What Should I Buy if I know I am going to renovate?

The question of what to spend money on if you know your surroundings are only going to be temporary is a thorny one. Do you buy cheap furniture for your sitting room so you can throw it away when you have completed any building work and finished the decoration? Do you live with a kitchen or bathroom that really depresses you know that it will be a couple of years before you can afford to do the work on it? Buying cheap and throwing away isn’t good for the planet and does also mean you will be buying twice. But living with decor that makes you miserable isn’t sustainable for your mental health either.

house for sale via

Sophie and I discussed this in last week’s podcast after a listener contacted us with this dilemma and I thought it was worth a post on its own as it’s such a common problem.

Sophie’s first take is that it really helps to have your vision in place so you know that if you do buy furniture or rugs that they will fit in with the final scheme which will help you avoid having to sell or recycle or replace with something that turns out to be more suitable when the work is done.

This is good advice as, she points out, it can keep you on track because when you are knee-deep in tears and damp courses, buying a small thing that is perfectly in tune with the plan is immensely cheering.

wallpaper and fabric from the new Modern Collector range at Liberty London
wallpaper and fabric from the new Modern Collector range at Liberty London- plan a moodboard of colour of pattern to keep you on track while you save for the renovation

That said, this period of knowing that the house isn’t quite right but working out what to do with it, can also be vital to learning about your taste and style. So the other important, and annoying, piece of advice is that you can’t rush it.

I know, I get it, it’s bad enough having to save to move walls around and extend without being able to shop for lovely things in the meantime and I’m not saying that but I am saying, take a little time to do your research into what you like and need for a space before you rush off to the virtual high street.

For example, paint is a good way to work out how you feel about colour. It’s instantly transformative and – depending on the brand – an affordable way to have a look and see how it makes you feel. When we moved into this house, which was two rental flats, we immediately painted the walls and floors in a warm milky white (Wimborne White by Farrow & Ball) which made everything feel clean and light and meant we were happy to be in the house while the building work carried on around us.

model 03 sofa from swyft
model 03 sofa from swyft – painting a room white can be a good way to make it feel new and clean while you save

Gradually we added more colour and experimented with more shades. Some we got right – the sitting room speedily went charcoal grey and from there to dark chocolate (different colours same sense of drama) while the bedroom took several goes to get right – milky white to pale grey to pale pink.

Painting is a good way to see how the light affects the room during the day and how you feel about being in a dark, or light room. It’s the perfect way of getting to know yourself that’s much cheaper than spaffing a lot of money on a sofa that you know you don’t really like but you need something to sit on.

And so we come to furniture. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of the temporary furniture fix which is just throwing money down the drain and discarded piece into landfill. There are two approaches to this: buy the sofa of your dreams now (which means you will already have spent the money so that’s one less thing to buy when the builder’s bill needs settling) or look at vintage furniture.

vintage wooden bedside cabinet by louisa grace interiors
vintage wooden bedside cabinet by louisa grace interiors – a small chest of drawers is always useful

When it comes to the first, you can sit on said sofa of dreams while saving for the renovation work and then either put it in storage or wrap it up well to protect it while the work is being done. A good sofa should last several years so don’t worry about it being ruined while you are saving. This applies also to beds, mattresses and big items of furniture.

For everything else there is the charity shop, or Facebook Marketplace or Ebay. You might find a bargain that you can paint or re-donate later.

If you want to buy new then try and think of how you might use it in the newly refurbished plan. A console table might start out as a temporary breakfast bar or a desk before ending up in the hall. If you can only fit a dining table for four (but want eventually to seat eight) then can the small table be a desk later on? When you buy new clothes you tend to think about how many outfits you can create with one new piece so train yourself to do the same with furniture. That way everything you buy will have a longer life.

vinyl wrapped fridge at

Or course some things are hard to ignore. When it comes to kitchens then, depending on how long you will have to live with it consider replacing ugly doors with plain MDF ones and painting them. Replace handles with some that you might like to re-use later. You can cover an ugly fridge as well as cupboard doors with vinyl wrap as I have done. Unless you’re very handy it’s probably best to find a local firm of car wrappers or sign experts to help with this. As a guide I paid £150 for my fridge to be done and I live in London (where prices might be higher). For bathrooms you can get tile stickers and grout pens to revitalise old grout as well as fun shower curtains to give a temporary makeover. And shower heads tend to have standard fittings to replacing that might revitalise your morning for not much money.

Finally, bad floors are tricky and you don’t want to spend money on new flooring if you dream of moving walls around. Painting over laminate or buying a large piece of carpet that can double up as a rug might be the best solution.

Dining Room styling with La Redoute by photography by
paint is an easy way to transform a room and experiment with colour

Staggering your purchases and shopping “clever” means less waste of both resources and money and means that when the house is finally done and is all new and shiny that those pieces you have had and loved for a few years already will bring an instant layer of patina, history and character to your space.


Tags : buying furniturehouse renovationrenovate
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Brilliant insightful post as always Kate, I th No it’s so important to look beyond the obvious (usually cheap flat pack) solutions when furnishing a home, and even if we’re not renovating full scale with walls coming down etc most people redecorate when they move house and just that takes time to get right and we need to live in the meantime.
    I have bits of furniture that have travelled with me since I was at college over 20 years ago that came from IKEA, have had various lives in different colours, similarly charity shops bargains that have found homes in different rooms in different houses.
    We rarely need to buy brand new except for big stuff like beds and kitchens / bathrooms – and even then frames can be repurposed with a new mattress or second hand kitchens can be bought online and fitted to look new with carefully chosen worktops, tiles and appliances.
    Your dedicated guidance in keeping sustainability in interior design is invaluable, everyone should read your blog! I also bought the book Resourceful Living by Lisa Dawson on your recommendation a couple of months ago which goes into this in depth and is highly recommended if you are looking to do up your home sustainably and on a budget.

  2. Thanks Kate, such good advice – and timely too. Regardless of the fact that I do have a long term plan for our home (on spreadsheets no less with a 5-year budget!), I still get seduced by something I want NOW (usually seen in your blog). And a definite yes for the life-changing temporary covering – in our kitchen we covered our sickly-green cabinet doors with black-stained-wood lookalike contact paper, and suddenly the entire room feels clean & elegant. Someday we’ll renovate counters/faucet/tile, but this one thing makes this seem like our home now AND we got to test out our design concept on the cheap. Love the podcast series, and keep those the movie scripts coming!

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