Today I am kicking off a new series called Design the Perfect Finish. I am aiming to share the useful things we learned when we built our own home. Things you need to know when you do your own build or renovation, my favourite products that I would specify again today, floor plans that really work, measurements for things like the height of the tap above the basin (bet you didn't know you had to choose that), and how to deal with your trades. There are a lot of decisions to make in any build, I want to give you confidence in your choices by sharing what I know works for us.
Today's post is one I wrote two years ago, but when I reread it I thought it was worth sharing again, these tips are the starting place for good planning. So enjoy, and pop back soon as I tackle topics like my fave floor choices, living with solar energy, and tips you need to know when you design a bathroom.
1. Make an inspiration board & study the details
With Pinterest inspiration boards have never been so easy, but go old school with a paper file if that works better for you. Make a different board for each area of the house: kitchen, bathroom, living room, laundry, playroom, whatever you are building.
Once you have pinned all your favourites take a step back and study them all together. You will start to see a theme running through your selections. Spot the similarities and study the details and make sure you include these key elements in your final design. This is a sample of my kitchen board - no surprises that I have a black kitchen island, marble top, wood floors and white walls.
2. Work with an interior designer or architect in the concept stage
Consult an expert to get your spaces and flow working well before the build starts. This is an investment well worth making if you want to get it right first time and you want a polished look! Make your inspiration boards first, they will make it much easier to explain the look and feel you are aiming for.
This is the time to talk about storage and where it should be, light sources, types of lighting, even the position of the light switches. Be specific about how you plan to use spaces, the flow from indoors to outdoors, and where your north light comes from.
3. Create a sample pack and take it everywhere
Try decide on all major finishes in the concept stage: floors, bathroom tiles, kitchen joinery colours and counter tops. Collect samples of all items and put them in a box in the back of your car. As you select other finishes make sure they tie in with the elements you have already decided on. A limited palette of complimentary materials will give your design good continuity and stronger visual impact.
4. Make a non-negotiable list
Unless you have a bottomless wallet you are going to have to make budget choices somewhere. Decide on your non-negotiable list upfront, for me it was my bathroom tiles and wooden floors. When you need to cut costs make them elsewhere first, this way you end up with the items you really want.
5. Use the same fittings throughout
Choose the same taps for all your bathrooms, use the same floor finishes throughout the house, apply a consistent colour palette in all your finishes. Continuity will make your house feel well designed, and buying in bulk is a good opportunity to negotiate a good price.
6. Make your cash work harder
- Shop around for the best prices, locally and online.
- Never get less than three quotes for any job or item.
- Ask for discounts when you buy, tell the retailer you are building and could be coming back for more supplies.
- Shop at auctions for really good deals, we bought solar panels with installation for a great price on Grays Online.
7. Ask for recommendations
All our best trades, our builder, and many of our suppliers were recommended by people who had also built or renovated. There is no substitute for a personal reference.
This also applies to the many professionals you will need certificates from like engineers, certifiers, garden designers & traffic authorities.
8. Plan, plan and plan some more
Graph paper just became your best friend. Draw out your rooms, measure the furniture and draw them onto your floor plan. Do elevations of the kitchen and built in joinery. Its not hard, you just need a ruler, graph paper and your measurements. Your builder will think you are crazy but you will get a preview of what the space will look like, and it will help you to be very specific about what you want.
With a detailed plan there is no room for error, you know what you are getting and the builder knows exactly what to do. You want to get it right the first time, undoing building work costs time and money and is the fastest way to go over budget and over schedule.
When I designed the bathrooms I specified everything from the exact position of the taps to the starting point in the tile pattern, the end result was just as I planned it.
9. Stick to your guns
If I had a dollar for every time a trade or supplier told me "it can't be done that way" I would be a millionaire. Trades like to do what is easiest and what they know best. This often does not tie up with the image you saw in a glossy magazine.
A friend gave me sage advice, "if you make the choice you can live with it being your mistake, if you were talked into something you didn't want the end result will frustrate you for ever".
10. Read your contract in detail before you sign it
Make sure your building contract is very detailed, it needs to include specifics of every fitting and finish choice, the electrics and plumbing plans down to the position of every light switch and plug point, and labour for every aspect of the job. You want to be sure the quote includes everything you want. This is your final opportunity to check that your budget is on target. If you have planned well there shouldn't be to many surprises.
Take your time and make sure each line item is right before you sign. Once you have signed every change is called a variation, and you are charged an administration cost for every variation made. This is a very preventable cost you can keep to a minimum.
Building is a huge investment in capital, time and emotional energy and it is absolutely worth taking the time to get things right the first time.
I always dreamed of building our own home. Of course, because life never happens as plans we didn't just build, no, "surprise!" we had a baby too. It was a HUGE year. We learned a lot, we cried a lot, we didn't sleep a lot, but in the end I love my new home and expanded family - a lot!
It really doesn't matter how big or small your build is, what matters is that you are happy with the end result. I hope this series makes your own build just that little bit easier.