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Interiors expert Kate Walker shares her secrets to renovating on a budget

Interiors expert Kate Walker shares her secrets to renovating on a budget

We were lucky enough to speak to Kate Walker of Kate Walker Design and learn about how she works with low budgets to create stunning spaces. She shared some really valuable advice on achieving a high end look for a fraction of the cost. She recently worked on a project where budget was a major factor and has given the Dddreamhouse community some insight into how they can take the same principals and apply them to our their own renovations, so enjoy!


When it comes to design on a budget, what should you put energy into first?

It’s important to start on the areas that will have the most impact.  Focus your budget on the kitchen and the flooring, which is where you’ll get the most visual bang for your buck.  When you’re on a budget you need to spend money on the things you can see, not the things you can’t see.  You need to look at using a little bit of a great product and a lot of basic product.   Using a pop of a high end material can give the illusion that high end materials were used throughout the renovation.

The way manufacturing is done today, there are excellent copies.  A few years ago it would have taken the Chinese manufacturers four years to recreate an Italian tile, now it’s around 30 days.  You can get high end Italian porcelain that might retail for $149 per metre copied into a commodity by the Chinese and retailing for only $39 per metre. The Chinese are the copiers whereas the Italians are the trend setters, but just because it’s a Chinese copy it doesn’t mean you’re compromising on quality.  For all intents and purposes once a tile is on the wall you can’t tell where the tile is made unless you’re exceptionally astute.  And it won’t make a difference in terms of functionality and durability.  An Italian gloss plain white tile 300 x 600mm tile that costs $90 per metre looks no different on the wall to a Chinese gloss plain white tile 300 x 600mm that costs $18.50 per metre.

Explains Kate, “Having worked with so many amazing property developers over the years on multi-residential buildings, I have become very adept at creating a high spec look on a budget.  Display suites are often built using high end Italian materials as specified by the architects, but what’s actually delivered is a Chinese copy bought by the contractor.  So for years I have been using my own specifications to recreate a look on a very tight budget that has to match the original display.”

What parts of the design do you invest in and what do you save on?

Always invest in the kitchen.  You might have a photo from a magazine that you love featuring modern black timber veneer joinery with Calacutta marble bench tops.  As a compromise you could use a black Laminex faux timber veneer on the cupboards with a Caesar stone Calacutta-look bench top. 

Also, invest in your flooring.  You walk on your floor every day so it needs to be good quality.  And it needs to be laid well too.  It doesn’t matter how much you have spent on the floor material, if it’s not laid properly it will look terrible.  The same applies to tiling as well.

Another tip to save money, in bathrooms in particular, is to not tile the whole room.  Just tile one wall, floor to ceiling.  Says Kate, “With a bathroom we designed for the Canny Group, we used high end Italian porcelain but only on the floor and one wall – the rest of the walls were just plaster.  We saved a lot of money but we gave the illusion of a tiled bathroom.  A key trend now is to use black tapware and black shower frames, and you could match these with a $19 per metre concrete-look floor tile and a $15 per metre white wall tile, and all of a sudden you’ve nailed a Scandi style and it looks like a high end design.”

You can get any aesthetic you like if you have the right design and source the right materials.  It can be worthwhile investing in someone who can help you source the right product so you don’t make a mistake.  This can be especially important if you are on a budget.  Mistakes are costly.  To avoid wasting time, money and effort, invest in the services of a company like KWD to make sure you don’t make a design mistake.  Get it right the first time, and benefit from KWD’s contacts and buying power which ensures you get the best products at the best prices.


What products or materials do you rely on for looking expensive without the price tag? 

Timber veneer knocks offs are fabulous.  Try Egger and Polytech finishes as opposed to a Feathers timber veneer.  With regard to bench tops, look at Caesar stone as opposed to natural stone.  It emulates natural stone very well. With timber flooring it’s important to purchase it from the right person.  KWD can offer timber flooring solutions at least 30% less than what many retailers will sell their products for.  They are made in the same factory, but KWD has the buying power to get the right prices for our clients.

Are there any hidden costs when it comes to renovating and redesigning that people need to be wary of before they set a budget? 

What you need to look for is a simple refit.  A sympathetic renovation, like a facelift.  With the kitchen, if the carcass is okay, just put new doors on and change the bench tops.  You can even put in new drawer runners if you want soft closures.  That’s a huge cost saving.  And joinery has a minimum eight week lead time, you can’t pre-order it.  You have to go through the process of having your kitchen designed, and then it has to be measured on site.  It’s important to make sure that everything you order is in stock when it’s needed, and always negotiate with tradespeople.  Get a couple of quotes to compare, and never do anything on a hourly rate.  Get a project price because hourly rates can run away from you.

If KWD was working on a budget kitchen renovation for example, and we were going for a Scandi style, we would keep the kitchen carcass if possible, recover the doors in a laminate that looks like a pale timber veneer, we’d use a Caesar stone bench top as a feature stone for an island and use Laminex for the other bench surfaces.   Then pop in a gorgeous pendant light and beautiful pot plant to finish off the styling. 

Sometimes people think it’s cheaper to be an owner/builder but this can sometimes be to your detriment because the amount of work takes away from your earning capacity in your profession.  And if you don’t know what you’re doing it can often cost more because it takes so much longer.  You don’t get warranties as an owner builder, so if you do it on the cheap and there are issues, you’ve got to fix the problem. Sometimes it’s beneficial to spend money to save money.  It’s inefficiencies in renovations that can cost a fortune.



KWD is a niche business providing a comprehensive and consultative service that is unrivalled. With Kate Walker at the helm, KWD comprises a team of intelligent and dedicated staff who together ensure clients are retained for life. To find out more about KWD or to see more of the stunning projects, visit www.katewalkerdesign.com.au

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