting a professional to do the job may set you back $500 or more for an average sized room. Do it yourself for a quick makeover like this. Keeping colours neutral or choosing just one accent wall for effect is a good idea so you don’t date a space.

Step 4: Rearrange your furniture (Free)

The difference you can make to the aesthetics of a room by changing the layout of your furniture is huge! Reduce clutter and make your space inviting and cozy. Arranging furniture in clusters for conversation, and allowing room around games tables for example, makes for a better experience within your space.

Step 5: Light up your room ($50 or less)

Lights can change the look of a room immediately. Good lighting is worth prioritizing. To ensure even distribution of light, look at fixtures like ceiling mounted LED spotlights which you can direct as you prefer. Lamps are another way to add character and visual appeal. Shopping at antique stores for example can help you find something unique and on budget.

Step 6: Cozy up with textiles ($100 or less)

Make your room a comfortable and inviting with curtains, cushions, throws and rugs. Remember to coordinate colours with the colour of your walls and accent pieces of furniture. One way to go about it is to paint your walls white and bring in colour using accessories. This way you can reserve the right to change up your accessories any time you like.

Step 7: Add a new piece of furniture (approximately $150)

Complete your room makeover by adding a statement piece like a chest of drawers or a wing chair. Or if you have money to spare, both. (maybM your paint job on the room was fine and you saved there?) Remember that you don’t have to buy a new item. If you have time to invest, this is also something you can look to antique stores, liquidation sales, and even yard sales in good weather.

Often all you need to inject new life into your home is some small changes to one room. If your renovation project is bigger than that, and you don’t know where to start, I can help. I offer a FREE 1 Hour Consultation for anyone who needs help planning or managing a renovation project. Call (647) 427 7200 or email

5 improvements to make outside your home to increase curb appeal

A relatively low-stress way to increasing the value of your home or, in general, making it stand out from the crowd at first glance, is making improvements to the exterior. Increased curb appeal, in addition to better value, will buy you bragging rights in your neighbourhood!

If you think there are very few things you can do to make your home look more attractive on the outside, especially on a budget, think again! Whether you plan to sell your home or are simply looking to update it, here are a few simple and effective ideas you can implement at different budget points.

1.     Add exterior accents and accessories

Upgrade your front door with a fresh coat of paint, new door knobs, and/or a door knocker. Alternatively, give your windows an upgrade by adding window boxes or shutters for more character. Even just fixing and touching up paint on existing windows can help.

Further, you could think about installing a new mailbox. Even repainting or upgrading your gutters and downspouts can make your home look prettier. Exterior walls, and the borders around windows and doors can be spruced up with decorative mouldings, motifs, or paint to add a touch of individuality to your home. Installing siding or stone veneers (or replacing old ones) on the exterior wall is another excellent idea if you have a larger budget.

2.     Add plants

Perhaps the easiest and the least expensive way to improve the curb appeal of your home is to use plants. You could lay down some large shrubs or trees, or use smaller plants in decorative pots. Mix and match to have a variety of season-appropriate plants on your porch, front yard, or in windows. Remember indoor plants just inside your windows can combat the winter while still adding to your exterior visual appeal.

3.     Install decorative lights

Another option is to add decorative lights. Some choices you have are accent lighting for your garden, lamps to light up your driveway, and statement lights at your front door. Consider powering these using solar panels.

4.     Use outdoor furniture

Enhance your garden with outdoor furniture. There are many options out there for all kinds of tastes and budgets. Even a small outside spaces like condo balconies are now being catered for with a range of options.

5.     Landscaping and hardscaping

Take landscaping beyond a reasonably well-maintained lawn! Besides plants themselves, experiment with decorative stone pathways, and structures like an arbour or a small water body if you have the space and budget.

While making exterior home improvements, keep in mind that the material you use, the colours you choose and the style of the improvements must work to complement the existing style of your home and its surroundings. Regular maintenance and repairs are non-negotiable to get keep your exteriors looking their best year after year.

If you need a coach to help you navigate the world of home renovations, Your Renovation Mentor is just a call away. We offer a FREE 1 Hour Consultation for anyone who needs help planning or managing a renovation project. Call 647) 427 7200 or email

Scope changes to your reno? Here’s how to handle them.

Renovations are all about delayed gratification! Who doesn’t love the idea of a home or workspace that functions and looks better at the end of a reno? Getting to that point, however, does come with some upfront work. Seeing a renovation project through to a successful completion will require planning and smart managing.

Small changes can have big impacts.

Small changes can have big impacts.

Best practice is to start with a contract that outlines your project. But the truth is that things can change in the course of a renovation. You could hit an unexpected snag, or change your mind about something as the project progresses. That would add additional scope to your project. Scope changes are best managed formally, in writing to avoid issues. While nobody loves the process, scope changes are hard to avoid, especially with larger projects.

If handled inexpertly, scope changes could cost you more, cause delays, and even result in a breach of contract! A few measures put in place at the start will help you avoid all that stress and anxiety.

1.    First off, make sure your contract accommodates changes of scope.

I recommend contracts that allow flexibility. Scope changes can come from homeowners as they understand more during the course of a project, or from the contractor if he uncovers an unexpected flaw in the property for example. Contracts with room built in to accommodate reasonable changes of scope (which are documented as Change Orders to the original contract) are fair to all parties.

2.    Put in place a Change Order for each change.

A Change Order is an amendment to the original contract between you and your contractor. It outlines all the updates and the implications of each. And while at first glance this only seems necessary for the big changes of scope, I urge you to put a Change Order in place for every change, however small it may seem.

3.    Minimize changes.

While you need to document each little change, I do recommend that you keep changes to a minimum. Enter into your contract with a full understanding of what you want and how it will be delivered. A well-scoped contract that everyone sticks to, reserving change only for the necessary, is the best way to go. Make sure your original contract covers completion dates, ongoing milestones, materials to be used, back-up options where applicable, and work hours, among others. Have a discussion about the specifics with your contractor and make sure everyone understands, and is on board, before signing off. Having a clearly defined plan of action is the key to a smooth project.

If scoping or even understanding the specifics of the scope of your renovation project sound daunting, don’t despair. Help is at hand. Your Renovation Mentor can help you put together a clear plan for your home renovations or additions and ensure it is scoped so that you are getting your project delivered the way you see it.

I offer a free 1-hour consultation. To set one up, call me at (647) 427 7200 or fill out the form below and I will contact you to book our call.

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5 flooring trends to consider for your next new floor

An essential element of the design of any room is its flooring. Your floors, in addition to looking good, need to be durable and easy to maintain. It’s important to make the right choice the first time because flooring is an investment. Your flooring is more permanent than say the paint on your walls or the curtains on your windows, so spending some time making the right choice for you is a good idea

If you are planning to redo the floors in your property, think beyond wood or broadloom. Here are a few trending ideas from the world of flooring.


1. Large format tiles

Floors made up of individual tiles as large as 36”X36” is another trend. The advantage with larger tile sizes is that they make your floor feel cleaner and more cohesive with fewer grout lines. But do keep in mind that large tiles need to be installed by a professional to keep things even and reduce the chances of tiles cracking.

2. Cork floors

There are several reasons to love this conventional flooring material. It feels softer to walk on, it is a good insulator, it absorbs sound, it is eco-friendly since it is essentially recycled wood, and last but not least, it is relatively inexpensive. The downside is that cork is not the hardiest material and it is susceptible to moisture damage more than hardwood if it is not maintained appropriately.

3. Bamboo


Technically, bamboo is a type of grass, but when turned into floor tiles compressed bamboo is just as hardy as wooden floors. Good quality bamboo tiles are much better at resisting moisture than wood. They are also extremely durable. The fact they are eco-friendly is an added incentive for many. Bamboo tiles come in a variety of patterns, textures, and colours making it a great option for many tastes.

4. Porcelain and vinyl tiles

If you want the look of a wooden floor without having to worry about maintenance, porcelain and vinyl do a great job of mimicking the visual appeal of wood. These materials can be made to look like any type of wood. This is an especially good option to tile bathroom floors and any other areas that are likely to get wet.

5. Grey floors/Concrete floors (for the basement)

Concrete floors can be cold and hard. But they are often sought after for their muted, minimal visual appeal and sophistication. They have an industrial feel, which people love. They are also easy to maintain. One way to balance the ‘cold and hard’ concern is to incorporate rugs into your decor. Perhaps the best part about concrete floors is that they work well with an array of different interior decorating styles.

Those are just a few ideas to help get you started thinking about your next project. If you have questions about flooring or any other aspect of you upcoming reno, Your Renovation Mentor can help. Please take advantage of our FREE 1 Hour Consultation. Call us at (416) 890 3631 or email

7 Steps Toward a Smart Home - Technology from Affordable to Break the Bank


The days of smart, automated homes being only a sci-fi fantasy are truly behind us. Home automation is one future prediction that has come to life! The market is flooded with IoT (Internet of Things) devices that you can communicate with from anywhere in the world.

While some of these gadgets are expensive, many are now relatively affordable and will only get cheaper with time. With that said, here are 7 products to try for your future-is-now home right away, no matter what your budget.

1. Smart assistants: Remember the animated paper clip from Microsoft Office? Back then digital assistants could do little more than help you write a letter. A few decades on, we have Google Now, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa. Google Home and Amazon Echo have already been around for a few years with much success.

The best part about these smart assistants is that they are constantly evolving. You can use these devices to do anything from checking the weather to controlling your home security, all with only your voice.

Google Home Mini: US$49


2. Smart lighting: Philips Hue is synonymous with smart lights. These lights connect to your WiFi and a dedicated smartphone app lets you control everything from switching them on and off, to changing brightness. You can change the colour of the light to suit your mood as well. They are controlled by voice commands, much like smart assistants.

Philips Hue: US$200

Ikea Smart Lighting: US$19.99


3. Smart thermostats: Smart thermostats are available from different makers. The most popular ones are Nest Learning Thermostat and Ecobee’s smart thermostat. Both products can connect to your home WiFi, enabling you to control them from their own dedicated smartphones apps so you never have to walk up to the device to turn a dial or push a button. Nest’s option is also pretty good at learning and setting temperatures automatically.

Nest Learning Thermostat: US$249


4. Smart home security camera: New to the market, this smart camera is controlled by your smart assistant. What really makes this security camera special is that it can recognize people and alert you automatically. It can also track a moving person and is smart enough to know when a moving object is not a human being. The camera comes with a 4K sensor.

The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor: US$349


5. Smart cleaning: Robotic vacuum cleaners have been around for some time, and have been getting smarter, much like other smart home components. iRobot’s Roomba is probably the first name that comes to mind. The brand offers several robotic vacuum cleaners ranging in price from low to very high. While the less expensive ones get the job done, the higher end ones like the Roomba 980 and 960 check all the boxes needed to earn the smart device badge - smartphone controls, smart assistant voice control, automatic scheduling, floor mapping, charging, and a whole lot more.

iRobot Roomba 960: US$700


6. Smart ovens: The June Intelligent Oven is an AI (artificial intelligence) powered oven that is probably the closest right now to owning a robotic cooking machine from The Jetsons! This oven is so smart, all you need to do is place the food you need to cook inside, and tell it how you want it cooked. The oven will do the rest, from recognizing what the food is (with your confirmation) to setting the right temperature and timer. All you need to do is enjoy your meal!

June Intelligent Oven: US$1495


7. Smart refrigerators: This smart home appliance round-up wouldn't be complete without a quick look at smart refrigerators. Smart fridges have recently reduced to a price point that is more accessible to families. Today's smart fridges have built-in cameras that let you see the contents of your fridge from an external screen or a smartphone app. They are Wi-Fi enabled and have touchscreens that let you leave notes and enter reminders. You can create shopping lists, and order groceries using a credit card, as well as connect to media like photos and music to up your entertainment experience.

With the Samsung fridges, a popular choice in the market, there is also the promise of their Bixby voice controls in their Family Hub refrigerators.

The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator: US$2299


Smart home devices are just one way to make your home work better for you. For much more content on getting your home to where you’d like it to be, and for professional renovation guidance, please subscribe to our blog and we’ll send you a note each time a new post is up.

5 Ways to Use Paint to Refresh Your Home

One of the best, and relatively inexpensive, ways to change the look of your home is painting it. Change in colour, texture, and design can give your home new character. It can make your home an expression of your own personality.

So, if your home and you are currently on a plateau in your relationship, a fresh coat of paint might be all you need to reinject some love!

Here are 5 paint ideas to give your home a quick refresh:

1. Watercolour walls


Like the name suggests, use watercolours to paint your walls for some quick, quirky character. This technique is also called color washing. Its primary advantage is that you’re not limited in your colour options. You can mix and match multiple colours, experiment with abstract designs or even paint portraits, cityscapes, and scenery. The best part about color washing is that you don’t have to rely on a professional to do the job, you could DIY.

2. Faux grasscloth walls

The traditional Asian-style wall coverings called ‘grasscloth’ are popular for their earthy, close-to-nature feel. Unfortunately, grasscloth is expensive and not in everyone’s budget. But we have a great hack. Paint! This is also a DIY-friendly project. The process involves dragging a stiff bristled broom over wet paint to get the textured finish. That’s an oversimplification; but you get the gist, right?

3. Striped walls


This is another simple technique. The best part is, you don’t necessarily have to repaint your entire wall. At its most basic, this technique involves painting horizontal or vertical stripes in contrast to your background colour. But that’s only if you’re lazy! There are dozens of different styles you can choose from. Stripes of the same colour in different gradients? Stripes of different widths in the same shade? Just stick on some painter’s tape, and paint between the lines!

4. Painted doors

Why limit yourself to the walls? Show your doors some love. Give your front door a cheery, statement shade to up your curb appeal. Consider pattern and colour for children’s bedroom doors. If you are an artist, skip the canvas and use your door instead.

5. Painted anything!

You can take a paintbrush and a tin of paint to almost anything! Doorknobs, chair and table legs, flower vases and pots, drawers and cabinets, and even your fridge if you like. Make sure you visualize everything before you start painting. It’s always best to try your ideas on a sample to know what outcomes to expect.


If you need a coach to help you navigate the world of home renovations, Your Renovation Mentor is just a call away. We offer a FREE 1 Hour Consultation for anyone who needs help planning or managing a renovation project. Call (416) 890 3631 or email


Lies Your Contractor Told You

Have you heard any of these before?

1. “Don’t worry, it’s included in the price.”

This sounds comforting, but memories of discussion may fade. At any point along the way, you can't rely on verbal commitments; instead, make sure you have them in writing. You don’t want to be in the uncomfortable position of reminding the contractor of verbally agreed-upon tasks which he has failed to complete. And if you don’t have them in writing, he may not do them.


2. “I need a 50% deposit.”

Sure, a reasonably sized deposit is justified. But what’s reasonable? A reasonable deposit is 10% of the project value up to a maximum of $5,000. So even if the project value is over $50,000, the deposit should not exceed $5,000. All reputable contractors have a line of credit with their suppliers; if your contractor tells you that he needs a large deposit to purchase materials, that should raise a red flag.


3. “No, a permit isn’t required for this job.”

Be very careful with this one. Your contractor may be right, but you should check the City of Toronto website for some guidelines, or if you’re still not sure, call your local Building Department.

“Why even get a permit?” you may ask. A permit will make sure that the work being done is in accordance with zoning and building code requirements. “Why is that important? And doesn't that cost money and take more time?" Yes, but if the construction isn't done correctly, there may be insurance coverage implications or additional legal difficulties and expenses when you sell your house. Also, if the city somehow gets wind of your renovations and discovers you don't have a permit, it could result in fines and significant delays.

Bottom line: not worth the risk.


4. “It’s OK, I had it checked out by a structural engineer.”

So you want to take out a wall in your house and replace it with a beam. Your contractor assures you that it’s not a load bearing wall, or that he has consulted with a structural engineer and everything is OK. Good news, but you should then ask the contractor to send you a copy of the engineer’s report. If he can’t produce it, don’t let him proceed. If he produces it and you understand everything covered in the report, you’re good to go. If you don’t understand the contents of the report (don’t be embarrassed, some of it can get quite technical), call the engineer yourself and ask for a layman's explanation of the report.

There is a cost to the contractor (and hence to you) to involving a structural engineer in the process, but if the job is simple, the fees will not be excessive. Look at it as cheap insurance when you compare it against the cost of a major structural failure.

Don’t forget about the permit (see #3 above). Removal of a wall is considered a ‘structural or material alteration’ and requires a building permit.


5. “A licensed electrician isn’t needed for such a small job.”

All electrical and plumbing work performed in your house must be done by a licensed tradesperson. This is the law. If you have any electrical work done in your house by an unlicensed tradesperson and you later have a fire in your house, your insurance company may deny you coverage. I know it’s tempting to get that cheap guy out of the handyman section of the newspaper or Kijiji, but will you still think so after a major fire?

If you’re doing any electrical or plumbing work in your house, insist that it be done by a licensed tradesperson.


6. “Yup, I’m fully covered by insurance.”

Great, now you can rest easy, knowing your contractor is fully insured. But just wait a second. You need proof that he’s insured.

Ask him for a Certificate of Insurance from his insurance broker, that names you as a co-insured to his policy for the duration of the project. The Certificate will show many things, however pay closer attention to these three things: the name of the insured; the amount of coverage; and the expiry date of the policy. The name of the insured must be the same as the name on your construction contract; the amount of the coverage should be at least $1M, but $2M is better; and the expiry date should be later than the expected completion date of the project, even if it's just one day. (If it isn’t, that’s OK, but you’ll have to make a note to yourself to get an updated Certificate of Insurance a week or so before the expiry date.) If you're not sure if all is in order on the Certificate, show it to your insurance broker for his assessment.


7. “A licensed plumber isn’t needed for only a couple of fixtures.”

See #5 above. As far as a plumbing permit is concerned, if you’re adding any new fixtures, a plumbing permit is required.



If you’ve heard any of the above from your contractor, take the steps I’ve suggested to make things right before the whole project goes wrong. Not sure if your contractor is leading you astray? Still have questions? Contact me by phone or email. I’d be happy to help you make sure your renovation is on the right track.

The 8 Steps to Choosing Your Designer

In my last blog post, I talked about getting started NOW on your spring renovation project. You’ve been checking out suppliers and design websites, so you’re getting a sense of what you do and don’t like. You’ve been making lots of notes about those likes and have them written in your notebook. Now it’s time to select your architect/designer!

As a refresher, you can read this article (referred to in my last blog) about whether you need an architect or designer. Regardless of which one you need, the process of selecting the actual person you will work with is the same. For the purposes of this post, I will use the term ‘designer’ to refer to that person, whether they are an architect or designer.

Step 1: In your notebook, make a list of designers (name and phone number or email address). You can get their names from friends or relatives who have had a positive experience in their renovation, or you can get some names and contact info from CDECA or Ontario Association of Architects.

Step 2: Call or email each one, describing your dream project, and ask if they’re interested in designing the project. Some may find the project too big or small for their liking, or are otherwise too busy to work with you. Best to find this out now.

Step 3: From the responses you get, pare down your list to four designers and contact each one to set up an appointment for an interview meeting. Ask each one to bring with them a portfolio of work they have done which is similar to the type of project you have in mind.

Step 4: During the interview meeting, review the portfolio they brought with them, and make notes in your notebook about how the designs appeal to you. You may think you’ll remember after the meetings what each designer showed you, but don’t count on keeping them all straight in your mind!

Your other task during the meeting is to assess how comfortable you feel talking to this person - do they pay close attention to what you are saying, or do they appear distracted while you are talking? This feeling of “click” is very important, because a designer with good listening and communication skills will be the most likely to translate your dream into reality.

Step 5: Tell the designer what you expect them to provide you with during, and at the end of, the design process. I suggest you print off the following list for each designer you meet with. This ensures that they are clear that, if you hire them, you expect these things from them:


1. Measured drawings of your existing house;

2. One or 2 preliminary design options, as well as time set aside for a follow-up meeting to discuss changes or embellishments you would like to see;

3. A set of drawings suitable for permit application, and possibly specifications (meaning exact measurements), depending on the complexity of the project;

4. A building permit (note that you will pay the permit fee);

5. Application for a minor variance if required, as well as attendance at the Committee of Adjustment hearing (note that you will pay the variance application fee);

6. Respond to clarification questions posed by contractors who are bidding for the work;

7. Issue addenda to the bid documents as required for distribution to the contractors bidding on the project.

Step 6: Request a fee proposal (which is fancy language for a “quote”)  based on the requirements in Step 5. I suggest asking each designer how long they need to give you this fee proposal so you aren’t just hanging out indefinitely waiting for it to arrive!

Step 7: Review the fee proposals and your impressions and creativity of each designer.

Step 8: Decide which designer will best meet your requirements and confirm your selection with them.

This whole process can take a while - messages not being returned promptly, people too busy to attend a meeting right away, etc. - so start this process ASAP.

Here’s a rough guideline for the design/bidding schedule of a small project, going forward. A larger, more complex project will take longer and result in a later start date.

Beginning of February - start of designer selection

Beginning of March - start of design process

Mid April - application for building permit

Mid April - start of bidding process

End of April - close of bidding

Mid May - start of project

Still have questions? Contact me by phone or email. I’d be happy to help you get cracking on that renovation ASAP.

The 4 Steps to Starting your Spring Renovation TODAY!

Thinking of renovating in the Spring? Maybe finishing a basement or an addition with a new Family Room or enlarged kitchen or whatever your spring dream is? Believe it or not, the time to start is NOW!

Step 1: Run out to Staples and get yourself a notepad and some pens. You’ll want to have all your notes and scribblings in one place. Napkins or the back of an envelope will not do. Remember, at this point, you want to be asking yourself (and members of your family), “what problem do we want to solve?” Or, “what isn’t working with our current set up?” Tempting as it might be to skip to the fun stuff, like picking furniture, having a good list of what isn’t working for you now will help you, your designer and your contractor develop creative ways to solve those problems as the process unfolds.

Step 2: Will you need help in your planning and design process? This is not an easy question to answer, but I’ll give you some things to consider.

If you’re planning to add a room or two onto your house, do the zoning bylaws allow for what you want to build, or will you need a minor variance?

Something a lot simpler - a kitchen reno. You’d love a new gas stove, but do you have the necessary gas capacity and piping to support that choice?

If you’re not confident answering these questions or ones like them, you will be better off in the long run with a designer or architect. Just remember that you don’t know what you don’t know, and unless you’re a construction professional, many problems are bound to come up during the design process that are best solved early in the process with the help of a design professional. And don’t feel badly. Very few people have the experience to plan and carry out a renovation without help and have it come off without a hitch.

Here’s an excellent article on my Facebook page about how to choose your designer.

Some general contractors offer a design service, however I recommend against that route. Having a designer/architect who is completely independent of the construction process will go a long way toward helping you make wise, impartial decisions, and resolve conflicts quickly, should they arise down the road.

Step 3: To get you started on the design decisions, there are many websites you can research, depending on what you are looking for. Google is your friend here. Houzz is very popular and informative. With Houzz, you can easily create “scrapbooks” of photos that inspire you. and share those “scrapbooks” with others for easy reference.

If you’re old school, start looking through design magazines (print or online) such as Canadian Interiors, Azure Magazine or Style at Home, to name a few. Or better yet, visit some of the building material stores or specialty stores (e.g. tile or plumbing fixtures) to get inspired, and discover what you do and don’t like. Use that new notebook to record the magazine and page number of that article about the gorgeous kitchen renovation, or jot down the make and model of that faucet that would fit perfectly in your new ensuite bathroom.

Step 4: If you have chosen the hiring-a-designer route and don’t know where to start, ask around in your circle of friends and relatives. A personal recommendation is the best place to start. If that doesn’t pan out, you can search the CDECA website for a decorator/designer in your area, or the Ontario Association of Architects for a suitable architect.

Your next task will be to interview the designer/architect to make sure he/she is a good fit, but that’s a topic for another day. I will also cover some basic scheduling targets in my next post.

Still have questions? Book a free 1 Hour consultation so I can help you plan your renovation, identify potential pitfalls, provide advice on the early stages of your plan and help you evaluate and select a contractor.