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.”