Before and after: a bathroom ripped out and rebuilt Friday, Mar 4 2011 

All my dreaming has not been in vain – I have redone a number of bathrooms.  None quite so fantastical as my last post, but definitely rewarding.

This is an en suite off a master bedroom.  It had been divided in two by a low brick wall, with a double shower taking up the further half of the room (seen above).  The tiles were very dated and all the finishes were cheap white plastic.  Yuk!

I was intrigued about the double shower.  It brought to mind communal bathing after football matches, or inmates forced to shower together.  I can’t imagine a situation where I’d be in such a rush that I’d have to shower simultaneously with my beloved.  Or a situation where, if I wanted to shower WITH him, I’d want to be three metres away in my own space. 


So that was knocked down!

The whole room was stripped back (above), waterproofed and we started again.  You have to be pretty brave to live through this.  The dust that is generated by jackhammering out tiles, cutting and relaying them defies belief.  You find it for years afterwards, however carefully you clean up.

bathroom after twin sinks basins gilt mirrors wood floating shelf

Despite my derogatory comments on double showers in the home, some things are nice ‘double’ – and I think basins are one of those.  Basins take heavy use at both ends of the day, and this way, each gets to have his or her own, with their own clobber around it (tidied away for this photo).

Although this bathroom was done six years ago, it still looks current. 

Bathrooms can be brought alive by contrast in texture: here largely between wood and tile and glass.  A floating shelf supports two sculptural basins in perfect symmetry.  The basins are not ceramic (and terribly fragile, as the plumber first feared) but enamelled steel – hence their super slim delicate shapes.

Sleek wastes take the water away elegantly into the wall.  Doesn’t it look amazing with no pipes, and no support?

The mirrors aren’t your usual bathroom bland, but a pair of vintage gilt frames that really add the wow factor.

Doing away with a vanity makes a small bathroom look far bigger (storage issues were solved below).

bathroom after toilet storage wood floating shelf

The toilet had its cistern hidden, and aligned with that, more floating wood shelves line the wall above for storage.  A great place to keep clean towels, toilet rolls, and other goodies hidden in baskets.

bathroom after wood floating shelf basin sink

A Bedouin antique grinder sits in the corner – the only ornamentation in a room designed to be light, easy and refreshing first thing in the morning.

Remember the ‘before’ photo?

Here is that same view ‘after’.  As the room is fairly small (about 3m by 3m), a simple tile ensures it isn’t overwhelmed.  These were laid vertically to emphasise height.  The matching tile, but square, were used for the floor.

Square, tiled, drains were used in the shower – far nicer than plug holes.

bathroom after frameless shower

The stunning view was left unencumbered by blinds or frosted windows.  The only creatures that can see in are the birds.

bathroom after toilet floating wood shelves storage view

It’s a lovely sunny space to shower in.


An entryway before and after Monday, Feb 28 2011 

A redesign of the front of the house (by previous owners) resulted in a very strange entryway here:

hall entryway before interiors

A large concrete platform, topped with wood, filled the space.  This was the architect’s idea – I’m not sure of the purpose.  The floor was tiled in black slate – a completely different material to that used anywhere else in the house: wood stairs lead upwards to a wooden floor.  Pale tiles lead off to the other living area.

All in all, it wasn’t really working.  There was nowhere to put anything on arriving home, and no space in which to greet guests.

hall entryway before interiors stairs

This called for some structural work.  The concrete platform was demolished and removed.  The floor and stairs were re-tiled to match the other living areas in a lovely pale travertine tile.  These tiles are not real travertine, which is porous and stains, but a fabulous ceramic imitation. 

The photo below is the ‘after’ of the first photo….

hall entryway after interiors travertine tiles

When thinking of your hall or entry to your house, these are the things you might need:

1. A place to put ‘stuff’ when you get home.  This can vary from small items like keys – where I recommend an elegant solution like this.  You may also need space for coats, shoes, hats, umbrellas.

shelves entryway hall foyer

2. When you walk into your home (or anyone else’s) you want to feel welcomed.  One of the best ways to do this is to have the hall as a mini version of the rest of the house.  If your house is all in pinks and flowers – ensure the entry has that in abundance.  If you’re mad keen on taxidermy – include them on arrival.  Too many of us leave the good stuff for the other rooms – whereas you walk in the door every day – and need to see something stunning.  It also sets the scene for the rest of the home.

leather books gilt embossed pearl inlay

3. Make sure your acoustics are good.  In this hallway, it meant hanging a tapestry on the wall as there wasn’t enough room for a rug to blunt the sound.  Arriving into an echoing space is too much like entering a gallery.  Your ears will not tell you it’s homely.

antique tapestry travertine tiles

4. If you have the space, a seat on which to sit and put on shoes is ideal.  There isn’t space here so the stairs suffice.  One consideration was to put a seat at the far end of the shelves – but it just felt too inaccessible.

entryway hall interior antique tapestry travertine tiles

This area really reflects both the house and the owners.  Books, eclectic ‘objets’, harmonious colours…

front door hallway entry

So just once again: Before:

hall entryway before interiors

And after:

hall entryway after interiors travertine tiles


hall entryway before interiors stairs

and after:

antique tapestry travertine tiles

The $4000 shelves, three years of misery, and cutting my losses…or …What to do if you make an expensive mistake Tuesday, Feb 15 2011 

So – you’ve bought the house (or apartment) and it needs work.

Where do you start?  How much do you spend?  And how do you avoid expensive errors of judgement?

New research shows the average woman has 22 items in her wardrobe that she has never worn (but feels too guilty to throw out).  Sadly, purchases for the home are not immune from such lapses in judgment either.  And rather than languish unseen in the back of the wardrobe, they stare at us daily from whichever room we have thrust them into, unable to face the ignominy of admitting our mistake.

This is what I’ve learned….

Firstly, don’t rush into things. 

Oh, that’s so rich coming from me. 

I’m a complete rusher.  I’m brim-full of ideas and enthusiasm, can see lots of potential and I want to do it all now now now!!  I’m also very decisive and rarely change my mind, so this isn’t usually a problem.  Except that houses are different.

Ancient library leather bound books

Take, for example, the 42 boxes of books that were stacked up when I moved in here.  (I’m  a voracious reader…)  I couldn’t bear to have them boxed.  I love books in a room.  So, straight away, I had book shelves built in the living room.  Before (I can’t believe I’m telling you this)… BEFORE I had a plan for the room as a whole.  Which is the kiss of death to any space. 

To add insult to injury, the carpenters (I had too much to get done, so hired someone) had very firm ideas of what they thought should happen.  And I took their advice.  So I ended up with something that not only didn’t fit into an overall designplan, I ended up with something that wasn’t really my plan at all.  It was some carpenter’s idea.

I lived with it, resentfully, grudgingly, disappointedly for three years.  Unable to bear ripping out something that had cost so much.

Until I realise that I was adding to the dollar cost, with the cost of my unhappiness.  The offending shelves have long gone and taking them out was the best things I could have done.

What could be so wrong with them, I hear you ask?  Firstly, they were not built up to ceiling height (which I had asked for) – but to the top of the windows, some 30cm lower.  This had the effect of lowering an already low ceiling and making the room feel oppressive.  Secondly, they were not built from wood (again my first preference) but from laminate.  The carpenters insisted this would be better.  And although laminate these days is far superior than that of a couple of decades ago, it looked cheap and ‘fake’.  I should have stuck to my guns and had wood, which would have taken more time as it needed priming and painting.


1. Don’t rush.  Books can sit in boxes.  Guests and friends can visit half-done homes. 

2. Make sure you know what you want, and don’t let tradespeople talk you into a different design unless there is a structural reason for it (such as an extra $5,000 to move the plumbing). 

3. If you make a mistake, don’t punish yourself by living with it.  Accept you got it wrong and change it.

4. Have a complete plan for the room before you start spending.

5. Investigate all alternatives to get the best price.  The carpenters were competitively priced (yes – even at $4000).  But I didn’t realise, at that time, that shelves could be purchased from antique auctions for a pittance, and then remodelled.  I could have had wood cheaper than laminate, and antique wood at that.  These experiences are one of the reasons why I now do so much myself.

So – if you are sitting with an expensive mistake in your home…. be kind to yourself.  Admit you were wrong and recycle the damn thing!

Tradespeople quotes: getting ripped off and getting even. Monday, Jan 31 2011 

You’ll have got the drift, by now, that I like doing most things myself, if I can.  But there are occasions when even my enthusiasm and energy flag.  Such as rendering the outside of my house, re-wiring it, replacing an entire window, and so on.  So there are always times when you need to call in the trades: builders, plumbers, electricians….

As a woman (I hate to say, this, but it’s true), particularly as a woman, I feel I can get bamboozled by guys coming to quote.

It’s kind of like taking my car in.  All kinds of technical issues suddenly arise.  Complicated-sounding jargon makes me feel ignorant.  Large problems seem to be isolated to my particular case, which, of course, is going to increase the price.

I start feeling overwhelmed, confused and out-of-my depth.  And more than anything, I start feeling that they are pulling the wool over my eyes.

I hate getting ripped off.  Don’t you?  So girls (and guys if you’re reading this) – here’s how to get even….

Rutherford quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

Firstly, ask lots of questions.  As the quote above so aptly summarises – if you want to save money, you have to use your brain. 

When an electrician/builder/plumber uses a word or phrase you don’t understand, ask!  What does that mean?  Is that isolated to my case only?  Do you come across that often?  Is there a way around it?

If you don’t ask, you’re going to get more lost as the tradeperson continues.  And he knows that.  And he’ll charge you.

If you DO ask, when the next person that comes to quote (because you ARE getting at least three quotes, aren’t you?) you will be very well-informed.  It also means that when the work is underway, you’ll know what’s going on.

quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

Secondly, be very clear what you do and don’t want done.  It might be easier with that wall knocked out, or with the light hung a metre to the left of centre, but is that what you want?  Stick to your guns.  Ask why they want to do something different.  Ask if there is an easier way.

Thirdly, GET THREE QUOTES.  It’s a hassle isn’t it?  Half the people I call don’t even turn up.  That’s how easy business is here in Australia….  Here are some of my stories as to why you should get three quotes.

When I wanted to get my house rendered on the outside, I asked a reliable building company to quote.  Their figure was $72,000!!!  Well – for that price, I couldn’t afford to have it done.  So I got more quotes.  They came in at $32,000 $14,000 and $7,000.  I was staggered.  I had no idea that quotes could vary so widely.

I discovered why later, when I was going through the debacle with my garden that I wrote about here.  One landscape contractor (who I pummelled with questions) eventually relaxed and admitted that he was really busy, and had more work than he needed.  I’d asked how much a whole swimming pool would cost, as a small garden pond was being quoted at $50,000.  He said,yes, you could do a whole pool for that price, although last week, he hadn’t really wanted a job, so had quoted $500,000 ( yes you read that right – half a million dollars).  He’d been staggered when the client accepted.  He was pleased as punch, and said he’d be happy to squeeze that job into his diary.  I felt for that poor, foolish (rich) client.

So – be warned.  Sometimes the quote is high as they don’t need the work.

Four – if you think the quote sounds good (I liked the $14,000 render quote), but you feel anxious, ask to speak to former clients or to see former work.  I drove round addresses where Mick and his team had rendered houses.  They looked fabulous and my mind was at rest.  I also asked why his quote was less.  It was based around scaffolding (he had his own) – something which costs a lot to hire.

Five – if you don’t like the chap, don’t hire him, even if he’s cheap.  I did this once, and man oh man, I regretted it.  The carpenter (who was building a car port on a house 12 years ago) moaned all day, turned up late, and generally made a meal of the job.  I didn’t like having him around, and that meant the working relationship was never as good as it could have been.

Six – if you have a complex project that involves more than one trade, get a recommendation from the primary hire.  My renderer recommended a painter to paint the render.  My kitchen fitter recommended the sparky he’d prefer to work with.  If strangers work together, one will blame the other for things that go wrong.  Using people who like each other, and work together regularly, means that the painter won’t blame the renderer for a poor surface.   Makes your life a lot easier.

Finally, if your gut tells you it’s not right.  Don’t do it.  There are plenty more tradespeople out there.

women quote tradespeople interior builder plumber electrician

(and if you’re wondering why I’ve put quotes and not pics – it’s because I’m writing about quotes….)

Getting a gourmet kitchen on a tight budget Wednesday, Jan 26 2011 

kitchen interior recycled

Kitchens can be SO expensive.  And SO gorgeous.  How do you get gorgeous on a budget?

I often see images (whether of interiors or clothes or gardens) that I covet, and then mull for weeks over how to create that look affordably.  The design-work is the part that makes it look amazing – so if you have a clear design that you love, imitating can be a lot less expensive than paying for the creation of something new.

kitchen interior recycled

Firstly (I love this bit) do your homework – look at lots of picture and cut out all the photos of kitchens you like.  (Not out of library books – out of magazines.)  Gathering all your photos and images together, work out the common themes.  This will help you work out what you like.  Is it a colour?  The flagstone floor?  Do you like the antique pot racks with copper saucepans hanging down?  Or do you prefer glass cabinets?  Or wood?

Getting this clear in your head at the start save expensive mistakes later on….

kitchen interior recycled

Then have a good honest look at your current kitchen.  Is the layout working?  If so, it might be possible to leave the cabinets and either paint or change the doors.  This is a great solution as it is inexpensive and environmentally friendly.  If you’re going to attempt to paint the doors yourself, take them off and paint them elsewhere.  This way, you’ll be able to get to the bits inside the hinges and so on, without making a mess in your kitchen.

small galley kitchen white

Ensure you use durable paint (you don’t want it chipping off).  And make sure you sand and prepare well – for the same reason.

If you are painting them yourself, you could consider a different colour for the inside of cupboard doors – as inspired by Scott Weston here.

If not, you’ll have to pull it all out.

Firstly – don’t chuck the old kitchen.  You may well find a taker on eBay who is prepared to dismantle and take away your old kitchen for re-use.  I gave mine to a home for small children – they came and took it and used it.  I was so thrilled!

kitchen before renovation

I changed mine for a number of reasons:

1. The left hand wall (you can’t quite see in the photo) was floor-to-ceiling cupboards with no bench space.  You can see, above, the other bench space.  Basically there wasn’t any!  And I love to cook.

2. The veneer on the cupboards was very old, very dated.  It was starting to peel and to turn a strange pinkish shade.

3. The pink splodgy marble bench top was about the most hideous thing I could imagine.

But I still lived with it for three years!  (yup – that’s the before and after – above and below…)

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop

I changed the design so that the bench extended all round the edge.  This greatly improved the kitchen’s usability.  And I re-did the whole thing for less than $8,000.


1. If your appliances (oven, dishwasher etc) are working fine, then keep them.  This will save you thousands.  Most appliances these days last at least a decade.

2. Custom-made kitchens are the most expensive.  And having your own cupboards built will not make them more durable in any way.  Almost 15 years ago I saw the most amazing kitchen I’d ever seen in an architect’s home in London, so I now always buy the brand he recommended. His kitchen was the ultimate in chic and desirability.  I couldn’t quite believe it when he said… IKEA. 

Yup!  I know.  Hard to believe. 

But in actual fact, more time is spent on the design, more rigour is put into the durability, and it has more flexibility than most other kitchens.  They have a 10 year guarantee against paint chipping etc!

 kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop window

3. Consider wood for the bench top.  I actually love the look of wooden bench tops, but they are also hugely practical.  They don’t require large amounts of marble to be mined and transported.  They can be fitted immediately (unlike man-made stone which has to be moulded to size over several weeks).  A monthly oil (with linseed oil) keeps them fresh and water-tight.  And if anything terrible happens you can always sand them back.

I’ve had mine installed for 4 years, and the wood is as good as new.  Wood also has anti-bacterial properties, which makes it a hygienic choice too.

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop chopping board

4. Have it professionally fitted.  I got a fabulous carpenter to install this kitchen as he can make it look far more professional than I ever could.  He actually cut the bench tops to fit into the glass bricks (before there was a separate sill there – this solution not only look better, it bought me more bench top).

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop glass bricks

5. Install your upper cabinets up to ceiling height (look at the divine kitchen below – I love how they’ve done it there).  This does a number of things: firstly it prevents dust and dirt congregating on top of the cabinets.  Secondly, it gives you the wonderful vertical lines and height I talked about with curtains.  And finally, it will look far more finished and elegant.  They don’t have to be real cabinets that function – just the doors cut to size will work perfectly.

high ceiling kitchen white cabinet interiors

Make sure you build in niches and space for things YOU use.  I wanted a shelf for cookbooks, room for glass jars… so I included them in the design.

To break up the look, I used glass-fronted cabinets above.  This also had the effect of making the glass bricks look ‘meant’ (rather than just dated).

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop glass bricks cherries

I changed the lighting too and installed lights under the cabinets above the bench – which is the spot you want brightly lit.

I’m lucky to have a lovely view out of the kitchen – so I made sure this was as uncluttered as possible.

kitchen renovation after white Ikea wood benchtop window

Things to avoid:

1. If you choose a strong colour for the cabinets, it is likely to look dated over time.  If you want a strong colour, why not use it on the walls?  (I have also heard at least one terrible story of the strong colour for the upper cabinets not matching exactly the colour on the lower ones.  Ouch!)

2. Don’t use marble or granite for bench tops unless you are fully aware of the drawbacks of porous stone.  Beetroot and red wine will stain these.

3. Splashback fashion changes.  Stainless steel is looking very last millennium.  Go for something timeless – simple tiles or even untinted glass (which is what I chose – although most of mine are glass brick).

4.  Open shelves are very fashionable – but you may regret it.  Kitchens generate huge amounts of dirt from cooking and open shelves (and their contents) will quickly become dirty.

Above all, think about how you will use it.  And if you don’t cook – don’t get a fancy kitchen!  Spend your money where you’ll appreciate it.

Gosh, my posts are getting long aren’t they?  Too much to talk about!

Finally: the dining room after Monday, Nov 8 2010 

I love dining on holiday – those long languorous meals, the relaxed settings that make you want to sit and chat for hours….  So I changed my dining room around to get more of that feeling.

Initially the table had been in the middle of the room, which didn’t work as there are too many passageways that meet in this room: two stairs, the kitchen, the laundry and an outside area all enter this space.

I had studied how we used the room (the secret to the best interiors).  I always sat with a cookery book and a cup of tea.  So I needed a comfy chair.  Then when we had one, the ‘man’ had nowhere to sit.  So we decided to shape the room around how we use it.  

Dining room before

I divided the room into two – a seating area, with a sofa (as I thought that would encourage people to sit and chat) and some chairs to sit and have tea and read cookery books.  There was a lot of work.

I had already redone the chairs and the table (see older posts):

dining chair before recycling

Chair after painting

Dining table before

recycled dining table after

We built the tongue and groove panelling to conceal the door under the house (which was never used) and to create a cosy feel for the dining nook (a while back now for those of you who’ve been following!)

installing tongue and groove panelling

I added a colour wash paint effect to the wall above.  Remember how I stepped in the paint and spilled it everywhere?

Colourwashed distressed wall

We added tongue and groove down the stairs

Tongue and groove up the stairs

This was a massive project and it took the two of us a whole (exhausting) weekend.

Tongue and grooving the stairs

So a reminder of how it was before – well actually, part way through as the chairs etc are done….

Dining room before

And here it is after – in all its glory.Doesnt cost the earth Dining room after

The sofa is an inherited piece (yes – these can be worked into your rooms!) recovered in silk velvet.  I wanted a seating arrangement that would encourage long rowdy meals!  A sofa invites you to stay awhile and chat – so I used this to create a banquette arrangement. I always love sitting in booths in restaurants and this is a little bit like that.

The cushions are World War Two silk escape maps (I have some of these for sale if you would like).  They pick up the casual sketching of the artwork – of the Australian outback.

organic recycled dining room after

At either end of the sofa are twig lights – yes – these actually light up!  I’ve shown this further on.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  They help soften the corners of the room, and their organic outline is echoed in both the paintings and the cushions.

dining room banquette after

The pendant lighting helps to define the area as separate.  I wanted a nautical look and these pendant hurricane lamps are perfect.  Can you believe they are from IKEA?

Pendant lighting over banquette dining nook

I chose bulbs at first that were too blue in light (a common problem with eco bulbs).  It’s really worth getting the lighting colour right as it changes an atmosphere immediately.

pendant lamp banquette dining

I layered two curtains – but the heavy linen one doesn’t close.  It serves two purposes – one is to create dramatic vertical lines from floor to ceiling to make the room look taller and more elegant.  The second is as a sound baffle to make the acoustics more pleasant.

bone necklaces and tassels on muslin curtains

The muslin curtain does close and is caught back with an old bone necklace.

cotton tassel muslin curtain beach chic

A simple cotton tassel pulls the two curtains back together, softening the lines and adding texture.

tongue and groove wall, tortoise shell

On the new tongue and groove wall, two tortoise shells frame the doorway into the Laundry.  One sits over the newly refurbished drinks cabinet.  The other has an antique miniature ladder running up to it.

tortoise shell

The top of the drinks cabinet entices with antique engravings, a selection of bottles and silver.  Together with the tortoise shells they create a mood of travel, exotic places, beaches and other wonderful conversation topics.

Doesn't cost the earth interiors

Opposite the banquette dining nook are two armchairs (you can see them recovered in previous posts) and two spare dining chairs.  A lovely spot for a pre-dinner drink or a cup of tea.  I spend time here mulling over what to cook!

recycled interiors chair parisian art

The double hanging curtains add texture and softness to the doors that lead out to the terrace.

muslin and linen curtains texture

For dinner parties you can really create an atmosphere with lighting.  The twig lights immediately create a party with their fairy light frivolity.

romantic lighting schemes dining

On the banquette sofa you are surrounded by the soft glow of fairy lights – it feels quite magical!  The colour wash effect helps create a feeling of age and character in this modern house.

mood lighting for dining

It’s been a huge amount of work – but really worth it.  The most important part of the whole process was having a complete vision of the final product all the way through, so that all decisions and changes led to a cohesive look.

Banquette dining after

Have you been inspired by holiday to change a room?

Changing seasons: dressing your house for summer Wednesday, Sep 29 2010 

Spring has definitely arrived here in Sydney: Wysteria blossoms tumble over sandstone walls; the sky is burnished to a brilliant blue; the air is warm by mid morning….  And just as I’m throwing off the sweaters and scarves of a particularly cold winter, so a home wants to shake off its winter layers.

I love changing a house by season – it adds such spice to life!  And it doesn’t have to be hard work.

One of the first things I do is to change the curtains in the living room.  For winter I have heavy, glamorous, charcoal drapes, with a sheen that glows by lamp light, and weight that keeps out the evening chill.  For summer, the windows are gauzy with floating muslin, that catches the breeze and softens the light.

I confess that this winter I was even going to make a winter coat for my sofa in a rich silk velvet – but that project just didn’t happen this year….

Summer muslin drapes

The room starts to feel lighter and airier.

Organic linen blinds at window

The window looks simple and quite summery with its linen roman blind, but these large windows need softening, and acres of billowing froth is too lovely to resist.  For curtains like this the secret lies in the quantity not the quality – this type off fabric is not expensive, so make sure there’s oodles of it!  You can do this really cheaply with Ikea’s Lill curtain for only $5.99 a pair!

Changing curtains for summer

The rich velvet pillows and warm cashmere throws are replaced with linen cushions and fresh French toiles. 

Room ready for summer

I even like to swap ornaments and books around – it’s all the fun of having a new home without any of the expense or stress of moving.

Edited and arranged shelving

Moving darker items, wood and leather out, shells, coral and pale-bound books come to the fore.

Summer shelving

Bring in sprays of blossom and new leaves and fill vases full of greenery.  Plant pots of herbs along the kitchen windowsill.

Each change may only seem small, but together they will give a room a very different feel.  You can even roll up rugs for summer (especially if you have an indoor/outdoor area) which has the added benefit of preserving them.

And if you’re reading this in the northern hemisphere, you can, of course, just reverse all of this.  Fill your home with autumn fruits, rich colours and fabrics, layers of rugs and throws.  Although I can’t bear to think of a northern winter in reality….

Before and after: a garden & the perils of using an architect Monday, Sep 20 2010 

garden beforeOnce upon a time there was a tiny little garden.  This garden was unloved, neglected, and forlorn.  In fact, you could hardly call it a garden: it looks more like a covered area where you’d store your rubbish bins.

This seemed such a momentous issue to solve that we sought the advice of a landscape architect, Peter Glass.  He drew us plans, but the plans he drew were costed at more than $50000 to build (WAY out of our agreed budget).  Things turned pretty nasty (I won’t relive that here…)  I since found out a similar thing happened at a university in Sydney.  Apparently you still have to pay for those plans (even university lawyers couldn’t get out of it) even if they are completely useless to you. 

So if I can save any of you the pain we went through – be very careful.  In Australia at least, you aren’t protected at all in this area as a consumer.

So, by this time we didn’t have any money left.  Nor any useful designs ….so we did it ourselves….  and here are the pics of how we did it.  We got very tired, very muddy and very strong. 

doesnt cost the earth garden

You can see that lattice had been put all over the garden.  This is actually the view from our sitting room!  not very inspiring….

recycling the garden

The first thing we did was to rip down the lattice and remove all the structure beneath.  This was such a joyous exercise for me – I did a little dance every time we tore down another light-restricting, dark, enclosing beam!

ripping out the garden

And suddenly you could see daylight!  And also that there is a big slope.  But plenty of potential.

starting demolition in the garden

As an interim measure I had covered the sleeper wall with bamboo and mirrors to try to improve the outlook from the sitting room.  These all came off, and the sleeper wall was lowered, bit by bit, taking out the soil as we went.

we're getting there

You can see that the soil isn’t that great, but as we excavated, we uncovered more and more of a massive tree stump.

starting the excavation

The access is so bad that you can’t get a stump grinder down. 

(There is a side story here of how we did try to remove it ourselves with a hired chain saw, but after the ‘man’ (or ‘rude name’ as he was called briefly during this incident) sawed through the water main, creating our very own geyser, flooding the house and generally creating pandemonium, we decided not to tackle this ourselves). 

We got a stump whisperer in who removed it with wedges in an hour.  I kid you not.  He must have been at least 70 and he took it out as easily as if it were a sponge cake.

a tree stump issue

We dug out tonnes of soil.  That was the backbreaking and boring bit.  One or two divine and lovely friends pitched in and helped.  And eventually we were ready for the construction phase.

garden design

I decided that as I could design inside, surely I could manage outside too.  So to minimise the feeling of height, I designed three beds, each stepped down.  At first we wondered whether we needed brick walls and concrete foundations.  But keeping the walls to 500mm high eliminates the need for that (and for structural engineers).  So we worked with concrete fibreboard and wooden posts cemented into the ground, 300mm deep.

earth - in the garden

We got new earth and manure to mix in with the old grotty stuff, and ordered plants wholesale as we needed so many of them.  I wanted simple repeating elements (as I like them in my interiors) so we had a line of three Olive Trees as a feature, with rows of Agapanthus backing each bed, and tricolour Jasmine to tumble over the front.

planting the garden

This was such a rewarding stage!  We also painted the new walls and the old sleepers (we left a low front wall of these as they had been so well-built) with the same exterior paint to unify the look.  We chose a colour that picked up the sandstone in the wall behind.

newly planted garden

We only planted this in March of this year.  A few months later (and this is during the Sydney winter) the plants have already settled in and started to grow.

growing garden

The Bougainvillea is in flower:

And the Birds of Paradise have put forth their first bloom – so exotic!

Bird of Paradise

It will be a good year or so before the beds fill out – but as Spring is now officially here – it seemed the right time to share them now….

Once again:


recycling the garden


growing garden


doesnt cost the earth garden


planting the garden

Magic Mushrooms and a luscious laundry Thursday, Jul 22 2010 

Laundry waiting to be renovatedThis laundry was UGLY!  White tiles, chipped in places.

Laundry before

Firstly I replaced the sink and cabinet (with IKEA – good quality and reasonably priced) – and extended the bench along the full length.  (Had to replace the washing machine – but front loaders can be very eco-friendly and water efficient).

New sink and benchtop

Then there were the tiles…  Every time I thought of hacking them all off, the dust, the work, the debris…. I got cold sweats.  (I have tried to do this before, and ended up with cuts from flying tiles.  It’s not for the faint hearted).  So I resolved to cover them up.

I’d been dying to trying a panelling effect with pictures, so this seemed the perfect place.  I had a book on Fungi and Mushrooms from when I was a teenager, and had a craze on them.  I cut out the colour plates, and framed them all.   Then, I covered the tiles with 3mm plywood, cutting out holes for the framed mushrooms.  I then stuck these into the ready-made slots.  I wanted it to look as though the whole wall was panelled, and I wanted no reminant of the tiles.

Laundry after

I had to do lots of calculations to adjust the picture size so that I could get the spacing and sizing the same all round the room (maths was useful for something after all!).

Laundry door

I love this room now!  It’s one of my absolute favourites.

Completed laundry

Dressing up a dressing room Tuesday, Jul 20 2010 

Dressing room beforeThis walk in wardrobe has shelves and hanging space on two walls.  On the third, is a (cheap looking) mirror, some switches and a niche in the wall.  This wall really lets down the smart finish of the actual shelving.  In addition, this area serves two people.  More space and better light would be ideal.

Walk in robe before

This little space was begging to be covering in mirrors – to visually double the space, to bounce back more light, and to allow both occupants to see their outfits simultaneously.  As the shape of the room, the niches etc made it complex, mirror tiles were the cost-effective and easy solution.

The first tiles go on

Here you can see the first few tiles going on.  It’s important to use a spirit level to get these straight.  It also helps to measure and plan where the tiles are going, and the best place to start laying them.  From then on, it’s pretty straight-forward.

Walk in robe after

The strip behind the door went in smoothly.  Doesn’t it look so much more polished and sophisticated?  The onsite inspection was rigorous…. Diesel posted himself neatly where he could survey the handywork.

Cat inspects workmanship

The niche in the wall needs a frame to neaten it up – easy enough with a drop saw and some beading…

Dressing room almost complete

But the switches still need moving the make it possible to install the final few tiles.  The effect is already apparent.  The whole space feels much more vibrant, light and large. 

Mirrored dressing room after

The grid lines in the mirror don’t really break up the reflection, but they do echo the grid of the shelving and drawers in a pleasing way.

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