How To Avoid Renovation Regret

Confession: All my life, I’ve wanted a chaise lounge. Chalk it up to Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda canoodling on one in “The Lady Eve.” A chaise always seemed like a highly comfortable perch for a grown-up. Plus, it has a chic French name.

I eventually bought a chaise … that took up way too much space in my living room and blocked an entry. After all, chaise means “long chair.” And yes, that chair was long indeed, as was the lasting sting of my buyer’s remorse.

Unfortunately, when you’re faced with a big design decision, this regret will rear its head at some point. Here’s how to avoid coming down with a case of disappointment and navigating the condition if you already have it.

Why does buyer’s remorse happen?

The why of buyer’s remorse is fairly simple: People tend to get upset when the reality of a design decision doesn’t measure up to their dreams.

Buyer’s remorse will usually crop up when you make big decisions on an impulse. For example, repainting a room can cause massive regret if the cute pink color you chose in the paint aisle looks like a gauche neon once it’s on four walls.

“You may love a paint color in a store or online, but the color will look different in your setting and natural lighting,” explains Amanda M. Amato-Scotto, CEO and principal designer of AMA Designs & Interiors in Wallington, NJ. “So for paint, always do a test swatch on poster board and put it to your wall. Live with the color for a few days, and check the sample at different times of the day.”

When it comes to furniture—especially a large piece like a sofa—people are often disappointed with its scale in their home, says Amato-Scotto.

Amato-Scotto recommends space planning before committing to new furniture. For example, tape out the furniture on the floor with painter’s tape. And if you can scavenge boxes, stack them to the height of the new piece for a 3D effect.

You can also plot out your furniture in an app such as Plan Your Room. (Ditto for seeing how that paint color looks on your walls.)

Take baby steps

Never rush into a renovation, as that will increase the likelihood of experiencing remorse. And don’t take on an extensive renovation project at once—instead tackle it in pieces. Not only is it more practical, but it can also lessen any potential remorse.

“It’s far easier to pivot a renovation when you’re only one or two small steps in as opposed to fully committing from the get-go and buying everything for a large renovation,” says Sean Hayes, general manager for kitchen and bathroom brand

Too many choices is another cause of buyer’s remorse.

“Research shows that if you’re surrounded by an abundance of options, you typically end up less satisfied with your final decision than if you’d been given fewer options in the first place,” according to Psychology Today.

“When it comes to decision making, three is the perfect number of options,” says Colin Haentjens, interior designer at the Knobs Company.

Don’t expect perfection

Most people spend a ton of money on a remodel and expect perfection.

“But in construction, that’s rarely possible,” says Paul Dashevsky, co-founder of GreatBuildz, a free service in Los Angeles and Ventura County that matches homeowners with contractors.

Most older homes tend to settle over time. That means walls, ceilings, and floors that were once perfectly square may have shifted slightly. So a renovation that looks great from 5 feet away—an accent wall of shiplap, for instance—may look imperfect on closer inspection if the wall is no longer plumb.

And keep in mind that when you renovate, you may scrutinize subtle flaws initially. But you might find that you don’t even notice them after a few months.

Make peace with your decision

Psychology Today says regret is a “negative cognitive or emotional state that involves blaming ourselves for a bad outcome.”

So instead of blaming yourself, take action: Sell a piece of furniture you hate or get a slipcover. You can also repaint or add walling hangings and mirrors to change how a room color feels.

“What I can suggest is to modify your mindset,” says Stacy Lewis, interior designer at Eternity Modern. “I believe that this will be the most practical way to recover. Try to figure out the good things with the accomplished styles or designs and give a new meaning to them. I think that reno-remorse is just about the failure to appreciate what is already done. Besides, home styles and designs always depend on how the owner appreciates and acknowledges them.”

Bottom line: It’s OK if your initial design vision doesn’t match the result.

“In almost every project, you [risk buying] the wrong item or painting the wrong color,” says Esther Dormer, a Pittsburgh-based interior designer. But “design should be fun, so be playful with it. Sometimes adding something adventurous makes the whole room work.”


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