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Lessons in Interior Design

Hello friends and visitors! In 2012, I had a crazy time trying to repair my home from a leak. The upstairs toilet had leaked, and water had dissipated into the wall and floors. Since walls and floors had to be ripped out, I decided to go all out and rip out everything in the bathrooms. The 1960’s fixtures were novel, but why put all the old stuff back into a newly and beautifully tiled room? My friend and contractor Tony worked hard to build me some new bathrooms. Meanwhile had to make a lot of hard interior design decisions that I had not anticipated! I’m not sure whether I thought all the new stuff would just materialize or whether I thought Tony would double as interior designer and home shopping concierge or what. But I was not prepared to make a million decorating decisions on the fly like this. Through this experience, I have truly come to terms with my lack of skill and grace in interior design. I don’t naturally have the eye for it. I’m naturally a function-over-form person, so I have to be very conscious about that decisions also make sense aesthetically.

While Tony reconstructed the walls and floors, I went shopping for all the new “stuff” for two bathrooms. That sounded fun. Until I spent a half hour picking out the perfect vanity only to discover I couldn’t get a second one in a different size to match in the other bathroom. Long story short, I had dramatically underestimated how hard it would be and how much time I would have to invest to find everything I needed in colors and styles that match and sizes that fit. I have given so much thought to the number and variety of components make up a single bathroom, nevermind two. In a matter of days, I had to decide on sinks, cabinets, faucets, countertops, flooring, toilets, lights, and mirrors, not to mention toilet paper holders, drawer pulls, towel racks, doorknobs, shower curtain rod, and grout…and they all had to match!

Did I want bronze, chrome, brushed nickel, stainless steel, or aged bronze finishes? Chestnut, oak, maple, or hickory cabinets and vanities? Laminate, marble, or granite counters? I wasn’t prepared for an interior design project. I think I envisioned Tony pulling up with a truck full of brand new stuff. But if Tony tried to guess what each homeowner would want in their bathrooms, he’d be out of work. So the design decisions were up to me.

As a real estate agent, I am acutely aware that the number one mistake that homeowners make when they do home improvements it to add a little of this, little of that, ending in a confusing mishmash effect. A lack of planning is certainly a cause. But even with a solid plan in mind, the home improvement stores sure make it easy to go astray. One hickory cabinet here, one oak cabinet there because the store didn’t sell the two different sizes in the same wood type. One stainless steel faucet here, two chrome towel bars there, because you can’t get that faucet design in chrome, and those towel bars don’t come in stainless steel. Although certain finishes are considered more “high-end” than others, what matters more is whether a single look is consistent throughout the home. One slab of granite in the whole place doesn’t add value – it subtracts it. The home is one big art project, and internal consistency is very important for strong appeal and value.

I was on a mission to avoid that look – but it’s so hard to do! I dare you walk into a hardware store and find every bathroom fixture in the design you prefer, the size you need, and the finish you’ve chosen in under a day’s time. When my first choice faucet didn’t match the other five things already in the cart, I had a decision to make. It was sold only in a stainless steel finish, and none of my other items were. I’m a function-over-form person. But I had to continually check myself. Either decide upon a second choice faucet that matched everything else, or put everything else back and pick out new stuff that matched the faucet. (I ultimately picked a different faucet.) Why upgrade if I’m not going to do it right? If I’m going to put out some money for this project, I want to make sure I get that money back if I ever sell my house.

Whether they realize it or not, buyers DO notice this stuff. Do they see it consciously? Not usually. Most buyers get a feel of the property’s value based on their overall impression. No matter how much I clean and stage my home, if the faucets are bronze, the doorknobs brass, and the towel bars chrome, buyers will notice the dissonance and downgrade the price. Rightly so, really, since to fix the dissonance problem, they would have take hours out of their lives for for the same shopping trip I was on, plus they’d have to pay for a whole new set of fixtures and accessories. So for an additional cost of maybe $100 more on top of what I was already paying, I was able to get everything to match and accomplish a polished effect. That extra $100 could add potentially a thousand dollars of value or more in the mind of future buyers. It gives the impression that the space is “put-together” and well thought out. Because it is. And that’s what buyers want.

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