I built a custom kitchen at the worst possible time. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

The Homely Team
modern kitchen with wooden cabinetry and grey splash back and green bar stools
4 min read

We talked to one of our team members about their recent experience  putting in a new kitchen. Keep reading for some top tips and big ‘watch outs’ when it comes to a kitchen reno. 

modern kitchen with wooden cabinetry and grey splash back and green bar stools

We bought our two bedroom terrace house at the perfect time last year. We followed the adage of ‘bite off more than you can chew, and chew hard’ but it was worth it. It’s beautifully liveable and ripe for improvements. 

When it comes to adding value, you can’t look past the kitchen and bathroom – and these two rooms were crying out for help. 30 years of basic rental replacements had taken its toll here, with chips in white bathroom paint revealing a confronting yellow green not seen since the early 70s. So, the bathroom was the first to get a makeover and was relatively painless to execute. 

The kitchen was in a slightly more appealing state. Basic white with an old tiled splashback, it had plenty of potential to become a key living and dining feature in what was a beautifully sunny space. Plus, it looked easy enough to renovate based on what we had seen on The Block.

What we didn’t know was that a little effort would soon turn into a great learning experience when it comes to the two things that underpin all value adding around the home: time and money. We also learnt that there’s a fine balance between making efficient decisions and rushing external suppliers this close to Christmas. You can see where this is going.

 Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Trying to save money on renovations often means spending your time instead.

We chose a popular kitchen supplier after seeing them on TV and hearing about them from others. We did our research and realised that thanks to a partnership with a major retailer, we were able to save 25% when combining our appliance purchases with the purchase of the kitchen. This sounded great and to be honest, it was worth it, however it did mean that every single decision – from the finishes, to the drawer size, to the layout, to the appliance type, model number and individual purchase – was up to us to make with the company. This was surprisingly fun but soon became a second full-time job. 

Key takeaway: if you’re time poor, you might be better off paying for the convenience of professionals managing the whole project. 


Different finishes and features can make or break a kitchen.

When it comes to cabinetry and stone, there’s a fine line between underspending and overspending. We ended up opting for a matte effect laminate over a more expensive two pack solution, despite the latter being very popular in high-end renovations. Overcapitalisation remains a big concern for us and given that the cost of the kitchen was already adding up, we drew the line here. We ended up spending more on stone because the difference in finishes were so extreme, we felt it was worth splurging here.

Key takeaway: Save on cabinetry but spend on fittings and good quality stone. 

modern kitchen with grey marble stone benchtops and splashback

There WILL be extra costs. And, these will need to be paid upfront.

While the kitchen and appliances could be wrapped up into a promotional discount and interest free plan to suit our needs, there were some unexpected surprises along the way. 

First, was the cost of the delivery – payable before install. 

Second, was the actual installation of the cabinetry, which was payable on the day of installation. 

The third was the electrician’s costs, who quoted his scope of work on the day of installation which left us no time to put the right amount of money aside. This amounted to about half the cost of the actual custom cabinetry and it was payable in cash. Ouch. 

Key takeaway: Make sure you fully understand all potential costs from your supplier as early as possible. 


Your kitchen will take a lot longer than it does on The Block. 

Pushing for an installation before Christmas wasn’t our finest decision. 

Depending on who you choose to design and install your kitchen, your process will vary. Ours has taken the best part of two months due to the festive break and the pandemic. Luckily, we don’t have kids to feed so it’s been a bit easier, but we couldn’t imagine being almost kitchen-less with a growing family! Take into account public holidays, delays in deliveries and even potential defects that might need replacing. 

Key takeaway: Unless you have a pressing deadline for your kitchen to be finished, allow as much time for it as possible and adjust your routine accordingly. 


Five golden rules you need to know before renovating your kitchen:

  1. You can never ask too many questions or save more money to invest in your renovation. 
  2. Set realistic expectations around timing and costs
  3. Read the small print if you’re going to use finance
  4. Avoid choice fatigue. Make faster decisions and remove emotion to avoid being too disappointed by delays or compromises.
  5. Focus on the big picture. Renovating has taught us not to overcomplicate things and keep our focus on the bigger picture: our home is a project and renovating is a commitment. Silly decisions are part of the learning process and as long as they’re not too disastrous, they can be taken in stride.

Remember, if you need kitchen design inspiration – Homely property listings are a great place to start! We’ve made it easier than ever to keep all of your inspo in one place:

  1. Create a free Homely profile
  2. Create your own collections based on however you want to organise your favourite listings
  3. Start browsing sold and for sale listings and simply click the ‘save’ icon on the listing page map.

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The Homely Team
The Homely Team bring you the latest in Aus property ranging from tips on buying, selling, renting, investing, building, moving house, suburb information and agent advice, all from industry experts.

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