Could creating the kitchen or bath of your dreams wreak havoc on your life? In a word, yes. High expectations, ballooning budgets, things that go creak (and crash and boom) in the night, a phalanx of strangers coming and going, and limited access to those amenities you've grown accustomed to -- like running water and working appliances -- can get to anyone. While you can't escape the anxieties tied to a major reno, you can definitely lay the foundation for a less stressful one.
1 Be realistic. A tiny north-facing bungalow bathroom is unlikely to ever become a sun-drenched, loft-style retreat (except in your dreams). Work with what you have -- flip through books and magazines for attractive similarly sized bathrooms. Your bath may have the potential to become a cosy Moroccan-inspired cocoon.
2 Come up with a project budget -- then add another 10 per cent for unplanned expenses. Go to kitchen and bath showrooms and see what your budget can buy. Labour and materials add up fast, as do miscalculations -- big ("Why did we think our old appliances would match our new kitchen?") and small ("Did I say matte finish for the paint? I meant gloss!").
3 Find a VERY good contractor. Get leads from friends, relatives, colleagues or your designer, if you have one. Check references and ask not only about the work itself, but also about the contractor's reliability. (Did he or she return calls? Did the crew start on time each day? Were they on budget? Was the work completed according to plan?) When you hire a contractor, make sure he or she is fully insured and bonded, get all agreements in writing, and clarify payment schedules and which party will be responsible for permits, upfront payment for materials, and any other details you don't want to stress about later. Speaking of stress, make sure you're both clear about the importance of properly sealing the work area from the rest of the house to prevent dust from settling everywhere.
4 Be realistic about waiting times. Stock cabinetry can take more than a month or two to arrive; custom cabinetry takes even longer. Murphy's Law dictates that the one perfect shade of granite for your bathroom countertops will be out of stock when you want it. Or that the charcoal-colour slate flooring you ordered will arrive in green. Also, the dearth of skilled labourers means you may have to wait (and wait) to get certain types of work done. Ask your supplier for the ETA of your product and follow up on your orders; yes, this is the time to be that squeaky wheel. Do the same with your contractor. Always be polite; you're asking for accountability here, not miracles.
5 Be the family spin doctor. “Listen up, kids. We can't cook in the kitchen but guess what? It's barbecue night!” Fire up the outdoor grill – especially in a month not typically known for barbecues – and you'll generate excitement. A temporary basement kitchen can cook up some fun times, too; let your kids pick their own microwave dinners. Or dust off that electric crockpot you thought you'd never use, and make chili. (Childless or got money to burn? A reno's the perfect excuse for a hotel stay.)
6 Don't sweat the small stuff. Or the not-so-small stuff like a demolition's worth of plaster crumbs, wood splinters and dust. While many contractors will take care of the basic cleanup after a renovation (waste disposal, a general vacuum and mop down), consider hiring a heavy-duty cleanup crew for a really thorough job if you have the money. Expect to pay around $675 for a one-day visit from a team of four. Have no fear: if they run out of renovation-related tidying, they'll get busy reorganizing your closet or garage. After all, you have better things to do with your time – like enjoy your new kitchen or bathroom.