12 Renovation Tips you won’t find on the Block

Spend or Splurge?

(Warning: A Comprehensive Heavy Read)

Having just finished our very first renovation I thought it might be nice to pass on some tips. Tips about where to spend money and where to save it when renovating, building or refurbishing.

Being a colour designer I’ve always helped clients with choosing colours and finishes for their home but when it came to the renovation process for our place, it has been a huge learning experience from start to finish. So, with that said, I thought I would share 12 tips to ease the process, starting with areas recommended to spend money in:

  1. SPEND ON DETAILED PLANS. Getting your DA plans approved is only the first step. These plans are very basic so you’ll need to continue the design process with your draftsperson or architect to create detailed plans. Taking the time to think about the small details like finishes, lighting, joinery and electrical first will save you money later (as you will have less variations on your build cost). Builders can’t price a build correctly without detailed plans and it will also give you the opportunity to really think about how you want to live and function in your new space.
  2. SPEND ON FULL SERVICE. Our architectural draftsperson (not an architect) offered a full service that included detailed plans, council paperwork and DA submission, tendering process, building contract and project management, charging an hourly rate which was quoted after our first meeting. This meant we had no nasty surprises when it came to any part of the process. Any issues or queries the builder had, it was taken care of without us needing to be face to face. The small monthly fee based on an hourly rate was worth it to make sure things ran smoothly.
  3. SPEND ON JOINERY. Good joinery (kitchen, bathroom cabinets and storage) is expensive but it’s something you really need to spend money on. It is the joinery that will transform your home into a fully functional space. If thought out properly, you will have a place for everything and for future growth too. Money can be saved by choosing laminates, one-sided polyurethanes or MDF surfaces over solid timber or timber veneer. We chose a laminex engineered timber veneer for surfaces that will have things on (TV, computers…) and the rest, an off-white laminate to match the walls. This saved us a lot of money because it functions the same.
  4. SPEND ON LIGHTING. Lighting is the icing on the cake. Good lighting will make your home feel like a comfortable and regenerative space – not like a sterile hospital waiting area! Time needs to be taken during the design phase to consider lighting placement and style. And then it’s worth heading to a specialist lighting place to learn about your options. There is lots to learn about beam angles, output and colour temperatures but once you have the knowledge you may even enjoy the process!
  5. SPEND ON WINDOWS. Whilst windows are an integral part to your build and may seem simple, they come in a huge variety of styles and qualities. It’s worth spending time during the design phase to really figure out which types of windows you want for which areas. Sometimes higher windows can work better in a space like a bedroom providing privacy, lots of lights and more usable wall space. Sometimes a beautiful breeze-way can be created using louvre windows, while skylights can make a dull room come to life. We chose operable skylights in our bathroom that has no windows providing lightness and brightness. During hot weather, we can open it up to let the hot air escape. Regardless of what windows you chose, it’s important to have good quality solid frames and toughened glass.

Next are tips are where you can SAVE money, bringing much needed relief:

  1. SAVE ON TILES. This is a minefield! It’s hard not to get carried away with the HUGE choice, however, try not to go for tiles that are super on trend unless you can update them in the not too distant future! Feature tiles are also something worth avoiding for the same reason. Simple and classic always work well in a bathroom. If you do want to play with texture and shape, go for it, but maybe try to stick to one colour palette. Our bathrooms have a very simple matt white large format tile on the walls with a soft cushioned edge. This makes them timeless and doesn’t adhere to any current trends. And at the bargain price of $30/m2!
  2. SAVE ON FIXTURES AND FITTINGS. Do you really need the $4000 Swiss toilet or the $9000 Italian bath? Probably not. If you’re like me, you’ll walk into a showroom and fall head over heels in love with the most expensive items on offer. What I’ve learnt over the years though is having a good quality standard toilet or a good quality standard bath don’t really detract from a fabulous bathroom. Bathrooms need to be first and foremost functional with money going to tapware that feels solid and nice to handle. I tend to stick to chrome for its timelessness and price point. Coloured tapware can be double or triple the price of chrome tapware.
  3. SAVE ON UTILITY AREAS. These are areas like the laundry or a butler’s pantry. You can save money here by using basic laminates for joinery and benchtops instead of stone or timber, and the same functional tapware that does the job.
  4. SAVE ON APPLIANCES.  Money can always be saved in this area by choosing what you really need/want out of an appliance and not going for the biggest or the smartest. We can all get carried away with the latest and greatest gadgets, but if you don’t cook that much maybe a less expensive oven brand is enough. Or an ‘old-school’ washing machine with a manual dial over a computerised one.
  5. SAVE ON FLOORING. Flooring is the single biggest feature in your entire home. Aesthetically, It is really important to get right. All other finishes and colours will be determined by the flooring you choose. Whether you choose a timber look, a concrete/tile look or carpet/rug look depends on your tastes or needs. What is good to know is there are always cheaper alternatives in all three areas. And depending on which stage you’re at with your family then it might be wise to go a cheaper option for such a big area of your home.
  6. SAVE ON WINDOW FURNISHINGS. Curtain fabrics can range from cheap to very expensive and from my experience the cheaper ones can look better and keep their shape longer. Blinds are relatively cheap when compared to shutters and shutters are half the price of what they were 10 years ago. A decent budget needs be set aside for window furnishings yet with some homework you can save money without compromising on ambience. These items should be planned at the start of the process, during the design phase. Does your room have enough ceiling space? Then blinds and curtains can be made fully retractable or recessed into the ceiling. This is a nice design feature for items that don’t cost the earth.
  7. SAVE ON BENCH TOPS. Ahhhh bench tops!! There are so many to choose from and it is a feature you will enjoy every day. A pure stone bench top is very expensive but there are lots of cheaper stone composite alternatives that can look fabulous and be more practical. They even feel amazing too now. If you’re on a tight budget laminates can look amazing too.

So, there you have it. Some things that even as a professional stylist, I have learnt the hard way and some things I was able to take advantage of.

It goes without saying a good design is essential to comfortable and functional living. A good designer will take into consideration cross-ventilation, heating and cooling requirements, spatial planning and the way you will use your new space now and into the future. And a great builder that is always accommodating will bring your ideas to life!

Feel free to contact me for further info or for local designers/tradespeople that I highly recommend.


Author: Alysia Samperi

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