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BORONIA PARK: Cut the trees

It was so sad to cut 21 trees. I saw a possum running for his life when a tree fell down. Kids were trying to make sense of how mummy can do such a thing so cruel when massive trees were flying in the air attached to a crane. Unfortunately, it had to be done. Trees were planted so close to the house and they were taller than the second floor. When trees were gone, some neighbors said that they did not know that we had the second floor.  House started breathing again.


So far, we just cleaned. From now on you will start seeing pretty things. It is worth explaining the design thinking behind why I did what I did, starting with the layout.

I invited many Houzz architects before I started the renovations. They all had great design ideas and very generous giving these hard-earned knowledges to me free of charge. Maybe they knew I did not have the budget to do their plans. One was particularly great. I loved all the ideas he gave.

He told me to get rid of the 2 rooms and the bathroom at the entrance. Instead of one room have a very grand stairs to upstairs, build the second floor on the old part of the house and move all bedrooms upstairs with an extra living room in the second floor, extend through backyard and move the kitchen closer to backyard… I knew this design could be just like any other Kellyville display houses or in an architect’s hand an extraordinary home. Who wouldn’t want an entry with grand staircases?  Back to reality, not gonna happen….

I started thinking about how I would like to live in this house. Kids are growing up. I like when their friends feel comfortable at my place (so they come often, and my kids will be in front of my eye sight) I wanted to give them space but able to keep an eye on them and interact when they want to . Layout would be very different if I had younger kids, if we were older or richer ?

I also wanted to finish these renovations soon. An Airbnb with a separate entrance would help to save money faster and same space could be used for our overseas guests. Our guests stayed with us in average around 4 months, Sydney is a long way to have a short visit.

Design Challenges

Bucket breaker design challenge: Front of the house is easy as when you look at the roof, you can figure out where the beams are, and it is wood. Back of the house is a huge 2 floors extension. It is double brick and concrete slab, even the second-floor floor. It is extremely heavy! Our tall friends had to bend down to pass through the arch to the dining area. This wall was also blocking the view to backyard , making the living area  feel smaller than it was. I knew it would be costly to knock down a structural wall that carries the whole concrete slab 2nd floor but could not imagine living with it. I was so scared that the whole upstairs will collapse when kids are downstairs; ended up buying 5 times stronger steel beams than structural engineer suggested. (It was not necessary, made me feel better)

Demo Day

I think “demo day” is very overrated in nearly every renovation show. Yes, knocking down, smashing and karate chopping is fun but how exciting it is to build something new. Even if it is just a wall! Now it is your chance to shine, build something special, use your creativity to overcome challenges. I love this one wall next to the stairs. I had chance to add cables and a night light that also works as a spotlight for art which is in a niche. Again, at the back it is organized as a pocket for the upstairs parents retreat pocket door.

The door to the guest room now turned into the door to under stairs server room/guest room storage. Front of the wall from dining room area cleared the clutter look of the stairs and designed as a TV wall. I did not have enough space in the living room to put a decent size storage under the TV for all electronics so left a hole under the wall to push in a custom-built cabinet. As it was a new wall, my husband’s wish list of not so exciting cables and plugs etc.  was also added for the new server room.  Some stronger beams added to where the TV will go. With one wall, I also now had a walk-in wardrobe for the guest room. This all makes great sense to me but hopefully makes sense to you too?

Maybe one YouTube episode is explained here ?

Other design challenges and solutions

  • Ceiling heights: Old part of the house has great 2.4 m ceiling height. Extension ceiling height is only 1.8 m. By adding a wall where I can hang a TV on in the dining area, I managed to design a sunken living area. It makes more sense to live closer to the backyard then occasionally dining there. I wanted the room to feel more sunken and cozier by hanging the curtains lower, buying the largest couch possible and adding more furniture and soft furnishing. All interior design YouTube videos you watch would say hang your curtains as close to the ceiling as you can. I have done this little trick in all other rooms other than this snuggle corner.
  • Living area still looked small: You need to trust your gut feelings when renovating. Just have a look at the previous two photos and see how large space I lost buy building a wall on the side of the stairs.  Now imagine designing the TV wall on the wall under the stairs. I know, it could be nice but in terms of functionality, it would not work for me. Under stairs is now packed: It is our server room, there a full-size wardrobe, more than half of the TV cabinet is there. There are hangers for guests use and all my luggage are there. Instead of saving space under the stairs I have decided to lay the flooring vertical to guide the eyes through backyard, and use same color tiles in the backyard so it looks like part of the living room.
  • Laundry: Laundry was another costly project. I tried not changing the layout of the other bathrooms, so I do not pay extra for the plumbing $$$ Laundry was same size as the upstairs bathroom and there was just a washing machine, such waste of space…. I wanted to turn this space into a guest bathroom for the guest room/Airbnb/teenagers retreat and laundry. It is the double brick side of the house; bringing plumbing from upstairs toilet, drilling brick walls for cables and plumbing, moving the washing machine and dryer to the opposite side was costly. I still believe adding a bathroom will add more to the house value.

  • Unexpected cost: I knew that there will be unexpected cost when you renovate an old building, but I didn’t anticipate double layer asbestos, very urgent electrical problems, cost of cleaning a jungle, fixing the structural mistakes of previous extension such as wrongly extended roof. Even small things such as skip bins or electrical plugs can turn out as great cost when you look at the overall expenditure.   I had a dream and did not want to give up on that. I think when you have a dream, you should sweat, you should work hard, you should not sleep. This perfectionist nature is not the right attitude when you are renovating. For example, I choose a $50 electrical plug and switch and wanted them all with dimmers (each dimmer was another $50 so the cost of a switch was $150 ). There had to be unity! Maybe the next owners would not use the house as I use so even the plugs in unseen places had to be this expensive one. The cost of switches and plugs in the living area only added up to approximately $1500. Me and my husband ended up working longer hours, spending less time with kids and more time with DIY as a result. DON NOT DO WHAT I HAVE DONE! It is OK if you choose a cheaper switch or try to source materials cheaper. Spend more time living in the beauty you created, not spend years to create a perfect place. No one complemented on my plugs and switches so far.

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