Tuesday, November 5, 2013

9 things I learnt while renovating last time and need to remember

While looking for an image from my old house the other day, I came across the online version of my house feature in Real Living a couple of years ago. Along with the usual story, I had submitted some renovating tips I learnt which was cut a fair bit due to space restrictions. I read them, totally forgetting what I had written and realised that they were actually helpful. Especially to someone who is about to renovate (the bathroom is happening in less than TWO WEEKS! WHOO HOO). So I managed to help... me. But I thought these tips might be useful for you too, so I'm sharing the whole lot here. Already, it's made me redesign a few things, make some additions and a fair few subtractions. So without further ado, my top 9 reno tips. Please note these images and renovation details are about my old house, not the one we recently bought - we're totally slow coaches at the moment on starting (and most definitely finishing) things. It'll come.

The small window in the centre of this wall in our bedroom was salvaged from a crummy tool shed tacked onto the back of our cabin in the backyard. I painted a stencil on it for a little more privacy.

1. Reuse what you have
Not just for green reasons, but budget ones too. Rather than splash out on completely new, can anything be reused/revamped/moved etc? When renovating – especially to a budget – it pays to work with what you have and improve it rather than change it completely to be something entirely different. There must have been something about the building you bought that drew you to it – so work out what it is and emphasise that or use it as your starting point to improve the rest of the space. Rather than throw them away and replace with all-new aluminium, we moved the old-style awning windows around in our house – we now have a mix of old and new, but it works. It allows the home to retain some character. Instead of laying a brand new floor to get the blonde-wood look, we adapted our plan and painted them and loved it so much, we kept it.

 When first you don't succeed, try, try again! Our deck was built as an L-shape with a small covered porch and poky steps. Then we opened the stairs up to fit the entire width of the front doors. Then we finally covered the whole thing (and sold the house a couple of months later!)
2. Realise you might not get something right the first time/practice makes perfect
Despite living in our home for years before making major changes, we still managed to get things wrong.
- We couldn't work out what we wanted to do with the “downstairs room” (which was actually an old garage the previous owners had very badly converted to a room. They carpeted, didn’t line the walls and just shoved in a too-small glass sliding door. We originally created a large platform to make it a “sunken” living room, then created a little stairway and banister and finally decided it’d work better as two small bedrooms for the kids. 
- We also did the L-shaped deck with a small cover over the front doors, then expanded the stairs and finally put a cover on the whole thing. 
- A year or so after installing French doors in our bedroom onto the deck, we realised they’d become waterlogged and were not in fact exterior French doors and had to replace them. Need to be more specific when dealing with those you order from! You can’t always expect them to ask the right questions!

 Steve and I built this cubby house for the kids out of recycled materials. You can read about it here.
3. You CAN do things yourself. And it’s worth giving it a go
It’s tempting to pay someone to do the painting or floor sanding, but if you’re willing to get a little dirty and try it yourself, it’s not only worth it in the monetary sense, you get a huge satisfaction out of having that physical input into your home’s revamp. I debated paying someone $200 to tile our kitchen splashback, but really wanted to give it a go myself so I did. Steve cut out the tricky tiles for me and I did the rest – if we did a dodgy job, then we’d just get the tiler to fix it, but it turned out great! Steve and I have painted the house inside and out, project managed works, sanded and painted the floor, tiled the splashback, painstakingly planted new grass seed and built a cubby house. We’ve revamped furniture, helped move and install windows and filled hole after hole in old, cracking gyprock walls to get them smooth enough to paint over. It’s been a LONG process, but we don’t regret anything and now have a whole bunch of new skills we can take with us when we move.
We found our carpenter via our local hardware store. He did the bathroom and went on to do every major work in our house - except install the actual kitchen. My dad and I did that! 

4. Find people you trust and who were recommended to you
We didn’t know where to start to find a decent tradesperson to do our bathroom – our first major work that was contracted out. So we asked the local hardware for recommendations – they deal with tradespeople on a daily basis and know the nice ones from the not-so-nice ones. We called a few and after getting some quotes and chatting about what we wanted with our bathroom, we found our carpenter who we’ve used for every job since. It’s also a chain reaction – they work with people they recommend so you will likely find a great tiler/electrician/plumber/plasterer via that one contact.
 I lived with this kitchen for SIX years before we renovated it. I had to paint the green cabinets after a few months, but the lovely tiles with fruit randomly on them (WHAT is with the ugly tiles. Who thought fruit on a tile would be a good idea? Ugh) The door fell off just before we renovated - well, if six months is "just before"... 

5. You need to be patient – in terms of time and money
When we first moved in, we went crazy ripping down wall paneling and wallpaper, tearing up carpet, scraping off the ceiling spray and making the space liveable. Then we returned to work and thanks to the long commute (I was travelling 1.5 hours each way per day) and lack of energy, we ran out of steam in terms of renovating. By the time the weekend rolled around, we were exhausted, and would relax by soaking up the waterfront lifestyle we moved here for rather than working on the house. We put up with the half-painted walls, roughly sanded floors and major annoyances for a good few years before properly getting into it. And we vowed to only do major works when we had saved the money – we never took out a loan for anything we did on our house. If we couldn’t afford it, we waited until we could. It meant we were careful about what we really wanted and also ensured we didn’t get into crazy debt. It also meant it took seven years to complete our house, but while breaking up the jobs might be slightly painful, it’s exciting to see everything come together bit by bit.

 We chose Ikea for the kitchen and I bought the subway tiles from Bunnings (58c each! - I just grabbed a bunch of boxes today for our upcoming bathroom renovation) and tiled the splashback myself.
6. You don’t have to pay top dollar for everything
A lot of kitchen places use the same materials in their cabinetry as IKEA and Bunnings, so why not go with the cheaper versions rather than a custom-made space? The ranges are so huge now, there is scope to mix and match and adapt to make it suit your style and personalize it anyway – you don’t need to fork out ridiculous amounts for the same thing. We installed an Ikea kitchen and laundry (we actually installed a kitchen as our laundry!), our bathroom was practically all from Bunnings and a lot of our furniture is from chain stores like Freedom, Domayne, Fantastic Furniture and Ikea. We’re not afraid to customize new (and old) furniture with paint, wallpaper or fabric to give it a unique look. 
 It was never the slickest home, but we never wanted it to be. We don't strive for perfection. Our home featured things we wanted (the cut-out display shelves/French doors) and was casual and reflected us (paper lampshade, too-long, wrinkly curtains...)

7. Make sure your home looks and feels like you
You can be brave and bold if you like with colour, furniture and fittings, but will you love it forever? I’m a big lover of neutrals, black, white, grey and natural wood so you’ll find most of my home is just that. There’s not a lot of colour because I’m not very good with it. So there is no colourful or crazy statements in my home. But that didn’t stop us from adding features – like the cut-out display shelves in the living room or the black feature wall in the bedroom - we just made sure it was neutral enough to be loved by a future potential buyer and us at the same time. Same with the renovations we undertook – we wanted to turn the house into a cosy, liveable home that wasn’t too precious. We knew what we wanted – French doors onto a deck, lots of white and light and plenty of space for kids to be kids – so that’s what we set out to achieve. We could have made it trendier or more modern or something much slicker, but it’s not what we wanted – because that’s not who we are. You really need to live in a space fro a while to work out what you want from it – what you want to keep, what you want to change, what you want to improve. Regardless of DIYing it all the way or seeking out an architect, it’s invaluable to play around with floorplans and write up wish lists of features/items etc in a space. You need to know it back to front and get the right person to put your wants and wishes into place. Which leads me to next point…
 We managed to fit a shower/bath, toilet and vanity into our tiny bathroom thanks to some clever door dieting by our carpenter who was happy to work with us to achieve the result we wanted.

8. Don’t be a pushover
When getting quotes for our bathroom renovation, I had builders tell me flat out there was no way I could do what I wanted to do in such a small space (place the door in the middle with the toilet on one side and the vanity on the other). Some of them didn’t even measure the space to find out if it really was impossible. In the end we went with the guy who suggested we make the doorway smaller and was happy to work with us and our ideas, rather than dismiss them. And he ended up getting every carpentry job. Then I had a tiler try to talk me out of doing the mosaic feature between the vanity and mirror because it was “a difficult job”. Don’t take the first no as gospel – a lot of tradespeople are looking for a quick job and aren’t willing to do the little extras. So find someone who will. Or who will at least take your ideas into consideration and work WITH you to achieve the best possible outcome. You’ll know when something really can’t be done, but don’t just accept it the first time – the tradesperon should try all they can to do what YOU want, not what they want.

 This covered outdoor area with built-in storage seats (genius) and brand new cabin which housed a playroom/craft room/guest room with laundry and powder room was our biggest expense, but probably got the most use. It made the biggest difference to our home and was worth every penny.
 The inside of the cabin, cause it's a prettier pic :)

9. The amount you spend on a project should reflect how much you use it
Ours worked out to this rule – the biggest bill was also the biggest change to our house. We spent a fair bit of money rebuilding the cabin, decking and covering the back. But it’s made the biggest improvement to our home – we can now use and enjoy our backyard, we’ve got an extra room and an extra bathroom. The kids have somewhere they can play – rain, hail or shine – every single day and it is an asset to our home to have that space. Same with the front deck and creating the kids rooms – for the same money for either project, we could have installed bifold doors in our living room onto the deck. But they would rarely be open and the bugs would have annoyed us. The price should reflect what you’ll get out of it.

So there. Common sense, a lot of it, I think. But sometimes you can get so caught up in trying to replicate something you saw in a magazine or agonising over tiny details that you forget the common sense. I also discovered a few renovating tips while not actually renovating. Living in someone else's space you can't change does give you time to scratch your head about things they've done that you'll vow never to do. I'll have to share those with you another time...

Got some renovating tips of your own? Please share below - I'd love to hear them! 

{All pics by me except the cubby house, via Real Living}


  1. This is a great article. I love your decorating style it is very unique but traditional at the same time. I enjoy light colors as well. I also really like the dark hard wood flooring. My wife and I just had our house re-done and we decided to get a Spiral Staircase for our basement. We also had the step bases made out of dark wooden flooring, sort of like this.

  2. Amazing, it looks perfect and cozy!

  3. Your home is beautiful, I also renovated my home last month and I replaced everything from my garage door to my guttering system too. Earlier I had metallic gutter but now this time I want to go with aluminum gutters which doesn't rust with time and are pocket friendly too.

  4. The house looks beautiful. The beauty of house depends a lot on plumbing and electricity system. It should be properly made otherwise it can cause problem later and it cannot be repaired later on. The plumbing system is very big and it is made of several small constituents so quality product should be used while making it so that there should not be any problem afterwards.

  5. I like the desk and chair as I own the same :)