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What we learnt from our kitchen renovation

Our kitchen renovation is undoubtedly the biggest project we have ever undertaken, but it is one of the best things that we have ever done! We learnt such a lot during the process and I want to share some of the tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way for any of you who are planning to do something similar. This is by no means an exhaustive list – feel free to add any of your own points in the comments box below if you wish! 


1. Take your time


This process is even more complicated than you think. Give yourself time to think about what you really want to have – get your friends and family over and tell them too! You’ll probably find that they will come up with an idea that you hadn’t even thought of, which could completely change what you had in mind. Think about the things you want from your new kitchen/bathroom/whatever. Is it more storage space? A particular layout?


The whole process takes a long time too, so bear this in mind before you start. If you’re aiming to start work at a particular time then plan things way in advance and be prepared for it to not quite happen as you expect. We had hoped to be building over the summer last year, but despite everything else being in place we couldn’t find a builder – and when we found one he couldn’t start until October. Which was then November because the previous build was delayed! So be prepared.


2. Planning permission


The planning permission process also takes time, so if this is something that you need to have I would recommend getting someone to draw up some proper plans for you. When we had our roof done, the roofer put us in touch with an architect/planner who turned out to be a really great find! He came out and measured everything, talked about what we wanted to do and drew up ideas and then re-drew changes. He also submitted the applications for us and responded to the council at various points – this was so helpful. If you can find a planner who is happy to do this, then go for it! Their inside knowledge is priceless, and it certainly helped the process to go much more smoothly for us.


3. Finding a builder


We came unstuck at this point – I’m not going to lie, for us this was a nightmare! We knew that we would have to get 3 or 4 quotes for the project (this is standard and if you’re planning a big project like this it’s a must) but it was really difficult to get reliable quotes. And by that I mean that builders were coming to talk about things with us and then not sending a quote for a month, or not even replying to phone messages to get them to come to speak to us in the first place! Anthony (our chosen builder) gave us a quote first and then we were let down by so many after that, including by people who had been recommended to us. With hindsight we would have picked him earlier, but even though we liked him we knew that we needed a few quotes and so the months ticked by… We have planning permission for a 2-storey extension but needed to do it in two stages – lots of builders were trying to put us off doing it this way, but we had to because of our budget. So basically, it’s a bit hit and miss! But you are in charge – it’s your money and if you don’t feel 100% happy then don’t pick them. Ask for and check out references if you can, to see what previous work carried out is like.


Anthony actually contacted us once our planning application had gone in. Your application will be public so that neighbours can look at the plans etc. if they wish to, and this means that builders can also access your details and may choose to get in touch with you about the possibility of carrying out the work. He sent us a brochure and a list of references, but other companies varied greatly! We were lucky in that he was obviously not trying to pull a fast one, but you need to be careful about choosing your builder. You shouldn’t really be paying any money up front but should see some work being carried out before any invoice is paid. Anthony has always been very up front with us about this from the beginning, and we felt very comfortable with him and his team doing the work. As I said before, you have to have confidence in your builder so don’t choose them if you have any concerns or doubts.


4. Your budget


Once you have got a few quotes, you’ll (hopefully) be able to choose a builder that can complete your project within your budget. But there are some things to bear in mind. The main thing is that unless you are some sort of multimillionaire, you will go over budget! We were so careful with our budget and had a good amount of contingency money, but things always take more time and money than you think. We needed extra work on the foundations, which meant extra costs for the planner and structural engineer, as well as the actual foundations.


People have different opinions on how much you should have as a contingency, and this will obviously depend on how much money you have. I’d say aim for a minimum of 10% of the overall budget, and then have a back-up plan in case you go over that (!!). Keep an eye on how much you are spending as you go along, and ask your builder to quote you for prices as you go along if you need to.


5. During the build


As the build is progressing, you’ll find that you spend a lot of time on the phone sorting things out! Anthony was brilliant at keeping us posted with what was happening, and he used to ring me every week to give me an update on what had happened that week and what they would be doing in the coming week. Fab! If your builder doesn’t do this, don’t be afraid to ask them to or to just ring them yourself. It was so good to know where we were up to. Be prepared to have questions about things that you haven’t thought about – where do you want sockets/light switches to be, for example?


Depending on what you are having done, there will be a lot of disruption in your house. With a kitchen there is obviously quite a lot – no washing machine, fridge and washer in the living room, lots of microwave meals etc. But remember that a) it isn’t for long, and b) it will be worth it in the end! We had stuff everywhere – the bed in the front bedroom was collapsed so that we could use it as a storage room. We did keep our bedroom clear just so that we could have one room without chaos, and I am SO glad that we did this! It was actually a lot more stressful and more tiring than I thought it was going to be. The kitchen fitting happened during a really stressful time at work, so I just felt completely overwhelmed at some points. During the last week, it felt like the end was so close but it was the longest week ever! I was desperate to get some sort of normality back, but at the same time I knew it was just for a few more days and I had to keep reminding myself that. So I guess what I’m saying is don’t underestimate how stressful your project could be, but try to keep your end goal in sight.


Just a couple more really random things to note: firstly, dust will get everywhere. In fact, it goes beyond everywhere! People told us this before we started, but you really cannot imagine how dusty it is until you actually do it. If you can pack things away or cover them up, then do that as much as you can. Dust will get in places that you didn’t know existed! Secondly (and this is an obvious thing to some), make sure you take progress photos throughout your renovation or building work! I’ve taken loads (partly to share on my blog) and it has been great to look back on the progress that has been made.


6. After the build


There will probably be some things that you need to wait to finish – this might be because of your budget or because you can’t find the right item, but that’s ok! We are yet to fit some blinds at the back because we can’t find what we are looking for (although we aren’t sure exactly what that is anyway!) and because we didn’t quite have enough money. We spent a while looking for a table too, and have arranged to pay for it in instalments to make it affordable. We’re not going to rush to get some of the other things we need or would like just so it can be finished either. Don’t be afraid to hold out for the perfect thing, even if it means doing without something for a while.


I hope you have found these tips helpful if you’re planning your own big project. It will be stressful, but I promise you it’s worth it! Don’t forget to leave your own tips in the comments if you’ve got any to add. And for anyone in the Newcastle area who is planning a project, I would highly recommend Anthony – you can find his contact details here. Tell him I sent you! 🙂


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