Project Planning Guide:

When you don’t know where to start, start here.

John and Susan sat across from each other at the table quietly contemplating what to order for dinner. “You know it just seems like we are spinning our wheels going to showrooms looking at products when we don’t really know what we want our new kitchen to look like.” Susan started.

“Well, the last guy we spoke with said we needed to have a list of things we want installed if we want to have some real costs. I don’t know any other way to pull that together.” John explained.
Susan sighed and then added; “Maybe we need to figure out what’s important to us about the kitchen first before we start trying to find the fixtures and finishes and what will make us happy.”

This and similar conversations happen at dozens of tables with dozens of homeowners every day. In a recent 2019 study 90% of homeowners indicated that they plan on remodeling in the future. Getting started on a major home remodeling project can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

See, we at Murphy’s Design believe that offering a guide that helps you lay a foundation of what you want before you start talking with pros like architects, designers, or contractors is the road to make it easier. That is how you will know when you find the right fit.
I believe working with professionals too soon, all of them ready to give you their idea of what you should want, will only confuse you. It’s better to first get your ideas down so that you are one step closer to making the entire process easier.

This guide is meant to give you that jumpstart.

We will cover how to decide on your priorities for scope of work, getting your preliminary investment range outlined and prepare yourselves for pulling together the team of professionals you want and need.

This project planning guide is a blueprint outlining decisions, best practices, and the things you don’t know about remodeling but need to know before you remodel your home. (or as I like to say the things you don’t know that you don’t know, wink wink).

I’ve broken this guide down into the 3 sections below. I’ve included an easy to use worksheets that outlines what you need to do so you can quickly run through this guide and get your projects moving.

One quick tip;

  • Purchase a three ring binder with tab dividers.This will be perfect for keeping these worksheets and all your notes in one place as you begin to do research for your home remodeling project.

If you have come across this guide then it’s likely that you have a reason to believe remodeling is in your near future. You might think that this is your why, after all it seems pretty obvious, but it’s not that clear cut. Over the course of the last 30 plus years I have found that the initial reason someone says they want something is seldom the reason at the heart.

Maybe you can see yourself in John and Nancy’s story;

It was a rainy Saturday morning when my phone began ringing. “Good Morning, Murphy’s Design, How can I help you? “

It was Nancy, a homeowner in Vienna, Virginia with a bathroom issue. After a few minutes of introductions Nancy shared with me the reason for her call; “We’ve been in our home for about six years and our Master Bathroom’s shower is just too small”. We are looking to remodel and get a bigger shower and we think it makes sense to update all the finishes at the same time.

That was Nancy’s why at this moment in time. A good enough reason to start the process of remodeling in their home. I worked with Nancy designing and planning their Master Bathroom over the course of 4 weeks. Was the bathroom shower too small? Maybe a smidge, but I found the real reason for the Master Bathroom remodel while we worked together.

This was;

1.The tile in the space was builder standard and made them feel like they were living in someone else’s, anyone else’s home. Cracked and in disrepair It didn’t make them feel special in any way. They were looking to feel their home reflected where they are now; successful, efficient, and loving.

2.Lacking in storage there was a feeling of disorganization and messiness, neither traits they wanted to be reflected in any part of their lifestyle. What they did want is a bathroom that starts them off everyday feeling in control and on top of their lives.

3.A huge portion of the bathroom was being occupied by a tub with large decking. Neither of them particularly valued a bathtub and they saw it as wasted space, always needing to be cleaned. They wanted to feel the luxury of a Master Suite not the nagging need to clean.

Although the catalyst for the remodel was the shower, at the core it was only a symptom. The true reason was about the contrast between how the space was making them feel and what they wanted to feel instead.

What they wanted…

  • A bathroom that reflects who they are; successful, efficient, and loving.
  • A bathroom that started them off each day feeling in control and on top of their lives.
  • A bathroom that invokes the feeling of luxury

What they had…

  • Builder basic not making them feel special in anyway
  • A disorganized messy space that was stressful every morning and every night
  • A bathroom that was invoking a feeling of needing to clean and wasted opportunity

The first step to embarking on a remodel is to figure out your why. Putting it into how you currently feel and in contrast how you want to feel will prioritize what needs fixing. This becomes your Northstar; your understanding of what you need will help you identify the right team and spot who can get you to where you want to go. Only then, once you see they understand your needs, will you find a match.

Included to this guide is worksheet #1 that will help you get started on figuring out your why and prioritizing your project.


Now that you have your why you can get down to the what. If you are hiring a design team like ours we will guide you into figuring out the why, and then help you create the what. But, if you are not using a design and planning team then it will be up to you to take your why and list out what needs to change. Your Bathroom list might look something like this:

Priority #1: Finishes and fixtures that look like…..
Priority #2: Shower with a bench seat and plenty of space for products
Priority #3: No tub or smaller tub that requires less maintaining, minimal cost
Priority #4: Vanity Storage for…
Priority #5: Handheld and fixed shower head in the shower
Priority #6: Taller toilet-other features?

You can find visuals of these items on the internet from the comfort of your own home. There are great inspirations on Instagram, Pinterest, and Houzz.

Quick tip: Do your homework and grab some screenshots, avoid heading out to the showrooms too soon. The feedback I receive most commonly from new customers is that they go to local showrooms and become overwhelmed and confused. Some couples even go so far as to say that they couldn’t agree on anything, end in an argument, followed by a silent ride home prompting their phone call to me.

I have attached Worksheet #2 my best practices and how-to’s for putting together a swipe file of images that will make communicating what you like easy.

Once you have some images that reflect your priorities then move to the next step; looking for the Who.


This is where ”you don’t know, what you don’t know” really hits home. At this stage you need to choose a path on how you want your remodeling experience to play out. If this is your first time doing a home remodel then you are learning as you go and this section will be life-changing. Finding out you needed more experience than who you’ve already hired is never good for the end result. Doing the research on your options, understanding the different roads to a successful remodel will make it so much clearer for you to stay in control of the process.

I believe there are three factors you should consider to influence your decision on who to hire;

1.How much time do you have to do the leg work involved in selections, planning, then coordinating the day to day and site questions?

2. Is what you need to have done a Major, Moderate or a Minor project and do they have the skills, license and insurance.

3. How comfortable do you feel after talking with the candidates that they understand Why, What and How much based on the information they have provided you. (Don’t worry we will get to the How much in this section)

How much time do you have for selections and planning?

Evaluating your time investment is key to the success of your project in a number of ways. First, all remodeling projects have dozens of decisions that will need to be made. Each decision builds onto the next. If you have plenty of time to check out local showrooms and a good sense of what will look good then not having any design and planning assistance could work for you. But if you work during the week, raising a family or at an office, be honest with yourself on how much time you can spend. Having an experienced designer and team dedicated to pulling together the options for you has value, as the saying goes, don’t be pennywise and pound foolish.

It’s not just the selections and planning, ordering, and coordinating all will take time from your already busy days. Even once the project gets started there will be ongoing decisions and supervision that needs attention everyday.

Provider types:
Full service Design and Build
General construction services with job site supervision
A la cart such as Design, Tile, Electrician, Plumber, Paint and Drywall
Handyman service models

There are (4) general provider types; full service design and build, general construction services with supervision, a la cart and handyman service and they all operate differently and with more or less cost.
The biggest mistake you can make is not doing the research to understand which of these “models” you should be hiring for your project.

Attached to this pdf is Worksheet #3 with a list of questions to ask yourself about how much time you have available. These will help you identify where you need help so you can recognize the right fit for a team.

How much work do you need done: Major, Moderate, or Minor?

I like to categorize remodeling into three categories;

Major Remodeling: Class A State Contractor’s license and full Liability, Workmen’s Compensation Insurance and Umbrella Policy is an absolute must.

Provider types:
Full service Design and Build
General construction services with job site supervision
A la cart such as Design, Tile, Electrician, Plumber, Paint and Drywall
Handyman service models

There are (4) general provider types; full service design and build, general construction services with supervision, a la cart and handyman service and they all operate differently and with more or less cost.
The biggest mistake you can make is not doing the research to understand which of these “models” you should be hiring for your project.

Attached to this pdf is Worksheet #3 with a list of questions to ask yourself about how much time you have available. These will help you identify where you need help so you can recognize the right fit for a team.

Work scopes: Additions, Moving walls, making structural changes, relocating and adding plumbing fixtures and relocating and adding electrical systems

Moderate Remodeling: Class A or B State Contractor’s license and full liability, Workmen’s Compensation Insurance is an absolute must.

Work scopes: Removing all old finishes to the studs and altering existing electrical, plumbing, hvac, fixture locations. Minor load baring wall modifications such as pocket doors, widening openings, adding a window or a door.

Minor Remodeling: Class B or C State Contractor’s license and liability insurance is a must, Workmen’s Compensation Insurance if not a sole provider.

Work Scopes: Cosmetic changes such as pulling out the old flooring, cabinets, countertops and replacing in the same locations. Paint, wallpaper, tile, flooring as stand alone projects.

By determining which category your project fits you will narrow down the type of remodeling/service provider you should hire. You wouldn’t hire a design and build firm to just re-tile your shower, similarly you wouldn’t hire a tile company to design and build your new bathroom spa.

How to find the best candidates and How much is it going to cost?

It is impossible to know how much most remodeling is going to cost before you select your products to be installed. Anyone telling you otherwise is lacking in information. But it is essential you have a way to evaluate your investment range with the projects you want to complete.

You might be asking “How do we do that?”

The industry standard has always been to get an in-home estimate; having someone come out to your home and discuss your remodeling ideas and give you an idea of what cost to expect. The problem with this method has always been you have three contractors come out and you end up with three vastly different costs.

I want to offer you another way to figure this out.

When providing a budget range or speaking with my clients I break it down for them into three parts.

Estimates are made up of three costs;
Labor + Building Materials
Customer selection cost items
General Overhead and Supervision (design and planning included.)

I believe this is the best way to discuss and see your costs for these reasons;

1.It’s so much easier to understand where the cost is coming from
2.If you have to compare one company to another it’s easier to spot when one company is low balling the Customer Selection Cost.
3. You can have much more productive conversations on differences like no design help or planning assistance
4. When it comes time to value engineer the cost of your project it’s easier to see where the cuts came from

Here’s my twist on the estimate:

Do a Phone or video consultation before inviting someone to your home.

I can hear you now; “How the heck can they give me any cost information without coming to the house?” Focusing too much on cost in the early stages can be disastrous to your project. You can get so excited and feel like you know the person that you forget to check the basics of business paperwork. This has led to homeowner’s being tricked out of thousands of dollars. So no, they can’t give you any specific cost information on your home but you can verify their business practices and they can give you the cost of similar projects in a way that makes it very clear if they are not going to be a good fit.

Your goal for the Phone Consultation is to get the following information before having anyone come to your home:

1.Confirm they are the right type of provider from your homework (before giving up your free time at home)
2.Get actual cost information on projects they have recently completed
3.Speak to them about your investment range and if it is realistic based on your Why section.
4.Learn about their willingness to help you through the process by feeling how open they are with you during this call.
5.Discuss photos of projects they’ve completed, testimonials and reviews, or if no website and no reviews get photos and call past customers. (Note: unfortunately calling with or without photos has become the least reliable verification)
6.Verify licenses and insurance

Once the phone consultation is complete then you can decide whether to schedule an in-home visit. Once you’ve made your phone calls, narrow them down to three, four at the most, solid candidates to come to your home. You can always schedule more if you need to.

Where can we find reliable candidates for our projects, check:

NARI listings for your Area (
Family and Friend Recommendations
Local press articles of award winning and service oriented companies
Angie’s List (beware of paid listings without back-up reviews)
Google Reviews

The purpose of the in-home consultation is to get a rough estimate and further verify that you are comfortable working with and having them do work in your home before taking the next step.

At this point I recommend you download our “Hiring the Right Team” guide for step by step instructions with worksheets for keeping notes from your phone calls. Put the notes in your binder so you don’t lose track of the winners from the duds.

We’ve come to the end of this guide. If you decide to work with us at Murphy’s Design our Project Development Process will walk you through these steps so together we can make your vision come to life. If you choose to work through this on your own then I am confident that if you follow the recommendations I lay out here you will find a great remodeler or servicer to help you with the projects in your home.

If this guide was helpful to you, you may want to check out my next guide; Design and Planning: Getting the help you need for any project and every budget.

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