Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My home style over the years

After last week's post about Instagram messing with my mind and making me question my taste in things, I wondered how much my style had changed over the years. So I went through the archives of my blog (and when I say archives, I mean the archives via Wayback Machine - this poor blog has been majorly hacked a couple of times over the years, meaning a whole bunch of content has yet to be posted to this site; I could win awards in procrastinating). Anyway. Going through the archives I realised my style hasn't changed too much at all - maybe refined a little, but mostly, the basis is the same: white, black, grey, hits of natural timber and a shot of surprise. For colours I still like them muted and with a touch of grey.

I also spent a silly amount of time looking through my Pinterest boards - back to the start when I first starting pinning images I loved. Aside from the odd WTF picture (usually after looking at it for a little while wondering if it was an accident, I noticed there was some small part of the image that spoke to me, not the entire thing), I realised again, it was pretty consistent. Looking through my past, it's clear I've always had these relatively clean, simple spaces. Even when the mess was insane covering every surface and you're ankle-deep in tiny toy cars or dolls, the spaces were still relatively simple in terms of furniture, decor and colour. I've always said I was afraid of colour and would joke that I'm boring in my decor. I wondered when the urge to throw a red cushion on my couch would hit. Or to buy bright art or paint a wall something other than black, white or grey. It never has! So boring or not, this is obviously who I am and I guess there is nothing wrong with it. It's taken me a while to accept that. I thought I was waiting to grow up and find my style. It turns out it's the same style I've always had and most likely always will. I realised, though, while the rooms are pretty simple and standard, I've always tried to incorporate some kind of statement feature - murals in a kids room, driftwood hanger, cut-out recessed shelves, stencilled window, black wall, fairy lights in a branch... Just one thing to make it look a little more unique - and it's not often something bought, but something made - something just for you that not every single person on Instagram has bought from Typo or Kmart or the wall decal store. Creating something yourself - or directing someone else to do it for you! - is the best way to inject that bit of personality into your home. After all, a house is a home when it reflects those who live there. 

I can't imagine me straying too far from this formula for our upcoming extension and renovation - in my mind the house itself is all blindingly white walls with black accents on door hardware, the fireplace and fans, stair rails and balcony and the odd piece of furniture. The floors will be natural timber (my whitewashed floors were nice, but annoying to upkeep so they're going), there'll be a few statement pieces of furniture (hopefully!), a bunch of greenery with houseplants, simple and stylish rugs, a few fun kids elements and pieces and features that we love and that bring us joy (see previous post!). 

It's all going to be simple and clean - the calming backdrop for our chaotic lives, the perfect blank canvas for our colourful crafts and imaginative play, the ideal space for our family to grow, spend time with each other and have our own spaces for that all-important alone time. The kids will get a say in how their rooms will look and Steve will have his own library space to play with, leaving me in charge of tying it all together. I can't wait. 

{All images of my previous homes. Pictures by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home}

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Breaking up...

No, not with my husband (I still kinda like him!) Or the blog (though it's tempting!). Or sugar (NEVER gonna happen). Or anyone. But with... things. Physical things. Mental things. Annoying things. Things. A year ago I was sitting at my dining table that was piled high with papers, half-finished kids crafts and an overflowing washing basket. I had approximately 10 minutes before Annika woke up (I knew this because I had just put her down - the child does not sleep!) and basically I just wanted to enjoy the sunshine coming through the back doors and some peace and quiet before it was back to my one-arm life (she also only ever wants to be held...) I looked over to my sideboard for a spot to put the washing basket and my eye just saw things. Too many things. A pile of books with a shell and glass dome on top, a brass stork I bought from a charity shop, about 8 different vases with nothing in them but the shapes or colours were nice so they'd been collected over time. There was a clock that didn't work that was a gift so I felt obliged to keep it there, candlesticks, decorative letters that once adorned a wall somewhere, random picture frames, some white ceramic animals I don't recall buying and a pile of magazines. Oh the magazines. That was just one pile - I knew there were cupboards full in my cabin from my previous life when I worked for them. I realised I couldn't see my sideboard properly - obviously there was a piece of furniture there, but you'd be hard pressed to notice its beauty. The map on the wall - one of the favourite things I own - was barely noticeable for the crap that lay beneath it and the string lights I had draped over it. The two items that I loved in that whole space - my Parker sideboard (roadside find!!!!) and vintage world map (one of the first things my Dad bought when he migrated here from Germany) were hidden by things. Things I didn't even really care for. Or - as was the case for a lot of them - things I didn't even like.

While these "things" had been styled to some degree into vignettes you see in magazines (assorted heights/ layers/odd numbers!), there were too many of them. The sideboard is so large, I thought it was the perfect space to show off some pretty things. But in that moment I realised how stupid it looked. It looked cluttered and pointless and dusty. The only reason stylists do these decorative vignettes in magazines is to promote as many products for advertisers as is physically possible - after all, most of the time it's all about getting you to buy something. I suddenly hated it all. So instead of enjoying the sun, I picked up a box and put pretty much everything on the sideboard in it. Then I walked around the rest of the living areas and boxed anything that just screamed at me "WRONG!" There was quite a lot. I grabbed a few other things I had piled in a box in my bedroom for when our house was big enough to display them again. And I grabbed all my Domino magazines from storage, chick-flick DVDs I just don't watch and a couple of chairs that were just taking up space outside and piled everything on my dining table. I made up signs and had a spontaneous mini yard sale the next morning. Whatever didn't sell went straight into the boot of my car and to the charity shop. I felt so happy. I felt lighter. My house instantly looked cleaner and tidier and nicer. Better than that, the emptier space made me want to ensure it was always clean and tidy. I started to enjoy cleaning - there were less things I had to move to dust or vacuum. It was addictive to keep it pristine and good for my soul to see clean, empty surfaces. I started making my own cleaning products to enjoy the experience even more - it was creative DIY that didn't clutter my space or look like a shonky DIY project (which, let's face it, so many do). It was a nice feeling but I wasn't finished.

I've never been one for excess. I rarely buy things for the sake of it. I don't own or want a cupboard full of kitchen appliances or five different sets of crockery - I don't care to spend a good chunk of a pay cheque on a Thermomix or even a Kitchenaid. I used to want a Kitchenaid mixer - I thought being the baking-lover I am it would be worked into our kitchen budget and look smashingly good sitting on the kitchen counter. I never bought it. I like my little hand mixer and I like my almost-bare counters even more (There is a toaster for convenience, though, and fruit bowl and knife block). Even when I worked at Cosmopolitan magazine, I didn't spend all my money on clothes, shoes or going out - we had a mortgage we were keen to pay off as quickly as possible. We bought things only when we needed them or in terms of the big things like a house/car/boat/renovation, when we could afford them - we have never owned credit cards or gone into debt for anything other than the mortgage on our house. We don't buy the kids things for the sake of it. They get a few things at Christmas and their birthdays. They get new clothes when they need them and at the start of each season. There are no cupboards of make-up or beauty supplies. There are more than enough towels for each member of our family, but only one set of linen for each bed. There is one vacuum cleaner, one broom, one mop. There is not only nowhere else to PUT extra of anything, but there is no need for it either. And to me there is still too much stuff in this tiny house. And with four children and two adults and so much noise and chaos every day (and night!), I need calm and order and quiet in some aspect of my life and I feel I can get those instantly to some degree with less things and a tidier home.

I started being drawn to Instagrammers with clean, simple spaces. Those magic "people you might like" suggestions that Pinterest and Instagram do are amazing - they always get it right and soon I found myself following a whole bunch of new people who loved their homes, who lived with less and who were happy. One day I saw a comment on someone's Instagram about a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I'm pretty sure you've heard of it - hasn't everyone by now? Well I hadn't at the time and so Googled it. And read review after review of it - I was a little obsessed. In fact, I probably didn't need to read the book because the reviews and constant articles or blog posts about it told me all I needed to know. But I wanted the whole context so I bought an eBook version and read it during Annika's feed/nap times. Honestly, the last time I completed a whole book that wasn't a children's book was before any of my children were born. I haven't read anything - completely - in almost nine years. That is a whole other issue! I lapped that book up. I read every page. I eye-rolled so hard and questioned her mental health several times throughout it (and also mine - I was reading a book on TIDYING? What was wrong with me?), but sometimes even the most blindingly obvious things in life can be missed and in this case, it took a book to tell me that I should only keep things in my home that bring me joy. How simple and obvious is that? And yet... I realised I wasn't really living that way. I started her method immediately. 

I didn't stop at the contents of my home (to be fair, I'm still going, but with our home all upside down in parts due to our cabin being torn down a few months ago in preparation for our house extension, I have to hit the pause button on some areas). I felt the need to apply the konmari method to other areas of my life. For each of the new people I started following on Instagram, I unfollowed about 10 more who didn't inspire me or who started to bug me. I said no to invites to things I wasn't interested in. I stopped blogging for ages because it was a huge chore. I even turned down all work - even crafts for Kidspot and other offers - because making the kids do forced crafts for photos wasn't bringing them OR me joy. Instead, we started exploring more of our area on the weekends with bush walks, we got obsessed with nature and creating things with it. We realised it was ok to do absolutely nothing some weekends except watch movies or sport and let the kids run crazy outside all day and play computer games or YouTube videos at night till really late. Because sometimes, being ignored by my children and ignoring them for hours on end doing frivolous things brings me joy.

I even got rid of niggling thoughts that were stressing me out unnecessarily; the main one being my lack of career. All my life growing up, all I wanted to be was a news journalist. I became one. When that got too heavy, scary and depressing and I craved the lighter side of journalism, I knew magazines were for me and that's where I ended up. Once babies came along, I watched that life and the determined, ambitious me, drift further and further away. Ideas for various things would pop into my mind and ultimately be brought to life by other people. I watched shops start up, business ideas flourish and careers I'd maybe have considered had the time been right, all be taken up by someone else. My mind became muddled and I didn't know what I wanted to do anymore. I still don't. I have NO IDEA what I want to do with my working life when the time comes to go back to it. It's a horrible feeling and a new one. So I recently decided to not worry about it anymore. Not right now, anyway. There is no need for me to work. We are incredibly lucky in that respect. Steve has a good wage and Annika is still young. I never wanted to work outside the home when my kids were little so why worry about it now? Why not be grateful I can enjoy this time time with them. Why not put that energy into enjoying being AT home? After all, playing house - buying, renovating, decorating, living, being around the home - has been my obsession since forever. So I might as well take this time to revel in it - in those little things like nice-smelling, homemade cleaning products, tidy, organised spaces, edible and pretty gardens, play spaces for the kids, designing and organising our extension... These things are bringing me joy, so I'm sticking with them.

You know what doesn't bring me joy sometimes? Instagram. This week I just stopped using it. Not for ever; maybe not even for another day, but I just couldn't stand being on there anymore seeing the same images, the same selling of souls for free gifts and money, the same waffling tones that make you think you're doing motherhood wrong if you don't write in poetry the fact your kids ate breakfast or tied their shoes. The same sameness. Social media is a funny thing. For something that inspires so much and brings me in contact with great people and ideas, it completely, utterly does my head in at times. From watching small businesses get ripped off by bigger companies (I'm looking at you, Kmart), to seeing a product I love become a trend and done to death in a matter of months or even weeks hurts my brain. I'm now even seeing this "less is more" lifestyle, the KonMari book, the simplicity and beauty of little things become "trendy" on Instagram and it makes me question every thought I have now when I decide I like something: am I liking it because I like it or because I have seen it so much, I assume I'm meant to like it? Am I doing this because others are? Or because I want to? What is harder to deal with is when you do it BEFORE it hits the "trend" bandwagon and then you feel like everyone will assume you jumped on it too. That is the most annoying one... Oh no wait! The most annoying aspect of it all is seeing people spend a lot of money buying a lot of new things in order to live with less. Seriously, if you're doing that, you're doing it very wrong and for the wrong reasons! The truth is, I don't want my home, my kids clothes, my activities or my lifestyle to look like everyone else's. But sometimes they do. I am guilty of having similar kids clothes, plants or home accessories and adventures or activities to many, many other Instagrammers. Because when you find like-minded people with similar tastes/ideals/style as your own in a handy app on your phone, whether you're the copier or the copied, if you keep peeking into the tiny square windows of their lives, sooner or later, it's all going to look the same. Your real life is filled with different types of people with different interests and styles and values. On social media you can pick and choose and seek out people just like you. The downside is it becomes a very concentrated dose of "you" in so many forms and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! Maybe I just need to get over that. And maybe my love/hate relationship with Instagram is a post for another day.. Right now, I have to sleep! I do wish my sleep pattern was not of the "living with less" variety, but alas, it is right now. A shame, really, because sleep most definitely does bring me joy and is not something I could ever break up with...

{All pictures are scenes around my home. Images by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home}

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Spring is here! Big changes are coming! Life is gooooood

The first day of Spring seems as good a time as any to dust of the old laptop. Oh who am I kidding, this thing gets more use than ever. Just not by me! Those four kids of mine though like to steal it and sneak it and play it or watch the most boring and pointless YouTube videos of people opening Kinder Surprise Eggs. Or watching other people film themselves playing Minecraft. The internet has become a strange place... But I still have my little corner of it. And while I've neglected it terribly, I'm not sorry about it. It's been a nice break and I nearly didn't come back - why bother?! Blogs are dying; social media is where it's at if you want to make a name for yourself and YouTube is where the money is (I believe?) But I'm not in it for the money, I don't care about being popular and I'm certainly not in love with myself enough to film myself daily doing everyday things. I just want to take pretty pictures, record my family and home life and share things if anyone is keen to read them. So I'll potter around here - most likely in and out when time and patience allows or the urge hits - and I'll keep my little blog going for a while longer yet. And as our plans are being submitted to council this week for a large extension, there will be a fair bit of stuff happening around here soon that I really want to record. I've dreamed about this for years and we're so close. I'm SO EXCITED! We've been in this house just over two years now and at just 80sqm for a family of six with NO storage (seriously, there are no wardrobes, no linen cupboards, no laundry - nothing), we're very much ready to stretch the floorspace and give each occupant a little bit more room. It's not going to be huge - we don't want huge. We don't want glam or high-end or perfection. We just want something right for us and it might have taken a year to work it out through plan after plan and change after change, but I'm so glad it did take that time cause we've nailed it now. And I'll cry rivers if Council says we need to change something.

In the meantime, here are some pretty Spring-y pictures from my Instagram feed (I know. I am THAT person who posts Instagram pictures to their blog. BUT, you have to let me ease into this a little, ok?!) Besides, the first picture is a blog exclusive (because I'm pretty sure I've already exhausted the number of cherry blossom pictures in one week that would be allowed).

1. Cherry blossoms on my kitchen counter. I've wanted a cherry blossom tree for years. We bought and planted one when we moved in but it got smaller and smaller after Zak kept kicking his ball at it and breaking off branches. So we moved it to the backyard and last year it yielded one lone blossom. This year was a whole bunch more, but these were cut from someone's tree... I'm hoping next year it will be slightly more impressive again!

2. Gerbera ballerina. I bought a couple bunches of $2 gerberas for Layla's birthday party and as they started to wilt, I got creative with them! This whole ballerina was made from a gerbera and other bits of nature in my backyard (a camellia bud for the head and dry grass blades for the arms).

3. Exploding gerbera. One flower pulled apart and rearranged.

4. Layla picked this native vine on a bushwalk - it wrapped around her head and tied onto itself: the easiest flower crown ever!

5. We found this little bird's nest after a windy day at the base of a tree. Immy's collected flowers seemed right at home...

{All images by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home. Instagram: @belindagraham }

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Immy turns four with a knights and princesses party

This little princess turned four on Sunday! And it's the last year I get away with immy having a family-only party because she has little friends from preschool now (it's so cute to see these little friendships bloom). I asked what she wanted to do for her birthday kind of hoping she would just talk about cake but she wanted a princess party. "A dress-up princess party" to be exact. I may have swore on the inside, but on the outside I of course smiled and said "of course! What about a Knights and princesses party?" thinking we'd do cool jousting on pretend horses and make flower crowns and dance around a maypole. And then as usual I realised I just didn't have the energy to go overboard so I asked her what games she wanted (pass the parcel, piñata, cookie decorating) and we went with that in a princessesy way - crown piñata, star glow wands in pass the parcel, glittery  sugary pink sprinkles and mash mallows for the cupcake decorating (we ended up with cupcakes instead of cookies after I forgot to make the dough in time). And then of course there was cake - a castle as the princess demanded and I have to say it was one of the easiest cakes I've ever decorated!! No cutting involved! My only "effort" was making a some little puppet theatres for the kids to decorate and a brown-paper castle that I taped SO neatly and effectively (!!) to one of those pop-up shelters we had. In my head the castle looked so good and worked perfectly. In reality it didn't want to stay upright, tore easily and had packaging tape all over it. The kids thought it was cool though and honestly that is all that matters right! Imogen had several costume changes throughout the day - her birthday outfit she opened that morning (pictured above), then she quickly changed into an Anna dress when it was gifted to her and again into Elsa - another gift. Then at the end I made her get back into her birthday dress for these pictures and after they were done she was Anna again. Phew!  

I may or may not have stolen roses from the next door neighbour's rose bush that is so tall it towers over the fence and so was teasing me with its perfectly rosy petals calling to be torn up and thrown on the ground - a fitting ground cover for princesses.... 

My sister made these awesome costumes for my nephews - how cute are they?! Zak told me every day for two weeks he didn't want to dress up; he didn't want a costume. The day of the party? "I want to be a knight". Cue much frustrated yelling. I told him to make a sword. He needed my help. I spared him about five minutes to glue it together. He wore a Socceroos champions jersey and carried his sword for exactly 35 seconds. Glad I didn't make that costume!

Perhaps not so princessesy was the whacking of a piñata - I've decided it's easier to just cover the sides of piñatas with paper or thin cardboard rather than painstakingly fringe up tissue paper!!! They still get cracked open just fine and you can go into more detail with the design (if you really wanted). This time I covered the sides with white paper then cut out the silver crown, glued it on and had the girls glue the cut-outs and sprinkle glitter on. It was s little messy when it was hit but I didn't hear anyone complain of glitter in the eye! We did have an egg on the head though when my 2-year-old nephew walked up as Zak leant back to whack it and instead whacked Ben in the head. Eek. Bad timing - and amazingly, our first piñata accident (there have been A LOT of pinatas in the eight years I've been throwing kids parties).

THE CAKE! Sponge cake (two layers from Woollies) with jam rolls for the turrets slathered in vanilla buttercream and topped with mini waffle cones also covered in buttercream and sprinkled with pink sugar glitter (no idea what it's called). The bamboo skewers through the tops of the cones keep it altogether and are topped off with a little tape cut into the shape of a flag. Mini marshmallows on the edges create a kind of "stone edge" effect and the parapet (YES I googled castle parts to work out what it's called). And a squirt of chocolate-fudge-in-a-tube made a wonky door. She loved it. 

In our very authentic medieval castle - with parapets - we played pass the parcel, musical chairs and decorated and played with mini puppet theatres I made out of toilet rolls.

They were pretty easy - cut a little window using a scalpel and hot-glue-gun on a little hat for the Rapunzel tower. Cut a parapet around the top of the toilet roll and a drawbridge at the bottom for the castle. Draw up a little knight and/or princess on cardboard, cut and stick to a bamboo skewer and have the kids decorate them. The just stuck on some little flowers and drew on vines and bricks or just coloured in. They can then use them as a puppet and theatre in one.

Cupcake decorating is messy but a good one for kids to do. It keeps them busy and helps you out! You don't need to worry about how they look! One less job! Here is Layla's efforts. Yes, a lot of sugar was consumed...

What is a party without balloons? I made a simple balloon garland for the inside decorations which at the end of the day became the number-one-thing-to-play-with despite all her presents. She grabbed the garland, knotted it up and ran around the yard again, again and again. Good way to wear her out!

Her request for the morning was animal balloons like I did for Layla last year. But I had to change it up a bit so made her a princess, a heart and a number 4. She was thrilled.

And so another party done! Another child is another year older. And I have yet another one growing swiftly and celebrating her birthday next week - Annika is turning ONE! Already! It's really starting to freak me out how quickly birthdays roll around in this place! 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A real, hopefully helpful, honest guide to renovating your bathroom

Renovating and decorating is so personal. One person's penchant for trends is another's personal time-warpy nightmare back to when they lived with it the first time (kind of like the '80s fashion that keeps coming back!). Regardless of what you choose to outfit your bathroom, the process of renovating it can be pretty overwhelming. I thought I'd outline some of the things I considered, some problems that appeared, some tips and tricks I learnt along the way. I've now renovated two bathrooms (our current house / our old house) and one laundry/WC and am by no means an expert by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think I have some tips to share. And I like to share; I have a blog, don't I?! I also spoke to Dana of House*Tweaking who recently revealed her bathroom renovation and has some good advice too, because it's nice to hear from others who've been through the same thing. This is by no means all the information ever on renovating a bathroom, but it might help in some small way - even if it's tip on taking a million photos so you have some back-up for tradies who might have lost all their important notes written on the wall to an over-zealous plasterer...

Finding your tradies
Ask anyone - ANYONE - who has ever used a tradesman for anything ever and they will say "oh so-and-so came out to give me a quote and I never heard from them again." I have no answer for this annoying trait, but maybe it's in their manual... So yes, you will likely get someone who will waste your time, but you need to find one first, right? Here are a few tips.

Ask around and get recommendations. We knew no one when we renovated our first house - not a soul - so we asked the local hardware store and they gave us the name of a carpenter who ended up doing our whole house. The smaller local hardwares are best - they know their stuff and they work closely with regular, local tradespeople who aren't just after the cheapest price for materials.

You don't need to use a dedicated bathroom place. I don't know much about them but I would hazard a guess that they know what they're doing BUT you'll pay for it.

A good carpenter/builder will know good plumbers, electricians, tilers, plasters - anyone else you'll need for the job. So one recommendation will usually result in a whole team. Same goes the opposite way - if you've ever used a plumber or electrician for another job, they may know a good builder for the job too. These types of tradies are usually contracted by various builders so they get to know them well - who pays them well, treats them well, is organised, who produces good work. They're one of the best sources of recommendations.

Try to have a good idea of what you want before you get someone out. We never got anyone out for any work until we knew exactly what we wanted. But we welcomed their advice and suggestions and even made some of their changes.

The right person for the job is not just the best price. You want someone who is willing to work with you to get you what YOU want - not what THEY want (and there will be some who only want to do what they want. We had a tiler who didn't want to do a feature cause it was in the too-hard basket; another builder didn't like our layout and wanted to change it to something that was less work for him!). We chose our carpenter for our first house because he tried his best to bring our plans to life, even when others had dismissed them (We wanted a certain layout with a door in the middle of a wall. Two builders looked at my sketch and said it couldn't be done. The carpenter actually measured the space and suggested we use a narrower-than-normal door. He got the job.)

Coming up with a layout
This may be dependent on budget, but if you have the luxury to have the space redesigned, here are some things to think about while playing interior designer...

Invest in grid paper and make each square equal 50cm in real life. That's what I do with everything! Draw up your space and measure your existing shower/bath/vanity/toilet space as a guide so you know what you're playing with.

Think about moving utilities to make the best layout for you. A narrow bathroom works well with the bath or shower at the far end.

Consider moving the wet spaces furthest from the door - I don't know about you, but my kids make a huge wet mess every time they have a bath. Toilet trips and teeth brushing meant wet feet right before bed in our old bathroom because they had to pass the bath to get to the sink and their socks (in winter) would get all wet. Or they'd slip over. Now, the vanity is right at the door and the bath/shower beyond it. It hasn't stopped the problem completely, but it's much, much better.

Don't let windows throw you. We have twice now kept the window in the shower/bath - tilers can waterproof and tile around them and with semi-opaque glass or window adhesive, there is no problem with privacy!

Think about moving the door. A door in the centre of a wall gives you another option for a small bathroom - you can place the toilet on one side and the vanity on the other of the same wall with the door in the middle. Open the door so it opens to the side with the toilet. We did this in our first bathroom renovation, pictured above. My bathroom MO hasn't changed much, has it?!

Consider gaps between things like vanities and baths or the wall. You don't want any gaps that you can't get your hand/arm into to clean. Trust me, it's gross. Either leave enough space to get in there or have no gap. There are all sorts of nasties lurking in those hard-to-reach places.

Make sure you really have space for everything - seriously, write a list of all that you require to be in your bathroom that will take up floorspace: laundry basket, bin, toilet brush, toilet paper holder, a stool for the kids... and then make sure you have enough room for it all!

Give yourself enough room on either side of the toilet - I'd allocate a minimum of 80cm to a toilet, with it centred in that space. It's best to place it in a corner so it's close to a wall so the toilet-roll holder is in line with your arm while you're, um, sitting on the throne, rather than having to bend around and do gymnastics to the wall behind you. We have 40cm from the edge of the toilet to the wall on one side and 70cm from the other edge of the toilet to the bath on the other. The smaller space allows a spot for a bin and toilet brush while the bigger space has a tree trunk (temporarily - when I get my butt into gear and go to Ikea, it will house a step stool for the kids.)

Give yourself plenty of space in front of the toilet too - our vanity is 60cm away from it, allowing a thoroughfare for little people to wander in (!), but I wouldn't want to go any closer to it.

Give careful thought to which end you want your showerscreen/taps - you want to make sure you have enough clearance to get in and out of the shower - especially if there is a vanity nearby. You also need to be careful your screen won't smash into anything if you're going to have it swivel, like ours does. Ours opens onto the wall, which is ideal.

Consider a recessed sliding door into the room if space is tight - no door swing might allow you a bigger vanity or more toilet room. You can also request a narrower door or have it slightly shaved if need be. Sometimes a few millimetres can make a huge difference to something fitting perfectly or your layout changing completely!

Don't waste your chance to squeeze in extra storage - recessed wall cabinets might be your thing, try built-in shelving like we did for towels and toilet paper or, if you only have space for a small vanity, think about building in a small ledge above the vanity for toiletries you use everyday but have no space on the sink for.

Making it pretty and practical
You've pinned and stalked Instagram for snippets of bathroom styles you love. Now for a reality check: don't be blinded by the prettiness of some pictures - magazines or styled images always remove signs of life (shampoo/soap/toilet roll stash/scales/toilet brushes etc) so what you're seeing is not necessarily how your space will look should you replicate it. Instead, take note of the things you find repeating themselves in your fave pictures (colour, natural materials, a particular tile) and see if you can work that into your space. Practical AND pretty is what you want. Not just pretty. Here are a few ways you may be able to get it.

Think of different places for your electrical outlets. We placed ours behind the door - it's close enough to the vanity but out of reach of children and water and can't be seen day-to-day. If you rarely use electronics in the bathroom, this might be ideal - or perhaps in a wall cabinet.

Really think about the colour of the grout - especially on the floor. White tiles with white grout on the floor is just asking for trouble. You might as well just choose grey grout because it will inevitably turn grey anyway! My personal preference is a darker floor with lighter walls. If you like the look of darker bathrooms (and we're gearing towards the dark side for our ensuite), I'd still make the floor darker than the walls. I just think they look top-heavy if the walls are darker and it feels off balance. Again, personal opinion but one to consider.

Test your floor tiles at the store - natural stones with a bit of texture are less slippery than smooth tiles. Take a bottle of water with you and wipe a bit of water onto the tile and see how slippery they are. It's a small, not-perfect test but you'd be surprised how slippery they can be. And NEVER use wall tiles on the floor. You might read this with a crinkled-up "well DER" face but in our last rental, they had used the wall tiles all over the bathroom - including the floor. And we hit the deck more times than I'd like to remember. Plus they had cracked in several places on the floor - I'm only assuming here, but I wondered if wall tiles are thinner than floor tiles and this was the reason? Either way, I cursed that bathroom every time I used it!

Consider your showerscreen options Fixed, frameless shower screens are quite lovely to look at, but if you have a shower over your bath or have little kids, a showerscreen that swivels is a great idea. It still can be frameless for the invisible look, but the hinged style of it allows easy access to taps, bathing little ones and cleaning (you can rinse off the outside of it in the shower!

Avoid bath "shelves" When tiling around a bath, depending on the style, you might have the bath sit into a frame which could leave a little tiled "shelf" along the edge (see my picture at the top of the post for detail). This all sounds well and good in theory, but the water pools here like nothing else and the grout stains so easily. I'd ask your builder for other options.

Think about how the floor will match the floor in the rest of your home We chose a grey floor tile that worked well with our whitewashed floors. We're actually planning to resand the floors and stain them when we extend. I'll be choosing a cooler, grey-based stain to match for flow. Orangey pine floors might clash with cool-coloured tiles. Bring a sample tile home and check it in natural light and at night to see if it works. It's not one that can be easily fixed!

Think about what kind of sink you want and who is using it - I always wanted an above-counter sink. To me, it acts like a wall for items on the benchtop - handy when you have young children who are awesome at moving things around randomly and knocking things into the sink. So many times our toothbrush holder was knocked in - along with anything else sitting on the benchtop. It's seems a small annoyance, but appears to be big enough to warrant a change.

Mixers vs individual taps Mixer taps are pretty popular, but I don't like them in a bathroom. In the bath, they are so easy for kids to bump or play with, potentially causing burns. Steve's story about his childhood friend whose skin was burnt from a bathtub has haunted me, so they were out. I considered using one on the vanity but I wanted the same style tap throughout the bathroom.

The range of ready-made vanities might be limited depending on the style of taps you want. I wanted wall-hung taps to show off the cross style I chose with an above-counter basin. Could I easily find a vanity that had no holes in it for the taps? Nope! It was a challenge - most have one hole for a mixer tap or three for your standard-style taps. I was trying to get a good deal on eBay or a hardware store but was limited. In the end, I found BTH, which has a good range.

Tiling around a window ledge, but will cost you a fair bit more than standard tiling. This is due to them having to grind angles on each tile for the corners. Just so you know!

The smaller the tile, the higher the price! Not necessarily the tiles themselves, but apparently all tilers have a hatred for mosaic tiles, so they charge you for them! I was told the rule of thumb was: the smaller the tile, the higher the price to lay them per square metre. My subway tiles cost a fair bit more than regular square tiles would have; mosaics or smaller squares would have cost even more. Next time I think I'll choose gigantic tiles!

Tiling is surprisingly expensive. I'm not sure why this surprises me, but it does. Aside from the carpenter's bill, the tiler was the next expensive. His fee came in at around $2000. To cut costs, we only tiled to the ceiling around the shower area. The walls away from the wet area we did just above the tap line for the vanity. Then for the built-in shelving we just did a border tile near the floor. The bonus thing about doing a half wall of tiles in areas that don't need it is if you install a towel rail or hooks, you're not drilling through tile so they can be moved if you realise you need something different or in a different spot. It happens.

The bigger tile you use on the floor, the smaller amount of grout you need to clean! I'd balance out the large-style floor tiles with a smaller wall tile...

Heat lamps might not be the prettiest thing ever but if you decide against underfloor heating, they are so good. I won't shower without the heat on in winter - it really does make a difference. And you don't look up so no worries!

Discuss with the plumber where the showerhead will sit to ensure it's the right height for everyone. If someone in the family is above-average height (like Steve!), it might need to be installed higher than normal - especially if it's in a bath, which is always slightly higher than the floor level. You might also need a longer arm from the wall if it's a large-circumference showerhead (like our rainfall one) to ensure the right amout of clearance from the wall and so you don't need to angle the showerhead everytime you take a shower.

A few more top tips...
Some miscellaneous things I thought might also be of interest. Warning: poo talk is involved.

Water-saving bits can be removed I do my bit to help the environment but I REFUSE to have a terrible-flowing shower. We bought a rainfall showerhead and were so excited and then the first few showers were pathetic. And the bath took 24 years to run. I asked the plumber what could be done and he just said "I'll just remove the water-saving device in them." Five minutes later we had a fast-running bath and a heavenly rainfall showerhead. They are the only two taps I've removed them from, but a little luxury is good for the soul.

Take photographs of each stage of the renovation From demolition, to re-studding, to the plumbing bits fitted, images of the various stages can really help when small hiccups occur. It's amazing how often the photographs of the studs came in handy. When the time came to install the hooks, the builder's notification to themselves of where their stud was had been plastered over. And when the builders forgot to cut a hole for their electrican's cables for our oven in the kitchen, my photos helped the electrician work out where it was so the damage was minimal.

Plan ahead If you're going to install a towel rail or hooks for towels on a wall, have the builders put a stud or noggin in place where they'll go so it's not just screwed into the plasterboard.

Look at your toilet. Really look at it. I made the mistake of just buying the narrowest toilet I could find that didn't have plastic parts (I didn't want a plastic seat). But once it was all in and our bathroom was in working order we quickly discovered annoyances that has Steve and I hanging for a pristinely perfect toilet in our ensuite! Inspect the inside of it - you don't want an opening that is too small that waste will not be flushed out properly. I'd also avoid toilets with a bit of a "shelf" on the inside. Excuse my potty talk, but when you have small children who tend to do their business close to the front of the toilet, there are issues with their, um, "presents" collecting on the little shelf and not flushing properly, leaving lovely artwork-style marks and generally stinking up the place. It's like the toilets I came across a lot while in Germany. I hated those things! The best styles are bowl-style with a large opening at the base. And that's the end of the poo talk!

Baths - especially bath/shower combinations - will move over time. So keep in mind the grout might crack slightly after a bit of use and you may need to redo the grout and the silicone around the edges too. Mine needs to be done, I'm still working on finding some time to do that! 

Have the tiler look at the toilet base before he begins tiling - some require the tiles to be cut perfectly around the base as the plumbing IS the base, while other toilet's have a base that fits over the plumbing and therefore will cover the tiles.

Strange smells will be temporary Oh wait, I lied. A little more poo talk: you might discover a delightful (!!) sewerage smell while your bathroom is being renovated. This will disapper once the toilet is fitted with S-bends so just bear with it for a little while. (It's still gross).

This is another one of those things people will debate about. MY opinion is this...
Taps: All have water-saving devices these days and need to be made to meet a certain standard, so they're all going to be pretty similar. I bought our taps from Bunnings and they were the higher end of their range but still a lot more affordable than at a bathroom store.
Tiles: Tiles have a huge range of prices for the same kind of thing. I bought all my tiles from Bunnings and even the tilers suggested I get them there as they were a great price and a good tile. IF you want a particular tile or a feature wall of amazingness, then this would move into the splurge section. In my bathroom, we used simple styles so no need to pay through the teeth for them.
Toilets: Again, they need to meet standards and have water-ratings. I'd just avoid anything with a plastic seat/cistern.
Hardware: Towel rails, toilet-roll holder and hooks - I just can't justify spending a lot of these items. As long as the quality is good - they seem sturdy and look nice, does it really matter if they're bargain-priced?

Vanity: This is your one real piece of furniture in the room, you want it to be a bit of a focus and nice looking so I'd buy a nice one. Ensure it's not going to blow out if it gets water-damage, so badly-sealed laminates (on edges) are not a great idea.
Custom fittings: Built-in shelves, recessed shelving or door changes can be huge game-changers to a space so are worth spending on.
Tiling: You might not have a choice! They're expensive! But we're glad we upped the budget to allow for the half walls of tiles on the vanity and toilet walls rather than just a floor border. It was worth it to us (plus - happier there are tiles behind a toilet rather than just a wall!)

I spoke to the lovely Dana from House*Tweaking - owner of this pretty space, below - for her top tips for renovating a bathroom. Here's someone else's perspective:

If possible, work with the current layout to keep costs down In a perfect world, I would have moved the tub / shower plumbing to the opposite wall but we saved $$ by keeping it in the original location.

Choose classic finishes for longevity Bathroom materials aren't the easiest to switch out (as opposed to, say, a pillow on a sofa). Subway tile, hexagon tile and/or penny rounds in neutral colours are good go-tos.

Take a risk! I had my heart set on a vintage cast iron tub set in a wood saddle base, but had no tutorial to follow and many people tried to talk us out of it. We made it up as we went along and somehow pulled it off (above). It's one of my favorite projects to date.

Choose your grout colour wisely Light grey or sandy-coloured floor grout is super family-friendly!

Information overload? You could play a drinking game for the number of times I said "consider" or "think"!! I do hope some of it's helpful. And I'm sure there are a million more tips and tricks to renovating and decorating a bathroom space effectively, but you'll come across some of them as you tackle it. And if you've already learnt some, feel free to share them in the comments section for those who are gathering as much information as they possibly can! If you're after more tips about renovating in general, try this post for some things I've learnt along the way.

{Top images by Belinda Graham for The Happy Home; bottom image by Dana Miller for House*Tweaking}