How much does it cost to do up a house?

Before I became an interior designer I would dread the inevitable ‘so what do you do for a living’ question when I met new people. My actual job title made no sense to anybody outside my organisation (or most of my colleagues for that matter), and ‘work for an insurance company’ just sounds soooo dull. And if the person asking did look interested it was only because they were about to bore me senseless with the scintillating story of their last insurance claim, or ask me how they could get cheaper car insurance. Don’t care, don’t know, being my responses to both if I’d had too many sav blancs. When I became an interior designer I thought, at last a sexy job title I can be proud of! But this has now created a new problem. Being put on the spot.

Amelia Wilson Interior Designer Cumbria
Picture from my recent feature in Cumbria Life explaining my move from Insurance to Interior Design

Interior Designer FAQ’s

There are 2 questions I get asked all the time. The first is “What colour should I paint my living room?” (It isn’t always a living room it can be any room in the house). People ask me this question without providing any other background information, such as room size, what the light is like, what colours they prefer or what furniture they have. And they look at me expectantly like I should have the answer. I’m an interior designer not a psychic mindreading magician.

Interior designer Cumbria Amelia Wilson moodpboard
Moodboard for the red dining room project, it took me to mediate between the homeowners to agree on the colour of this room. Before and afters still to come.

The second FAQ is “I want to do up my house how much will it cost me?” My quick answer to this has become, “How much do you want to spend?” But I thought I would share my approach to the long answer with you as it’s actually a really good question.

What’s my budget?

Most of the people I work with really have no idea how much it’s going to cost them, and it’s not just the first time buyers. I met a lovely couple last week, and one of them was a minister. They had spent most of their lives living in church houses so they had never had to replace a kitchen or bathroom or do any major renovations so had come to me for guidance. Not spiritual obviously.

Whether I am doing a single room or a whole house the first thing I do with most new customers is estimate the cost of the project so that we can agree a budget. To do this I need the answers to three questions, which also shape the overall brief:

1. What work is needed?

This isn’t just how many rooms they have, and whether it includes a kitchen or bathroom, but also the state of things like the windows and doors and the plumbing and electrics, i.e. the things that can really eat into your budget.

2. What is the desired look?

This covers both style and level of quality. Are we talking top of the range German kitchen and solid wood flooring, or secondhand furniture and ready-made curtains, or a mixture of both?

3. What are the priorities?

What do we spend money on and where do we compromise in order to keep within budget?

I then give the customer a spreadsheet like this for every room so we can look at the figures together and agree a budget.Interior Designer Cumbria Amelia Wilson

If we’re doing the whole house there will also be a summary that looks something like this:

Interior Designer Cumbria Amelia Wilson

The true cost of home improvements

I’ve found that when I work on whole houses we typically spend half the budget on labour, unless the customers can carry out work themselves. But I still do all of this early estimating before I bring any trades in to quote. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I’ve been doing this long enough now to know roughly what things cost. Obviously there are things I can’t estimate, especially when you get into bespoke joinery and mysterious damp problems (for that I really need Damp Gary), but my estimates for most things are usually pretty accurate.

But more importantly I don’t like to waste peoples’ time. If we need to make compromises, and this means customers doing their own decorating, then I’d rather establish this before I bring a decorator in to price the job.

But the main reason for this early estimating is that in order to get an accurate overall cost for a room you need to have designed it. But you don’t want to design a room and go to the trouble of getting quotes from trades for a look that the customer will love but can’t afford. You need to manage your customers expectations and to do this you need to know what your budget is.

So what does it cost to do up a house?

So as you can see there isn’t a simple answer. But I will go out on a limb and say that if you have a two or three bedroom house which you want to completely redecorate and furnish, with a medium sized kitchen, an average sized bathroom, and one ensuite, then the figures in my examples above are pretty realistic for midrange in terms of quality. Obviously you can always spend more or less but I wanted to leave you with something to ponder now the Christmas decorations have come down leaving your rooms looking tired and bare.

And if you think you might want my help get in touch quickly as enquiries have been rolling in since I became a local media sensation…. (a customers words not mine after seeing my features in Cumbria Life and The Whitehaven News!)

Amelia Wilson Interior Designer Cumbria
Picture from my recent Cumbria Life feature

10 Things You Might Not Expect From An Interior Designer

I was at a BBQ recently on what I now realise was the only sunny day of the year, i.e. summer. A former colleague was asking me how things were going since I’d left the glamorous world of insurance *raises eyebrows* to become an interior designer. As I described a few projects and some of the challenges I’d been dealing with he started to develop a very confused look. In fact he looked a bit like the delicious Mark Wahlberg does here.

10 things you might not expect from an interior designer

At this point I should probably mention that he’s American. Now his nationality isn’t key to this story, although my northern accent has got a tad stronger since I moved to Cumbria so there’s a good chance this might have been the case. No, he was confused because it seems that in America an interior designer typically focuses on furniture and soft furnishings after all the other stuff has happened, you know like walls coming down or going up, pipes getting moved, rewiring, plastering etc. The stuff that takes up most of the money and that annoyingly none of your visitors appreciate when they come round for dinner when the skip has finally gone and the place no longer resembles a war zone. Apparently in America interior designers just get to do all of the nice stuff.

“I know Mark, that makes me pretty cross too”

I make no apologies for the shameless use of Mark Wahlbergs image. What’s not to like…

10 things you might not expect from an interior designer

So after a short period wondering if I should relocate, and then knocking that idea on the head because (a) really not loving Trump, and (b) really loving Cumbria I started to wonder if my fellow Brits were also in the dark as to how much we can do. Does the average Joe or Jo really think we are just cushion scatterers? This horrifying thought compelled me to compile a list of “10 things you might not expect from an interior designer. So here goes.

Ten Things You Might Not Expect From An Interior Designer

1. Planning applications

If your house is listed or you want to add something big, high or unusual (I’m summarizing obviously) you are probably going to need planning permission. This means submitting scale plans and drawings which normally has people immediately googling ‘local architect’. But if what you are doing is straightforward then this might be something your interior designer could do and save you a bit of money. I recently completed a Listed Building Consent application for this Grade II* listed property that included site plans, elevations and a complete design and heritage statement. Not bad for a cushion scatterer eh? And yes it got approved.

The Crescent at Lowther Village near Penrith
The Crescent at Lowther Village near Penrith – work underway and expected to complete September 2017

2. Moving your meter

Sods law states that if you want a new ground floor wet room it’s likely to be where your electricity meter is. Or maybe I’m just unlucky as this has happened to me on more than one occasion. Gas and electricity meters can only be moved by the utility company, and you usually have to submit scale plans showing where the meter is now and where you’d like it to go. The utility company are used to dealing with third party applicants, and your interior designer will already have drawn plans showing you what your fancy new wet room is going to look like, so dealing with the utility company is no big shakes.

Interior Design Blog - large wet room designed by Amelia Wilson Interiors Ltd
My wet room once an adjoining outbuilding and home to my electricity meter

3. Organising a structural engineer

Structural engineers must love the trend for open plan interiors and flowing indoor outdoor spaces ‘cos where there’s a supporting wall you might just need a structural engineer. Most interior designers will see stuff like this all the time so will likely know a good engineer, by which I mean one that knows their stuff, doesn’t charge an arm and a leg and knows the local planners so can advise on best approach to getting your plans approved. Hell we might even be able to jump the queue for you as the good ones will (or should) be busy.

Interior Design Blog - moodboards for open plan kitchen living dining space
A structural engineer was brought in to advise on this open plan kitchen, living, dining space I recently designed

4. Tech advice

When I’m designing kitchens and bathrooms my customers often want advice on appliances and fittings in terms of spec, quality and price. This is of course something they can research themselves, but often don’t have the time. And as interior designers we have experience from previous projects and insight from customers, suppliers and trades that we can share. Online reviews are great but you can’t beat feedback from people you know. We don’t just advise on the pretty stuff ya’ know.

Interior Design Blog
One of the kitchens I designed for Cockermouth Kitchens new showroom – a supplier I regularly go to for appliance advice

5. Waiting in for deliveries

As an interior designer I spend a lot of time looking for unique items and bargains for my customers, and when I find ‘em I buy ‘em quick before they’re gone. I work from home so it’s easy to have customer goods delivered to me and I just store them until we’re ready for them. Not so easy for things like sofas and appliances but if the customer can’t be home for the delivery then I just take my Macbook and work from theirs until it arrives. All part of the service people.

Interior Design Blog
Thankfully no shots of me accepting deliveries from DPD so you’ll have to make do with this random image…

6. Cleaning your house

Bet you weren’t expecting this one were you? One of the things I can organise for customers is a big clean after the messy work has finished. Claire and her team are so good that this has led to a permanent arrangement for some customers. I know not everyone can afford a cleaner but once you’ve had Claire & Co clean your house you realise how poor your own attempts at cleaning were. And there’s nothing better than someone else magically making all that plaster dust disappear.

Interior Design Blog
A recent TV room project – Claire & Co came in to clean up after the builders had left and are now regular visitors

7. Stocking your cupboards

Now I’m not saying we’ll do your regular Friday big shop, but if you want to do a complete out with the old and in with the new then we can help with more than just the decorative stuff. I’m currently working on a 3 bed holiday let and second home and I’ve bought the crockery for the kitchen, the handwash for the bathrooms, the bulbs for all the lights and the logs for the fire. Literally everything including the kitchen sink.

Interior Design Blog
A recent budget bathroom project where I supplied everything from the bathmat to the bath foam

8. Restoring furniture

Before I became an interior designer I took a number of upholstery and furniture restoration courses, and I love finding old pieces with character and giving them a bit of TLC. This is also something I’ve done for customers and I know other designers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty in pursuit of your dream home.

Interior Design Blog
I bought this chair for £3 from a charity shop and reupholstered it myself

9. Selling your old furniture

I hate to see things go to the tip. Where I can I work with customers to rehome their old kitchens, bathrooms and furniture. This can mean sticking stuff on eBay for them, or taking it to the local auctioneers or charity shop. I’ve even sold their unwanted items to other customers. This customer may have a beautiful new bath but my next door neighbour bought and painted her old one so she has a spanking new bathroom too.

Interior Design Blog
Bathroom I designed in 2016 which was featured in Real Homes magazine. Photograph by Jeremy Phillips

10.Counselling and mediation

This is obviously a little tongue in cheek but a good interior designer also needs a good dose of emotional intelligence. Even good change can be very stressful for people, particularly when it involves spending what will feel like large sums of money. Just because a customer has a small budget doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of money for them. This means being sensitive to this, managing their expectations and not rushing them into decisions. Similarly couples don’t always agree on plans and a little practical mediation can help them reach agreement. Remember the red versus green dining room?

Interior Design Blog
Moodboard for the red dining room project. The final decision on colour was based on how well the Christmas tree would stand out…..

So out of 10 how did you score? Many surprises?

Come collaborate with me

Some might think its easy being an interior designer. I mean it’s just picking paint and furniture isn’t it? (Raises left eyebrow sarcastically). But I would challenge anyone who thinks it’s easy to design a room for someone they just met and get it right first time.

People rarely know exactly what they want. If they did they wouldn’t need an interior designer. And don’t be thinking their homes provide all the answers. Yes there are clues, but most peoples homes include (a) things they like, (b), things they once liked but don’t any more, (c) things they bought on a temporary basis and never replaced (I suspect this accounts for a large chunk of IKEA sales…), and (d) things they never liked but were either gifts, inherited or came with their partner when they moved in….You all know the conversation, “no no, I want you to feel like this is your home, so of course you can bring your (insert offending item)”. Be grateful if it’s only a novelty phone, and no I’m not telling you what Mr W has inflicted on me over the years.

Novelty Homer Simpson telephone
Novelty Homer Simpson telephone

So a big part of being an interior designer is figuring out what a customer will like and I’m proud to say that so far I have a 100% success rate. But as the title of this blog suggests, I do my homework. After I’ve snooped around their home looking for clues (with their permission of course), I interrogate them ask a whole bunch of questions. Depending on the customer I sometimes use images to draw out what they like, and encourage all my customers to send me pics of anything that catches their eye.

Houzz has a fabulous Ideabook tool which facilitates this process. I recently collaborated with one customer using this tool. Between us we uploaded 20+ images. She added things she liked and I added a range of rooms and colour schemes to test what she’d told me she liked and didn’t like.

Monochrome Scandi style bedroom in Ideabook on Houzz
This image helped me rule out purely monochrome schemes as the customers husband said this room was too grey

We don’t realise how much info we take in when we look at a picture, which we subconsciously judge, categorise and file for potentially future use. When you get someone to really look and pick out what they like or don’t like it and then summarise the findings for them it can often surprise them.

Blue and grey Scandi style living room added to an Ideabook in Houzz
A room my customer liked after telling me she didn’t like blue unless it was her jeans.

I use this tool for elements within a design too. I have one customer who has a split level bungalow and we want to replace the staircases. I know I know, you’re now thinking ‘bungalows don’t have stairs’. Well they do if they’re built on a hillside. The bungalow is all single-storey but you have to climb a few stairs to pass between some of the rooms. I used an ideabook to show the customer images of different contemporary staircases so we could agree on the design.

Lighting on staircase in Ideabook on Houzz
I used this image to show the customer how we could light up their new staircases

Many of my customers have no idea how much it might cost to update their home. When this is the case I help them by putting together an estimate based on what they want to do and the look they are aiming for. We then use this to establish a budget, which I make sure we stick to. This is why I’ll never be the next Kevin McCLoud or George Clarke – who wants to watch a homeowner achieve their budget, or heaven forbid underspend…..

I usually come up with a plan for a new customer quite quickly and will often run this by them to check I’m on the right track, and maybe show them the colour palette I’m thinking of using. If I get a positive response then I’ll start working on the designs.

Colour palette for Scandi style new build project
The colour palette I agreed with my customer for her Scandi inspired new build after collaborating on an Ideabook

Depending on the size or scope of the project it can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to pull it all together. When I’m doing full houses I like to start with one or two rooms so the customer can get comfortable with my work. I find that gaining their trust early on speeds up the whole process – no need to keep checking back.

By the time I’ve finished designing a room I’ll have a presentation for the customer which includes a mood board, floor plan, samples of any flooring, fabric etc. and a list of everything to go in the room, where it’s from and how much it will all cost.

Mood board by Amelia Wilson Interiors Ltd for a kitchen project
Mood board for a recent kitchen project

And then the real work starts.

I book all the tradespeople, order everything we need and then watch it all like a paranoid control freak hawk until the work is done and they’re ready for me to come and add the finishing touches. This is where I  can relate to Mr McCloud and Mr Clarke. Things never go smoothly however organised and efficient you are. Things will break. Deliveries will not turn up. Tradespeople will get delayed. You just need to be ‘on it like a car bonnet’ which fortunately is my specialty.

Now most people would find this exceptionally stressful, but not me, I thrive on it. And the satisfaction when you’re finished and the customer is beaming makes it all worth while.

Customer review for Amelia Wilson Interiors Ltd

So if you were one of those people who thought my job was easy, do you still think so?

 

 

 

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Today I am on a high which I desperately needed after the last 10 days. Scratchy (the cat) was diagnosed as having kidney disease when I got back from Kenya and it broke my heart watching him deteriorate. He was eating almost nothing and getting weaker and weaker. He perked up for a few hours when Mr W came home last Thursday and spent the evening purring on his lap, but it was short-lived, and on Saturday we had to take him to the vet for the final time. We buried him in his favourite spot in the garden, under a tree where he used to watch the birds and reminisce about a time when he could chase and catch them. He was the friendliest cat in the world and my buddy for almost 17 years. I miss him terribly.

So I needed today. It started this morning with a trip to my step-daughters to drop off some of the new furniture etc for her conservatory which I have redesigned and am decorating as a Christmas present. The coffee shop theme has really come together with a dark wood floor and matching furniture, and soft furnishings made from recycled coffee sacks. As a surprise I designed some ‘selfie’ coasters using photos I downloaded from her Facebook page, with matching placemats showing photos of her and her boyfriend. I used Snapfish to create them, and in black and white they look very cool. If the boyfriend doesn’t last at least she can still use the coasters! I would have liked to wait until I had everything so I could install it all and dress the room but car space wouldn’t allow it. The high came when she sent me a text when she got home from work saying how much she loves everything and can’t wait to see it finished.

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Some of the ‘selfies’

The second high came this afternoon when I met with a new client to discuss re-decorating her whole house. She has just returned to the UK with her husband after a 4 year stint in Australia on business. The house had needed updating before they left but as they didn’t know if they would return there was little point. The house has been occupied while they were away but poorly maintained so they are both desperate to gut it and give it a facelift. As I walked through the house with her discussing what she didn’t like (everything) and the additions she would like (lots) I realised this is my calling. I know that with the right builder I can improve the layout and give her a lot more storage space – what every girl wants right? I also know just the look she wants and how to create it without clearing out her bank account. The project management will be key though. With so much to do we have to prioritise, not just for implementation but also for budget purposes. They need to replace most if not all of the windows so I’ve suggested we price this first, to figure out how much of their budget will be left to replace the kitchen and bathrooms and redecorate. I’ve also agreed to draw up plans for a new layout upstairs, and for the installation of a downstairs loo and utility room at the end of the kitchen so that we can validate these plans with a local builder and price these changes. Starting with upstairs means she can get her clothes out of storage, and if we’re going to have builders traipsing in and out its better to do this before we redecorate downstairs. Once the upstairs is done they’ll have somewhere clean to retreat to when the work starts downstairs. Planning and budgeting were a daily part of my old life so all of this is right up my street. There are also plenty of opportunities to be creative. I am so excited.

When you’re a child adults always ask you what you want to be when you grow up. I find myself doing this with my friends children. When I was a child I could never answer this question, as I just didn’t know. Now I can, I guess this means I need to grow up….  🙂

In memory of Scratchy, Feb 1998 – Nov 2014. RIP

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Bossiness aka Project Management, a skill worth paying for

In my old life at 5pm on a Friday you would usually find me in a city wine bar with a nice glass of NZSB (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) blowing off steam with Mr W and/or work colleagues. This Friday night I was cleaning  chicken poop off the floor of the chicken coop. A task made harder by the fact the ladies wanted to go to bed as it was getting dark so lots of clucking and chickens underfoot. Oh how my life has changed….I still say for the better though. A few days before we were due to fly back from Kenya I realised that I was looking forward to getting home. In my old life I can’t remember feeling anything other than dread as the end of a holiday drew near. I used to spend my holidays ignoring the blackberry and forcibly blocking out any thoughts of work until I was physically home, otherwise I just couldn’t relax. It just reinforced my view that I made the right decision leaving work and moving to Cumbria. I’ve never been happier.

Since I moved here Mr W has started to imagine himself as a country gent, with a small holding and a few more animals. To try and make this a reality I approached the owner of the empty field opposite my house with an offer to buy it, and I can safely say that won’t be happening any time soon. I think I’ve found the man the words cantankerous, obnoxious and rude were invented for. Old me would have shared this thought with him. New me just left with a smile and “you know where I am if you change your mind!” Ah well, less poop to clean and it will save having to find someone to donkey/pig/sheep/goat sit next time I need a city fix.

So it’s full steam ahead with the house renovation/redecoration again. If you’re ever starting an interior design project and can’t decide whether or not to pay for project management my advice would be unless you’re unemployed get a project manager. Contractors are notorious for taking on too many projects and juggling to try and keep everyone happy. If you’re not constantly checking in nothing gets done, or worse they make ‘executive decisions’ in your absence which you either have to live with or pay to fix.  I take two weeks off and the roofers didn’t turn up to re-render the leaking chimneys, the landscaper didn’t come and level the ground for the new shed and the electrician didn’t fit the meter box. I get back make a few calls and they’re on site, except for the roofers. You can actually google ‘the top 5 most elusive mammals on the planet’, roofers should be on this list between badgers and ocelots. What amuses me is that in my old life I was surrounded by men and paid to boss them about. These days I’m still surrounded by men, and still bossing them about, only difference is now I’m paying them to let me.

So there’s still a steady stream of re-wiring, plastering and joinery work going on in most rooms but we’ve now started the big job – the kitchen. The old kitchen was ok, but now I have the space and the cash I want my dream kitchen, starting with underfloor heating which is why I’m currently living with a makeshift kitchen in my utility room and no heating and hot water. I’ve told Mr W to stay in London for 2 weeks – no need for us both to be cold and grubby.

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Before: the old kitchen

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Current state of affairs…..

Despite comments in earlier posts about my dislike of roughing it I’ll manage. I have wood burning stoves, thick duvets and I can shower at the leisure centre. I am a bit worried about Scratchy the cat though. He stopped eating while I was away and the vet has confirmed it’s his kidneys. We’re just trying to figure out whether it’s a treatable infection or permanent damage. I’m a little distraught as he’s almost 18 and my companion. The house will be very empty without him if this is the end of the road.

Scratchy
Scratchy