Renovation, says comic Tim Allen, is only funny when it’s happening to someone else. Indeed, there’s little that’s fun about slogging from store to store, choosing paint, tile, wallpaper, carpet, appliances and kitchen cabinets. Appointments with architects and designers can be frustrating – not to mention expensive.

And then there’s the most gruesome part of the job: Finding and hiring the contractor, subs and craftspeople to actually demolish, rebuild and refurnish your home.

Any way you look at it, home renovation is a messy, expensive and heart-wrenching process. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up back in your plaster dust-filled home only a few weeks after you’d hoped, and only a few hundred dollars over budget. If you’ve selected a bad contractor, given him or her all of your money upfront, and lost control of the project, the results could be frightening.

But thanks to some new retail innovations, our renovation blues may soon fade into a more lively tune.

Over at Home Depot, a new retail concept called EXPO Design Center is about to change the way we think about home improvement. Currently located in just a handful of areas, including Dallas, Atlanta, South Florida, Plano, Texas, and Westbury, NY, EXPO helps you through the entire renovation process, from designing your interior, installing fixtures, cabinets, countertops, tile, appliances and lighting, to helping you decorate it.

EXPO has designers on staff who will assist you (at no additional charge) in putting together the kitchen, bath, or entire home of your dreams. The kitchen showroom features at least two dozen kitchen displays, from trendy Euro-design to American country. You can choose from a number of different cabinet makers, each with dozens of different styles and pricing levels.

To finish off the kitchen, choose from top-of-the line appliances, made by Jenn-Air, Frigidaire, Thermador, Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, G.E. Monogram. In the countertop area, you can choose from Corian, marble, granite, stone, wood, stainless steel, and even Formica. The store offers hundreds of knobs and pulls to complete the look.

Redoing your bath? In more than two dozen displays, you can choose from American Standard, Delta, and Moen, or go high end with Franke, Sado, Mico Ltd., Acqua Brass, Phylrich International USA, and Dolphin fixtures.

For floor coverings, choose rugs made by Karastan, Fabrica and Mohawk, or any type of wood floor. You can also purchase lights, fans, window treatments, sheets and towels, tile and marble, grills and outdoor furniture, fireplace tools, picture frames, architectural moldings and details for your walls and ceilings, and those nice little decorator touches that make your home look like architectural digest. Finally, if you don’t like what you see, EXPO a custom design option. Design your own kitchen cabinets, rugs, wood floors or marble floors.

Having all of these choices and option under one roof cuts down, if not eliminates, the pressure to search through dozens of different stores because you feel as though you’ve seen everything that’s out there. Staff designers reassure us that everything we choose will work together.

Since EXPO is a Home Depot company, they offer a similar low price guarantee. If you find a lower price on an identical item the store stocks, they’ll beat the price by 10 percent. If you find a lower price on an identical special order item, the store will match the price.

But perhaps the best part of EXPO, is that the store arranges for licensed and bonded contractors to install everything the store sells, from appliances to marble countertops. EXPO also warrants the installation for as long as you own your home. If you have a problem with anything, the store will send someone out to fix it until you’re satisfied.

That kind of warranty is rare, if it exists at all. And warranties tend to engender a warm, fuzzy feeling among consumers who are wary about the many pitfalls of home improvement.

It may be EXPO’s ace in the hole.

Once you’re done renovating your home, you’ll probably want to fill it up with new furniture. If that’s the case, you may want to head over to IKEA, the enormous Swedish import and catalog company that offers more than 100,000 square feet of trendy, highly-styled, reasonably-priced furniture for your home and office, towels and sheets, china and glassware, cookware, and light fixtures.

Like EXPO, IKEA has designers on staff to help you create rooms you can live with. Their kitchen cabinet line (one line, in various colors and styles) is low-priced and looks smart. They offer babysitting for toddlers on up, bottle warming service for babies, and Swedish food in the cafeteria and downstairs to take home. (Try the gravlax sandwich for lunch. The kids can have hot-dogs.)

Although there are only 13 IKEA stores in the U.S. (located in Houston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, Chicago, Baltimore, Elizabeth NJ, Long Island, NY, four outside of Los Angeles and Seattle), their catalog is excellent (email for a catalog).

EXPO and IKEA show the average consumer how to create high style without high prices. And not a moment too soon.

Published: Oct 17, 2003