Thursday, June 30, 2016

Home 2.0: On contractors and interior designers

Having your home renovated usually means many things: a hole in your pocket, busy days running over to the place to check on the progress, debates with your loved ones about various choices. It can be headache-inducing, both from the plethora of choices of finishings, as well as the amount of rectifications or problems that crop up. For us, it was all of the above, and I am so glad that we are nearing the end of the renovation process (yes, we're still doing some rectifications now)!

Our homes have gone through the renovation process three times. The first was just before the hubby and I got married ten years back. We didn't have much money, and we had a wedding and a HDB home to pay for. We settled for one of those huge interior design companies after comparing a couple of quotes, and did the barest minimum due to budget constraints: overlaying of bathroom floors, a fresh coat of paint, new kitchen cabinetry (the original ones were falling apart) and some layout changes that involved us hacking a wall and putting up two partition walls. We were assigned this designer who was younger than us, and we learnt that whenever he said "no problem", we could be rest assured that there would be problems up ahead! We ended up with a black solid surface kitchen counter that was too high, such that they had to cut and lower the section with the hob or it was hard for us to cook. The materials used were not of good quality and didn't last. We learnt that getting the cheapest quote isn't exactly a good idea. (You can read more about the lessons we learnt from that renovation here.)

Our kitchen, after the first renovation.

Round two was after we had moved back from Germany, and found our kitchen hosting lots of roaches (thanks to a faulty rubbish chute cover). By then the kitchen cabinets from our previous reno were starting to fall apart, and we thought it was time for us to do a complete overhaul of the kitchen and toilets, especially since the kitchen and toilet tiles were starting to be worse for wear (these were the original tiles and were probably twenty over years old!). 

Our kitchen, after the second renovation.

We obtained a few quotes from companies that were recommended by friends for this second renovation. I've read that it's best to get a ID/contractor by word of mouth rather than through advertisements or fairs, since the money and manpower spent on advertising translates into greater cost for you. We ended up choosing an interior design firm that was one of the more costly ones, as those that gave us cheaper quotes didn't seem very sure about certain aspects that we needed, such as installing a dishwasher. We did most of the planning and sourcing on our own, from visiting tile companies to look for tiles, to planning our kitchen layout. Our ID basically functioned more as a contractor, and they co-ordinated the workflow and got the work done.

This time, we learnt that paying more does not guarantee you NO problems. There were issues with sliding door mechanisms, which kept getting spoilt, and there were certain times we had to step in and ask the workmen to rectify certain areas. Just before we moved out, we discovered that the kitchen sink was not sealed properly, and the seepage of water had caused the wooden support below to be affected, so we had to call the company to reseal the sink! Problems aside, this company did have better workmanship, and our IDs were experienced and did give useful advice to us during our planning process. (You can read more about this reno here, and tour our former kitchen here.)

Now, fast forward to our third renovation. We again short-listed some recommendations from friends, but also browsed through the reviews on the Blum website. While this page features companies that are Blum partners, we found that the reviews were useful, and not as overwhelming as the information being shared on the Renotalk forum. 

We had three companies on our final list: one that came highly recommended by a friend (you can read about her reno and see pretty photos of her home here), another from a church friend, and finally, one company from the Blum website. Our church friend's contact actually gave us the cheapest quote, but his quotation was really short (two pages with a couple of items listed, in contrast to the detailed itemized quotes that we were used to), and we were worried that many hidden costs may surface during the course of the renovation. That aside, our friend had only worked with this designer on commercial projects, and I wasn't sure about the quality of their work for residential projects. We decided not to go with him.

We were initially impressed with the company we had contacted via the Blum website, since they received many rave reviews, plus they offered a limited lifetime warranty for their work. However, their quote came up to be the highest, with many items being further split into two or three steps, each incurring additional cost. There was a compulsory design fee, of which we didn't want to pay, since we were intending to do the designing and sourcing ourselves. We also didn't feel very comfortable working with the designers that were assigned to us for various reasons, so we crossed this company off our little list.

We ended up going with our friend's recommendation. This designer was actually nice enough to follow us to a few houses that we were considering to give us advice on renovation works. He was experienced, having been in this trade for many years, and the company was actually set up by him and a partner. His quote was reasonable, and most importantly, we felt really comfortable working with him. He was really patient, was never fazed at our requests, and was always genial and accommodating. 

Like our previous renovations, we did most of the designing, planning and sourcing of materials, so our designer acted more as a contractor. However, he did give us a lot of useful advice and recommendations, and we were frequently sending him photos and asking him for his opinion. (And he was honest enough to tell us if he thought our idea wouldn't work!) We did have a few issues with co-ordination, since we sourced and used other companies for various aspects of the renovation (such as the wallpapering). However, in general he was pretty efficient in terms of work-flow, so our renovations were mostly completed in two months. I liked how our designer always took safety into consideration (he has three boys himself, so he understands our concerns!), and how his carpenter understood my plans for all our cabinetry and shelving, and followed them almost to a T. 

I've concluded that no renovation is perfect, and there are always rectifications to be made. It was the case for this reno, since we had a few problems with carpentry, tiling and plumbing, and there were some mistakes made along the way. However, our ID was pretty quick in sending men down to make rectifications, and most issues were resolved. That aside, his workmen were really helpful with regards to helping us put up or set up stuff, such as hanging up our wall hooks. We're still sorting out our kitchen floor tiles though (long story), but I'm glad that they make it a point to follow-up and not disappear like how some other contractors do!

We've had many requests to share our ID's contact, so I'll share it here so that I don't have to keep answering queries! He's Daniel Lim of Square Room Interior Design, and you can contact him at 90625163 (let him know you got his contact off this blog!).

Our new kitchen, before the counter-top went in.

I'm still busy unpacking and setting up stuff around the home, but I hope to blog more about the lessons we've learnt during this reno, as well as share tips and photos in time to come. Stay tuned!

Disclaimer: We are sharing from our personal experience, and such experiences might vary due to differing expectations, project requirements and other factors. Please do compare quotes, and make your own informed decision when it comes to hiring an ID or contractor! Should you have any more queries about our renovation, you can drop me an email or comment. 


  1. Where did you get your beautiful tiles from? :)

    1. Ting: These are cement tiles, they are available from mainly three distributors: Unlimited, Hup Kiong and An Huat (I've listed them in order of increasing cost). But if you do use these, please ensure your tiler is familiar with installing them as these are tricky to install. We had issues with the tiles from An Huat, many were rough, so our tiler had to sand down our floor.

  2. Your floor tiles!!! My heart is going ba-boom, ba-boom just looking at them! Love love love!

    PS they look quite much like your blog background too!

    1. Adora: Thanks! But if you ever use them for your new place in the future, drop me a note! They are not the easiest to install and we had so many issues!

  3. Beautiful tiles! Love your kitchen too. :> Can't believe how much is on your plate. You are a super woman!

  4. Hi! Able to share what's the material of your kitchen tabletop? (:

    1. Hi Jac,
      The lower countertop (in brown) is made of laminate. The rest of the countertop was done in white marbled quartz.



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