Category Archives: renovating

never again (but so glad we did)

Ok so I may have unsettled a few people with the last renovating post – especially my lovely tweep @lgcollard who really doesn’t need the stress right now 🙂 – so I thought I’d post this one up, one of my old Web Child ones. It’s kind of a silver lining tale… I guess. And there is a silver lining – cross my heart…

The House That Luke Built

Renovating the family home is sort of like giving birth – people can tell you it hurts but you never really know how much until you do it yourself. It’s been six months and two days ago since I last wrote about our renovations – but who’s counting? Well, me, actually – especially considering the fact that it has also been six months and two days since we last had running water in our house.

Regular readers might recall that myself, my husband Luke and our two kids decamped to the in-laws’ for a brief respite at the start of the renovation. However, as the project stretched on beyond the realms of any of our collective imaginations, this arrangement became impractical because my husband had a huge fight with his dad for a variety of reasons. It became necessary for the four of us to move back into our shell of a home and confront the renovating beast head-on.

This experience has led me to understand two things. Firstly, this is, indeed, the lucky country. And secondly (and most importantly), plumbers are, quite simply, gods.

Living without a bathroom, kitchen and laundry for six months has led to a whole bunch of creative arrangements regarding what most Australians have come to consider the basic necessities of life. My husband’s affiliation with a variety of sporting clubs has been invaluable. He has never trained so hard in all his life, knowing that at the end of his session the kids and I would be waiting – toiletry bags in hand – ready for our shower. The lack of water has also meant, unfortunately, that the laundromat has become my favoured after-work haunt. And I cannot even begin to tell you about the benefits to a renovating family of the humble plastic bucket. But to the kids it was all a bit of a culture-shock. Indy said to me once, as I plucked a stack of buckets from the shelf of the local supermarket, “Mum, are we poor, like in the olden days?”

The one saving grace for us was the fact that we had a working outside tap where I could go several times with my little plastic friend. How very Little House on the Prairie I would muse in the beginning when it all seemed a bit romantic. Now, as we approach the finish line I must say that the sight of said bucket fills me with a sort of primal rage.

But all of this perceived hardship has made me stop and think about the blessings we have living in this country. Even with water such a scarce resource, most of us need only turn on a tap to have the precious life-giving liquid at our very fingertips. Living without this luxury has given me a new sense of empathy with the homeless, the displaced and those living in the developing world. Sadly I feel disingenuous even saying this because my waterless existence has been temporary and at the end of it is the shiny vista of our beautiful new renovation.

But, as difficult as it has been, I think it has given our kids a sense of their own privilege and a certain gratitude for their comfortable lifestyle. I don’t know whether this will last after the painters have packed up and gone home – but I can almost guarantee that I will be there to remind them at convenient moments.

As to the renovating procedure in toto, let me just say that everything the battle-worn renovators before me have said is completely true – tradesmen who don’t turn up, messes of apocalyptic proportions, delays and more delays, legal loopholes, blood, sweat and tears. Of course when I was told this prior to our own project all I heard was “Blah, blah, blah, Egyptian crystal chandelier, blah, blah, blah, open living area, blah, blah, blah, walk-in wardrobe with extra shoe storage.” I wish I had paid attention.

But hindsight, as the saying goes, is a wonderful thing. And people did try to warn me. After I wrote my original Renovation Rescue post I was contacted by a writer who had been through her own nightmarish version of the Jamie Durie dream. So bad in fact that she wrote a book about it. Amanda Falconer even rushed me an early copy of The Renovator’s Survival Guide which is being released next month. While it was just a tad late to save us from the hell of our own making, it has some great advice for anyone else who is feeling seduced by a granite benchtop or six-person spa bath.

But I guess the last word has to go to my husband. He of the perma-stained hands from the lacquer used in our timber features. He of the grout covered dress shorts I bought him for Christmas. He who spent all day hanging our French doors until I came home and told him they were upside down. He who learned to tile, lay bricks, wire a house and install a kitchen. He who trumped the architect with his own original ceiling design. He who tiled our bathroom until midnight on New Year’s Eve while I sulked (feeling neglected) in front of the fireworks on TV. Luke is not the most romantic or demonstrative guy on the block, but he built me a house and that’s all I need.

PS – I have just one question to other experienced renovators: When does the dust stop?

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just don’t do it

In honour of fellow blogger and tweep Kerri Sackville’s relocation to the home of her dreams – as she tells in her usual Kerri way (i.e  bloody funny) on her blog – I am thrust into a certain nostalgic revisitation of the nightmare that was our own renovating project. I have included here the two blogs I had published on Web Child at the time. The unpublishable details were much more dramatic – and there’s just a taste in italics here. Let this be a warning to anyone with owner/builder dreams. Just buy a frigging house that’s already done.

Renovation Rescue

Day One of our renovations and I have come over all Dorothy Parker as I ask: What fresh Hell is this?

I am simply not a renovator and never thought I would be. All I really require is a roof over my head and a good book. When Luke and I were first married that was about all we had and I thought I was the queen of the world. We had bought a little two bedroom house and couldn’t believe, after years of share houses and living with parents, how much space we had. ‘Look at all these rooms!’ we said as we rattled around our early 1900’s cottage. “We have a dining room and a kitchen. And look at this huge spare bedroom for the baby.” We sat on beanbags and watched our 34cm TV and thought this is how it would always be.

Two kids later and we have so much junk it would make your head spin. The kids are exploding out of their shared room. My foyer-cum-office cannot contain my burgeoning writing career and Luke is sick of watching TV from our bedroom.

As luck would have it our next door neighbours live in a house built on an identical plan to ours. As good fortune would also have it our neighbour is an architect and an impossibly nice guy – who better to design our extension?

The designing was the fun part. Our architect came up with some fancy computer generated images of what our house would look like after the extension. We would be the proud owners of an extra bedroom, a shiny new bathroom, kitchen and laundry and, the holy grail of all Aussie families, an open living area. The plans shaped up beautifully. We were home and hosed. It would be so much fun.

And yes, I am officially an idiot.

I think I had visions of how I would be whisked away for a five star vacation until Jamie Durie escorted me back to my sparkling new abode. The only problem is there’s no-one doing any such whisking.

Luke decided that the demolition phase had to begin immediately. DURING THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS. I had promised my boss I would do some extra work so I left the kids with Luke and the mate who had come to help him remove the back of our house (and part of my sanity).

I came home to an apocalyptic nightmare. As I stood at the back of the house and looked out at the rubble I was suddenly terrified. This was not going to happen in the ad breaks. I tried not to cry and turned back inside. But here was where the real damage had been done. I think Indiana and Levi just figured, “When Mum sees the mess Dad made she’s sure not going to worry about us.”  They broke all the rules. There was food in the bedroom, doonas all over the floor, colouring-in paraphernalia from one end of the house to the other and some rather suspicious looking organic balls scattered randomly around the place – the work, no doubt, of Rex, our pet rabbit. But, when I discovered my fire-engine red, cashmere pashmina strewn across a bunch of tools I saw, well, fire-engine red actually. I rounded up the kids in a shouting kind of way, said a clipped goodbye to my poor husband (who had been working all day with an ingrown toenail of gangrenous proportions) and put the kids in the car.

Where did I think I was going? To my oasis of course. My renovation rescuers. My in-laws.

My mother and father in-law are two of the most patient and accommodating people I have ever met. They have housed, at different times, all of their six adult offspring and various accompanying partners, kids, pets and European backpackers.

Their home is the very definition of a family home. Everyone has a key and we all come and go pretty much as we please. If one of the extended family is out and about for the day and is in need of any of the following: a swim; a salad sandwich; relationship, financial or real estate advice; time-out from the spouse/kids; the latest movie on Foxtel; a strong coffee; a stiff drink or a good cry – we just pop over to ‘The House’, as it is known.

So here we are, staying at The House. Each day I go over to my own estranged dwelling and measure the depth of the packing sand being trodden into my polished antique wooden floors. I collect the mail, shiver in the windblown cavern of our former life and get the hell outta there.

When I pick the kids up from school we rush back to The House where the fridge is full and the heating is on high. Levi usually runs to Pop’s chair and Indy lounges on the daybed while they unwind from their busy day. I kick off my shoes and take a deep breath, counting my renovator’s blessings one by one.

When I’m here I don’t really mind how long the renovation is going to take. I think I’ll just wait for Jamie Durie to knock on the door.

What I Couldn’t Say At the Time

Before this first blog even went live my husband and his dad had a rather large ‘disagreement’. My husband – being one of those especially wilful males decided that in fact we could do without the comforts of home – any home. So we packed up the kids, collected a very long piece of metal (I don’t know what it was for), washed our faces and had breakfast at Maccas. Rinse and repeat for the next 6 months. I kid you not – we lived without a bathroom and laundry for at least that amount of time. We also had no stove – not that I had much of an appetite, WHAT WITH HAVING NOWHERE TO GO TO THE TOILET.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Anyway – we survived, in a fashion. This was how the last chapter played out.

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

Who could forget Jane Saville’s heartbreaking disqualification during the final moments of the 20km walk at the Sydney Olympics? What is it about the human race that makes us able to endure extremes of discomfort – pain even – only to fall at the final hurdle? This week, my husband and I stumbled in the home straight. The problem is, when you are a parent your kids are often up there in the grandstand, watching the action.

In the last few weeks Luke and I have had a momentous breakthrough in our home renovations. We now have a kitchen, bathroom, laundry and running water – things we have lived without for six months. During these six months we have not had a single argument. People who have watched our renovating dream turn into a renovating nightmare have asked how it is that we are not divorced. My standard response has been, “Life’s hard enough right now, why fight with each other?” But, almost the moment we had our creature comforts back we launched into not one, but two, fights. The first one was minor – something to do with paint. The second one was rather more significant.

Luke had been working long, long hours – both at his own job and on our house. One afternoon I left him pinning up the sheets which would make the last of our internal walls while I went to choose blinds for the windows. I returned home – happy with my bargain shopping – and found him gazing upwards with a rather dazed look in his eyes. I thought it was merely a case of too many fumes from some type of building glue but, as I followed his eye line, I found to my horror that he was gazing in exhausted admiration at a new ‘decorating feature’ – one which we had not discussed – permanently fixed at the highest point of our beautiful cathedral ceiling. Now, as I am not keen on the practice of public shaming I cannot, unfortunately, tell you what it is (but for those playing at home the title of this blog is a cryptic clue). I can only emphasise the fact that I was. Not. Impressed. Tired and emotional myself I was unable to hide my feelings. “What the…?” was the best I could offer. This was followed by a very loud ‘discussion’ – okay, I admit it, we had a fight. Plain and simple. And a big, shouty one at that.

Luke and I don’t fight a lot – that’s not to say that we are always walking around in a state of love-struck bliss, we are an ordinary couple. But I am not fond of shouting arguments and often try to find another way to express myself – even if it means having a ‘cooling-off’ period. When I was a child, before my own parents were divorced, there were many, many loud arguments in our home. I have often thought that there is no lonelier place than the bed of a small child who is listening to their parents argue – again – after lights out. This might have something to do with my desire to find alternative methods of resolving our marital differences.

But, on the day of the surprise ‘decorating feature’ I forgot all my tidy resolutions and, with the kids playing in the backyard – well within earshot – my husband and I shouted at each other and I cried copious amounts of tears. When I went outside to calm down, the kids gathered around me like baby birds at feeding time. “Why are you crying Mummy? Why were you and Daddy shouting?” they asked, both of them curious rather than traumatised. I was still hurting and would have happily said, “Because your father has no taste”, but – gladly – I acted a bit like a grown-up and said, “Mum and Dad just had an argument. You know, like you guys do? You shout and cry and so do we.” The explanation was all they needed and they returned to their game.

Later that evening Indy turned to me and said tearfully, “I don’t want you and Daddy to fight.”

“Neither do I sweetheart,” I replied, “But we do and we will. It’s just the way life is. People fight. It doesn’t mean we don’t love you. Or each other.”

With my wounds still raw I don’t know if I was completely convinced of the last part but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time. Turns out I was right. We do love each other. And – just between us – I have even become a little fond of the ‘decorating feature’ – sort of like that wonky big toe or crooked smile you adore on a loved one. It’s part of our story.

BTW – if any of my family or friends are reading this, just remember: Don’t mention the ‘decorating feature’. 😉


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