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Let's Go Shopping

Before the hammer hits the first nail, start looking for the unending number of items on your list.


If you deal with a seasoned architect or designer, he or she will ask you to start shopping long before you get final plans. For smaller room additions, you may simply need to consider whether you want built-in cabinetry, crown molding, or vinyl or wood windows. For bigger projects, you may need to start picking out everything from appliances to tile to doors, knobs and handles.

"It's overwhelming," says Bruce Wentworth, an architect and vice president of Wentworth-Levine Architect/Builder Inc. in Washington, D.C. "I don't even like to take clients to shop for tile anymore because you can spend five hours picking tile for one bathroom."

Still, shopping early does two

important things: It allows the designer to know your tastes, and it allows you to start figuring out what the project will cost. In addition, if you are able to specify details, including the makes and models of the things you want, you have a much better chance of getting apples-to-apples bids from contractors.

Realize that you don't need to decide on minor details, such as the color you're going to paint each room, at this early stage, but you do need to settle on big-ticket items, such as the type of flooring and windows you'll want.

Similarly, you don't want to get too price-conscious yet. But it's a good idea to make a mental note of vast differences in prices and to consider whether the less expensive approaches will get you the home you want.

The best way to get started is to simply sit in the rooms you're planning to remodel. Armed with a notebook and pencil, decide what stays, what needs to be replaced and what you want to add.

If you're remodeling or adding a living room, family room or bedroom, your job is fairly simple. You may be changing only flooring, windows, moldings and doors. (But remember, if you're getting new doors, you'll also need new hinges, knobs and locks.)


You'll need to decide whether to put in carpets or wood--real or laminate--on the floors. You may need to decide whether to put in vinyl or wood windows, a decision that could be influenced by what's installed in the rest of the house. You may also need to decide on solid wood or hollow-core doors in a variety of styles. If you're planning to install cabinets, you'll need to determine types--wood or paint-grade, for example--and styles.

Making decisions becomes more complicated when you're remodeling a kitchen or bathroom because there are far more moving parts.

Remodel a bathroom and you may need mirrors or medicine chests, cabinets, sinks, tubs, shower doors, faucets, tile, toilets, doors and hardware for both the bathroom door and the cabinets. You might want one type of tile on the vanity and another type on the floor. You may also want to use decorative tiles and/or alternating colors and designs if you use tile in the shower or as a back-splash for the tub.

In the kitchen, you've got to decide on cabinets, flooring, counter tops, sinks, faucets and appliances, not to mention all sorts of details, such as whether you want specialized fittings in your cabinets, such as spice racks, Lazy Susans and pull-out shelves.

When faced with a variety of complex choices, narrow the field by considering how you live and which choices best accommodate that lifestyle. Do you do a lot of baking, for instance? Are you the one who prepares every holiday dinner?

If so, you'll want to consider double ovens, warming drawers and solid-surface counter tops that will save you the trouble of having to scrub grout after every meal. If you like to have your family congregate in the kitchen, you might also go for an island with a stove and barstools to ensure that you can both accommodate visitors and chat with them while cooking.


Make a wish list of things you would most like to have in each room and rank them in order. Write down what you want, but tell your architect or designer that you're willing to start cutting from the bottom if the cost becomes prohibitive.

Your designer will probably give you a list of places to start shopping, ranging from lumber yards and tile warehouses to home improvement centers. You may also want to shop on the Internet. Most of the major window manufacturers and many flooring and appliance manufacturers have Web sites.

When it comes to price comparisons, however, most of the Web's promise is yet to be fulfilled. Manufacturers don't want to undercut their dealers, so they refer buyers to local stores instead of providing prices. That makes it tough to compare the cost of windows, for example, or even to make a choice between casement, double-hung or fixed windows made by the same manufacturer. (The cost difference between a fixed single-paned window and a double-paned casement window can range from 30% to 50%.)

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