I’ve always wanted to live in a Muji showroom. So, when I got a house of my own, I was dying to channel my inner interior designer a la Bobby Berk and take my resale house from “ratchet to slaying” – as they say in millennial speak.
Little did I know what I was in for. HDB renovation in Singapore wasn’t a course they taught in university, and it was largely a mind-boggling affair that had more permutations than the 14,000,605 futures Dr Strange saw.
But somehow, through sheer trial and error over the course of 6 months – and a wedding to plan as well – my fiance and I pulled through. Here, my friends, is a step-by-step guide to hopefully help you along your own HDB renovation journey.
P.S. This is after we bought our HDB resale flat.
When it came to deciding who to hire for renovation works, our options were:
Interior designer (ID): For those who need hand-holding and project management help. Gives ideas and design concepts, coordinates and executes the renovation from start to end.
Contractor: Does only the execution, so generally a more affordable option. Suitable if you already have a strong vision in mind.
Design & Build/ Contractor-ID: A hybrid. The exact scope varies from firm to firm.
As first-time noobcakes, we decided to play it safe and go for an ID, as we needed the design expertise and had little time to oversee subcontractors and timelines ourselves. Project manager of a house reno? Not a job title I’d want to add to my resume.
As for choosing which ID to go for – it was kinda like going on Tinder dates. You have to suss out if you guys are on the same page, and well, if they’re a catch. How we narrowed down the field was to attend ID meet-ups planned by Qanvast to meet more designers quickly, and pick 4-5 we vibed with.
Besides compatibility, money was a consideration, and so we had our *drumroll* Top 3 designers provide us with a quotation (a sort of proposal with cost attached) for concepts based on our HDB floor plan.
With the above items in the checklist included in the quotation by the three IDs, I did an Excel sheet to do an item-by-item comparison of each aspect to see which offered the best value for money.
Tip: If your ID asks you for an estimated budget, always tell them a little less than what you can afford – costs tend to balloon up during the renovation process, so it’s smart to include some buffer.
After doing our homework, we settled on interior design firm AgcDesign for their competitive price – around $45k! – and promising portfolio.
Tip: Ensure the ID you choose is from a HDB-registered firm, or that they use HDB-registered subcontractors. It’s illegal otherwise – check on your dream ID’s status on HDB’s list of approved contractors. Bonus points if they are demerit points-free and are CaseTrust accredited.
Like many Singaporean couples, we love a good Scandi-Muji look (I blame IKEA and Muji catalogues). Its emphasis on light wood, white and airy spaces was something we craved for in our house design.
We let our interior designer know of this preference and our requirements through a series of discussions, and Louis, our ID, eventually helped us to visualise the space through 3D renderings.
PSA: This is a service many IDs don’t provide till they are paid a deposit, probably to prevent you from stealing their design to execute on your own *cough*. This deposit should on average be around 25% of the total reno cost.
Once we were more or less aligned on the design, we had to pick the building blocks to put it all together. Our interior designer advised us on this and brought us to pick tiles from places like Hafary, vinyl flooring from Ezon Renovation and quartz for our kitchen countertops from iQuartz.
We visited Hafary to pick our tiles for walls and floors.
We chose vinyl to overlay over most of the existing tiles because 1) it would save us on tile hacking costs 2) it was the most affordable option per square feet versus other materials like laminate or ceramic tiles. Plus, it was water-resistant and easy to maintain.
As for countertops, I was tempted to invest in marble tops till I realised they came with a hefty price tag. So we looked at other options like quartz, KompacPlus and granite. It was a close tie between the former two due to their easy maintenance and durability, but we finally chose quartz as we preferred the design options offered.
Tip: When choosing tiles, think about the ease of cleaning. For high-traffic spaces like toilets and kitchens, it might be savvy to choose larger, darker ones to mask dirt and prevent build-up in grout lines.
We also spoke with our designer at length on the built-in features we would like. Namely, a built-in wardrobe in our master bedroom, a feature wall in our living room and also a half wall for our study area so as to get an “office with a view”:
Tip: Do note that built-ins have to be considered carefully as they will be around for the long haul. Sure, you might want a total glass door for your games room now, but it might compromise your future kids’ privacy if that’s turned into a bedroom. For us, we did opt for some but with great thought for their future use and ROI.
Besides strategising your built-in features, here are other renovation tips to save money.
If built-ins are the foundation like your skincare, think of fixtures and accessories as makeup – the finishing touches that could make or break a look. These cover a wide range of items, so here’s a systematic breakdown:
Windows & Doors
For windows, our greatest conundrum was this: curtains OR blinds? The latter was often heavier and more expensive, plus harder to clean. But they looked gorgeous. In the end, we chose plush curtains to frame our living room while going with cheaper blinds for the rest of the house.
Tip: As for window grills, think about safety before removing them**. For those who want a more “aesthetic” look yet not compromise on that, we recommend invisible grills.
For doors, it was pricey to completely replace those old resale doors – from $200+ per door to nearly $1k for the nice main door designs. Instead, we decided to give those babies a fresh coat of paint, and they looked almost brand new!
Bathroom & Kitchen
If you spend time in the loo like all of us do, it’s important to get the basics right. So, invest in bathroom essentials like your showerhead, heater, bidet, sink and toilet bowl.
For us, we got supplier recommendations from Facebook group Budget Reno (Singapore). This includes: Hoe Kee, Bathroom Warehouse at Changi, Sim Xiang Jun, Biene and Heritage Bathroom. Else, hansgrohe or Grohe showrooms are a one-stop shop for branded shower fixtures.
Tip: For heaters, choose instant ones if you prefer not to wait for the water to heat up and want to save electricity. Choose storage heaters if you want strong water pressure for rainshowers and have more than one water point.
Choosing the right lighting can be a whole university course module, but the main types are these 3 “A”s:
For us, we chose a variety of these in warm and cool lighting to create different moods throughout the house. We chose chic black track lights in the living room and kitchen areas as accents, basic white ceiling lights (ambient) for their high wattage, and a Scandinavian-style hanging lamp to grace the space above our dining table (aesthetic).
Tip: Before choosing lights, make sure you plan out your electrical points for them properly – rewiring them could cost you extra after installation.
Read more about how to choose lights for your HDB.
This was the most exciting part – and we found ourselves heading to home appliances fairs, sales and showrooms weekend after weekend.
For big-ticket appliances, we found it was cheaper to get them as a bundle at megastores like Gain City or Courts. For example, we got our fridge, air conditioners and TV at a discount from the Mega Discount Store at Kallang.
We also popped by the Born In Colour warehouse located all the way near Canberra, where we picked up a dining table, coffee table – and a cute “Macaron series” tissue box to boot!
As for the all-important master bedroom, we got the bedframe from Castlery and ordered the mattress online from Noa Mattress – the latter’s 100-day trial and under $1k price was attractive to us considering how most “branded mattresses” like Sealy and King Koil were around the $3-$5k range.
Tip: Make sure the dimensions of the bedframe and mattress match – look at the numbers instead of assuming all “King” or “Queen” sizes are the same.
Online platforms also saved us quite a bit of cash. For instance, we had a tough time finding a table of a specific height and length for our study area. But, my husband found a lovely lady on Carousell who was moving back to Melbourne and wanted to sell off her furniture quickly. Her well-maintained, pre-used IKEA table was just $100 with delivery, along with an IKEA console and lamp thrown in for good measure!
Tip: Besides the big-ticket items, remember to purchase smaller ones like kettles, cutlery and cushions to make your house fit for living in.
I’ve barely scraped the surface when it comes to detailing the work and thought that went into the renovation process. Nearly every step of the way there were questions. Instant vs storage heater? Tile vs vinyl? Standing vs ceiling fan?
Thankfully, lest I had to Google every single one of these questions and come up with a thesis on the pros and cons of each, it was supremely helpful to join dedicated online groups where I could post even the most inane of questions – no judgement.
I recommend these online groups:
Also, like most Singaporeans, while I wanted a lovely home, I also wanted it at an affordable price. These money-saving tools and tips saved me a pretty penny:
More tips for choosing your home appliances:
And home decor inspo for days when Pinterest won’t suffice:
Though it might seem daunting, I hope this guide will help you navigate the process of HDB renovation in Singapore a bit more smoothly. If you’re earlier on in your home journey and trying to get a flat, you can also check out how we pulled off buying a HDB resale flat in the first place, or check out our guide to applying for BTO flat. Happy renovating!
Cover image adapted from: AGCDesign
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