Stacy and Clarence: A Real-World Home Remodel Story

*If you’ve already read the preview on Instagram, skip down to the “Time for Tough Choices” section to find out what happens next!*

Have you ever wondered what an “Extreme Home Makeover” would look like… in REALITY?

Well, wonder no more!

Let me give you a peek inside a major home remodel project that’s currently in progress. There’s still drama to be had (of course) but there’s also a LOT more planning, decision-making and compromise than the “as seen on TV” version.

Grab the popcorn and dim the lights… our realistic home design show is about to begin!

Lights, Camera, ACTION!

In walk Stacy and Clarence (names have been changed, Dragnet-style), dreaming of the perfect total remodel of their forever home. They have gorgeous, fully-rendered floor plans already made. They have a vision and they’re ready to make it real!

Their HGTV-worthy project includes transforming the galley kitchen into an open concept kitchen and living room with custom cabinets, built-ins and a huge island. 

They also want a new laundry/mud room and large multifunctional space, new hardwood and tile throughout the home and a spacious covered porch with an outdoor kitchen and additional patio space for entertaining. Wow!

All they need is a designer (yours truly!) to help bring that dream to life.

I enter stage left in my suit and heels (okay, jeans and t-shirt), ready to get to work. 

The builder and draftsman had created a solid plan. With most of the design work already done, I can focus on the fun stuff like interior design and finishes.

Disaster Strikes (Or Maybe Not)

Glancing up from the papers, I ask the obvious (to me) question:

“So what does your budget look like?”

Blank stares.

At last, Stacy and Clarence break the silence and tell me they’ve saved $100K for the project and they “hope” it will be enough.

I look down at the ambitious home makeover plans and my heart sinks.

A total interior redesign with a high-end kitchen, laundry room and outdoor living space, all for under $100K?

Not gonna happen.

It turns out that during the entire design/drafting process with the builder and draftsman, the budget was never discussed. No ballparks were thrown out, and no expectations were set. 

This sweet couple is going into their dream home remodel with NO clue how much it will cost or if they can even afford it!

Without an intervention, they might unknowingly be headed down the primrose path to disaster– either a half-finished project, substandard quality or crippling debt (or worse, all three!).

Time for Tough Choices

I hate being a dream crusher, but sometimes a dose of reality is what’s needed. I take off my proverbial rose-colored glasses and look hard at Stacy and Clarence.

“I know how much you both want this,” I say, trying to soften the blow. “And I know $100,000 is a lot of money, but it just won’t be enough to cover all your wants. Maybe not even all your needs. We’re gonna have to make some changes for this to work.”

Home design shows have massive budgets to build custom mansions in a very short timeframe. But most of us simply don’t have unlimited funds to make our home dreams come true!

In the real world, the biggest challenge for any project (new home or remodel) is identifying a realistic budget.

This should be step one before ever having plans drawn up, unless the intention is to complete the project in phases. Unfortunately, with Stacy and Clarence this was not the case.

Now it’s up to me, super slayer designer, budget slasher, and clear-eyed realist, to help them redefine their expectations and set goals for current and future projects.

First things first– let’s define the budget. Is $100,000 really their max budget (the most they’re willing to spend) or is there any wiggle room there?

Stacy and Clarence are willing to flex a little on that number if it means getting their non-negotiables done. Great!

Next, we sit down together to prioritize their must-haves and figure out how much each item will ACTUALLY cost. 

Here’s their list of essential upgrades:

  • New open-concept kitchen/living space (must remove a wall): Variable Cost
  • Home chef quality appliances with some specialty requests: $15K
  • Custom inset cabinets, 8’ tall with lots of full height cabinets: $26K
  • Quartz countertops: $7K
  • New flooring throughout the home, including a 400 square foot sunroom: $32K
  • New laundry/mudroom/half-bath space: Variable Cost

Now it’s time to start making finish selections and product choices so we can see if those ballpark figures are in line with reality.

So far, we have just started applying budgetary numbers of the items we have pricing on and we’re already over $80K! (Cue the jaw drop.)

Keep in mind, that number is just for materials and products… 

It does NOT include removing and changing walls around with all of the labor and materials, painting, lighting, plumbing fixtures, and other expenses. It also does not include the contractor’s project management fee, which in this case is cost plus 15%.

Needless to say, I have a few more questions for my clients! 

Do you understand what a cost-plus contract means and how it is calculated? 

Do you have the funds to pay a $15K fee over and above the budgeted $100K?

If not, then we need to work backwards to budget in that 15%… which means the “construction costs” can only be $87K. 

What… did I say $87K and we’re already at $80K before any construction? 

As we crunch the numbers, it’s quickly becoming clear… they’ll either need to increase their budget or sacrifice some things to cut costs! (Probably both).

It’s time to get down to brass tacks. What can we subtract to make the numbers work?

Often, we have a long “wish list” but don’t identify our true base needs. There is a BIG difference between needs and wants!

On the chopping block:

The Sunroom

Pulling out the sunroom flooring, walls and windows would be a separate project anyway. We’ll install new flooring in the main home only and leave the sunroom for another time. 

SAVINGS: $4,000 – $5,000

New Laundry/ Mudroom/ Half Bathroom

This can also be a stand-alone project for another time. Stacy and Clarence already have a functional laundry area– not their dream room, but it works and the storage space is still usable.

SAVINGS: $25,000

New Covered Porch, Outdoor Kitchen & Patio

I hate telling people “no” but I dismissed this one out of hand! It’s clearly a huge project that doesn’t fit in my clients’ budget right now.

SAVINGS: $30,000 – $40,000

By focusing on the kitchen remodel and flooring for the main house, my clients can get (most of) what they want without blowing their budget!

Rescuing the Dream and Moving Forward

So, what does this project currently look like? Well, it’s still a work in progress! This is one home design reality show that doesn’t have a big reveal (at least not yet).

Truth is, these big projects take TIME and patience. Sadly, I don’t have a magic wand in my back pocket… but I do have a realistic plan for Stacy and Clarence’s dream home remodel!

We’ll most likely take this project in phases, prioritizing the most important areas and giving my clients time to save money for later upgrades. 

Here’s the possible roadmap:

PHASE ONE [starting now]

Budget: $125K

Remodel kitchen to create an open-concept space

Install new floors throughout the main house


Budget: $30K

Update sunroom with new flooring, windows, walls, and French doors

Reconfigure laundry/storage/mudroom/half bath 

Add stock (prefabricated) cabinets for storage


Budget: $30-40K

Covered porch

Outdoor kitchen

Concrete patio off the porch

A total realistic budget for the entire project is $195K… yes, that’s nearly double what Stacy and Clarence had planned!

Even the kitchen remodel alone will cost more than their original $100K budget. 

Now you see why it is so important to know what you can spend FIRST, calculate some ballpark numbers with a designer or contractor, and create plans and dreams accordingly within that set of expectations. 

No dreams are crushed, no money wasted, dream home or remodel is achieved! Roll the credits.

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