[Personal]: Renovating My 400sf Studio Apartment

In preparation for getting married, we have decided that my tiny bachelor studio apartment would be the best place for us to stay for the next 1-3 years as a newlywed due to its strategic location.

So I decided to spend some money to prep the place up. At first, I only wanted redo the kitchen cabinets, but ended up doing the whole apartment, except for the flooring and bathroom.

This article will share my experience, problems, and budget for renovating my small 400sf+ apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

  1. Renovation Summary
  2. The studio – Before Renovation
  3. [Step 1]: Get Inspiration Online
  4. [Step 2]: Discuss with Interior Designer
  5. [Step 3]: Wetwork Starts
  6. [Step 4]: Installing Cabinets
  7. [Step 5]: Installing Quartz Counter Top
  8. [Step 6]: Final Touch Ups
  9. Final Result – 3D Render Vs. Reality

Due to my tiny apartment’s limited space, our design options were quite limited, and we had to work under a lot of design constraints.

Renovation Summary

  • Total renovation cost: RM 32,111
  • Total renovation time to complete: 2 months.
SituationOriginal BudgetActual Cost
Interior Design ServicesRM 15,000RM 24,426
Stuff Bought SeparatelyRM 6,542
Unforeseen ExpensesRM 1,143
Total Project CostRM 32,111

The Studio – Before Renovation

Here’s what my bachelor pad looks like before renovation:

Blue door (what was I thinking) is the entrance
The original kitchen cabinet from the developer, about 13 years old, that I painted blue – lols
Very bachelor pad like decor. I painted a featured ceiling

[Step 1]: Get Inspiration Online

Before we hired an Interior Designer, we did some online research and searched for: ‘small kitchen designs‘ on Pinterest and Instagram. Here’s what caught our attention:

KITCHEN CABINET

This design, I found on Pinterest was the closest to what we wanted:

  • White, minimalist themed
  • Full height cabinets
  • Built-in oven
  • Contrasting patterned backsplash tiles

KITCHEN BACKSPLASH TILES:

Because the kitchen cabinets are plain white, we wanted to get backsplash tiles that will be the center of attention in the kitchen.

We narrowed down to a teal colored herringbone patterned tiles, just like what we saw here on Instagram.

DINING TABLE:

We don’t want a separate dining table as we have limited space. We found this cool design online:

  • Incorporate dining table into kitchen cabinet
  • This retractable table is the perfect solution, but it will cost a lot of money.

WARDROBE & STUDY DESK:

  • Same material and color to match the kitchen cabinets
  • Full height, hidden handles + drawers
  • Integrated study area

Now that we knew what we wanted, we showed the Interior Designer these pictures:

[Step 2]: Discuss With Interior Designer

The Interior Designer then proposed several solutions within our budget.

Here’s the first round of designs from a software called SketchUp:

Early 3D Design Proposals – Rejected

Kitchen: Cramped counter top & the cabinets are not full height
Kitchen counter is too tall and narrow. We also want to avoid tall stools
Safety concerns: Not a big fan of the cabinet on top of the nightstand
TV backboard created a tight walking space between sofa and kitchen counter top
Alternative TV solution: I didn’t like that the main door opens to the back of the sofa

There were 3 rounds of back and forth between the interior designer and me, and below is what we ended up with:

Final Design & 3D Render

3D Render – Hollow table dining table foot area, full height cabinets, herringbone backsplash tiles with LED
3D Render – New 50″ TV. The old TV will be hung in front of the bed
3D Render – About 1.5m walking gap between TV area and dining table
3D Render – I’m feeling the WFH desk with LED. Bed frame with LED headboard and drawers on the sides
3D Render – WFH desk next to bed, away from TV so I can work while someone watches TV

Alright, the design & 3D render looks bomb. The next order of business, start buying stuff that would save us money:

Stuff I Bought Myself to Save Money

I bought a Livinox brand cooker hood + ceramic hob combo at my local kitchen equipment storeRM 1100
Black nano coated stainless steel, deep sink RM 390
I bought an Elba brand built in oven during 11.11 sale for around RM 750
Black themed kitchen tap to match the black sink RM 110
Kitchen backsplash tiles, we bought at a ceramic shop at Jalan Ipoh, KL
I bought all the lamps at my neighborhood lamp shop. 4 sets of lamps, totaling RM 230+
Frameless switches & doorbell I bought at a local hardware store – RM 220 all in
Nippon Satin Glo paint for the wall & Nippon Platone for the door – RM280
Queen mattress specifically for backbone support – RM 1100 (can’t find online, but try this)

Phew, that’s a lot of stuff! But I’m pretty sure I saved a ton by not letting my contractor or Interior Designer supply them for me.

The next order of business is to apply for renovation permission with my apartment management so wetworks (contractor lingo for hacking & tiling works) to start:

[Step 3]: Wetwork Starts – 1.5 weeks

Wall hacking to run the wires for the TV & WFH area
Fully disassembled old kitchen cabinets. Start wiring & kitchen piping work
Pulling electrical wire for wall mounted TV in front of the bed
Due to the new layout, we had to relocate the dining lamp and the ceiling fan out of the way

[Problem 1]: Kitchen Backsplash Tiling -3 Days

The most exciting part of the kitchen, the backsplash tiles. But we ran into a problem. The alignment was off, and you can see it here already:

It’s even more obvious once it’s done. I drew the lines so you can see what I’m talking about:

Obvious misalignment of the backsplash tiles

I had to complain to the contractor and used a long ruler to illustrate the alignment shown above. Luckily, he agreed with me and the next day took the tiles off (without damaging them apparently) and retiled the kitchen backsplash:

Good guy contractor & his worker, addressing my complaint

The next day, I came over to take a look. He corrected the misalignment and inserted the grout filler. I am delighted with the result:

Final result – it looks amazing!

Nice! Now that all the ‘wetworks‘ are done, I had a special project coming next, soundproofing my wall:

[Special Project]: Soundproofing Wall – 2 Days

I’ve installed soundproofing windows that dampens the LRT noises, but with thin walls, I can hear my neighbor’s pipes if they take a shower or flush their toilet.

Usually, this isn’t a problem. But since I work from home, this is a no go. I chatted with one of my neighbors and got a hold of these wall soundproofing guys.

They installed a 3 inch thick gypsum board wall that is sandwiching a soundproofing fibre called rockwool:

Installing the soundproofing wall

Below is what the rockwool fiber material and the finished wall looks like:

Rockwool material on the left, and the added thickness on the right

No more water flowing noises for me. The next order of business, painting:

[Problem 2]: Painting – You Get What You Paid For

Alright, the paint job was the biggest let down in this entire project. Our painting requirement was not as straightforward as we initially thought. There are cracks, and some parts of the wall are uneven.

We asked around and got quotation for RM 1,700, RM 2,500 & RM 3,000. Being naïve, cheap Millennials, we picked the cheapest guy. Little did we knew that he screwed us over real good.

Let me explain what we needed (but didn’t know at the time):

  1. Fix the wall cracks
  2. Apply plaster to the entire uneven wall and skim it to make it even
  3. Let the plaster dry and sand it smooth to blend in with the existing wall
  4. Only then paint

The guy that we hired was incredibly incompetent. He used to paint the outside of houses. But apparently, indoor painting is not his forte. He had two other guys that, as I see it, are not painters at all. I think they are just random guys he picked from the neighborhood.

Starts off okay

But later, they applied the plaster but did not skim and sand it down. So obviously, the walls become uneven, and I can see the joints where the soundproofing walls are:

When I complained, he dared to say that my walls are messed up, to begin with, etc. After 2 days of constant butting heads & the general tiredness of this entire project, I was just exhausted, paid him, and wished never to see him again.

I didn’t have the budget to hire someone else to fix this, so after a few YouTube videos and a trip to the hardware store, I DIY’ed it myself:

Me, plastering and sanding on the left, and repainting on the right

The wall turned out OK, but with all the hassle, I’d hire a pro to fix it if I had the budget. OK, wall paint fixed (sort of), but there’s one more problem:

Bad Paint Job on Front Door: Remember that my front door was blue? They had to apply several layers of paint to turn that blue into this offwhite, but they were too lazy to sand the door down first, so the paint didn’t stick properly, and it dripped overnight:

Absolutely unacceptable, lousy, idiotic paint job

My fiance & I tried to fix the door ourselves by scraping the paint off, but it turned out to be way more labor-intensive than we thought, and we gave up. We hired our current contractor to fix the door for us:

We DIY scrapped the bad paint on the left. On the right, the pro picked up where we gave up

The bad paint job on the door, fixed! Now I had to wait for the factory to manufacture the cabinets due to backorders.

[Step 4]: Installing Cabinets

After waiting for about two weeks, the factory was finally able to deliver my cabinets.

Unloading all the cabinets from the truck – surprisingly a lot for a small studio
Studio apartment full with cabinets
Starting to put everything together
Day 2: Starting to install the kitchen cabinets on top
Putting the bedframe together
Bedframe starting to take shape
Cabinets & drawers are installed

[Step 5]: Installing Quartz Counter Top – 1 Day

The longest wait is for the quartz counter top. They had to wait until the kitchen cabinets are installed before they can take proper real world measurements.

Plus, with the 2nd Malaysian lockdown, I had to wait for 2 more weeks.

Before and after quartz kitchen counter top

These pros installed everything in about an hour. Absolute meticulous work. I am very happy.

[Step 6]: Final Touch-Ups

On the last day, there were final touch-ups for:

  • Install kitchen tap
  • paint touch-ups
  • Secure in the built-in oven
  • TV cabinet wiring
  • Install smart lock
I received a free air-purifier from the interior design company
Installing kitchen tap & the free air purifier

I bought a Novalock smartlock on Shopee that includes installation.

Pro-Tip: Don’t try to install these yourself. It’s quite complicated

Smartlock installation

Final Result – 3D render Vs. Reality

Finally, here is the final result. The only thing missing is the living room TV that we will get later in a few months:

Enjoying the new apartment at night

What a long post! Overall:

  • I am happy to spend the money
  • Renovation costs me around RM30,000 for everything, double the original budget
  • Project took me 2 months, during which, I had to stay at my parents
  • Shop around for contractors and never get the cheapest guy
  • If you’re not a DIY type of guy, never attempt to DIY anything, you’re only going to screw it up and it’ll cost you more to fix it.

Helmi Hasan

Hi, I'm Helmi Hasan, the founder, and writer for the personal finance blog, Balkoni Hijau. Read more in the 'About Me' page or follow me on Twitter.

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