What Three Design Experts Wish They Knew Before Designing Their First Homes

If you don't know, now you know.

Designed by Briana Gagnier.

The thought of designing a home sends a simultaneous dose of excitement and anxiety to my brain. How does one sort through all of the decor possibilities and land upon the perfect pieces, only to create a perfect abode? My guess is that decorating a new home is a process that need not be rushed, or else it might turn out looking like a staged open house, a swhmorasborg of random things, or worse, a recipe for an estate sale. 

Alas, I am only a renter at this stage of my life. Although I have a basic knowledge of how designing a home begins, I wanted to hear the juicy details and woes from hindsight. So, I tapped the minds of three house-decorating veterans — Kasey Hickey, Katie Martinez, and our very own, Angela Tafoya — to tell us the ins and outs of decorating a home — what they regretted, what they learned, and what they wish they knew before. Read ahead for the full scoop, no sugar added. 

 

Kasey Fleisher Hickey, Founder of Turntable Kitchen 

What Three Design Experts Wish They Knew Before Designing Their First Homes
Designed by Briana Gagnier.

What are three things you wish you knew about before designing your first home?

Kasey Hickey: I wish I had a better sense of costs! As a first-time home owner, you have NO idea how much things cost (materials and labor).
I wish I knew more about what was behind the walls, so to speak. Knowing, for example, if your walls are or aren't insulated, if you have knob-and-tube wiring, if you have a gas line, are all things that are helpful because you can plan ahead for updates that aren't just cosmetic. It's hard to spend money on things you can't see, but a lot of these changes are really great long-term investments in your home, and your enjoyment of it. Make sure you're building upon a solid foundation. I wish I had thought through where to splurge and where to save. We have small children, and some of my early design decisions didn't factor that in! For example, we love our rustic dining room table, but the ridges in the wood make it impossible to clean all the little bits of food that get stuck in there. If I had to buy a new dining room table today, I'd definitely get a smooth surface one. I think you really have to balance comfort and style.

What are the most prevelant takeaways from designing your first home?

KH: The biggest learning was that doing it fast and cheap is NEVER a good idea, unless you're super handy yourself and know a lot about materials. I'm a pretty impatient person, but I've realized that good things come to those who wait. A home isn't a one-and-done project, it's a labor of love that never ends.

What is the biggest misconception about designing your first home?

KH: I think the biggest misconception is that beautiful homes don't have their warts. It's easy to assume that everyone lives in a perfectly designed and styled home (fresh flowers! floor pillows! gallery walls!). Little things can drive me nuts, and I found myself hyper-focused on my home's warts (for example, our yet-to-be finished laundry room), but the more people I talk to, the more I realize that almost everyone has a room or two that they keep closed. Maybe it's full of Amazon boxes, or bags of old kids clothes. Maybe the paint is chipping. Live in your house long enough and you'll get a better idea of what you really have to change and what might actually be charming, despite its imperfections.

Was it easier, or harder than you thought it would be?

KH: In some ways it was harder, and it some, easier. Since we renovated our kitchen when our kids were super young (2 and 5), I worried about everything. But, we planned ahead: we renovated in the summer, set up a prep station in our laundry room, and leveraged our grill and slow cooker. The kids seemed to think it was a fun adventure, even if I found it stressful. We seem to have gotten into a lot of challenging spots, though. We removed the textures from our walls when we FIRST moved into our house with 2 month old twins! Everything was covered in tarp and I was like, WHYYYYY? But looking back, I feel like we survived ok. The hardest thing has been that now I feel addicted to home projects!

What advice would you give someone designing their first home?

KH: I'd say take your time: think about why you want to tackle a specific project. Is it a project that is timely? Do you have a financing plan? Will it either increase your enjoyment of your home or the value of your home or both? I would also urge people to think about whether it's a good time to tackle a renovation project. Are you traveling a lot for work? About to have a new baby? These are all considerations. For me, even small updates (like painting, or adding a new piece of furniture) can feel attainable and really satisfying. So, start small.

Angela Tafoya, Editorial Director at Lonny

What Three Design Experts Wish They Knew Before Designing Their First Homes
Designed by Briana Gagnier.

What are three things you wish you knew about before designing your first home?

AT: We approached the project from a touch-and-go standpoint for two reasons — we were on a budget and we designed ourselves with really no experience, so it was all new to us. There were a few things we did out of order (ahem, painting before everything was totally done — major mistake) because it was our first project of this scope. I would probably think about the entire project a little more holistically next time, mapping it out more before we started. 

What were your biggest takeaways from designing your first home?

AT: It takes time and to be patient. There things I wanted to snap my fingers and have done and I think we rushed certain decisions because of this. Also, to make sure you are really behind your decisions and not influenced by trends or flashes in a pan. Definitely don't be afraid to take risks, but calculated risks. Ha! 

What is the biggest misconception about designing your first home?

AT: I don't think there were any misconceptions for me — I guess since we did it on our own, I expected to hit roadblocks and for it to take time.

Was it easier, or harder than you thought it would be?

AT: It was probably just as hard as I expected. I think I had heard so many horror stories about decision fatigue and terrible bumps in the road. We really approached it differently because we did a lot of it on our own, so I think there was a level of expectations that came along with that. The hardest part was balancing having a child and NO kitchen for three months. Wow, I wish we could have avoided that mess. That was a pretty intense time.

What advice would you give someone designing their first home?

AT: Really take time to think about every decision you make!

Katie Martinez, Founder of and Designer for Katie Martinez Design

What Three Design Experts Wish They Knew Before Designing Their First Homes
Designed by Briana Gagnier.

What are three things you wish you knew about before designing your first home?

Katie Martinez: Do as much of the construction before moving in as possible! Relax on figuring out all the furniture and decorative items. Enjoy letting the interiors evolve.

What are the most prevalent takeaways from designing your first home?

KM: Come up with a design and stick to it. Basically, pretend like you are designing for a client. Also, don't play it safe. It's scary when it's coming out of your own pocket book, but I am much more pleased with the areas I took risks in than in those I played it safe. And finally, allow your significant other to a few places where he or she can make the final decision.

What is the biggest misconception about designing your first home?

KM: That your first home will be your design statement to the world. With young children and a crazy busy life, I feel so thankful to have a cozy home that works for us. Someday (fingers crossed!,) I'll find the time to finish it. I don't want to rush and fill it up with things I don't feel strongly about.

For more design tips, check out You're Living With Dirt — Here's How To Clean It and 13 Home Items Our Editors Want Now

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