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5 Pro Tips on Tackling a Renovation

Learn a thing or two from local designers, homeowners, and developers who have recently tackled their own renovations

All week across Curbed we've been highlighting beautiful renovations, fixer uppers for sale, and the changing landscape of Philly as part of our first-ever Renovation Week. But as any renovation expert will tell you, being inspired is the only easy part of the process. That's why we turned to local pros and asked them to share their top tips to remember before taking on a renovation. We hope their advice will help your future project go a bit more smoothly.

Jeff Devlin's Stone House Revival show premieres on the DIY Network on May 11.
Jeff Devlin

1. Develop a master plan. "Planning sucks, there’s no fun in it—the only fun is being inspired when you look at cool pictures on Pinterest. With those inspirations, put together some type of plan and hand it to the contractor. To do this project and get a good bid from them, you have to sit down and say, 'This is exactly what I want and here are some materials that I like.' Then, you're that much more empowered and the contractor won't give you a crappy bid."
—Jeff Devlin, host of the Bucks County-based TV show Stone House Revival

House Calls: A Renovated Historic Rowhome in Fairmount
Amy Cuker led the interior design of this historic Fairmount rowhome.
Chloe Berk

2. Know what you don’t know and bring in experts who do know. "I’m actually doing a large renovation in my own home. I’m handling the interior design, but I made sure to get a great architect, landscape designer, and contractor on my team. We arranged a coordination meeting and I really feel like I benefitted from the expertise that each professional brought to the discussion."
—Amy Cuker, of Down2earth Interior Design

3. Adjust your budget and timeline accordingly. "When we recently renovated our bathroom, we found there was absolutely no insulation behind the old tile walls. Additionally, there were uneven areas of the floor that couldn't just be patched, we had to actually re-lay an entirely new sub-floor. We had no choice but to fix these unexpected problems and ensure quality, but they added length onto our project timeline and were more costly than expected. Never blow through your whole budget on all the finishing touch details. Wait until you see what is under the surface on demo day first. It could change everything!
—Allie Eisel, homeowner who has been fixing up her South Philly rowhome piece by piece

4. Make sure you are available. "Your architect, contractor and/or designer will regularly need your input so that the project can keep moving forward according to the timeline. Make sure you can meet with them and make decisions so that there won't be any significant delays."
—Heidi Siegel, homeowner who had a historic rowhome in Fairmount renovated

5. Respect historic properties. "I have heard people say how difficult the [Philadelphia Historical] Commission is: 'They wouldn't let me do this, or that to my building.' If you are renovating a historic building in Philadelphia, my advice is to approach the commission with an open mind, and calmly discuss different design options."

"Often, renovating historic buildings can be a more costly endeavor than renovating non-historic buildings due to the specialized nature of construction, particularly with respect to exterior woodwork, moldings, ornamental metals and masonry work. I can tell you that the commission is well aware of these cost differences, and they are open to working out cost-effect alternatives for your project, as long as the building ends up looking reasonably close to its original construction."
—Frank DiCianni, a local developer who recently restored a historic property at 1703 Pine Street.