Choosing Interior Design Firm & Contractors for Your Renovation in Singapore

Who you work with on your reno is probably the most important decision you’re going to make. I’m going to share what I’ve learnt so far on how to get the best out of trades, designers and more. I’ll also touch on my budgeting process and how to know you’re getting the best quotes.

✔︎ Which tradies you need for your job
✔︎ Where to find good tradies
✔︎ How to get the most out of your tradies
✔︎ How to check your tradies are qualified
✔︎ How to compare quotes and negotiate the right price
✔︎ How to get your builder to listen to you
✔︎ How to keep your reno on track

Which tradies aka contractors you need?

The most costly components in a home renovation are carpentry, masonry, and hacking. Areas of your home that will cost most to renovate are likely to be your kitchen and bathrooms. Below is a table of the components and their average costs. To get a customised estimate for your own home, use Qanvast Home Renovation Calculator. You can see how quickly the costs add up.

[asvc_table]
Components Inclusions Estimated Costs
Hacking / demolition Hacking and re-building. Consists of touching-up and plastering of walls. $6500
Masonry Flooring, tiling, wet works including cement screeding and waterproofing. $20,230
Carpentry Anything built-in. Examples include feature walls, wardrobes, cabinets, storage, tv console, bar counters, worktops, bed frames, study/bedside tables, and laminates. $10,650
Plumbing Installation of water features such as sinks/basin, taps, shower system, bathtubs, toilet bowls, water filtration system, piping, and heater storage. Extension and concealing work for pipes as well. $2,840
Ceiling and partition False ceiling, box-ups, curtain pelmets, L-box or Cove Lighting or full-partition walls. $800 for me to box up the toilet pipes but this can cost up to $5,000 on average
Electrical Works Electrical outlets for lighting, data, heater, power points, wire extensions. $4,000 for my case as I am doing re-wiring for the entire unit
Painting A 2-3 coating paint job for walls and ceilings with primer and sealer. $1,000 for labour and sealant application and $1000 for paint
Cleaning & Polishing Floor protection, haulage, debris disposal, and cleaning. Acid/chemical wash for a tougher clean. Can also include polishing of marble/tiles or varnishing or parquet flooring. $950
Door Works Shower Screens, Main Door & Bedroom Doors $2,000
Curtain & Blinds Installing curtains and blinds $1,500
Accessories & Fittings Bathroom accessories, vanity, water closets, basins and tapware, lighting, fan $4,000
Appliances TV, Washing Machine, Fridge, Water Heater, Oven, Stove, Range Hood, Vacuum, Standing Fans, Rice Cooker, Iron, Microwave etc $15,000
Furniture Sofa, TV Console, Shoe Cabinet, Dining Table & Chairs, Bedding, Mattresses, Book Shelf, Bedside Tables, Study Desk etc $5,000
[/asvc_table]

Where to Find Good Contractors or Interior Design (ID) Firms in Singapore?

This is a really tough one to answer… I must have spoken to at least 10 different companies, met up with 4 of them before deciding on Carpenters Interior Design after an exhausting search which lasted more than 3 months. Like most people, my search began on Qanvast, Renopedia, Renotalk etc where you can fill in a form and they’ll put you in touch with different interior design firms. Even after going through the online reviews, I wasn’t sure if I can believe what I read is a real or fake review. Thus, I began to ask around for friends and family member’s recommendations. I strongly believe and still think word-of-mouth is the best route to go. Like I mentioned in the previous article, Carpenters Interior Design was recommended by my lash lady, whose husband works there. Even though they are not the cheapest, they still try to maximise the value of my budget as much as they can. From the communication with them, I felt that they are genuinely passionate about giving their clients a nicely designed and built home. At Carpenters Interior Design, this is how the work load is divided:

The Chief Designer

A more experienced senior designer will be your first point of contact to bring your dream home to life. They will collaborate with you and understand your requirements to share design concepts and ideas .You will also receive 3D views to help you visualise the designs better. The main advantage when you work with an ID is he or she is qualified to advise you if your “Pinterest” ideas are functional, plausible, fit your budget, etc, compared to a contractor.

The Lead Design Manager

To guide you through your home renovation journey, a Lead Design Manager takes charge of the team and oversees the entire renovation process. Apart from being a point of escalation, they will answer all queries regarding your project. For my renovation, Edison, from Carpenters Interior Design is in charge once work began onsite, ensuring the quality and timely completion of your home reno and shares updates of progress. I have to say I’m really happy with his service and quality of work so far because he is super detail oriented. I was actually away for 2 weeks after renovation began and he sent me lots of pictures to keep me updated. He was also very patient with me because I made a lot of changes throughout the process but he’s always happy to accommodate requests.

I wanted to change the kitchen layout to move the kitchen sink from the island to the main cabinet… 

Edison proposed another layout to put the fridge as a standalone and move the sink next to the stove so that the flow is better if 2 persons are both using the kitchen. I’ll still have ample counter space for prepping by switching to a smaller 2 burner stove instead of the 3 burner stove. 

Updating the kitchen floor plan

Even little details which I didn’t think of like where to place the kitchen floor traps, he would advise me…. 

Updating me about these 2 cabinets which are can’t be used due to the pipes behind… 

Updating me again because they need to make some minor tweaks after the carpenter took measurements on-site… 

Confirming the wardrobe layout before carpentry work and suggested it’s better to cover up the shelves instead of having open shelving unless I want dusty clothes… hahaha 

Confirming the vinyl direction … 

Checking with me to see if it’s okay if he put in a small board before the kitchen island for extra support, ensuring me that it’s not visible from most views… 

This is probably only about 10% of the communication that I’m showing you guys. Do you really have the time and knowledge to speak to all the various contractors over details as such?

How to get the most out of your designers?

Since I do interact with a lot of designers at work, I know good designers care about designs. I went to my designers with my big grand ideas on a beer budget and picked their brains apart. The clearer you are with your design intents, the easier it is for them to help you achieve the design of your dreams. The more research you do, the more educated you become, and the more confident you’ll become at articulating your wants and needs.

For example… When I was first presented the bench top options for the kitchen, I gave them the specific model that I wanted. Even though it wasn’t within the price range I could pick from… I asked them to imagine how nice it would look if the kitchen bench top extended all the way to the splashback using the same material? It would make the kitchen look more spacious with a uniform scheme and not to mention, more expensive looking. I sold the idea to them and they totally agreed with me and said they’ll try to work it within the budget. The original design was to go with a glass or subway tile splashback and other plainer looking quartz tops. Sure, I had to top up a little bit more in the end but it was still within my budget and I get my marble-y kitchen.

By the way, this is the kitchen bench top material that I picked, it’s “Collina” from Lian Hin.

How to check your contractors or IDs are qualified

If you are using your own contractors, you have to make sure plumbers and electricians are certified.

There are two types of plumbing services in Singapore. Water service plumbing work refers to the repair, replacement and installation of tanks, pipes and taps for the drinking water supply system. In contrast, sanitary plumbing work focuses on installing, changing or relocating sanitary discharge pipes and appliances, to carry used water away.

In Singapore, only plumbers licensed by PUB can handle water service plumbing works. So it is crucial to check that your plumber is licensed before beginning the service, as failing to do so is an offence!

Electrical work should be carried out or supervised by a Licensed Electrical Worker (LEW). This includes the:

  • Installation, repair or modification of electrical wiring;
  • Addition, extension or replacement of electrical power points like  socket-outlets, switches or lighting points; and
  • Repair or replacement of consumer control units or circuit breakers.

Electrical work carried out by unlicensed electrical workers may pose safety risks and cause damage to property or injury to person.

How to compare quotes and negotiate the right price

A breakdown

Ask for a break-down of the amount that you were quoted so you’ll know what you’re paying for. This is also the opportunity for you to edit the quote according to your needs.

Scope of work

This is important because you’ll want to know what kind of work is going to take place in your home.

For example in painting, you’ll want your ID/contractor to state how many colours you’re entitled to, how many coats will be applied, brand of paint, how much is the top-up if you want more colours etc. Because I chose to use a different brand of paint, Purion, not carried by my ID’s appointed painter, I had to look for another paint company as I felt the cost he quoted me sans paint was a little high. I received quotes from 3 different companies and decided to go with the last one, PS Home Solutions because Sam was very accommodating. The other 2 companies gave an initial lower quote but kept adding “extras” every time I asked if this or that is included. Even though I asked him to paint extra components in the house, he didn’t revise his price and stuck to his promise. His team also had to do extra repair work on the holes left by the hackers on the cornices by plastering them.

 

Materials & Dimensions

Granite for your kitchen counter-top? Top of the line bathroom tiles? A particular drawer system for your kitchen? How about the dimensions for the carpentry work?

All these nitty gritty details should be stated on your quotation.

This is to protect both parties so there will not be any undue misunderstandings later on.

Don’t forget to find out the additional charges should the dimensions change later during the project too, for changes DO and CAN happen in the middle of the project due to unforeseen circumstances.

CONTRACT

Payment Terms

Avoid paying a lump sum before the project commences. Look at setting up a progressive schedule instead, because this will ensure that work on your home is completed in stages and you can pay your ID/contractor for every ‘achievement’ unlocked.

After you’ve verified that everything has been done to your satisfaction, of course. If you’re uncomfortable with the payment terms, you may want to negotiate with your ID/contractor to see if you can reach a compromise.

How to get your builder to listen to you

Rule #1: Don’t be an arse. If you want to have a good working relationship with them, treat them with respect. Don’t be a pushover either, if you think it’s within reason, be firm and stand up for yourself. Sometimes they might say something can’t be done, but more often than not, they are just being whingey because it means extra work for them.

How to keep your reno on track

A major renovation can take anything from 6 to 10 weeks, I requested for a project timeline from my designers before the start of the project and here are the different stages. Just be prepared there will be unexpected delays and try not to stress too much over them. It’s more important they get it right than to do a rushed job where they have to return later to fix things up.

Planning 

  • Site visit
  • Submitting documents for HDB approval
  • Project planning

Design 

  • Design consultancy
  • Interior styling
  • Furniture, fixtures and equipment support

Execution 

  • Demolition & Haulage
  • Plastering Works
  • Plumbing Works
  • Electrical Works
  • Flooring Works
  • Painting
  • Carpentry Works
  • Final Installation
  • Touch Ups

 

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