On paper, all the projects are beautiful and feasible. In action, everything is different. Réno-réalité aims to be a frank testimony on projects that are happy for some or painful for others.

Isabelle: The idea was present when the triplex was purchased in 2012. The project consists of annexing the accommodation on the ground floor to that on the first floor to make a cottage with three bedrooms upstairs. With two children, we wanted more space and wanted everyone to have their own bedroom. We started the project in the spring of 2022.

Isabelle: I wanted the spaces to be well defined and I knew that making choices was going to be tough for me, so the first step was choosing the designer. I had carefully studied the options and advantages of being accompanied and Frédérique Croze corresponded exactly to our needs. One of the aspects valued by the chosen designer is the good understanding and the pleasure of working together. This is also reflected in its employees. It was important for us, the human aspect.

Frédérique Croze: The designer is above all the designer and planner of the spaces entrusted to him. My team and I pay particular attention to the notion of customer support in its emotional dimension.

Isabella: Two. The entrepreneur we have selected is used to working with the designer chosen beforehand. We also consulted groups on social networks to help us, follow advice or recommendations from entrepreneurs.

Always present your project in the same way to different contractors. Meet them, discuss the project, listen to their ideas, other options, and see if the human “connection” is possible, in order to partner with your contractor throughout the project.

Find out more about the price of the items. Ask for detailed quotes. Compare different types of contracts — hourly, flat rate. Ask several questions and consider different scenarios. Establish what an extra and an unforeseen is. Ask for concrete examples.

Pay attention to hourly agreements, especially for major structural work. When the contractor does not have the human resources (which is largely the case for many companies), the work does not progress at a steady pace. The time is getting longer and the hours are adding up without achieving the desired result. Teamwork costs more per day, but is generally more efficient.

Isabelle: During certain misunderstandings, such as when we were informed afterwards of an additional cost of $6,000 for the structure. At times, the cost of various portions of the project was underestimated by the contractor. The bill was getting higher and higher. The “while to be there” on my part also hurt the wallet and slowly made it seem like I lost control of the project. It was getting more and more stressful.

Frédérique: The project can bring up certain emotional issues, such as the difficulty of making choices, the relationship to money, letting go. Our team can probably make a difference in the sense that we have an increased awareness of this issue and that we have a humanistic and benevolent approach. We offer as many meetings as necessary and, above all, great transparency and adaptability in order to bring as much clarity as possible to our processes and our fees. We guide our clients. You have to learn to trust the professionals you work with. We encourage our clients to really take the time to do good planning and make all the decisions before starting the work.

Structural work generates significant costs. Provide recommendations from a building engineer so that everything is compliant, safe and durable. Ask your contractor questions and check all the possible options for using materials, depending for example on the length of the opening in the load-bearing wall, the depth of the ceiling, if there is a visible drop from the beam, the final aesthetics, etc. Using laminated veneer lumber (LVL) or steel requires different handling and one more subcontractor. Sometimes it’s a matter of looks. Look for alternatives: keep part of a corner of the wall, create an opening with a column integrated with cabinets or the island. The important thing is to understand the project to make decisions based on the recommendations and your budget limit.

Isabelle: Several things. I would start with the bottom pieces and not the top ones. The reason we started upstairs is that we didn’t want to move so we wouldn’t lose rent, but it wasn’t worth it because we put too much money on the second floor.

Also, from the start, I would have asked my contractor for more specific deadlines, including portions of the budget to be respected. I would have left a column to have less structural work and seek to better understand my options. I would have outsourced or done more finishing work.

Ask about all possible costs. Make comparison charts with different material options. If necessary, modify your project on paper before you even start the work. It is not uncommon for a project to cost 20% more than on paper planning.

Isabelle: Take a step back and review our priorities. Lower my aspirations. Talking to a friend who made me understand that I was not experiencing a failure. Do the finishing work ourselves on the ground floor.

You can do many of the finishing jobs yourself: painting, installing moldings, plastering small sections, installing an interior door, doorknob, and even tiling. Even if it adds an additional task to you, it can make a big difference on the invoice at the end of the day. The main thing is to know this before the work. This way you are mentally prepared and it becomes a conscious project.

Testimonial: Isabelle and Jean, Plateau Mont-Royal, Montreal

Professional: Frédérique Croze, Zü Design interior architecture

Start of works: February 2022

Estimated end of works: May 2023