Renovation delight

Has anyone renovated a kitchen or bathroom? ManFriend and I will enter this scary world in a few months and would love some tips. Mainly so we don’t end up in hell’s kitchen.

If it was up to me, everything would be a combination of these things:

Laminex peacock sample, Elvis tag and Wendy James moustache necklace

The colour sample is Laminex peacock natural finish and is more tealy than the photo suggests. The kind of teal that looks fabulous with red.

I’m not looking forward to making decisions about colours and shit. I know the end result will mean crazy things like benches at the correct height and a sink in the right spot so you don’t get a sore back washing up, oh and a dishwasher, but how do you even go about choosing a bench colour? Because white, solid white, white lace, parchment and flax all look pretty similar to me. Actually, that’s not entirely true – flax is a little bit beigey-yellow and I’m not happy about knowing that. I bet my brain dumped something really important just so it could make room for this little bit of knowledge. Also, will a gloss finish drive us nuts with the light reflecting off it? (I suspect the answer is yes.)

But there are some cool things about planning a renovation. We saw a small, narrow cupboard next to an oven, with pull-out shelves for oil and sauce bottles so everything is right where you need it. And a toilet that uses the water from the sink to flush, because frankly, it’s outrageous that we flush our toilets with drinking water.

So, what’s the best thing you’ve done when renovating? And the worst?

Update: Also, this is the bathroom:

The bathroom is gonna die

And yes, those are fake grapes above the window. They’ll be stayin’, thankyouverymuch.

36 responses to “Renovation delight

  1. I’ve never done a reno and whilst DrMrs is keen – I hate the idea!!

    Also, ner ner ni ner ner – you grew up!

  2. Rhiannon Saxon


    Firstly – My husband and I have solid Cypress MAcrocarpa kitchen benchtops with natural ripply edges (de-barked and sanded of course, we not THAT insane) – advantages were that it was something like (at the time) half the cost of laminate or formica thingies, and also if we burn or scratch a bit, we just sand and oil that little spot. Or not. It looks nicely…lived-in. ANd it’s something EVERY visitor comments on. (That and the size – my kitchen is 4.5×4.5 m sq…with benches nearly all the way around…)

    Also – when having a bathroom tiled, unless you have a really good tiler that you trust, SERIOUSLY consider have a professional waterprrofer do the waterproofing after the cement has gone in – we have had ENDLESS troubles with leakage and water damage for over ten years because we had a shithouse, cheap, nasty, stupid, door-slamming, arguing-with-us-about-the-colour-of-grout, mixing-up-cement-on-our-bedroom-floor tiler who also skimped on materials and didn’t in effect, waterproof AT ALL.
    (My husband’s parents were choosing our tradespeople for us as they were lending the money and didn’t believe that Craig was capable of doing these jobs himself – one garage frame and a tiled kitchen and a floorboarded lounge later they admit that just maybe he WOULD have been capable and wouldn’t have done a completely half-arsed, nay, QUARTER-arsed job. A bit late for us, however.)

    Hmm, it’s all still obviously a sorer point than I realised.

    Also – in kitchens – gloss finishes scratch and look elderly really quickly. Beige and white surfaces discolour. Stainless stell benchtops scratch and have most of the disadvantages of formica. You can’t put hot pots on domestic stainless for instance, as it is a thin layer glued over ply or chipboard and so the glue lifts.

    As I didn’t have a stone budget and that is hellish in terms of embodied energy, I will always vote for timber benchtops and loads of wooden chopping boards about the place to put things on. But I like timber. It goes with everything.

    One best thing – we used a second hand kitchen sink (and oven…and stove…and exhaust fan…and most of the cupboards…) and because it had two holes for handles and one in the middle for a spigot, and we used a mixer, we had these two extra holes – so we have a soap pump in one, and our (secondhand) commercial espresso machine is plumbed into a special tap thingie in the other hole! (espresso machine is above (second-hand) dishwasher.
    It is handy having a husband who can perform many slightly illegal plumbing and electrical jobs. I hope no-one will read this and instantly identify me from my thinly-veiled real-life personality and come and charge us, or revoke our living-here permits, or something.

    Actually, the best thing IS the secondhandy stuff – our vast and beautiful kitchen cost us in the realms of $1000. Which left us all this cash *sardonic cough* for all my secondhand Le Creuset which I write about in exhaustively smug detail on my Facebook recipe ‘Notes’.
    And the wooden benchtop which I included in the price. I love it. Two inches thick, and beautifully organic looking, while still able to be wiped clean easily.

    • Wow.

      I do like the idea of wooden benches, but aren’t they hard to look after?

      What I do know is what I don’t: one of those kitchens in every bloody reno in the inner west, with mocha and aubergine and surfaces. I like kitchens that look like they’re used all the time.

      • Rhiannon Saxon

        I haven’t found our benchtops hard to look after – we sanded and oiled them when we first installed them – if I spill oil on them I rub it in, if a bit looks dry I pour a bit of olive oil on and give it a good rub with some paper towel or something but for the most part I ignore them.
        They get wiped over with the usual cloth in hot detergenty water, and yes they are looking a bit beaten up and scratched, they have marks here and there, but the good thing about a natural wood grain is that they can take a few marks without the marks sticking out like a sore thumb. They are surprisingly smooth – the macrocarpa seems to resist grain-lifting extremely well so they aren’t fuzzy or ‘old’ looking, they are basically just thick, smooth, golden-coloured timber with ripply ‘fiddleback’ grain here and there, and lots of canisters on them. AMAZINGLY easy in fact, much more forgiving than formica in my experience.
        This may seem a little weird and forward of me but if you are interested, I live near Woy Woy and you could have a research visit. Also the timber merchant we used comes from near Port Macquarie and regularly delivers to Sydney.

  3. Definitely be deliberate about how many choices you allow yourselves to consider. It is easy to become overwhelmed.

    Let him win some decisions. Only hold your ground on a choice if it will truly kill you to live with it.

    All of our major renovations have been during my pregnancies. I don’t know why we have the urge to make major house alterations during the beginning of a major family change, but we do. Pregnancy hormones are not great for peaceful decision-making: don’t get knocked up while you’re knocking down walls

    • You do know how to make life difficult, don’t you? Mind you, I know quite a few people who have renovated while pregnant or with tiny babies.

      As for letting ManFriend win, that’s not an issue. We’ve had only two arguments in the seven years we’ve been together, and K describes them as conversations, not arguments. Also, he and his sister own the place, so they get the last word anyway.

  4. Rhiannon Saxon

    Also -sorry about long rants – I moved here when I was 20 and I have lived with this house being finished in increments around me for most of my adult life. And maybe I am a bit cracked on the subject of embodied energy and biodegradability and secondhand stuff.

    • Don’t apologise for long rants – that’s what blogs are for. Twitter is for being pithy.

      As for the eco factor, most of my wardrobe comes from secondhand shops, and I bury all our food scraps in the “landscaping” around this block of flats, and wonder if we can convince the body corporate to put solar panels on the roof.

  5. I love the look of my light coloured tiles on my kitchen floor, but I still curse them on a daily basis for showing every spec of dust, every hair moulted from my head and every crumb of toast dropped by my two year old. Ditto the high gloss cabinetry (fingerprints and smears everywhere). Ditto “Snow” caesarstone benchtop.

    Am now wondering if i should have gone with a timber benchtop – they are classic and never date. I saw on tele a great “budget” kitchen where they used a bamboo benchtop (from Bunnings of all place – was super economical but looked amazing!). Perhaps worth investigating?

    However on the pluses, my wall mounted taps (rather than sink mounted) are wondefully easy to clean, and don’t forget a lovely big bookshelf for keeping your cookbooks in easy reach. Oh, and I love my new taps cause I can turn them on with the tiniest flick of my pinky (or even the back of my wrist!), so for example when i’ve got yucky raw-chickeny hands, I can turn on the tap to wash them without getting paranoid about wiping salmonella all over the tap handles. Also, big storage drawers (for keeping things like serving platters and big pots and pans) are terrific. Am wishing I went for a larger sink too, as some of my large casserole pans are tricky to wash/soak in my smaller one.

    I have more, but Mr 2 is demanding my attention. Will come back and finish later.

  6. I have terracotta coloured tiles with dark slate-grey grout – shows up almost NOTHING! My cupboard doors are allegedly temporary – second hand yukky peachy-beige ones which we painted bright blue….and yes, 10 years on they are still here. One day we will have timber doors. One day.
    (We used a penetrating/keying agent called Penetrol’ mixed in with a water-based enamel – it has worked VERY well if anyone is considering a ‘facelift’ for standard laminex cupboard doors.)
    Oh god I could talk about renos for ever, sad.
    Big drawers FTW.
    Craig just built a kitchen for my parents in Canberra – he used recycled blackbutt (beautiful deep reddish colour) for the drawer fronts, formaldehyde-free laminex for the carcasses, stainless steel bench, blue tiled splashbacks, and staino kicks. (Stainless-steel kickboards for the un-tradie.) And almost all of it is nice drawers – deep enough for a stack of 12 plates, with no wasted space above them like normal cupboards. Also, because you pull them out (as is the whole point of drawers) you don’t ‘forget’ stuff at the back.
    (Feel free to offer Craig a job building the kitchen. He would like something a bit more challenging than assembling goalposts in Brookvale.)
    (Also feel free to completely ignore this shameless touting.)

    • It’s probably a bit far for him to travel for a job… but Penetrol sounds like a sex toy that says mean things to you.

      • Rhiannon Saxon

        Ha! and also Ugh. I must remember to tell Craig that. I will never look at a can of penetrol in the same way again!
        (Brookvale is also far away. He is trying to get work closer to home but interesting work as far away is still better. If only the shipwright would call!)

  7. I have a kitchen, 2 bathrooms and a laundry all in desperate need of renovation. But we can’t do it till we’ve built the extension. Which we may or may not be able to afford. So 10 years after we moved into the place I am still putting up with a tiny bath that I can’t fit into, tiles falling off walls, broken kitchen cupboards with mismatched doors, a laundry that sits at the bottom of the stairs – like it’s IN the stairwell, and a half-arsed DIY second bathroom that has spots for a shower and vanity but the only thing actually plumbed in is the loo. No point putting the shower and vanity in because then you wouldn’t be able to walk between them to get to the loo.

    I watch other people’s renovations with avid interest in the hope that when it comes time to do ours I’ll be all set and it will all go super smoothly. What? I can dream can’t I?

  8. Avoid white unless you love cleaning every day
    Bunnings does have some good kitchens, I kid you not and are cheap.
    Granite will look dated soon its the 21 Century equivalent of the 1950’s laminated kitchens.
    Get someone who knows a lot about tiling or avoid completely!!!!
    Timber is good as long as you avoid white wood unless you want the ikea look
    Darker woods are good depending on the light

  9. Rhiannon Saxon

    And red granite looks like tinned dog food.

    • it was bugging me when we did our kitchen wondering what red granite reminded me of .. you’ve just hit the nail on the head!

  10. I saw in a magazine someone used grey commercial rubber flooring in thier kitchen, it looked cool and so practical!

    We also need to redo our house, including a new kitchen. We’re thinking of demolishing the two extensions former owners put on (which had the effect squashing the tiny old kitchen into the middle of the house with no way of making it bigger), lifting the house up and building a second storey on the ground with garage and living downstairs and flowing out to the backyard! Plus insulation and double glazing please!

    • We ripped up the carpet before we moved in because it smelled really really bad, and gave the concrete floor a spray with adhesive to keep down the dust and it’s actually been really nice.

      As for your place, wouldn’t it be easier to just knock it down and start again?

      • It looks like it would cost twice as much to build a new house than to extend an existing one. It turns out that lifting a house is quite a cheap part of the process. I wouldn’t mind a brand new modern eco-house but it’s not feasible. The main part of our existing house is in good shape for an 85 year old house, and has some nice features.

        When we moved in last year it had carpet that was around 40 years old and it was mustard coloured! We ripped it up and put down new carpet. Because it has wooden floorboards it would’ve cost more to polish them than put the carpet down!

  11. that peacock colour is the exact same colour as my new sheets (which I have worked back with red, fushia and black)! Obvs, you have impeccable taste 🙂

    May the reno force be with you. Cacking re: your descriptions of inner west kitchens!

  12. i have a little cupboard above my stove which has all my oils/sauces etc close to hand and it is da bomb!

    other things which i have thought of –
    * don’t get handles/knobs on your under-bench cabinet doors which can catch your clothes. it’s a constant pain in the arse.
    * corner cabinet rotating shelves (this is the best example i could find – ) are great!
    * if you like to bake/roast, try to get an oven which has a separate grill (if you can afford the extra space). some of the compact ovens don’t come with a separate grill which is a pain if you want to say, quickly toast some pinenuts whilst baking a cake etc., or whatever!
    * A lot of the Ikea drawer organisers are very good (and much cheaper compared to what kitchen places change for them)

    • It’s making decisions about all these little things that’s going to be a pain in my arse.

      • Yup, you said it. All the while thinking, “I have to live with this for the next xx many years … I better not live to regret it.”

        • My friend is extending and renovating her house. It’s lucky she doesn’t have a job at the moment (about to have a baby) cause the reno is really time consuming. Constant decisionmaking and answering questions from the builders. I am a bit nervous about when it comes to do ours as we have two kids and both work 4 days a week.

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