We started picking out the fixtures and fittings for our house build before we'd even started construction work on site - maybe we were super organized, perhaps we were a tad over-excited... in reality we were probably a combination of both! But in hindsight I'm glad we started early because there's a lot to think about! The list includes:
- Plumbing fixtures - that's your taps, toilets, shower heads...
- Bathroom furniture and accessories - vanities, towel hooks...
- Electrical fittings - this actually breaks down into a few subcategories including
- Light fittings - indoor and outdoor
- Light switches and dimmers
- Electrical outlets - indoor and outdoor
- Speakers and TV outlets
- Kitchen cabinets
- Appliances - washing machine, fridge, oven etc
- Windows and Doors
- Closets - if you're doing built ins
It's a big list and here's a word of warning, I'm not about to scrimp on the detail so either scroll down to the bit that interests you or grab a cuppa!
So where do you start?
This is really the canvas for everything that you're going to put inside your home so think carefully about whether you want flooring that makes a statement, or something that provides a good base for decor that you won't notice as much. We went for the latter - our theory was that it's much easier to change out a sofa than it is to rip up a floor if you decide you don't like it in 5 years time or trends have changed, so we went with simple grey tile.
Top tip - how you LAY your tile makes a difference to the overall look. A good tiler will work this out with you before he starts installing. Questions to ask are:
1. Where should I lay the first tile - and therefore where will the last tile end up and will I have to make any cuts? You don't want a random sized tile in the middle of your hallway because you started in the wrong place - the more full tiles you can use the better!
2. Do you want symmetry or offset tiles? Some people like to place them straight up while others prefer diagonals or a herringbone pattern for smaller tiles.
It's important to think all of these things through and discuss them with your project manager / tiler on site.
But before you get to that point, you have some material decisions to make. Wood, tile or carpet? Here are the pros and cons of each:
- Wood - looks gorgeous and can last forever.....but it can also warp and bend in extreme temperatures and is significantly more expensive than tile in Cayman
- Tile - hard wearing, easy to clean and available in a range of price points and versatile thanks for never ending size options - but it can be cold underfoot and slippery
- Carpet - feels lovely underfoot, and make a space warm and inviting - but it doesn't last forever, gets dirty easily and is harder to clean.
Remember you don't have to do the same throughout your home - we toyed with the idea of doing a bit of mix and match with wooden floors upstairs and tile downstairs, but in the end both our design and budget steered us into choosing porcelain tile for the whole house and I'm actually glad we did because as I mentioned before it gave us a neutral canvas to work with throughout.
If you chose tiles like us, there are a few things to consider:
- You can spend anything from $2 a square foot to $50 a square foot on tile. Your budget will dictate where you shop so make sure you decide that first! We had a budget of $5 per square foot (landed cost so it had to include shipping and duty.)
- Outdoor tile is more expensive than indoor tile
- Large tiles are cheaper to fit but can be more expensive to ship due to the space they take up / risk of breakage. Mosaic tiles (for swimming pools or bathrooms) cost the most (but you often only need small quantities)
- You need to budget for 10% more than the square footage of the actual space you're tiling to allow for waste
- Bathrooms can be fully tiled or you can tile only the floor and the shower / bath area if you want to save a bit of money
With those things in the back of your mind, it's time to start shopping! We looked at:
- ITC - who now have a brand new showroom full of gorgeous tiles. We almost went for a wood look tile by a brand called Ragno for our upstairs, and they have lots of lovely options to suit all tastes at pretty reasonable price points. Had we not had the opportunity to shop off island I'm almost certain we would have bought our flooring from them
- Edie's decor - also a good range. We preferred the style and presentation in the ITC store but they had some really nice stuff
- Paramount Carpets - didn't impress me at all. The shop was confusing, the style was very old school and traditional and anything I did like seemed to be discontinued
- Florida Tile - We were taken to the Florida Tile showroom by a lady called Marissa who runs an export business out of Miami and specialises in helping developers and people like us building a home, pick out fixtures and fittings from the US and import them to the Caribbean. We ended up using her as our broker for a quite a lot of things as she receives wholesale prices and provides a 1 year warrantee on anything purchased through her. For example some of our tile arrived damaged and she organized replacements without us having to battle with suppliers. Florida Tile has a great range of very affordable, good quality tile and the bulk of our flooring ended up coming from them. A little taste of the process...
Side note - if you have a picture of something you like, Marissa can source pretty much anything. So if you fall in love with a tile from a store like Porcelanosa but it's way out of your price range, she might be able to find something similar from somewhere else. We did this with our pool tile and she saved us $8 a square foot and we have a gorgeous glass mosaic we love!
The tile on the left is the one we fell in love with in an expensive showroom, and the tile on the right is the one Marissa sourced for us :)
You know - the really glamorous stuff like. toilets, baths, sinks, taps, shower heads and drains! We shopped at a combination of:
- Ferguson - again using Marissa, we visited a gorgeous showroom in Coconut Grove and picked out items that we liked the look of which she then listed out and quoted based on her wholesale pricing. We ended up ordering all of our toilets, some of our sinks, some of our taps, all of our shower heads, our baths as well as our fridge and oven through them. There was a bit of a disaster with our oven arriving smashed and one of the baths didn't fit (our fault) but overall I was happy with the prices we ended up paying and I enjoyed having a full selection of items to chose from in Miami, rather than a limited selection on island - just wear comfy shoes if you go to the showroom, it's huge!
- Wayfair - Our glass shower screens came from here and they have a great selection of taps and fixtures if you can deal with trawling through pages and pages of items and not being able to touch and see them in real life before you buy.
- Google - I really wanted a statement sink in the powder room - specifically a Moroccan sink! I finally managed to find a supplier in Europe after several hours of Google searching and I took a bit of a leap of faith when I paid for it and waited for it to arrive - but it paid off! So if you want something a little unusual, be prepared to hunt for it, and go the extra mile to deal with sourcing and shipping!
Above: the tap we chose for our master bath in the Ferguson showroom, and then installed in our house a mere 14 months later! Below: Our tile, bath and shower combo in one of the guest rooms - again keeping it simple for accents and accessories.
- ALThompson - the on island go-to for all things DIY has a great selection of Kohler and Delta plumbing fixtures. Delta taps in particular are really well priced and we ended up buying a couple for our guest rooms. We also bough a bath to replace the one that didn't fit which fits the bill perfectly and in hindsight, we probably should have just bought our baths here in the first place.
- Kirk Home - I was seriously uninspired by the selection of all of their fixtures and fittings (perhaps just not my taste) but apparently people have had success there!
3. BATHROOM FURNITURE & ACCESSORIES
We bought pretty much everything off island. We just couldn't find the styles we wanted at a price point we could afford on island so we had to import. AL Thompson does have some fab Kohler vanities and accessories but we weren't prepared to pay for the brand name (or showroom prices!) when there are so many more affordable and stylish options available online.
So I turned to my trusty friend Wayfair again. I actually do most of the searching on Allmodern (they're sister sites) which has a more focused contemporary selection (NB Joss and Main is also part of the same group) and I found robe hooks, towel rails and toilet roll holders that I love for bargain prices thanks for their regular sales. You can spend a small fortune on bathroom accessories and my advice is - don't. The things I bought look great and feel very sturdy!
Top tip - you can also apply for a trade account if you're a professional interior designers, landscape designers, architects, contractors, developers and real estate stagers, so if you know anyone that falls into this category ask them to set up an account for you and you can take advantage of extra discounts and a dedicated account manager to help you with any questions / issues.
For the vanities we did a bit of mix and match. In the master we ordered a double vanity from Wayfair - finding it was a real labour of love because I knew what I wanted, but I couldn't find it anywhere (not for a price I was willing to pay anyway!) So my word of advice here is, don't give up and don't compromise - you'll find it eventually! I actually found that I liked a lot of vanity units on UK sites but the US offering was a bit old school which was a bit frustrating. Sometimes it seems that finding contemporary pieces in the US requires spending a lot of money so I was glad to find something that ticked the box for us and it looks great!
In two of the guest rooms we ordered basic units from a Spanish company called Salgar that has an operation in Miami. Dealing with them was an absolute nightmare and I'm still surprised that we actually received what we ordered - but the pain was worth the price we paid because we got 2 fabulous looking units for $350 usd!
Finally in what we refer to as the "hotel" room we had a vanity shelf custom built by the same carpenter who built our stairs and plonked two sinks on top of it - and I LOVE it! I plan on adding a shelf underneath it but guests coming for a few weeks at a time don't need a huge amount of storage and the look we achieved is really slick (even if I do say so myself!)
4. ELECTRICAL FITTINGS
Choosing anything electrical was actually the bit I found hardest about building the house. Frankly I have a complete lack of appreciation for voltages, wattage, bulb types (I don't even really know if any of those things are involved) and I had little interest in finding out, so for the most part we kept it simple (and I drove our electrician mad).
The majority of our house is lit up by recessed ceiling spotlights - you don't get much simpler than that. But beware, the light they give off can leave a space feeling quite cold so make sure you soften the ambiance with table and floor lights and install dimmers so it doesn't feel like you're in a hospital corridor when you turn the lights on. As a base they're cost effective, sleek and a great place to start.
The only hanging lights we installed are in the kitchen and dining room and both were love at first sight.
The lights above the kitchen island were an impulse buy a couple of Christmasses ago (when we didn't even have plans approved) - I spotted them while I was browsing Graham and Green with my Mum and knew I had to have them. I snapped them up there and then and arrange to have them delivered to my brother's house in Surrey without the faintest idea of how I would get them to Cayman (or whether he had space to store them) - but I didn't have time to think it through, they were mine!
When I eventually did get them to Cayman via multiple couriers around London and a well timed business trip for the hubby, our electrician all but wanted to kill me as he had to convert them to US voltage bla bla bla - but where there's a will there's a way!
The dining light was slightly more straightforward - we picked it up from West Elm on a weekend trip to Miami when there was a store wide 20% sale! It's LED and dimmable so it gives off the perfect glow. West Elm have lots of gorgeous ceiling lights and they're reasonably priced for the quality. Wayfair is another good place to shop but their quality is a bit hit and miss so make sure you read the reviews!
We chose step lights and wall sconces for the outside of our house so you sit outside in the evening and walk all the way around the property in the dark without killing yourself. Most of the lights we chose came from Wayfair - here's a word of warning though...even though the description online SAYS the lights are outdoor rated, doesn't mean they are. We learned this lesson the hard way and had to re-order the step lights after the first load that arrived weren't in fact outdoor lights at all - but I have to say that Wayfair were really good at recognising their mistake and giving us a full refund straight away.
We also ended up splashing out for lanscape lighting - both to light up the trees and mark the edge of the dock. These are everything but essential but they look very fancy and I'm glad we made the stretch. Most garden centres on island have a small selection to chose from but their styles are predictably traditional so if you're building a contemporary home, look for contemporary landscape lighting online (once again, Wayfair came up trumps.)
If you live somewhere hot, you're going to want ceiling fans! They make a HUGE difference to room temperature and use less energy than air conditioning unit if you chose the right ones. Haiku make the Rolls Royce of ceiling fans - they look super cool and they're the most efficient fans on the market...but they come at a price, a large one. We splashed out for them in spaces that we knew would get the most use and need to stand the test of time - our bedroom, the living room and the outdoor kitchen. They're brilliant, moving air swiftly without making a sound. We ordered them from ITG export as they were more expensive if ordered on island.
In the other bedrooms and the office, we installed Minka Aire fans which do the job but can be a little noisy when running on the highest speed - you can just tell they're not the same quality as the Haiku although they're still effective in moving air and they look good. I guess you get what you pay for. We bought these through AL Thompson who don't stock them as standard but will order them for you.
Light switches and dimmers
I mean, does building a house get any more rock and roll? But in all seriousness, choosing switches is a big deal! First of all, you need to identify the spots you want dimmers in BEFORE you start building as they need to be highlighted on your electrical plans and then your house needs to be wired appropriately. For every dimmer, there has to be a regular switch...go figure. Then there's different types of dimmer switches - those that you physically slide up and down and "touch" dimmers which look cool but frankly, are really annoying to operate and don't go quite as dim - so keep it simple!
Electrical outlets - indoor and outdoor
We're really getting into the nitty gritty here so I won't ramble on - but if you're having an island in your kitchen, and you want electrical outlets on it, invest in pop up outlets and buy the ones with a USB port. That's all I'm going to say!
Speakers and TVs
Wave goodbye to the rest of your budget. When it comes to the audio visual possibilities in this day and age it's really difficult to know when to say stop. And the reality is that when you're building your dream home, it would be criminal not to have speakers wired to play music in every room wouldn't it?!
We like having music playing, so having a good sound system that also works outside was important to us, but otherwise we kept things fairly "simple" (and it still cost a small fortune). We used Security Centre to install the Control 4 system and while I really hope I never have to see another Security Centre technician in our house EVER again (or pay them another bill) we decided that using a reputable company which is likely to be in business for the foreseeable future, was a good option when it game to wiring the house. There are lots of independent and small businesses operating in Cayman in this field but our fear was that we'd pay them a small tonne of money, they'd wire our whole house and then fold or leave island in a couple of years....just as our speakers stopped working and we had no clue how to fix them. I'd rather have a big company to pin down if something goes wrong. Security Centre ended up programming the Control 4 system to operate all of the TVs, the sound, the security system and some of the blinds in our living room which are electrically operated.
5. KITCHEN CABINETS
It's a pretty universally known fact that the kitchen is the heart of any home and you spend a LOT of time in it! I was all for installing an IKEA kitchen (they make really nice kitchens!) but when it came down to it, the logistics of importing and installing a kitchen of our size would have been a nightmare and once I'd done the maths, it wouldn't have saved us much money.
Having weighed up the options, we chose Pooley's and I couldn't be happier with the service or the product we received. They were lovely to deal with, responsive, efficient, added genuine value by providing recommendations to improve our design and they installed everything in a matter of days to an impeccably high standard. The price point was amazing and I honestly don't have a bad word to say about them. I would buy another kitchen from them tomorrow.
The black print on the cabinets its a protective film that peeled off...incase you're wondering!
- Brand Source
- Pros: Great customer service, turned a quote around quickly
- Cons: Their Cabinets are sourced from overseas and offer limited options. The quality didn't look that great either and the quote was higher than the custom made kitchen we ended up getting from Pooley's
- AL Thompson
- Pros: Offered a good range of products at a good price point
- Cons: HOPELESSLY slow at turning a quote around or responding to questions. Even so, we actually thought we might go for their kitchen - only to be told that the style we'd chosen had been discontinued when we tried to order it! FAIL!
- KW Woodwork
- Pros: There's no doubt that these guys build absolutely stunning cabinets - their finishes are superb
- Cons: Astronomically priced. Until money starts growing on trees, I just can't see how you could justify the expense unless you want something very unusual that needs serious engineering and custom design
All of our appliances are from the US. There's no doubt that importing appliances saves you money - but you have to weigh up whether it's worth giving up warranty's and the piece of mind that comes with dealing with an on island supplier. If I was only installing one thing - a fridge or a washing machine - I would probably think twice about the hassle of importing, but when it came to fitting out a whole house is definitely seemed worthwhile.
We used Ferguson (Marissa again) for all of our kitchen appliances, apart from the dishwasher and microwave. They were great and their price points very competitive. They also give you a 1 year warranty which is better than nothing.
The dishwasher we bought alongside our washer and dryer from Home Depot during the Black Friday sale. I got an absolute steal on the three machines but OMG I shaved years off my life span dealing with Home Depot's export department - never again! Honestly even if they were giving stuff away for free I wouldn't touch it. If I ever build another house and need appliances I'll either order them from Amazon or buy them on island.
6. WINDOWS & DOORS
In a big house there's a lot of windows and doors to think about! Starting with the front door - which you want to be secure against burglars and hurricanes. Then there's the other exterior doors - patio doors, side doors, garage doors.... before you get inside and have to chose the look for all of the doors to each of the rooms and figure out which ones should lock or not, as well as any built in closet doors. Trust me there's more doors than you would think! And then there's the windows...
All windows are not created equal! For a start you can chose between white, silver or bronze (which depending on the company either looks grey or brown) then you have a choice of thickness and solar protection. Prices range quite significantly depending on the size, quality and finish of windows that you want. Our design featured a LOT of glass so we knew we were looking at a significant outlay for windows - so if you're only at the design stage, consider the size of your windows and doors versus your budget. The more glass, the higher the cost! We have two sets of 10 foot sliding doors opening out to our patio - they're absolutely amazing but they weren't cheap.
We decided that they were worth the spend and made cutbacks in other areas (sourcing cheap tiles and dealing with the likes of Home Depot to shave costs on appliances as an example). When you're putting your plans together you'll also need to identify which windows will open and which will stay fixed - your architect or project manager should be able to help you with this as there are regulations about having at least one window that opens in every room (but not bathroom).
In terms of suppliers, we compared options at:
- AL Thompson - they stock PGT windows and doors which offer a good level of protection against the sun and storms, at a competitive price, but we didn't love the quality
- Caribbean Impact - they stock CGI doors which we went for, but they couldn't combine them with ES windows which is what we wanted.
- Security Centre - who we ended going with thanks to the fact that we could mix and match doors from one company and doors from another. Their customer service left a lot to be desired when it came to getting the stuff here on time, and installing it efficiently, but we got there in the end...
- SIW - the same company that supplied our front door. Based in Miami their windows and doors are of the highest quality and rating but suuuuuuper expensive and you have to find someone on island to install them on top of whatever they quote.
- Interior Doors - our interior doors were ordered through Cox Lumber...who must have chipped each door our of a piece of lumber by hand given the time it took them to source them.... I wasn't impressed by their customer service at all but they got here in the end and they do look fabulous. We went for a very plain, contemporary design.
- Front Door - we agonised a lot over our front door. It's such a huge part of anyone's first impression of the house and you use it multiple times a day, you want it to look good! We toyed with the idea of a pivot door because, well they're just freckin cool, but hurricane rated ones are insanely expensive, so in the end we settled on a contemporary swing door from Florida based company, SIW and I'm really happy with it. It still blew the budget a bit but the pivot door would have been unnecessary...
6. CLOSETS & CABINETS
Last but not least! Every girl dreams of having that walk in from Sex in the City...but however big or small your closet space, there are some awesome options for built in's on the market.
On island, I think Brand Source offers Closet Maid closets but if you want to source from overseas I can recommend both IKEA and Easy Closets. We installed a mixture of both and I'm really happy them.
- Easy Closets - their website is literally idiot proof and even if you mess that up, their personalised customer service will make sure you order everything you need for the perfect wardrobe. We ordered their systems for our guest rooms and our hallway cupboard and the whole process from ordering to installing couldn't have been simpler or smoother. Look out for regular discount codes - it's one of those websites where you should never pay full price. There's also a 20% off coupon floating around!
- IKEA - We have the PAX wardrobe system in our master walk in and I love it - I think IKEA actually offers more options for hanging and organising your wardrobe than Easy Closets does, and their shelves are deeper which I like. Ordering isn't easy though (and we did end up with some pieces that don't quite go together correctly because my measurements were a bit off) and I wouldn't recommend taking it on unless you have previous experience with IKEA assembly! It takes a while....but it's worth it in the end if you can stick it out!
They say the real test of marriage is flat pack furniture - and we're celebrating our 4 year anniversary this week so I guess we're built to last....
And on that note...fixtures and fittings done! PHEW!
Next up - furniture!