Design tips every homebuyer should know

The inventory of homes for sale has increased in the past month or so, but the pickings can still be slim, and that means making compromises.

The key is to really think through how the space of a home will be used, and then move forward with renovations and design, say Meg Caswell, an HGTV “Design Star,” and Alison Victoria, host of DIY Network’s “Kitchen Crashers.”

The two, both local residents and designers, were in Chicago last week for the opening of an HGTV Home Pop-Up showroom at The Shops at North Bridge. In separate interviews, they shared some of the do’s and don’ts of taking on room projects, whether it’s in a just-purchased home or simply giving a fresh look to space in an existing home.

Ask yourself how you’ll use a space when looking for a home to buy. Be open-minded and don’t get locked in by what you see at a property showing. A formal living room to one owner — one with no children — might be a casual entertainment space with a big-screen TV to another.

Think long term. Reasoning that most homeowners still need to stay in a home five years to see real appreciation, people shouldn’t gravitate to the latest trends when installing the trends of the moment — chevron comes to Victoria’s mind — for expensive items like flooring, bathroom tile and backsplashes.

“Those are things you want to be timeless,” Victoria said. “It’s easier to take off a red pillow than chip away red tile in all your bathrooms.”

Don’t buy furniture before you move in. Caswell has seen it numerous times. She walks into someone’s home and there in the living room sits a big sectional that was supposed to go in the basement but no one measured and it didn’t fit down the stairs. New residents should live in their space for a while to see what works best, she said.

Along those same lines, she also advises against selecting paint colors until you have seen the space at different times of the day and night — and that can be hard to do before a purchase closes — since natural lighting in a room changes throughout the day.

To furnish a just-purchased home, either invest in staple pieces like a couch, and go cheaper on accessories like throw rugs, or find a good reupholsterer. “Find a mom and pop shop that a friend has already used,” Caswell said. “The prices are better.”

If they’re good ones, fake plants are OK, even better than real ones. “If you’re like me, you’d kill them,” Victoria said.

Accent walls are not. “To me, it reads so ’90s, so early 2000s,” Caswell said. “Don’t bother. Paint your room the color it should be. Accent walls belong in a loft when every other wall is brick or steel. That’s what an accent wall is meant for.”

Focus on quality, not quantity when it comes to kitchen space. Not everyone can knock down a wall and install an 11-foot island in their kitchen, as Victoria did in her Wicker Park neighborhood home. So many times on “Kitchen Crashers,” Victoria has to work within the confines of four walls, and she said she tries to show that the keys to a good kitchen are efficient storage and a good space plan.

Put on that general contractor hat gingerly if starting a renovation project. Subcontractors don’t necessarily know each other, and it can be difficult coordinating their schedules and the scope of their work.

Seek out a young designer for some affordable guidance. “Young designers are usually very talented,” Caswell said. “If you’re willing to work a little bit with a young designer, you’re going to wind up with a fresh experience.”

Make sure all decision-makers are on board with the project and the budget. “If they have a veto say, you have to incorporate (them),” Caswell said. “Otherwise, they don’t understand how they got to that point, and then you’re starting over.”


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