a Home - Choosing an Interior Designer over a Contractor (Ep. 3)

12:36:00 PM

Unlike planning for our Wedding, we did not do any research on IDs or Contractors to engage for our Home Renovations because we had a family contact whom we decided to consult. If you've read our previous blog posts, you would know that we have purchased a Resale flat in a mature estate because we wanted to live close to our parents and also didn't want to wait 3 - 4 years for a new flat. It definitely is more financially taxing on us both but for the size of the unit and for the convenience, we knew that this would be the right decision.

Was just reading an article last week about the 5 Common Renovations Regrets to Avoid and unfortunately, we did make a mistake that caused us a bit of time wasted during our renovation journey - Relying Solely On Family For Recommendations On Home Professionals.

Note: This does not mean that you should not go with a family contact for your home reno! You can, but do not have the same expectations as the chemistry between you and your ID / contractor / carpenter is more important. 

The house we had purchased required minimal renovation work because the owners had just renovated it a few months before putting up on sale. They had to redo the place as they had rented it out for 5 years and... we believe it wasn't maintained well during their absence.

Floor and wall tiles were in place and in a condition that we were satisfied with, which was great because a high percentage of budget would have been allocated for this.

The walls have just received a fresh coat of paint, albeit in colours which were not pleasant to the eye. (Think: the study room had yellow walls, the guest room was green, the master bedroom was lilac)

Kitchen cabinets and counter top were all done up and in mint condition. Unfortunately, the cabinets were of a bright orange colour, ALL OF THEM.

Orange kitchen cabinets before renovation
The house came with 3 feature walls in a design that we fancied and could accept. We wouldn’t have considered feature walls in our home actually, especially if it was of a material that was going to be hard-to-maintain.

We would instead opt for different tones of colours to make a certain part of the house stand out or have a different vibe. Nevertheless, it was still acceptable.

We also saved on some fixtures like toilet bowls, toilet and kitchen sinks, brand new system-3 air conditioning units. However, the owners decided to dismantle some other fixtures like the water heater (read about the water heater story in our previous home entry!), all taps, the kitchen stove, ceiling fans. We also decided to purchase new air-con units as we wanted a system-4.

So even though the house came in move-in condition, there was one big part that was absent - it came without wardrobes or storage space. Carpentry can add up to quite a sum of money and this was the bulk of our renovation costs, which we will share more about it in the next few episodes of our Home series.

There were several things we knew from the start that we had to do / redo:

1. The window grilles were full-height and if you look at how tall our windows are, it made the room looked smaller and… such grid grilles are rather old fashioned. We knew we had to have them changed and leaving them grille-less would not be ideal as Mel has students coming over weekly for lessons.

Not only the grilles were a problem, the windows itself were old and had a film-sticker glued on for privacy reasons as you can see from the following photos  (the previous owner had no curtains / blinds so they relied on these stickers to block out street light).

Before removing the stickers

These stickers were definitely a no-no for us and we never knew that engaging someone to remove them for you would be so costly (which is why we DIY-ed it on our own with some help from Mel’s sister and her bf. will share how we did it soon with photos and a video!)

How our windows looked like after we removed the main window stickers
2. The store-room door was removed as the previous owner had occupied this space with an altar instead.

Storeroom on the left, main door on the right
3. There were no cabinets for keeping our shoes in the living room.

4. There were no wardrobes for our clothes in either the guest room or master bedroom because the previous owner was using free standing wardrobe cabinets.

5. The 4th room in our 5 room flat had been converted into a dining space so we knew we had to put back the door to this room as it would be Mel’s piano studio.

How the 4th room looked like before we converted it into a piano studio, pardon the poor quality of the photo
How it looked like before reno started, with the previous owner's furnitures removed

6. We were also not able to accept this "resort-design-looking-bars" because it gives the home a very "fixed" position and would be in the way if we ever decide to change the layout of the furniture in our living / dining room area. 

These were the necessary changes we needed to make to our home and if we had more budget, we were open to other changes to make the place more cosy. As you can see, a carpenter would fit the job since we did not require advice on the layout of our home and a contractor would still be necessary if we wanted to hack away or build any walls. And so, with recommendation from family, we contacted Mr. J and Mr. C., who used to work together as a team but disbanded a few years back to work separately. Nevertheless, they would still recommend customers to each other because they wouldn’t mind working with each other per assignment basis, since they knew each other’s working pattern.

We contacted Mr C. to come for a site visit the day after we collected our keys so that he could have a better idea of our existing design and advise better on what should be changed or retained. The contractor came a day after as he could not make it on the same day as the carpenter.

Confusion Began

After meeting up with both of them separately, we realised that they were not always on the same page. For instance, the carpenter was telling us how we were able to slice our kitchen wall so that we could have more light entering the kitchen without having to hack away the entire wall. However, the contractor told us that it was not possible the following day (something to do with the false ceiling outside the kitchen etc.). So we had to go back to the idea that we will need to hack the entire wall and replace the wall with glass doors, or hack the entire wall and rebuild half the wall so we could get half wall and half glass (our preferred plan!).

There was another instance whereby they started pointing fingers at each other on who to do up the partition wall in our MBR. The carpenter said that the contractor could cement the area up but when we checked with the contractor, he said that the carpenter should be the one in charge of doing up a partition board.

Considering they have worked together many times and had a company together before, we expected them to be on similar wavelengths with each other.

Strangely, they were Poor Advisors

We are no experts in carpentry and having to add-on wardrobes and cabinets to match the existing home design required some professional advice. He couldn’t come up with drawings to our liking and he would stop at 2 variations for… let’s say our master bedroom furniture orientation, and made us choose between the 2 designs. Several times when we told him that the drawings did not suit our taste, he would advise us instead to look around for an interior designer, pay the ID, but still engage him to do the carpentry job.

Knowing that engaging an ID would incur some costs, we resorted to Google search, Pinterest and Qanvast for some designs to show the carpenter. We bookmarked pages and made screenshots of designs we fancied. Unfortunately…

They were also Poor Listeners

The carpenter would cut us off when we explained and showed him what we have found online and the funny thing was that he asked us to search for designs. He told us things like, “哪里有人这样做的!?!” and at least 3 times he did say, “你这样做不会好看的,我先跟你讲!如果你能 accept 的话,好啦!at least 我先跟你讲!", which translates to...

"It won’t look nice la i’m telling you first but if you can accept it then so be it la, at least i tell you first”. 

(Haha, come on man, we didn't sign up for these comments.)

Our Renovation was Not Prioritised

Most likely because ours was a smaller job, they did not prioritise our renovation. The contractor took more than a week to submit our HDB renovation permit and when we questioned him if he had submitted it, he said that he had and was waiting for HDB's approval. But upon checking with HDB, they had not received the application. 

It was similar for the carpenter. When we contacted him in May after collecting our house keys, he said that he can proceed whenever we were ready. Due to family matters, we were only ready to begin our renovation in August and when we contacted him again in that month, he told us that the earliest he could begin would be probably 2 months later in October or November. It was difficult for us to drag it on forever because we were both living out of suitcases. Since Jan 2015, we have moved 3 times, carrying 50% of our years of belongings with us and the other 50% were in our new place. There were a few times we had to shuttle to and fro where we were staying and our new place because we couldn't find a pair of shoes or an item that we needed urgently. 

The Good Part

Despite the negativity, we must thank Mr C. for his punctuality when meeting up for appointments, we were also able to get some discounts on our toilet accessories or wall & floor tiles, if needed, by mentioning his name. We also needed our taps and water heaters to be installed prior to moving in and he arranged for his men to get them installed the next working day. 

Our main deciding factors to following an Interior Designer instead of this Carpenter-Contractor team is -

Reliability, Co-ordination & Cost.

Like most people would have thought, we assumed that engaging an ID would cost more due to the "design cost" involved. To our surprise, the ID that we enquired with had no such additional costs as they have in-house carpenters and contractors. The design fee was included within the final quotation given. All other carpentry and renovation costs were comparable to the carpenter-contractor pair, if not, cheaper.

Furthermore, engaging the ID required no co-ordination on our end. Mr. C and Mr. J made us search for spare floor and wall tiles on our own. They were very sure that they would need spares because of the hacking of our kitchen wall. Our ID did such a seamless job in the end and we required zero spare tiles throughout our renovation process! Thank goodness!

It was such a crazy and stressful process searching for wall and floor tiles at first because the previous owner left us with no serial number or spare tile to bring as comparison. They didn't know where their ID had purchased them from either. We had to take photos with our phones and bring them along for comparison because most shops did not entertain our emails. Not only floor and wall tiles, we had to find our own contacts for windows and grilles, people who did curtains and blinds, and also people who could do up our storeroom door nicely for us.

As for reliability, we were not confident with the contractor-carpenter team at all after they dragged the start date of our renovations. We don't know what's the norm period of a renovation because ours required little renovation but we are guessing an average of 2 months from the start date till handover. We just heard stories on how some who have engaged contractors are left hanging 2 months since renovations started and have no news when will it be completed and that could have been us! It really sucks to have been promised a certain time frame and have paid for the service yet they don't deliver.

We are thankful to have realised before it was too late and glad to have met our Interior Designer. She met up with us at our new home a few days after our first conversation to take some photos and understand what we wanted to improve. A few days after, she invited us to her office to run through the works she has done for clients before and to view the quotations she has done for us based on what we requested for.

She prepared 2 quotations for us - the first was quoted based on our budget and the second had some add-ons which we could decide if we wanted to carry on with or stick to the one with the lower budget. We felt that this was a good way for us to make a comparison and it was a nicer way for her to put it across to us as "hey, your house will look great like this, but you might want to consider the following add-ons to make it even better if it's still within your budget".

The quotation fell within our budget and the prices for each category felt reasonable. So we went ahead and paid a deposit at that meeting itself.

Finally, we could breathe.

No more having to co-ordinate with different people and chasing vendors for quotations, drawings and schedules. And immediately when we made the confirmation, she proceeded to contact HDB with regard to the steps to cancel our pending hacking permit with the previous contractor and prepared new documents and drawings to send in to HDB to re-apply for a new permit by the ID company. Everything was done and settled within 3 working days - Amazing! And we didn't have to move an inch.

Will definitely share more about our renovation process and the places we bought our furniture and electronics from (nothing to complain about all that we have bought so far). But if you can't wait for our next few posts, do drop us an email at MelBenGets@gmail.com and we will send you the contacts and answer any questions you have! :)

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