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How to DIY your home renovation from start to finish

test spoke to Suyen Pang, a lifestyle content creator with a keen interest in DIY home projects, for insightful tips on how you can embark on your DIY home renovation journey.

Home renovation is an essential part of the home-buying experience. The process will turn your new home into the perfect place for you and your family. While some may choose a home renovation package, others prefer the DIY route to give their new homes a more personalised touch.

If you are in the latter group, you might wonder how you would begin a DIY renovation journey. Should you start with the furniture? What is your preferred home layout? Do you have a budget in mind? The DIY journey can be daunting, but with some research, you can turn it into a memorable experience.

Suyen Pang renovated her home recently, where she transformed a 20-year, 2,400 sq ft subsale home into a brand-new living space for her family. Without hiring an interior designer (ID), Suyen sourced for contractors, sub-vendors, and materials and did her own DIY home projects. Suyen had little to no knowledge of home renovations or planning interior spaces. Here, she shares her experience, lessons learnt and tips for first-time renovators.

Suyen in her finished remodelled kitchen

Advantages of a DIY home renovation vs hiring an interior designer

Based on my experience, the most significant factor in home renovation is time. Unfortunately, many underestimate the amount of time it takes to plan and shadow the renovation process. For example, do you have time to gather inspirations and quotations, deal with different vendors daily, and do frequent site visits?

I admit that there are advantages to hiring an ID, whose knowledge of material costs can be tailored to match your design and budget. An ID can also hasten the design process, avoid costly mistakes, and help oversee the renovation. Plus, you get to bounce ideas off a professional who can answer all your design questions.

It’s also good to consider whether you and your partner have different style preferences so you can foresee disagreements throughout the process. Here again, an ID can be a great mediator and guide.

Suyen’s Tip: Did you know that you can hire an ID to do a design concept OR to help oversee the entirety of your home renovation from start to end? This can lessen the stress, especially if you have a hectic lifestyle.

However, hiring an ID may not be the best option if you have a very tight budget. If you don’t mind doing all the research and planning, I suggest going the DIY route, though the renovation could take longer to complete.

Before and after photo of Suyen’s balcony area.
Before and after photo of Suyen’s dining area

Despite the longer time, it gave us a sense of freedom to make decisions that we were 100% confident about. We could decide at our own pace and were not pressured to commit to anything. We even discovered many cost-saving tips and learned a lot while being hands-on. The key is finding a contractor and vendors you communicate well with and who are more than happy to answer your questions honestly.

Budgeting tips for beginners with no experience in home renovation

First, consider the type of property you purchase. A new property’s renovation costs would probably be much lower than a subsale home, but you are likely to spend more on furniture and fittings for the former.

Purchasers of a subsale home will likely spend more on repairing the wiring, piping and such. As a start, I would advise new homeowners to:

  • Make a list of things you want to do with the house.
  • Be realistic about your renovation costs and expectations because it’s very easy to get carried away. Also, there’s no one-size-fits-all when setting a budget for home renovations. Instead, the budget varies depending on what’s needed in your home versus what you want.
  • Get at least three different quotations from contractors/sub-vendors. Having multiple quotations gives you a ballpark figure on a realistic budget for your renovation. If your maximum budget is RM50k, always set your initial budget to RM40k in case of unexpected costs. Be prepared for at least a 20% addition (this sample budget does not include furniture or fixtures).
  • Be realistic about your wants. Avoid cutting corners on the essentials – good workmanship on your wiring, piping, tiling, and waterproofing is crucial and can save costs in the long run.

Mistakes are bound to happen, with or without an ID. To minimise cost overruns, always check in with your contractor on their progress and do frequent site visits to catch mistakes.

When in doubt, always ask questions. Don’t just rely on sharing your mood boards or photos with your contractor. Always ask for material samples and pictures of similar work, and double-check calculations and measurements. Be hands-on as much as you can. The more you show your vendor how much you know about what you’re talking about, the less chance they will try to cut corners.

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Step-by-step guide for a DIY home renovation

Step 1: Create mood boards for every space

Once I knew what I liked and didn’t like, I created mood boards by gathering photos on Pinterest and categorising each mood board for the different spaces. Besides Pinterest, I follow interior design-themed Instagram accounts and DIY influencers and watch interior design shows for more inspiration. Finally, I made a list of the items required for every space.

Bathroom mood board providing detailed instructions for bathroom redesign.

Step 2: Choose colour schemes that harmonise well (and are cost-effective)

When choosing colour schemes for every space in the house, ask yourself, “Will I still like this colour or tiles in five to 10 years? Do they complement the other elements?” Be creative. For my home, the most significant space is the living area. I chose beautiful wooden flooring with a subtle grain and a slightly warm tone.

For her living room’s colour scheme, Suyen went with an earth tones colour palate.

I decided to bring that same warmth into the kitchen with a similar wood tone for my cabinets. This gives a feeling of continuity from the living room to the kitchen. As for the other areas, I added wooden and rattan pieces to further emphasise the warm tone throughout my home. To keep costs down, I decided to keep the bathroom floorings similar and used as few vendors as possible. The more you purchase from one vendor, the higher the chances of getting a fantastic deal.

Step 3: Research contractors and vendors

Research, drawings and measurements discussion.

You could ask for recommendations from friends or do a quick google search. Once that’s done, arrange many site visits, review material samples, compare quotations, and start budgeting.

Step 4: Make site visits as often as possible

Once you’re satisfied with the vision and the direction you’re going, as well as hiring your preferred contractors and vendors, it’s time for renovation work. Make site visits daily or every two-three days so that you’ll not miss out on seeing the transformation by stages. Another way is to ask your contractor to send daily updates to avoid any mistakes or miscommunications.


Step 5: Prioritise functionality and quality when shopping for furniture and fixtures

I like to keep all the walls and flooring neutral while using furniture and accessories to add colour to each space. However, don’t just go for the cheapest or prettiest furniture. The furniture should be of good quality and functional too.

Other things to consider when purchasing furniture and fixtures are scale and height. Before buying large furniture, I would use masking tape to create outlines as a guide on the floor. This helps me visualise how a piece of furniture might sit in the space, so I’ll be able to gauge whether the furniture is too big or small for that particular space and whether there is enough space to walk around.

Your coffee table should not be higher than the sofa’s seating level. If there’s a coffee table that you already like, double-check your sofa’s seat height to see if it’s a good fit.

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Step 6: Furnish every space based on the list of items created earlier

Dining room corner for easy access to day-to-day delights such as coffee.

Take time to source furniture that you like and of good quality. Start with something small before gradually furnishing each space with larger furniture. In my case, it took me a year to ultimately furnish the entire house. Buy the essentials first such as beds, dining table and chairs.

Just like raising children and watching them grow up to become successful people, renovating and decorating your home by yourself from start to finish can give you a similar feeling of joy. If you have the time, perhaps you might want to DIY completely. If not, you can partially DIY and let an interior designer handle the rest. It’s your call, depending on your budget.

If you enjoyed this article, read this next: House renovations: How to avoid the trap of making illegal property enhancements?

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