Monthly Archives: November 2015

(recycle, reuse & restore) Quick Smart Reno; A modest two-bedroom house with a low roof undergoes a renovation with charming results

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WHILE LIVING AND working in Sydney, marriage and family counsellor Susan Weil and her partner Emma Hohnen had their hearts set on buying an old farmhouse in Bellingen – a charming riverside town in northern NSW – and spent a year hunting online. But with no luck, they changed tack.

Not only did they decide to move their business, Beachhouse Therapies, to Bellingen and rent accommodation, they broadened their search. “We couldn’t get everything we wanted unless we paid top dollar, so we started looking for the right piece of land rather than the right house,” Susan says. “We were determined to buy and leave plenty in the bank to have a lifestyle.” Distance to town and a northerly elevated aspect (for sea breezes) were still boxes to be ticked. Luck struck. Susan and Emma, with their toddler Sahara in tow, found a glorious piece of land – that fortunately had a house on it!

Raising the roof

The family could live in the modest two bedroom home – actually a besser-block garage that had been added to over the years – while deciding whether to build at the top of the block. But it needed work. “The roof was very low, and structurally not sound in terms of the amount of rainfall in the area,” Susan says. “I wanted a vaulted skillion roof [a fl at roof that slopes in one direction] and to open up the ceiling to make the space feel bigger.”

Raising roof of the house

Raising roof of the house

Kitchen capers

PANDORA’S BOX Although Susan had initially only wanted to open up the ceiling and put on a new roof, the home ended up being gutted. “Once the roof and ceilings were ripped out – and the kitchen and bathrooms stripped of a few bits and pieces – it was a different ball game,” she recalls. Most of the interior walls were also removed. And at this “exposed” stage it was more economical to replace all of the wiring, rather than later. Plumbing had to be moved to accommodate changes, such as the repositioning of the kitchen (and bathroom) sink, making better use of the space.

Repair your kitchen

Repair your kitchen

NO STORAGE There was also a lack of kitchen storage, with no cupboards or shelves. “We had to build the kitchen from scratch – minus the stove and stainless steel workbench,” Susan explains. For shelves, she sourced timber from a local mill. The floating floor was removed and the concrete painted a neutral colour, which was also done throughout the rest of the house.

Dine, eat, live

IMAGINATION RULES The separate but adjacent dining and living rooms were small, so two internals walls were removed to make a larger, combined eating and living space. Read this article to select house renovation styles.

Rearrange living room, recliners may be good for saving space

Rearrange living room, recliners may be good for saving space

MONEY SAVER Bellingen can get very hot in the summer months and very cold in winter so the couple installed the best and highest-rating insulation they could afford. “We put in double the insulation required: 3.5-rating in the ceiling and 2.5-rating in the walls,” Susan says. “It is, and always has been, the biggest money saver long term. The winter has been very mild as a result – a small heater or lighting the slow combustion stove was all we needed to warm the house.” To further lessen their environmental footprint, the family use tank water and are planning to install solar hot water and solar power systems (see page 174, and visit “It’s not as diffi cult as people think, and with all the government rebates for these things it’s now affordable,” Susan says.

DECORATING STYLE This “recycle, reuse and restore when we can” attitude is also reflected in the pre-loved pieces that furnish the home, giving it a relaxed, comfortable vibe. “I want people to feel they can walk in, put their feet up on the couches and coffee tables and make themselves at home,” Susan says. “I love being outdoors, and that influences the way I decorate. I don’t want things that are precious. We have children and animals, including two dogs, two cows, a rooster, eight chooks and a lamb that wanders into the house, so our home is messy and real and has a heartbeat. It reflects us,” she says.

Bedroom blitz

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE The only aspect of the house that Susan is less than thrilled with is that the two bedrooms face south. “I’m sure this is a plus in summer, but it’s not great in winter,” she says. But a bedroom revamp has more than compensated. The concrete slab flooring had to be waterproofed to prevent water seepage, then seagrass matting was laid. Doors were replaced, ceiling fans were put in and a high window was installed in one of the bedrooms to create a cross draft. “It was cheaper to just put the window above the height of the new wall when we extended up,” Susan says. Outside, soil against the bedroom walls had to be removed for better drainage after rainfall.

Outdoor haven

ENTER AT LEISURE The pergola at the entrance was fitted with Laserlite sheets and new posts; the driveway was graded and widened; the property was refenced with hardwood timber; and native trees, and grasses for the cows and sheep were planted, as was an organic vegetable garden. A shed was converted into a yoga studio and counselling and massage rooms.

HEART’S CONTENT Recently, Susan and Emma found what they had originally wished for – an old farmhouse in a Bellingen valley, which they will relocate to the top of their block. Once it has been fitted out to lessen its carbon footprint, it will become the family’s main home – and their lovingly transformed, pet-friendly former garage will be (and sometimes is) available for farm stays .

Give Me Luxe On a Budget; A designing duo were inspired by a resort paradise to create the home they love

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Inspired thinking HOLIDAY HEAVEN Graphic designer Angelique Farrugia and studio manager/ graphic artist Steve Tortosa were inspired to find a “renovator’s delight” after a dream holiday at a luxurious Malaysian resort. “We were blown away by the resort and Angelique suggested we buy a run-down house back home and do something equally amazing with it,” Steve explains. When they came across a 1913 weatherboard property in the Melbourne suburb of Ascot Vale, they knew it was perfect for them and their two young sons, Noah, 4, and 7-month-old Jude. “We fell in love with the house and its potential,” Steve says. “We lost out on the day of the auction, but a month later it was ours.”

Creating spaceĀ out with an old house

creating space OUT WITH THE OLD The Victorian house was in a shabby state when Angelique and Steve bought it. However, the poky, dark rooms and ugly decor didn’t deter the intrepid renovators. The couple enlisted the help of builder Adam Cook of Travancore Homes to help them create their dream home. It was decided to knock down the back section of the house and create a large, open-plan living, dining and kitchen area, where the family could entertain friends and also enjoy each others’ company. “We prefer a feeling of togetherness, rather than living in a series of segregated rooms, and we like being able to prepare dinner and watch the kids playing in the garden,” Angelique says. The couple wanted to retain the home’s original features; they even sourced replica skirtingboards and architraves for the new section of the house to ensure the period style fl owed seamlessly throughout.

what should you do with an old house

what should you do with an old house


kitchen smarts WHITE IS RIGHT Steve and Angelique drew up about 20 different kitchen layouts until they hit upon the perfect configuration. The new space is both user-friendly and sophisticated, with a fresh white colour palette. A walk-in pantry holds lots of kitchen essentials, allowing the work surfaces to remain clutter free. White marble was chosen for the benchtops to echo the marble in the bathroom. “We love the effect it gives to a room,” Steve says.

Select a style for rebuilding a house

resort style SLEEK AND STYLISH Angelique and Steve extended the space of the original bathroom and completely rebuilt it, with all-new walls and floors, plus a new window. “This room was meant to be far cheaper and simpler, but Angelique, being a designer by trade, ended up going down the glamour route,” Steve says. Together they designed the entire room, drawing it up to scale, working out how it would be laid out and how the tile pattern – using intricate mosaic Bisazza tiling – would look. The couple designed a sleek black marble vanity unit with double basins to create a luxurious, hotel-like feel, in keeping with their original Malaysian-resort inspiration. The carcass was made offsite by a cabinetmaker and then delivered to the stone merchants, who cut the Black Marquina marble to wrap around the vanity. The stone merchants later installed the marble in the bathroom.

What style and color to choose for house renovation

What style and color to choose for house renovation

Bath room

“The bathroom is now one of our favourite rooms,” Steve says. “The Bisazza tiles were on the expensive side, but the impact they give to the room and the ambience they deliver far outweigh the negatives.”


light & white BEAUTIFUL BEDROOMS The main bedroom was originally painted a hideous yellow and had gold leaf on the ceiling rose. The couple repainted the room a fresh white, built a love seat under the window and added a romantic wall decal over the bed. Noah’s room became the ideal hideaway for a 4-year-old. The white walls were relieved of any possible starkness thanks to colourful cushions and other cute accessories.

Work space

WORKABLE WORK SPACE The study originally had a standard doorway, which made the room feel poky. During the renos a much wider opening was created, without a door. Steve’s father, a retired cabinetmaker, made the fitted bookshelves and painted them in a grey undercoat and a black satin oil-based paint. Steve then used the same paint on the trestle table, for a unified look.

Enjoy the house after renovated

Enjoy the house after renovated

the challenges The couple’s main challenge when decorating was being able to visualise contrasts working together: “Colour contrasts, contrasts in materials, shapes of furniture and light fittings,” Angelique says. “Also being able to mix and match different styles from different eras; being bold and making a statement. Steve sometimes thinks my theories are a little way-out, but he trusts my instincts and is always happy with the end result.” And what a beautiful result it is!

To get more ideas on how to redecor and renovate a house read our previous article.

An interior designer and builder couple tell of how they work together as a team – and share their knowledge of the best ways to renovate with a view to selling

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BUYING A PROPERTY with a view to renovating and selling it, or planning to do up a home you already own? You want to get it right first time – and maximise your profit when it comes time to sell. Meet Murray and Alice Flynn. He’s been a successful builder in Sydney’s north for 16 years; his wife, Alice, has been an interior stylist and decorator for about half that time. They’ve been working on projects together, from go to whoa, for more than six years.

Buy a house and innovate it

Buy a house and renovate it

Starting point

THE PROPERTY If you’re looking for a property to buy and renovate, do your research. Walk the streets to get a feel for the neighbourhood. “If possible, buy the worst house in the best street, not the other way round,” Murray says. Also, note the proximity to public transport. Can you walk to local shops, parks, schools and so on? What services are available in the neighbourhood? A locale with heaps of shopping and cafes will likely appeal to young couples, for instance. A more sedate one, to the older set or families with young kids. And so

Know your market

THE BUYER Right from the start, think about who will live in the property you will be renovating. This should dictate your build and the way you decorate. Is it a large family? Think open-plan living areas and extra bedrooms. Are they retired? Think cabinetry that minimises the need to bend, a minimum of steps, etc. “We spend a lot of time looking at projects in our area and talking through the things that have and have not been done well,” Alice says. Now you’ve bought the property (or are already installed in the home), it’s time to

Make a plan

Do this exhaustively. Begin by writing a clear and detailed brief of what you want to achieve. Set a realistic budget and timeframe and figure out if you or someone else will be project-managing the renovation (see right). In your mind’s eye, what date will the reno finish? What month or season will you put the property on the market?

Make a plan to renovate the house

Make a plan to renovate the house

Who’s designing?

YOURSELF Depending on your drawing skills, if you are designing the renovation yourself you may need to hire a draftsperson to draw up the building plans. “Generally, a draftsperson meets with the builder, draws up your plans, says good luck with the project and leaves,” Murray says. “The client submits the plans to council and then it’s up to the client and the builder to make it happen.” It’s about a quarter of the price of hiring an architect. “There are definitely different qualities of drafts people. Some have 30 years’ experience, some have five. One’s not better than the other – a lessexperienced drafty might know all the latest trends and read the magazines, and the older ones might be a bit more set in their ways.”

A design for your house renovation

A design for your house renovation

AN ARCHITECT “You are paying for their artistic fl air, something that’s amazing and a bit different,” Murray says. “They can walk you through all the steps, put in council DA (development approval) applications and be involved with the builder through the job. You pay a premium for this.” You can get approximate costing guides though your state’s Architects Registration Board (do an internet search).


The other option is to hire a building designer to make up your plans. Cost falls somewhere between draftsperson and architect. Check out the Building Designers Association website at See our renovation brief sheets, page 204.

Pick your team

MANAGING THE PROJECT You could opt to project-manage yourself; this will involve sourcing your tradespeople (“subcontractors”; make sure they are licensed) – builder, plumber, cabinetmaker, electrician, etc – and being onsite day in, day out to supervise the work. You will be in the thick of perhaps unknown personalities whom you may or may not work well with. Some of them might underperform, be lazy, late or incompetent – “cowboys”. It’s a risk you have to take. Get recommendations from people you know who have renovated before or people who work in the industry. Or you could hire a builder who will project-manage and call out all the tradespeople he regularly works with. That way, if there are any problems with the work, it all comes back to him.

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

CHOOSING YOUR BUILDER So how do I find a good builder? “Word of mouth and recommendations from people you know is the only way,” Murray says. It’s advisable that the builder be a member of the Housing Industry Association ( or Master Builders Association ( – ask to see proof. Also ask for details of the builder’s last four jobs – no good builder will refuse this request. If you can, inspect their past work in person. Builders are not supposed to charge for quotes.

COMMUNICATION IS KING “The key to working well with any tradesperson is communication,” Alice says. “And it’s not just between the homeowner and the tradies – it’s essential between the designer/architect and the builder, too.” You as the client need to feel comfortable with your team – to click with them – and have similar tastes and styles. It needs to feel “right”. Murray always tries to incorporate Alice’s design suggestions; “Happy wife, happy life!” she laughs.

paying for it You have two options: fixed price or cost plus. They both have pros and cons. Most building projects are paid for in stages.

FIXED PRICE You pay a fixed lump sum for the project. You need to agree on exactly what the project is to include before you sign. Any changes or addition you make will be charged extra. Some builders will charge you an inflated price in anticipation of unforeseen expenses.

COST PLUS Some builders will only work on cost plus because it poses less risk to them. If, for example, the workers are digging and hit bedrock, it’s the client who pays for the earthmoving equipment, not the contractor, as with fixed price. But the client gets more flexibility than with fixed price – you can make changes as you go along because you pay the builder by the hour, and he buys the materials at trade price and passes on the discount to you. “But clients usually underestimate what it’s going to cost,” Murray says. See page 206.

Priorities & choices

A SEAMLESS LOOK The whole idea of a new renovation is to make sure it looks like it’s always been there. You don’t want things looking like they have been added on. “You need to match the bricks, gutters, roof and tiles to the existing ones in the house,” Murray says. “Keep it simple. Go for clean lines. Don’t go over the top with detail.”

SPEND MORE ON Well-renovated kitchens and bathrooms. Use mould-resistant paints in the bathroom – it doesn’t cost much and future-proofs the ceiling and walls. Be sure to factor landscaping into your budget – this helps sell the property.

SPEND LESS ON “Ultra-expensive brands – you don’t get the return,” Murray says. Choose well-known brands that are moderately priced – for your kitchen, lighting, carpets, etc.

GOING SOLAR Some plumbers want to choose the hot-water system – the one that’s most convenient for them to install. Don’t allow this. Especially don’t let your plumber choose an electric water heater for your project. These can account for up to 25% of power use in the home and are likely to be phased out of freestanding homes after 2012. Install a solar water heating system (as well as all the other eco products that are attractive to buyers) – there are several kinds. Government rebates are currently available. Visit for more information.

DISHWASHER Install one. Many people don’t know it – or they refuse to believe it – but doing the dishes by hand uses up to five times more water and 60% more energy than a dishwasher with a 4-star rating.

Preparing for sale

FIRST IMPRESSIONS This is what sells a property. “It’s pointless spending $100,000 or whatever amount on your reno and doing a cheap decorating job,” Alice says. “Keep a realistic part of the budget for quality paints and basic, attractive, reasonably conservative furniture that you can dress up with accessories. Keep the style generic and safe – even if your own personal style is more wild. You want to appeal to the maximum amount of people.” Avoid clutter at all costs. “Think each room through. Workshop your decorating with friends whose style you respect and test out looks. Keep reading homewares mags like real living – they are full of inspiration.”

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

It is very important to pick a good team to build the house

ONCE YOU’VE SOLD “Give the new owners all the manuals, warranties, spec sheets and contacts from your renovation as a goodwill gesture,” Murray says. “Offer to walk them through the house once you’ve settled to show them all the in and outs.” Finally, encourage them to pass on the details of your reliable builder and trusty tradies to their own friends and family. Happy renovating!