Things I Wish I Had Done Differently: Home Renovation Edition

I may design homes for a living, but that does not mean I’m immunized against making mistakes.  Actually, I make the most mistakes when working on my own homes- mostly because I’m overwhelmed by options and ideas and make decisions on the fly instead of with careful consideration, as I do when working for someone else. “Ehhh, that’ll fit- we don’t need to measure” is a phrase that now gives me chills.

This weekend I began cataloguing some of the things I wish I had done differently in my renovations.  Most of them are from our first phase of the renovation right after buying our house, I think I had learned a lot by the second phase (still obsessed with my master suite).  But in life some of the best lessons come from examining your failures as to not repeat them again! So here we go:


1) My Kitchen Faucet

From the beginning Andrew wanted a pull down spray faucet with a single lever instead of the separate hot and cold handles.  I, of course, love the look of widespread handles and went that direction- beauty over function, a common designer downfall. Now with a baby (and after a couple years of use), I fear I maybe should have listened to Andrew. The issue still stands that finding an attractive single lever, pull down spray faucet is very hard- but there are some good options here, here and here.  This is tough to remedy now that we have four holes drilled in our countertops so I think I’m stuck for now. At least it’s pretty (and MAN do I still love my Blanco sink– the BEST!)

2) Chrome vs. Brass

Apparently I just blew it on the faucet. :)  I was scared to go with brass for my kitchen faucet and now I wish I had been ballsier and listened to my inner voice and not the other people who thought it was crazy to do a brass faucet. I’m glad I went for it in my master bath, because daaaaaammmnnnn do I love it. But trying to find a single lever antique brass faucet with a pull down spray is like trying to locate and capture Nessie. The only one I found that comes close is this one (aptly named The Henry), and it probably costs the same amount as a Honda, and still has a side spray.

Erin Gates Newton_378

3.) My Backsplash

I still love my white subway with grey grout but I wish I had done two things- 1) run the tile all the way to the ceiling around the doorway to the mudroom and around the window above the sink.  I also forgot to specify the spacing I wanted (assuming things makes an ass of–well, just me) and they did it way tighter than I had wanted. I wish I had said something and had them redo it instead of just feeling too guilty to ask them to make it right.

4) Not Speaking Up

Speaking of that, I also let a lot of the punch list items go because I was so sick of construction and just wanted all the workers out of my house. And now all those little things (a poorly patched ceiling, a busted baseboard, crooked light switches) really drive me crazy.  I’ll have them all fixed at some point, but I paid for them to be right and I should have stuck to my guns and made sure the details were all taken care of.

Erin Gates Newton_072 copy

5) Replacing the Tub and Shower Tile in the Guest Bathroom

When renovating our guest bathroom (at the time, our only bathroom) we found out our tile in the tub was a “mud job” which means the tile was set into concrete in the walls, which makes for a pricier demo and replacement. We also have a cast iron tub in there where is harder to get rid of. So instead we kept it and just had the tub and tile re-enameled. And now it looks like this (and also, my life is 90% baby toys):

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 10.21.40 AM


I SO SO SO wish I had bit the bullet and just replaced it all when the bathroom was gutted.  The plumber even said “are you SURE you don’t want to do this now?”  I don’t want to re-enamel the tub again because the fumes are brutal and with Henry around I’m more cautious of that sort of thing.  And replacing it will mean I have to redo the bathroom floor which doesn’t  really need to be redone. Bummer. Lesson learned. Sometimes spending a little more up front means you will save down the road. Rip the bandaid off once, people!

6) Grout Color Choices

OMG, never, ever do bright white grout on a mosaic floor like I did in my now guest bathroom (you can see some of it above- nasty). Yes, it looks so fresh and clean for like , the first hour its in, and then it turns dingy and dirty instantaneously.  Since it looks like I will be redoing this floor anyways, I will get a do-over on this bad choice. Light grey or beige is always a safe bet!

7) Perfect the Systems

One thing we’ve run into is that the old portion of our house runs on one central air/heat zone (after we added it when we did our second phase of the renovation, the addition is on it’s own zone and works great).  We were grateful that the existing ductwork in the old part of the house was wide enough that we didn’t have to redo it all for the new central system to work.  However “good enough” has turned into an issue in that the two upstairs bedrooms don’t get enough cool air in the summer because the system shuts off when the downstairs is cooled to the proper temperature.  I wish we had upgraded the venting when the walls were open or created an additional zone for the two bedrooms. Drat.  We’re looking into adding a smaller system to cool those two room but placing the condenser is turning out to be tricky and I don’t really want those big wall units because, well…design.

Luckily, most of the big ticket things we did- the floors, cabinets, counters, lighting, etc all still make me very happy!  And from making these mistakes I am a better designer for it!  What was your biggest renovating or decorating mistake?  Let’s commiserate!


Photos by Sarah Winchester, Michael Partenio and my stupid cellphone.


  1. Just finished a new build, and man, do I relate to this post!! i had good luck with Kohler faucets, and they have a BEAUTIFUL brushed bronze:

    This is our kitchen faucet and I am in love with it!!! The brushed bronze is a ‘cool’ gold ; the website doesn’t do it justice. Plus, functional!!! With a house full of boys, that is key!!

    Your home is beautiful, I would never notice the grout spacing, just how lovely it all looks together. I laughed at your comments on white grout: I chose white grout for the small hex tile floor IN MY BOYS BATHROOM?!?!? I may be insane, but it just looks so pretty……

  2. I totally hear you about refinishing bathroom tub and tile, rather than replacing. My house was purchased with a reglazed tub and tile, which is now chipping/peeling just as yours did. Talk about a short term fix (been in the house 2.5 years, no kids so minimal wear and tear)! Can’t wait to rip it all out and make it clean and new. Thanks for sharing your lessons learned.

  3. Here’s a lessons learned from a designer of several years and literally NEVER heard of this until my own home: oil based paint in a white will most definitely yellow if not exposed to enough natural light! Especially if it sits next to a white tub or tile,etc… You will notice it yellow within a few months. Not an easy fix to sand down old cabinets or moulding, but if you want a “fresh white” you can’t use a latex over it :(

    1. I found out the same lesson the hard way re the oil based whites. However a very experienced painter told me the way around this is to tint it very very slightly black to eliminate the yellowing.

  4. Totally not related but I am headed to Boston and didn’t know if you had a post of your favorite restaurants/ must dos! If so can you let me know!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing, as always. I have to say that I’m surprised about your tub peeling. In our hall bath I had the tub reglazed 5 years ago and it looks brand new, still. This bathroom takes a lot of abuse from 4 teenage girls who treat it like they are football players in a school locker room. The white grout between the marble tiles is the only thing showing the abuse and I’ll likely have to remedy that somehow.

    1. Hi Beth,

      If you live in MA, would you mind sharing who reglazed your tub? We have an antique clawfoot tub that needs to be redone. Thanks!

  6. I wish we had put insulation in the ceilings of the rooms with TV’s. It is a maddening afterthought when we have crown and pot lights – and no popcorn ceilings. Because of joists, I had to compromise on my master bathroom layout. The costs were ridiculous, but now I wish I had found the money to get what I wanted.

  7. Hi Erin – Great Post. I have an idea about the faucet situation. First of all having a pulldown faucet is a huge life improvement. Its not really a HUGE splurge (like most home updates :) but has made a huge difference for me. For the other cutouts in your counter top you could consider a hot water dispenser and a soap pump. Both have been wonderful additions to daily life. I’m a big tea drinker so instant hot water is a-maz-ing. And a pump soap dispenser keeps everything tidy and is actually cheaper bc you can buy bulk soap in an ugly jug! I’m not sure what you would do with the third cut out, maybe a lotion dispenser? You could also get a faucet with a cover for the extra cut outs :)

  8. Not speaking up!!! I had that problem in my teeny tiny bathroom and ended up having to patch a crack in the wall (and repaint) and take a dremel to the floor grout where it wasn’t wiped off properly. Ugh! So many other “shoulda coulda woulda’s” but I think most of them are just due to more/better taste/resources now. Since it hurts too much to live with all this regret I just try to think that I made the right decision given all the information available at the time.

  9. I still have a punch list in my bathroom, 1 1/2 years later! The contractor rushed me through process saying they would be done within a month!!! Two 1/2 months later, I was stuck with a floor color that I was not committed to, a tub that was not my first choice. Needless to say I’m living with it! I’m also in the middle of remodeling my friends kitchen and let me just say…you are right!! I will definitely make sure everything is done correctly. Stay true to my ideas and not worry about the taking a risk for what I really love!

  10. Hi – what spacing would you recommend for the subway tiles in the kitchen and bath? I plan to use as backsplash and also the inside of the shower? Thanks!

  11. Erin, I REALLY really love this post because it reminds me that we are all human and making mistakes and learning. I especially love the pic of the crack in enamel in bathroom. I have something similar in my 1960 Colonial. I actually just did a blog post on some of the funky things in my home I am digging my way out of…
    But as for mistakes, I would say whenever working with new contractors I’ve learned to always hover a bit and immediately spot a problem so they know I am on it and won’t let things slide. I know I’m slightly (or highly) annoying to them but it helps me figure out who the good ones are and who gives up too easily or gets lazy. I learned the hard way when I ran out for grout once while my tile installer was putting up a backsplash (It was going to be a charcoal gray on white subway tile) and apparently he was on some heavy stimulants because when I got back the entire backsplash was up AND grouted in WHITE (he just decided) because I “took too long” – about an hour??? – So I am now extra annoying with all subs so they know I won’t tolerate any shortcuts.

  12. Ha ha, it’s toughest when it’s your own house, and you’ll notice things and keep seeing them for years to come. I’ve spent years looking up at ceilings and wondering about the geometry of the light fixtures vs. the paneling. Nobody else seems to have ever noticed. Fortunately I never told anybody about it either, or somebody might’ve thought I was crazy.

    Seriously, do you really think the faucet and the light fixture in the kitchen need to be the same metal? They seem to have different functions, and I’ve seen perfectly nice kitchens where one is ultra-modern and the other very traditional. But then again, maybe their owners are looking at them every day and wondering: Huh….

  13. These comments really reinforce the idea that speaking up is key. My grandmother actually had a family member do her renovations, and even then, she ended up with regrets about things she let them talk her into/out of. It’s simultaneously sad and empowering to realize this is something so many of us struggle with. I’ll definitely keep it in mind as I plan for the future.

  14. The “we don’t need to measure” statement always backfires!
    Loved this round up- but these are all things that I think only you notice while you’re living your every day there– to everyone else and especially on this blog- your home looks absolutely beautiful!

  15. When we re-did our bathroom we also didn’t replace the tub – I didn’t want the hassle (which doesn’t really make any sense because the bathroom was already ripped down to the studs). Big mistake. So then we had a nice new bathroom with an old tub.

  16. This is such a refreshing post, Erin and I can totally relate! I don’t always speak up with my own home renovations, because I also want it to just be over. But with my clients, every detail is checked. I will definitely speak up more for my own home in the future and it has made me better with the details, learning this lesson. Great post!

  17. What a refreshing and honest post! I feel like so much of what we see in “blogland” is never talked about again once it is installed and the after photos are put up. I agree with you, learning from your mistakes makes you a better designer for your clients and a better advisor for your blog readers :) Thank you!

  18. Super helpful post for someone just starting a reno project! Thanks for sharing and would love more of this in the future!

  19. i’m just finishing up a 7 month renovation. every single decision i made was agonizing. things i regret (without having lived in the house yet lol)- i told the person helping me pick plumbing fixtures at ferguson that i wanted a huge single basin sink. i got a 30 inch one. big, yes, but last night i was at a friend’s house and hers was 35-40 in. i now have sink envy.

    my cabinet person ditched my corner lazy susan. she put in 2 regular cabinets. after my final order was put in… she just changed it without discussing it with me. now there’s just a big dead space under the counter. while the 2 cabinets may function better, i had stuff designated for that cabinet and it is going to bug me FOREVER knowing that there’s unused real estate.

    i wish i had done a dish pantry. i have a lot of dishes. i also converted a charming old dresser into a vanity for my powder room. but bc i haven’t picked a wallpaper yet, i didn’t refinish it. now i’ll have to paint it installed (they can’t move it bc the backsplash is set). not ideal but oh well.

    i am going to love my spice cabinet, oil and vinegar pull out (8 feet tall). i sprung for quartz counters, a steam shower in the master, a free standing nugget ice maker and a 36 in sub zero fridge with a 24 in freezer- NO REGRETS.

  20. Re: The problem with the air con being inadequate upstairs. We bought a freestanding floor unit that fit in a corner of the bedroom. Yes, it’s unattractive, but not anywhere near as bad as a window unit and much easier to manage in the off season. Shove in the corner and ignore. It was worth for the sleeping comfort in the summer.

  21. I have to say I love that old tub and the lines at the base and how
    “built-in” to the wall it is. I’d do anything to save it. I tried to save our old cast iron tub from our original 1947 house when we renovated but my builder told me it could not be moved (which it had to be as our old bathroom is now a laundry room). The new tub I bought, well it’s just a tub. Also we had the tile you speak of and boy was it tough to get off by those in charge of demo. So sad the enamaling didn’t work but as a nurse I agree no fumes in the house w/ a baby or even a mom and dad . You all matter too much! So I’ll just keeping looking at the lines at the base of that tub in your original picture… swoon!

  22. we remodeled our kitchen/family room 2 years ago…total gut, down to the studs, up to the rafters…the whole 9 yards. i love everything except the paint on the cupboards. it is very expensive lacquer. smelled horrid, very tricky to apply (most was done at the cabinet shop). 2 years later and our beautiful custom cabinets are scuffed and peeling. i will never ever EVER use lacquer again. the fix will be difficult and smelly and i don’t look forward to it. now we’re in the midst of a 2 bathroom gut and remodel. same contractor — good guy, high standards and great subs. this time, the paint on the new custom cupboards is a gloss latex and it’s great. if it ever chips, it’s a quick touch-up. thanks for all the great suggestions from everyone.

  23. I LOVE this post! I always appreciate your transparency, Erin. We rushed to complete some mini-renovations before moving into our home two years ago, and there are a few things that bug me daily. I think I’ve learned my lessons for the next reno, but I’m sure I’ll find something else when the time comes. I’m afraid I’m just wired to find something to fix! It’s why I can’t hang my own artwork in my home… I always want to change or add to it after it’s on the wall! Us perfectionists are our biggest critics after all. (Thank you so much for sharing Henry with us. He is just the sweetest!!)

  24. Erin-
    I am renovating a home and would love to see a shot of your kitchen that includes the range! I know so many people who want this as the jewelry of the kitchen and would love a post on what you thinks makes for a high-end look? Do you like legs or no legs, etc. Just an idea for another blog post! LOVE all these kinds of “process” and mistake posts! Thanks!

  25. Thanks for the update – it’s a great help to know what worked and what you’d change. I must say i do love my single lever faucet – now that you are juggling a toddler, i’m sure you get the beauty of being able to turn it on/off with one hand (or elbow!) .

    In the “i’d love to see a post on / your opinion of” blog idead – Current Trends – specifically wood look tile -is it a fad, a good idea, crazy, fun, why would you want tile to look like wood? I’d love to hear your take on the issue.

    And while we’re at it – floating shelves – i.e no brackets holding them up. (esp. with subway tile) in the kitchen – I like it, and am thinking of using it on a job, but again, will it look dated? Love your opinions! (and that adorable husband and baby…)

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