Home improvement— Where do we begin? What help do we need?

We desperately need help but we are not sure what type of professional we need. Our challenges are:

- Lack of or inefficient use of storage space (clutter seems to pile up on every surface and corner. we have boxes of things stacked up and groceries often end up sitting on the floor. 

- Lack of closet space (we have boxes and hampers of clothes sitting on the floor) Our existing closets, dressers and armoire are full. 

- lack of space in general but the weird layout and architectural details of the house result in unused space 

- terrible lighting but we don’t know how to add more light (lamps? What type do we buy and need and where and how do we put them?)

- finding a space for a dedicated work station away from spouse’s work station

- wall colors and where and how to hang pictures (what kind of pictures?) It has been several years since we moved and we still haven’t hung up pictures and painted walls because we feel lost and clueless. 

- a small office and sunroom that are being used as junk room. We want these rooms to be maximized but we don’t know what to do with them. They are small and have a weird layout. 

- we need new furniture for living room and dining room but we don’t know where to start. All the pieces we have are old, annoying and odd. We want comfortable workhorse furniture that will allow us to lounge, eat and drink and spill things. 

- we don’t know what our style is but we generally don’t like contemporary or mid-century. We’d rather have comfortable and cozy things than pretty and uncomfortable things. 

- converting the car port to ADU or extra room

- a second bath would be a dream but if there is no space, I would love to refresh our current bathroom (I hate it so much that I take a 5 minute shower to minimize spending time in the bathroom.)

- there is no hood over the stove. Lighting in the kitchen is terrible (just one overhead light).

- windows are old and rotten. Some of them look like they are about to fall out. 

- window coverings without spending $10000 just on window coverings (a designer quoted $12k for shades!) I need help. I tried to do it myself and ended up crying and wasted money when the shades I ordered were all not quite right.  I have no idea what I am doing. 

We spoke with interior designers and they seemed to focus on looks with terribly expensive things than functional pieces that accommodate a messy family with a kid that likes to eat pizza, ice cream, and popcorn while watching TV and like to dance and wrestle. 

We spoke with organizers and their first solution is get rid of many things. Yes. We need to get rid of some things but we also need help with storage solutions. 

Budget… ADU or extra room, we are thinking of budgeting $200-250k. We have the funds to dedicate more if we knew what we need to do but we don’t even know where to begin, what to tackle first and when to plan for next. My spouse and I don’t have a design sense and get overwhelmed very easily when it comes to anything house related. 

what kind of help do you think we need? Where can we begin to start making this house work for us instead of feeling like we are stuck in this oddly laid out house?

Thank you. 

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Oh I feel you on so many of these challenges around storage, closets, clutter, office space and an extra bathroom.  I am also not a designer/decorator type and got so overwhelmed choosing paint colors that I took several years of living in a blah real estate color before I took the plunge.  The lesson of paint is you can always repaint down the road so just notice what you like and then dive in with a few choices. The one area I can weigh in on is the window coverings.  We did white wooden blinds on all of our windows through Home Depot and it was suprisingly easy and affordable.  They came out and measured everything so I didn't have to worry about messing it up and then a week or so later all the blinds were installed by them.  Easy and closer to $1000-1500 or so for our full house of windows (this was a decade ago though so I'm sure it is a bit more than that). They look nice, have held up really well and it was one easy thing to get the house looking better.  I coupled them with the cheap white cotton curtains from Ikea and they have also held up, can go in the washer and it is a nice clean look which I like.  

I cannot recommend strongly enough that you start with a professional organizer. If you find yourself overwhelmed at the thought of getting super organized and throwing stuff out, I’d start with therapy too. I say that kindly. Happiness is found thru living a simpler life with less. You don’t want to spend $200k adding space (or even $20k!) until you’ve weeded everything out and really taken stock of what’s necessary to your life. A great organizer can help you think about your family’s needs and will tailor their plan to you. Keep looking until you find the right person. 

Hi! I love this question. 

-Window shades - we got these from Costco and are very happy with them. They're simple, elegant and super affordable: https://www.costco.com/bali-custom-window-treatments.html 

-Light - Contractor-grade light fixtures from Ace or Home Depot are generally bright and affordable. Just buy the fixture and have a handy-person install it. Keep the box to return in case it doesn't work out for any reason. Opt for a fixture with 5000+ lumens, like this one: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Commercial-Electric-4-ft-High-Output-5200-Lu...

If I didn't have to be a lawyer, I'd help people declutter, organize and design their homes for a living. DM me if you'd like to chat more, I'm happy to help.



Hi there!  I would recommend a design build firm for your project, specifically the one we went with for our large remodel project.  We went through a complete gut and remodel in 2020 and without the design build firm we hired, we would have been overwhelmed (and I would have cried) and/or wasted a lot of time and money.  We were also on a budget because the project was so big - we needed new roofing, foundation repair in addition to the inside cosmetic updates so it was so nice that our designer/architect and GC were from the same firm and knew what costs to allocate to what type of work, essentially what to spend and what to save on.  Also, they worked together to determine what interior finishes were smart to spend more on - we wanted reasonably priced functional finishes rather than just pretty but not functional - and still remain within 3% budget error.

I love our designer's suggestions - we gave him pictures of design interiors we really loved and he gave us 2-3 choices for each of the finishes for each room (kitchen or bathroom cabinets, faucets, lighting, wall color, vanity, etc.) - that way we could choose what we liked but they all would work together to create the aesthetic that we were hoping for without it becoming overwhelming for us but still make it our own.  We also redid the layout of our house and he optimized all the square footage into something SUPER useful (so much more storage!).  Old layout was terrible - now every square foot is wisely used.

Give Kibum Kim an email - kimkibumstudio [at] gmail.com!  He and his business partner can help you figure out how much your project may cost.  They are not the cheapest but fair market priced, but to us worth every penny!!!

Feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss more over the phone - happy to help a fellow remodeler learn from our experience :)

It seems you have quite a few things that you are trying to achieve and I think you are going to need a few different people to help  you. It's unlikely the person building your ADU will be the right person to select furniture or organize an office.

I think you need an interior designer/space planner. I worked with Cillesa Ullman at https://cillesa.com/ and she was so helpful. My space ended up being so much more beautidul than i could imagine. She can either manage the project for you or be more of a consultant to help you mange the project yourselves. Good luck! Sonya

I'd recommend hiring an Architect first. To add an extra room and move around any walls, which may help with flow and maybe increase storage, you will need architectural drawings and plans (even just to get contractor quotes). A good architect will be excellent at re-imagining potential layouts for the space, walk you through options, and provide some education about the architecture of your home and appropriate options for things such as windows and external paint colors. (We almost painted over the Batchelder tiled fireplace in our 1927 home until a visting architect providing a quote told us about it and we did some googling... and then saw a similar tile at Oakland Museum.)  

In terms of interior aesthetics and furnishings, you do need to provide some direction since it's so personal. I'd recommend starting a Pinterest account, checking out decor magazines and blogs (Elle Decor, This Old House, Apartment Therapy, etc.) and pinning away what you like.  You could also check out stores/catalogues online and pin away what you like (Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, etc.).  

Overall don't feel bad! ALL houses built pre-1990s are "oddly laid out"-- concepts of space, entertaining, work from home etc. were totally different 100, 60, 50 years ago etc. etc.

We bought our house 7 years ago, and have done a LOT of work, e.g. 1) Redid the single bathroom 2) Replaced the windows, added window coverings 3a) Remodeled the kitchen, adding in a pantry (life-changing!) and a LOT more lighting 3b) Added a second bathroom / converting the laundry room and and moving the door to the backyard, and removing/adding walls around the previous little dine-in area/sunroom (that was also only used as a junk-room). And other work that required zero design choices, like foundation, electrical, HVAC, water heater, backyard fence, new roof, solar panels... And lots of things that required some design choices (two couches, multiple different dressers/beds accommodating baby-toddler-1st grader). 

Good luck! And just get started. All old houses are works in progress.

OMG, I could have written this! We have definitely not solved all these problems, but we have tackled a few. We also had a small office/sunroom area being used for junk, and we turned that into a second bath this year. As part of that project, we also expanded the adjacent closet, so it helped with two challenges (and moving the wall was a relatively low-cost way to make both spaces more workable). It took months despite not being a big project (and months just to get the permits issued!) but was definitely worth it. I like design so did our plans myself, but a good architect is definitely worth it if that's not your jam. It might also be worth investing in an interior designer to help guide you through colors and furniture layout/choices--for both architects and interior designers, keep interviewing until you find one who is a good fit. For furniture, don't be afraid of IKEA if you want pizza-proof furniture; they have some decent inexpensive stuff. We got window shades through Costco and they didn't break the bank. Windows can be done as a one-off project (ditto for a range hood and kitchen lighting) but for both, it's worth thinking about design/layout changes you might make before spending money on those, in case you end up with bigger modifications that will take out a window you just replaced or move a range hood you just hung. 

I'm the last person to ask for organizing and sorting out clutter--we still struggle with that--but one thing that's helped is figuring out which things need their own places and where those places need to be (e.g., these types of toys, and we want them all in the kids' room; these things that belong to person X and they can be in a longer-term storage area; these things that belong to person Y and they're used weekly so need to be accessible). We still found that we had buckets of things that needed a home but no place to put a home for them, but that at least shone light on the problem. We use vertical storage as much as possible--taller dressers and shelves, etc.--but there are sadly limits to a small house. Good luck!

If you are considering new blinds after your remodel my suggestion is to contact Don who is the owner of Slats-a company in Alameda which can help you with selection and supply window coverings at a reasonable price. He will go to your house and take measurements for you so that you are not responsible should the new ones not fit properly. I have worked with Don for many years on different projects and the results are always terrific. We recently finished installing pull down, good quality accordion type blinds in a 3 bedroom 2 bath house and the cost was $4200 for 22 windows-including some large ones in the living and dining rooms as well as the kitchen. Once ordered the blinds will be shipped directly to you for self-installation or Don will supply a person to do it for you. He is friendly, knowledgeable and easy to work with. His numbers are: 510-769-7528 and 510-566-3121.

I think you do want an organizer--one who can help with storage solutions/efficient use of space, AND who can help you get rid of things.  We have been working with Penny from Tips and Sass (https://www.tipsandsass.com/) for most of this year, and we have been surprised and delighted by how much more space we have once we went through our things and got rid of or reorganized them.  She's recommended new uses for odd spaces in our house, she has ideas for how to use the storage space we have, and she can recommend when buying a new dresser or cabinet or tool chest is the best answer.  Sometimes you just need another pair of eyes and hands!  We are much more comfortable in our house now that there is less stuff piled around and places to put things away.  If the ADU is to give yourselves more space, try an organizer first--you might find that your house has more space than you expected (especially since you have two rooms you're using as junk rooms!).  If you don't develop a system, your ADU will end up just as crowded.

You sound quite overwhelmed with the number of things that are stressing you out about your house.  I hear you and I feel the same way about my house sometimes.  But stressing about the whole list at once will sap your energy.  Focus on one thing at a time--the other things will wait.

Specific thoughts:

  • Window treatments are just surprisingly expensive!!  I think there are services (Smith and Noble?  Check BPN for recs) that will come and measure your windows so you don't end up with the wrong size.  You could also do one room at a time, so you can learn from any mistakes.
  • Good lamps are way more difficult to find than they should be!  But a cheap torchiere floor lamp has always been my go-to for getting more light in a room.
  • Paint is cheap, and it only takes a weekend to paint a room.  Paint might refresh your spaces and maybe make you hate your bathroom less.  If you end up not liking the color...paint is cheap.
  • I spent a lot of time wondering what my style was, and realized that I already knew--it's just that I didn't want to admit that I don't have an elegant style.  My style is Ikea and Lands End and cheerful solid colors.  Maybe you already know what your style is, you just feel like you should have "better" style, which is why you've talked to interior designers.  Maybe just embrace that you want a squishy, denim sectional couch or something.

Another idea - hire a firm that usually works fixing up homes for sale. A neighbor sold a house in SF last year and told me that it is standard to have homes not just staged but significant work done on them all with one firm. Said it was a lot like "Love It or List It'. The designer walked through with his head construction guy and they went through the home of what should be done, what can be done etc.  She had the option of full remodel to just parts but window coverings to flooring to replacing part or all of the kitchen, fixing the garden. These design/ remodel firms have a team. 

Of course their focus is different for preparing a home for sale, and the workmanship seemed more slap-dash when I walked through the home but it looked great in photos. Obviously you wouldn't want that but I'm sure they have the ability to do this for people who are planning to stay, you should make sure that is clear.

The designer had great ideas of what to remodel and what not to, what could have a quick fix and what needed more. The designer was also the stager and had great ideas of how to improve my friend's home with furniture layout and tie all the pieces together into a cohesive look.

Since there are very few homes coming to market right now, many of these firms might be looking to expand their work to regular homes, not just those for sale. I'm not in touch with the neighbor but you could search for design/stager or something and see what pops up.

Wow, you brought up a lot of home renovation projects, far more than you can or should do all at once, and definitely far more expensive than your $200-250K budget. I echo another reply that recommends you get a professional organizer to come first and reorganize your house. I hired one through TaskRabbit and she was great. It does cost money and will take a long time. For example, the organizer just helped me purge my kitchen--she took everything out, sorted things into keep, dispose, or give away, and put things back in an orderly manner--it took something like 4 hours, and she didn't even finish the entire kitchen! But it is so worth it. Hire someone who will also help you come up with storage ideas, and then hire another TaskRabbit to actually install those storage ideas for you. Just brace yourself that you must must must throw things away. You can't improve your house if you can't see it under all the clutter. Once you've put away the clutter and can actually "see" your house for what it is, then start considering what projects you want to tackle first. Maybe after your house is nice and neat, you won't want to change anything anymore! 

We recently hired Evelyn Davidson (http://www.mariposaremodels.com/; 510.982.5007) to renovate a very decrepit bathroom in our older home. While you have a bigger project, I think Evelyn would be a good fit for you. She's a designer (including of ADUs) and manages a crew that does the physical work. She's good at conceptualizing space, thinking of storage solutions, and helping you find a style and colors you'll feed good living in, with no push for elegance or expensive items. We found her easygoing ways enjoyable to work with, and we knew she wanted us to love the results and would work with us till that happened. Like you we felt overwhelmed, even with just one project, but what a difference to finally have a bathroom that's a pleasure to use. Best of luck to you.