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?