03
Dec 2020

Once it’s all over, you have your own space, tailor made to your lifestyle and taste – which makes you forget about the hill-filled journey. Anyone who has built or renovated will tell you how much of a nightmare it is, but no one tells you why. No one prepares you. Kind of like childbirth. So here we are, wanting to give you a small insight as to what to expect, and to give a few tips to help you make the journey blissful instead of miserable.

What to expect

Whether you’ve bought a new place, or finally decided to pull the trigger on giving your current home a facelift, there are a few things you need to know:

  1. You will spend endless hours on Pinterest, Instagram and other media looking for inspiration. Some ideas you will adopt easily, others, you’ll come to realise, won’t work at all. It boils down to budget, product availability, space and time.
  2. You will go through a whirlwind of emotions.
  3. The project will, more than likely, run late.
  4. There will be many people in your space – all the time.
  5. You will need to make numerous decisions that will make your head hurt.
  6. It is all worth it in the end!

Making Decisions

There are only 2 reasons to go through with a renovation; The first, you want to, and the second, you have to.

Whatever the reason, you need to be clear on what you want to do: A minor facelift? A major facelift? A complete change? Knock down walls? Expand?

Once you’ve made that decision, you will need to see if it’s doable. Some walls are structural and can’t be removed. Some body corporates won’t let you change the exterior façade. Sometimes you will need council approval. And sometimes what you actually want to do is simply more than you’re willing to handle.

If you’re currently living in the space, think about whether you can stay there throughout the process. Be sure to ask your contractors how much dirt and dust there will be, and then decide if it’s worth living with that.

My husband and I recently bought an apartment, and we wanted to do the renovations before moving in. It started off with simply wanting to replace the bathroom vanities, kitchen countertops and kitchen tiles,but it ended up with all the cupboards being removed, all tiling being redone, chasing plug points and levelling out shower floors.

We thought it would take about a month. Three months later we finally moved in. With a snag list to boot.

This will likely happen to you as well. So don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Realistic Goals

Never set yourself up for disappointment. If you estimate the renovation will be done in 2 months, rather plan for it to take 3 or 4 months. At least then you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you’re able to move in sooner.

Set yourself a conservative budget and allow for an overflow limit for all the “just in case” and “oh we forgot about those” items that may creep up. That way you will be able to afford the overlooked extras.

Time and money are the biggest players when renovating, so if you can keep them under control, then you’re halfway there to staying sane.

Budget

It’s safe to say that more often than not, this is the most awkward part of the process – leading to heated discussions and debates. So, how do you decide how much money to spend? It seems pretty simple – it’s just a matter of how much are you willing to fork out.

Once you have a number in mind, you can start doing some research on what things cost to determine if your number makes sense. If it does, that’s great; Just remember to keep a portion of the budget aside for the emergency extras. If your number doesn’t make sense, go back to the drawing board to see if you can increase the budget or take out some items that you want, as opposed to need.

The best piece of advice I can offer is: Work under budget for the items less important to you so that you can splurge on what really matters. For example, we found beautiful wall paper and the total cost of material and installation was quite high; So, we decided to paint that particular wall a feature colour and kept that money for a wine rack we absolutely loved.

Project Manager: Yes or No?

Whether or not you need a Project Manager is dependent on each situation. What you do need to know is that managing your own renovation is extremely time consuming and stressful.

To give you a better idea of whether or not you should hire a project manager, here’s a small list of what a Project Manager will help you with:

  1. Ensures there is someone on site to open up for the contractors.
  2. Ensures they are on site managing the work that is being done, so that you can pop in and out on your own time to check in.
  3. Ensures there is someone on site to lock up once everyone leaves.
  4. Ensures all contractors’ timelines are properly coordinated.
  5. Ensures you have all the building materials needed (if/when the contractors aren’t organising it themselves).
  6. Ensures contractors and deliveries are done on time.

And the list continues.

If you work full time, the process becomes  very tricky. Contractors only work from 8am until 5pm. Which is exactly the time when you are busy at work! Even if your company is relaxed and you can sneak away ever so often, and maybe even work from home, it’s generally very disruptive.

If you don’t work full time, but you aren’t a very organised person, then I wouldn’t think twice about hiring a Project Manager. You will be unnecessarily stressed and may drop the ball – which will just lengthen the process. So you’ll be thankful for the help.

If you don’t work full time, you are very organised, you have a good eye and you’re great at making decisions – then perhaps you should in fact be a full-time project manager! In that case, where were you when I was renovating?!

In retrospect, this is one thing I wish we did differently – everything would’ve gone a lot smoother and I wouldn’t have had to dip into my secret chocolate comfort stash so often.

Architects and Designers

There are several professionals who can help you along the way. In order to find the right fit, you need to know what you need. For example, if you’re doing a very minor renovation, an interior decorator will suffice – someone to help you with colours and soft finishes. If you want to move walls, then you need an architect to help with the more technical details.

We felt we needed 3D renderings of the space, so asked an interior designer to help us out. She advised on complimentary colours, did tile layouts (which was imperative in our guest bathroom with the colourful hexagonal tiles), and gave her opinion and advice whenever we needed it – even on things like door handles, and, of course, gave us 3D renderings.

It’s always good to have an objective opinion, and a potential tie breaker on hand. If these services may not be in your budget, you can always ask if they can help you with specific aspects of the project and charge accordingly.

Who, When and Why?

We got a bit lost in this process, and this is where a Project Manager would’ve been great. And to be honest, as it stands now, if I were to do a renovation again – I would still struggle with getting this program and timeline together.

It’s so personalized to what you’re doing:

Everyone told us the painter comes last.

But then we were told the guys who fix the parquet floors come last.

Then we needed to still get the cupboards put in on fresh floors, but not super fresh floors to ensure they didn’t get damaged.

And don’t forget about the skirting boards, but that could only be done after the floors were finished.

We still needed to finish tiling the splashback, but the countertop wasn’t in.

But the kitchen cupboards weren’t done yet, so we can’t get the countertop.

And … and… and…

What a headache!

Then we learnt the basic process should generally be:

Remove blinds or curtains (keep these off site so they stay clean) -> Builders -> Plumbers’ and basic electrical work -> Carpentry or joinery work -> Tiling and countertops or vanities -> Fitting of lights and plumbing fixtures -> Redo Parquet flooring (if applicable) -> Paint

Most importantly, make sure that all your contractors are aware of the general timelines so they don’t cause delays.

All The Small Things

As you start the renovation, your To Do List will grow constantly and there will be many small items that are so far from your realm of reality, that you would not have  even realised you need them!

Depending on who your contractors are, they might bring everything they need with them, or they may ask you to have some items ready on site. The best idea is to get an exhaustive list of everything you need from the contractors. A few examples:

  • Electrician: Lights, plugs, covers, etc.
  • Tiler: Adhesive, grout, bonding liquid, etc.
  • Joiner/Carpenter: Handles, etc.
  • Plumber: Mixers, overflows, pop ups, shower drains or traps, etc.
  • Painter: Masking tape, grit paper, brushes, a ladder, primer, etc.

Random Things to Think About

Lights

There are yellow lights, white lights, LEDs and many more – choose wisely! If you want to be able to dim the lights, make sure the bulb allows for it.

Chasing Electrical Points

This needs to be carefully thought out! If you are adding lights, light switches or plug points, make sure what you want is doable and that the layout is what you want. Chasing in the walls creates a big mess and it’s not something you can easily change once the walls have been patched up again.

Toilets

If you currently have a floor standing close coupled toilet, and you want to go with a wall hung toilet and concealed cistern, you need to make sure there’s enough space in the wall. Think hard about this decision – this change means you need to break into the wall.

Taps

If your taps are currently sitting on the basin or on the vanity, and you want the taps to come out of the wall, understand that the plumber may need to change the plumbing points.

On this note – make sure your plumbers get the hot and cold sides correct!

Floors

Our saving grace was the floor protectors we rented out from WOMAG. They were so easy to lay down after the team was done with the Parquet floors, and it gave us peace of mind that work boots, ladders and tool boxes would not scratch our new floors. This is an absolute must! Especially if you have installed any natural stone or wood, cover your floors with (proper) protection. Do it now, thank me later.

In fact, if this is the only piece of information that sticks with you, I’ll be happy!

Paint

Get a few options, and paint swabs in a various areas of your place. Colours appear different in different lighting.

Curtains vs Shutters/Blinds

A personal decision, which only you can  to make!

Leaving Items Around the Place

Whether you trust the contractors or not, items may disappear or break. There may be no malicious intent, but accidents happen. It’s possible that someone thinks a particular box is empty, so they throw it out, when – lo and behold – your basin mixer was in it. For your sanity, as far as possible, don’t keep anything on site, you’ll sleep better, and you won’t need to dip into your “just in case” budget if something goes pear shaped.

Important Decisions

One of the most important decisions you need to make is: what tiles will you use.

Not for the obvious reason that all the aesthetics need to match, and you may need time to order – we know that story. No, the reason your tile choice is so important is so the builder can make adjustments for the thickness, if need be!

Will you need to lower your floor? Will you need to shave down the door? Do they need to take care when screeding the floor?

Generally, porcelain tiles are 10mm thick, so if you are replacing a porcelain tile with another porcelain tile, more likely than not, it will be fine – but rather be safe than sorry!

Inform the builder of the thickness of your new tiles, he will be able to make necessary adjustments when they remove the tiles and prepare the area for the tiler.

Let’s Talk Bathrooms

Everyone thinks they need a non-slip tile on the bathroom floor. They are afraid of slipping, we get that. But, don’t you walk out the shower or bath onto a mat to dry your feet?

The shower itself is a totally different story. Here you want a non-slip tile on the floor, or you can cut up a tile into smaller pieces so the grout forms as a non-slip element; but think of how difficult it will be to clean a non-slip tile from general dirt. Have you ever tried cleaning sandpaper?

It’s fine for the shower floor though, as there is no build up of dirt, and there is a constant flow of water cleaning the floor organically.

We wanted fewer grout lines and large format tiles, for a seamless looking floor. Luckily, WOMAG had various tile finishes in the same range.We were able put a matt tile on the bathroom floor, and used the non-slip version of the same tile on the shower floor – so we have the same look throughout. And, we actually changed a step-in shower to a slanting shower – but that’s a story for another time!

Now, Let’s Talk Kitchens

Your kitchen is where you spend a lot of time, so you want to make sure it fits your lifestyle and personality. The two most important (and completely random) things to think about are:

  1. Which way does your fridge open?
  2. Do you have enough cupboard and storage space?

More often than not, those questions are overlooked and you end up having to do a walkabout to get items out the fridge, or you have cluttered corners on your countertops because your cupboards are full.

When choosing your countertop, it’s a good idea to think hard about how you use your kitchen – are you messy, do you cut on the surface, do you even cook or use the kitchen and so on. This will help decide on the material. We chose a beautiful granite from WOMAG because we work directly on the surface and hate having a hassle of “Oops, I spilled. I need to clean this before it sets and stains”. Granite, being a real natural stone that is resistant to staining or scratching, was the obvious choice.

Advice is tricky when it comes to the kitchen, because it is such a personal space. People ask, “what is better: an underslung kitchen sink, or a drop in?”; and the honest answer is: what do you prefer? People ask, “should we have a double or single basin?”; and again the answer is: what do you prefer? For those who don’t do the dishes right away (guilty as charged), it’s nice to have two sinks, because, let’s be honest, you need the space. We also really wanted a deep sink so that washing bigger dishes would be easier.

The most important tip for your kitchen is, don’t rush the decisions. Everyone lives differently and there is no right or wrong.

The process may be a bit lengthy because of the moving elements. We had already chosen our stone and received the quote, but we had to wait for the cupboard carcasses to be done before WOMAG could take templates. The reason for templates is that the sizes we gave may have not been 100% correct. So WOMAG measures and makes templates (made from a plywood of sorts) and then take those to the factory to cut from – ensuring a perfect fit! Once the production is done, installation takes place and we could get started on the splashbacks. One of the special elements of WOMAG is that you can actually go to the factory and either pick out the slab you want, or even just witness the manufacturing process for yourself! Always be sure to allow for enough time with the kitchen installations, if the carcass isn’t in place or you haven’t yet decided on a basin, it could slow down the process.

Wonky Walls

For some odd reason, walls are hardly ever straight. Why and how? I have no clue. When we were getting templates done for our kitchen, I noticed that the walls were out – so much so that one end of the countertop would be narrower than the other. There was nothing we could do because the carcasses were made to be perfectly aligned – imagine a slanting kitchen! –  and that was fine. The reason I got worked up was that I thought they would need to cut the granite in a slanted way to fit the carcass, but then what if there were gaps because the wall isn’t straight and my mind was racing. The WOMAG template team could probably see the beads of sweat forming on my forehead, so asked what the matter was. After I explained all the thoughts running through my mind, they smiled at me and told me I’ll never even notice. The rule of thumb is to tile the splashback after the countertop is installed to help with these variances. That way it doesn’t matter if the wall is curving slightly, or there are small gaps between the countertop and wall – the tilers can build up the glue behind the tile (or whatever splashback you choose) to accommodate the gaps.

Bottom line – breath. Ask the professionals for the solutions before you have a mild panic attack!

Happy Renovating

If you are renovating for personal purposes, remember that this is one of the biggest investments you will make – and you need to love everything about your new space! Don’t make rash decisions, don’t just give in when you’re tired of the process and remember that when it’s done, it’s yours!

If you are renovating for investment purposes, rather chose neutral pallets, as not everyone will love the same features you do. Also ensure that you don’t skimp out on the basics: if the plumbing or electrical work isn’t up to scratch, you’ll just have problems later on.

For us, WOMAG was extremely helpful as a one stop shop. We were able to match up our tiles, countertops and vanity, and get the toilets and basins we needed, all in one place.

It’s important to find people who you connect with to bring on board, and important to remember to have fun during the process. Talk through your ideas, listen to those around you with more experience and remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel!