Nicole Curtis, star of HGTV’s “Rehab Addict,” has made an art of introducing the comforts and conveniences of modern living while restoring homes to their former glory. She believes not all home renovations need to be complete makeovers and spends her time preserving the character of old homes to their former glory. Nicole has teamed up with Mitsubishi Electric to help old house owners discover heating and cooling systems that’ll work effortlessly within their historical homes. She is a self-taught home rehabber, licensed real estate agent and designer, and K+BB recently got a chance to talk to her about avoiding expensive kitchen and bath renovations.
K+BB: What are some of your tips for avoiding a costly kitchen renovation?
Nicole Curtis: First, figure out what exactly you [or your client] need in your kitchen – so many people do not realize what they need until after they have lived in it. If you just moved into a new old house, do not do renovate right away. Live in the house for at least six months and take notes everyday.
After many homeowners do the renovation, they have what I call the “regrets.” “I wish we would have spent a little more or added a larger range.” Take time to properly plan it, otherwise you will regret it. [Explain to your clients that] it costs a lot more to redo something after its put it in than to take your eraser to your pencil drawings and redo it on paper.
K+BB: Where are some areas where it is safe to splurge and save?
NC: Splurge on custom cabinets with solid wood materials and dovetail drawers. Natural stone countertops are heat and scratch resistant and can take years of abuse. We see these materials in homes that are more than 100 years old; we know their longevity.
I am never going to spend $500 on a light fixture in the kitchen because they are pretty trendy and will go in and out. I will spend $500 to make sure I do not have particleboard in my cabinet design. If they change the color or layout, I can split up wood cabinets and move them around. I can’t do that with particleboard, and it is a challenge to repaint.
K+BB: What about bathrooms?
NC: [Advise your client to] spend money on a licensed plumber. This sounds silly, but so many people think they can do it themselves, and water leaks are no joke. I have seen so many houses ruined because someone spent more money on the vanity during the renovation and did the plumbing themselves. They should have spent the money on a licensed contractor.
Spend more on solid stone materials, like a tile surround versus vinyl. Any time you caulk it lets moisture in and you will have to redo it again and again. I see people splurge on an expensive mirror and then put vinyl flooring in a bathroom. Flooring and fixtures should be first, and then use leftover money later for something like expensive wallpaper. (Nicole admitted she hates wallpaper!)
K+BB: In terms of historical properties, what are some elements of the kitchen you think it would be safe to reuse?
NC: There’s not a component that can’t really be reused aside from drywall or if you are changing a layout. Wood floors can be used, stone countertops can be reused, wood cabinets can be reused. When you use disposable materials, because they are not solid, once you try and tear them out or reconstruct them, they just kind of fall apart in your hands.
A lot of the older homes were built as 500 square feet in 1880, and then additions were made throughout the years. I find a way to take the old house and make additions, add floors, etc. They get the extra space, but we can still keep the old house standing, and the way to do that is to blend new mechanics. This keeps budget in check because we are not redoing an entire heating system for the whole house.
K+BB: Do you feel today’s consumer has a realistic idea in mind when it comes to budgeting for these kinds of projects?
NC: I don’t think anyone ever has a keen eye on the budget. You should have two lists: a need list and a want list. With old houses, clients hate theirs because they are hot in the summer or cold in the winter. They will spend a lot on furniture when they need to first get back to the basics. I can’t tell you how many bathrooms I have walked into, and there is absolutely no heat source because they did not budget for it. Let’s make you comfortable in your home and work with you on what you have already, and then see where the budget is.
K+BB: Is it important for people doing a renovation to have a design expert on hand?
NC: I always think it is wise to have a design professional on hand because what looks good on a website or something you tear out of a magazine does not always fit in your space. What looks good on paper does not always look good in the field. A design professional knows that if you want to put in a 36-in. door, there can’t be a cabinet swinging into the door. It’s always good to consult one even if you are not hiring them for the whole project – even if you just have someone do the layout. You will never regret paying someone to help you to layout your design in the most efficient and budget-friendly way.