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Before You Commit: How our unique first step in your remodel/new build project sets the stage for no surprises and no regrets

We all wish renovation and new construction projects were as easy as they seem on TV. But the reality is that–no matter the size of your new home or the scope of your renovation–every project is more complex than meets the eye.

Photography by Robin Heard Design

If you don’t enter into your project informed about the many details involved and the potential variables that may come up, you’ll be in for some unpleasant surprises.

We don’t want that for our clients, so instead of asking them to walk into their projects blindly, we take them through an initial step that lets us eliminate the unknown upfront. We call this step Phase One: The Design Discovery.

Often, homeowners want to jump ahead in their projects and skip steps, which I understand. You get excited and you want to get it done. But skipping steps in a design project is like starting to read a book on page 89. You’re going to be lost if you don’t start reading on page one–and you’re going to be missing pieces if you don’t start your design project with our Phase One.

This approach lets us flesh out the many details of your project in order to give you a good grasp on the true costs and timeline, as well as the big-picture vision you’re looking for BEFORE you commit to ideas and design choices. It lets you go into your project with your eyes wide open and knowing exactly what to expect. It also allows us all to have a much more accurate gauge on the project's true costs, timeline, and outcomes with no one guessing or assuming only to end up frustrated.

Image and Design by Robin Heard Design

It’s worth noting that I wasn’t taught to do this in design school and that this approach isn’t a standard practice for all interior design firms. Even so, I take my clients through this for three very important reasons:

  1. Because it takes nearly all of the guesswork out in terms of establishing their budgets and timelines.

  2. Because it allows them to see as early as possible in the process how all the ideas and moving pieces of their project can come together, helping them see the vision more clearly.

  3. Because it gives them everything they need to be able to make well-informed, confident decisions about their project right from the start.

The best part is that we do all of this before it’s too late to change directions if needed to better suit their specifications and desires. 

Why it works

Think of your renovation or new build project like baking a cake. You want this cake to look and taste a certain way, but you also only want to spend so much on it and you don’t want it to take you forever to make it. If the recipe says only that you need a finely ground grain, a sweetener, some leavening, some fat, and a few other ingredients that you’ll determine later on in the process of making the cake and that it could take either two hours, eight hours, or a day and a half to complete depending on certain variable factors, you’d probably want more information (or a different recipe!), wouldn’t you?!

Image and Design by Robin Heard Design

Too often, building and renovating projects are approached pretty much the same way. The details of the project remain vague and many factors that drive prices, timelines, and outcomes are left to be determined until AFTER the project is underway. This approach makes it impossible for the homeowner to really know what they’re getting into. It also means they may make design choices and materials selections before fully understanding the effect these are going to have on their total investment, project timeline, and end results.

When we work through our Phase One, however, we’re able to do all the research necessary to discover the probable costs, timelines, and other variables of your project as we detail out its specific requirements. This doesn’t mean we make you commit to exact choices at this point–it simply means we get clear with you about the design aesthetic and direction of the project.

We then use that information to create a master budget that includes materials, fixtures, and finishes required to complete the project. We also create sketches of the defined project areas and show these to contractors so they’re able to provide us with accurate initial quotes for the construction aspects of your project.

The contractors can then also help us determine who else we’re going to need on the project, such as an architect or an engineer, and what those associated costs will be, so we can budget for them, as well. Contractors love being able to participate at this early stage as much as we do. It allows them to make the best recommendations to help you accomplish your project’s goals without springing something unexpected on you in the middle of construction.

While there are still going to be certain things that remain unforeseen after this stage, we’re usually eliminating around 90% of the unknowns using this approach. The result is that you’re starting with an infinitely more accurate view of your project than without this step.

Sketch by Ideal Lusion

What it takes

In this ‘Design Discovery’/project exploration phase, our goal is to explore all the possibilities and see what things actually cost, what lead times are on products, how long construction should take, etc. so we know what we're dealing with.

To accomplish this, our Phase One involves most or all of the following:


  • Getting clear with you about your needs and goals for the project

  • Site study and measurements

  • Establish the overall concept direction and create a rough concept drawing

  • Floor plans "as-built" for each area involved

  • Mood boards and color stories

  • Collect a preliminary bid(s) for construction

  • Master project budget

  • Project review meeting (this is when we’ll have the opportunity to tweak the concept and direction to best meet your needs)

Image and Design by Robin Heard Design


If that sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. But it’s so worth the effort to save our clients from unpleasant surprises in their renovation and new build projects, and to empower them to be able to make informed, confident decisions about their projects.

This phase also allows me to help my clients see how all the pieces can come together into the big picture. When they’re finally able to visualize what all of their ideas and thoughts could look like, it’s a massive relief, as they can see that my team and I get them and that we’re able to translate their ideas and needs into an amazing design.


As if that weren’t enough benefits, this approach also sets the stage for open, transparent communication for the entire project. It gets you, your design team, and your contractor all on the same page and allows everyone to stay informed along the way.

It’s a win-win situation for all involved, but most importantly for you, as you enjoy the important information and insights this unique process provides!


Do you have a renovation project of your own in mind? Reach out to talk with us about our Design Discovery phase and the other phases of our renovation services.


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