I've written a few posts on budgeting for a renovation, however after recently writing out a long email to a friend after she asked for advice on what was worth spending or saving money on in her upcoming renovation project I thought it might be a good idea to put it in a blog post and it's ended up being so long that I'm splitting it into two, and will do part 2 on Where to Spend separately. 

Like anything in life renovating is a bit of a tightrope walk where you're trying to work out how to give maximum impact for the money you have to spend. And just as you can mix high and low cost fashion in an outfit and still give the overall impression it's expensive, so too you can do this in a renovation or new build with the materials you choose, and the design elements you decide are worth spending money on.

Most people are blown away by the cost of the joinery (kitchen/ laundry/ wardrobe cupboards)  when they receive a builders quote. It's one area that can quickly add an enormous amount of cost to a house renovation, and is therefore a great starting point to save a lot of money by looking at using cheap finishes like laminate. Your Architect/ kitchen designer may be really surprised if you ask for it, and may well try to talk you out of it (I've had many friends that have had this experience), but it's a favourite finish of mine and I've used it all through our house. It gets a bad rap now, as everyone likes 2 pac (real estate agents in particular), but frankly no one can tell the difference when they walk through your house in a couple of minutes, and it's much more durable so far better with families as it will withstand bumps and knocks. It also looks good if you pick wisely (in the cheaper ranges such as Laminex I like the solid colours rather than faux timber grains), and is so much cheaper than 2pac, and a lot nicer than vinyl wrap. I wrote a long post about the pros and cons of kitchen finishes here

My dressing room with Laminex Stipple Seal

I once used laminate in a very high end house that I did in Melbourne, and we had the Poliform rep (high end Italian Kitchen/ Furniture company) come through the house to discuss some furniture and walk in wardrobes, and she pointed at the kitchen and referred to it as 2pac… so even she couldn't tell. In my house I've used it for our walk in wardrobe in a dark colour (Stipple Seal), and I use Parchment a lot, which is a good white and is in our Laundry. I'd also suggest using a laminate bench top in the laundry area. The difference in cost between stone and laminate in our laundry was $1200 for a reasonably small stretch of bench, so things like that add up quickly. Use stone on the kitchen bench tops though if you can afford it as it's more durable (you can't set hot things directly onto a laminate bench top) and is better for resale if you end up selling down the track.  

 my laundry - laminate cupboards and bench top in Laminex Parchment with a mirrored splash back (mirror cost the same as doing standard tile, but was a much better choice for bouncing light and adding interest)

You can also save a lot of money in kitchen handles, door knobs etc by ordering direct from the US. Our kitchen handles were $12 US each, and aside from the more limited selection in Australia, comparable handles here sell for around the $70/ handle mark locally. So that was a massive saving (and there was no compromise on quality). If you look at how many handles you have in a kitchen/ laundry/ bathroom/ wardrobe you'll be ordering in the region of around 50 plus, so that adds up quickly. 

cheap brass handles in my kitchen

You can get carried away with appliances in the kitchen and easily blow your budget - go mid range in whatever brand you choose. The top of the range tend to just have more features (like auto cooking selections where you choose that you're cooking a lamb roast and it works it out for you). They don't necessarily give you better temperature control or change the taste of the food magically. But they can end up being a few thousand per item more depending on the brand you're looking at. 

La Cornu range via

Regarding appliances in general, really think hard about what you'll use when cooking and be realistic about how much you life will change with a new kitchen. I have had clients that have had a fantasy in their head of entertaining large family gatherings regularly, and then have not actually had anyone over after completing their home. The purchases for their new kitchen involved multiple ovens/ steam ovens/ combination microwave ovens etc. which all sit idle. If you don't enjoy cooking and don't entertain much then a new steam oven will not prompt you to start doing more of it. It is also my experience that people that have bought steam ovens do not use them, with many regretting their (very expensive) purchase. If you're someone that steams food all the time, then this is a great option for you. If you don't do a lot of steaming (the majority of people), you'll likely not start just because you bought it.  The combi microwave/ ovens you can get also fall into this category. Combi ovens are around $3,000, which is a lot for a very small oven, or a microwave. You'd get more use from a second full sized oven or a double wall oven (which is what I got as it saved space) and which is actually cheaper than buying a combo oven. Built in coffee machines are also incredibly expensive for the quality of coffee they deliver. We had one in our house in Melbourne, as I felt it was a good sales tactic for when we went to sell the house - and it was as the new buyer wanted it written in the contract that the built in coffee machine went with the house. But if you're not planning on moving, then a bench top coffee machine will likely give you better coffee for a fraction of the price. Kitchens are a really easy place to blow through a lot of money - as many home renovation tv shows can attest where people put in kitchens that cost $70,000-$100,000 and which would not add on that sort of money to the sale price if the 
house were to be sold.

Don't go overboard with home automation - it all dates so quickly it's just lost money, and you can absolutely burn through money installing it. The technology is generally completely obsolete within 10 years. We have none of it in our house, and every Architect I know won't put it in their own homes for this reason. They always have problems  - we have a friend that couldn't open their front door for a month (it had keyless entry that malfunctioned), or another house I worked on had the blinds going up and down in the entire house at 2am every night and no one could work out why (a bug in the system that had the automation people and the electrician blamed each other). Realistically you're unlikely to regularly check in on your home to turn on the lights and air-conditioning on your way home from work (and all the other fabulous things they say you can do), so if you're looking at prioritising expenditure, cut it out of the budget. It's great when it works, and a nightmare when it doesn't.

my kitchen with linoleum flooring

Flooring was one area we saved a lot of money in our renovation. I wrote about it here. If you look at finishes that have become popularised due to Architects using them in the renovation of their own home, you'll often find they use commercial materials in a domestic setting to save money, which is what I did with our flooring in the extension. This was how polished concrete floors originally came into popularity, why industrial style windows/ off form concrete walls/ alucobond cladding and all manner of other materials have been used in house design. The average Architect is not well paid - Design in general does not generate huge riches (of course there are superstar Architects doing well, but your average professional does not fall into that category - it is the worst paid profession in Australia when compared to Engineers/ Accountants/ Doctors/ Lawyers/ Dentists). Architects and designers have great houses because they have to get creative with stretching their budget and therefore investigate using materials and building techniques that are not 'normal' domestically. If you pick one thing like that for your house and use it to cut costs, it doesn't give an overall feel of budget to your renovation. What does give a budget feel to a house is if you try to use a material that imitates an expensive finish - so a stone look-alike rather than real stone, or laminate flooring rather than real timber boards. They never quite look like the real thing - it is far better to use a different finish entirely to cut your cost, rather than trying to imitate the more expensive finish, and this is what most Designers will do. Think of it a little like seeing someone with a designer bag over their shoulder that you see from a distance - it might look great, but as you get closer to them you'll notice it isn't leather and looks like vinyl, the seams aren't well sewn, it doesn't sit the same over the arm of the wearer, and that it's clearly a cheap fake and then it becomes a distraction from the rest of their outfit which might otherwise be perfectly nice.

 concrete floors via

So coming up later in the week, I'll add in Part 2 - Where to Spend. This is naturally not an exhaustive list... it's a pretty broad topic, so I'm really just scratching the surface and of course this is all coloured with my personal viewpoint. But hopefully it will give those of you planning building works some things to think about. Ultimately if you are keen on a 2pac finish for your kitchen having considered all options, or really think you'll use a steam oven, then go ahead and put it in - it's never a one size fits all approach to design, which is why a good Architect takes so many factors into consideration when planning the design of a house for their client.


  1. Great post, Heidi! I'm glad to report that we pretty much followed these guidelines in our (still unfinished) renovation. Our architect was fab, and encouraged us to use laminate in the kitchen, concrete floors throughout etc. we bought our handles in Indonesia for $1 each! Similar ones in a local supplier were over $50 each!!.
    I will get round to doing a proper post on my poor neglected blog one day about our s l o w renovation, but in the meantime, looking forward to the second instalment.... We spent up on lighting and windows, so hope those will be good investments!

    1. Your Architect sounds like he's on the same wavelength as me Ruth! I can't wait to see the photos of the renovation… but am so sorry it's still not over! I know how frustrating that is… hang in there!! x

  2. So interesting! Are the. Concrete floors heated? Would never be an option here, not really, as we have cold weather 8 months of the year. I am bookmarking this for the future!

    1. Not all the time in Australia - depends on where you're living… we have a very vast geographical region with very different climate from North to South and East to West. In Adelaide it's becoming more popular, and in places like Melbourne it's very popular but these are the parts of the country that really need heating in Winter. We have in slab heating in the extension, which I love. I think they do it in very cold climates like yours Wendy, but they have to put a lot of insulation below the slab before it's all poured so that the heat isn't lost into the surrounding ground.

  3. Greatpost Heidi! We did laminate and quartz instead of stone. Cut tiles budget by a third by just doing stripes and an expensive ine. When in doubt white subway i reckon. U have such a wonderful home, true testament to yr skills and taste

    1. White subway can save you a tonne, and is probably why it's become quite fashionable. I love all the glimpses you've given of your home Jody - and especially your terrace area!

  4. Heidi, wish you'd been blogging when we had our kitchen, bathrooms and laundry and all gutted and rebuilt (eg I got a combi oven - though I do use it as a microwave or sometimes even as an oven when we have guests. Was tempted by a steam oven (we do steam veggies) but luckily there wasn't room. Was also tempted by a built-in coffee maker, but again no room. Had no idea they were so disappointing as they certainly were eye-wateringly expensive, especially the Miele one. Guess we were lucky there that space ruled it out.
    Would probably have saved lots of money. Though at the time I was so set on corian for bench tops I probably wouldn't have changed my mind. Even now don't regret it, despite the awful cost, as it's so easy to clean and very hard wearing. The only problem is you can't put anything really hot, eg straight off the stove on it. Another good feature is if you do damage it through heat or someone decides to carve up food straight on the bench and it gets a bit scratched, the corian people will come to your house and buff it back - so far luckily haven't needed this. It's also a bit more forgiving of heavy handed people (ie husbands) dumping crystal glasses or fine china down hard after they've "helped" by wiping up the things that can't go in dishwasher. Think fragile things set down too hard might be more likely to crack on stone.
    That said, I adore your kitchen - the colours, splashbacks and the light fitting too. So gorgeous!. Pammie xxx

    1. I like Corian a lot! We used to use it a lot in the old work I did, and you're right it's a little softer on the glassware - I've lost a few things accidentally smashing them against the side of the bench top when trying to wash them in the sink. I still love the kitchen too - which is a good thing as I spend so much time in there!!

    2. Another good feature of corian is the coving. Along the sink wall the corian has been coved and goes up the wall about 2-3 inches (sorry don't think metrically late at night). This ways the water can't get into cracks around the sink and cause mildew or other probs. Think if I was doing it all over again I'd still go corian despite the cost. It feels lovely to the touch too, so soft and silky smooth. PS I'm not a shareholder in corian or an agent for them. Pammie

  5. Great post. Thank you for the tips. The main other thing I've found with renovating is planning for future "saving" with the choices you make. You're linoleum will no doubt be cheaper to repair/maintain than a tile that gets cracked or a wood floor that needs refinishing from furniture movements after a few years just like with benchtop choices.

    I also notice with the more elaborate appliances they need extra installation requirements like plumbing in or servicing more regularly for "callibration" or as you say home automation men coming back constantly for curtains.

    Can I ask with your laminate wardrobe/laundry? Is this suitable for exposed shelving like a library or is two pac/hand painted better for something on display where there would be all the edging strips. Currently have multiple cabinet makers talking me into laminate shelves and not offering plain mdf.

    Thanks, Helen

    1. You're quite right on that point Helen - thinking about future maintenance/ repair or replacement is a good thing to consider, as well as extra installation costs like putting in a plumbed in fridge.
      You could do laminate for exposed shelving if it were a really modern, clean lined look you're after - it would look like my laundry bench top in side profile… but I generally do plain MDF and then paint on site after installation. If they'll only do melamine for the shelving (which is generally used for internal kitchen carcasses rather than as a finished outer door) then you can paint over it by etching it first with an appropriate primer. I had to do that on some of the Library shelving as he used a mix of plain MDF and melamine, which was a bit of a pain. But that's really weird they won't do plain MDF?

  6. I don't know what 2pac is so I googled it.
    You have a dead american gangsta rapper on your cupboards?

    (Will use your advice when we renovate)
    Cilla :D

    1. Haha! What a terrible rapper name! It could be that this type of finish is only called this in Australia? It's a factory sprayed on and baked paint finish which gives a very perfect, perfectly smooth paint finish. Very, very common now in Interiors.

  7. Heidi you write so well on design, this is such a treat for us! Having just finished renovating our entire house I found this very interesting. Of course we went for expensive on many finishes, American white oak flooring custom stained throughout, wooden millwork as opposed to mdf, custom built wooden panels (which were then painted) on our window seat addition, all due to our house's age... it was a restoration project really so modern finishes wouldn't have suited.
    Stunning the amount of money that can be spent on kitchen appliances. We bought the "entry level" LaCornue which is our "end level" as we like to joke, but one thing I hadn't accounted for was the cost of the matching range. The amount I had budgeted for a built-in coffee maker went to paying for the LaCornue range and just as well, I ended up buying a new Moccamaster drip coffee maker (made in Norway I believe?) which are inexpensive but make great coffee, and truly doesn't take up a terrible lot of room on the counter.
    I had to look up 2pac as well thought I'm still not clear on what it is exactly (besides the famous rapper of course), is it the sprayed on paint finish applied to mdf or wood for kitchen cabinets?

    1. Oh I meant matching range hood, it cost the fortune so there went the built-in Miele but maybe it was just as well, very very good to have a range hood, it's like a revelation.

    2. Hi Dani, yes, 2pac is a factory sprayed on and baked enamel paint finish over a wood or mdf base. Not sure what it's called (or even if it's used commonly) elsewhere?
      You definitely did the right thing to use wooden rather than mdf millwork - we used mdf in our old house due to cost, and never again. This house we've done the solid wood - the MDF chips off in chunks quite easily and is not nearly so durable. Also, all the things you did would have added value - it's a bit like I was saying about not using a product that imitates something else. In an old house using something to mimic old finishes generally doesn't work as it' s side by side with the real deal. Your stove is so beautiful, and I dream of one day having a La Cornue… perfect for a big busy family and lots of cooking. xx

  8. Interesting post I'll refer back to if I ever buy and do a reno. Wasn't 2Pac gunned down in a drive by...?

    1. So I was informed by Cilla upthread! I'm afraid I'm not up with Rappers names, so was unaware this would cause confusion!?!

  9. My son had a very small budget of under $20,000 to renovate his house he started out with ideas of a bespoke kitchen with a hand painted finish (probably hand painted by his mother Ha!!) Reality set in he has an Ikea kitchen. Which his dad and I have assembled we've found it to be good quality and easy to put together for the price. The appliances he has chosen are not top of the range but in the middle. The one thing he would not compromise on was the range hood . He chose a Sirius with the motor outside as he has a combined kitchen dining and lounge now we've knocked out the dividing walls The reasoning behind this is he didn't want the noise or cooking smells. This has cost around $1500 I'm hoping it lives up to expectation. I wouldn't have been keen to have such a big open area especially as you open the front door and it's all on display. But his friends love the open space and it seems that's what they're after. I wonder once they live in these spaces whether they'll start to want a few more walls.

  10. Very sage advise Heidi!
    If only you had a business here in Blighty!

    Fantastic ceiling in the first picture.
    It reminds me of a cross between malachite and a wasps nest.

  11. Once again Heidi, all excellent points you share with your loyal readers, thank you. I agree with you entirely when you write about imitating expensive finishes - JUST DON'T DO IT!! It never looks right, just like a fake high-end designer bag.

    Also, for those with older houses, salvage yards are great places to unearth all manner of goodies from door handles to sinks and everything in between. I've had great luck with my own house and even found our bathroom pedestal sink, various lights, door hardware and even internal doors that look more in keeping with the age of the house than a repro. (all were cheaper too).

  12. So well expressed Heidi and I have forwarded this post on to my daughter who is currently planning a renovation. I agree with you regarding 2pac - we have had three huge chips at our beach house and getting them repaired is going to be really difficult. xx


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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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