Down under right way up

Originally published in At Home magazine.

Vegemite, Victa lawn mowers and the Hills hoist are nostalgic Australian inventions born from our love of life at home, but here’s a new wave of locally made homes and building products we should look at. Alex Brooks explains.

We love our homes enough to renovate them regularly, commonly upgrading kitchens and bathrooms every 10 to 12 years.

Yet we still fill our homes with overseas-manufactured products, covet European appliances in our open plan kitchens and buy imported furniture from IKEA.

“Can you imagine how much better off we’d be if we all bought Australian-owned and manufactured products,” asks Stormtech managing director Troy Creighton.

Australians spent nearly $5 billion renovating and building kitchens and a whopping $7.5 billion on bathrooms during the last financial year - almost a one-third increase on the previous year, according to the Housing Industry Association.

With the collective value of Australian homes calculated at $9.1 trillion dollars in September this year, there are plenty of economic and ethical benefits to buying local, including reduced transportation costs, job creation and less waste.

What’s more, with global shipping chaos, an imported building product shortage is looming, with order times for fancy imported materials blowing out to three months or more due to a shortage of containers.

Australian builders are finding it hard to get imported materials like structural timber and door hardware and the United Nations says consumers will likely end up paying as much as 63.55% more for bulky items that need to be shipped.

Meanwhile Australian small and medium businesses are innovating to create lean manufacturing processes that shorten lead times and make bespoke designs or colours to order.

Take Sanctuary Makers, a tile company that can create unique colours and designs for bathroom, kitchen, splashback and floor tiles which can be delivered in weeks rather than months.

The tiles cost between $49 and $120 a square metre - cheaper than most European brands.

Run by a geophysicist Matt Venn, Sanctuary Makers doesn’t hold large amounts of stock and reduces waste and energy costs to focus on innovating better decorative tiles for a discerning Australian market.

“We’ve put people ahead of profits because we believe that making the product here has more benefits,” Matt says.

Polytec creative services director Paul Shaddock points out that the decorative panel company he works for was started in a garage 30 years ago by two Central Coast cabinet makers but now exports all over the world, regularly investing hundreds of millions of dollars into Australian industries.

The Polytec inventors are the Borg brothers, who now own several Australian manufacturing businesses, which recycle and reuse materials to transform them into particle board products.

“We have a construction arm, an engineering arm, we have our own architects, full fleet services, diesel shops and even build our own trailers for our trucks,” Paul says. “It’s all Australian made and there are 2100 people with jobs because of it.”

Stormtech’s Troy Creighton’s - whose dad invented and patented a unique bathroom drain used all over the globe - employs 50 people in Nowra to make stainless steel grates and drains.

“The future of Australian manufacturing is being led by lots of manufacturers, it’s a new wave that’s very different to the last 40 or 50 years,” he says.

“We will be cost effective. We will be price matching and creating shorter lead times to become a reliable supplier locally and internationally.”

Oz Swaps

Australians have always made bulky building products like bricks and steel on shore. We have a history of making carpets here, too. Finding Australian-owned companies who manufacture in Australia and use local materials and employees deliver the greatest economic - and often ethical - benefits.

Here are a few other suggestions to go local when you next renovate:

  • Instead of tiles made overseas, try Sanctuary Makers tiles which can be designed and made to your specifications for around the same price as most imported tiles.

  • Instead of imported natural or manufactured stone benchtops, try Australian-made terrazzo from Fibonacci Stone or polished concrete from Concreative.

  • Instead of imported flat pack kitchen cabinets or built-in wardrobes, try specifying Polytec decorative products which are fully Australian-owned and manufactured here.

  • When it comes to accessible bathrooms, avoid having a plinth to keep your bathroom waterproof and use an Australian-designed and manufactured Stormtech architectural grate.

  • Instead of an imported sink, invest in an Australian-designed and locally made Oliveri sink.

Go local and eco

Many Australian manufacturers go the extra mile to make their products sustainable and eco-friendly, so they don’t have to compete on price alone. Here is a list of Global Green Tag certified Australian-manufactured products.

  • AH Beard beds and mattresses

  • AFRO foams

  • Joyce foams

  • AMS furniture

  • Armstrong flooring

  • Billi Water Taps

  • BlueScope Steel

  • Dulux paints

  • Easycraft trims and mouldings

  • Graphenstone mineral paint

  • Island block and paving

  • Laminex panels, flooring and laminates

  • New Age veneers and panels

  • Paige stainless drains and grates

  • Polytec panels

  • Screenwood

  • RLA Polymer flooring and tile adhesives

  • Stormtech drains and grates

  • USG Boral plasterboard

  • Weathertex claddings

  • Etex Siniat plasterboard

  • Autex Insulation

  • Modwood Decking

  • Comcork flooring

  • Raven door and window seals

  • ASSA ABLOY Lockwood locks, door handles & closers

Our future homes will be different

Sustainability and energy expert Alan Pears says the way Australians build, renovate and live in their homes is about to be revolutionised by technology and pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

The former RMIT professor says even the humble mobile phone camera is part of the technology efficiencies sweeping through manufacturing to help us make bulky products more efficiently on shore.

“Just being able to take a photo on a building makes things faster and easier,” he says.

Tools like Building Information Modelling systems, blockchain, robots and drones will also help manufacturers find faster and better ways to make things, while confirming sustainability claims for consumers.

“The shipping crisis both raises transport costs and creates scarcity of imported products, so it can certainly be significant,” he says.

Even disasters like the Australian bushfires are sparking local companies to innovate, with Australian building company Atomic 6 creating fireproof panels to build innovative new pre-fab houses in bushfire-affected areas.

Price hikes and delays looming for renovators

Originally published in

A reno-cession is looming with small renovation jobs already down while larger renovations and residential building face unforeseen price hikes and time blowouts.

A cocktail of chaos from lockdowns, labour shortages and a global shipping crisis mean those planning renovations - including those taking advantage of Homebuilder grants – will likely face project delays or price hikes for everything from tiles to hardware to windows, timber and steel.

National Tiles CEO Campbell Stott says some Australians are facing four to six month waits to get a tiler to install a splashback, floors or bathroom, due to lockdown-induced labour problems. - an online trades marketplace - says total jobs in their renovation market are down 12 per cent nationally in July and August this year, compared to the same time last year.

While big building and renovation jobs worth more than $10,000 and measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics are up 24.5 per cent in the year to June 2021, smaller jobs – especially those in locked down NSW – are plummeting thanks to lockdowns and materials shortages. CEO Oliver Pennington says the market is in turmoil, with July and August 2021 figures down compared to the same time in 2020, including:

- Electrical jobs down 34 per cent.

- Handyman jobs down 35 per cent.

- Plumbing down 30 per cent.

- Carpentry down 26 per cent.

- General building down 29 per cent.

“The market isn’t good - it’s poor,” says Service Seeking CEO Oliver Pennington. “Businesses have stopped quoting because they physically cannot attend site inspections or take on new clients.”

Smaller builders and contractors may be booked out while others may be sitting things out while collecting business grants, knowing a glut of work is waiting when lockdowns ease.

Total jobs in locked down states like NSW and ACT are down by more than 30 per cent in July and August. Jobs in WA and Queensland are relatively stable, as is Victoria which is up by 5 per cent after last year’s extended lockdowns.

“Business activity is way down. Quotes per job is 28% lower this year than last,” Pennington says.

Economists like Bis Oxford’s Maree Kilroy are revising up cost impacts and aren’t willing to say how high building and renovation costs could rise due to the upheavals.

“This is one of the biggest concerns in the industry right now,” she says. “Activity that’s already on builders’ books will be impacted.”

Builders Collective of Australia chief Phil Dwyer says he has heard large builders are already cancelling contracts as trade shortages and price rises make it unviable to proceed when old prices are locked into contracts.

“People are waiting longer than four months to get a tiler. But it’s also door hardware - there simply isn’t any available. Without taps or without door hardware, you can’t get a completion certificate,” Dwyer says.

Tilers, carpenters and glaziers are trades in short supply, and small builders won’t be able to deal with the timing delays or materials price rises, prompting Dwyer to predict a rise in builder bankruptcies in 2022.

Brickworks CEO Lindsay Partridge - who briefly closed down two brick kilns in last year’s lockdowns - says brick production has slowed to about two-thirds of its normal rate in NSW, the worst-affected state.

“Things are restricted because you can only get so many trades on site at any one time - there is limited demand right now,” he says.

A global shipping crisis also means Australia is missing out on supplies of imported building materials - everything from timber to flooring to windows and hardware - as suppliers send containers to the more lucrative European and American markets.

Goldenhome - China’s third largest cabinet maker who now has an Australian factory to supply kitchen, laundry and wardrobe cabinets locally - warns shipping prices are skyrocketing and the problem will result in large price increases for imported renovation materials.

“At the beginning of the year it cost around $2500 to ship a container from China to Australia, now it’s four times that and the projections are that it will be between $18,000 and $19,000 before Christmas,” says Goldenhome’s national sales and marketing manager Vasee Nesiah.

“Our shipping agents say what used to take five minutes to book a container now takes two hours to get it confirmed and on a ship,” says National Tiles CEO Campbell Stott. “Inflation is coming.”

The Shanghai Containerized Freight Index shows the dramatic shipping cost hikes, caused by a shortage of shipping containers and COVID labour issues in ports.

This will result in large price hikes of previously affordable building materials imported into Australia, from timber to tiles to capping to cabinetry and taps.

“It’s the small guys that will hurt the most out of this,” Dwyer says. “Home owners get frustrated, too.”

Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn says there is a perfect storm of factors leading to delays and cost issues.

“It’s in everyone’s best interests if the issues are worked through cooperatively and patiently by clients with their builders,” she says, recommending that homeowners and renovators talk to builders about potential issues in advance of them becoming a problem.


Originally published in Sunday life magazine

They secure the best properties for their clients but where do Sydney and Melbourne's top estate agents call home? Alex Brooks makes an inspection.

"I thought I would never live in an apartment again," says Gerald Delaney, managing director of Melbourne's Kay & Burton real estate. "We used to call them God's waiting rooms because people would sell their houses, retire and live in those 1960s things. But now, high-rises are glamorous. In Melbourne, it's the only way to get a view."

The 57-year-old, whose company turned over $1 billion in residential sales last year, sits in his sun-filled study in a high-rise opposite Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens. Formerly an office building for BP in the 1960s, the stately Royal Domain Tower has been Delaney's home for 10 years; his neighbour is trucking magnate Lindsay Fox.

Delaney, a twice-divorced bachelor, has been in the real estate business since the age of 19 and now works the prestigious Melbourne suburbs such as Toorak, South Yarra and Brighton, and the Mornington Peninsula. His 380-square-metre apartment has a marble entry foyer, art by Sidney Nolan and Brett Whiteley and expanses of curtain-less windows soaking up bay, city and park views that stretch all the way to the Dandenongs. Framed photos of his daughter, Chloe, and stepsons, Gabi and Fernando, dot every occasional table in the sprawling living rooms. There are Asian antiquities - "nothing important but one is from 700BC" - and a plate that says, "Always fly first-class, or your heirs will."

Delaney started in real estate after failing high school matriculation three times, dashing his dream of being a lawyer. He bought his first house in Malvern for $12,500 and ploughed the profits from the $47,500 sale two years later into renovating and selling walk-up apartment blocks in Toorak and Armadale in the 1970s.

In 1994, Delaney was back in the apartment game when Kay & Burton sold the Domain complex off the plan. He chose an entire half-floor for himself; fitting it out to his exact specifications. "I was the first resident," he says. "When I heard it would have 110 units, I imagined the lift would be too full to get into each morning. That was nonsense. I never see anyone."

His apartment has just been renovated by interior designer Margie Bromilow while he was on a seven-week European holiday. "The standard of housing these days is much higher. In the old days, you were proud of your house even if you didn't have modern furnishings. They were places to live, not showpieces."

In Avalon, on Sydney's northern beaches, Glenn and Rebecca Lee, owners of Raine & Horne Palm Beach, are well versed in showpiece housing. The couple sells chic houses with an average price of $3.3 million and range up to $9.5 million.

The couple - who met when Glenn was selling Rebecca's mother's house in 2005 and who ¿married in August this year - live in a 1940s mission-style house reminiscent of old Hollywood. It has six bedrooms and a whopping 1700 square metres of north-facing garden.

Glenn bought the property on a whim three years ago when he picked up his daughter from a birthday party being held there. The house had failed to sell at auction and the owners asked Glenn why that might be. Three hours later, Glenn bought the house. "I paid the owner more than he wanted. We exchanged contracts the next morning, without doing a pest inspection or any council searches," says the man who has been recognised as the No. 1 agent in the national Raine & Horne network.

"If you love a house, then it's OK to pay a bit more for it. I was not looking to buy but I fell in love with it," he says, running his foot over the narrow hardwood timber floors in the lounge room. "There is fate in finding houses. You don't get houses like this anymore. Just look at these floorboards."

He says he'll never sell the house. "Some agents turn their houses over every two years to make money but, to me, having a permanent base is more important." Glenn, a former social worker and psychology lecturer, has three children from his first marriage, Anna, 14, Olivia, 12, and Gianni, 7, who live with the couple and the three chickens out back.

"Houses find people when they are ready to find a house," Rebecca says. "And when you are ready to leave, the house will get rid of you," adds Glenn, who refused to spend a night in his home until it had been "energy cleared" by a specialist practitioner who uses smoking herbs to destroy bad vibes lingering from previous owners.

"You can have the best position and price but if the place has no soul, people won't connect with it," says Glenn. "People attach energy to their houses and if the energy remains, it can affect the sale of a property." Glenn once sent energy clearers into

a house that wasn't selling after the death of the owner's husband. "The house had been their dream house and she felt he was still there," he explains.

The Lees have spent six months renovating their house to add another wing and a pool. A pale timber and marble kitchen is the hub of the house, with a

lit-from-below island bench the focal point for meals and homework sessions. "We put data-cabling in the bench so the kids could plug in their laptops and we could watch what they're doing on the internet," says Rebecca. The family has only just moved back in. "It's not looking the way it should yet," she explains. "I like a house that looks more lived-in."

In Melbourne's cosmopolitan St Kilda, auctioneer Tony Pride - who sold his 52-office Wilson Pride real estate chain to Century 21 last year in a multimillion-dollar deal - apologises for not being houseproud. "Our house is a bit crap. It's only good for living in," he says of the five-bedroom Edwardian weather-board house he shares with his wife, Christina, and daughters, Mia, 10, and Isobel, 12.

One street back from the water, the house is a blend of kitsch and cool. The weatherboard, once fluorescent lime, has been repainted in Norwegian blue. In the yard, plastic fruit hangs from the tree and an alabaster statue of a man at prayer guards the door alongside two small, Chinese lions. There is a deck in the corner. "I meditate out here," explains Pride, as he waves to the neighbours. He used to get nervous before auctions - "I'd be spewing" - but then learnt some breathing techniques. "A couple of times I felt like I was levitating."

The 52-year-old claims never to have had a "real job" before the age of 32. (He once worked as a security guard, where he became practised in the art of throwing paper planes, and had two walk-on parts in Neighbours.) "Anyone can get a job in real estate. Who'd want one? My dad reckons the only reason I've done well is because most of them are so dumb. I'm a bit slow myself. Most estate agents have failed at something before they start out."

His business partners forced him into becoming an auctioneer "because no one else could be bothered" and Pride developed a theatrical style to overcome his nerves. At one auction, he told the highest bidder, "Give me another $2K and I'll give you the shirt off my back." The bidder agreed and collected the shirt.

Pride bought his own St Kilda house directly from the owner for $530,000 in 1997. "We paid too much for it. Everyone pays too much around here," he says. "In fact, Australians generally pay too much for houses." He estimates his house is worth more than $2 million today. "You'd have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to know that real estate makes money. Problem is you have to sell it to get the money."

John McGrath, 44, owner of McGrath Real Estate, lives in the same waterfront apartment complex as Nicole Kidman and many of Sydney's business elite. The gentle lapping of Sydney Harbour and ping of wind whipping yacht masts drowns out all noise from the CBD. It's a place of urban chic, wharf-side character and 24-hour surveillance signs.

Back in Sydney's colonial days, Walsh Bay was rough. Known as Slaughterhouse Point, the streets ran with blood from abattoirs and the bubonic plague broke out in nearby slums in 1900. Now a concierge greets visitors to the apartment block through stainless steel and glass doors. A sign declaring "no fishing" is perhaps a little out of place - it's not likely Walsh Bay's residents catch their own supper.

The wharf was converted into apartments in the late 1990s. With waterfrontage and easy CBD access, it's hardly surprising the apartments now sell for at least $2 million; a boat mooring costs about $400,000. "Where else in Sydney can you be on the water and so close to the city?" says McGrath.

McGrath - who made his first million in real estate by the age of 24 - has owned 10 properties and lived in eight of them. He moved house frequently as a child and still refuses to think of a home as a "forever place - it's just a place for the moment".

His three-bedroom, 160 square-metre Walsh Bay apartment is the second he has owned in the complex. He left the first apartment two years ago because it was too big and he gave the furniture to his personal assistant.

McGrath took his art collection with him when he moved downstairs. Paintings by Rover Thomas, David van Nunen, John Coburn and Emily Kngwarreye line the walls. The rest of the furniture is new from Space Furniture. The house looks as spick and span as a photo from one of his real estate magazines.

Inside his immaculate kitchen - McGrath has a housekeeper - his Trek road bike is parked against one wall. "Despite the high-tech security, I had two bikes stolen from my garage so I keep this inside."

McGrath turned the dining room into a study, installed an open fireplace, an Eames Lounge Chair and study bench and bookcase, which is lined with art and business magazines and books. There are pictures of his seven godchildren and his older brother, Matt, along with a tiny book about teddy bears. "I can't remember how that got there," he says.

The wide-screen television has pride of place and there is another screen in the gym, which was a second bedroom. He watches Mel and Kochie on Sunrise while he runs on the treadmill. "I love Foxtel," he admits. "I'm a channel surfer. Law & Order, Extras, The Office."

McGrath doesn't do much selling these days - although he did sell Aussie Home Loans' John Symond's Walsh Bay apartment for $16.5 million and still does deals for his old school friend Russell Crowe. "His apartment is 1000 square metres, the biggest in Australia," he says of the actor's pad on Woolloomooloo's Finger Wharf. "Real estate is hard for celebrities - they need security and they have to entertain at home. They often have staff who live there, too."

Despite being one of Sydney's most eligible bachelors, McGrath prefers to be in his apartment, alone, by 6.30pm each night. "I'm not a social person. I do a lot of interaction during the day and I like turning off at the end."

And that's exactly what real estate couple D'Leanne Lewis and her fiance Jason Boon do when they get home to their Bronte house in Sydney's eastern suburbs, which has ocean views and looks across to Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch's place and Heath Ledger's former pile.

Real estate is a job that requires six-day working weeks and after-hours appointments. "By the time we come home, we are spent," says Lewis. "We don't talk about real estate at all." The Laing + Simmons Double Bay principal started in real estate as a personal assistant at the age of 20. Now 35, she has twice been named the Real Estate Institute of NSW's salesperson of the year for her work selling eastern suburbs properties and once took out the national award.

Lewis met Boon, from Richardson & Wrench Elizabeth Bay, on the well-known Bronte to Bondi walk but initially refused to go out with him when she learnt he worked in the same industry. "When he first asked me out, I said, 'I don't go out with real estate agents.' But it was 6.15 in the morning," she laughs.

Two years later, Boon, 37, proposed at nearby McKenzies Beach and the couple agreed to buy a house.

Boon has just been named Richardson & Wrench's No. 1 residential salesperson for the second year running. They bought their rendered five-bedroom tri-level house with a north-facing garden earlier this year. The pair offered $400,000 more than the price guide, yet the owners didn't bite and the house went to auction; a move that turned out to be savvy on the owners' behalf as the auction price far exceeded the price guide. The newly rebuilt house has polished floors, open-plan living areas and a lush little garden where two eager dogs, Sammy and Cleo, wait to be let inside.

It was Boon's decision to buy within walking distance of the beach, where he surfs most days. "You have to buy a lifestyle, not just a house," he says.

The couple originally wanted a small house with a big garden. "Instead, we bought a large house with hardly any garden. Oh well, the dogs are happy," says Lewis. "We paid silly money." She won't disclose the price other than to say it was more than $2 million. "Going to the auction of a house you really want must be how a doctor feels when being operated on."

"When an owner finds out a real estate agent wants to buy their house, they automatically think their price is too low," Boon says. "But the deal doesn't matter when you're buying a family home.

If you live in it for the long term, there's no such thing as a bargain. It's a home. Who cares? If you live in it for a long time, the market catches up."

D'Leanne Lewis and Jason Boon, principal sales agents with Laing + Simmons Double Bay and Richardson & Wrench Elizabeth Bay.

HOME: Five-bedroom, tri-level house on the ocean at Bronte. Bought 2007; paid more than $2 million.

TIP: Buy houses you can live in. "My theory is: only buy properties you are prepared

to live in. It doesn't have to be the best street in the area, but it should be a good street. If you buy what you would live in, the property will hold its value.

I don't believe investors should buy lots of little places here and there and collect houses to rent out. I have lived in all the places I have bought."

Tony Pride, Melbourne auctioneer. Former owner Wilson Pride real estate.

HOME: Five-bedroom, Edwardian weatherboard house in St Kilda one block back from the water. Bought 1997; paid $530,000.

TIP: Look for the three Ps. position, price and potential. "Anywhere between a CBD and water is a good bet. It doesn't matter if the place needs a bit of work. Painting is the best money you can spend on a house - for every dollar you spend on paint, you get $50 back."

Gerald Delaney, MD of Kay & Burton real estate, Melbourne.

HOME: Royal Domain Tower.

Bought it off the plan in 1994.

TIP: When is the best time to invest in real estate? - Twenty years ago. When is the next best time to invest in real estate? - Today. "It's dangerous to buy when you don't have much equity in a house - your investment won't have the tolerance of the market. So if you have 20 per cent equity and there is a 10 per cent decline in the market and you can keep servicing the borrowings, you'll be all right. If you only have a 5 per cent deposit and the market declines by more, then you may be in trouble."

John McGrath, owner of McGrath Real Estate.

HOME: Three-bedroom, waterfront apartment in Walsh Bay. Bought 2005 after moving out of a larger apartment in the same complex.

TIP: Location, location, location.

"How you like to live should determine where you live. Ninety per cent of the value of my place is location. Put it somewhere else and it's just another nice apartment."

Glenn and Rebecca Lee, owners of Raine & Horne Palm Beach.

HOME: 1940s, mission-style, six-bedroom house in Avalon. Bought in 2004.

TIP: Navigating downturns and upswings. "People have paid too much in some areas. Do your due diligence with inspections and council certificates. In a moving market, most people get left behind. It's rare to find a house that is 10 out of 10

for everything you want, but if you find something that's 8 out of 10, then you're doing well. Better to make an offer than miss out."

Magical home maintenance

Originally published in Sydney Morning Herald

The words “home maintenance” can conjure fears of weekends trapped in hardware stores, wobbling on a ladder and wondering if there aren’t 3,654 better things to do.

Regular maintenance not only ensures your house remains in top condition but prevents small problems becoming expensive, scary big ones. Maintenance is also vital to make sure any future claims you make against a home insurance policy don’t come unstuck.

In the event of a disaster like a fire or flood, insurers have been known to either not pay the claim or pay only a percentage if they deem that a lack of maintenance has contributed to the damage.

“We don’t want to scare people or put the cat among the pigeons, but people have an obligation to maintain their home in good working order,” says Paul Giles, general manager of communications at the Insurance Council of Australia.

In other words: if you ignore those leaking gutters or cracked roof tiles, you might not be insured if the ceiling caves in.

“There are no blanket rules and it’s always a case-by-case basis with the client, but the house should be maintained in the condition it was in when the insured first took out the policy or there can be problems,” Giles says.

As a general rule of thumb, it makes sense to dedicate between half to one per cent of your property’s capital value to annual maintenance. That also means that if you aren’t the DIY type, you should spend money paying others to do the hard work for you.

Not that maintenance is difficult – it’s just a chore. One more of those little things we know we should do, but rarely get around to.

So where do you start? At the top, of course.


Houspect managing director Mark Smith says one of the most common maintenance problems is cracked or broken ridge capping on the roof.

“Also, over time, concrete roof tiles can lose the seal and water can penetrate,” he says. “Most people don’t check the roof because it’s too hard to get the ladder out.”

An easier way to check whether water is penetrating through cracked or old tiles is to get access into the roof cavity internally and shine a torch around.

“If you see any cracks of light or smell mould, then you might have a problem,” Smith says.


– gutters need to be cleared of leafy debris and run water away from the roof easily to prevent water running under the eaves back into the house

– make sure an old asbestos roof is kept well-painted to seal the hazardous material

– check the ceiling beneath the roof is not bowing or coming away from the roof

– make sure insulation is firmly in place, especially in windy locations where it can blow to one end of the ceiling cavity and be ineffective

– check timbers for sign of decay or water damage

– if you don’t have ceiling insulation installed, take advantage of the federal government rebate of up to $1600 to install it

– look out for rat or possum droppings which indicate gaps in the roof need sealing.


Taking a stroll around the outside of the house is easy. Taking note of what is actually going on with the fabric of a building is not so easy.

The most obvious thing to check for is water damage: but you need to keep your eyes peeled. Allowing garden beds to creep up against external walls is asking for damp problems.

As the garden beds build up over time, they breach the damp course and the water from the garden will be absorbed through the walls, causing materials to fail and internal paint to blister.


make sure there are no covered mud tubes on walls close to the ground, which could indicate termites are entering the building

check around window frames and door frames to make sure water is not penetrating and that flashings are working

ensure any exterior woodwork with flaking paint is sanded back and re-painted to make sure the timber underneath is protected from rot

are mature trees starting to cause a problem by interfering with fences, foundations or power lines? If you can’t prune them back yourself, call in a local tree surgeon

are the gutters attached properly and in good working order

are any drainpipes not connected to stormwater attached to soakwells at least two-metres from the house to ensure water drains away from the house

are the fences in reasonable condition or do they need attention.


It’s hard to see the faults in your own home, so it’s worth trying to be objective when inspecting the interior for maintenance needs.

Smith says leaking showers are the biggest problems in most homes, with any movement between the vertical wall and floor allowing water to permeate through the cracks which destroys the walls.

“It’s hard to see the damage until the tiles start falling off or you get a lot of mould and gunk on the tiles,” he says.

It can easily be fixed by digging out the old grout between the floor and wall and regrouting with a silicon-based grout which will flex with any movement.

You can also clean the tiles thoroughly and paint a clear sealant over the tiles to further waterproof old showers.

“The kitchen splashback is another problem area, especially when the grout between the bench and the tiled wall disintegrates and allows water runs to the back of the cabinets,” Smith says. “Check your under-sink cabinets for any signs of rot.”


  • are all power points and light switches working correctly, with an electrical safety switch and smoke detectors installed

  • check for leaking taps and turn on taps to listen for sounds of “water hammer” which may imply plumbing problems

  • timber doors and windows can swell or shrink with the moisture in the air and sometimes need a quick sand or shave to close properly

  • take a look at the ceilings for any blistering paint or water damage that could indicate the roof is leaking

  • it’s common for fine cracks to appear in brick walls and can usually be repaired with filler, sanding and a new coat of paint

  • check the hot water service, heaters, air-conditioners and other appliances and make sure they are maintained in accordance with the manufacturers instructions to ensure you don’t void any warranties.

Artful acoustics: making your home sound better

Originally published on Domain

What’s easy on the eye in a property, isn’t always easy on the ear. Many of the features we’ve grown to covet – open plan living spaces, floor-to-ceiling glass doors, stone benchtops and shiny timber floors – can wreak havoc on a peaceful soundscape once you get behind closed doors.

Large rooms – especially those with concrete, tile or timber floors – can create the dreaded “cocktail party effect” and turn domestic noises like kettles boiling, fridges humming and people walking into an amplified racket that prevents intelligible conversation.

“Sometimes the noise is so bad that people can’t talk to each other or hear the television,” says Jimi Ang, acoustic engineer of Blackett Acoustics.

This living space has a digitally printed acoustic screen to minimise noise from the tiled floor.

Soundwaves might be invisible, but once they start reflecting, the human ear can’t ignore them. And that usually means someone has to pay to fix the loud and annoying sound issues.

“In 90 per cent of cases, people only realise they have an acoustic problem once they move in – no one ever thinks about it before they buy or renovate,” says Philippe Doneaux, the inventor and product developer who founded Acoustica.

“Then when they can’t hear people at their own table or have a conversation on the telephone, it can be a real problem.”

Architect Richard Cole designed this fireplace screen to break up the large open space in Angophora House.

Doneaux says apartment dwellers are the biggest victim of acoustic problems – particularly due to noise transmission between floors – followed by renovators who have just spent big on a new open plan living area.

“I get a call every other week from an apartment owner who can’t stand the thumping noises from people walking upstairs,” says Ang.

“When people do the inspection they think how nice the apartment is and they don’t listen for anyone walking around upstairs. Then they move in, and all they can hear is thumping.”

The problem is exacerbated by apartment owners wanting to remove carpet to install timber or tiled floors.

“Carpets and curtains are still very good to improve acoustics,” says Doneaux.

So, what solutions are available for those wanting to fix acoustic problems?

A tapping test is like the acoustic consultant’s stethoscope – it’s the tool of choice to diagnose the extent of the acoustic problem and suggest the best solutions.

The tapping machine tests the noise, reverberation and reflection levels in the room allowing engineers to propose the best solutions to rectify the problem.

Unfortunately, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution for acoustic issues and specific recommendations need to be made for each property.

Many strata title owners’ corporations insist on tapping tests if an apartment owner wants to remove the carpet and install timber or tile floors.

Ang says the problem is that most people don’t want to pay for the tapping test – it can cost between $1200 and $1600 – and simply splurge on buying the most expensive underlays and flooring and cross their fingers.

“I always tell people to get the tapping test done before they take up the carpet and do it again after, because then you have a result to compare it to,” says Ang.

“Instead, I see all these people having problems with the strata because even if they’ve bought the most expensive underlay, the new floor is transmitting noise.”

Architect Richard Cole blames acoustic problems on the careless design of boxy spaces.

“The main strategy is to break up the space so you don’t have big reflective surfaces that face each other,” he says.

Cole specialises in designing houses with large open spaces, using timber and glass.

“We often do things like have exposed rafters to break up the ceiling space or we use perforated plywood or plasterboard with an acoustic blanket behind it,” Cole says.

While there are many solutions available, Ang concedes that prevention is better than cure. “You’re better to avoid the noise problem in the first place than try to fix it afterwards”.


Carpet, rugs, cushions and curtains are the best soft furnishings to absorb sound and stop it bouncing around a room.

Acoustic art panels: strategically place some sound absorbing panels behind a digital or hand-painted piece of artwork.

Acoustic ceilings can be created with stretched fabric over acoustic blankets.

Acoustic-rated plasterboard can be used to replace traditional gyprock.

Try to have screens, bookshelves or panels that can break up a large space to stop the sound reflecting so harshly.

Water features and running water are a soothing antidote to harsh acoustics

Architect vs building designer: what you should use to renovate

Originally published in Domain

Should you choose an architect, a building designer or a drafting service for your renovation? Alex Brooks writes for Domain.

Aaah, renovating. Floorboards or carpet? Mosaic or terracotta tiles? Oh, and should you call an architect, a building designer or a drafting service to plan your renovated dream home?

Each has benefits and drawbacks but Sydney Building Information Centre’s Joe Pizzinga says, ultimately, it’s up to each home owner to choose a professional who can design a comfortable house for an affordable price.

Generally, architects charge the most sometimes as high as 15 per cent of the building cost but will oversee the entire renovation process from design right through to completion and then offer a warranty to ensure that any building faults are rectified.

Building designers are often cheaper around 3 to 5 per cent of the building cost but don’t usually oversee the “contract administration”, and leave dealing with the builders to the home owner.

A drafting service can be cheaper again sometimes as low as 1 or 2 per cent of the building cost but some drafting services don’t offer a high level of design skill, and are best for simple additions, such as an attic conversion or a garage.

Blame politics for adding to the confusion over who to call when it comes to renovating a house. He opened a can of worms with his State Environmental Planning Policy No 65 (SEPP 65) mandate that apartments of three or more storeys be designed by a registered architect.

The president of the Building Designers Association of NSW, Dick Clarke, says the political decision to exclude building designers from the SEPP 65 rules gives the public the impression that building designers are second rate, when they probably design more residential housing than most architects.

“Architects make their living doing the big commercial jobs, the 20-storey buildings,” he says. “Most building designers are small-scale and make their living doing residential work.”

To be a member of the Building Designers Association of NSW, members have to be a qualified draftsperson (completing a three-year TAFE course in architectural technology) and have at least three years’ professional design experience with a portfolio; or they have to have eight years’ professional experience and a portfolio of design work.

In fact, some of Sydney’s biggest names in architecture are building designers Ercole Palazetti and Tina Engelen, of the famed Engelen Moore. “Even the man who designed Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin, was a building designer,” Clarke says.

Pizzinga, a qualified builder and draftsperson, is the first to recommend the most expensive option renovating with an architect.

“It’s better for the resale of your home,” he says. “An architect has spent six years at uni so he should know a lot about design. They also have professional indemnity insurance and their design will last a long time after you’ve finished renovating.”

Clarke, however, says a good building designer is better than a bad architect, and should be more cost effective.

To add to the confusion, some drafting services are actually building designers but choose not to become members of the Building Designers Association. Ray Pecotich, of Federation Drafting Services, charges comparable fees to a building designer, but chooses to call himself a drafting service.

“Having drafting service in my name means I get a range of inquiries,” he says, “but when I explain to people what I do and that I’m not just a cheap option for putting on an extension, they understand.”

On the other hand, draftsman John Ellston, of A Basic Plan, charges 1 or 2 per cent of the building cost for his services and says a drafting service suits most people down to the ground.

“The average Aussie doesn’t want a corrugated curved iron roof on his house, he just wants a tiled roof and he wants to tell the draftsman what he wants it doesn’t take a university degree to put a nice room on the back of someone’s house.”


A Bundeena Opera house

Mark and Jo Keohan reckon their renovated 1960s red-brick house in Bundeena now looks a bit like the Opera House. The concave and convex iron roof and deck gives the house a unique look.

Building designer Graham Irving, of Arctic Circle Building Design, was responsible for coming up with the design, which he says was inspired by ocean waves and the material’s cost-effectiveness.

“The clients weren’t afraid to do something different and they definitely wanted to minimise the cost,” Irving says.

The Keohans’ brief for the renovation was to capture views and create high cathedral ceilings with lots of natural ventilation.

“Graham came back with his drawings of this curved roof that didn’t need timber to hold it up we were surprised, I guess,” Mark says. “I’d done my own drawings of the second storey and it looked like a box, but Graham had done something quite unusual with offset walls so it’s not like a straight box and it cantilevers over our front porch.”

The Keohans loved the design, but had a lot of “toing and froing” with Irving over where to put the internal staircase in the end, they had to sacrifice a room downstairs to create a stair well.

“Graham also told us to take out a wall downstairs, which I didn’t do. And then, when we were nearly finished building, we got the builder to take out the wall. So he was right all along,” Mark says.

The Keohan’s budget was $145,000 for the extension, but they admit they have spent about $180,000 on their house so far.

“We paid Graham only a fixed fee $1800, it was so he was pretty reasonable. That only works out to 1 per cent of our building costs.”

The fixed fee (which Irving now charges as 3 per cent of total building cost) included design and documentation and organising council approval the Keohans were left to get building quotes and administer the building contract on their own.

The Keohans say they would never have used an architect “I work with architects and that reinforces the theory,” says Mark and insist that building designers offer better value and service.


A bridge to the light

Ron and Susan Hayes bought the house that nobody wanted to buy

“It was your typical single-storey terrace, with damp and darkness and draughts,” Ron Hayes says. “It didn’t fit with today’s lifestyle of air and light and space and it’s only about 148 square metres which is the size of a three-bedroom apartment.”

Hayes immediately called architect Michael Barlow of Priestleys Architects, who had done the alterations on his previous home in Erskineville.

“Believe me, I didn’t have pots of money and I certainly am not a fan of architects in general. I’m just a fan of architects who can make things work, and Michael was one of those,” Hayes says.

The building budget was $200,000 and Barlow’s fee was 10 per cent (his fee has since gone up to 11 per cent to include GST) “money that I’ll get back five times over when I go to sell the place,” Hayes says.

The terrace is now a contemporary home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a formal dining area and open-plan kitchen and lounge. One wall is glass and there is a mezzanine bridge connecting the top-storey bedroom to the rear bedroom.

Barlow supervised the 18-month renovation from design stage to building completion.

“We wanted the building to have a timeless look, which is why we got an architect in. We know that this house will look as good in 25 years’ time as it does now and that means that the house is worth more money,” Hayes says.

Real life renovation stories

Originally published in Woman's Day magazine

“Choose a tradesperson you like, not with the guy who is the cheapest. These people will be in your house and in your life so if you can’t stand the sight of them it makes life hard. Occasionally you can find a gem. We have a builder who went totally out of his way to reduce costs for us. They were in our yard for three months and are almost like family – I actually miss them, but more importantly the job was done in exactly the time they said it would be, for the exact cost and they were nice to boot.”

“I would never renovate in summer again. It’s too hot in Brisbane and I felt so sorry for our tiler working in that heat. How can you expect people to do a great job when they are dripping in sweat?”

“We renovated in Darwin, which isn’t our home town. I wish we had asked a real estate agent to come and give us some advice before we started renovating. We had already painted the inside of the house before I invited an agent over for his opinion in regard to overcapitalising and potential re-sale price. The one thing he said would really make a difference would be the line the inside walls with gyprock to get rid of all trace of the besser block brick work. It offers high returns for a low spend. Of course, for us it was too late. We had spent money on paint for the walls and the floors were down – by then I couldn’t stand the thought of more mess.”

“The contract you have with the builder is the key to ensuring things go smoothly. There is one thing I would make sure was in my builders’ contract if I renovated again – larger final payment instalments. In our case, our final payment was for a very small amount which meant we didn’t have a lot of leverage to make the builder finish off all the small fiddly things at the end of the job. I would suggest making your final payment for a larger amount, which would motivate the builder to finish all those things like tiling or window frames before they go on to the next job.”

“Beg, borrow or steal another $20,000. Renovations always cost more than anticipated and now we are living in a house that doesn’t have any carpets or curtains. We’d already spent our stash of cash and couldn’t afford the final finishing touches. Chipboard flooring isn’t really that nice to walk around on. Mind you, our kitchen is completely gorgeous and it always makes me feel great to walk into it.”

“If you’ve got the money, it’s probably a lot easier to renovate with an architect who can oversee the whole thing. But I had fun choosing my taps and my tiles and my timber and I don’t know if I’d want an architect to steal all the pleasure.”

“Installing floorboards in our living area made a real difference to the house. But I’d do a lot more research if I had to do it again. We spent $6000 laying the floating timber floor in our townhouse. It was only after the floor was down that I found out it was a timber veneer rather than solid timber. The veneer scratches easily and it’s hard to sand it back to repair the damage. Solid timber apparently would have cost a similar amount, but would be easier to maintain.”

“I would think long and hard about renovating again. I honestly don’t think I would do it. If we had put the $180,000 we spent renovating our terrace into the mortgage, we would have virtually paid off the house. We had to sell the terrace once our son was born, because the house was just too small. If we hadn’t renovated, we probably would have more money in the bank now to buy a bigger house.”

“I’d stand my ground on paint colours. My husband and I always compromised on colour, and both of us ended up hating the colours on the walls. Next time around, we will let one person have their colour choice in the lounge room and the other person can have their choice in the bedroom.”

“Dealing with the local council nearly defeated me. I would take much more time at the beginning to find a sympathetic and senior person at the council to take me through the process and tell me exactly what I would have to do. I would then document every conversation, confirm everything by email and letter and keep my filing system in perfect order. It took us four years to get approval to build a house and we received a lot of conflicting information. The council staff can act like warring fiefdoms. And don’t be afraid to call in the mayor or their local councillor if things start getting difficult.”

“I would live in a house for at least a year before I decided to renovate. The plans we devised ages ago are definitely not the right plans now that I have seen how we use the rooms and the way the light falls into the house.”

“Whenever I walk into my shiny new bathroom I wish I’d replaced the entire toilet instead of scrimping and replacing only the cistern. I should have bought a new toilet that sits closer to the back wall – it would have given me at least 30cm of extra floor space.”

“I would definitely hire an architect again. You have exactly the same amount of walls to paint and windows to put in and floors to lay, so you may as well make sure the design is right from the start. The extra cost is one of the best things you will spend money on.”

“Don’t get pregnant while you’re renovating. Big mistake. Not only could I not get on site every day because it wasn’t really safe, but it meant there was one less pair of hands to do things like painting and cleaning.”

“I wish I had pre-cooked a lot of meals, because when you come home from work everyday to a houseful of dust, the last thing you feel like doing is cooking.”

“I would take the local council to court straight away rather than waste time trying to negotiate with them. It was two years of headaches and hassles and ultimately we went to court anyway and won.”

“Next time I renovate, I will think a lot harder about window treatments. I spent lots of time considering the colours on the walls and the floors, but I think the way you dress a window really has the most design impact on a room.”

Low cost, high style: best design ideas to add value

Originally published in Sun Herald

Creativity, not cash, can get you the interior you’ve always dreamed of. Try these no-cost ideas for improving your living areas.

You think there’s no such thing as a makeover that doesn’t involve spending wads of cash on the latest trinkets and designs at the store! Think again. Here are some ideas to freshen your interiors – and your life.


A good ol’ furniture shuffle will do wonders to make you think you have an entirely new house. As the sun becomes harsher in summer, it can be worth moving upholstered furniture out of the line of the sun to prevent fading. You might also want to think about new positions for coffee tables or side tables.

A simple declutter and clean out could give you all the extra space you’ve been hankering after. Clear surfaces, unstuff shelves and be ruthless about what you really need to own. Less stuff means more space and more attention for your most personal treasures. If you’re worried that other family members won’t co-operate with the de-cluttering, simply give them their own box to keep their ephemera and general mess in rather than allow it to reside on the coffee table or floor.

And to keep the zen in place, install your own de-clutter box near the front door or the recyling bin. Any time you come across an item you no longer need, simply place it in your “re-homing” box and deliver it to a charity bin or op shop each month.


Let there be light! Giving your windows a good clean does wonders to spruce up a room, allowing more natural sunlight to penetrate living spaces. Sunlight not only improves mood, but UV rays can actually help disinfect and freshen a space. Opening the windows and doors for at least four hours a week to allow the air to be naturally recirculated also helps.

There are plenty of commercially available window cleaners, but why not embrace home-made housecleaning products? Windows can be cleaned with vinegar and microfibre cloths, or a spray mix of methylated spirits and water. Oh, and a top tip is to wipe the inside of the window in one direction (say, up and down) and the outside in the other direction (say, side to side). That way, if you see a smudge, you know whether it is on the outside or inside.


Most rooms have an overhead light fitting of some kind, but what about planning new places to put lamps and candles to completely change the atmosphere of a room? Lighting a room well is about planning to create mood and atmosphere.

Experts like John Ghetto from Brightlights Solutions says great lighting is more about consideration and design rather than buying more stuff. A lamp on a side table will wash a room with soft, atmospheric light, while a floor lamp can be an excellent task light for reading. The Scandinavians always have three candles burning on a window sill to enliven dark winters and cast a warm, flickering light into a room. Placing a lamp behind a sculptural piece of furniture such as a chair in a corner can also be a way to highlight pieces and create new dimension in a room.

Simply get creative with where you place lamps, lights and candles and you could be amazed at the results. Oh, and don’t forget to regularly clean any CFL bulbs (they are the energy-efficient curly globes) you have installed – when they become dusty it can reduce the light output by as much as half.


One of the least-understood tools of interiors, colour is an easy way to make a room sing without spending a cent. There’s no need to paint or buy new things to make colour work for you – simply start looking at the room with a new eye for the clash, calm or creativity of the colours you already own.

Do colours in the room work together? Colour is affected by light and shadow, so have you moved around lamps and opened the curtains to really look at what you have? There are two rules to understand – one, is that grouping similar colours together creates calm while contrasting complementary colours creates a splash. Decide which colour style you prefer, and go for it.

If your room is awash with the zen of blues, greens or neutrals, add design impact by removing anything with a colour that doesn’t fit or seem right – take that bright red cushion into the bedroom or move that orange lamp into the dining room. Grouping similar-coloured objects together in a display or adding patterns or texture in similar colours can add oomph to the colour schemes you already love.

If you like the power of complementary colours – wild patterns and bright hues – then work with them. Stick to one or two complementary colour schemes using cushions, curtains or ornaments but keep the main furniture and floor coverings in the room fairly neutral so that your colour choices deliver maximum impact. Learn to love the mood, harmony and combinations of colours you are attracted to.


Some makeover ideas take a little cash rather than dash – here’s some cheap ideas to try:

Paint your front door. A new lick of paint will brighten up everyone’s first impression of your home.

A brand spanking new doormat will lift even the dullest entrance, making every step count (it’s great for keeping dirt out, too).

Change your curtains over – invest in cheap sheers for summer to let the light in and brighten up bedrooms and living areas. Freedom has the Dali sheer available for $9.95.

Make good instead of just making over and fix all those broken bits and bobs that make your home look tired – oil that squeaking front gate, replace the holey old fly wire in the windows and give your outdoor furniture and clean and oil.

Building biologists are a new breed of home heroes that believe good interior design enhances health and wellbeing – and that starts with harm-free cleaning techniques. Gradually replacing your harsh home-cleaning chemicals with gentle cleaners that rely on elbow grease and essential oils to deliver fragrance or add shine and polish. Try microfibre cloths, vinegar, lemon juice and bicarbonate of soda in place of traditional sprays.

The art of the home office

Originally published in Sydney Morning Herald

An office in your hall just won’t cut the mustard. A dedicated space is de rigueur.

A home office is one of those great ideas in theory. What’s not to like about a neat, ordered space to answer emails, pay bills and dedicate more unpaid overtime to your employer? The problem with the home office is that it becomes triffid-like. It starts in a small corner but soon explodes into a mass that spreads through entire living areas.

Some design gurus suggest setting up a “small unused space” in a corridor as an office or transforming an “out-of-the-way nook” such as the corner of a lounge room into a media space. Amanda Sarden is a professional organiser and she says no one should listen to such nonsense.

“The biggest mistake people make when setting up a home office is not putting it in the right location,” she says. “Most people just set up in any old spare corner and then find it is the wrong place to ever get any work done.”


Sarden says a spare room with its own door is the ideal location for a home office. If you don’t have an entire room, set up a screen or furniture such as a couch to delineate office space from domestic space.

“The hallway is never a good place to try to be productive, especially if other people are walking past you,” she says. “You need enough space to have everything you need close to hand: keep the printer close to your desk; have a filing cabinet nearby; and always use a proper chair so that you don’t get backache.”

Sarden says it is best to invest in good office furniture from the outset rather than resort to the picnic table from the garage and the old dining chair you inherited from Granny.

“It’s better to buy things that match rather than get any old thing because it was cheap. You want the environment to be nice to work in,” she says. “People always think they can get by with a small desk, but they can’t. You need enough space. And you need to be productive in that space.”

The Housing Industry Association’s chief economist, Harley Dale, says renovation statistics suggest more people are extending their houses to add home offices.

“It’s been a trend for people to want larger homes, which include a space for a home office,” he says. “I don’t think that’s going to change. In fact, it will probably grow.”


There is a decor dilemma with home offices. Computers and phones and printers and desks and office chairs are ugly, ugly, ugly. Even those nifty little desk-in-a-cupboard things that Ikea and Freedom sell like hotcakes don’t really blend in to a home environment.

And what about all those chargers, cords and cables – what’s a person to do with so many bits and pieces?

Go wireless, says Rutland Smith, the general manager of computers at Harvey Norman. Households are signing up to a single broadband connection and creating a wireless network to share the internet across two or more computers.

“The number of people setting up wireless networks has doubled year-on-year for the past three years,” Smith says. The home office is destined to become more like a “residential server room” with one central computer while laptops and entertainment devices are hooked up wirelessly in other parts of the house.

“As more and more entertainment is delivered over the internet, you’ll find more than one computer in each house,” he says. “There will be a main computer in the home office and the kids upstairs doing their homework on the internet.”


Sarden says the key to setting up an efficient home office is to file, organise and cull the clutter regularly. “We’re supposed to have a paperless office, but it hasn’t happened that way – people need systems to stay organised,” she says.

“The only items you need to keep on your desk are the ones you use daily or weekly. Anything else is excess clutter. Things you only use once a month can even be put in archive boxes and stored in another room.

“I like to have colour-coded filing. I put all my clients’ files in orange folders and taxation in green,” she says. But what if you don’t file at all? “Well, 80 per cent of material in filing cabinets is never looked at again, so that’s normal,” she says.

I decide to turn over a new leaf, and follow the professional organiser’s tips. With each item on my desk, questions are asked and decisions are made.

Is a ratty old blister packet with one paracetamol tablet worth saving? No. Two tablets are needed to kill a headache. Bin it.

How did 32 biros manage to hide under all those notebooks when yesterday I couldn’t find a single pen? Get a mug from the kitchen in which to store pens. As I am right-handed, I place important items on the right-hand side of my desk. That’s called a “system”.

Oh, look: another ratty old blister packet with one yellowing paracetamol tablet underneath three unpaid bills. Retrieve other blister packet from bin. Place within easy reach of my workspace.

There. A home office with headache pills close at hand. That’s the way to do it.

10 things anyone who decides to paint their house must know

Originally published in Domain

Dodgy paint jobs, colour selection disasters, splatters and drip marks are just some of the risks of painting a home yourself. Here are 10 other things you need to know before you pick up a paint brush.


Dark and dramatic or bright and neutral? There’s no easy solution to choosing the right paint colour, other than to angst over colour charts or pay an expert to do it for you.

Interior designer Katrina Hill, who has studied colour psychology and runs Katrina Hill Design Group, says the right paint colour combinations transform a property.

“I’m really passionate about colour – using a bit of colour is like wearing more make-up. It makes a house look better,” she says.

“Clients actually say to us that what we do is so cheap. They spend thousands of dollars on the painter but pay us only $300 to $500 to get the colours right,” she says.


A sure sign of a dodgy DIY job is choosing the wrong type of paint for the task.

You can’t paint metal with ceiling paint. And you shouldn’t paint interior walls with oil-based gloss.

Bunnings decorator category manager Sharyn Petrzela says DIYers typically use acrylic or water-based paint, relying on higher gloss oil-based paints only for doors, windows and trims.

Any paint centre or hardware store that sells paint can explain paint formulations and additives to you – but you need to ask the right questions and understand the surfaces you are painting.


“You can do more damage than good when you paint your place yourself,” says Holmes St. Clair real estate agent Robert Holmes, who sells prestige property and has seen plenty of bad paint jobs destroy property values.

“A professional paint job will add significant value but a bad paint job means you could choose the wrong tones and colours, which will impact on the sense of light and appeal.”

Attempting to repaint an old property with ornate plaster ceilings, flaking lead paint or rotting plaster walls should be left to the professionals, as the preparation work could be delicate (or hazardous!).


There’s a theory that painting interiors white makes them look open and bigger but colour expert Hill says “white is super scathing” and can highlight flaws.

“Beautiful north facing houses with harbour views need very little tricking up with colour, but when you get to smaller houses that are dingy and dark, you need to add some sex and drama with colour.”


Sample pots can be dangerous if you’re trying to select the right colour, warns Katrina Hill.

Most people use them incorrectly, slapping one thin coat over existing paint. Hill recommends using A5 swatches to judge a colour.

“I don’t use sample pots. In a perfect world you only paint them on a sheet of white cardboard – you don’t apply them directly to the walls,” Hill says.

She recommends painting two coats from a sample pot on an A5 piece of cardboard and then blue tacking the A5 swatch to a sheet of A3 white paper and sticking it on the wall.


Professional painter Harte spends 60% of his time on the job preparing a surface rather than painting.

Harte prefers to prepares by filling cracks and holes and then rubbing surfaces with sandpaper before wiping them clean and applying an oil-based sealer.

“I also sand between coats,” he says. “It gives a smoother, more even finish that will last for years.”


Paint is not the only ingredient required to tackle a paint job. You will also need:

Paint brushes: for woodwork and cutting in. Don’t buy the cheap brushes that leave their bristles behind in the paint work.

Paint rollers: these apply paint fast and are used for walls and ceilings. You also need roller trays and extension handles.

Paint stirrers: You need to stir all paint before you use it. “A general rule of thumb is to give the paint a proper shake and stir before the start of your project,” says Petrzela.

A lightweight aluminium ladder: “A good ladder is so important, especially one that’s easy to move around. You can be up and down a ladder 12 times just painting one room,” Harte says.

Dropsheets: Canvas dropsheets are best, but old sheets can work. Don’t use plastic dropsheets. “The paint doesn’t dry when it drops on plastic and you can walk on it and get paint everywhere,” warns Harte.

Preparation and clean up materials: Sanding blocks, sugar soap, filler, spatulas, turps … what you need will depend on the job at hand.


Rooms need to be clear to do a quality paint job. Pack away paintings, move furniture into the centre of the room and allow easy access to all areas. Lock up your pets, too.

Remove all light switch covers, door handles and window locks and keep all the bits in a plastic bag until you’ve finished painting the woodwork. Leave windows and doors open to fully ventilate as the paint dries.


Don’t buy more paint than you need! The rough rule of thumb is that a litre of paint covers around 16 square metres.

When painting interiors, paint the ceiling first, then the walls, then doors, windows and skirtings. With exteriors, prepare and paint fascia or exterior trim first and then guttering before tackling the walls.


Don’t tread in the roller tray. Don’t leave the lid off the paint, like ever. And don’t let the cat rub up against the newly painted door.

“Always dispose of unused paint and packaging responsibly through collection facilities,” says Petrzela, suggesting PaintBack or local councils as contacts to find your nearest collection point.

Harte’s tips for cleaning up paint spatters from his skin are to shower with a Scotch Brite pad and scrub it off.

“You can also use Ponds Cold Cream. Put it on for 20 minutes and it should take off any paint,” he says.

Property & real estate

Originally published in and the Wentworth Courier

Mcmansions reincarnated

Originally published in Domain

It was the horror of giant brick veneer houses that inspired artist and designer Mathieu Gallois to take the leap into property development.

His plan is simple enough: buy one giant, carbon-hungry McMansion on more than 800 square metres of land and carefully demolish the brick veneer home to rebuild four sustainable, affordable and architecturally designed townhouses for $450,000 each – less than half Sydney’s $1 million median house price.

It’s called the Reincarnated McMansion Project.

Artist and designer Mathieu Gallois hopes to transform a McMansion into four sustainable homes. Photo: Supplied

Artist and designer Mathieu Gallois hopes to transform a McMansion into four sustainable homes. Photo: Supplied

Gallois’ dream is to create a company or strata-titled commune where like-minded “model citizens” embrace sustainable living rather than climbing the profit-centric property ladder.

“Commune is a strong word – that makes it sound like we all have long hair and take drugs, which won’t be the case,” Gallois said.

“Australia has some of the biggest homes and the biggest carbon footprints per capita in the world – this project is a metaphor for Australia downsizing and living in beautiful, comfortable, affordable homes.”

Commune is a strong word – that makes it sound like we all have long hair and take drugs, which won’t be the case.

There’s no profit or flashy off-the-plan sales driving Gallois’ property development – just a genuine hope Reincarnated McMansion Project can demonstrate a better way to create zero-emission housing.

The community-funded project has attracted sponsors and some of Australia’s best environmental architects – including Tone Wheeler, who designed the eco house on reality TV show Big Brother – which is why the price tag is so reasonable.

“We have raised half the money and we want one or two more families with like-minded values to register their interest,” Gallois said.

The price tag could be even cheaper if there was a family currently living in a McMansion who wanted to join the project and downsize into one of the eco-townhouses, which feature greywater treatment, a shared laundry and “features that save space and are good for the environment”.

Each eco-townhouse will have two bedrooms and 120 square metres of internal space, with the latest energy efficient design and styling.

Vanessa Hardy, who currently rents in Dulwich Hill with her partner and six-year-old son, has registered her interest in the project.

“This appeals because it’s more about our core values than conspicuous consumption,” she said.

“We’ve explored investment properties but this gives us the opportunity to actually buy something for ourselves to live in.”

The project won’t determine its final location until all investors agree on a site, but they are looking to build in suburbs such as Liverpool, Campbelltown, Kellyville, Marrickville, Ashfield, Botany Bay, Hurstville or even North Wollongong.

Five reasons to reincarnate a McMansion

1. These big brick veneer houses emit as much as 10 tonnes of carbon a year just to heat and cool – this project will reduce that to zero for four new dwellings.

2. While land and established properties have increased in price, building costs are relatively stable so this project offers a unique opportunity to add architect-designed value to a land site by bringing in four investors to spread the risk and cost.

3. It’s an example of community-led suburban development, without handing any profits to property developers.

4. The project is heavily subsidised by eco-sensitive sponsors.

5. if there is enough demand, the project could be built in several suburbs across Sydney simultaneously.

Generational divide: why the x, y & z will miss out compared to baby boomers

Originally published in Sun Herald

FORGET the housing preferences of baby boomers and spend a minute thinking about the younger generations, known broadly as generation X, generation Y and generation Z.

Foreseechange’s Charlie Nelson said housing affordability is one of the biggest issues facing younger generations (those born after 1965), many worrying they will never be able to afford to buy a house.

KPMG demographer Bernard Salt said simple population mathematics means generation X, Y and Z will never see the kind of property price growth that baby boomers did, thereby missing out on the “leg-up” baby boomers received when they bought property.

He said land values increased by 4000 per cent between the 1960s and 2003 as the demographic strength of 4 million baby boomers created demand for 2 million more houses than existed previously, and drove up prices.

Furthermore, Salt predicted that the Sydney suburbs that will have above-average property price growth will be inner-city and beachside locations that appeal to both the baby boomers and generation X and Y – the Zs, born from 1995, are still too young to buy or rent.

But experts like BIS Shrapnel’s Jason Anderson said the “value proposition” for generation X and Y – who are unlikely to have the same housing equity baby boomers have built up – means Sydney’s middle- and outer-ring suburbs will appeal to younger first home buyers.

Anderson believes rising rents will prompt people aged in their 20s and 30s to start considering buying well-priced houses and apartments in western Sydney.

“Obviously they will want to be as close to the city as they can afford, but when they weigh up the cost of renting versus the cost of buying it will start making sense to them,” he said.

“There are gen X strongholds in new estates around Kellyville and Rouse Hill, but a lot of Xers did not marry or have children, and would die rather then move west of Leichhardt.”

The Bureau of Statistics said the number of single-person households in Australia is likely to increase by 57-105 per cent by 2026, and the average household size will drop from 2.6 to 2.3 people during the same time.

Salt predicted many generation X and Ys won’t have as many children as previous generations.


Filmmakers Allanah Zitserman and her partner Stavros Kazantzidis love the bush, beach, city and country – and have an apartment in Tamarama and and a weatherboard house with wraparound veranda in Dungog, three-hours’ north of Sydney in the upper Hunter Valley.

“The city is a time-sucker,” said Ms Zitserman, who started the Dungog Film Festival, co-wrote and produced Russian Doll and is now working on a new film, The Eucalypt Forest.

Mr Stavros said it takes a particular type of person – and plenty of research – before taking the plunge and moving to a more affordable rural area.

The couple researched Dungog thoroughly before buying.

“It’s important to know the psychology of a town, what it’s really like, before you move there,” Ms Zitserman said.

Title Deeds

Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald


SYDNEY’S gem family the Canturis, who designed jewels that appeared in Moulin Rouge and the Matrix films, are hoping to finally shift their Dover Heights Butterfly House when it goes to auction on Tuesday, July 8.

The space-age home, which doesn’t have any corners after the original Malay-Chinese owners decreed it should have perfect feng shui, has been on – and off – the market for more than a year, with initial hopes of about $7 million.

Designed by architect Ed Lippman, it has a gas-heated pool, five bedrooms, three bathrooms and 10 car spaces (the Canturis collect cars).

The house was bought by Michael Canturi when only half-completed and the family financed the architect’s vision to create the amazing curved walls and windows that dominate the corner of Military and Myuna roads.

Bradfield & Prichard’s Anthony Puntigam has the listing.

He says the price indication has dropped to a “more realistic” $5 million range.


IS IT any wonder that Hugh Jackman’s better half Deborra-lee Furness has inspected the Nick Tobias-designed house owned by Sumo Salad entrepreneur Steve Pongrass? The harbourside Rose Bay home in Fernleigh Avenue is stunning, having taken two years to rebuild. Inside it has customised joinery, balustrades recycled from an old Commonwealth Bank and large, open rooms with harbour views.

Pongrass and his wife Lisa are selling the house to buy a low-maintenance apartment in Sydney while they spend more time in Queensland on business.

Raine & Horne Double Bay’s Michael Pallier has the listing and says the Pongrasses are hoping for about $15 million. Pongrass paid $3.42 million in 1998.


THERE are only 56 oceanfront houses in Sydney, says Doyle Spillane principal Stephen Doyle – and one of them is for sale at Beach Road, Collaroy, with a $7 million-plus price tag. The position and views don’t come much better, with the 1445-square-metre block facing north-east over the water but the house looks a little worse for wear. The property last traded in 1997 for $900,000.


ONE of Byron Bay’s distinctive acreage properties on Old Bangalow Road has been sold to a couple from Monaco who plan to move their business here.

Kristina Brodie’s four-pavilion meditation retreat on 7.33 hectares has sold for $3.65 million through Frances O’Connor Real Estate. The four-bedroom, four-bathroom timber pavilions, inspired by Kyoto’s Ryoanji Temple, were designed by Bryon Bay architect Christine Vadasz.

The property, a five-minute drive from Byron Bay’s post office, was sold to Joachim Deubel and Maxine Monroe-Deubel. Brodie – who owned Byron Bay’s Green Garage – is spending more time in Africa, where she runs a children’s charity.


ACTOR and archery champ Geena Davis has spoken in glowing terms about Sydney to National Geographic Traveler. “I’ve visited a lot of cities but I fell in love with Sydney because it is the most beautiful,” she said.

The former fashion model is here filming Accidents Happen, holed up in a luxury eastern suburbs rental property and chauffeured to the studio each morning. There’s no word yet that the 195-centimetre tall mother of three has started looking around to buy a home but, with those glowing words about Sydney, you never know!


I HEARD a rumour that Merivale Group CEO Justin Hemmes was looking to buy a retreat in Tasmania.

It’s unfounded. “I’m perfectly happy where I am,” he says. And why not? He lives in the grand family home Hermitage in Vaucluse. Who needs a retreat when you have stunning harbour views and Little Hermit Bay at the bottom of your house?


HOLY house, anyone? A flurry of former churches are on the local real estate market, with several already converted to homes. There’s a three-bedroom church at Wentworth Street in Tempe, selling for $930,000 through Sarah Lorden Real Estate.

The original St Matthew’s Church rectory in Addison Road, Manly, with four bedrooms and awesome harbour views, is on the market for $3 million-plus. In Woollahra a four-bedroom 416-square-metre apartment in a gothic church in Jersey Road is still on the market for $2.5 million after being passed in at auction in February.

But the real bargain must be a weatherboard heritage-listed church in Medlow Bath listed by Raine & Horne Katoomba for a heavenly $225,000. It’s enough to make you come over all spiritual.


THE property magnates behind the controversial redevelopment of Pittwater’s former union-owned workers’ retreat Currawong and Bondi’s beachfront Swiss Grand Hotel – Eduard Litver and Allen Linz – have been busy tidying up their own real-estate holdings.

Following Linz’s purchase of the house next door to his Watsons Bay waterfront for the princely sum of $8.15 million late last year, Litver is flogging off the luxury Darling Point house he has called home for only seven months.

Litver is hoping to snag more than $17 million for the palatial Eastbourne Road home, which includes self-contained maid’s quarters and four levels of living space.

Designed by Burley Katon Halliday, it has lavish appointments including an internal lift, customised joinery, heated swimming pool with water feature and a mosaic tiled art wall.

McGrath’s Steven Chen and L.J.Hooker’s Bill Malouf, the co-agents, say Litver is hoping to upgrade to a bigger home.

South African-born Linz and Russian-born Litver hope to build luxury homes and a marina at Currawong and plan to turn Bondi’s Swiss Grand Hotel into apartments.


A VICTORIAN-ERA mansion in Elderslie, which is said to be haunted and hosts weekend ghost tours, is for sale. It is hoped it will sell for between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.

Studley Park House, built in 1888 as a grazier’s home but now owned by Camden Golf Club, is on the market for the first time in decades. The heritage-listed property is run down but has features including a tessellated tile foyer, stained glass windows and traditional joinery.

On 5.5 hectares and accessible only via the golf course, it is for sale by expressions of interest closing on July 30 through Ray White Macarthur Group’s Mark Jennings.


RON and Carol Minogue’s daughter Kylie has an on-again, off-again French boyfriend Olivier Martinez. Other daughter Dannii had a dalliance with French businessman Jeremy Garamond. The parents of the famous sisters, however, have a French Island. It’s not an isle in France but an island off the coast of Victoria. And now they are selling it.

They bought the 20-hectare retreat four years ago for $400,000 and spent a fortune transforming it into an eco-sanctuary, with its own wind and solar power generators hidden in an old chicory kiln.

There is also a 1000-square-metre walled garden growing organic vegies and a rainwater tank irrigation system. The four-bedroom house has open-plan living areas and is surrounded by a French-style stone wall. The retreat is looked after by a farm manager and is said to have its own wildlife, including koalas.

Kylie has stayed on the island several times, including a stint while recovering from breast cancer. The property failed to sell after an expressions-of-interest campaign this year and the Minogues are now offering two parcels: one with house and organic garden for about $1.2 million; the other of unimproved land for $600,000. Hocking Stuart agent Hendrik Boer has the listing.


A MEMBER of the Waterhouse horse-racing and bookmaking family, Martin Waterhouse, has sold his Narrabeen beachfront for $3.25 million. The four-bedroom Pittwater Road property was on 815 square metres of level land with direct access to the beach. Waterhouse, the solicitor cousin of Robbie and David, tried to launch a new political party last year, Provident Party Australia. At the time, Waterhouse, an amateur pilot, said the PPA was “spawned by a large number of unhappy members of the general aviation community who have been massively disadvantaged by airport privatisations”.


THE historic family home of fashion designer Robbie Cranfield is on the market again, this time with hopes of more than $4 million. The Tudor-style house in Suffolk Avenue above Collaroy beach, built in 1936, was listed with several agents, originally at a price of about $5 million. It is now with Jaime Upton of Sotheby’s International Realty.


IF YOU’VE lived near Bondi you’ve probably bought a tipple or two from Bondi Road wine merchants Kemeny’s. Owner Andrew Kemeny – also the chairman of Sydney FC, the football club of which actor Anthony LaPaglia is a director – is auctioning his luxury Vaucluse home on Tuesday. The five-bedroom Olola Avenue house includes a gas-heated pool and spa – and customised wine cellar, of course. Since the house up the street has just sold for a little more than $8.2million, Kemeny is hoping his place will fetch more. He probably won’t spend the profits on more wine, though – he’s upgrading to a bigger and better pad.


HUGH JACKMAN, who has been in Sydney for the past few months filming Wolverine, is due to depart Australian shores soon. While here he stays in luxury rentals around the eastern suburbs where he can easily have a dip at Bondi Beach and take time out with wife Deborra-lee Furness and his kids. There are whispers they have been doing a spot of house-hunting during this visit. The couple also enjoy a holistic heath retreat – particularly the Gwinganna Resort in the Gold Coast hinterland, where Jackman enjoyed his last stay so much he decided to invest in the business.


CHANNEL TEN’s 9am With David And Kim presenter Kim Watkins is hoping for more than $3.5 million when she sells her Randwick house at auction on Saturday. Now that Watkins calls Melbourne home, it’s time to flog off the five-bedroom house she lovingly renovated with husband Simon Tornya. On 612 square metres, the property has its own home theatre opening directly to the level backyard, which includes a thatched gazebo. Watkins bought the house in 2003 for $1.7 million. GoodyerDonnelley principal Debbie Donnelley has the listing.


POLITICAL supremos Tanya Plibersek, the federal MP for Sydney and Minister for Housing and the Status of Women, and her husband, NSW Education Department chief Michael Coutts-Trotter have listed their swish Oasis art deco three-bedroom apartment for July 5 auction. The P&O-style complex is known for its whopping light-filled apartments, just a short stroll from Woolloomooloo and the finger wharf. Other owners in the building include socialite and former Qantas steward Lorenzo Montesini.


MCGRATH Real Estate founder John McGrath has released his market report. He predicts Sydney is going to be another New York, a city where few people will be able to afford to buy within five kilometres of the CBD. “The inner ring already has a median house price above $1 million and, with those growth rates, it means that a child born today who wants to buy a one-bedroom apartment in the city on their 21st birthday will need to spend $4 million,” he told me. Meanwhile Rismark International – the company behind shared equity mortgages – says Sydney property prices have fallen by an average of 4per cent since 2004. “Between 2004 and 2006 they actually fell by 12 per cent and have come back by 8 per cent since then,” researcher Matthew Hardman says. “It’s hard to talk about average prices in Sydney because eastern suburbs prices remained flat but places like Bankstown and Fairfield fell by 20 or 30 per cent.”


McGRATH also mentioned the north tower of Woolloomooloo wharf, where he helped mate Russell Crowe buy his 1000-square-metre apartment. Crowe paid $14 million in 2003, but McGrath estimates it’s worth more than $35 million today. “It has security, privacy, everything,” he says. It’s no secret Crowe and wife Danielle Spencer are looking around for a bigger house for their two small boys, Charlie and Tennyson. Crowe told 60 Minutes he’d like another child and he’s been spotted inspecting a couple of houses, including businessman David Coe’s Vaucluse waterfront that reportedly has a $50 millionprice tag.


THE Kidman family’s rustic retreat in the South Coast town of Rosedale – including three basic log cabins on a grassy verge within metres of the surf – is on the market, but it may only fetch the $4million originally paid back in 2004. Nicole Kidman’s soon to be former brother-in-law Angus Hawley bid for the log cabin property at its auction on Valentine’s Day in 2004, paying $1.47million for the retreat when he and Antonia Kidman were still a happy couple. The Kidman clan also paid $2.53million for the house and a block of land next door to the cabins, taking their total Rosedale investment to $4million. Now that Nicole has married Keith Urban and is expecting his baby, the Hollywood star will reportedly base herself in Nashville and dispose of her NSW property assets. She sold her Walsh Bay apartment last year. The Darling Point home she shared with former husband Tom Cruise has hefty $20million price expectations. Rosedale residents reported seeing her in the South Coast town only three times in the past four years, but Angus and Antonia, as well as Nicole’s parents, used the property frequently. “Angus loved the place. Just before the split [from Antonia last year] he was bringing the kids down most weekends,” a resident said. Ray White Batemans Bay principal John Haslem says the South Coast property market has been slow since the property boom ended in 2004 but the Kidmans “should get their money back”. Meanwhile, Skyline Real Estate’s Stuart Bath has scotched rumours that Nicole was looking for a house in Oxford Falls two weeks ago. She is reportedly looking for another Sydney abode as a base when she returns to visit family


SYDNEY’S chichi apartments with harbour views seem to be on steroids, with massive prices being fetched for house-sized pads. Following the $16.75million sale of an apartment in Bennelong comes another price-smashing record of $20million for a massive 531-square-metre penthouse in Potts Point’s new 10 Wylde Street development. Richardson & Wrench’s Jason Boon sold the yet-to-be-built penthouse to a Sydney businessman whom he refused to identify. “I can’t tell you who it is. If it gets out, I’ll only get half my commission. Safe to say it’s someone who doesn’t fly on commercial airlines.” The apartment is being designed by Alex Tzannes with interiors by fashion designer Alex Perry and should be completed by the end of next year.


BARBARA BROWN, a designer who worked with McDonald’s restaurants putting a bit of shmick into the interiors of the golden arches and McCafe, is auctioning her Phillip Cox-designed house at 198 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag, with $3million expectations. The North Shore enclave has become a hot spot for architect-designed houses, with sprawling homes by Alex Popov, Hugh Buhrich and Walter Burley Griffin all fetching $2million-plus price tags. Brown is downsizing to her Balmoral apartment while she looks for a new, smaller home on the lower North Shore.


BRONTE property developer Richard Walsh will sell his five-bedroom Thomas Street house with hopes of more than $2.5million. He’s off to Lennox Head on the North Coast, to be closer to his developments around Byron Bay.


FERTILITY guru Dr Graeme Hughes, the clinical director at IVF Australia Eastern Suburbs, and his wife Dr Bronwyn Hughes have bought one of Pearl Beach’s architect-designed beachfront houses for $4.5million. They’re selling their lagoon-front home in the celebrity Central Coast holiday spot, with hopes of $1.5million-plus when it goes to auction on June 14 through PRDnationwide Ettalong’s Stuart Gan. The sleepy village surrounded by national park has long been a celebrity haunt, with film director George Miller, SBS’s Jenny Brockie and Jeanne Little all owning retreats there.


HERE’S proof that swanky home makeovers don’t always add a tonne of value to a property. A five-bedroom south Coogee house with awesome ocean views tizzied up by the producers of TV show Selling Houses Australia sold for $2,850,000 last week, just $50,000 more than an offer made before expensive renovations took place. Ray White Randwick’s Natalie Zulian says the house in Denning Street had an offer for $2.8million before the show’s producers (the same people who make Hot Property) put in a new kitchen, a new bathroom and repainted and updated the second bathroom.

The auction is scheduled to be aired on June 18.


THERE’S nothing like the inner city for innovative – and tiny – houses such as a cute but kooky renovated one-bedroom terrace in Denham Street, Darlinghurst. On just 79 square metres, the terrace was gutted in the early 1990s and had several mezzanine platforms installed to create more internal space. There is just more than 70 square metres of internal living and room for outdoor entertaining in the rear courtyard. It’s for sale with offers of $600,000-plus sought by McGrath’s Chris Chung, who’s also listed a former electricity sub-station in Seale Street, Darlinghurst, for $600,000-plus.

Renovation crimes

Originally published in Domain

There are two certainties in this world: the first is that people have bad taste, the second is that what seems stylish today can seem hideous in a few years’ time.

Good renovation and design requires choosing new fixtures and fittings that will outlast trends. Things such as light fittings, doors and windows, flooring and kitchens and bathrooms can easily become the fashion equivalent of the tulip skirt and footless tights – a must-have right now, but something to hide in the future.

So how do you prevent fatal renovation crimes you may regret? What is a renovation crime?

More than just a misjudgement of taste – a renovation crime is something that permanently destroys the fabric of a house. Crimes include ripping out cast iron fireplaces and boarding them up. Or knocking out walls to create a brick archway support more suited to a pizza shop. It’s pebblecrete on the front veranda. It’s aluminium windows in a gorgeous old Federation house. In short, a renovation crime is something a property owner thinks is a great idea at the time, but ends up costing the house lost amenity in the future.

Architect Andy Harding of Stanic Harding says the biggest renovation crime committed in Sydney is the Cape Cod-style second-storey addition. rebuild, “Councils just love those things that are tacked on with a bit of fibro and a little dormer window,” he says. “I hate them. They do nothing to integrate with the original house or let more sunlight in. Awful. Once done, there’s very little you can do to fix it.

National Trust conservation director Jacqui Goddard has a problem with rendering, saying “people often render something that shouldn’t be rendered in the first place, or they remove render when it should stay”.

Goddard says plenty of 1970s houses were designed to expose face bricks, rather than get covered with the fashionable Tuscan-style render which will be hellishly hard to remove in 10 years.

“It’s OK for poor-quality brick buildings to be covered, but unless a building needs to be rendered, don’t do it,” she says.

Goddard says render-happy renovators should check whether the bricks have been well-laid and are good quality before slapping on a coat of concrete that no future generation will be able to remove.


Goddard recalls an early architecture job she did converting an art deco bathroom fitted with black tiles and recessed soap holders. “I often wonder whether those clients would kill to have their classic old bathroom back now people appreciate the beauty of art deco.”

That’s why reversible renovation – or Goddard’s “layering” approach – could work to save you from future arrests for bad renovation judgement. If you remove the 1960s light fittings in the lounge room, store them in the garage and give them to the next home owner. Or rather than remove an old kitchen, re-use parts of it.

“We all have a fascination with ripping out timber kitchen cabinets and replacing them with particle board and laminate tops – what’s that about?” Goddard says.

“If a kitchen has timber cupboards and is well constructed, don’t let the builder tell you it has to be ripped out to fit in the dishwasher and new cooktop. With a little bit of work, you can keep the timber and put on a new benchtop and make space for modern appliances.”

Better Homes and Gardens editor Julia Zaetta has worked in homes magazines for more than two decades and says trends and fads come and go. As long as they are easy enough to repair, replace or improve upon, it’s not a problem.

“I remember when everything had to be painted peach,” she says. “It’s easy to paint over. But if you tiled your ensuite in peach, you are in trouble.”


White walls

Neutral furniture

Seamless indoor-outdoor living spaces

Rendering the right buildings in the right way

Passive solar design creating warm rooms in winter and cool rooms in summer


Anything in peach

Three-piece bamboo lounge suites

Bifold doors with a westerly aspect and no exterior sun shelter

Rendering brick buildings that are designed to be exposed

Low-ceiling rooms that need constant air-conditioning