Monday, 17 June 2019

RENOVATION FOR THE D'OUTH HOUSE: Part 3 - Hacking Works, Aircon Installation, Flooring, Electricals, Lighting, Carpentry, Hinges, Doors, Windows, and Blinds

11. Hacking Works

WhatsApp Image 2019-01-10 at 21.17.12

All of the kitchen walls and floor were to be hacked because the existing tile work was in a poor condition and also exceedingly filthy... This would be the only hacking works to be done for our flat. To save on costs, we only hacked the kitchen tiles, and instead did an overlay of the tile work in the living area.


Our contractor helped us apply for the renovation permit (which takes 2 weeks) and this was straightforward as we were not hacking down any existing walls. If you are hacking any of the walls though, you'll need to submit the plans for approval in advance and this can take longer for the approval of the permit. There are quite a few rules concerning what is hackable and what is not, but if you have looked around the block you will see that a lot of people do quite creative hacking in their HDB flats despite the many constraints.

Finally when the notice comes you have to stick it at the lift landing or at the door of the flat to inform neighbours of the works - and the contractor/sub-contractors should also keep to the working hours and days on the permit. Since our block is undergoing HIP at the moment, there are always a few dozen of these notices stuck around the lift because everyone is taking advantage of the chaos of the HIP work period to time their noisy or destructive renovations.


Note the old rubbish chute in the corner...


Replacement of rubbish chute (HIP) only after hacking and retiling

Another thing is that we asked the HIP office to delay the installation of our new refuse chute till after the hacking and tiling works, otherwise the new chute would be damaged during the hacking process.

As for the actual hacking itself, I am always surprised to see that the hacking is often done within a day. Similarly, the HIP works hacking also just takes a mere morning. You would imagine this to take a long time but actually hacking doesn't cost a lot and is pretty quick.

12. Aircon Installation


The finished product - the aircon in its room!

The all important aircon! Although it is the main splurge in our monthly electrical bill, without the aircon we might shrivel up and die in a sweaty puddle on the floor. Or in my case, productivity might drop by several points as a result of overheating. For our 3-room flat, we decided to get 3 blowers or a System 3 aircon - one for living area, and two for the bedrooms. We did not use our contractor's aircon contact, instead preferring to do it on our own, so we engaged the aircon installers separately on our own and arranged for the dates to slot into the rest of the works.

The unit for the blower is BTU or British Thermal Unit (it actually stands for the the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit), and according to Gaincity's website, how you calculate what you need in BTU is as follows:

Gaincity Aircon Buying Guide: "Find the square footage of the room you are trying to cool and multiply by 35. This will give you the ballpark BTUs you should look for. Shady room? Decrease that number by 10%. Sunny room? Increase that number by 10%. Add 4,000 BTUs if you are putting the A/C in the kitchen. If more than two people will be in the room regularly, add 600 BTUs per person."

Living Area + Stores: Approx 4 x 6.3 = 25.2 sq m (approx 271 sq ft) - needs at least 9485 BTU
Blue Room: 4.35 x 2.9 = 12.615 (approx 136 sq ft) - needs at least 4760++ (sunny side)
Green Room: 4.35 x 3.2 = 13.92 (approx 150 sq ft) - needs at least 5250++ (sunny side)

The System 3 units we decided on correspondingly were (Mitsubishi Starmex Electric):
1 x Outdoor Unit MXY-3G28VA2 (for all 3 blowers)
1 X Indoor Blower Unit MSXY-FN13VE (12000 BTU) - for the living area
2 X Indoor Blower Unit MSXY-FN10VE (9000 BTU) - for the blue and green room

Aircons are usually installed over 2 visits to your house:
1st Visit: To dismantle wiring and existing piping and dispose of old system 2 aircon
(In-between which the house painter comes in and does the first coat of painting)
2nd Visit: To install new drainage piping, trunking, compressor, and new system 3 aircon
(After which the house painter comes in again and paints over all the new trunking)


We also had to make some modifications to the new door frame design so as to accommodate the way in which the aircon drainage pipe would be run through the rooms. Here we were measuring the frame to see how much extra needed to be left so the big trunking could run across the top of the door frame - we eventually had to ask for the doorframe to be lowered by about 2.5" here.

Our main contractor initially suggested we tell our aircon installers to do 3 visits - but this doesn't seem to be the normal practice. The only reason you might break it up into 3 visits is because there are very dusty works going on in the house after the 2nd visit (eg: hacking). However, this can be fixed by having them put a big plastic wrap over the blowers after the 2nd/final installation to prevent dust from entering the blower and to restrict its use before the house has been properly cleaned up.

Our experience buying and installing our first home aircon: The dingparents were adamant that we should stick to a tried and tested aircon installer such as Gaincity which they had used multiple times. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps this would have been a safer bet. BUT HOW WERE WE TO KNOW UNTIL WE TRIED IT FOR OURSELVES? The main thing we understood at that point was that when picking an installer, we had to ensure that the installer was using the correct types of premium materials for the installation - pvc drainage pipes, the proper wire cables, the right kind of class 1 insulation, and copper pipes. We just assumed the rest would follow....

George found another installer online who promised the same quality materials and could do it within our rather tight timeline (to fit in with the rest of the works). We saw a number of reviews online that were quite favourable for the company JEX AIRCON so we engaged them to install our aircon. I also got the dingfather to come down help us check that it was done properly. But... I don't know if I can recommend JEX AIRCON again (and I'm not including the link) because there were so many red flags:

Fear for workmen safety and worksite safety: On the 1st visit they did not use a safety harness when climbing out to check the existing blower and I don't think the homeowners should be have to be actively worried that the blower might fall off the ledge during retrieval. When we hired someone to do the job we assumed they would follow all health and safety regulations and not let their workmen take unnecessary risks! Only one of the workers really spoke English (the rest of the team was composed of Indian workmen who did not understand English so direct communication with the workmen physically doing the work was difficult for us)

Not sure if installers were actually trained or BCA licensed: So on the 2nd Visit, we asked the workmen who came to our house if they were BCA licensed but we were given a blank look and the very worrying response: "What is BCA?" - This made us think that none of the men who were working on it were actually BCA licensed or trained, so I texted the company again who confirmed they were BCA-certified. What can one do that at that point?

Took an unusually long time for standard installation: They took from 9am-10pm to install 3 blowers, which seemed bizarrely/ridiculously long. I mean, I really didn't expect people to work at my house from 9am till 10pm. The poor Dingfather had to stay there with them from morning to night because I was at work (and even after I got off work!!) - and actually the poor workmen were just working nonstop. It was hard to be angry at the men on site because they seemed to be really struggling and doing their best but they were just confused and unskilled and ill-equipped to do the job. From what I understood and from the dingparents' past experiences (of which they had many), normal professional installers could install 3 blowers in a morning, but Jex Aircon's men really did not seem to know what they were doing at all, as if they were doing it for the first time and figuring it out on the spot, which was bizarre for a professional company and also made us quite nervous.

Again, as Lemongrab might say: "UNACCEPTABLE!!!!!!"

Finally, after a long arduous installation process on their end, they had finished up everything but were unable to connect it to our power to prove to us it worked, which seemed ridiculous. It was only with the intervention of Dingfather (who originally trained as an electrical engineer) that he instructed them on how to wire it to the mains DB box to test that it was functional. Lucky for them, it was working.

Things you'll want from your aircon installation:
- Professional
- Securely installed
- BCA-certified


Screenshot 2019-06-12 at 12.48.27 PM annotate

Unfortunately... I didn't feel that we got any of those three from our installer, Jex Aircon. Also, er.... I wonder, is it normal for there to be no visible BOLTS connecting the aircon to the brackets??? I mean I don't think a big wind will blow off our blowers, but seriously....... I guess only time will tell if we have any issues with our aircon units as a result of this haphazard installation. In the meantime all I can say if that if you wanna go with Jex Aircon, then... MAYBE.... DON'T?????

13. Flooring (Terrazzo)


BEFORE: Image by Property Agent on original listing

WhatsApp Image 2019-04-30 at 18.47.24

AFTER: Right after the terrazzo polishing

George did a lot of research on terrazzo polishing and sealants. Our friends living in Little India had told us a cautionary tale about the importance of SEALING YOUR TERRAZZO especially the new types of terrazzo, which was causing them no end of grief after they discovered how porous and greedily absorbent their terrazzo was, sucking up all the wine and coffee spilt on it, that they were always at attention with their baking soda and cleaning agents and cloths to absorb any stains that they noticed.

But then.... we got talked out of using sealant because of the cost. The sealant was going to cost more and we have the old sort of terrazzo that is super hardy. Dingparents also told us that if we really needed in the future it would be cheaper to simply repolish the whole lot!


One thing we didn't really personally monitor and which was subsequently not done was the polishing of the skirting board which is also terrazzo. As a result, none of the skirting was polished whereas all of the actual floor was polished brightly. The difference is stark in many spots.


You would imagine that it would be obvious that polishing terrazzo should obviously include the skirting board area. But no, this is one area that the workmen might cut corners on if you aren't present to insist on it. And we didn't have time to rectify it because the work schedule simply had to move on!!!

Lesson learnt: Either get a better project manager to monitor the terrazzo polishing and check that they do the skirting board too -OR- Come down and monitor the terrazzo polishing yourself and insist that they do the skirting board for you as well

14. Electrical Distribution

We left this part to the Dingfather who drew this out. This distribution ensures that the load is distributed evenly and we won't have an unsafe dodgy electrical situation such as in our previous rental where most of the house light switches, tv, oven, stove, kettle, and a billion other powerpoints and appliances were all on the same circuit, resulting in the tv and lights going out temporarily in one room when someone else turned on a light in another room.

Electrical Distribution Plan

15. Lighting Design and Fixtures (fans, heaters, oven switch, etc)

I didn't know how to do the lighting BUT SOMEONE HAD TO DO IT so I drew up a plan mainly using a rail and spotlight system because, well, I am more familiar with how spotlights work in galleries, and I figured we could point them around as we wanted later, or even wrap them with gels later on to change the colour... and then... welp, I ACCIDENTALLY OVER-LIT THE HOUSE.


This is the diagram I produced with my planned lighting which I used to brief in the electrician. We planned for a lot of two way switches and a hella lot of 13A double plugs because we like them. I must have done something wrong because at the end of this endeavour we had a electrical bill of OVER 4000SGD WHAT AND HOW DID THAT HAPPEN???

To be honest my expectation for the electrical bill was about 2000SGD and when we asked the HIP electrician to give us a ball park figure he said about $2500 for the entire house. THE ENTIRE HOUSE. So how did our electrical bill go so out of control?

My post-mortem review would say:
- Designer (myself) was blithely unaware that modern LEDS are EXTREMELY BRIGHT so calculating wattage may not be useful
- Designer (myself) was unclear about proper way of calculating lighting required for house
- Bought too many tracks for lights and then proceeded to INSTALL THEM ALL
- Bought too many LED lights for track lighting system
- Too many 13A power points
- Too many two way light switches

On the BRIGHT SIDE - WE HAVE AN EXTREMELY BRIGHT HOUSE NOW!!! The neighbours probably think of us as the people WHO HAVE THAT INSANELY BRIGHT YELLOW HOUSE (our bright lighting complements our bright yellow living room with BRIGHT YELLOW CEILING TO BOOT! HA TAKE THAT!)





We got our lights from Aspire Lighting in Geylang. They had the simple lights we liked and they were super friendly.


We also saw this fun little light and I think its my favourite light in the entire house. We put it by the doorway, it is the FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER HAD A FANCY LIGHT.

TOP TIP: Are you using spotlights? Don't go crazy and buy more than the recommended amount "just in case". You will not use that many. In fact you might remove some for sanity's sake. Also, don't ask for multiple two-way switches for everything. You think you're making life easier for yourself but actually EACH BUTTON IS ONE MORE BUTTON YOU HAVE TO MEMORISE THE USE OF. Light switch affordances are harder to design well than you would think... even as an interaction designer I am still facepalming a few of my lighting and button decisions in this house...

16. Carpentry / Blum Hinges

Carpentry Design

I expected our contractor to design our carpentry with a bit more detail. This... we did not get. We got a less than impressive drawing with no dimensions on it. I was disappointed with this and even thought of using the diagram as an example of PERSPECTIVE FAIL to show to my Drawing students who are being taught the basics of technical drawing and perspective drawing at the moment.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 3.15.14 PM


This is the drawing that we gave to our contractor to show him what we wanted. But as we are not carpenters, we cannot come up with all the interior thicknesses and dimensions on our own, nor could we design how to incorporate things such as the gas and water pipes behind - so we thought this Sketchup model would be a useful starting point for the contractor/carpenter to work with.

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 4.34.48 PM Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 4.34.48 PM


These were the slightly underwhelming drawings I got back from the contractor. Later, despite asking for more drawings the best I got was this drawing plus some dimensions added to it after we had a long discussion on the dimensions and placements. By which time I was very worried we would miss the timeline for completion before our critical moving date.



This is the minimum standard that I had been expecting for a kitchen carpentry design - this is an example that the Dingparents showed me after our reno was nearly completed - the diagram made by their contractor for their own flat. I had seen this before and frankly although I don't need a full render, I expected at least a digitally drawn, accurate diagram with dimensions.

Clearance for appliances


Attention to detail was lacking in many spots of the kitchen but one critical error was that it appeared that there wasn't a clearance designed for the top of our fridge. We had bought our fridge way in advance and it was quite a tall unit. I didn't think that I had to explicitly say that a clearance had to be added in for our fridge but there just wasn't any clearance and it was only with the help of a muscular cleaner in the house that the fridge was successfully wedged into its hole with probably just about 1mm to spare on the top (gulp). AAHHHHHHHHH!!!!


Also, on an aside, who goes and designs such an elaborate torture for cables like this???.... Here is our tortured fridge cable and behold in this picture you can also see the lack of clearance between fridge and top. We have a lot of excess clearance on sides and back to compensate (where I think the actual cooling elements are) so I like to think our fridge is not any worse off from this unfortunate fitting.

Edge Band


For those who don't know what is the edge band and its in your quote, this is the edge band made of ABS. It is a 1mm strip of plastic ABS used to create a trimming for the carpentry finish. Look I'm trying to find some learning points so I can console myself that this was still a great learning process for us all despite all the disaster.

Cabinet Laminate


I already mentioned the sad story of the WRONG LAMINATE in my previous entry, but the TLDR; summary of it here is that our contractor somehow mixed up the colour of the laminate we wanted despite it being named and typed out in all the docs and messages correctly - I thought it had a blue film over it thus making it green so I didn't raise a warning flag until it was basically too late and so at the end we discussed it and he waived the extra charge that would have been charged for the premium laminate material. ITS OKAY WE CAN LIVE WITH A PISTACHIO GREEN KITCHEN. It is starting to grow on us.

Cabinet Inner PVC Foil

20190427_151043 20190427_150339

The inside of your cabinets are lined with a pvc coating, you get to choose from a few inoffensive inner colours like these. We chose grey.



We chose an inoffensive sort of white quartz material for the worktop (see picture below). I like how the light scatters on top of it. You also get to choose different profiles (if you are feeling "extra"), but we stuck with just the normal flat one. Remember that the worktop has to be cut and fabricated off site, so if you need any holes cut THEY MUST BE DONE IN ADVANCE, otherwise, get ready for that sinking feeling of impending worksite disaster....


By sinking feeling I am also making reference to THE SINK INCIDENT - wherein our silgranite sink (which was EXPLICITLY DESIGNED TO BE AN OVERMOUNT sink was installed wrongly as an UNDERMOUNT sink to the worktop. Nope we weren't happy about this but figured that it would damage our sink to have them uninstall it and remount as OVERMOUNT after they bungled it. Infuriatingly, the installation booklet as well as its widgets were still STUCK TO THE SINK UNOPENED when we found it had been wrongly installed.

In the end the contractor said he could give a warranty for the sink installation as UNDERMOUNT so we left it as that, although to be honest we always intended this sink to be overmount. If we had known it would be undermount then we might have chosen another sink without such a distinct material (now the material is hidden inside the sink), but I really do like this silgranite sink material. Its like our floor - kinda grainy and rough to the touch yet oddly smooth. It is not slippy when wet and it also dries quick.



If I did this all over again, I would explicitly ask the contractor "PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS INCLUDED BY DEFAULT IN OUR AGREEMENT, WE'LL PROBABLY HAVE THAT" instead of having them say "oh go choose anything you want from the blum website online". Firstly, it was very stressful and confusing having to acquaint ourselves with the different types of blum hinges. Why can't I just ask for "the blum hinges that close slowly on their own" and leave the rest up to my contractor to do it? Why do I have to spend time going down to the blum showroom and study all the blum hinges myself? In addition to that, to be given an additional bill for choosing weird add-ons... How am i supposed to be the hinge specialist now? Man I don't want to have to get into hinges again....



Things I learnt were that for most of the normal casement doors you just need:
107 degree Hinge - CLIP top BLUMOTION - 75B1550 Silver - $4.25/pc
Mounting Plate with 0mm spacing - 175H3100 - Straight with height adjustment - $0.82/pc

This is not one of those $2 hinges you get at the corner store, this is the slow-closing action hinge with a separate mounting plate that allows you to make height adjustments to your door to align everything up. Most hinges don't let you do that as they are fixed plates (if you misalign them they are misaligned and its hard to fine-tune things). Yes that's why your hinge is so expensive. ARGHHHHHH.


As for the food larder we chose TBX i5 drawers (above). These are of fixed sizes and go inside your large cupboard to give it structure. Some people say you don't need a drawer, but we kinda liked it. We also asked them why people choose between 30 and 65kg load capacities and decided we did not need the 65 kg load capacity. That would be like having a DEBBIE sitting inside the drawer which is not happening anyway.


We also tried out a lot of dish drainer mechanisms... but this was included.


17. Door and Door Frame Installation

Doors was another thing that we decided to do on our own. The dingmother recommended we try the shops along Eunos Avenue 4 and 5, which included Siong Doors, Yontat Doors, and PD Doors. The first two do a lot of those veneer doors which are extremely reasonably priced (Within the $200 range each). The only issue I see with these notably hollow doors (not solid) is that they sometimes slip open with the wind because they are very light. PD Doors does a unique sort of Japanese folding door that we might consider but haven't found it so critical to install just yet.


Yontat Doors

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Example of Yontat's door selections and door knobs. I chose one that was more ergonomic (although less aesthetically pleasing). A kind of handle you could just slam down with a finger to open.


PD Doors


These framed doors can slide open and also fold up.

18. Window Installation


We chose a casement instead of sliding windows because we wanted it to be really soundproof. George also initially wanted double glazing but we were talked out of it because of cost. It is not truly soundproof in there either, but a lot of the sound is indeed insulated.



For the only sliding windows in the house, we had them in the living area. For sliding windows and grills they can be 2 track or 3 track. Note that the 3 track is obviously more costly so if you were quoted a 3 track price check that you haven't received a 2 track instead (which happened to us)

19. Blinds Installation




We got Korean combi blinds and it was 940 for all 3 windows including installation thanks to Blinds Guru who were super fast in doing the measurement on the day we went to their showroom and installation was really dust-free thanks to their awesome drilling-hoover-attachment.

Alright I've got De Quervain's tenosynovitis in both hands and have to wear hand guards now so I AM ENDING THIS POST ABRUPTLY TO GO AND REST NOW. More of the juice in Part 4.....

Monday, 10 June 2019

RENOVATION FOR THE D'OUTH HOUSE: Part 2 - Budgeting, Appointing Renovation Contractor, House Design Layout, Painting Scheme, Laminate and Tiling Selection

Table of Contents:
  1. Flat Viewings
  2. Online Research
  3. HDB Resale Flat Purchase Process
  4. HIP Options
  5. HIP Works & Bathroom Fixtures
  6. Renovation Budgeting
  7. Appointing Renovation Contractor
  8. House Design Layout
  9. Painting Scheme
  10. Laminate and Tiling Selection
  11. Hacking Works
  12. Aircon Installation
  13. Electrical Distribution
  14. Lighting Design and fixtures (fans, heaters, oven switch, etc)
  15. Carpentry / Blum Hinges
  16. Door and Door Frame Installation
  17. Windows Installation
  18. Blinds Installation
  19. Non-built-in Furniture (Ikea, Hipvan, FortyTwo, Qoo10, etc)
  20. Household appliances (Fridge, Washing Machine, Dishwasher, etc)
  21. Plumbing (Sinks, Washing Machine, Dishwasher, etc)
  22. Moving Day
  23. MORE TO COME...

6. Renovation Budgeting



When we first saw the online listing for the flat, I admit that it crossed our minds that it might have been on fire once. Alarmingly, when we did a cursory google search of fires in the area, there HAD been a fatal fire incident in the block in the recent past, befitting of the sales timeline of the flat. At this point, most normal people might run away from such a flat. BUT WE ARE NO MERE MORTALS. Also we were on a budget. How were we ever going to find an amazingly priced flat in the Central region? Possibly by going against the trend by looking for weird flats that might not attract the typical Singaporean buyer. (On the practical end, the majority of buyers in Singapore are likely to be Chinese just based on demographics, so we just had to think of what the typical Chinese buyer might avoid) So we persevered in digging up more on the story, and found that it was definitely a different flat that had been on fire.

ST (19 April 2017): Lighted joss sticks and candles may have sparked fire which killed elderly hoarder

ST (20 April 2017): Fatal fire in flat: Clutter likely hindered woman's escape

We were sorry to read about the Rowell tragedy, but after investigating further: GOOD NEWS EVERYONE, THIS FLAT HAS NEVER BEEN ON FIRE BEFORE! And that totally black Electrical DB box that we thought might been burnt?? It was outdated but actually fine on the inside; it was just that someone had painted it completely black. In any case the flat was not one of those bright cheery viewings poised to sell. It hadn't been maintained in a very long time. The things it had stacked against it were:

  • Located in Little India - which is not typically known a popular area for 'typical Chinese buyers' - and where the ethnic quota system is flipped (Indian quota maxed out as opposed to the usual case of Chinese quota maxed out) - flipped in our favour though, so YAY!
  • Having been on the market for more than 6 mths - garnering very high number of views on all the property listing websites, with signs that it may have been priced at 420 initially but that the price had been lowered - which raised the question of why it hadn't sold for so long? why hadn't someone else seen the value in this humble little flat?
  • Extremely "original condition" - dirt or joss stick/religious paraphernalia smoke marks everywhere, no fixtures, no fittings, might not have been renovated ever since the 80s, kitchen would need to be hacked and completely done from scratch - could we handle or afford doing a very extensive renovation project?

Since it was in a very "original condition", we knew it would require a lot of renovation works. The next step was to try to intelligently guess the cost of the renovation so we could set a reasonable budget of sorts - by thinking of what were the absolute essentials, like having a BED to sleep on, having the electricals done, getting plumbing done, putting in air conditioning, having a kitchen sink, etc. With the caveat that I have never done a house renovation project before, this was the budget I (naively?) drew up to estimate the cost/budget on my side. All the items in Green were considered necessary, the ones in yellow could be substituted by cheaper off-the-shelf alternatives.

Estimated 3 Room HDB Resale Renovation Cost
Living Room
TV - Already have one!0-
Speakers and sound system - already have one!0-
TV Console Shelving500Estimated based on hipvan
Coffee Table400Estimated based on Scanteak
Sofa1000Estimated based on Scanteak
Ceiling Fans300Estimated based on Lazada
Dining Set1500Estimated based on Scanteak
Aircon - System 32500Estimated based on Daikin
Kingsize Mattress and Bedframe with Storage (englander)2000Estimated based on Englander
Wardrobe Carpentry4000GUESS-TIMATED
Bedside tables x 2300Estimated based on ikea
Bedside lamps x 2300Estimated based on ikea
Second Room
Ceiling Fan x 2 rooms600Estimated based on Lazada
Study Desks x2800Estimated based on hipvan
Bookshelving Carpentry1000GUESS-TIMATED
Good office chairs x2800Estimated based on Courts
Fridge1000Estimated based on Lazada
Washing Machine800Estimated based on Lazada
Oven1000Estimated based on Lazada
Sink1000Estimated based on hoe kee
Kitchen Cabinet Carpentry15000Estimated based on dingparents
Painting900Estimated based on moneysmartblog
Professional Cleaning and Polishing Everything800Estimated based on moneysmartblog
Electricals (Moderate)2000Estimated based on moneysmartblog
Hacking (Light/moderate)500Estimated based on moneysmartblog

When I cross-checked the number with the very experienced dingparents, they had independently produced a similar calculation (although it was with different line items!!!). Anyway in my case, I thought that this was a reasonable number based on the cash savings I had available after paying the deposit for the house, and with George contributing an equal share this was definitely a number we could afford without overstretching ourselves or emptying out the bank (still able to put aside a reasonable amount of savings for emergencies).

Reality: So.... did we keep to this specific budget in the end? No. Not really if you really go and count all the extra bits we had to get outside of the main contractor works. Insert facepalm. Like any good episode of GRAND DESIGNS (ahem) we ended up exceeding our initial cost and time estimate. We were total noobs at this. But I'll do a postmortem of this later.

7. Appointing a Renovation Contractor

The next major challenge was that we needed to appoint a renovation contractor who could help us with project management and most importantly, the complicated bits in the kitchen - hacking, carpentry, water points, gas, etc. You'll always want to speak to several contractors before deciding on one - as it will be useful to see several versions of the itemised quotation, and to ask all the questions you want about each item they have quoted to understand what they refer to. On a practical note though, it can take a long time to speak to one contractor properly and communicate all your needs accurately, so its not really feasible to speak to every contractor that looks interesting out there - you have to make a shortlist first. We did our research (and the dingparents assisted us greatly with this too) and spoke to 4 contractors in total.


Example of Itemised Quotations from different contractors

The whole point of engaging a contractor/ID is for their design advice/input. We also didn't want a "yes-man" who would tell us that anything and everything we wanted could be magically built, because we knew that HDB flats have a lot more rules and regulations than private flats. We needed an experienced contractor who could do the project management and also point out where our planned design might encounter issues. Both me and George were working full time as well plus I had a lot of medical appointments and checkups getting in the way of being at the house - which was why we had wanted to hire an ID/contractor to project manage in the first place.

Our Timeline & Reality:
25 Feb 2019 - First meeting with Contractor
6 March 2019 - Contractor visits flat with us
8 March 2019 - Contractor drafted out first draft of agreement
13 March 2019 - Meeting to discuss first draft of agreement
18 March 2019 - Meeting to discuss second draft of agreement
23 March 2019 - Appointed Contractor and signed agreement

It took us 1 month to engage a contractor - from the start of first ever conversation to the signing of contract. Unfortunately, in the middle of renovation works, our appointed ID/contractor went MIA from time to time (uncontactable!!!) and wasn't on site to project manage things at some critical junctions which made it very difficult as subcontractors in the house would ask us what they should do. Confusion ensued and works were delayed as a result because corrections had to be made, and we even had to move to my parents' house temporarily for a few weeks whilst the works were sorted out between our rental and our new flat. If I could do this again, I would have wished for a better project manager...

8. House Design Layout

BUY THE FLOOR PLAN: So you've decided you want to do your own Interior Design. Or part of the way of it anyway. The first step is to purchase your HDB floor plan from HDB - For Existing Flats - which costs $5 so you have this handy little PDF file you can edit in Illustrator. In our case the seller's estate agent actually helpfully gave us a copy of this so we didn't have to buy ours. Anyway, in terms of the timeline, we could have started the process of designing everything from the moment we received the key. Except that we were slowpokes.

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RE-MEASURE YOUR HOUSE: Even with the floor plan, you'll notice that it is nothing like the actual flat you have. So you have to go and measure everything on your own again. This is really crucial. For me, what was useful was this diagram that the dingparents had made. They might not be designers but I'm impressed with all of their meticulous drawings! I'm teaching the Drawing and Illustration module at the moment and I almost want to show the dingparents sketches to the class as an example of how learning technical drawing can still be useful later in life and beyond design school.

DRAW UP A DRAFT LAYOUT: This is where the design phase went a little bit mad, as George preferred to work straight on something that he could view in 3D and VR, whereas my first impulse was to lay out everything in 2D on Illustrator, which I am very fast on.

08-84@200640 - Draft Layout v1 - 27 Feb 2019 - For Contractor

Draft Layout - 27 Feb 2019 (by DBBD)

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Draft 2D of Kitchen - 9 March 2019 (by DBBD)

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Draft 3D Layout of House - 13 March 2019 (by George)

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Draft 3D of Kitchen - 13 March 2019 (by George)

Reality: We got stuck on this for a very long time because we were both working full-time during this time period (I had several exhibitions, having to give talks and speak on panels, plus my full-time teaching job). I found it difficult and overwhelming to start due to a difference in working styles - George preferred working spatially and moving the blocks around in 3D and viewing it with the Vive in VR - but I personally needed to work first from a 2D plan before progressing onto a 3D layout. Also if I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, it would be that there is no need to feel like you have to go to the contractor with a perfect finished design because the design is always changing...

8. Painting Scheme


We went down to some hardware store near our flat with a big NIPPON PAINT on its signage and copped a feel of their Nippon swatch. After standing there for a VERY LONG TIME (almost as if we were contemplating stealing their giant paint swatch), the man just dug up a slim paint brochure with ALL the colours in it and gave it to us so we could go home and decide on colours at home with the booklet.

There are actually a few types of Nippon Paint available - here in order of price:

- Nippon Paint Matex White - the cheapest generic white - commonly used as the base coat and for ceiling
- Nippon Paint Vinilex 5000 - the standard paint commonly used on walls
- Nippon Paint Easy Wash - the washable paint we specifically requested for


Painting Scheme for our flat

Reality: We noted however that during the painting process that the house painters did not use the Easy Wash paint we specifically requested for and instead had used the Vinilex versions of the colours we had chosen!! - so we did ask our contractor to reduce our invoice because Vinilex is cheaper than Easy Wash. Eg: 1 litre of White Vinilex is $20 sgd whereas 1 litre of White Easy Wash is $25 sgd.


Another thing to note is that things like pipes and door frames will require the shiny Enamel paint. For this we used the Nippon Aqua Bodelac, a water-based acrylic gloss enamel paint, which as you can see from the sample above is a shiny glossy paint unlike our wall/ceiling paints.

9. Laminate and Tiling Selection

Colour Core Laminates for Carpentry

Firstly very early on we chose a laminate colour so we could choose the tiling and other paint colours. This was in a big book of laminates.


There are many natural/wood laminates with textures such as these. We didn't like these as they were quite artificial.


The "default" solid colour laminate was something that had a black core like this. We didn't like this as much either.


We preferred the COLOR CORE range which was more expensive (an add-on) but had the colours we liked, in particular, BABY LEMONADE.


I don't really know how I could have made our laminate colour choice more obvious... because as the story goes, our contractor GOT THE LAMINATE COLOUR WRONG DESPITE THE ABOVE PHOTO BEING SENT OVER (and the code number being written out) in a text message, annotated on whatsapp, in the google docs, literally everywhere. I must have said BABY LEMONADE all the time as well, which as its name suggests, is a light lemon colour. When it went up, I saw a photo of the laminate, and I thought there had been a blue protective film over the laminate hence it being green from afar, since a lot of things in our house also had a thin blue film over it, such as the windows, the HIP gate and the Ikea furnishings, etc etc). However, it eventually became clear that there was no blue film, and that green was the final colour in the end.

We could have gone all Lemongrab at this point.... "UNACCEPTABLE CONDITION!!!!!!!"

As a result the contractor eventually waived the add-on fee as recompense for this extreme oversight. (They're lucky that we can live with Pistachio Green as a major colour in our brightly coloured haus, otherwise we would have had to reject it and redo it all!)

Kitchen Wall and Ceiling Tiles

A Kitchen for Asian Food in Hot Climate?: Singaporean kitchens are partially wet spaces which are usually fully tiled, unlike the kitchens in London/Europe which are generally regarded as mostly dry spaces with lots of wood and dry fixtures. There's usually at least one gully hole (small gutter for surface water to drain) in the kitchen floor (as well as the toilets), so you could theoretically sploooooge water all over your kitchen (and toilets) with wild abandon because it will drain off, and I was told that Kitchens are almost always fully tiled because of the type of Asian cuisine cooked in houses - which tends to be of high temperature (trying to achieve "wok hei") and generates a lot of oil or spice vapours. To be honest we don't really cook full-on Asian wok style here in our household (we're more.... fusion? experimental?) but we still decided to tile our kitchen fully to suit the local climate and custom.

Fully Tile or Partially Tile?: You can fully tile the walls in your kitchen, or to just tile the visible areas. At first we wanted to do the latter and not tile the area behind the carpentry (because no one will see it). However, in the interest of changing designs along the way, if one selectively tiled the kitchen, this might result in MISSING TILEWORK later on if you decide to change the location of the carpentry or choose to renovate several years down the line. So we decided to fully tile in the end. It didn't cost all that much more.

Size of Tile?: Smaller tiles might mean more grouting lines in the future which might be difficult to clean. Also... according to recent ST and BT articles, larger tiles were equated with a more "condo-like finishing", as well as "construction productivity and efficiency".

Dimensions of our chosen tiles were:
Wall Tiles: 60cm x 30cm (laid horizontally)
Floor Tiles: 30cm x 30cm

Backsplash?: The purpose of the backsplash is functional. In European kitchens I noticed this is the only area that is tiled in order to protect the wall behind sinks and stove from water and oil splashing.

Glass Backsplash?: We contemplated doing a Kitchen Backsplash in tempered glass but then we looked at the cost. Also we would need to predetermine all the placements of the holes to be cut for power outlets once it has been set against the wall, so this would require a lot of advance foresight and planning which we admittedly tend to lack haha. So... no special backsplash! Just the same old good white wall tiles behind the stove area! If you do feel the need though, you can change the tiles to a different one in the "backsplash" area for design purposes, but in any case our entire kitchen is tiled from floor to ceiling.

There are many places to get tiles in Singapore but our contractor uses Soon Bee Huat on Changi Road. We went down to the big tiles showroom at Soon Bee Huat with one purpose, and that was to ask them for a mustard yellow wall tile. Unfortunately, you will find that they are much more normal and traditional than we expected with their selection range. When asked if they had anything yellow, they pointed us to something brown. They did not have ANYTHING close to yellow besides these road crossing tiles, and some pasty yellow-brown floor tiles (not suitable for wall).


So... er.... who wants some tactile road crossing tiles in their kitchen?


These yellows and browns are only for floors and not really our thing either. Also far too shiny. We don't like shiny.


Eventually we decided on big white slab tiles which seemed a sensible and modest choice, along with dark grey-brown tiles for the floor. The big tiles could be grouted with white which would make them sort of fade away into the background. We also brought down the laminate book to compare the tiles with our chosen laminate colour.


We asked them to cut two samples for the floor tiles so we could take it home and step on them for a while to see how we felt about them. In our very Scientific Tile Test, we also poured old coffee on the tile samples and smeared belachan chilli on them to see which was easier to clean after the stain had dried (plz excuse our very grotty kitchen sink).


A clear winner for our tile was found!

Our decision: When in doubt just go with neutral colours like completely white wall tiles and dark floor tiles. I don't regret this at all, you can still put in weird colour accents through appliances and fixtures and other things you fill your kitchen with! We were very happy with the all-white wall tile which from a distance looks like it could all be a perfectly contiguous white painted wall. For the floor tile we preferred a tile with the "sandy" feel (as opposed to a shiny waxy feel) and we found that it seemed to clean more easily. The floor tile with a waxy/shiny feel got quite slippery when wet and we felt that oil also clings more to those kinds of tiles.

Coming up next in Part 3: the commencement of works in the house with hacking, aircon, electrical, lighting, carpentry, hinges, doors, windows, and blinds. Phew!