Brownstone Boys: How to Finish Your Renovation Project on Time…or Close to It!

Our brownstone with proper DOB permit in window

Editor’s note: Welcome to the 15th installment of Brownstone Boys Reno, a reader renovation diary. We’re excited to publish their tale of buying and renovating a brownstone in Bed Stuy. See the first one here. They also blog at

Now that we are two weeks in and pretty much done with demo, we are figuring out the art of renovation timing. Everything has a lead time and and it’s a lot of work having to make major decisions on finishes, configuration, fixtures and everything else that comes along with it. One of the things that can hold up a renovation the most is having difficulty making design decisions or not doing it early enough to account for lead time.

If the contractor is ready for tile and we don’t have it on site yet, it can cause a significant delay. Do that with several things and you can easily find yourself doubling the length of your renovation. Fortunately, we have been saving things we like and making decisions even before we closed! There is always more though and we are scrambling right now to make the final selections to make sure we’re on track.

interior design ideas

We’re both sold on this exact design for the master bathroom and will do whatever to have it replicated. Photo by Helen Bankers

Our renovation, which we would describe as a partial gut, is quoted at four to six months. Although that could easily be doubled. There are plenty of projects that take nine months, a year or more. In fact, most probably do.

I met with our contractor once after he came from another client who was crying in his truck about it! That is always running through my mind, so in addition to generally managing the process, we’re trying to do our part by making sure all materials are on site when the contractor is ready for them. Even though we just finished demo, and there is plenty of building to do before any of the finishes go in, we are scrambling to make all bath fixture purchases so that the plumbing can be built. We might be a week behind and if we’re this far behind on all of our other areas that will definitely start adding up.

We’re learning lessons and trying to stay on track as we go. Here are some tips we’ve discovered so far. Let us know if there is anything that held up your project we might need to consider.

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We’re continuously shopping for the renovation

Talk to your contractor about a timeline of when things will be needed
You might think you have more time than you do to make decisions. Sit down with your contractor and go through a general timeline so that you know the order of when your finishes will be needed. Keep in mind some things take longer than others, and you’ll want to give everything the proper amount of thought because you will be living with it for years to come.

Start getting an understanding of what you want very early
You will find that you need to make a LOT of decisions. It can be overwhelming. You’ll need fixtures, finishes and flooring. Configurations for multiple bathrooms, kitchens, laundry, outdoor space…and more. Each room takes considerable research — prepare to be torn between several options. Also be ready to change your mind on some things a few times.

interior design ideas brownstone boys

We meet with our contractor weekly

Don’t try to make all decisions at once
You will get overwhelmed very fast if you try to take on everything on at once. We make decisions pretty quick and tend to be on the same page and it’s still a lot! Tackle one room at a time, but keep an eye out for things you like for other areas. Whether or not you’re a Pinterest person, start an account and start savings things there. When you get to the kitchen it will be very helpful to have a nice folder of kitchen pictures already saved.

Understand your lead times
Some things have a lead time of days and other things have a lead time of months. Will there be any custom pieces? We couldn’t find the bathroom vanity we envisioned so we are having it built. Kitchen cabinets can have a month or two lead time. Some flooring can as well. The last thing you want is to sit around for two months waiting for something to arrive when it could have been prevented with a little research. This also comes into the picture when you figure out the quantity you’ll need. If your tile has a month and half lead time and you don’t get enough that can delay other parts of your project.

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The contractor team plans a temporary structural wall

Schedule a weekly meeting with your contractor
Meet weekly with your contractor to talk about what was done the week prior and what will be done the following week. You can learn about anything unexpected that came up, what you might need to make a decision on, and of course hold him accountable in case he falls behind. If things start slipping it’s much easier to catch up on small scale than when you’re weeks behind.

To make things even more complex you’ll want to be aware of the reverse as well. If you don’t have somewhere to store cabinets and appliances you might not want them to arrive before your flooring is in, or it will be in the way. I think we would recommend being on the side of having things early, but speak with your contractor about what would be a big mistake to arrive before they are ready.

interior design ideas brownstone boys

While walls are coming down, more are being built

Time is money! The longer our renovation goes the longer we’re paying a mortgage without living in our place or renting out our garden unit. We’re going to be moving as fast as possible, but we have to expect some unforeseen delays.

[Photos by Brownstone Boys]

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