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The renovation mistakes every designer should avoid

The ultimate guide for a successful renovation that every designer should follow.

renovation tips
The renovation mistakes every designer should avoid
Lori Bolon
July 14, 2022

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This article was originally posted on Making Space, a Substack penned by our Cofounder, Matteo Grand. Subscribe below to receive more content just like this.

Navigating a renovation presents many obstacles, even for the most experienced designer. While remodelling a house is a great way to turn a tired building into a dream home, issues such as delayed deliveries, unforeseen structural problems, and bloated budgets, can quickly make a project go off course. So, let's get real about some common renovation mistakes and how you can avoid them.


A programme with a contingency plan

Expecting a project to run smoothly is a fast-track to disappointment. The reality is, unforeseen things will come up during a project. Establish a contingency plan from the outset and build it into your programme. Having one programme that the builder, trades and designers are all working from is one of the most important steps you can take. Though it can be reviewed and changed along the way, it immediately establishes information transparency across the team. A good contingency plan also includes a financial buffer to cover structural changes, delays in deliveries, and, well, whatever else that might be affected by Covid these days!


Understand your limitations

It’s easy as a creative to get carried away with ideas and designs. That's partly our job! However, it is as important to be practical when renovating and understand the existing limitations of the house, its structure, and the site. There is little worse than running with your design to only find out later you forgot to check council regulations! Due diligence is key.



There is no such thing as over communication during a renovation. It is better to be on repeat to ensure details are always front of mind than assume things will happen to plan. It is not uncommon for the tiles to be laid in the wrong location, lights not installed, and tapware at the wrong height. Hold regular (weekly) meetings where all trades and the client are on site to ensure everyone is on the same page and decisions can be made efficiently.


When to follow the trends

It’s hard to see the endless trends on Instagram and not be influenced by them, the rabbit hole of stone or paint colour trends is deep. Before letting a fad make its way into your design, keep in mind that renovations generally only take place every 10-15 years. Stick to timeless design elements for permanent fixtures, and play with trends (should you want to) in loose items such as furniture.


It’s not a match

Some of our favourite projects are ones that tastefully marry old and new, though it takes a certain skill to make it look effortless. Unless design elements are a perfect match, it can often be better to mix styles which are in complete contrast with one another. For example, using timber floors which are similar but not exactly the same throughout a project can make a space feel poorly planned rather than designed with consideration. Be bold in your mixing to avoid the matching limbo.


Understanding your materials within the space

Materials often look different under different lights. Your surrounding environment, neighbours' wall colours, and the ambient light throughout the day can affect the tone of materials. Bring all your samples on site to check them in the space. It is also helpful to test paint colours on different walls as you may find the colours look different in different rooms.


What to respect and what to neglect

Holding on to some existing details in a renovation can not only look amazing but can also be an affordable way to achieve a lasting design. It can also add a unique quality to a space that is hard to pull off in new builds. For example, some of the most beautiful kitchens marry modern elements and appliances alongside traditional mouldings and cornices. So, next time you want to rip out that fireplace, perhaps consider repainting it.


When is enough enough?

There is often a fine line between needing to go there and going too far. A small renovation can quickly become a full gut and refurbishment if one does't know where to draw that line. Some designers may find the challenge of working within an existing floor plan an exciting challenge, where others may find it a hinderance or poor use of space. Either way, the space needs to serve the client both in design and budget, so we suggest taking the time to explore all options before proposing one way or the other.


Whilst renovations can sometimes be more stressful than new builds, they can also be some of the most rewarding outcomes. Before embarking on a renovation, make sure you've fully understood the layout of the site and the design is established. Also remember strong communication throughout the team is critical for a successful outcome. If you have any more tips, we'd love to hear them in the comments section below.