My Home Renovation: Progress Report — Unexpected Delays

Renovations always take longer than expected. Even when you’re in the biz and know your stuff. And especially when it’s a luxury interior design project. So we were realistic when our office started a renovation on my new home, a vintage Gold Coast co-op, last November. Our ETA was this fall. But now that’s changed to the end of the year—although we’re moving in now. What held things up? Acknowledging what triggers delays help both designers and clients understand more about what’s involved in a renovation—and allays expectations. So here’s our progress report on unexpected delays to demystify the process.

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God is in the details. The new entry and fireplace surround pay homage to the Deco era when this apartment was designed.

Perfecting Stain Colors: We’re all heard the saying “wood is a living, breathing thing.” It’s not. But each species of wood has its own properties, from diverse cell structures to different grain and ring patterns. These impact how the wood absorbs stains—and our process when we wanted to eliminate the orange undertone from the yellow pine paneling in the library. Our goal was to give the wood an ashy, slightly cerused finish. Fortunately, we had a large piece of wood trim to use as a sample board, but it still took four rounds of multiple stain samples for us to get the right tone. It was a lengthy process because we not only kept the samples in the space to see how each looked under different lighting conditions throughout the day, but once the stain was applied to the walls themselves, additional detailing and tweaking took place to perfect the overall look.

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It took longer than expected to get the new stain right on the library walls. (Images: Jessica Lagrange Interiors)

Restoring Architectural Details: To add another level of detail to the expansive (and frankly, a touch to minimal) living room walls, yet stay true to the original architecture and detailing of the apartment, we replicated trim profiles and details that are existing in other spaces in the apartment. Molding we added to the living room walls gave the room more architectural cachet, and an additional layer of crown molding let us integrate a Collier Webb picture rail so we can hang artwork without damaging the walls.

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We gave the living room more architectural cachet—and a way to anchor a picture rail—by adding another layer of molding to the walls. (Images: Jessica Lagrange Interiors)

Getting the Lighting Right: A bespoke lighting plan is essential, as we noted in our blog on “Where to Splurge & Where to Save.” As a budget-conscious move, we had hoped to use the existing recessed lighting—both cans and fixtures—and layer on new options to achieve our goals. But at the end of the day, when we saw how the existing lighting looked and performed under various conditions, we revised the lighting plan (three times, in fact!) To make the cans “disappear” into the ceiling rather than interrupt its smooth plane, we installed smaller, more seamless recessed cans. And new, more statement-making fixtures in all the apartment’s important rooms proved transformative. Finding, ordering and installing the fixtures added an extra three months to our timeline. And now that I’m using all the rooms on a daily basis, I see areas that are still not quite bright enough and we will need to tweak with more powerful options.

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New statement-making fixtures gave rooms a demeanor that was more in keeping with the Deco-era architecture of the apartment. (Images: Jessica Lagrange Interiors)

Detailing the Front Door: First impressions start at a home’s front door, not the foyer, in our opinion. The apartments original front door was not only ordinary and uninviting—it got the period and style of the apartment wrong. So we traded it out for custom steel-framed double glass doors that were inspired by the Deco era and connected the elevator landing to the foyer thanks to its transparency. But we had to use three different vendors to create it. First, Wayward Machine Company, a fabulous local metalworker, fabricated the frames from steel and glass to our specifications. To give them historical gravitas, we found beautiful vintage brass Deco handles at The Architectural Forum, a London architectural salvage dealer, paired with new but classic olive knuckle brass hinges from Wilmette Hardware. Our perseverance paid off; the entry—regal and refined without going overboard—exceeds our expectations.

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We replaced the apartment’s Georgian-style front door with a much more period-appropriate (and patrician!) version we customized using three sources. (Images: Jessica Lagrange Interiors)

Managing Custom Orders: No matter how professional and proficient a source may be, custom orders often take longer than expected. When you’re working with fixtures, furnishings and finishes that are done by artisans and involve several or many steps to complete, it’s the nature of the game. Sometimes, whole or parts of an order must be redone to get it right, which is exactly what happened to us with hand-marbled wallpaper we used in the powder room by Susan Schneider, a talented artisan and the proprietor of Shandell’s in Sheffield Massachusetts. It required such an intricate and time-consuming production process that it took three months longer than we estimated to get all the handpicked paint colors, combinations and patterns to work together and match our vision for the installation. Also, some antique pieces that we ordered had to be tweaked or reworked once they came in, like vintage lighting from Europe that had to be rewired to meet America’s ULI standards.

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Papering the powder room walls in a hand-marbled paper turned out to be a labor of love! (Images: Jessica Lagrange Interiors)

Next up in our reno series, we’re going to digress to give you the lowdown on moving—no small feat when you’ve been in a home for decades. We found that it’s not only hard to part with cherished objects, it’s hard to decide where everything should go in a new home. We had help—fabulous help. Stay tuned to learn how we did it.

10 Oct 2019

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