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The story of my own home renovation.

Dining kitchen new

Building a family, building a home.

I’ve been working as an interior designer for 20 years. For the past 10 years I’ve been collaborating with my business partner, Rebecca Kirkland. We’ve worked on homes, offices, restaurants, bars, cafes, healthcare facilities, boats and planes… We’ve even created new living quarters in Antarctica! Our work has been seen in (inside), Venue, Voyeur, Tasmanian Life, House & Garden and Home Beautiful on numerous occasions.

A few years ago we had a staff of five, our work in progress meetings lasted for more than an hour and included up to 30 projects at any one time. Then the global financial crisis dampened demand for our services and increasingly my vocation has felt more like a job than the passionate, creative, and inspiring career that it appears to everyone else. I was wondering whether it was time to hang up the pencils and to start again from the beginning doing something entirely different… I needed a project I could feel really passionate about.

When Caroline met Gary…

The first time I set eyes on Gary, I knew he was the man for me. This was despite my preconceived idea that anyone named Gary was going to be wearing an open-neck shirt revealing a hairy chest and a medallion. Fortunately, this Gary wasn’t. He was tall, dark and handsome and took some convincing to wear a wedding ring – let alone a medallion. We’ve now been together for seven years and have been happily married for two of those. During this period, we have lived in a couple of different apartments and a townhouse.

Gary was a child of divorce, had not been married before, and did not have any children. Nor did he want any. (I was a divorced mother of one – my gorgeous son, Zac.) It’s probably not surprising then, that Gary didn’t have the same connection to family or ‘the family home’ that I did.

Gary loves his family but works pretty much at an individual level. He’d been successful in business and this often meant late nights and early mornings and, consequently, he chose a living environment that required minimal care – apartment living was his kind of thing. I’ve got nothing against apartments, but they don’t satisfy me in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on. And, once we had decided we would purchase our first home together, it soon became apparent that we had quite different ideas about what our home would be like. This included what it looked like, where it was located, and whether or not it required any type of renovation! As a busy corporate man, Gary was not interested in taking on a renovation that involved mess, disruption and plenty of money for the privilege. I had always been taught by my father to buy in the best suburb you can afford. Given that prior to meeting Gary, I had been pretty much single for ten years, this had translated into a small flat in a good suburb that I painted and played with, without doing any real renovation work. However, as a professional interior designer for the past 20 years, I was now itching to get my hands dirty and design a home for us. For the way we want it to look and for the way we want it to function.

Our first combined purchase ended up being a townhouse about 30 minutes’ out of town (in an okay suburb but a long way from where I wanted to be) – a contemporary design that reflected the current trend for lots of glass, white walls, white joinery and timber floorboards. It had a stunning view across Hobart’s River Derwent. Gary loved it. What it didn’t have, however, was any design input from me. At this time I was willing to sacrifice design input to get my man!

Two months after we were married, Gary sold his business to a company based in Sydney. The deal was agreed on the basis that he worked out of Sydney for an initial period of two years. My wedding vows were still fresh in my mind and I was tormented by the phrase to “support you in all your endeavours…” so I reluctantly congratulated him on the sale of his business and commenced a vicious (yet somewhat romantic) cycle of hellos and goodbyes.

Baby makes four

About 12 months into his Sydney stint I was thrilled to discover I was pregnant. After the initial shock, Gary was equally thrilled. Hooray! We are going to be a real family. As much as I love my son, his weekly transition between his father and me left me feeling like a Clayton’s Mother. I didn’t have a real family. Not one that sat around the dinner table together every night.

The prospect of our own family was immensely exciting and provided the impetus we required to commit to living in Hobart permanently, after Gary’s two-year contract finished. We had, by this time, sold our townhouse and were renting an apartment in the city – and I started the home hunt. Before too long, I managed to find the worst house in the best street. Perfect. It was a 1950s bungalow that was still in original condition and had been lived in by one family since its construction. The owner had already turned down one offer on the basis that the buyer was a developer planning to sub-divide the extensive back garden and sell off the block. (We didn’t mention that we were considering the same thing if finances went pear-shaped down the track.) After a protracted period of negotiation – I think the owner was struggling to sever ties with the only family home she had ever known – we agreed on a price and a lengthy settlement to give me plenty of time to redesign the interior, submit plans, develop and document the concept, and line up tradespeople.

Here enters a sad note to the story…

We lost our baby in the early stages of pregnancy, but she remains a clear and wonderful memory. And it is for her that we commenced – and finished – this Home Project.

The Home Project begins…

I sensed that the creation of this house was going to be a significant milestone for me and that my life thereafter would look significantly different. I remember making the conscious decision to take this path with the knowledge that it was going to be an adventure and challenge for me personally and professionally.

This is not a how-to book of design. This book follows the journey of my own home renovation, the things I considered, the challenges I encountered and the results I obtained. I’m not very good at drawing (neither are some of my design heroes!) so my documentation consists mostly of samples, sketches, photos, floor plans, elevations and schedules that are a written description of the design detail.

If the number of people I have encountered throughout my career who have said “I wanted to be an interior designer” is any indication, I’m willing to bet there is a lot of latent creativity, vision and passion out there. I’m aware that it is a privilege to take on a whole house renovation but I hope that, regardless of your own situation, after reading this book you will be inspired to take on your own house project.

PART ONE: THE DESIGNER BECOMES THE CLIENT…

Where to start?

In my own life, I haven’t been much of a hands-on designer. I haven’t been behind the wheel of a sewing machine for many years, I don’t own a set of power tools and I don’t have the patience or expertise to get ‘crafty’. But just as Henry Ford “knew where to go to get information”, I know where to go to get things made, altered, painted and built. (I am, however, keen to develop the confidence to create and realise my own vision and pave the way for a bigger future in design.)

The first thing I was to discover about taking on my own home renovation was that it felt a lot harder doing it for myself than for someone else. I began to experience my professional self as someone who swanned in and out of work sites and client meetings without really getting a sense of what is really going on for my client. Professionally, that freedom allows me to make decisions for clients without the constraints of my own situation. Personally, I was clear that I was going to be a much more informed, compassionate and complete designer for my clients in the future.

My project soon felt like an emotional rollercoaster. On our first viewing of the home together, I overheard Gary tell the real estate agent that the renovations: “Won’t make any difference to me because I will be in Sydney.” Okay, then – I’ve got his interest and now to harness my courage with the knowledge that I will be managing this project on my own.

As a practicing interior designer I get heavily involved in design of layouts, design of joinery, selection of materials and finishes, furniture, lighting and liaison with those trades; however, I had no experience at designing an interior combined with employing contractors (some of whom I’d had little to do with, such as plumbers and gas fitters) and managing builders and a building site which sometimes included 12 people at any one time and coordinating the delivery of materials, furniture and furnishings. And I was determined to meet our tight deadline.

We agreed on an ambitious deadline of five months to complete the project. This deadline became more and more important to meet as the budget blew out. Completion before Christmas meant avoiding another month’s rent while the builders were on holiday and another month’s rent while they were completing the work. So, getting in before Christmas would have effectively saved us two months’ rent which represented a considerable sum…

Tip: Employ contractors for whom you have a recommendation or with whom you have a previous relationship. Selection of trades on price alone will only meet one set of criteria. The lowest-price tradesperson can blow out costs with time overruns and delays if other trades are affected or materials don’t arrive on time.

During the purchase phase we had come up with our budget. This was based mostly on what we thought was a reasonable sum given my experience and what we thought we could afford to spend. Quotations by builders and trades often need to be conservative to cover themselves during renovations that may reveal some ugly and costly surprises. We chose to pay our builder an hourly rate on the basis that I would spend all my available time, outside of working in our business and looking after my son, on the renovation.

A large part of the budget is the cost of doing necessary stuff such as electrical, plumbing and building works – particularly on a building that hasn’t been touched for many years. A number of items popped up during the renovation that seemed inconceivable not to do at the time. Things like new flooring, alarms, rewiring, replacing old plumbing, an integrated heating system, concealed wiring for television, stereos and computers.

My renovation euphoria was quickly replaced by the budget blues. Blowouts were fast becoming a part of every day and I had only just started! I wasn’t sure how to contain or predict them. I found this period immensely stressful and suggest that, from a very early stage, you determine where you will see value. My best source of advice was the builder as, even though I was sometimes suspicious of his motives (unfounded!), I knew it was also in his interest to create a good result at a reasonable price so that I would recommend him to other clients.

Our two new bathrooms and kitchen all required gas hot water so the gas fitter suggested two units – one at either end of the house, which would mean little delay in hot water at any outlet. I opted for one unit to service the lot; a decision that came at the end of many such budget-blowing decisions. I now curse every morning as I wait for what seems like an eternity for the hot water to arrive in our ensuite. A poor choice to save $500.

Tip: The first floor plan will be in draft form prior to the selection of fittings and furniture. You can select these based on the layout of your floor plan and then finalise joinery design and furniture layout based on exact selections.

Before anything else, you need to create the space and whether this means knocking out walls or simply transforming one space into another, draw out your plan to scale. This will be an incredibly valuable resource.

Prior to us purchasing our house, my business partner, Rebecca, drafted up the new floor plan for our renovation within about an hour while I was out visiting a client. The plan swapped living areas to the warm northern side of the house and shifted a bedroom, bathroom and laundry into these vacated areas. A master bedroom ensuite was added by cropping some of the lounge area and a combined kitchen, dining, living area was created to capture the garden view as well as the afternoon sun.

Tip: Use scale plans with a scale ruler.

The best reference is a scaled floor plan and scaled elevations that require only a ruler and pencil to create. Your best friends are going to be cuttings and samples of the materials and finishes you intend to use on the project. A lot of suppliers will provide professional samples for bench tops, cupboards, timber finishes, paint colours, fabrics and flooring and it’s important to make the effort to get samples of everything you are going to use. Samples are the most useful tools for developing a great concept. They will create a jigsaw that requires rearranging until it clicks into place with a combination that you can visualise. Put the samples in a box or on a board and take them with you on site, as a reference when selecting further items or as a constant companion to refer to when you’re concerned something isn’t going to look right.

Tip: Use cuttings and samples and colours of all the materials you are going to use. This is the BEST way to create the vision for you project.

As unusual as it may sound, our floor plan included specific locations for our collection of paintings by local artists. I was clear that these would really bring the space alive and give it our personality. It’s important to include placement of your favourite items at this early stage, as it will make a huge difference to the end result. You will then be able to show off this piece to the greatest effect by using lighting, flooring and paint colours. Most people can’t believe our artwork is the same as we had in our rented apartment because it now looks so different with appropriate lighting and, in some cases, a dramatic wall-colour backdrop.

Being brave: the concept

Sometimes I think you have to be brave to develop an interior concept. There’s a temptation to scour magazines to find the perfect reproduction of the exact project so you can see that it ‘works’ – yet this is not representing one’s own visionary, passionate, creative self. It takes courage to present oneself to the world, and laying your personality out for all to see is a bit like going on stage alone.

By all means, refer to magazines, design books, travel photos, history books, gardens, museums and buildings for inspiration but – believe me – you won’t find the exact replica of your project anywhere.

Yours will be much better.

My design philosophy is to buy the best I can afford in a look that I consider is timeless. I’m the kind of girl that likes to have the ‘latest technology’. I don’t mean I’m addicted to gadgetry but I like things that have been designed creatively and with vision to make life sing. I can’t bear the thought of buying something then finding out its been replaced by something that looks and operates more elegantly soon after.

We have used some pretty out-there stuff in our home but the basis of it is classic: I like to buy once and buy well. Disposable furniture cheaply made to create ‘a look’ that has to be replaced not far down the track has no value and no integrity. I dress in a similar fashion. I’ve used my Louis Vuitton handbag every day since I bought it in New York five years ago. I still love it as much as I did on day one and I love the fact its showing slight signs of ageing, albeit is still every bit the beautifully designed piece I first fell in love with. Generally speaking, I think quality pays.

Contrast is the single most useful design weaponry in my toolbox. Velvet and satin, chrome and timber, linen and velvet, leather and shag, shiny against matte, transparent against opaque, straight against curved, light against dark, big versus small… I live in a cool climate so I’m generally attracted to warm colours that create intimacy and warmth and have a sexiness to them.

My father was (and still is) pretty well obsessed with newspapers and our childhood home was practically wallpapered (that’s the floor, not the walls!) with newspapers – despite Mum’s efforts to keep it tidy. As a result, I can’t stand untidiness and this is reflected in not displaying or owning much decorative ‘stuff’. I try to create drama and interest in other ways, such as artwork and dramatic combinations of colour and finish. I am, however, trying to cultivate some freedom and confidence around flower arranging!

When developing an interior concept I usually start with the floor. This may include a number of different products for the entrance, living areas and wet areas. I had wanted to use carpet throughout the living areas of our house but there wasn’t a good cut-off point as the kitchen is between the living and dining, so we ended up using a new timber floor (that was stained after it was laid) and a divine plush pile carpet in the bedrooms. The builder convinced me at an early stage that we should consider laying a new floor over the top of the existing floorboards because of all the patching that was required. The end result is a masterpiece and the floor all being one level is a beautiful thing! This was one of the earliest budget blowouts ­­– yet worth every cent.

My father-in-law lives in New York and on a trip to visit him a few years back I fell in love with the cool combination of red brick and black windows that I think typifies the New York style. This was my first point of reference for my interior concept. There weren’t any fabulous architectural features I wanted to retain in our new home, apart from the steel framed windows which were in pretty good condition and well suited to the New York look. They worked so beautifully with the fashionable-again deep reveals. I extended the windows in the rear of the house to the floor so these would require new black powder-coated frames that could be incorporated without concern. The overall effect is dark and dramatic.

Tip: The colour I selected was Dulux Namadji, an extremely dark brown that looks ‘warm black’ in some lights and very dark brown in others. This has been used as a paint colour, joinery colour in both high gloss and low sheen finish to good effect.

Quite early on in the project, Gary adopted a room in the front of our house. It has a nice view down our beautifully tree-lined street and out to the water in the distance. There was to be no television; he wanted it to be somewhere cosy where he could read and listen to music. It sounded very grown right up… until he showed me a picture of a room he really liked. It had vibrant coloured furniture and a purple rug – his favourite colour. As it was going to be his house, too, I was determined to show him how clever I was and that I could accommodate his look into mine to create something interesting and functional. I adore velvet and we both agreed this was going to perform well, feel cosy and provide the wow factor that Gary was after. After some careful sourcing of different furniture, fabrics and joinery materials, the final selection was left to Gary. To this day I still refer to his space as the ‘porn-star room’ (a disturbingly appropriate name for it). It has modernist shapes and colours reminiscent of the 1960s. I love the way in which the room creates a statement at the front door while assimilating into the rest of the house. Yet more than anything I love that I was bold and brave enough to take on new ideas and those of my beloved. Without that room I’m sure part of Gary would feel like he was living in my house.

Put simply: do whatever it takes and leave no stone unturned with your concept.

Wearing many hats

About a month into our project I felt like the first thing I put on when I got out of bed was a crash helmet. When you’re the client you have to take responsibility for the way things are going and sometimes they look like they’re going the wrong way.

Day one on the job for me started at 7:30 am. Well, that was the appointed start time for the tree removal man. It was with a deal of sadness that we removed all of the front garden, with the exception of a pretty maple that still remains on the front boundary. But the garden had grown tired over the years and required extensive work and without removing a number of trees the builder couldn’t get his truck in to commence demolition and assist with the rubbish removal.

I arrived on site day one at 7:20 am only to find the tree removal man had already fired up his ear-piercing weaponry and my new neighbour was standing on his front porch yelling at him. My first task was to go straight next door and introduce myself to my neighbour and apologise for the noise and disruption. In hindsight, introducing myself to my neighbourhood prior to commencing work should have been a priority and would have avoided any unpleasantries! (These very same neighbours were the first ones on my doorstep the night I moved in with a bottle of wine and some handmade shortbread – all was forgiven!)

I started out making site visits on my way to work daily at around 8 am. This didn’t always work out if I had an early appointment but when it worked it was a good way for me to touch base with the builders and discuss any issue that might arise during the day. There were often decisions to be made that required my thought, research and sourcing so any prior knowledge was a good thing.

I would nearly always manage at least one site visit per day and sometimes up to five when work was less busy and when crucial decisions had to be made. You can’t blame a builder for doing the wrong thing on site when you’re not there to oversee and pass comment. They are only as good as the direction they receive and often plans change as you get a sense of being in the space as it develops around you. What seems like an obvious decision to you is not always an obvious decision to others.

My favourite site visit of the day was the last one that I did on my way home. I may have already been there a number of times during the day but this time was mine alone. It was so peaceful walking around on my own with nothing but my footsteps and my new home as company. As there was no power I often observed the last rays of sunlight and was able to watch as all around me went to sleep. I could think in silence and visualise each component as it unravelled. In a practical sense, it also gave me an opportunity to note all the things that I needed to question or follow up.

Gary’s first site visit was after the front garden had been demolished and barely a wall remained internally. There was dust and dirt everywhere and our old-fashioned yet sturdily constructed home was now a skeleton requiring an enormous amount of work. After walking around the site in silence, Gary finally declared that “he didn’t think he needed to come back again until it was complete”. Such was the trauma he experienced by having seen our building stripped of its modesty! I can relate to his sense of overwhelm, which I had experienced on numerous occasions.

As progress was made – as evidenced by the steady stream of invoices – Gary’s curiosity got the better of him and he started to look forward to site visits on Saturday mornings on his return from Sydney. He also started to request regular photo updates and a full debrief during our nightly conversations. On Saturday mornings we bought coffee and egg-and-bacon rolls on the way to the house and enjoyed our on site picnic in the midst of our ruin. We were often joined by Steve the builder, or Leigh the electrician, if they just happened to be driving past.

I noticed how much more I wanted to know about the technical details of the build. I wanted to be able to answer any question Gary could throw at me. I wanted to earn my stripes as project manager and extend my capacity as a designer.

Managing the boys

I decided early on that I was going to be the sort of client that got great results from all the people involved. Not by being demanding or unreasonable but by being clear, engaged, and communicating with courage. I knew that some things were going to be difficult for me to insist upon but I wanted to earn the respect of people who generally work with men in this role.

I wasn’t, however, 100 per cent confident with this on day one. I’m all excitement and smiles for a while. But by about week two, Steve the builder referred to me for an answer on something because “I was the boss”. It was like he had opened a door when he said this. And through it I walked. This rang in my ears for a while until it infused in me a confidence and determination that stayed with me until the end of the project.

In keeping with my commitment to myself to learn more about the technical side of building, I started out asking Steve a lot of questions about why he was doing things a certain way. It was apparent to me that he had been on the receiving end of many accusation-style questions. His initial reaction was quick and defensive and off-putting. After a while, my contented acceptance of his response (for, after all, I had contracted him knowing he was an experienced builder with a great reputation for quality) seemed to open up in him a friendlier version of himself, free to go about his work.

I have always held the view that great ideas are often the result of great collaborations so I was open to input from others who had experience where I had not. For example, I was keen to use pivot hinges on all internal doors and this required the input of the builder, locksmith and painter. There was a lot more time (and therefore money) involved than I had realised. Budget blowout, number 22. I did go ahead with this and I’m now very pleased with the clean, art-gallery style result that no architraves can provide, although I did have major misgivings along the way.

At one point, Leigh the electrician alerted me to the staggering amount of wood shavings in the roof that looked to have been used as a cheap form of insulation. I had real concerns about the ongoing safety related to having increasingly dry wood shavings laid thickly in the roof cavity, so the builder agreed to remove it. Removal of some internal walls had left cavities through which the wood shavings could be swept down onto the ground floor. These were then loaded into a wheelbarrow and then onto the truck. I arrived for a site visit during this task to found dust billowing out from every orifice! It looked like a volcano was erupting from within my house as clouds of wood dust escaped their confines. If only I’d had my camera. It was hot and dirty work that deserved special acknowledgement, so I rocked up on site half an hour before knock-off time with a slab of beer for the boys. I don’t know why I was surprised to discover how thrilled they were with this gesture – other than I considered it must happen regularly. Apparently not.

Another memorable moment occurred in the last month of the project. Timelines were getting ridiculously tight and tasks such as sanding, staining and finishing new timber floorboards were going to take a whole week of uninterrupted work – and had to be left until the last minute to avoid the risk of damage by the steady stream of workmen. The painter had been struggling to get a good go at the job and to complete at first coat. I had been communicating with him regularly to ensure he was informed of progress, so I was unprepared for him to say he had taken on another job and couldn’t come back to mine for a week. Right when there was finally a window of opportunity for him to complete the first coat!

I was standing there with builders and the painter in charge and I could feel the tears prickling the back of my eyes. Oh please, don’t. There was no stopping those tears, though, so I excused myself and declared that “I needed to get myself together before we work out what to do” – and went out into the garden. Lo and behold, they followed me out there! They were on my side and I was touched by their concern. I could totally understand the painter accepting a job elsewhere given the difficulties of getting a solid run at my place but, in that moment, it felt like the wheels had fallen off my carefully planned timeline. Matters were made worse as it was two weeks before Christmas and I knew painters were over-committed during this period.

After reminding myself that I was the project manager with the most, I pulled myself together and set about ringing every painter I knew to find some that could work on the weekend. I was willing to take up a paintbrush myself but my skills and equipment were sadly lacking and not up to the task at hand. After six phone calls I had two men lined up for the weekend. My celebration was short-lived as only one turned up on the Saturday morning, but at least the vital areas were complete and ready for the joinery to go in. At least it was enough to keep the wheels moving.

One of my constant challenges was determining when advice I was receiving was in my best interest. I had my heart set on black Japan stained floorboards – not solid black, but deep enough to get the colour while also being able to admire and feel the grain of the solid timber floorboards. The floor finisher informed me “that he hated staining floors”, but still provided me with a beautiful sample – which I promptly approved. On the reverse of the sample it clearly stated: ‘2 stain + 2 topcoat’. Why then, would he try to convince me that there should in fact only be one stained coat and two topcoats? I insisted on two coats of stain, which of course resulted in a finish unlike the sample he had given me. The result is a lot browner than I was after, but it is still warm and rich and much admired!

In another memorable incident, I arrived on site at about midday to hear a torrent of water from inside the partly renovated house. I ran to the source and found water pouring out of the wall where the original shower outlet had been. Eventually the plumber was able to be contacted and the internal water feature dried up. This is one of my fondest memories. It’s ridiculous but I felt like Indiana Jones and it was fun and exciting to have something so unexpected occur (especially when it was containable enough not to have far-reaching consequences). It reminded me of the adventure that renovating is – and was!

PART FOUR: THE RESULT

No longer a project – a home!

Our home is our castle and we truly love being at home together. It may well have contributed to the most miraculous outcome of them all – the birth of our child, conceived shortly after we moved in and due just as this book was finished. Did our newly created family home make room in our lives for a baby? Or does the anticipation of our new arrival give a greater sense of family to our new home? Who knows what the outcome would have been if we hadn’t taken on our home project… it certainly feels as if it created the space into which our new baby entered.

I’ve also been surprised by the new interests that have popped up for me. I have found a new confidence to express myself and have picked up a camera again and dusted off old trophies to become vases. I’ve taken pleasure in sourcing just the right cushion fabric that once felt like the thing I’ll get around to ‘one day’. Like the plumber with a leaky tap, I was the designer without flourish. This will be an organic process as I discover and play with my new surroundings. Who knows, I might even start collecting some ‘stuff’! The process of styling my own family home is developing a softness in me I wasn’t previously aware of.

Clearly, creating a beautiful family home is more than just making rooms look good. It’s about creating spaces that work for the demands of busy lives, creating a refuge from the challenges that life inevitably throws at us, creating spaces that make every member of the family feel that they belong – and it’s about creating a hub from which life emanates. It is, as I well know, restorative.

I have created a beautiful home that is easy to live in and will accommodate our day-to-day needs with ease. At the start of the project this was one criteria, yet I have been surprised to discover how little this has contributed to the overall accomplishment. Much more than that, our home has given us all a place to be together and presents a mirror of ourselves in design.

How we live

One of the greatest thrills of moving into our own home has been putting washing on the line! I suspect that this phase will pass but, in the meantime, I’m enjoying the noise of putting the basket on the path and hearing the pegs rattle in anticipation of being put to work, the ritual that is finding the perfect combination of pegs for each item and the engineering that is required to create an attractive and efficient design for a fast dry!

The back garden that we earlier considered was an asset to be realised has now found its way into my heart. As have the bees that invite themselves to the pollen in our flowers that goes to make the honey that I have in my tea every day. Bizarrely, the sight of a bee zooming around my garden gives me a feeling of fulfillment, a sense that I am somehow part of the food chain. That I have a role to play on this planet and that other beings are dependent on me for this. We will not pillage this block of vacant land that serves a beautiful purpose. Not least of which is my romantic daydream to provide us with a source of eggs and vegetables.

In a physical sense, moving and transforming my home office into a room for a baby demonstrated how a new dynamic can be imposed onto the whole by transforming one component. As our home is set on one level, and flows seamlessly from front to back, the inclusion of this extra bedroom has given greater importance to the home’s family responsibilities. I find myself walking from room to room, drinking in the environment that gives me so much of who I’m being at any one moment.

Another of the most unexpected and delightful outcomes resulting from the creation of our home is the lack of enthusiasm for going out! Ever since I met Gary he’s been a serial restaurant go-er. And that’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner! We both now enjoy the comfort of dining in our own home and keeping the experiences and enjoyment of cooking and eating together contained within our four walls.

I’m starting to see that it’s the accumulation of all these events that creates a home. The joy, love, laughter and fun somehow seeps into the very fabric of the building and adds layer upon layer of warmth, replenishment, rejuvenation, and contentment.

The re-building of me

In the past 10 months I’ve done more than expand physically. It feels like I’ve also expanded my outlook on what’s possible and my notion of the importance of a home environment suited to the needs of its occupants.

Now, my life’s feeling messier in an exciting, adventurous kind of way. With my physiological needs well and truly met, completion of unfinished family business and a life that – at least in the short term – looks unpredictable, I can feel myself surrendering to new possibilities for my future. Previously, these ideas and projects may have not have been heard or seen for fear they could not be contained within the order that was my life, or sit under what I perceived was my level or competence.

I can now own my sense of style – and lack of decorative nous – as being in-line with my desired sense of orderliness, rather than a shortfall in my ability. The design of my home reveals my innate sense of calm derived from simplicity. I am, for the moment, not seduced into having to own, display or embellish that which to me does not require embellishment. In many ways, this project has peeled back a few layers and down-designed me rather than up-designed me.

My professional future no longer feels like it’s focused on a bottom line. It’s now more about working at a grass-roots level to assist others to create a home that allows for individuality, personality, safety and a sense of security. This is taking the form of direct involvement with Housing Commission residents, who by law are currently not allowed to paint the interior or exterior of their concrete-block residence, or plant a garden.

And there’s a dream of creating a retail experience that is the watering can of life, which enriches and excites. There’s also a raft of design workshops that I’m itching to launch after the safe arrival of our bub, where I can work with others to create their own home projects.

Interestingly, when people asked me how my renovation was going I found myself editing out the challenge it was. It felt like I would somehow be presenting myself as less than a professional if I admitted that it wasn’t a walk in the park. Well, it wasn’t a walk in the park – but I’m immensely proud of the result and know that this is one of the occasions that I have played really hard.

I have been entirely responsible for the outcome of a project and it feels fantastic to have it come in on time and at an agreed budget. My capacity to manage other people has grown and I now look at larger building sites and see a future shaping for myself. The completion of our home project has given me greater confidence in my design ability and the difference it can make to how we live.

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