Friday, February 18, 2011

The Elephant in the Room

image from
I do a lot of design for remodels......kitchens, bathrooms, etc. When I meet with homeowners for the first time, they have usually done some homework and have created a list of what areas of the space they want to affect. Sometimes I agree with their scope or choices of items to replace or redo, but sometimes due to budget constraints or a desire to minimize the remodel, they want to leave the biggest eyesore in the room and they ask me to work with it.

While I pride myself on being able to improve any project and make things work for my clients, I sometimes feel this is a bad investment of time and money for the homeowner. We are trying to make an ugly or dated or out-of-character thing look like it belongs......the elephant in the room.

image from

Any designer will tell you this is the most difficult of all challenges. The more fixed variables you have to work with, the more limited you are with what your solution or design will be. For example, if you have all your furniture, paint, window treatments, etc. and are looking for the perfect rug to tie it all together, you've really got a struggle ahead of you. You've limited your choices by having so many of the variables fixed. But that's beside the point. An elephant will always be an elephant no matter how you disguise it.

image from

I think this is sort of an HGTV get-your-house-ready-to-sell approach to design. You are just sort of making do, making the best of what you have, making it look so much better than it DID, etc., but it may not really be giving you the end result you want. If you are planning to spend a certain amount of money on a master bath remodel and due to the limitations of the budget, you have to leave the dated, yellowed tub because tubs are expensive purchases in a bath remodel, then the tub has become your elephant. No matter what you spend on the remodel, that tub will still be there, telling everyone what year it was installed and that you didn't have the money or the insight to tear it out when you installed your beautiful new shower or vanity.

I'm all for making existing things work when you can. I've worked with many an existing tub, existing cabinets, existing tile floors, etc., and it definitely can be done and can be done well. I'm not arguing that. I just think it's important for homeowners to ask themselves this, "Will I be happy a year down the road, after this process is over, with that item remaining in my new space?"

It's a hard decision, but sometimes it's better to wait and save until you can redo the whole space the way you want rather than go half-way. Then when you are ready to go for it, you can wholeheartedly plunge ahead without many fixed variables and you can really get the look you want.

Here's a nice big elephant below. Luckily the homeowner agreed and it was OUT with this dated monster.

She got a lovely, up-to-date bathroom with a free standing tub and beautiful stone floor. Yes, it was a big remodel, but it definitely made a big impact. Would you have been happy keeping that large sea of cultured marble in your freshly remodeled bathroom?

The elephant in this remodel above was the builder grade, ceramic tile floor that was all over the kitchen, living room, and long entry hall. It was cold and uninviting, no matter how many rugs you threw on it. The kitchen cabinets were a given, the homeowner wanted a warm, inviting look and liked the cabinet color. The big question was what to do about all that tile. It didn't enhance the look of the wood cabinets or get her the warm look she wanted. Luckily, they bit the bullet and changed the floor to a beautiful slate that complimented the cabinet color and upgraded the look of the whole house.

Much better, right? We warmed up all the finishes to work with the one existing thing we wanted and had to keep, the cabinets.


Before - Entry Hall

After - Entry Hall

If you are thinking about remodeling, you should stop and consider these things.
  1. How long do you plan to be in this house? (Remember, most people stay longer than they intend!)
  2. What is the condition of the items in the space to be remodeled? Are they functioning properly? Are the yellowed, cracked, stained?
  3. Is your tub sunken? (Okay, personal pet peeve.)
  4. Are you leaving builder-grade products in the space because they are in "okay" condition? If all other products are upgraded, that one might scream, "You left me here to annoy you!"
  5. Is this something you really hate and it bothers you, but it would be so expensive to replace so you are leaving it anyway?
If you've answered yes to any of these questions, you should carefully consider the scope of your project, even if it means holding off for a while until you can do what you want. Just remember, you don't want to have any regrets after you've finished with all the mess, disruption, and expense.

One last this economy, the much chanted myth of getting what you put into the house back out of it when you sell is no longer a given.....period. Just give up on that for now. These days you're doing a remodel because you want to live in it and use it and your home will give you much satisfaction in the years to come. Updating for resale is a totally different animal. :)

If you need help with your elephant in the room, contact Aston Design Studio for a consultation!


The enchanted home said...

Great post...well said. Love the before and afters. Funny a friend who is a realtor and I were just having this convesation a few days ago! I too feel that you need to know when something must be changed, regardless of how long you might be there to enjoy it or not. An elephant in the room is a sure fire way to make sure a house doesn't sell. That said, there are inexpensive and creative ways to improve and enhance what might be in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing...things can take on a new life and sometimes breath new energy into the home. Good post.

Teresa Hatfield ~ Splendid Sass said...

Wow, this is so true. It really is difficult to get rid of the elephant at times, but it's got to happen.
Have a great weekend, Carla.

Mary Ann Pickett said...

So true. I have walked away from jobs when I knew it would just be throwing good money after bad...and I am very value conscious. Your images made me laugh. The tub and island are fab.
Mary Ann

Kellie Collis said...

Lovely! Those tubs are gorgeous! Enjoy the wonderful weekend, Kellie xx

Anonymous said...

interesting that some people would rather live with the ugly yellowed tub than wait a little while longer to save up $$$ to have it replaced... what makes me laugh is often they think they're decision is wise...spend the money and get rid of the elephant...
excellent post....great befores and afters...

quintessence said...

Great post!! It is just so short sighted to view a renovation or remodel merely in terms of investment in vs. potential out. And what about living - these are homes not just investments!!

cotedetexas said...

I LOVE this~ !!! so well said and illustrated! perfect!!! the elephant in the room. i've met a few of them before too.

loved the elephants - makes me so anxious to see the new movie Water For Elephants - it's going to be so great with Rob Pattinson! hehe. whoa. love that boy, sshh. don't tell my husband, but he already knows anyway! hehe.

Matt and Kathleen Brennan said...

Fabulous post! Loved the interjection of humor - something we all need when approaching a remodel. We enjoyed the before and after photos, too, and thoroughly appreciate your skill set. Just lovely, classy results.

Kathryn said...

You do such beautiful work, Carla! The improvements on those projects are amazing.

Anonymous said...

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