The DIY Strategies of Speedy Remodelers
What does it take to finish a project in under a month? We asked three DIYers who tackled fast-track renovations for their best time-saving tips
Time: 8 days
Who: Garth Lee Whitford
Where: Lindsay, Ontario, Canada
After planning it in the back of his mind for more than a decade, he finished a top-to-bottom renovation of his dining room while his wife was away on vacation.
"I never begin a project until I have a clear vision of what the final result will look like, and the dining room was no different. We'd lived in our house for 14 years before I redid this room, so I had plenty of time to think through the design and to choose materials and paint colors."
Shown: The ceiling dome draws the eye upward; corner blocks, dentil molding, and a frieze of Lincrusta form a unique transition from wall to ceiling.
"Before making any final decisions, I talked with my wife about all the ideas I was considering. I wanted to make sure she was happy with the direction I was going in so that I wouldn't have to go back and change anything later, which would have been a huge waste of time and money. Plus I'd promised her that I'd keep the mess contained and finish within a short time frame—which is why I tackled it when she was out of town."
Shown: Garth wanted more period details in his dining room.
"The dining room wasn't at the top of my mind when I was working on the rest of the house. But if I saw something that I thought would work there and it was on sale, I bought it. Having some materials on hand helped me finesse the design bit by bit. Some of the moldings in this room were purchased 12 years ago; other things I bought more recently."
"This is obvious, but you'll move faster and make fewer mistakes when your dimensions are accurate. I recorded the numbers in a project notebook and referred to it when I needed to make cut lists and calculate how much paint I needed."
"Putting up the Lincrusta was tough—the stuff is dense and brittle, and it tears easily. Thankfully, I was able to recruit one of my son's friends to help me with it. Together we could lift longer sections into place, so I was able to run it down the entire length of each wall without any seams."
"My portable miter saw, power paint sprayer, and nail gun saved me hours. I could make cuts right in the dining room instead of having to run downstairs to my basement workshop. Spray-painting the moldings before installation meant that they all got a nice, even coat. And a nail gun is easier to use than a hammer when you're installing something heavy overhead."
Time: 21 days
Who: Rachel Burns
Where: Arlington, Virginia
A plumbing disaster ruined her kitchen a few days before Thanksgiving, but she got her cook space up and running in time to host a Christmas meal for visiting family.
"When our kitchen flooded, my husband and I were working full-time and our daughter was only 2 years old. We'd always tackled remodels on our own, but we couldn't get by on takeout for months on end! So I hired a pro for the demolition and installation while I designed the layout and bought most of the fixtures and finishes. It was the best decision for us."
Shown: Rachel went with a monochromatic palette to simplify the quick-turnaround project. She bought cabinets and most of the fixtures and finishes, but had a contractor install them.
"I looked for cabinets first, knowing that they'd dictate the kitchen's layout. I found them at a secondhand shop along with a stainless-steel dishwasher that looked like new. With those dimensions, I sketched a dozen versions of the layout on graph paper until I liked the result. Then the rest of the design took shape."
Shown: Even before it flooded, the kitchen felt drab and dated.
"I had no time to fret over, say, the perfect bin pulls. I found some that I liked, deemed them good enough, and moved on to the next thing, knowing that I could swap them out later. When you're on a deadline, a quick decision is often the best one."
Time: 30 days
Who: Matthew Vest
Where: Bloomington, Indiana
He gutted his boring builder-grade bathroom and gave it a completely different look, including new fixtures, just before his housemate moved in.
"I'd already remodeled the other bathroom in my house, so to streamline decisions I went with the same color scheme and overall look. I even used the same products in some cases since I knew I liked them already."
Shown: His upgrade included a handsome wood medicine cabinet and vanity, both of which he built by hand.
"I didn't move the sink, tub, or toilet, so no re-plumbing was necessary. That saved me a ton of money as well as time. This bathroom is not huge, and fortunately the existing layout made good use of every nook and cranny. So keeping the floor plan the same didn't feel like a compromise."
Shown: Prior to the renovation, every surface in Matthew's bathroom was beige.
"When I redid my first bathroom, I custom-ordered a few things. But I didn't have the luxury of time with this renovation. Nearly everything came from home centers and big-box stores. That meant I had to forfeit a cast-iron tub, but there was a big upside to this: I found an enamel-coated steel tub that looked very similar to the one I'd wanted but cost much less."
"It's easy to lose sight of the big picture when you're embroiled in all the day-to-day details, so you really need to write everything down if you're trying to fast-track a project. Before I started this one, I typed up a long list of every single task and even subtask I thought it would involve, from shopping for fixtures to picking up materials to installation. Every day before diving in, I'd open the file on my computer and delete tasks that were done. Then I added new ones that came up the day before. Finally, I chose what to do that day based on my available time, materials, and energy. It was gratifying to see the list get shorter and shorter as I neared the finish line."
"Aside from going to my day job and sleeping and eating, this project was pretty much the only thing I did during the month that I had to complete it. I took short breaks here and there, but I didn't make many social plans or cook fancy meals or anything like that. Scaling life back to the essentials helped me focus and conserved my energy for making decisions and getting around the inevitable DIY roadblocks that came up along the way. Believe me, I needed every ounce of energy I could muster to get it done on time."