Home renovation guide: Interior designer or contractor?

Homeownership is that one milestone in our lives that’s as rewarding as it is challenging. Once you have completed the nitty-gritties of buying your HDB flat or condo (the challenging part), the next step is to make all this empty space look like the dream home you always wanted (the rewarding part).

How? With a successfully carried out home renovation.

In Singapore, renovators broadly fall under interior designers and contractors. The question is how to hire the right one for your new home?

To begin with, let’s distinguish between the two:

Interior designers: The planners

An interior designer is someone who handles the tasks of conceptualizing, designing and planning your home renovation. They’ll work with you to help you visualize the colours, themes and look of the house, deciding which materials should be used and how to source them. Their expertise lies in giving advice on matters such as colour combinations, furniture size and placement, lighting, décor and so forth.

Most interior designers offer a 3D rendering of your home design which can help you understand how the design idea will look like in real life. Here’s an example by freelance interior designer @juliansim:

3d rendering hdb bedroom singapore interior designer

Would you have guessed this wasn’t a real life photo? Details like the view outside the window, shadows and even slight creases on the bedsheets make the rendering ultra-realistic. (Also, 10/10 would live in this bedroom forever.)

Generally, interior designers are not the ones who carry out the actual renovation work. For this, they partner with contractors to do the job.

Contractors: The Executors

A contractor oversees the actual construction involved in your house renovation. These guys follow the design instructions given by you or your interior designer, and they’re the ones who bring them to life!

Their main responsibility includes carpentry, plumbing, piping, flooring, electrical wiring and painting work; they often work with their own trusted subcontractors who specialise in each aspect.

Some firms like @designioi offer the full suite of services – they started off as an interior design firm, and then expanded to also produce their own carpentry materials and furniture:

hdb toilet renovation interior design

Who should you engage?

Now that you’ve got a better idea of how the two roles are differ from each other, consider these factors before you decide which one to engage for your HDB flat renovation – an interior designer? A contractor? Or both?

Your budget

The price of the service is one of the most important factors when deciding who to engage for your home renovation. It’s also one of the biggest differences between an interior designer and a contractor.

An interior designer acts as a consultant who’s there for you at every step of the process. They devote time to understanding your lifestyle and preferences, constantly communicating with you and managing your renovation project from start to finish.
On the other hand, a contractor’s priority is more functional: to get the job done! …making the latter cheaper.

If your pocket is exhausted from the purchase of your new home and you’re running on a tight budget, a contractor might be the more suitable option for you (especially if you already have an clear idea in mind, or are looking to renovate your space in a simple manner).

Alternatively, many banks in Singapore also offer renovation loans that are worth checking out for your renovation needs.

Scale of renovation

Are you just looking to convert one bedroom into a study room? Or are you planning a complete overhaul of the entire flat to achieve something out of a home decor magazine?

Knowing the scale of your renovation project is essential in deciding whether you require the extensive service of an interior designing firm, or if a contractor will suffice.

If you’re a first time home owner looking to get a major renovation, you should opt for an interior designer because they’re better equipped at imagining the aesthetic of an entire space and paying attention to every minute detail.

However, if it’s something as general as adding extra storage space, for instance, a contractor should be able to fulfill your needs.

Your new home’s current condition

If you’re buying a resale HDB flat or condo in particular, your home would probably already come with some renovation works done by the previous owner. Bay windows? Check. Built-in wardrobes where you want them? Check. Pretty bathroom? Check.

If that’s the case, you might want to hire an interior designer to do interior styling instead. The pros like @kanimozhit can then dress your home up – while an interior design job focuses on the spatial planning, interior styling refines the existing space. Think of it like icing on the cake!

bedroom singapore interior designer

Your desired design

Ok fine, you can technically furnish your house with a single trip to IKEA, but if you’ve got a very specific theme in mind, you might want to engage the help of an interior designer.

Even if that theme is “minimalistic” – this doesn’t mean the design work involved is minimal; in fact, designing such a home is probably even harder simply because you’re trying to evoke such a precise mood with your space.

Your level of involvement

Another important matter is the amount of time you have on your hands to supervise your renovation project.

While interior designers work at a considerable degree of autonomy and take charge of supervising the contractors themselves, if you’re engaging a contractor it’s likely you will have to be very involved with the renovation work and keep monitoring the progress.

Being experts in their field, interior designers also take care of the research work associated with the functionality of the house including little things such as which appliances are ideal for your house and where to source them from.

Making your house a home

Overall, which one works for you depends on how much you want to spend, the scope of your renovation project but more importantly the level of service you require.

But first, time to find a space to dress up into your own!

cheap hdb flats and condos for sale in singapore


Cover photo: @renovationfamily


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