If you’ve done home renovations before, you know how painful the whole process is. This article applies to renovation of small apartments and doing proper future-proofing, I’m afraid I’m too poor to tell you how to renovate a bungalow right 😀
Back in 2003 when my sis and I decided to renovate our 15-year-old HDB apartment in Bishan, we spent a long time looking for an interior designer. When we finally settled on one, he got so stressed out just by chatting with us that he backed out of the job. He claimed that he felt he wouldn’t get along with us, and that things wouldn’t work out.
If you ask me, I thought he was just unable to deliver professional results and gave some crappy emo excuse.
And the strangest thing was, we weren’t going to build the Taj Mahal. My family is highly pragmatic (as you can tell from my other postings) and we just wanted a simple and clean layout for the house.
So thanks to this encounter with Mr Cowardly Interior Guru, we gave up the search and just worked with our contractor to get it down by our own specifications.
Through this process, I learnt far more than I ever wanted about home renovations. Below are suggestions cobbled from previous postings and some new thoughts. And one maxim I came up with myself after personal experience and speaking to several friends about their own renovations:
“Any house renovation project is going to cost at least S$10k more than your original budget.”
Do tell me if you’ve managed to stay within your original budgets 😀
FIRST, DO I NEED AN INTERIOR DECORATOR?
I believe most people do, since they’re either too busy with work or can’t visualize how their new home should look like.
The problem is finding a good one who won’t impose his old templates and biases unto your new pad. And at all cost, avoid Ah Beng decorators who want to give you gaudy Roman frescoes and gold wall trimmings ok?
If you go DIY, just remember to keep it simple.
You can reconfigure a clean layout easily with new furniture, new paint jobs/wallpaper or relocating furniture, but if you build too much stuff like decorative panels, unnecessary decorations or even your own interior koi pond, your hands are tied as your family’s needs changes over time. Personally, I find a blank whitewashed house the best canvas for me to put whatever furniture I want. It’s not very imaginative or radical, but it’s just easier to maintain.
Also, the best design consultant in your family is the person who does the most housework. Why? Because he/she can tell you what is necessary, what’s not, and what kind of floor tiles are easiest to clean. Most people renovate their house for looks. I believe people should renovate their house for easy maintenance first, looks later.
Why, I sometimes wish my mum never invested in an expensive marble floor, because I’ve had to wash it like a dog for the past 21 years.
DIY INTERIOR DESIGN
I have some art background, so it wasn’t that tough for me to visualize what I wanted our house to look like with simple pencil sketches. But to help my family see what I was envisioning in terms of color schemes and usage of specific tiles, I had to go take a major crash course in 3D software and use trial 3D software. Our kitchen proved to be a big challenge as it lacked big windows to provide sufficient light during daytime, so I put 3D theory to the test and it worked out pretty ok:
STEP 1: My kitchen, the way it was designed in 1988.
STEP 2: My 3D mockup of what I wanted. Having this made it a lot easier for the contractor to understand what I wanted.
STEP 3: The kitchen, right after renovation. The black-tiled floor is darker in reality as I hadn’t washed it yet 😀
Thankfully, many interior decorators today use 3D mockups too and can create them on the fly. If your interior designer can’t do 3D, he’s obviously not very up to date.
For DIY renovators, there are much easier online tools today. There’s the free SketchUp software that is easy to pick up and master, with a whole library of furniture and other objects you can just plonk into the visual. Back then, I had to build every piece of furniture from scratch! Of course, SketchUp won’t produce photo-realistic images, but it’s good enough for most people.
Sigh, I always think I’m born 5 years too early or too late, and always end up doing things the hard way.
BUILD YOUR HOME WITH CHILDREN IN MIND
I made a big mistake of putting home fixtures at my height. For example, taps, mirrors and other power switches are just at the right height for me, but my wife complained that she can’t see half her face in the mirror.
And today, when I want my kids to learn how to bathe themselves, I realize I’ve placed all the shower handles way out of their reach. So I’m still stuck with bathing them.
Even if you’re a swinging single now, don’t discount the fact that one day you might have kids and want to stay put in the same place (given today’s crazy property prices). So if you’re renovating, try to think from a perspective of a 6-year-old kid who needs
- Key fixtures at a low height. Good for elderly people too who might be in wheelchairs.
- A house that is not crowded out with furniture at all corners. Even adults can benefit from good breathing space in the home.
- Furniture to be re-located every few years as his/her schooling needs changes. That’s why I’m not putting any customized built-in cupboards for Isaac until he’s a teenager.
WATCH THE LIGHTING
Ever watched television and get annoyed by the reflections you see on the surface of the screen? For the life of me, I have no idea why TV manufacturers continue to build glossy screens instead of matte because unwanted reflections drive many nuts.
That’s something you should take note of when designing your living room and other parts of the house. The way light bounces around the house can disrupt the best designs and impact your resting periods. Without getting too technical, you should always try to ensure you can have a wide variation of lighting intensity in each room – from super dark to super bright, and that the light does not hit your fave locations at the wrong angle.
AVOID BUILT-IN CABINETS
An IKEA TV solution to fit HDTVs up to approximately 37” (by my guess). What happens when 100” HDTVs drop to $1000 and won’t fit inside the hole?
Be it a fridge or a HDTV, you don’t want to build/purchase a wall or cabinet around your purchase. Because appliance sizes always change over time, and usually go bigger. I recently saw a house where the hole in the wall was built for a 32” HDTV a few years ago when those LCDs were still cream of the crop.
Today, 46” is the norm and guess what, it’ll be hard to upgrade your HDTV without shifting it to another location or filling up the hole in the wall. Same for fridges, ovens and washing machines – they just keep getting bigger for the same price. Either build a really big hole to last a decade or two, or leave the space alone. For HDTVs, I’d recommend a simple standing TV cabinet where the HDTV can rest on top and is not sheltered by any furniture parts.
If you do want to mount your TV, make sure you have a false wall or wall cabinet where you can run and replace thick cables easily.
CREATE POWER SOCKETS EVERYWHERE
This is a fundamental principle which seems to be ignored by or unknown to most people. We shift furniture around all the time, and you’d never know when you might need a power socket nearby for your appliance, laptop, TV or gadget charger.
And while you’re at it, you might as well place Ethernet sockets next to each power socket for an extensive home data network. Ethernet technology has been around for a long time and broadband speeds don’t seem anywhere near to busting the speed limits the good old copper wires can provide. Or you could just use HomePlugs, which in turn require well-placed power sockets too.
SURROUND SOUND REQUIRES PROPER CABLING
Why go surround? As we move towards a HD era of broadcasting, you’ll also realise the audio is going 5.1 too. And if you like DVDs and HD console gaming (Xbox 360 lah), why miss out on the full audio experience?
There’s been quite a far bit of innovation to create the concept of virtual surround sound without all the hassles of multiple speakers and endless cables – QSound, Aureal sound cards, Sound bars, and so on.
Well, as a pseudo-audiophile, I’ll say here virtual surround is…well, virtual. The laws of aural physics demand that sound requires a proper source, and if you want great surround sound, you need a proper set of surround speakers blasting at you from different corners of the room.
There are heaps of great 5.1 speakers on the market (no, no, not the sub-S$800 ones you get for free with your new TV or sold at IT superstores, but real 5.1 systems like the one in the picture here), and they’re waiting to be unleashed on your unsuspecting spouse and kids.
The current flagship sound standard is 9.2 channel (9 speakers and 2 subwoofers), which I doubt most people living in small apartments will bother with.
Now unfortunately, the only way to do this is to cable your living room or bedroom properly.
That means running wires either through cable covers or building them into the wall during a major renovation. If I could re-do my house reno again, I’d wire it for full 9.2 audio.
You don’t need expensive cables for the surround speakers (it’ll cost a bomb for the 10m or more run you’ll need to do for each speaker), but do get good ones for the front stereo pair and subwoofer unit. EVEN if you don’t intend to do full surround, just lay the cables and hide the unused ones at a side, you’ll be happy you did so….one of these days.
STORAGE STORAGE STORAGE
I didn’t believe this advice when I was younger, but today, I wished I had built more storage space into my house. The junk that we collect over time just builds up, and unless you’re not too sentimental, much of this junk is hard to throw away.
Where possible, build hidden cupboards, get generous sized cabinets, and max out the use of your storeroom by building warehouse style racks.
Trust me, when your wife/gf starts nagging at you about how messy the house is, you’ll despair when you realize you no longer have space to dump your junk into.