Masterclass: Interior Design with Jacqueline Butler (part 1)

October 15, 2021

We are so excited to be chatting with the sensational Bondi interior designer, Jacqueline Butler, principal of Jacq Interiors.

Jacq is the owner and principal designer at Jacq Interiors. She is a qualified Interior Architect working in Sydney, currently based in the Eastern suburbs. She graduated from the University of Technology Sydney in 2003 and has worked in the design industry ever since. 

This post is the first instalment of our two-part series with Jacq. We cover how she started her Interior Design business and what she sees as her primary role as an Interior Designer. She then provides some practical advice on the most cost-effective Interior Design upgrades and some of the traps to avoid when buying a home to renovate.

Jacq pictured - selecting tiles for a client to create the perfect individual palette

Tell us a bit about your journey in the industry.

I worked in an Architectural firm for much of my early career before having two children and starting my own business in 2013. Once I made this decision, I rediscovered my inspiration for design as my true creative essence was reborn. This rebirthing allowed me to explore my own design ideas with my clients. 

At the same time, I also focused on forming closer relationships with those in my industry, such as builders, consultants, suppliers & subcontractors. 

These relationships help bring a project to fruition and allow us to be involved in some great projects with an end product of which we can be proud. 

What do you see as your primary role in a project as an Interior Designer?

Whilst I have my own style and tastes that draws heavily upon nature for inspiration, I also work well with many varied briefs and types of clientele. I pride myself on understanding the client's needs and desires to create the best outcomes for all involved. My main objective is to create spaces that look, feel and function beautifully and timelessly. 

I believe that an Interior Designer's role is to help create their client's dream space, which is created through a positive experience and exchange of energy between the client and the designer. I really enjoy working with clients that understand and appreciate the creative process. However, in this industry, a designer still requires practical skills and experience to deliver a great renovation or new home for their client. 

It is crucial for me to maintain very positive relationships with the builders, consultants, and subcontractors involved in bringing our projects together and respecting all their contributions. It really is a team effort in this industry. 

You can have the most beautiful ideas and design; however, it needs to be brought to life by some very clever people who are masters of their trades. 

The relationships and experiences over the last 18 years are truly what allows a dream to become a reality. 

I thoroughly enjoy my career and am very grateful for all that have contributed to my experience of it thus far. I love that I am continuing to learn new things in my business each week, discovering new approaches and ideas to offer to my clients, and meeting new people and working with such a beautiful client base that offers so much appreciation that it really makes my time as an Interior Designer so worthwhile. 

What are some of the easiest and most cost-effective interior design upgrades which make the most significant impact?


The most straightforward and most obvious is painting. 

This is something most people do as soon as they are moving into a new space anyway. It feels like people are making it their own by giving it a fresh lick of paint that suits their tastes. This can make a big difference and if that is all the budget allows, then play around with it. 

There is a strong trend towards colour right now, and if you feel like getting creative, you could add some colour to your space. I am personally a fan of white walls throughout unless I am creating a backdrop for something special or perhaps a background of a bed in a bedroom. 

White is safe as it is clean, fresh and timeless. It allows you to have a blank canvas. You can then add your personality via decor, artwork and stories that have come about with items that tell your story that you may have collected along the way and are precious to you. In a nutshell - If in doubt, stick to white!


Flooring solutions is my next choice.

Flooring can often be an excellent place to start also. This tends to be more costly; however, I feel the impact is usually worth it. A perfect example of this is when you get an existing timber floor sanded and refinished. 

Many older homes have varying timber pine boards with noticeable knots and wear in them. A great way to diffuse the busy pattern created by these knots and modernise the space is to sand them back and apply a limewash finish. You can vary the intensity of the lime and have it very white, or you can simply add only a dash of white in the mix and allow more of the natural timber tones to come through. 

New carpet is often a good change if you don't have the option for the timber boards. There is something about the idea of a fresh carpet to make the space feel clean and fresh. There is a whole conversation that could be had around carpet, but that's for another time….

There are so many options when selecting a carpet. I always love a natural fibre carpet, or you could consider sisal if you like that style. I would consider your options if you have young kids, though. Some natural fibre coverings are much harder to clean, unfortunately. There are also suitable selections if you or your family suffer from allergies. 

Timber V-Groove lining wall covering example. Image source: Pinterest

Wall  Coverings 

Wall coverings are also a great way to transform a space. You can consider exposing the existing material of a wall finish if that is appealing, or you can add a wall covering to the face of an existing wall. This can look great as a feature wall in a living space or a bedroom. 

Some simple solutions are a timber "v groove" panelled wall. You can measure your space and order these sheets online. Some considerations need to be made if you have existing skirting boards and cornices. You can detail the panelling in a way that works with your home's existing constraints and style. 

Light fittings 

This is a really quick and easy change to make to your home or apartment. 

Older homes generally have some really awful light fittings. These are obvious changes that are pretty simple to change the look or vibe of a space. 

Be wary that some older buildings may require a complete electrical upgrade, which comes at a cost. Still, if you simply want a few new fittings, this shouldn't be a concern.  

You can easily replace pendants and wall light fittings with new ones. If you can't make these changes for some reason, you can always bring in some new light fittings that can be in the form of a standing lamp or tabletop lamp fitting. These can act as a styling element for your room and also provide some ambience to a space. 

There is a vast selection of fittings like this that can be viewed online, and they can also be really affordable. You can also keep your eye out for a rare vintage find that may become part of your new collection. I like to always mix some old with the new. 

Be wary of doing your renovation and falling into the trap of having every element as a brand new fitting. This can often look like you've created a showroom in your own home. This can also be an issue with fashion trends transitioning into a new phase, and you've just invested in a look that now seems outdated. 

Be selective of the globes you are selecting for your lighting. Often, electricians won't ask what type or colour of globe you want to use. This can result in very cold, blue lighting quality, and this is a big no-no. It will make your space feel sterile and uninviting. I always like to specify warm globes to create a warm and inviting mood with ambience and personality. 

What are some of the traps that buyers can fall into when buying property to renovate?

House renovations

1. Thinking that renovating is quick and cheap 

Whilst this sounds a bit negative, it's not. It's just about being prepared and understanding fully what the process entails. Getting a professional on deck to help you design your dream space is critical. 

The next step that really helps is to get a builder involved in the early stages. They can often provide some guidance and realistic feedback on costs and timing. It's best to be realistic about the quality of the product you want. 

In this industry, it's all about "you get what you pay for". If you cut corners, it's usually evident in the finished product.  I have had many clients request a basic design service to be involved in the design and try and save money. Unless you are experienced and have renovated before, in my experience, this can be a regrettable move. 

For the most part, these clients end up coming back for further design advice when the builder and trades are throwing questions at them left, right and centre. Preparation and functional design are essential here. The builder and trades can work much more seamlessly and quickly when they have a design and documentation to work with from the outset. 

2. Council Controls

Depending on what and how you wish to renovate, you will need to consider the Local Council's Controls, otherwise known as the Development Control Plans. These can be accessed online from your local LGA if you are interested to understand them yourself. Many internal renovations can be executed without council approval, and some may only require approval from a Private Certifier. We can offer advice on both of these cases should you be confused about which authority you need to be dealing with. 

If your renovation is extensive, it is always best to seek advice from a designer, architect, or town planner to discuss your ideas and the Scope of Works. 

Some Development Applications are a costly process requiring several consultants. If you factor this in, you can be assured about what is permissible in your locality and on your site. If you skip this step, it can result in a refusal from the approval authority, and you will have wasted both your time and money. 

3. Parking 

As mentioned previously, many agents will gloss over the subject of parking. It's important to review this topic in detail to get a parking space approved for your property. You won't always be granted approval for this, and once again, it can be a costly and timely exercise. Seek advice early on.

4. Asbestos

This was a common material used as lining in the 1960s and earlier. If you have asbestos present in your home and don't wish to disturb it, it isn't really a health concern. Suppose you want to renovate and you need to remove or demolish an area with asbestos. In that case, you will need to remove it professionally and legally. 

There are high-risk health concerns and fines if you don't do this as per the rule book. Once again, your builder or local council should know about this. Seek advice. 

Apartment renovations

When purchasing an apartment, whether to live in or as an investment, it is always wise to pre-plan your renovation. You need to be aware that every Body Corporate has different rules and regulations. 

It is good to review the by-laws and understand what is permitted and not permitted under the current laws. You can always create a new by-law to suit your proposal; however, this involves engaging a lawyer and obviously comes at a cost. 

Apartment renovations are always a little more tricky than a free-standing home. Consider a few of the following items before jumping right on in:

1. Neighbours  

Best to always give your neighbours as much notification and consideration as possible. This makes way to retain good relationships, but it also makes the builder's process a lot smoother. 

Often builders are left to deal with unhappy neighbours, which can waste a lot of their time on-site trying to keep everyone happy.

2. Plumbing

Unless you are on the bottom level and have flexibility with plumbing in the space below, it is often safe to assume you will have to be creative when renovating kitchens, bathrooms and laundries. 

You can redesign these spaces whilst retaining the existing plumbing locations. Obviously, there are some tricks of the trade to get around these things. This is where having a designer and builder on your team comes in handy!

3. Timber floor boards 

Many apartments still have carpet throughout every room apart from wet areas. Most of my clients want to change straight away. Unfortunately, with many apartments, this is not a simple alteration. 

Some Body Corporates require acoustic reports proving that there are no sound issues with the changes. This is a cost that will need to be factored in early on in the piece. I have had one or two clients' applications refused on this matter. We instead selected a very stylish carpet or sisal, but it was not the client's first preference. Just another critical item to be aware of when purchasing. 

4. Existing structural elements

Most renovations, whether minor or significant in nature, will require a structural engineer. This can be a requirement from the council at the Development Application or Construction Certificate stage. 

If there is no need for any applications, you can still require an engineer for more minor alterations. The designer, architect or builder can help you organise this process. It is essential to be guided realistically by your design team to understand what is possible. 

When it comes to changing the structural elements of your home, most things are possible, but it will then be dependent on your budget. 

As mentioned previously, everything comes at a cost. It's all about what you are willing to pay and how much bang for your buck you get!

Budget, budget, budget...

This is the final yet most important factor when it comes to renovating. Get a budget organised and be realistic about it. This is a vital conversation to have with your design and building teams at the start of your project. 

If the designer and the builder know your budget, they can be much more helpful in guiding you towards the best solutions possible. I have had a few clients with very high-end taste, yet they simply don't have the budget to meet that level of detail. 

This is where an honest conversation is very valuable. It's great to trust what your experienced team, contractors and consultants are advising you. If you can't afford what you originally wanted, it's wise to stop, pivot and reconsider early on. 

This is much more preferable than running out of money mid-construction and let me tell you, it does happen. You can still achieve a really beautiful home on a budget. You just need a savvy design team to get you there.  

I have worked with many clients in my career, and I am blessed to have such a beautiful client base. In saying this, most clients are not in touch with the current construction costs, and this is where the professionals really can help. 

I always provide my clients with a basic cost breakdown template that outlines the items to consider when creating your budget. 

When you are getting your budget together, some of those critical elements to consider are:

Labour costs 

This is where the costs really add up. We have high labour costs in this country, and a qualified builder can provide cost estimates based on your designer's documentation and design package

Material costs

There can be significant variation in the costs of materials. Ie. Local and sustainable hardwood timbers vs imported and non-sustainable hardwood timbers. Also, what may look like a cheap way to finish a wall in an image online may actually be more labour intensive than a standard plaster finished wall. Designers and builders can advise on this

Builders' margin  

This varies from builder to builder.

Design fees

This covers the cost for your designer or architect

Application fees  

This is generally for a Development Application, a Construction Certificate or a Complying Development Application. There are many hidden fees in these processes, and it's best to become familiar with them early in the process so you can plan for it in your budget. 

We can provide you with more detailed information on these fees if you want to get in touch via our website for a free 15 min phone consultation. 

Consultant fees  

Consultants and their reports are often required for the Development Application, and Construction Certificate process should your application seek this type of information. 

Each application varies along with the requirements of the different consultants. Your design team will help guide you through this process, so you understand the costs involved. 

Accommodation costs

This is applicable if you need to move out of the home whilst it is being renovated. Your builder can outline a time frame for you to work out what your leasing costs will be. 

I would always recommend arranging a little more time than what is suggested. Building programmes often run over the scheduled time frames, and you don't want to be homeless.

Simple standing lamp or pendant can add a great effect to a room. Image Source: Pinterest

Fittings and fixture costs

If you want to purchase these items yourself, you can arrange a quote with your supplier, or your designer may do this for you. There can be a considerable variation in the costs of fittings. You will need to discuss with your builder if you can purchase these outside of the contract and not pay the builder's margin on these items. Some builders are ok with this; some aren't.

And finally... furniture & lighting  

These two elements are often left until the final leg, and money can be tight by this stage. I've had several projects in the "almost complete" stage, and the client has run out of funds to properly furnish and light the spaces. 

It's perfectly fine to use some of your existing furniture in the new home but just work out what you want to keep and replace and allow for this in your budget. 

Also, well-designed lighting plans and fixtures make a massive difference to the look and feel of your space. I would recommend investing some thought and budget for these elements. Have a detailed discussion with your designer about this.

A special thanks to Jacq for chatting with us. We're super excited for the second instalment of our conversation, so stay tuned.

Follow along for more from Jacq Interiors on Instagram @jacq_interiors, or you can contact Jacq directly via her website at

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