Reno Focus: Beneath the surface

When renovating a space for resale or rent, it can often be challenging to know where and how to invest in finishes. For me, the most important rooms of any home are the bathrooms and kitchen. These are the spaces where you get the most return on your renovation investment, but how can you make your property stand out without compromising your budget?

I primarily renovate and resell residential homes, so the finishes throughout my properties are mostly neutral with a focus on mass appeal. But I still want buyers or renters to be wowed and remember them. Where there is impact, there are profits. Here are my budget-conscious, style-friendly guidelines for working with kitchen and bathroom surfaces: tile, countertops and backsplashes.

Let’s talk tile

There’s no secret recipe for designing successful rooms, but there are four rules of thumb I’ve always found to be reliable guides to creating memorable spaces with tile.

1. Design

Are you going to highlight the floor or a shower wall? Pick one area that will draw the eye and form the centrepiece for all subsequent finishes. Be willing to stretch your budget on this, dedicating anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of it to your feature area.

Don’t be afraid to complement the feature using simple tiles. White stock tiles are great supporting acts, and at $1.50 to $4 a square foot, the prices can’t be beat.

If you’re using a simple tile, play with placement: herringbone, brick, stacked, vertical, basket weave, staggered. These are all patterns that can bring your inexpensive tile to life.

And pay equal attention to grout. It can make or break the room. I recently used black grout on plain white tile in a rental, which not only elevated the tile but also delivered a modern and practical look that is less susceptible to discolouration.

2. Supply

Good relationships with your suppliers are crucial. They can alert you to discount items, invite you to end-of-lot sales and afford you many of the benefits reserved for bulk or loyal customers. Shop around for inspiration, but stay loyal to just a few suppliers. It will save you time and money.

3. Installation

During installation, avoid cutting corners at all costs. I’ve seen many projects where a beautiful tile has been incorrectly or badly installed, and it cheapens the space. If you’re working with a new tiler, be sure to check out their previous work and make sure their aesthetic matches yours.

4. Flexibility

Since you’re not creating your own dream bathroom, why not shop the sales? Finding feature tile at a discount can materially impact your budget, so find one main tile and then build the scheme around that. I love to pair floral floor tiles (an average of $6 per square foot) with plain white tiles ($1.99 per square foot), or large-format tile with pops of smaller mosaics, for an eyecatching yet affordable scheme. Don’t obsess over finding that one perfect tile. Shop with an open mind and follow your gut.

Someone’s in the kitchen

While these guidelines apply to the tile used in any part of the house, there are important distinctions to be made for countertops and backsplashes in the kitchen. A backsplash is typically a defining feature of any kitchen, so it’s important to set the right tone.

Finding the right backsplash need not mean overpaying. You can get a great return by making a clever selection – porcelain mermaid, crayon, elongated hexagon, scallop, or even penny round tile can create a highend appearance. I’ve even used grey barn board as a backsplash in a basement rental, which was impactful and cost-efficient. You’re going to be looking at $6 to $15 per square foot versus $25 or more if you were using a more traditional marble, glass or quartz backsplash.

In terms of countertops, my default is quartz. It’s the most cost-efficient use of your budget and still delivers on quality, durability, style and price ($50 to $155 per square foot). I would recommend quartz whether your reno caters to the most discerning client or the masses. But if you’re determined to do something different, here are some alternatives to consider:

  • Butcher block. It’s affordable and it looks great, but it’s not as durable as most other options. Use it if the weathered look matches your aesthetic. Prices range from $45 to $120 per square foot, depending on the species of wood you choose.
  • Concrete. It’s strong and durable but susceptible to stains and scratches. It can also crack if not well installed/poured. Prices range from $70 to $140 per square foot.
  • Granite. Durable, beautiful and heat resistant, granite’s price point is attainable if you start at the lower end of the spectrum. Prices start at $45 per square foot, but highquality slabs will cost more than twice that.
  • Stainless steel. It’s low-maintenance and beautiful, but scratches and dents show easily. And at $80 to $225 per square foot, it’s not cost-efficient.
  • Marble. Beautiful, but it’s porous and highmaintenance. The price tag usually ranges from around $75 to $250 per square foot.
  • Laminate. Avoid the laminate slabs from big-box stores. Instead, find good custom laminate installers who have a range of colours and modern profiles to choose from. Expect to pay $15 to $80 per square foot.

Surfaces speak to the quality of your space and bring together all of your design elements. Simplicity delivered well will never disappoint, but have a little fun with it, and you will create a more memorable space that brings you more buyers or renters.

KATIE HERBERT owns and operates Herbert Homes, a home renovation company based in the GTA. She is also the host of Handmade Hotels, which airs on Makeful. She prides herself on thoughtful design and quality workmanship. Find her on Instagram @herbert_homes.

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