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In Renovator’s Notebook, homeowners open up about the nitty-gritty of their remodels: How long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what went wonderfully, serendipitously, it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end right. For more tips to nail your next project, follow @reno_notebook.
Size: 1,800 square feet • Location: Redondo Beach, California • Budget: $150,000
Top priority: Creating a sophisticated but livable space for a future family.
Architect Niharika Hablani has designed offices for a few companies you may have heard of: Google, LinkedIn, and Tinder are all on her roster. So when she and her husband bought a light-filled, ’90s-style home in Redondo Beach, California, in January, she wasn’t scared to give it a facelift—but the couple wasn’t exactly working with a Silicon Valley startup budget.
To make the most of the $150,000 they allotted themselves, the Hablanis found crafty ways to make the dated house feel 2020: They tore down walls; transformed a formal dining room into a bedroom; and chose a clean, crisp, Lake Tahoe–inspired (it’s where they vacation) color palette. They also made sure to choose materials they would grow into—this will be the home where they hope to raise children someday.
“When you’re working with your own money, you naturally become a little bit more creative about finding ways to cut costs,” says Hablani. Here, she tells us exactly how she spent—and saved—throughout their four-month renovation.
Save: Painting the Millwork
Our color vibe is black and white, but the original stairs were an orangey wood, so we thought about replacing the banister and going with a black metal. Then we realized that adding color with paint—one of our favorite shades is hunter green—was a cost-saving opportunity for us. We kept the original stairs, picked out a beautiful sage green (Secluded Woods by Behr), and just went for it! It brings a fun energy to the space.
We did the same in the main bathroom, where replacing the custom vanity with a full demo would have cost us nearly $2,000. Instead we painted it white and added new brass knobs, $40 sinks we got wholesale, and a $700 quartz countertop.
Save: Keeping the Original Tub
I know everyone is going for a stand-alone tub right now, but the one in our main bath was built in and had so much counter space around it—you know, for candles, flowers, and a book. Plus a new tub would have cost us at least $1,000. My husband found out that you could refinish a tub for $350, so we hired workers to sand ours down and repaint it a shiny white. It looks brand-new.
Splurge: Bathroom Tile (Almost) All the Way Up
I love the look of every surface being covered in stone, but we have really high ceilings in the main bath, and going all the way to the top would have been super-expensive. Instead we chose a green tile and laid it as high as we could afford without it touching the ceiling—it’s a visual trick that makes it feel like it covers the entire wall. It wasn’t a cheap tile ($10 per square foot), but I love it. While I’m showering and conditioning my hair, I just stare at it.
Save: DIY the Hearth
The old fireplace was hideous. I liked the shape, but the firebox had a glass covering and ceramic logs. I originally wanted to replace it with a full marble Art Deco black mantel—and the one that I found was beautiful and perfect—but it was $4,000. So I just replaced the burner and threw some sand and rocks on top. We covered the inside in a matte black, high heat–resistant paint, then I finished it with these ceramic balls from Amazon. For the mantel, I applied a liquid sander to take off the previous finish, then coated both the wood and the tile surround in an exterior-grade black paint. To keep it shiny, I just wipe it down with a gentle cleaner and a microfiber cloth.