The ultimate guide to home renovation (Singapore edition)

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105 of the best renovation tips for the house, kitchen, bathroom, and more to get you started!

This is a one-stop resource that contains 100+ handy renovation tips for the house, kitchen, bathroom, and more.

No more wasting time scouring the Web to find bits and pieces of remodelling advice. You can now get all of them at one place – here!

Topics covered
1|10   Whole house
1.  Assess your needs
Whether you live in an HDB flat or in landed property, a complete home revamp is a big job. Think carefully about your specific requirements and make sure you and your contractor are on the same wavelength. A professional builder will be able to give you expert advice on each aspect of your renovation project.
2.  Look at the bigger picture
Think about how the different parts of your whole house redesign will fit together. An experienced company can help you attain a consistent theme throughout your renovation project, fusing various elements of design to create balance and harmony.
3.  Consider scale and proportion
Ask your designer or contractor about scale and proportion across all aspects of the project. It’s mainly a question of balance: too many bulky items in a room make it look small; too many small items, and it looks cluttered.
4.  Ensure preparation work is done
Preparation is a crucial element of a home redesign but often overlooked by the amateur; in fact, poor preparation is probably the worst mistake in a house remodel. A detailed plan will help to keep you within budget and ensure the project runs smoothly and in a timely manner.
5.  Take accurate measurements
Before buying new appliances or furniture, make sure you take precise measurements, to ensure there’s adequate space for your fixtures and fittings. Beware of falling into the trap of snapping up a bargain on a whim, only to find your lovely new cooker won’t fit in your kitchen.
6.  Plan for sufficient storage space to avoid clutter
Household items such as books, magazines, clothing, linen, and toys all need a home if your house redesign is to work as a clutter-free, relaxing space, so ensure your design provides room for cabinets and other storage areas to keep your home looking neat and tidy.
7.  Add custom furniture and cabinetry
Custom-made furniture and cabinets give you the perfect opportunity to make your home unique. You can use the powerful design potential of customised furniture to reflect your tastes and lifestyle.
8.  Remember safety
Hiring a professional company will guarantee your whole house renovation meets all health and safety standards. This is especially important with electrics, where a botched DIY job could pose a potentially-fatal threat.
9.  Choose appropriate flooring and floor design
Flooring comes in such a wide range of materials that you can select a floor covering that both looks good and matches your particular needs. Choosing quality materials and products and engaging a flooring installation specialist will ensure your flooring is a stylish, functional feature of your home.
10.  Use the right paint
Experienced painting contractors know that the sort of paint used (water- or oil-based, for example) is as important as the colour. For an attractive, durable finish, it’s vital to apply the correct base coat to provide a sound foundation.
11.  Paint the ceiling cream
Flat matt paint is regarded as the norm for ceilings, thanks to its intense depth, but, instead of following the crowd and painting your ceiling white, choosing a shade of cream will, according to professional interior designers, give your room a warmer feel.
12.  Ensure adequate ventilation
Ventilation is an under-appreciated element of home renovation but has an important role; poor ventilation can result in condensation building up, leading to the formation of potentially-toxic mould. Your ventilation system needs to efficiently get rid of stale air and replace it with fresh air from outside.
13.  Consider the importance of lighting early in the design stage
Talk to a specialist about the concept of using layered illumination – a combination of ambient (general), task, and accent lighting ­– to showcase and complement your home refit. A lighting professional will know which combinations of lighting work best for each room.
14.  Buy quality materials
Whether it’s paint, wallpaper, flooring, or fixtures and fittings, going for cheap materials and products in your house revamp will result in a second-rate finish, while better-quality merchandise will make for a more aesthetic, longer-lasting result.
15.  Order extra wallcovering and flooring
To allow for wastage, experts recommend ordering 15-20% more wallpaper than you’ve estimated you need, depending on the intricacy of the pattern. If you’re laying a wooden floor, allow for 8-10% wastage; if fitting carpets, the figure is 10-20%.
16.  Pay attention to things that won’t be visible
It’s easy to overlook fundamental aspects of a house facelift while concentrating on the more exciting elements, so make sure you get the basics right – work such as installing waterproofing and damp-proof membranes, electrical wiring, and water supply and waste outlet pipework.
17.  Allow space for appliances
Ensure your home redesign includes room for items such as a washing machine, cooker, refrigerator/freezer, computers, hi-fi systems, and television. Planning ahead will guarantee a home renovation that produces a convenient and comfortable environment.
18.  Ensure enough electrical outlets
Incorporate electrical works into your design to make sure you’ll have sufficient outlets for your needs, without overloading the circuitry. In the interests of safety, always bring in a professional electrician.
19.  Think green
Using eco-friendly products is not only good for the environment, it can also help you to cut energy costs, in the case of LED (light emitting diode) lighting, for instance. Other ways to go green may include using composite decking (made from wood waste and recycled plastic) and natural linoleum flooring.
20.  Consider elderly residents
If your household includes an elderly resident, it’s important to plan ahead to make sure your home remodel provides them with well-being and convenience, especially in areas such as the bathroom and kitchen.
21.  Expect the unexpected
A whole house revamp can bring to light previously concealed defects and problems. Demolishing a wall or taking up flooring can reveal plumbing and electrical issues, for example. Have a contingency fund within your budget to cover these eventualities.
22.  Add value to your property
Certain types of residential redesigns can boost the selling price of your home, particularly bathroom and kitchen upgrades. If you’re aiming to add value to your property, it’s especially important to hire an experienced home renovation contractor.
2|10   Living room
23.  Be clear about why you’re remodelling
The purpose of your living room renovation should inform design decisions about the space. If you’re going to put your home on the market, for instance, choose neutral, light-coloured paint for the walls, to make the room appear larger.
24.  Remain practical
You can achieve both functionality and style with a living room makeover, but avoid getting carried away by the fads of the day. Your living room remodel needs to reflect the needs and lifestyle of you and your family.
25.  Strike a balance
Find the middle ground that avoids combining too many different styles or over-matching of design elements.
26.  Get colourful
If you’re not planning to put your home on the market, you may want to add a splash of colour to your living room. Test different shades and colours of paint on your walls before making a final decision on your colour scheme.
27.  Make sure there’s enough room to move about
Traffic flow in a living room is important, particularly if there are children running around. Avoid overcrowding the space with unnecessary furniture, to make sure “traffic lanes” are not too narrow.
28.  Use rugs
Strategically-placed rugs can provide balance and create zones to add a sophisticated touch to your living room, if they match the size and style of the space.
29.  Avoid clichéd artwork
Corny artwork will detract from the ambience of your living room. If you want to hang pictures on your walls, consider how they’ll fit in with the rest of your interior design.
30.  Put storage for shoes near the main entrance
Encouraging everyone to keep their outdoor footwear out of the living room will go a long way in maximising the lifespan of your flooring, particularly if you have carpets – and kids!
31.  Avoid the quick fix
So-called quick fixes rarely do the job properly, and often result in more time and money being spent on engaging a professional to sort things out.
32.  Realise your DIY limitations
Numerous pitfalls lurk at every turn for amateurs trying to carry out renovation projects. If you want your living room facelift to run smoothly, on time, and within budget, you need a reliable home remodelling contractor.
3|10   Kitchen
33.  Go for a timeless design
Kitchen design trends come and go, but a classic look will never have a sell-by date. If you want a kitchen that will stand the test of time, think about a design with subdued colours, Shaker cabinets, and a farmhouse-style sink.
34.  Consider functionality and workflow
Creating an environment that provides optimum working conditions is crucial in kitchen design. If possible, stick to the tried and tested workflow configuration of positioning the sink, fridge, and cooker to form a triangle.
35.  Plan for counter space
Work space is at a premium in the kitchen, and fitted cupboards provide an ideal base on which to install countertops. If you can create a worktop with nothing underneath it, this can double as a breakfast bar.
36.  Consider your kitchen refit as a whole
If you splash out on a high-end product such as an expensive marble worktop, you may then have to cut back your spending on other elements of your kitchen makeover, which will result in an unbalanced appearance.
37.  Make sure you have enough storage space
Plan for enough cabinets and drawers to meet the needs of you and your family in the kitchen. Consider installing pull-out shelves in base cabinets and worktops with adjustable heights. To make your kitchen more accessible, think about putting in a wall oven instead of a range.
38.  Leave room for a garbage bin
A kitchen produces a lot of waste, and it has to go somewhere, so ensure you have space for a domestic-garbage bin. Modern pull-out recycling bins keep contents out of sight and ordered by type. These bins can even be designed to be sited below worktop holes so you can sweep food scraps straight into them.
39.  Keep the basic layout
Planning your kitchen redesign around its existing “footprint” will save a lot of money, so maintain the original scheme of plumbing and electrical sockets, or just make minor alterations.
40.  Choose appliances early
Select new appliances before the kitchen remodel gets under way, to ensure they’ll not be too big for your space.
41.  Stick to the plan
According to New York-based Consumer Reports, one of the worst mistakes you can make in a kitchen renovation is changing your mind once the project is in progress. This can increase the budget by an average of 10%.
4|10   Bathroom & toilet
42.  Create a focal point
A bathroom tends to be a place of chaos; your design shouldn’t reflect this, so create a focal point such as a free-standing tub, if you have the space, and plan the room around that.
43.  Position the toilet carefully
As we’ve seen, a focal point can work well in a bathroom, but avoid a design that makes the toilet the first thing you see on opening the bathroom door. If you’re hoping for a spa-like ambiance, a toilet renovation that puts the lavatory front and centre in your bathroom can kill the mood.
44.  Consider standard bathroom dimensions
Understand standard bathroom dimensions (such as the size of a typical bath tub and how much space a toilet requires) or keep the configuration of the original bathroom layout. This will save time and extra costs on plumbing work.
45.  Ensure the height of basins is suitable
Your wash basin has to be accessible to all family members, particularly children and any elderly people living with you.
46.  Choose the right vanity
Pick a vanity that allows for adequate storage space without being so big as to obstruct the bathroom’s traffic flow.
47.  Have comfortable spacing
A common mistake in bathroom redesign is trying to squeeze too much into a relatively small room. Ensure optimum comfort and convenience by maximising space and having sufficient storage to avoid cluttering. Sometimes, simply switching the side the bathroom door swings from can improve the use of space.
48.  Keep it simple
A tidy, clean-looking design will make your bathroom appear airy and inviting, so go for a neutral colour scheme, which can always be embellished with vibrant accessories and colourful bath towels.
49.  Make it safe
A combination of water, electricity, and slippery surfaces in a compact space makes a bathroom a potentially dangerous place. Play it safe by hiring a professional bathroom renovator for jobs such as lighting and other electrical work, water drainage, and waterproofing.
50.  Reduce risks of mould
Condensation can be a big problem in a bathroom and can never be totally eliminated. Installing an efficient extractor fan and using special anti-mould bathroom paint on the walls and ceiling will reduce the risk of mildew and toxic fungi taking hold.
51.  Think about water conservation
The average bath takes up to 220 litres of water, while a 10-minute shower with a low-flow showerhead uses half that amount. So, regard baths as an occasional treat between showers, and save on energy costs.
52.  Get the lighting right
Well-designed lighting is essential in a bathroom refit. The best bathroom design will create a well-lit space incorporating task, accent, ambient, and decorative lighting. Consider installing a large mirror above the basin or vanity with lighting that directs back onto the face.
5|10   Bedroom
53.  Make sure your master bedroom is stylish
Installing lights with a dimmer will provide illumination when you need it and softer lighting to create a calmer mood. If you have the space, try incorporating a bathroom suite in your master bedroom, with large closets, a separate shower and bath, a couple of sinks, and chic lighting.
54.  Think carefully before installing a home office in your bedroom
The place where you sleep is not a natural location for a home office. Having office paraphernalia, particularly electronic equipment, as a constant presence in your bedroom is likely to make it difficult for you to wind down and relax.
55.  Incorporate bed linen and curtains into your design
If you’ve gone for neutral colours on the walls and ceiling, consider soft-blue curtains or blinds. Choose bed linen, such as duvets and pillowcases, that match your window dressings.
56.  Think big!
If you live in a larger, landed private home in Singapore, you can add space to your master bedroom by taking out interior walls or even create a new bedroom by building another storey above your home.
57.  Create a calming space
All the elements of a bedroom remodel, including design, furniture, colour scheme, and architectural features, should be aimed at creating a relaxing haven that you look forward to every night and that enables you to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed. An experienced interior designer can provide invaluable advice on fashioning this ambient atmosphere.
58.  Make a bold statement
While your bedroom should be a calm, restful space, you can create a point of interest by accentuating an existing, strong feature such as a window; think about bold curtain prints.
59.  Keep it clutter-free
Keeping clutter out of your bedroom will help to make you feel peaceful and comfortable. Fit built-in storage units or a new closet. For smaller bedrooms, there’re plenty of beds with built-in storage to choose from.
6|10   Basement
60.  Consider what your basement will be used for
One common use of a basement is as a welcoming place to hang out, such as a games room, entertainment centre, and bar area, but there’re many other options, and it’s worth bearing in mind that a flexible design will make it easier to repurpose your basement in the future.
61.  Create different areas
You can divide your basement into various activity areas by using different colours when painting the walls, to help distinguish each zone. A dark basement can be brightened up with light, stimulating colours.
62.  Direct light upwards
Because basement ceilings are usually lower than those in other rooms in the house, lighting is often directed upwards and reflected off the ceiling from ambient illumination sources such as wall sconces.
63.  Beware of damp
A basement will invariably encounter issues with moisture, particularly in the high-humidity climate of Singapore. Any potential drainage problems and ventilation issues must be identified and addressed, preferably by a reputable basement renovator.
64.  Dig down
If your basement ceiling is too low for your purposes, one option to increase head height is to lower the flooring by digging out the existing base and pouring new footings, while taking care not to affect any walls or foundations of your home or those of your neighbours.
65.  Look ahead
In most homes, the basement houses the mechanical systems of the house, so remember that you’ll likely need to get access to these in the future to do any major work on your main floor.
66.  Reduce noise
If your new basement is to be used as a playroom, games area, or entertainment media centre, fit sound insulation within the ceiling to protect the rest of the house from excessive noise.
67.  Make a style choice
Do you want your basement to match the furniture and finishes in the rest of your home, or do you want it to have a different feel?
68.  Put in a drop ceiling
Consider installing a suspended ceiling, ideal for housing recessed lighting and for hiding unsightly fittings such as pipes, ducts, and wiring.
69.  Add a vapour barrier
Call in a professional to avoid the danger of putting a vapour barrier in the wrong place, which can trap damp and increase the risk of mould.
7|10   Decking
70.  Design for the future
Plan your new decking to suit your future needs, as well as current requirements. Incorporate features, such as lighting and rail design, that you can live with long-term.
71.  Add new features
Talk to a decking renovation expert about deck resurfacing and various new features you may want to incorporate into the redesign to make the deck more adaptable to your lifestyle.
72.  Aim for landscape balance
The shape and size of your deck should blend in with the landscape. For example, curved pathways in your garden or yard should be reflected in the decking design. You also need to consider traffic-flow between your deck and garden.
73.  Understand that decking materials have a lifespan
Building materials for decks don’t last forever, their lifespan depends on exposure to the elements of the prevailing climate and level of wear and tear.
74.  Use the proper fixings
Steel fixings such as bolts, nails, and screws need to be galvanised to protect against corrosion when used in decking construction.
75.  Apply a primer
Your deck, including railings and posts, needs a shield against the weather. So, apply a good primer, which will ensure better adhesion when painting and make the paint last longer.
76.  Fit an awning
To protect you and your guests from rain, gusty winds, and strong sun, install a retractable awning for all-weather al fresco entertaining.
77.  Think about maintenance
Different types of decking materials need varying levels of maintenance. Treated wood and composites are pretty much maintenance-free, but regular cleaning is recommended to keep them looking good.
78.  Avoid a deck disaster
Structural issues such as footing size, joist sizing and spacing, railing guidelines, staircase construction, and beam sizing are best left to a reliable decking contractor, who will also know how to avoid damaging underground electricity, gas, and water services.
8|10   Attic/Loft
79.  Evaluate the roof space
Establish whether your roof space is suitable for an attic/loft conversion. Examine issues such as overall structure and physical dimensions, available head height, and whether there’re any obstacles, like water tanks.
80.  Engage an experienced architect and contractor
If you’re unsure whether you really know what ridge timbers and pitch angles are, call in a reliable architect and specialist attic builder.
81.  Consider your use of the space
An attic conversion typically provides a space of cosy dimensions, most suitable as a bedroom, play or entertainment area, office, or (with sufficient head height) a mini-gym.
82.  Install a ceiling fan
Attics get hot, so, if headroom allows, a ceiling fan will make your loft conversion more comfortable, providing a refreshing, cool breeze.
83.  Maximise storage space
Your loft extension should make use of every nook and cranny for storage. Attic eaves lend themselves to built-in storage, while space-saving cabinets and drawers can be recessed into walls.
84.  Where to put a bathroom
If you want a bathroom in your loft conversion, position it, if possible, above your existing bathroom. This will cut costs by lessening the gap between new and present plumbing.
85.  Cut down noise
Activities in an attic can cause noise that will affect the rooms below it. A low-tech solution is to put down carpets and/or rugs. Alternatively, engage an attic renovation specialist to install a professional sound-insulation set-up.
86.  Consider the weight load
Ask your attic remodel contractor whether the foundations and framing of your house can withstand the extra load of your fully-finished loft renovation.
87.  Raise the roof!
If you’re planning a major attic building project, you’ll need a loft specialist to take apart and rebuild the roof structure, a much more complex job than a basic attic makeover or dormer loft construction.
9|10   Home office
88.  Make it a room with a view
When thinking about installing an office in your home, the big question is where to put it. Any nook in your living room or den can probably accommodate a desk and a chair, but for a more pleasant home office environment, position your work station in front of a window.
89.  Go for a corner location
If you’re not bothered about having a view of the outside world, corners of rooms often present an opportunity to locate an office.
90.  Use a room divider
If you want to put a home office in a bedroom, you’ll need to do so in a way that doesn’t spoil the tranquillity of the space. Set the office as far away from the bed as possible, and use a room divider to separate the space.
91.  Use a larger room, if you can
Examine your bigger rooms to see whether you have a wall with space for a desk, chair, filing cabinets, and bookshelves. An under-stairs space could also fit the bill for a home office site.
92.  Think about colours
The way a home office is decorated can affect the work done there. The colour of walls, in particular, plays a major role in enhancing mood and productivity. A red backdrop to your office will be stimulating, while a blue palette will have a calming influence.
93.  Paint the office furniture
Painting or staining office furniture can coordinate an otherwise jumbled array of unrelated pieces.
94.  Match the fittings
Doorknobs, hinges, and window latches can easily be updated to match the style and design of your office.
95.  Add some finishing touches
Curtains or blinds, ornamental vases, and tasteful wall art can give your office a sophisticated appearance.
10|10   Engaging the renovation contractor
96.  Work out a realistic budget
How much is your home renovation likely to cost? Probably more than you think. Singaporean personal finance advisor DollarsAndSense reckons it costs around $56,000 (July 2015) for a full renovation of a typical Housing & Development Board (HDB) apartment.
97.  Let your contractor get on with it
Leave the coordination of sub-contractors in the hands of the main contractor. Trying to organise this aspect of the project budget/timeline yourself in a bid to cut costs will lead to, at best, unnecessary confusion, and, at worst, a seriously-flawed plan of action.
98.  Choose a remodelling contractor with experience and expertise
It might be tempting to select a redesign company based solely on a low estimate, but you get what you pay for. Finding a contractor who communicates well with you and has a solid reputation is more important than cost.
99.  Begin work only when you have a plan and a contract
It’s only natural to want to get on with your home renovation, but time and care spent in the initial stages of working out a schedule will be worth it in the long run. Draw up a written contract with your builder – a specimen home redesign contract is available at the Consumers’ Association of Singapore.
100.  Work with a proper design
Instead of relying on rough sketches, have professional design drawings and floor plans prepared, preferably by a designer specialising in residential remodels. This will enable your renovation to get off to the best possible start.
101.  Stay focused
Have a clear idea of exactly what you want your home redesign to accomplish. Do you want your renovation to reflect your lifestyle and personality or is a more functional remodel your aim?  Once you’ve made up your mind, stick to the plan.
102.  Take into account current building codes
In Singapore, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) regulates the construction industry with a view to achieving “a future-ready built environment”. Sounds simple enough, but building codes can be complicated for a layman. The good news is that a professional renovation contractor will have a thorough knowledge of building regulations.
103.  Make sure you get appropriate permits
Like building codes, the question of permits can also be a tricky business for an amateur. Not all building works require permits. If you hire a reliable contractor, they’ll know which permits you need and will take care of the application process on your behalf.
104.  Make sure your contractor has the relevant professional licences
If you’re among the 80% of Singaporeans who live in HDB apartments, you need a registered renovation contractor to carry out your home remodel. You can find out more about the HDB Registered Renovation Contractors.
105.  Slow down!
Take your time when choosing your renovation contractor. A professional builder will never try to rush you into a decision. If you do feel you’re being pushed into signing on the dotted line, you could be dealing with a poorly-qualified designer or contractor whose work will be sub-standard.
The crucial first step

Whether you’re renovating a single room or carrying out a complete house redesign, finding a professional, dependable remodelling contractor is the important first step.

We hope our list of more than 100 house renovation ideas have given you some food for thought to help you get the home of your dreams.

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