Interior Designer or Contractor for your Home Renovation

My husband and I started hunting for a flat last year. And we were lucky enough to shortlist one particular house on the first day of viewing with our agent. It was a 33-year-old 5-room flat in Ang Mo Kio, just opposite my parents’ block. Being such an old flat with first generation fittings, there was no doubt that we needed to hack away everything for a major revamp.

It took us approx. 6-8 weeks to decide on an Interior Designer (ID) whom in the end played the role of a contractor instead as I did all the design work. I knew nothing on design before but managed to churn out something mediocre with some free interior design software. So thank you to those guys who invented such software!

We weren’t impressed with the ID we had due to his lack of experience in design, renovation and overall project and client management skills which led to some serious disputes midway and renovation had to come to a halt.

I had to escalate the problems to his auntie who was the boss of the company. Thank goodness, she stepped up and salvaged the whole situation so all the inadequate areas could be rectified in time and we could move in just as planned. It was a nightmarish experience working with my ID but again it was truly a lesson to learn given it was my first time dealing with home renovation.

Interior Designer or Contractor for your Home Renovation

Interior Designer or Contractor?

First rule of thumb is to think of a theme. Visualise how you want your house to look like. It helps to refer to design magazines for inspiration. List out what you need in your renovation. What changes and improvements you’d like to see in your new home. Ask yourself if you’re prepared to liaise with several parties (plumber, carpenter, windows, flooring, etc) or with just one coordinator. Then you can decide if an interior designer or contractor suits you better.

In terms of prices, both can be similarly competitive. Nowadays, IDs have in-house contractors whereas mainstream contractors outsource to other sub-contractors for certain works too. The end result produced by either is probably the same because it is almost impossible to recreate a 99% similar result to the perspective drawing. So the deciding factor is almost whether you’d want to go through the trouble of sourcing individual contractors, micro-managing all aspects and be your own project manager or getting one ‘reliable’ ID to run everything for you.

I did half-half. And my husband and I were happy to participate in the process though it got really stressful at times. Thank god, we still managed as a team.

It could be a long and tiring process to engage the right ID whom you’d be happy to work with. But, fret not. Below are some tips which may come in handy when you’re sourcing for someone to do up your new home.



  1. Set time aside to source and research on IDs or contractors. While it is good to have recommendations from family and friends, do know a contractor who has raving reviews from others may not necessarily meet your expectations. Also, it is advisable to select one whom you feel comfortable communicating with, is always at reach (and contactable) and provides you with proactive solutions and suggestions while keeping to what you like. Always meet with your short-listed contractors instead of just getting quotes over email as quotations are normally ‘cut and paste’ copies.
  2. Arrange for site inspections so your ID can take measurements and provide a more accurate quote. Also, he/she may be able to point out areas that you may have overlooked for example spawling concrete on bathroom ceilings that needs patching up or replacement of 1st generation sanitary pipes in resale homes – all these will be at additional costs. Being onsite means you can talk 3D with your ID, that is putting your ideas across in person by marking on the floor or wall where you’d like your stretch of built-in wardrobe to end, etc. Witness the measuring process in person or do your own measurements so you know what you’re paying for later, for example a 4′ wide full-height built-in shoe cabinet.
  3. Negotiate and bargain as much as you can. Firstly, you need several quotations on hand to make comparisons so you have an idea what the market rate is. Do bear in mind IDs mark up their prices (that’s how they survive) so you can’t expect them to charge you the same price for kitchen cabinet as what a direct-source carpenter will charge you. Sometimes, the total quotation will amount to, for example S$40,950. It is not too much to ask for cash savings of $950 which is about a 2% discount. Feel free to speak your mind if you think something is too expensive. Most of the time, there can be a different way of doing it. For example, substituting a wooden constructed TV feature wall for wallpaper instead and hence reducing overall cost. Be thick-skinned but not to the extent of being a miser and picking on a few pennies and bucks. If you keep your ID happy, I’m sure they are willing to work out the best price for you even if it means they earn a little less. After all, they are in the service industry.
  4. Ensure the payment schedule of the contract is distributed to at least 4 installments. 10% downpayment. 40% upon commencement of work. 40% upon job in progress. Final 10% upon handover of which the last should be paid only when everything is completed (including any rectification work).
  5. Read over the terms and conditions of the contract very carefully. This is the boring part which many tend to overlook as the main concern is always PRICE. You need to make sure there is nothing on there that is to your disadvantage. If there is, please highlight to your contractor to reach a compromise. You should also insist on a written agreement from the company to provide at least 12 months warranty against defective workmanship. For example, tiles lifting off the floor due to hollow voids as one is likely to only notice defects after moving in and ‘using the house’.



  1. Specify a budget the first time you request for a quotation even if the contractor asks you for one. Have the contractor quote you on everything and anything. Including a ballpark figure for electrical requirements so you know the maximum cost your renovation may hit. This extensive item breakdown will come in handy as a checklist for you to decide if a specific item is to remain or go. From there, you can then refine the quotation to what you actually need and can afford.
  2. Sign a contract without checking every single detail. You need to read the contract over and over again until you feel comfortable and confident. Do your maths. It is possible that IDs may calculate wrongly. Do know a 16′ and 17′ long kitchen cabinet may be anywhere between S$150-$200 apart so every foot and inch does count.


When you’re finally happy with the contract, then go with your gut feel and sign it. However, do bear in mind there is no ideal interior designer or contractor for anyone. Challenges and disputes might arise in the course of renovation. And you just have to play by ear and manage them accordingly.


Leave a Comment