Smash the Patriarchy: Take the Lead on Your Remodel Like a Woman

15 min read Take a sledgehammer to the patriarchy by leading your remodel like a woman. Use these straightforward methods to gain confidence and clarity for your home update.

Psst. Can I tell you a secret? While today’s episode is all about how lead your remodel like a woman, it is also universally good advice for anyone planning to take on a home update.  If you want clarity and confidence to direct how your remodel can go … this is what you need to do!

Knowledge is power. Empower yourself to lead your home remodel. Gather as much information as you can about your house and focusing your plans for it.  Let’s talk about the DISCOVER step of building out your Master Plan.
Get all your ducks in a row!

Get prepared.

Prepare to lead your remodel like a woman by channeling your inner Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Warren or Leslie Knope.  Educate yourself about your house and how it works.  Explore it with a camera and tape measure, poke into dark corners, read about home improvement projects!

Play to your strengths.  

You don’t have to know everything about your house. But competence in one aspect of home improvement leads to confidence in all of them.  Pick a lane and get informed!

Build a squad.

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.  After all, you won’t be single-handedly executing your remodel, you don’t have to plan it that way either!  Get multiple opinions, ask your friends and build a community of interested helpers to make this work.

Trust your feelings.

Use your finely honed man-splaining detector to listen for BS weed out bad advice.  Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions, compare multiple opinions and make your own choices.

If this all sounds like the advice I give about building a Master Plan for your project … it IS!  All the parts of the Master Plan Method are designed to empower you to lead with confidence.  Plan your work and then work your plan.  You’ve got this!

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Smash the patriarchy with your remodel by leading it like a woman, use these straightforward methods to gain more confidence in your remodeling process. And spoiler alert, just like dismantling the patriarchy. This advice will also be helpful to the men listening.

Hey there, welcome back to Mid Mod Remodel. This is the show about updating MCM homes; helping you match a mid-century home to your modern life. I’m your host Della Hansmann architect, and mid-century ranch enthusiast. You’re listening to season six, episode three.

On my client intake form. I have a check box: “Have you remodeled before?” And another: “Have you worked with a designer before?” At least three quarters of the clients I work with have never remodeled before. Way more, have never worked with a designer.

Here’s the thing. Anything you try for the first time can feel overwhelming and remodeling is inherently overwhelming. So, this whole process is extremely intimidating. I’m going to talk today about how you can gain confidence and agency as a woman leading a remodel. That’s where I’m coming from. And many of my clients are either women in couples or working alone who lead the project themselves, communicating with their partner or spouse.

But here’s the thing. Everything I’m talking about today is equally applicable to anyone who’s taking on a remodel for the first time. Basically, I just want you to feel empowered to lead with confidence one way or the other. As always you’ll find show notes with links to the references I make and an outline of the conversation on my website at midmod-midwest.com/603.

And you can check out the show notes for links to other relevant episodes. And, for a few handy downloads that I’m going to mention today, the DIY home assessment workbook, the Master Plan Five D framework and more. All right down to business. For all the flack that girl bosses have taken over time and are taking again right now, I think that this idea of what it means to take on a brand new leadership role is a really interesting one and very applicable to leading a remodel and taking on that kind of new leadership requires a couple of key elements.

One is a can-do attitude, fake it till you make it in a good way. Act as if you have faith and faith shall be given to you. Basically practice it, work on it, but lead from a position of confidence. As you accumulate new information, you can just roll with the punches and move on.

That confidence grows with actual knowledge and experience. So part of what’s required for good leadership is self-education and we will talk extensively about that in this episode. Another thing that’s necessary is to share the burden: delegation, teamwork. And that of course requires clear communication, vision and priorities.

If all of this is starting to sound like the ingredients of a master plan, that’s not an accident.

I wanted to talk a little bit today about how my own story of building Mid Mod Midwest as a business. It is a great metaphor for leading a remodel. Learning that I didn’t have to do it all; that I could delegate to my team, to my employees, to subcontractors has been amazingly empowering,. But I still lead every piece of the process.

I don’t do my own taxes. I didn’t file the paperwork to form an LLC, but I informed myself about the processes. BecauseI love to read and learn about business, I consume business books. And I listen to podcasts, self-educating about, Mike Michalowicz’ Profit First and Clockwork methods, Michael Hyatt’s Free to Focus, my many online marketing gurus, Jasmine Star, Amy Porterfield, Courtney Chaal. This helps me seek out the right kind of expert advice and handoff projects with confidence.

So when I call the CPA to help me set up the business, I wasn’t telling them to make decisions for my business, I was asking for their opinion, making choices and then delegating the pieces. Within my business also, I’ve been building an amazing small team this year. Lucille and Evan are now essential to everything I do. We work collaboratively when we work individually, we check back on each other, brainstorm, solve knotty design problems, and sometimes we straight up collaborate to solve a tricky problem.

We also save each other from the perils of overdesign. This might sound familiar to you. Sometimes what you need is not an expert, but another set of eyes, you too can use this to feed your own decisiveness. So if you can get another perspective, a friend, a spouse, a parent might be able to tell you, “You have too many options right here. You need to narrow it down.” Or “You’ve been fixated on this one solution for too long. It’s time to widen your view.”

And just like when I delegate work to my team, especially to my intern Evan, I’m handing off elements, not asking him, “could you draw what I’m imagining”, but working together to establish the parameters, to describe the project, to show him the style of drawings that Mid Mod Midwest produces. And this is what you’ll do in your remodel as well. You’ll plan what you want, explained and demonstrate it clearly, supervise the work and keep it on track so that in the end you love the process.

So how do you make that happen? Well, I like many other women leading remodels before me like to prepare by over-preparing. So channel your inner Hermione Granger your Elizabeth Warren, your Leslie Knope, and take on the process of becoming the expert in your own home.

Now here’s where I’m actually going to contradict some advice I generally give. Sne thing you can do to build your own expertise and confidence is to take on a few small projects around the house before you have a bigger plan.

Normally I talk about how everything should come under the umbrella of a master plan. When you’re talking about a simple maintenance question: “Should pipes be replaced,” “Should a furnace be updated?,” “Should the roof be repaired?” If you package that together with a design scheme, with a big picture plan, you can make two things count for one and save yourself lots of time and money and even open up new possibilities. Like one example is the classic: “Your furnace has to be replaced.” This is the most prosaic, big expense, boring result that has to be done. But again, when you replace a furnace, you might have an opportunity to relocate the furnace. Which might open up a possibility for a better layout in your basement before you finish it. Do that before you finished the basement not after.

Anyway, but here’s where I contradict myself because sometimes especially a few small first step projects, maintenance, fixes, or level one changes around the house that do involve hiring out some work can help you get to know your house in a really empowering and self educational way.

It can help you learn how to communicate with contractors, making the phone calls to call subs out. Experience what it feels like to have a couple of contractors come into your house, look at a project and bid it out. The process of explaining what you want is not necessarily an easy or an intuitive one, but after you’ve done it a few times, it becomes easier.

It’ll also encourage you to dig into some of the dark places in your home to go back into the mechanical room, to get behind some pieces of equipment, figure out where pipe hookups happen. You might end up identifying where the breakers in your breaker box go to. In these processes, you learn to get your hands dirty and every time you take on another step, you learn more about what you’re capable of and what your house needs and has.

You also get to learn the sad fact of the remodeling X factor. The X factor is how many times longer does a project take than you hoped. In general, I think an X factor of two is a success. But you might be talking about three, four or five, especially in the early days when you don’t have as much confidence or experience. So taking on a few small projects right off the bat, as you familiarize yourself with a new home or familiarize yourself with a home you’ve had for a while. This will help you start to figure out how you can roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and get a working practical knowledge of your house.

Now, while you’re doing these sort of hands-on dirty work jobs, I encourage you to get organized. As you learn each lesson about your home, keep track of it in a Google doc or notebook your preference for planning and organizing. It may not be that each piece of information you learned has a one-to-one usefulness. But everything you learned about your house builds your knowledge base and your confidence.

Having a few areas of deeper expertise in the house helps you build general confidence. So when you run into something you didn’t know, talk to a contractor who tells you something completely surprising about your house. You don’t have to feel like your entire sense of, uh, expertise in the home has been shaken. You can just tell yourself, well, I didn’t know that, but I add it to my stock of knowledge. I know a lot of other things, I’m fine.

A few home warming up or get to know you exercises might be just to check the labels in your breaker box. Open up the breaker box, have a look at what a previous homeowner has written to label. See which breakers control which parts of the houses electricity and make sure they’re correct. Flip them on and off and run upstairs or down around the house to see where various parts of the power of being shut off. This will come in handy next time you try to do a more involved home improvement project. You could also trace the piping for various plumbing elements or identify the structure in your basement or attic. Each interaction that you have with the house or with experts that come and help you with that house, will build your competence and confidence.

You might also like to do some reading. I personally love the magazine Family Handyman and also its web equivalent for digging deeply into just about any project. Of course, family handyman is, um, maybe a very gendered term to use in this particular episode. I don’t love its name, but I love everything else about the product. I also have a handful of other resources that you can use to learn more about mid-century houses and about homeowning and home maintenance in general listed in my handy resources download. Uh, I’ll link to that in the show notes, or you can get it at midmod-midwest.com/resources.

Doing some background reading on the house is a nice armchair way to learn more about how things work. Even better is to take what you’re reading to the part of the house you’re reading about. Try to get a one-to-one equivalency between what you’re learning and what you see in your own home. But you can play to your own strengths here. You don’t have to know everything about the house.

If you like getting your hands dirty, then spend some time crawling around the footing of the house or poking into your attic or crawlspace. But if you prefer history, dig into the background of your house; it’s area, style and any interesting architectural excellence that’s happening around you. If you love design go lighter on this home discovery aspect, but lean in on other parts of the design framework . You can be confident about the home design remodel process as a whole. My point is gaining competence in one part of knowing your home will build your confidence in all parts of it.

By the way, you don’t have to do this alone. You can phone a friend, go for backup, have a parent sibling or handy acquaintance prep you for tough conversations. Or at a pinch come over and interpret for you when you meet with a contractor or home inspector. But do take agency. Don’t just stand back and let them do your homework for you. Let them give a precis of the project and then step in and give your own details. Or you give the overview and let them back you up with any other details or explanations. Listen, and maybe ask them in advance to help you stand strong on this, ask questions of both them and the specialist that they’re helping you talk to to make sure you have a clean understanding of what’s going on.

And here’s actually something. Am I talking to anyone here right now who does not currently own their own mid-century home, but as listening to this podcast, self educating (good job) in preparation for their future home ownership. You are at a great advantage because this is some time have to get ahead of the game.

So find your friends who are competent, enthusiastic homeowners, and they will be your best resource. Pepper them with questions. If they’ve done any work on the house, ask for a tour and then ask for the details, get a tour, not just of the shiny new kitchen, but of the basement below. Ask if they needed to have a new breaker panel added for their new appliances. What were the unexpected costs? What surprised them? Get the name of their contractors. Ask how the inspection went. Uh, do step away from your uninterrupted friends on this home tour, because you can very rapidly bore people who don’t need this knowledge right out of the room, but all of this information is grist for your mill.

If you already have a house, that’s okay. You can still ask your friends a little further down the path of homeownership, what they know, what they’ve learned. And if you’re the first one in your circle to own a home befriend that the neighborhood handyman, there’s probably a man or woman on your street. Who’s been living there forever and knows not only the ins and outs of their own home, but maybe even their neighbors, home update and remodel maintenance projects. They will be an invaluable resource for advice. And also someone you can borrow tools from. Be their friend.

Here’s a where you actually have an advantage when you remodel as a woman, because another thing you want to do to become the expert in your process is to trust your feelings.

I’ve seen plenty of my clients who were men get snowed by good ole boy contractors who say a lot of confident sounding BS about a project, and then just get accepted because the person who’s listening doesn’t want to admit that they don’t really know what just happened. And they didn’t really understand what just got said.

As a woman who is leading your remodel, you have an ear that’s tuned for mansplaining. You know it when you hear it. So while, you’re asking for advice from everyone you’re getting quotes and multiple bids. You’re paying for expertise; asking people to come over and give you an analysis of the house and paying for their time or asking for multiple bids. Having someone come over and quote a project for you, based on what it is. You can take advice and ask for opinions, but take it with a grain of salt. Don’t let yourself get intimidated when the first piece of advice you get is alarming. This is a place where more information is always better. So when you have contractors bid a project, explain what you want with as much confidence as you can muster.

Note: this will get easier with practice so expect the first conversation to go less well than the last.

And then ask for opinions, advice, and an itemized bid. If something costs more than you expect, ask “Why?” You’re not being annoying to ask for extra information. If someone recommends a step, a product or a process that other contractors have not, ask “Why?” so you can decide if they’re the best candidate, the most thorough, or if they’re just trying to upsell you.

Keep track of what everyone is saying in a document again, online or in a notebook. I have a handy contractor management spreadsheet that I share in my program and use for all my clients to compare apples, to apples, push back on jargon, and to make sure that bids are actually including everything we discussed in the project. But here’s the thing at the end of the day, you’ll be the judge and you’ll be able to listen for who’s giving you good advice and who is simply blustering at you.

All right, there’s a lot you can do to get familiar with your home all by yourself. So home exploration 101 is relatively simple. It involves a camera and a tape measure. You can take photos and a few basic measurements of your house, and you’ll be 100% better off than someone who doesn’t have that stuff handy when you want to think about comparing your floor plan to a floor plan, you see online. You’d think, “Oh my gosh, that’s the perfect kitchen layout.” But then you realize, you know, the dimensions of the kitchen on the plan online, but you don’t know, off the top of the head, your own kitchen dimensions. If you have this data at your fingertips or in an easily accessible place, you’re better off.

Home exploration 102, the followup course is to dig into the “what.” Itemize the materials of your house. What are the floors made of? What’s the structure in your attic? Can you tell the water heater from the water softener? And how old are each of those pieces of equipment? This is where you can treat your home inspection report like the cliffs notes version of the story. Read it with care, follow up with questions.

Now, if you want to go a little further, you might consider a little exploratory demolition. Take a sledgehammer to the patriarchy. I was just over at my little sister’s house, this last weekend, helping her to do this. So we did two things. We cut a hole in her basement drywall ceiling. Um, this is going to be to let a plumber come in and replace her hose bibs next week with frost protected versions. And it was basically to save them some time, but also to confirm for ourselves before the plumber came, that we were asking them to do the right job in the right spot.

And then we pulled off the paneling in her 1960s edition. This was in my Instagram story if you caught it.

Last week, we talked about her house where we’re planning to reframe the addition or readjust the addition at the back of her house. We’re going to cut a new door opening directly between the garage and that back room. That will be a DIY project to cut an opening frame, a new door framing and hang the door itself. But the electrical work is where I personally draw the line. She’s hiring that out too. And she has some electricians coming to give her a bid also later this week, but she wanted to understand the scope she was asking them to take on and get the more accurate quote from them.

So we needed to know where the wires inside the wall were going. So we got out of pry bar, removed some of the wood paneling and found out that good news, the wiring to the outlet that we think we need to move is terminal. That means the wiring doesn’t go through it and beyond. So it will be very minimal work to, um, relocate it outside of the place we want to put a door. The bad news was that there’s very minimal insulation in that wall. Very minimal, uh, wow. That needs fixing, but she’s armed with that knowledge too. So she’s going to end up getting better, clearer quotes, which will be more accurate and hopefully cheaper this week from several electricians. The more, you know.

To recap, to Lead your remodel Like a woman, remember that knowledge is power. And power yourself to lead your home remodel by getting as much information about your house gathered and your plans for it. Prepare or even over prepare channel your inner Hermione, Elizabeth and Leslie. Check out the resource list, The Family Handyman, midmodmidwest.com/resources. Also play to your strengths. Competence in one area, leads to confidence in all of them. So figure out where you want to lean in on the research and have a good time in that particular area. Build a squad; don’t forget to ask for help. You can solicit multiple opinions, build a community of interested helpers in your process, and eventually identify the exact team that you want to help you take on your home remodel. And trust your feelings. Listen for BS and use your mansplaining radar to detect bad advice.

All of the parts of the master plan are designed to empower you to lead with confidence. So I encourage you to not only grab the easy DIY home assessment workbook that I put together to walk you through the steps of getting to know your house, but also if you don’t have it, get the remodeling framework from midmodwest.com/framework. If you want to take these steps a little further, you might be looking for a full master plan designed by Mid Mod Midwest, or you might be waiting to join my ready to remodel course. It’s going to be relaunching this fall. And if you want to be on the wait list, you can sign up at the link in the show notes.

That’s all for today, friends, but I’ll be back next week with some practical tips to turn your scroll time on social media, into the beginning of your style guide. I’m so excited to share with you some really useful ways that you can start to distill what you love about mid-century design.