25 Insider Tips on Renovating Your Home

Homeowners and interior designers share their tips on renovating a home, based on their own personal experiences.

Updated on August 01, 2017 18:08 pm

Xiangyun Lim

A minimalist contemporary living room-cum-home office

Determining Your Needs

Be clear on your priorities. Is it time, budget, design or quality? Do you have experience in construction? Are you able to be onsite to supervise?

Sit down with your family members and brainstorm on needs and wants. These can include:

Tips from interior designers and homeowners:

  • “Think about how you are going to utilise the space now and in the next few years. The most common in Singapore is always the issue of storage. It’ll be good to consult the interior designer on ways to incorporate innovative storage ideas."

— Melissa Anne Kow, Design Director, Design Collective Studio Pte Ltd

  • “Decide what's important to you and budget well for your renovation. A stress-free, relatively hands-off renovation process was important to us, and we knew that we would want to live in our home for as long as we can, with no plans to sell it off after a few years―so it was important to us to work with a team that understood our design concept.”

— Ann Summers L, homeowner

  • “Some crucial things would be: area of focus in budget, your lifestyle, and future-proofing. Be upfront; it helps the designer and homeowner strike a balance in their decisions. Preparing one ideal picture as a reference for the design elements, lighting temp, textures and mood you want to achieve might be useful, too.”

— Denise Nah, homeowner

A wooden bunk bed for kids

Bringing together the lifestyle preferences of everyone in your family may seem challenging, but can be a wonderful journey in itself. Check out how Sahala and Lena created a tree house bedroom for their twins.

ID, Design-and-Build, or Contractor?

Finding the right person who understands your needs and whom you can work well with is crucial. Start researching and looking for one three to six months before the start of your renovation and decide if you’re looking for an interior designer, design-and-build, or contractor based on your needs.

It is important to know what kind of services you are engaging as the name “interior designer” can be bandied around easily. Learn about the many differences between different renovation/design setups and always, always meet them personally.

An infographic guide on renovating your house
An infographic on the renovation process

Tips from interior designers and homeowners:

  • “We were expecting to liaise with one point of contact―the designer. It was not communicated to us how their procedure is: once design is finalised, they will pass to the project manager to continue and manage the renovation. And now, they tell us that all the while we were talking to just a salesperson! It was misrepresented to us at the beginning. The situation now is super messy and they’re not responsive, we feel like we’re 'begging' them just to make sure we get the compensated works done.”

— Vivien* (not her real name) on her bad experience with a design-and-build

  • “It can be really hard to differentiate design-and-builds. One way is through their agendas―if they’re motivated by construction costs, they may go for materials that are readily available, as well as construction details and design processes that generate higher profit margins. Also, compared to interior designers who will help you source materials and find contractors after the design has been developed, design-and-build setups already have their own contractors.”

— Mathew Lai, Design Director, Studio XMSL

  • “If you do not have time and know little about renovations, forget about engaging contractors. Paying more for a good and reliable ID can help to take away a lot of the stress, as they can help you to coordinate the different project segments and provide you advice on the design and building materials to use.”

— Kaye Chow, homeowner

  • “We believe the whole process would not be as satisfying if we left someone else in charge of design and planning. Besides, the total cost to engage an ID turned out to be twice as much. Although, to be fair for those who have zero clues on how they want their house renovated, of course it's best to engage a professional ID to walk them through the process.

— Nur Arfah Octavia Jaffar, homeowner

  • “Meet the designers or contractors and get a feel of how they approach the project. Interior designers tend to be very meticulous about the little details in a space, including ambience and soft finishes.”

— Melissa Anne Kow, Design Director, Design Collective Studio Pte Ltd

A contemporary dining area filled with wooden IKEA furniture and accessories

Could you have guessed that this home by Sophia and Maqiyin is “95% IKEA”?

On budgeting

  • "Have an idea of the style you like, and research on the possible costs involved so you know what to expect before meeting different firms. I'd also recommend meeting more than just one time to get a better understanding of the renovation budget.”

— Ann Summers L, homeowner

  • “Homeowners can also advise designers to do up a spreadsheet with estimated costing for additional items such as curtain, appliances, sofas, etcetera, to avoid going overbudget and hidden costs."

— Ronald Goh, principal and head designer at Designer House Pte Ltd

  • “Always take note of the material specifications and to clarify with the designer or contractor whether the quote includes the materials needed, or just the labour and installation. Also, ask if there is a possibility of additional costs during the project.”

— Melissa Anne Kow, Design Director, Design Collective Studio Pte Ltd

  • “One must know that contractors still outsource for some jobs. In our case, we noticed the hefty price tag that came with our choice of louvre bathroom doors. We did a quick search online for the direct supplier of bathroom doors and were lucky to snag a bargain. At half the price to be exact. Study the quote carefully, and rule out items that you think will cost you cheaper if you outsource them on your own. To name a few: bathroom doors, window grilles, air-conditioning and even a professional paint job for the house.”

— Nur Arfah Octavia Jaffar, homeowner

  • “Have at least a 10% buffer of funds for unplanned works. For example, while hacking some walls in our house, we found out that there was a recess area above our door which the previous owner had covered up. There was absolutely no way the designer could have known what was within that wall without hacking. As such, there would be no way for him to cost for something that he has no idea he had to cost for. It’s also important to factor in the proposed area plan by the designer and base your decision on it. Look through the quotation and decide what can be cut out. You don’t have to do everything from your renovation at one go, it can be done in phases to make it less taxing financially.”

— Denise Nah, homeowner

  • “Homeowners must know that initial budgets are likely to exceed about 10 to 20%, based on general experience―even if they are very disciplined. There’s a common misconception of what your budget can get you. In reality, it’s usually more.”

— Mathew Lai, Design Director, Studio XMSL

An industrial-style open-concept home featuring brick walls, mismatched dining chairs, and pendant lighting

“Their contractors also advised the couple that since this is their first house, they may find themselves changing their minds about certain things later on. Thus, Tim and Kristine opted for a simple design plan and more practical home furnishings.” (Check out the rest of the story and the house tour here.)

Renovation and Construction

  • “We recommend that you be present occasionally when the contractors are at work, in case some things aren't going as planned or even spot sloppy jobs done. There will still be time to point them out to the workers and get anything fixed or corrected.”

— Nur Arfah Octavia Jaffar, homeowner

  • “If you are going to engage a contractor, be sure to do lots of homework and be prepared to accept errors here and there if you do not have someone who can help you supervise the project. Contractors often 'sub' out work to other contractors. The main contractor whom homeowners sign the contract with may or may not be present to supervise the work of the other sub-contractors. Be as specific as possible―right down to the colour of the grouting to be used―as contractors do not pay much attention to such details or aesthetics.”

— Kaye Chow, homeowner

  • "Because we went with an ID that we absolutely trust, we had a very easygoing renovation process. We popped by to visit the construction not more than three times and our IDs kept us up-to-date regularly with the progress. Having a stress-free and hands-off renovation process was one of the reasons why we chose to go with an ID instead."

— Ann Summers L, homeowner

  • “Although you are paying through the roof, it does not justify you feeling like you should be treated like kings and queens. You owe it to yourselves to get involved, to make sure that nothing was missed out, unintentionally or intentionally added in, and that costs are reasonable. Read up and learn if need be.”

— Denise Nah, homeowner

Other useful links:

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