The pieces may be a lot bigger, but large-scale remodeling projects come together much the same way as an intricate jigsaw puzzle. Outlining a budget and design plan is like assembling all the edge pieces to create a sturdy frame; installation is as easy as snapping each piece into place. For clients, product selection can be an intimidating process, like tossing thousands of puzzle pieces on the table and asking that they make sense of them all. A little guidance from seasoned remodeling experts can help clients see the big picture.

PLAN FIRST, WORK LATER Clients may just be concerned about their specific project, but remodelers often have a dozen projects going on at once. Finishing one job gives designers and staff more time to devote to other work or to bring in new jobs.

At Dave Fox Remodeling in Columbus, Ohio, interior designer Louise Budde knows the company's ACT promise — Always Complete on Time — must operate in two directions. “It's very stressful for a homeowner to have their living environment torn up, so we try to get in and out as quickly as possible,” she says. “The key is to have all the products lined up before any work starts, and that means working very closely with the client to select products in a timely fashion.”

Having all the product selections made before work begins is also important for the staff at Out of the Woods Construction, in Arlington, Mass. “Once all the products are on site — or are at least on order — it lets our crews get started working on rough-ins right away,” says project designer Nancy Nelson. “Also, getting clients to commit to their product selections early helps us identify any potentially special situations and deal with them before they arise. For instance, if the homeowners choose to install a two-person whirlpool tub on the second floor, our crews know early on that they'll probably have to reinforce the floor.”

Panchali Sau, owner of Painted Plum Building Solutions, takes her clients to  meet in person with vendors that can help make product decisions. They also  help Sau ensure she hasn't overlooked any details herself.
Stacey Haines Panchali Sau, owner of Painted Plum Building Solutions, takes her clients to meet in person with vendors that can help make product decisions. They also help Sau ensure she hasn't overlooked any details herself.

After Nelson meets with homeowners, presents them with a feasibility study, and nails down a design agreement, she uses a project continuum that outlines specific product selections and due dates to help keep clients on task. “Our approach with remodeling projects is to eliminate the use of allowances and to present clients with specific real designs and real products as part of the feasibility study,” she says. “But even though we have specified granite countertops or oiled-bronze faucets for the project, the client still has the opportunity to select the exact granite or fixture they want to have in their home. Along the way, it's our staff's responsibility to nudge them and remind them that we need their specific selections by a certain date.”

At Out of the Woods, product selection takes roughly two weeks for the average client. Products with the longest lead times, such as cabinetry, are chosen first, while smaller items such as knobs, pulls, or backsplash tiles can wait a bit longer.

For Panchali Sau, owner of Painted Plum Building Solutions, in Charlotte, N.C., the process takes clients an average of 60 days, but this wasn't always the case.

“When we started our company five years ago, we left all the product selection up to the client,” she remembers. “We didn't realize how important it was to know that while hardwood floors were chosen for the kitchen and dining rooms, the client was planning for stained concrete in an adjoining foyer. We also didn't have any documentation of product selection or a reason to discourage late changes. That really ended up hurting us.”

Sau remembers more than one instance when crews would move forward with rough-ins based on what she presumed was the final selection — only to end up in tense situations with the home-owners, who had changed their minds in favor of a different product without making their new wishes known. “After a lot of trial and error, we developed our current product-selection method, and we're pretty adamant about making clients go through this process,” she says.

The current approach is part of the company's new-customer welcome package. Using a series of five forms outlined for bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, exterior, and foundation, Sau has clients fill in the blanks with basic product selections and notes. “For the bedrooms form, for example, we've broken it down into categories and subcategories, as well as specific spaces such as ‘master bedroom,' ‘bedroom 2,' and ‘bedroom 3,'” she explains. “For the master bedroom, clients will choose something from the flooring category — hardwood, carpet, tile, vinyl, or other; then designate for trimwork — baseboard, cap, crown, and so on. They can choose some of it or none of it just by checking off the appropriate boxes.”