6 lessons from a rookie kitchen renovator


As a long time The Block watcher first time renovator, I knew I was in for a hectic and possibly tear-filled challenge when I decided to undertake a kitchen reno at my new home.

It was particularly difficult to know how to get the ball rolling, what trades I needed to hire and how much a project like this would cost.

If you’re a novice renovator too, here are a few things I learnt along the way that may help you plan, get started and save money on your next home improvement project.

Lesson #1: Know when to compromise.

You may have your heart set on a copper rangehood or a Calcutta marble bench top, but you need to be realistic as to what you can achieve within your budget. You also need to consider what would be suitable for your style of home and suburb, to avoid overcapitalising. Take a look at kitchens in similar homes for sale in your area as a guide.

So be prepared to compromise on having a slightly smaller breakfast bar, to go for tiles instead of a glass splashback or to settle for a laminate marble look benchtop instead of stone.

This isn’t to say you can’t have all the pretty things and more you want in your new kitchen, it’s just a reminder to choose where you spend your money wisely and to make concessions when necessary and practical.

Lesson #2: Preparation is key.

To successfully see a kitchen reno through from design stage to completion you’ll need to enlist the support and skills of many professionals. A rough guide of who you’ll need to hire and when is:

#1. Kitchen designer- To measure, design and give you a quote for your dream kitchen. Think about the materials and style you want, and the sink and appliance locations beforehand to save time. Note: The timeframe from design to installation will depend on the time of year, the size of your job and the kitchen company you go with. I was quoted six to eight weeks for ours to be drafted, manufactured and delivered, but it only took about a month.

#2. Kitchen removalist- Usually your cabinet maker will provide this service too. Don’t forget to clarify whether they’ll handle the removal of the old kitchen as well as getting rid of the old building materials from site.

#3. Flooring installer- If you plan on replacing your kitchen floor it’s easier to do so after the old kitchen is removed but before the new kitchen cabinetry goes in.

#3. Plumber- To connect gas, and move and add new plumbing where required.

#4. Cabinet maker- To install the new cabinetry, drawers, doors and benchtop.

#5. Plumber (again)- To connect the new sink, gas stove, rangehood duct and dishwasher.

#6. Electrician- To add power points, under cabinet LED lighting, pendant lights, and connect the oven and rangehood.

#7. Tiler/ splashback installer- Don't forget to clarify if they include grout and tile glue in their quote.

#8. Painter (if required)- I’d recommend trying DIY painting to save yourself a bit of cash.

Don’t forget to order all your new appliances and have them ready to go well in advance of installation day. There’s nothing more disappointing than having the shell of your new kitchen fitted but being unable to cook in it because you left your stove order too late.

Lesson #3: Let trades compete for your business.

Get the best deal for your job by posting it to a trade sourcing website, such as Oneflare or Airtasker.

For instance, to get an estimate on the cost for my subway tile splashback I posted the approximate size of the area I needed tiled and the type of tiles I had purchased, and started receiving quotes from about five different tilers within hours. This way you can pick and choose the tradie that is the most economical option and can work best around your timeframe.

Before hiring anyone always check Licensedtrades.com.au to make sure they have the appropriate license for the work.

Lesson #4: It pays to ask.

Sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised on the areas you can save on unexpectedly during a reno.

For example, with our subway tile splashback, after some online research we thought the tiles alone were going to cost upwards of $60 per sqm. But after a chat with the manager of a local tile shop we discovered they had surplus stock in the design we wanted left over from a new apartment building complex. So, we ended up spending under $20 per sqm. What a bargain!

Always have a chat to salespeople to see what kinds of surplus stock or special offers they have going on materials and appliance packages. You never know where you can cut costs and every dollar matters in a reno, trust me.

Lesson #5: Shop around.

When it comes to kitchen appliances don’t just go with the first deal you see online. Head to your local home appliances store to check out and compare the appliances you have your eye on in person. You may realise that you prefer the sturdier feel or the cutlery drawer of a different dishwasher model than the one you initially picked out.

Next, shop around using the model number to see what kinds of offers are out there. You could end up saving hundreds of dollars by doing a simple Google search. Before heading to the online checkout always read customer reviews and make sure that the item is in stock, otherwise you could be stuck with an appliance lemon or waiting months for a new shipment.

I also found that different home appliance outlets will slug you with delivery and installation fees, so it’s a good idea if you’re replacing multiple appliances to purchase them all in the one order so you’re only charged for delivery once. Alternatively, I found Appliances Online were fantastic with a fast turnaround, and best of all delivery is FREE and they take away your old appliances free of charge too.

Lesson #6: Contingency funds are essential.

Last but definitely not least important, having some money stashed away for unexpected obstacles and expenses is essential for any successful renovation. I’d recommend saving at least 10 to 20% extra on top of your total budget to be on the safe side.

You can hope all you want nothing will go wrong, but I can almost guarantee that at least one thing will. Just some of the unexpected extra expenses that came up during my reno included moving the waste pipe under the floor, putting up new plaster board, lowering the kitchen sink taps, and extending and connecting the gas pipe.

If you get started only to realise you don’t have enough saved up to finish it off to the standard you wanted, remember you’re not on a weekly deadline like contestants on The Block. It wouldn't hurt to take the project in bite sized stages to save up for a while longer. Perhaps wait a while until you install the backsplash, dishwasher, wine fridge and rangehood, and just get the everyday kitchen essentials installed at first (i.e. the sink, benchtop, fridge, oven and stove).

While it’s nothing too flash or close to Real Living magazine shoot worthy, the new kitchen (above) is functional, homely and makes me happy every time I prepare a meal in it.

The sense of achievement you get once you’re cooking in your brand-new kitchen will be worth the cost, stress, dust and disruption a kitchen reno brings into your life. I hope these six lessons help guide you towards achieving your dream kitchen for the right price. Best of luck!

Happy renovating!

The Homely Team

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