How do you know whether to decorate now or wait to renovate? An interior designer shares her answers to this common question.
Okay, so you’ve just moved into an ‘old’ house that’s not quite to your tastes. You think you might renovate it at some stage, but you can’t quite see it happening in the short term … or medium term for that matter. So what to do? Should you sit on your urge to live in an aesthetically-pleasing home and wait until you’re ready to do a full-on renovation? Or should you start making some small but effective changes to your home now?
I get asked this question by clients all the time, so much so that I’ve come up with a checklist to help find the right answer. Here are some of the scenarios that in my experience mean either a) decorate now or b) wait to renovate.
You’re expecting (or will be soon)
Renovations have a significant impact on three essential resources: money, energy and time. If you’re having a baby soon, you will probably want to save these precious resources as much as possible because, as soon as baby arrives they’ll be in high demand. Your income may be reduced if you’re not working, you’ll be tired as you adjust to your new life as parents, and you’ll be wanting to spend as much time as possible with your new baby.
Unless the renovations you want to do are perfectly planned and structured, the scope feels manageable, and you have a great team of builders and tradies working on it, I would recommend putting extensive renovations on the back burner.
Instead, focus on smaller changes that you can make now, and that will have a big and positive effect on your daily life – a lighter shade of paint in a dark room, new soft furnishings in the baby’s room, or even just replacing rusty cabinet doors with soft-close options.
This is the home you’re going to bring your baby into, and it will host many sleepless nights and busy days for weeks, months and years to come. You might as well make it an enjoyable, practical and safe space for you and for bub sooner rather than later, and leave complex renovations on the long finger.
You can’t tell the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’
In today’s society, the line between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ is getting blurrier and blurrier. As our buying power increases and technology enables lower-cost production, our houses are getting bigger, our fittings more luxurious, and our expectations of what a home should be have skyrocketed.
Four-bed, two-bath houses with theatre, activity room, alfresco areas, engineered stone benchtops and reverse-cycle air conditioning have somehow become more standard in Australia over the last decade. And for many of us who live in smaller or older dwellings that don’t have such features, it can feel frustrating that our homes don’t meet these ‘standards’. Here come the reno cravings – desiring a house as big as thy neighbour’s.
Instead, think long and hard about what you actually need. Do you really need a larger home or could you do with a big declutter? Are bigger rooms and windows necessary, or can simply bounce light around and add the illusion of space with strategically-placed mirrors? Do you have guests around enough to warrant adding on a guest bathroom?
By making some adjustments to your home through considerate decor, you will give yourself the opportunity to assess what your real needs are – and you might even realise that you already have a lot of them covered.
It’s your first home
First home, first taste of freedom, first chance to realise those interior design dreams and finally let your creative vision run riot. However, while I absolutely encourage my clients to nurture that sense of ‘design entrepreneurship’, I also advise that they think carefully about what they want to do.
If it’s your first home, unless you’re a pro in the homes space, it probably means you don’t have much experience with renovations, with what they involve, what they cost, etc. So before you plunge in head first, step back and start small. Baby steps make strong walkers.
There are plenty of basic updates you can make to your home. Repaint the walls and the ceilings, lay new carpet and layer some rugs on top, change window treatments, revamp a piece of furniture, or simply change your soft furnishings with the seasons.
These small projects won’t break the bank, but will still make your home look and feel uniquely you. And while you gain more experience through the redecorating process, you’ll gradually learn more about building lingo, structural requirements, and about the expense of it all – essential for when you begin your renovations down the track.
You’re just not sure
When you walk through the door, you know it’s your home. You like your home, and you can see its advantages. But for some reason something bugs you. It doesn’t feel exactly right.
A lot of my clients struggle to identify what it is that should be done to make their homes better, or what they would have to do to make themselves feel better. If so, pause here for a second.
Before you start fantasising over big renovations, it’s better to scale things back a bit. Give yourself time to see your house for what it is. Does the colour scheme work? Are your rooms properly lit, or do they feel a little gloomy? Maybe you just need more storage rather than more space. By trying to see your home for what it is, you’ll better identify ways to improve each space, and at a much lower cost than a renovation would require.
If you do struggle to step back, consider hiring an interior designer for a few hours – they’ll look at your home with a fresh (and experienced) pair of eyes, which can give you that much-needed perspective.
Your home is structurally unsafe
Your health and your safety are always the top priorities. So if your home’s electrical system is not safe, your roof shows signs of weakness, or if mould appears on your ceiling or walls then you need to address these concerns now. And the sooner the better – for you, your family, and for the integrity of your building too.
In such circumstances, there is often no quick fix. For example, there’s no point painting over moulded surfaces if the dampness issue isn’t fixed first.
If your planned renovations are beyond your current budget, resist buying any non-essential items and focus on saving as much as possible, until you have the funds to start the work. Ideally, you should also have 10% to 30% more than the estimated cost, as structural issues often hide other problems, especially in older buildings.
Your home fails to address your needs
So, you’re an avid cook, but your kitchen is of Lilliputian proportions and its layout is totally impractical.
You entertain a lot at home but your living space is tiny and dark, disconnected from the rest of the house.
Or you have an extended family who frequently visit from overseas, but you have no room to accommodate them.
These three situations are examples of scenarios when, regardless of the amount of decorating you could do, the issue is at the core of the home. These problems can only be resolved through proper renovation or extension work.
A home should never restrict you from doing what you love the most – it should be your sanctuary, a place where you can be free to be who you are. So design your home improvements around the structural changes you need to live a happier life. It’s an investment towards your lifestyle, and one which you will never regret.
It’s your ‘forever home’
You know you will live in this house forever. It’s a home that you want to write your own story in and it might even be passed on to your children one day. It’s a special place. Or it will be.
The big advantage you have here is time. There’s no need to rush or make-do. You can take the time to find inspiration, plan and budget for it. Don’t waste your energy on temporary fixes – you are in this for the long term, so focus on the big picture.
And when you become a bit impatient, visualise the end result, the happy moments in it, the pride and the satisfaction you will feel. It’ll all be worth the wait.
by Nelly Reffet