Benefits of Renovating in Phases

Eden Prairie homeowners benefit from phased remodeling projects.
Interior designer Molly Gillberston in Tony and Beth Smith's Eden Prairie dining room.

There is more than one way to bake a cake or shine a penny. There is also more than one way to remodel a house. Renovation in phases as opposed to a one-shot overhaul can result in a beautiful new kitchen to bake your cakes and more pennies to shine from the money you saved along the way.

Room by room is exactly how Tony and Beth Smith approached the renovation of their 1980s Tudor style home in Eden Prairie. Ten years after moving into their home in 1998, appliances started to break down and the home’s interior began looking worn and out of date. So the Smiths decided to begin with a bathroom renovation. 

Today, the entire first floor of the Smith residence has been modernized and beautified, including the kitchen, dining room, living room windows and entryways, and most recently, the addition of a den with an interior that gives one the sense of relaxing in a remote mountain lodge.

From the beginning, the Smiths had a good idea of what style elements they were drawn to should they ever pull the trigger on renovation. And when the Smiths met Molly Gilbertson of M. Gilbertson Design ( at a local fundraising event, they sensed she understood what they wanted. So, they hired Gilbertson to update their bathroom in 2008.

“Most of my clients remodel in stages,” Gilbertson says. “The benefits include not needing to move out of the house during a large scale project and being able to try out a designer on a smaller space and then bringing them back for additional projects if you like their work.” The challenge with the Smiths’ bathroom project was having to work within the confines of existing cabinets and flooring; a challenge Gilbertson overcame by enameling the cabinets for a fresh look at minimal cost. The addition of a Cambria countertop and new hardware spiffed up the space.

The following year, the Smiths brought Gilbertson back to revamp their dated kitchen. “The Smiths’ kitchen has been my favorite remodeling phase so far,” says Gilbertson, “There was so much room for improvement and we were able to gut the space down to the studs and start from scratch. This approach provides a better result than a Band-Aid design.”

The kitchen remodel included removal of all overhead soffits and a spiral staircase to the second level. “The Smiths wanted to keep the kitchen staircase for its ease of communication to the upper level,” Gilbertson says. “But keeping it would prevent them from accomplishing their other goals for the space.” Gilbertson was able to accommodate the communication issue by removing the kitchen stairs, and building a railing toward an existing loft area.  This combination of functionality and aesthetic define the finished space with its large island, granite counters, built-in appliances and gorgeous cherry cabinetry. The Smiths now have a magnificent kitchen for hosting their gourmet cooking club or entertaining their extended families.

“I always ask for three adjectives from a client to describe how they want a space to be used,” Gilbertson says. “Most clients have an idea in their mind of what they like, but often can’t articulate it. I use what I call ‘visually listening’ by showing clients magazine images and listening for cues about what they do and don’t like.”

A drawback of renovating in phases can be knowing where to stop. The Smiths worked with Gilbertson to tie in their new kitchen to adjoining rooms without needing to make drastic changes to those areas. The dining room got new wainscoting, new lighting and some built-in cabinetry with beaded glass doors. A pair of French doors was removed and the entry from the kitchen to the living room was widened with a decorative arch to open up what was once a chopped and boxy floor plan. And behind the new kitchen, the Smith’s laundry room got a facelift with new appliances, granite counters, painted cabinets and a larger window to allow afternoon sunlight to pour into the workspace.

Then the Smiths took a breather. “Taking breaks between renovation phases is a positive for homeowners,” says Gilbertson. “It can be exhausting to have contractors in your home for extended periods of time. The ability to clean up and be done for a while allows the homeowner to recover emotionally and financially until the next project.”

The next project for the Smiths began in 2013. They picked up where they left off in the living room by adding larger windows to better enjoy their breathtaking wetland view. They also added planked Amish cherry wood flooring, built-in cabinets with a desk and computer area, and new crown moldings.

And recently, a brand new den was added to the existing floor plan. “This den has been Tony’s dream for years,” says Gilbertson. “The Smiths love to ski the mountains in Montana and wanted to create a room with a mountain lodge theme.” The finished space is outfitted with distressed wood beams, a stone fireplace and  heated floors. And of course, an immense window for added enjoyment of the view.

The Smiths’ second story is next on the remodeling agenda. Upper level guest bathrooms have already been done. And when the timing is right, the master suite and bath will be refreshed and renewed to match the rest of the house. An added benefit to these project phases is that the Smiths have developed a great friendship with Gilbertson along the way.

•  Keep a binder to organize all order forms and billings. This is helpful when you need to recall specific paint colors, item numbers and vendors.
•  Collect names and phone numbers for all craftsmen you’ve worked with and keep notes about who you liked and didn’t like. This helps your contractor and designer know who to send to your next project.