Common Design mistakes people make when building or renovating their own home.

Like many professional Interior Designer’s, I’ve done the hard yards working on residential and commercial projects, as well as designing my own home.  It’s been lived in, knocked about, and I’ve been locked in when the handle fell off the front door!

1. Misinterpreting room sizes and area on plans

We went for a standard ‘house & land package’ for the ease & reduction of stress right when we were also starting a brand new family. However, right from the start it was easy to see all the rooms where too small on the plan, and there were areas where with a simple few tweaks, vast improvements in the use of space and thoroughfares could be made. Don’t fall into the trap of viewing a show home (or the plan) with its minimal furnishing layout, double beds (you probably have a queen at least), smaller scale armchairs & sofas. Those kids rooms look just right for a single bed, but when they hit 16 they’re going to want a double (and a sofa, and a mini fridge….)! You really need to spend the time & plan the rooms out with your furniture in mind, allowing for easy movement from area to area. We ‘stretched’ the plan for our house 1/2 metre in both length and width, maximising the available area up to the side boundaries; this made a notable different to almost every room in the house.

2. Underestimating your storage needs

Underestimating the amount of storage you need now and in the future. Yes most people accumulate stuff, and find it difficult to let go. Fortunately, we have 2.7m high ceilings in our house, so I designed built in storage from floor to ceiling.

A couple of years ago we also added an attic storage space which I highly recommend: the overall cost of installing a folding ladder & laying chipboard flooring in the ceiling space was a bargain when compared with the cost of built in cupboards, and we didn’t have to sacrifice any valuable living space. A no-brainer for us.

3. Builder’s standard joinery

One thing we did not compromise on was the design and construction of the kitchen, bathroom and laundry cabinetry. The kitchen and the bathroom are areas where planning & layout to suit your lifestyle is essential. Chances are, your builder’s standard layout is designed by a draftsperson, not an interior designer, with little thought about how these rooms will be used; the only consideration would have been how to arrange the plumbing as cost effectively as possible, and how to minimise the cabinetry to keep the cost low. The opportunity to get to know you the owner, how you live and use the space is missing from this equation.

Custom designed joinery installed in a typical ‘house & land package’ home, with a carefully considered layout and full height storage

4. Compromising on finishes

Don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of all the new good quality and long lasting finishes now available on the market. Technology & the ready availability of quality imported & locally produced product has vastly increased in the last 10 years. The range of quality large format porcelain floor tiles is huge now, with beautiful tiles to suit any budget and taste; laminated timber, cork and timber-look vinyl floorings offer a viable and hardwearing practical alternative to solid timber.

If you want your floors to look great in the years to come, consider hard flooring surfaces that will last, and compare their warranties for an indication; 10 years goes by in the blink of an eye. Use carpets only in bedrooms & areas that receive less day-to-day use; a good quality wool/nylon carpet has a limited lifespan, and needs yearly cleaning. Spot cleaning removes the manufacturer’s protection, so carpet can start looking shabby within a few years.

I always recommend to my clients to specify stone or engineered stone bench tops in the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry. Yes, they’re more expensive than laminate, however they immediately raise the level of quality in a room, will look great for longer, are generally less prone to scratching & staining. There are many options of engineered stone to suit most budgets. Laminate will chip, scratch & stain, additionally it will discolour over time, and if in a sunny position, the discolouring can be obvious.

I also recommend installing floor to ceiling wall tiles in the bathroom. In terms of maintenance, with a polished wall tile, less dust & hair sticks to the walls (due to the ceiling extraction fans blowing air around), and for ease of cleaning, especially where water splashes down the wall from wet hands near towels & hand towel racks.

Bathroom renovation with floor to ceiling wall tiles & fixtures selected by the designer

5. Compromising on Fixtures

Did I say that 10 years goes by in the blink of an eye? Those ‘builders standard’ Gainsborough handles on our house had a 10 year warranty. Not long after the 10 years clocked over, the front door handle fell off in my hand, while trying to get the kids out the front door one morning during the marathon ‘school drop off’. Not fun being locked in your own house ’cause the handle falls off the front door! Found out later that the same thing happened to our neighbour who’s house was built by the same builder! My parents’ house has Gainsborough handles – it was built in 1982 & never needed replacing in the 34 years they lived there. They don’t make them the way they used to.

My regrets? Not installing handles from my favourite door hardware manufacturer (incidentally also made in Australia with a 30 year warranty). Also recently tried to see if we could change them over because they are ALL starting to break, and sadly it’s not so easy as those nasty handles mentioned above need to be installed by cutting a HUMUNGOUS hole in the door (hidden by the rose) that would mean EVERY DOOR needs to be filled up & painted by a professional before installing a better type of hardware. So now we’re stuck with replacing worn out low quality with new low quality handles every couple of years.

My other regret is not installing quality tap ware, basins & sinks right from the get-go. I had in my mind that ‘we could do that later’. It’s a finishing touch to the custom joinery that we did not do; 16 years later it’s still not done.

6. Quality of paint

Yes it’s just like the car oil add – ‘oils ain’t oils’. Well it’s the same for paint too. And now you can get so called ‘one coat paint systems’. That’s just not enough to cover the plasterboard, and conceal the tape & set joints properly. Expect a minimum of 1 coats of undercoat & 2 coats of the selected paint finish. Depending upon the depth of the colour selected, more coats may be required. Beware also of contractors substituting the specified paint for lesser quality brands. When we conducted the defects inspection for our own house, we could still see the grey paper of the plasterboard through the paint in many areas; needless to say it needed to be rectified.

7. Grout & silicone

As for paint, the same goes for quality of grouts & silicones on tiled surfaces. Your designer can recommend suitable brands that will give a better finish & waterproof protection for longer. Believe me it’s a messy and tedious job re-grouting a shower yourself (it was a satisfying result though)!

8. Sneaky substitutions

Can you tell if your builders has substituted fixtures & finishes for a lesser quality than what your designer recommended & what you’ve paid for? It’s relatively easy to find cheap look-alikes these days. Locks, door handles, concealed bins, cabinetry hardware…….most designers will specify tried and tested brands (which are generally of German manufacture) with 30 year or even lifetime warranties. Yes, you pay a little more, but at least your cabinet doors aren’t hanging off broken hinges after a handful of years.

9. Builders are not designers

Don’t make the mistake of assuming your builder is a designer. Yes, they can offer great practical suggestions on how to build a design, either well or quickly & cheaply. Do not forget, their main focus is on the build, and getting their trades in & out as efficiently as possible, and is not interested in how you want to live and use the space. Your builder is not an expert in the areas of design, colour, finishes, cabinetry, or layout. Your builder may offer a drafting service, but it is generally just that, a drafting service which will provide the absolute minimum detail to obtain a permit, not an interior design service. The less detail the builder provides if they control the documentation, means the less they have to deliver on.

6 Comments

  1. Well written and informative article.
    Some great tips.
    Thanks.

  2. Sandra Kelleher says:

    Well written Lisa Elliott
    Quality is often the best choice as opposed to cheaper options

  3. Reem K says:

    Great post!! This is incredibly helpful to me you have no idea, I’m moving out alone for the first time ever and have no idea what I’m doing! Will definitely follow for future posts!

  4. houseroots says:

    Thank you for sharing this! We are blogging about our first time building a home and this was very valuable information! *Following*

  5. Great tips. I completely agree that people, myself included have compromised on finishes from time to time…but I learned my lesson and now go over the top!🤣

  6. Elly says:

    Ohhh I’m glad I found this article before we start renovating, great ideas!

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