A Strong Finish


A Strong Finish

By Katherine Sullivan

When constructing a house from the ground up, architects, mortgage managers, contractors, and others almost always emphasize the importance of the basics—four walls, a ceiling, electrical and plumbing—and encourage leaving final details until the end.

While prioritizing in this manner is optimal, finishings are the step that turns a house into a home and let’s your style shine.

“Finishing” is a bit of an ambiguous word: what exactly does it take to finish a home? Finishes are your “personal imprint” on an empty building: flooring, paint, fixtures, furniture, lighting, and other interior design elements are all considered part of the “finish”.

Don’t let the name fool you—just because they are the last step to implement in home building, finishes are something you should consider from the very beginning of the construction process.

Devil in the details

“People say finishes are the easiest part, but I think it’s the hardest”, says Aline Heremans of Thoms Designs, an Interior Design and architectural firm based in Rwanda and working around the region. “You have to think about all the details. I think about the finishes from the very beginning of a build.”

While it’s true that four walls and a roof will provide shelter, without finishes, a house isn’t functional. “There is also added stress on a family living in an incomplete house”, says Ian Baillie, manager of Design Studio UG in Kampala.

Finishes give a house warmth, personality, and character. They can make a house that seems mediocre into something beautiful. “Finishes can still transform a poor house into something great. They can totally change it”, says Baille. The smallest of buildings can seem luxurious with the right interior design.

Step by Step

Interior design is a relatively new concept in East Africa . Until recently, many people assumed they could do their own interiors. But it’s changing, says Heremans. “I think at the moment Rwanda, where I work in particular, is changing, they are starting to understand what interior design is all about.”

Quality finishing starts with a concept. What feel is the homeowner going for, what themes interest them, and what colors do they find most attractive? Concepts can start from an idea as concrete as “boats”, or as abstract as “sophistication”.

After the initial concept, the designer or architect will move onto floor plan sketches. After sketches have been finalized, 3D views are assembled. Lastly, of course, is implementation of the design. 

Budgeting for design

“People often make a mistake in budgeting for building their homes”, explains Baillie. “People tend to build to their allotted budget and forget that finishes for a home tend to be the most expensive purchases. I would recommend that one third of the building budget get kept aside for finishes.”

Building your dream home requires taking all expenses into account, down to the smallest details, from the very beginning. Carefully selecting materials and monitoring laborers can cut down costs.

There are also some finishing tricks that can transform your home without breaking the bank. “For good cost effective result instantly I would say PAINT”, says Baillie. A couple of liters of paint in the right color palette can bring new life into an otherwise drab room.  

Also included in the finishing is outdoor landscaping—an important element that many homeowners forget to budget . In order to cut down landscaping costs, Baillie suggests sectioning off parts of the yard that the construction workers are not allowed to use, so that it will not be trampled on and dug up. “Plant some grass runners and watch it grow as the months of construction are underway”, he says.

When budgets get tight, there are always elements that can be added later. Get the main house designed right, and leave the two-car garage, swimming pool, or additional bedroom for the future. These things can be built on later when more funds and time are available.

Heremans recommends building modestly, but completely. “Many people just want a big building. They are wasting their money on a big house that looks nice from the outside, but the inside is bad”, she says. Constructing a smaller structure can free up some budget for finishes, as well as be more attractive and sustainable in the long run.


Locating the right materials can be daunting in East Africa. But there is a lot that can be done with local materials. Other items, of course, can be imported. The biggest challenge lies not in locating materials, but in finding a skilled person to work with the materials.

“In Rwanda you can do anything you want with the materials you have here, but you don’t always have the right technicians”, explains Heremans. To mitigate this, Heremans has assembled a trusted team of skilled workers. During implementation, she stays heavily involved in the building process to ensure that every detail is done right.  

One of the biggest challenges in the region is finding the right furniture to fit your home. With few options, and many imported, it is difficult to find quality, affordable, attractive pieces. But at the same time, the shortage of pre-made furniture encourages custom designs. Many designers and homeowners take advantage of the ability to customize their space by getting furniture made locally from local materials like wood, metal, and banana leaf.