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Bed Threads' Marketing Lead Melissa King shares the biggest lessons she learnt during her home reno journey.

| By Melissa King | Interiors

8 Mistakes I Made as a First-Time Renovator – And How Not to Repeat Them

Bed Threads' Marketing Lead Melissa King shares the biggest lessons she learnt during her home reno journey.

Everyone’s heard a renovation horror story. And while the old chestnuts are true (rarely do they run on time or budget) most mistakes I made as a first-time renovator were completely avoidable had I understood a bit more about how to approach the process.

I embarked on my first project in 2021 – a complete apartment re-fit involving a new kitchen, bathroom and removal of some structural walls – naively thinking a few mood boards and a general layout would suffice to bring my vision to life.

It most certainly did not, and while this lack of pre-planning left me running around making decisions on the fly and at the mercy of dreaded lead times, it also helped me walk away with some valuable lessons.

Still, even after living in the space for almost two years (and being incredibly happy with how it turned out), there are a few niggling things that remain unfinished or I would do differently next time. Here are the renovation mistakes I made, so hopefully you won’t have to.

1. Not living in the space first

In my case this was unavoidable – my apartment was purchased as a renovator’s delight (read: dilapidated) with no running water or electricity – and despite countless hours spent there at different times of the day prior to the build commencing, the first few nights sleeping in my new home revealed unexpected noises and leaks which would have been much easier to address while it was still a construction site. If you can, live in the space for a solid amount of time to understand how you use it, where natural light filters in throughout the day and any other quirks your home may possess.

2. Not starting with a furniture layout in mind

It may seem counterintuitive, but especially if you’re re-doing any electricals, lighting, or adding built-in joinery, you’ll want to know where your key furniture pieces will sit in relation to them. For example, I used a low-hung pendant light to zone my dining space in an otherwise open-plan living area, but not having the dining table dimensions until late in the piece delayed determining where exactly to hang it. Other things that can impact key aspects of your build include locations of fixed joinery and bigger furnishings that sit up against a wall (and obstruct powerpoints). This brings me to…

3. Winging the lighting and electrical plan

Don’t do this. It may seem fairly inconsequential, but where your electrical outlets and light switches are positioned has a surprisingly large impact on your day-to-day life. After rounds of indecision debating the quantity and type of lighting needed, my apartment possesses a few surplus light switches and in the odd area, a powerpoint would come in handy. If you’re a novice in this area, get hold of a lighting designer, interior designer or experienced renovator and take time to get this right early on. It’ll be worth it.

4. Assuming measurements come as ‘standard’

Working with trades who install bathrooms, kitchens and built-ins every day, you might assume these fixtures would follow a set of standard measurements. Wrong! Sure, there are general guides, but unless you’re using an architect or interior designer you’ll be asked exactly where you want everything – from the height of your bathroom basin and towel rail, to how low to hang pendant lights or how deep your kitchen benchtop should be. My advice? Start documenting measurements that feel right early on, whether it’s in other homes or showrooms. Add to that: never leave home without a tape measure.

5. Sourcing everything on Facebook Marketplace

Let me preface this by saying Maketplace is one of the most valuable tools out there for renovators on a budget. It’s where any unwanted, incorrectly measured or surplus goods go to find a new home – often at drastically reduced prices. A non-exhaustive list of items I scored on Marketplace includes: a bathroom vanity, a kitchen sink, a stovetop, just about every light fitting, heritage brass door handles and yes, even a wall-hung toilet that went unused in another renovation. However, be very cautious about buying anything that comes with custom installation parts as – unless you’re a professional – you’re unlikely to know whether the seller includes these or not. My ‘bargain’ sink and toilet felt like a win until our plumber told me they were in fact missing crucial parts needed to install them, meaning any savings were spent on tracking down hard-to-find spare parts.

6. Not prioritising storage

Thinking you don’t have THAT much stuff is probably something we’re all guilty of, but I severely underestimated how quickly I would fill out my cabinetry. Pair that with a taste for a minimal aesthetic and a love of open shelving (uber-chic in theory but incredibly difficult to keep looking presentable) and you’ve got a home that only looks good when you spend time shoving away stuff that doesn’t fit in the cupboards. Next time I’d plan for more storage than I think I need and set aside an extra budget for it – joinery is one of the (many) things that cost more than you might expect.

7. Leaving odd jobs unfinished

By the end of a lengthy build when you’ve run out of time, money and patience, desperation to move trades out and yourself in can take over. You may start to think it will be ‘easier to finish it later’ once you’ve ‘given it some thought’ and can just call up your builder to complete the job. Spoiler alert: it’s not, you won’t, and trades are difficult to entice back for tidy-up tasks once they’re onto the next project. After a full 18 months living in my new home, towel hooks, toilet roll holders and window latches all remain unhung because I gave up deciding where to place them. Get it done before you bid farewell to your builder.

8. Not taking more risks

Some advice I received before renovating was to do ‘one memorable thing’ – something that’s not entirely practical, or for resale value, but just because you love it. For me, this was a curved shower but looking back, there were probably a few decisions where I played it safe for fear of outgrowing a certain style or colour. Visualising the result can be one of the hardest parts about renovating for the first time, but once filled with furniture, art and décor, you’ll be surprised how quickly what feels like a ‘major’ decision fades into the background. Choosing a few places to go bold and bring in personal touches makes all the effort worthwhile.

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