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How to Start a Renovation Project: Tips from an Interior Designer

Embarking on a renovation project can be both exciting and overwhelming. To ensure a smooth process and a successful outcome, it's essential to approach it with careful planning and organization. Here are some expert tips from an interior designer on how to start your renovation project, covering the key aspects: Selecting a Team, Design Brief, Budget and Programme, and Planning and Approvals.



Selecting a Team


The first step in any renovation project is to assemble a reliable and skilled team. This includes architects, interior designers, contractors, and various tradespeople. Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Research and Referrals: Start by asking friends, family, and colleagues for recommendations. Online reviews and professional associations can also provide valuable insights. Websites like Houzz, and Yelp can be great resources for finding reputable professionals in your area.

  2. Interview Multiple Candidates: Meet with several professionals to discuss your project. Prepare a list of questions to gauge their experience, style, and approach. Ask about their past projects, timelines, and how they handle unexpected issues.

  3. Check Credentials and References: Verify their qualifications, licenses, and insurance. This ensures they meet industry standards and legal requirements. Contact previous clients to get a sense of their work ethic, reliability, and quality of work.

  4. Evaluate Compatibility: Ensure that your chosen team understands your vision and style preferences. Good chemistry and communication are crucial for a successful collaboration. Trust your instincts—if you feel comfortable and confident with a particular professional, that’s a good sign.

  5. Get Detailed Proposals: Request detailed proposals from your top candidates, outlining the scope of work, estimated costs, and timelines. Compare these proposals to make an informed decision.




Design Brief


A well-defined design brief is essential for conveying your vision to the team. It serves as a roadmap for the project and helps keep everyone aligned. Here’s what to include:

  1. Project Goals: Clearly state what you aim to achieve with the renovation. Are you looking to increase space, improve functionality, or update the aesthetic? Be specific about your objectives, whether it's creating an open-concept kitchen, adding a home office, or modernizing the bathroom.  The types or brands you are familiar with are also important so the expectation of quality and performance is clear.

  2. Style and Inspiration: Share images, mood boards, and examples that reflect your desired style. This helps the team understand your taste. Consider platforms like Pinterest and Instagram to gather and organize your ideas.  Your Interior Designer will discuss these with you and form a clear direction to be developed.  The intent of sharing initial ideas of taste is so the Interior Designer can understand what elements resonate most with the client and draw upon those design likes.

  3. Functional Requirements: Detail the practical needs of the space. Consider storage solutions, lighting, and the flow of movement. For example, if you’re renovating a kitchen, think about the type of appliances, workspaces, and storage areas to ensure efficiency.  How does your current kitchen work for your lifestyle and what things would you like to change.  Your Interior Design will take these factors into consideration and tailor your new kitchen to be more functional and aesthetically pleasing.

  4. Materials and Finishes: Specify any preferred materials, colours, and finishes. This ensures that the final design meets your expectations. Discuss options with your designer to balance aesthetics, durability, and cost.  It’s OK if you don’t have a full idea though a suggestion of colours or dislikes are a great starting point.

  5. Lifestyle and Usage: Describe how you and your family use the space. For example, if you have children or pets, you may need durable, easy-to-clean materials. If you entertain frequently, consider the flow and functionality of communal areas.  We will go through this with you once we discuss space planning and connect the usability of design with the architecture.  Storage is always a big topic of discussion at the start of the project, the type of storage varies dependant on lifestyle.  Don’t be afraid to say what you want to achieve and don’t feel offended if your designer tells you if it is not realistic or the compromises to achieve it in a budget.




Budget and Programme


Setting a realistic budget and timeline is critical to avoid unexpected surprises. Here’s how to plan effectively:

  1. Detailed Cost Estimation: Work with your team to develop a comprehensive budget. Include costs for materials, labour, permits, and a contingency for unforeseen expenses (typically 10-20% of the total budget). Break down the budget into categories such as structural work, lighting, electrics, build costs, decorative finishes, bespoke joinery, furniture, and décor/dressing.  Also, depending on the size of the project you may wish to budget an independent Project Manager to oversee the work.  Your interior designer may be able to monitor on small projects though as they are not there all day everyday it is not a project manager role.

  2. Prioritize Spending: Identify areas where you can save and where you should invest more. Focus on elements that add long-term value and functionality. For example, investing in high-quality flooring and fixtures can save money on future repairs. Spending more on bespoke joinery package that encapsulates the luxury aesthetic so that when or if you decide to sell the agent will value accordingly. 

  3. Timeline and Milestones: Your builder should be able to help with a detailed project timeline with key milestones. This helps track progress and ensures timely completion. Include stages such as demolition, construction, installations, and final inspections.  Your Interior Designer should have the opportunity to look and add to the programme if needed.  This ensure smooth running if everyone is working on the same timeline and keep up to date throughout the project.  Bear in mind changes to this are costly.

  4. Regular Updates and Flexibility: Maintain open communication with your team and be prepared to adjust the budget or schedule if needed. Regular progress meetings can help address any issues promptly and keep the project on track.  This is inevitable though can be managed with great communication.

  5. Payment Schedule: Agree on a payment schedule with your contractor that aligns with project milestones. Avoid paying large sums upfront and retain a portion until the project is completed to your satisfaction.  Your Interior Designer may also require a payment schedule for their services.




Planning and Approvals


Navigating the planning and approval process can be complex, but it’s a crucial step to ensure your project is compliant with regulations. Here’s how to manage it:

  1. Local Regulations and Codes: Research the building regulations in your area. Ensure your design adheres to these standards. Building regulations can affect everything from structural changes to electrical and plumbing systems.

  2. Permits and Approvals: Identify which permits are required for your project. Submit applications early to avoid delays. Common permits include those for structural changes, building control, licence to Alter etc.  Check with your local building department for specific requirements.

  3. Professional Assistance: Consider hiring a project manager or expeditor who specializes in navigating the approval process. They can streamline communication with authorities and expedite approvals, ensuring all paperwork is in order.

  4. Inspections and Compliance: Schedule necessary inspections at different stages of the renovation to ensure compliance with building codes. Keep a record of all permits and approvals for future reference.


Starting a renovation project requires careful planning and a strategic approach. By selecting a skilled team, crafting a clear design brief, establishing a realistic budget and timeline, and securing necessary approvals, you can set the foundation for a successful renovation. Remember, effective communication and flexibility are key to overcoming challenges and achieving your vision. With these detailed tips from an interior designer, you're well on your way to transforming your space into something extraordinary.


You can get in touch with us to discuss your project: @modestelondon, www.modestelondon.com, studio@modestelondon.com.


Tel: 020 3907 6844



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