I worked for a roofing company in college, and my boss liked to tell the story of a material mishap he suffered shortly after starting his business. He’d been working hard installing a new asphalt roof for a customer who was away on business. There he was putting down the final shingles when she pulled up to the house. “It looks nice,” she shouted from the driveway. “But it’s the wrong color.”

That lesson has stuck with me all these years, along with the implied importance of getting material orders right on a remodeling project. Recently, the Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed general contractors about the mistakes that lead to the biggest delays and cost overruns on a project. On their list of culprits, materials arriving broken or different from what was ordered was second only to existing structural damage.

When the time came to renovate my own home—a 19th-century brownstone in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn—I vowed to avoid that pitfall by ordering many of the home renovation materials myself and getting them to the site well ahead of when they would be installed, just in case there was a problem.

In addition to avoiding costly mistakes, the decision helped with budgeting because my architect agreed to lower her fee if we managed that part of the project. By building ample lead time into the process, I could also hold off on certain purchases if I knew a sale was coming—during one of the summer holiday weekends, for example, when deals abound on everything from paint to ceramic tile.   

Settle on a Style

If you plan to buy your own home renovation materials, you really need to know your style. My wife and I spent hours on sites such as Houzz, Pinterest, and Remodelista, creating a digital ideabook of photos to help pinpoint our design preferences. Our tastes skew traditional, with a few modern flourishes here and there, so we fall in the so-called transitional camp of home design.  

The next step was figuring out where to shop. There’s no shortage of home centers in the New York metro area, and most of them provide free or affordable design advice, as well as the names of local installers. But we already had an architect and general contractor on board, plus the volume of selection at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s felt a little overwhelming.

So we looked into dedicated kitchen and bath showrooms, which offer a more curated selection of products and knowledgeable staff. At the recommendation of our architect, as well as friends and colleagues who had recently remodeled, we ended up choosing Ferguson for the kitchen and bath fixtures, and a pair of tile showrooms, Nemo Tile and Tile Bar, for the tile work. Below is our advice for getting the most out of those visits.

Home renovation materials include this La Cava vanity.
The La Cava double-bowl porcelain vanity chosen for the master bath was a splurge.

5 Rules to Showroom Success

You do get more handholding from the staff members at a dedicated kitchen and bath showroom, many of whom are certified designers. But as I learned, there are still steps you can take to make the process go smoothly.

Make an Appointment
You can usually walk into a showroom off the street, but you’ll save time by making an appointment. If you know people who have worked with the showroom in the past, find out who the best designer on staff is and set up your meeting with him or her.  

Don’t Rush the Process
If it’s a major project—a full kitchen or master bathroom remodel, for example—plan to spend several hours in the showroom. There are hundreds, if not thousands of products to sort through, and you need them to coordinate. That takes time and patience—and probably even a follow-up visit.

Bring Your Ideabook and Floor Plans
The inspirational photos will help the designer home in on your style more quickly. The floor plans will provide all of the necessary specifications. That is especially important with bathroom projects, because tubs, vanities, and sinks come in a wide range of sizes.

Know Where to Save and Where to Splurge
Set your priorities going in. For example, tile can get crazy expensive, but we knew that a simple 4-inch subway tile in a white gloss finish would create the classic look we want for the bathrooms. That gave us more spending power on the master bathroom vanity, a nice double-bowl unit from La Cava with basins made of porcelain, a material that performs well in CR's bathroom sink ratings. Instead of the stainless steel console, we opted for a white custom vanity to provide more storage in the bathroom.  

Think About Secondhand
If you’re up for the hunt, there are some seriously first-rate products on the secondhand market. We visited Green Demolitions in Fairfield, N.J., where a 43,000-square-foot showroom is filled with luxury products salvaged from high-end homes. Go to greendemolitions.com for the latest finds (wares can be shipped anywhere in the country) or try your luck at the local salvage shop in your area.

Before you make any final orders, you of course need to ensure that you have a secure location to store the materials. If there's not room on the actual job site, a garage or basement will do the trick—just be sure to keep the materials elevated off the ground. After going to the trouble of getting your home renovation materials ahead of time, the last thing you want or need is to see them damaged by water or pests.

Progress reports. Check back in to hear how the installation of my materials is going. The Consumer Reports video team will be filming the process as well, and we'll even be doing updates via Facebook Live.

More on Home Renovation and Remodeling

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