How to avoid costly mistakes when building a home

Residential Interior Design, Hiring an Interior Designer

Having lived on 3 continents and in 7 countries, I am lucky to call many places ‘home’. The Caribbean, however, is by far my favourite place on earth.

There is something very unique about these small islands. There is that sensation of ‘home’ the moment I step off the plane. When I feel the sunshine on my face, the warm breeze on my skin and I’m surrounded by turquoise waters with swaying palm trees and this unique vibe of relaxed busyness that I only experience in the Caribbean, I can’t help but smile… However, building a home in paradise is anything but relaxing. If you are venturing into building a home in the Caribbean or somewhere else, then read on.

It’s hard to believe that it has been more than a year since a very excited me was heading to the British Virgin Islands to collect my first design award. I was awarded «The Most Stylish Kitchen Design Award in The Virgin Islands» for my very first project, which I was working on whilst studying for my interior design diploma.

 Caribbean Interior Design Award

My first Design Award for «The Most Stylish Kitchen in the Virgin Islands»

Speaking with the homeowner and sharing some thoughts, as well as a few laughs about the process of building a home, prompted me to write this post. First I’d like to share a brief interview I conducted with the now proud and happy homeowner:

What is it you wish someone had told you, when you embarked on this adventure of building a home?

That unless you hire a project manager (which unfortunately I did not) you effectively must become your own project manager and have the ability to have lots of time off work to manage the process as you cannot rely solely on the foreman.

What has been the most challenging part of building a home?

Getting the builders to pay attention to detail and build according to plan and not their traditional concept of a home.

What has been the most rewarding part of building a home? 

The fact that you actually get to own a home in your own design.

In hindsight, what would you do differently?

“I would highly recommend hiring a project manager, use a qualified contractor and be more demanding with the workers. Probably letting them go early if they are not building according to plan or causing me to exhaust my budget due to not working efficiently. For anyone building a home, I’d say hiring the right people is the most important part of the process.”

Building a home in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world for that matter is a big life event for most people (those lucky enough to do so), because the majority will only build one home in their lifetime. Whilst I cannot give you a magic formula, I will share some do’s and don’ts for you to consider before you embark on the adventure called ‘building a home’.

building a home in the Caribbean

Ida Crest Villa under construction, Tortola, British Virgin Islands

The first thing you should be aware of when building a home is that things will go wrong. Now this is coming from a hopeless optimist, however, my experience has shown me that no matter where in the world and no matter what type of construction, mishaps are inevitable. So my first piece of advice is, brace yourself and when things go wrong, take a deep breath, count to 10 (or maybe 100…) and know that one day you will have a funny story to share with friends… Much like when they delivered a wall-hung instead of a floor standing  toilet to the site of my BVI project. In the BVI the waste pipe goes into the floor, whilst in most European countries, the waste pipe goes into the wall. We had ordered a European brand that offers both versions, but were sent the wrong one. This error set us back several weeks. The correct toilet had to be ordered, shipped from Europe to Miami and then onwards to the BVI… As you will know, in construction there are many timelines and bathroom design is no different. Therefore, any mistake along the way has a domino effect on other things.

bathroom design in the Caribbean

Master Bathroom under construction – finally the correct toilet has arrived…

Now that I have gotten that off my chest, let’s focus on how you can minimize potential damage or even prevent it from happening with the following 8 Strategies:

I – Preparation:

You need to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally and physically. Don’t underestimate the amount of time, money and energy that will go into a building project. You will surely need a healthy dose of all of the above, but what you will need most of is patience! Don’t get me wrong, building a home can be one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences, but it can also be one of the most stressful ones.

bathroom design concept

Planning for the Master Bathroom in the villa in the British Virgin Islands

II – Planning:

Take your time to plan your project. Think about your must haves, your non negotiables and your nice to haves and then budget accordingly. If you must implement things in phases, you will need to carefully consider your priorities, keeping in mind the parameters in terms of execution deadlines given by certain banks in some countries.

III – Construction cost estimation:

This is the most challenging part for most people, because a substantial part of your budget will go into things you probably have little understanding of or may not deem necessary, but they are required by building regulations. Before you embark on the adventure of building a home, you obviously need to take your time to analyse your personal finances so that you can set yourself a budget. Then I suggest you get professional help to assist you in properly estimating the project costs. Online sources and your bank can provide some initial data, but you will want to seek professional help from either an independent estimator or your architect. This leads me to the next section of who you need to have on board of your project.

international interior designer

Work in progress: concept development including plans, mood boards and sample boards

IV – Hiring the right people:

I have already mentioned cost. Everyone has got a budget, some higher than others, but sticking to a budget can be tricky. Most home builders have never built a home before, therefore are not familiar with the costs involved, which is why it is crucial to get the right people on board. Of course each additional person you hire represents additional costs, but trust me when I tell you that in the long run it will pay off to hire the right people. It will save you time, energy, stress and even money when done right. Cutting corners will always end up costing you more.

1) Architect:

The architect is in most cases your first point of reference. He or she will help you design your dream home, help you realistically budget for your project and handle planning permissions amongst other things. The architect is familiar with building regulations and will show you what is and what isn’t possible with regards to the regulations, your budget and structural limitations. You will also need an engineer at some point. Most architects can help finding the right person.

interior designer in Caribbean

This is me on site in the early stages of the construction of the villa in the British Virgin Islands

2) Interior designer:

I may be biased, but getting an interior designer on board during the early planning stage is crucial. I have seen it over and over again how it would have been so much more efficient had I been involved in a project from the start rather than towards the end. Unfortunately, most people wrongly assume that the interior designer only comes in once the building work is complete. This couldn’t be further from the truth, because if you don’t know where your sofa or your dining table will go, how will you know where to put your electrical outlets? Have you taken into consideration that the materials, style and colour(s) of your open plan kitchen, will define the entire living area? Have you asked yourself what type of window coverings you will want? Probably not, but the type and style of window (e.g. with a lintel versus floor-to-ceiling windows) as well as the material and colour of the frame you choose will have a knock on effect on the type of curtains you can later on put up. An interior designer will also show you the many building materials that are available, help you understand their pros and cons and make the most suitable selection. If you don’t know the overall style you are going for, how will you know what type of flooring, style of kitchen and bathrooms to opt for? You may use somewhat different styles and different colours in the various rooms, but the entire home should look cohesive in order to achieve a harmonious and balanced home. In construction and interior design, every little thing has a knock-on effect, something an interior designer can anticipate, so that you can make the right choices from the start.

interior design project Switzerland

Building project near Basel, Switzerland: The selection of the flooring is crucial to the overall look and feel of a space

3) Lighting designer:

Lighting is crucial in any interior and has a major effect on the success of the overall design. Most interior designers will be able to advise you on lighting and include a lighting scheme in the concept. As interior designers we often also collaborate with lighting specialists, especially in more complex situations. It is not just about the look and functionality, but also about the right quality of lighting in terms of Lumen and light temperatures. With LED constantly changing and improving it is becoming increasingly technical and if you require some kind of state-of-the-art and customised LED built-in lighting fixtures, you will need to hire a lighting designer.

4) Project manager:

You need a project manager. Some banks require a project manager in order to issue a mortgage. Even if it is not a requirement, I suggest you do not skimp on the project manager, unless you consider yourself someone with a very strong personality and you are prepared to be on site on a daily basis to ensure things are going according to plan and budget. The project manager has got one of the hardest jobs, because he or she is the one who needs to manage the contractors, chase after everyone, follow up on deliveries, check costs, check orders, check if the building work is executed according to plan and basically breathe down everyone’s neck to ensure the work is done to the owner’s fullest satisfaction, within budget and according to the deadlines. By doing it yourself you risk contractors not showing up on time, depleting your personal savings, overrunning your construction cost, loan extension penalties, being taken for a ride by unscrupulous contractors and so forth.

5) Contractor:

Having a good, precise and reliable contractor is worth gold. You will want to hire someone who understands and is aligned with your vision, who is passionate about the work they do and who has got an eye for details. Always check your contractor’s references and if possible go see some of the work that they have done for other clients. Do the finishes meet your standards? Hiring a qualified contractor is crucial for any project. Always remember that it is far more costly to fix things, than to pay someone who will do things properly the first time around.

V – Construction Insurance:

In many countries, construction insurance is mandatory. However, even if it is not, it may make sense to get covered, because construction mistakes quickly become very expensive. On top of that it will give you some peace of mind throughout the duration of your project.

VI – Contracts:

Regardless of whom you hire and how well you know them, always sign a contract and ensure you understand and agree with every aspect of the contract before you proceed. It is particularly important to check who is liable if/ when things go wrong.

VII – Check arriving orders:

This is usually the Project Manager’s job (another reason why you should have one). However, whether you are building a home or renovating one, I still recommend carefully checking important orders when they arrive on site, such as flooring, tiles, sanitary ware etc., because all too often the wrong item is sent or things get broken during transport.

living room design concept Zurich

Floor plan and design concept of a living room for a house near Zurich, Switzerland

VIII – Architecture versus Interior Design:

I’m often surprised how most people are so busy budgeting for a strikingly beautiful building, which will be the envy of the neighborhood, but completely forget to assign an adequate budget for the interior of their home. Let me ask you this: Where will you spend most of your time? In front of your home admiring its architectural beauty or inside of it enjoying time with loved ones?

Please ensure to set aside sufficient budget for the interior design, which not only includes the kitchen, bathrooms,  flooring, wall paint and wall coverings, but also your furnishing, lighting and the finishing touches. Sadly many people exhaust their budget and end up with nothing or little left for the interiors of their home. When building a home from scratch, architecture and interior design should work hand in hand, which is why it is best to have both, your architect and your interior designer , on board from the start. An interior designer builds from the inside out, an architect from the outside in, which is why both are so crucial.

Last but not least… for anyone building a home, you need patience, patience and more patience!

Personally, whenever I embark on any large or long-term project, I always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge, so that I can celebrate my progress along the way, because as the saying goes: “Always keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes the special occasion is that you’ve got a bottle of champagne in the fridge!” 😉

Do you need help with your upcoming building or refurbishment project? I would be more than happy to discuss your project and answer your questions.

Book a complimentary Discovery call and tell me more about your project, so that I can advise you about the best way forward!

Happy home building!

Simone xx

About the Author

Interior Designer and Blogger

Welcome to Global Inspirations Design’s Blog!

I’m Simone Aïda Baur and I invite you to embark on a design journey with me. My blog is your passport to global inspirations and where I share my passion and discoveries from the world of interior design.

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