Saturday, December 13, 2008

SMALL SPACE FIX: Big ideas for small bathrooms

Just like our office cubicles, cars and economy, our bathrooms are shrinking. But how do you make a tiny room work all that bit harder? Try these tips.

* Streamlined vanities and basins with separate shelving, and cabinetry with storage space for cosmetics and toiletries, are essential inclusions for small bathrooms.

* Less is more and subtle storage provides the best solutions to allow for this. Glass and floating timber shelves on plain walls dress up the room and add instant storage space for towels.
* Embrace the trend towards smaller or wall-hung vanities. Wall-hung products such as toilets and vanities are gaining in popularity because they take up much less room than larger units and create a modern-looking bathroom.

* When it comes to tiles, the bigger the better - larger tiles make a room appear bigger than it actually is. Wall tiles laid vertically and extending to the ceiling can make a small bathroom feel larger by drawing the eye upwards. If you want to create a sense of a wider space, tiles can be placed horizontally.

* Mirrors also create depth and distribute light throughout the room. The colour scheme can also create the illusion of space, especially with a colour palette of whites, creams or pastels.
* Keep things simple and avoid large patterns as these will make the room appear more cluttered.
* Corners and gaps between shower recesses and basins can often be dead space. There are products that maximise these areas and make the most of every inch of the room.
* Bathrooms have also become multi-purpose, incorporating rooms such as laundries, so clever storage prevents cramping.

Pictures: LJT bathrooms

Friday, December 5, 2008

Install your own kitchen and save!

Installing your own kitchen is all about details. So many it will make your head spin. But it's worth coming to grips with the hassle of installing your own kitchen if you want a swanky-looking room for a fraction of the price.

Yes, we all adore those sleek Leicht and Poggenpohl kitchens (why are the Germans so good at kitchens?) but you can get a similarly schmick kitchen by shopping around and having a willing screwdriver operator to install it. What you save on the installation, you can spend on the pull-out pantry or the stone benchtop.

Installing cabinets and benchtops yourself will save about 15 to 20 per cent of the cost of a kitchen, says Michael Caminer, the chief executive of Alsa Manufacturing, which makes Smartpack Kitchens. Design-and-install kitchen companies rarely specify the exact cost of installation, but you pay a premium to the company that has the headache of overseeing and scheduling tradespeople.

"We have had people say they were quoted $25,000 or $30,000 for a kitchen that we can offer to them for $10,000 or $12,000 if they install it themselves," Caminer says.

That's a big enough saving to allow you to line up at David Jones for the Chloe instead of making do with Witchery. Now comes the bad part: all the things you have to remember. It's not worth bothering with this self-installing caper unless you can juggle details, deal with tradespeople and remain calm during the dust, mess and chaos of a renovation.

Oh, and you can't oversee the entire kitchen renovation with only a screwdriver. You'll probably need a drill, too. And a level. And a tape measure. If you are the kind of person who can't assemble an Ikea bookshelf, please don't attempt this.

Each kitchen renovation has different requirements but the basics of scheduling the job are as follows
  1. Plumbing The bits that make the dishwasher do its job and allow the gas cooktop to light up can only be overseen by a licensed plumber. And the plumber needs to visit twice - once in the early stage to rough-in, then again after stage 4 to finish off and/or install the appliances and taps.
  2. Electricals As with the plumber, the sparky may have to come twice, first to rough-in and later to install light fittings, power switches and appliances. If you don't already have an electric oven installed, you may need a new circuit to run the appliance.
  3. Cabinetry Base and wall cabinets need to be ordered weeks or even months in advance of the installation date. These are assembled first and lined up in position, waiting to be topped by ...
  4. Benchtops Customised stone benchtops can take a long, long time to arrive after ordering. It's best to order and schedule the benchtop to coincide with the arrival of the cabinets.
  5. Splashbacks Whether you choose tiles, coloured glass, timber or stone, the splashbacks make the kitchen look finished. And don't forget the silicone seal between the splashback and the benchtop.
  6. Flooring This can be done now or before the cabinets are in, depending on the type of flooring you need and whether you want it to continue underneath the cabinets.
  7. Painting-finishing The final touch. You can sigh with relief when the dust is gone and the doorhandles are on. And invest in a drill jig to get the cupboard door handles in the right position.
  • There are plenty of companies selling flatpack kitchens, which renovators can install themselves. For starters look at Ikea, A-Plan Kitchens and Smartpack.
  • Self-assemble kitchens are often on sale at auction houses such as Laws Auctions, sometimes in fixed U- or L-shapes. Keep an eye out for ex-display kitchens or kitchens for sale in the Trading Post or on eBay.
  • Not all kitchen-supply companies have a self-installation option. Many insist on providing a full installation service (and charging the mark-up) to retain quality control. Check the fine print of contracts before committing to anything.
  • Not all flatpack kitchens are created equal - check the material used in the cabinets, the type of hinges and drawer runners used and the edging on the doors.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

50 easy ideas to improve your home

  1. Ingenious ideas and simple solutions to elevate ordinary homes to inspired spaces. Bring out everyone’s inner beauty by strategically placing lamps or candles below eye level. Candles give a soft, warm glow which creates a light to flatter even the harshest face. And low-level lighting makes it harder to spot people’s wrinkles, dark circles or red blotches.
  2. Sleep well at night and select bed sheets made from pesticide-free cotton, the most hypo-allergenic bedding material available. Unlike polyester, cotton will ‘breathe’ and absorb any sweat while remaining dry to touch.
  3. Paint is the cheapest way to instantly transform a room. Steer clear of bright feature walls and aim for softer, subtle colour schemes that turn your room into a sanctuary. Low-VOC and breathe-easy paints are safest if you have little ones or asthmatics in the house.
  4. Conjure up more space in the bathroom by installing a high shelf above the bathroom door. Roll up bulky towels in an eye-catching stack to get them out of the way.
  5. Flexible furniture makes life easy – look for side tables that double as television stands, sofas that turn into spare beds, sturdy chairs that could be used as a bedside stand or modular storage units that can be customised to suit your needs.
  6. Declutter your home by all means, but don’t destroy the soul and personality of a house by neglecting to create displays of family photographs, collected souvenirs or knick knacks you love. Grouping like items together in table-top arrangements should please the eye and the heart.
  7. The Roman blind is a light and easy way to keep winter warmth in and summer heat out. These no-fuss window treatments offer a better insulative seal against draughts than wafty curtains or vertical blinds.
  8. Instantly slash home heating bills by up to a quarter and install insulation in the ceiling – it won’t make your house look any different but it will be up to seven degrees warmer in winter and five degrees cooler in summer than a similar home without ceiling insulation.
  9. Sort, store and streamline your wardrobes at least once a year. Store unused clothing in space bags if storage space is tight – and make it a rule to throw out anything you haven’t worn for 12 months or more.
  10. A modern fireplace is a focal point for a living area. The new flue-less fireplaces like these by EcoSmart are so sleek they can be installed in an apartment. Prices start from $2200.
  11. Stomp lightly on the earth by composting your garbage. Even apartment dwellers can reduce landfill by composting food scraps in a space-saving Bokashi bin – it fits under the kitchen sink and doesn’t smell.
  12. Mirrors make a room seem brighter and are a must for a bathroom. Try hanging them opposite the window to magnify the natural light in a room.
  13. It can be cheaper to spend more on flooring materials designed to last. Natural materials like timber and stone cost more to purchase but can take plenty of wear with minimal maintenance. Use rugs in bedrooms and living areas to soften the hard floors and add a burst of colour.
  14. Sofas with modular sections can be brilliantly versatile. You get what you pay for with large furniture like couches, so look for hardwood or metal frames and quality fabrics that won’t fade in the sun or stain at the first splash of spilt milk.
  15. Clear storage boxes are best to stash things in wardrobes or laundry cupboards – you can always see inside without having to rummage.
  16. For effortless chic, treat your home to a beautiful vase or simply pluck greenery from outside and plonk it in a vegemite glass. Bringing nature inside will always perk up a space.
  17. Drowning in shoes? Buried in clothes? Blitz your boudoir with a half-day organising session. Clutter experts like Lissanne Oliver suggest making three piles – a throw-out, a maybe and a must-keep pile – and then ditching at least 30 per cent. “Most people actually feel better if they can throw out 50 per cent,” she says.
  18. Hate your kitchen but can’t afford a new one? Splash out on shiny new door and drawer handles for the cheapest quick fix. If you need to go further, think about replacing only the cupboard doors and drawer-fronts for less than half the cost of a new kitchen.
  19. Don’t just dust your ornaments, swap ‘em around. Keep your home fresh by moving things and trying different layouts.
  20. Transform your taps with low-flow heads which will cut water consumption – and your bills. Most state water utilities offer a low-cost service where a plumber retro-fits taps and toilets with water-saving devices for less than $80.
  21. Halogen downlights have become an environmental no-no thanks to their energy-guzzling bulbs and transformers. Save money by investing in downlight conversion kits from Neco which replace traditional 50 watt bulbs with bulbs that use 30 per cent less energy.
  22. Keep an Out Box by your door to regularly deposit items to donate to charity. When a new purchase comes into the house, something else has to go – it keeps your house clutter-free and your conscience happy.
  23. Posher than a poster and more powerful than a mass-produced print, digital art canvasses can be a cheap way to put pattern in a room. Try where you can have your favourite photo or design put on canvas from $68.
  24. Brighten a kid’s room or power up a hallway with these adhesive transfers called Candiy by Aussie designers blueandbrown. Order at for $59.
  25. Oh put it away! If you don’t have room for a home office, hiding it in a cupboard really is the neatest thing to do.
  26. Nana was right – a nest of tables is a great space saver and perfect for living rooms.
  27. Banish the unsorted washing pile by allocating a basket for each family member on a shelf in the laundry. Simply throw the clean and dry washing into each person’s basket and summon them to collect it and put it away.
  28. Give your remote controls their own refuge – a wooden box or cute bowl placed on the coffee or side table encourages the remotes to be returned to a regular home instead of being scattered around the living room or slipping down the side of the couch.
  29. In a narrow hallway, a console table is the perfect solution as a place for mail, keys and handbags. Stashing boxes beneath the table is a neat way to carve out extra storage space.
  30. Horizontally striped rugs give the illusion of more width in narrow halls and passageways.
  31. A home grown herb garden is the ultimate gourmet indulgence – and gives you a year-round supply of flavour rather than relying on expensive one-shot supplies from the supermarket.
  32. Give life to dark corners with shiny accessories like silver vases or mirrored photo frames that light up a space.
  33. Hang a tea infuser filled with lavender over your bath tap – every time you run the hotwater, it will fill the bathroom with a zen scent.
  34. Take some time to plan your home’s storage masterplan – send the big and bulky items off-site or into the garage and cull your belongings by at least twenty per cent to instantly make your home feel calmer and less cluttered. Don’t forget to utilise the hidden corners of a home with shelving and mobile cupboards. This over-toilet shelving is from Howard’s Storage World, $99.95.
  35. Slide-out pantries and cupboards increase your storage space by making every ounce of storage space accessible. They cost more, but can literally double your space.
  36. Take pride in sourcing vintage finds, scouring fetes, markets and second-hand stores for pieces that avoid the mass-produced look.
  37. Save space in dining rooms by using benches rather than heavy dining chairs. When not in use, a bench will slide right under the table, giving you loads more circulation space.
  38. Clean up without leaving chemical microbes behind. Try using a small amount of bicarbonate of soda to clean the bathroom and polish up wet areas with a wipe of mould-killing vinegar. Wiping the entire room down with an absorbent, clean old cloth nappy will bring up a chemical-free shine.
  39. Air it out! Leaving all doors and windows open for an hour at least once a week will flush your home with freshly circulating air and keep the interiors smell naturally clean.
  40. If you have a large bedroom, use the back of a wardrobe as a bedhead-cum-room divider by plonking it one-third the way down the room and zoning off a discrete space for clothes and shoe storage.
  41. A kitchen breakfast bar is the perfect spot for the family computer – it’s out in the open and easy to supervise … and won’t take up a dedicated space in the living area.
  42. If an out-of-date bathroom is getting you down, try brightening it up with matching accessories, new hooks and towel rails – way cheaper than a full reno.
  43. House too pokey to stash all your mess? Try using a folding screen behind a sofa or bed to create a storage space out of sight but not out of mind.
  44. Don’t be intimidated into not buying art just because it seems too expensive. Hunt down smaller city and country galleries and make it your mission to fill your house with pieces that you fall in love with.
  45. All arranged! Get your lounge room into shape by arranging the seating around a focal point like a fireplace or a window (rather than a telly) and then make sure every seat is in range of a side table or coffee table where a drink can be plonked if the need arises.
  46. If you like to rearrange furniture, invest in caster wheels to make moving heavy pieces easier on your back. They’re also great if you entertain a lot and need to move furniture around to accommodate different groups of people.
  47. Installing draught excluders on the bottom of doors and insulation tape around rattling windows will keep your home cosy and warm in winter – and slash energy bills by up to a quarter. With the average home spending around 25 per cent of their energy bills on heating, small measures can amount to big savings.
  48. An electric toothbrush that’s passed its use-by date makes a great bathroom scrub-up tool – it cleans the gunk of the showerhead, grout between the tiles and scours other difficult-to-reach crevices.
  49. Wires gone whacko? Keep television and computer cords in a neat stream by tying them together loosely with plastic twist ties or slip plastic tubing over the top. Or think about threading cords through neat plastic hooks that guide them to the nearest power outlet.
  50. Instantly transform the environmental friendliness of your house by switching off that beer fridge in the garage. Refrigerators are big energy guzzlers and the older the fridge, the more likely it is to chew through electricity which also spews unnecessary carbon into the atmosphere.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Q&A Improve your wall tiles

Q.I can live with everything in my ugly bathroom except the bad wall tiles – what can I do?
A.Bathrooms are a lot like women’s fashion: what you consider passé right now could be fashionable in another two minutes. If those mission brown 1970s tiles or sappy 1960s pink, blue or green mosaics are getting you down, think how lucky you are to have a bathroom that is such a classic representation of its era! It’s better to accept your poor bathroom for what it is than try to makeover just one part of the room and risk it looking like some awful morph between modern minimalism and Tupperware party from the 1960s. Embrace the era of your bathroom – if it’s pink and gaudy, then find some cute kitsch accessories to play it up. If it’s twee timber and ye olde cottage with 1980s brass fittings, then crack out a basket of pot pourri and some Norsca bath gel. There is nothing worse than half-cocked bathroom renovations that try to patch one small part of the room. And real estate experts like L.J. Hooker managing director Warren McCarthy will tell you that most buyers can handle any style of bathroom as long as it is clean, tidy and has plenty of natural light. “Some buyers quite like the idea of adapting the bathroom to their own taste,” he says.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

12 budget-busting renovation savers

Don't you know, there's an economic crisis out there? Busting the budget is everyone's biggest fear of renovation. And even if you factor in a 10 or 20 per cent "extra" to cover budget blowouts and never tell a tradie "while you're at it" — it's hard not to end up shelling out more than you want to.
What we all need to do is get our home dreams at a price we can afford. And not by cheaping out, either. With some strategic thinking about design, materials, and timing, it's not so hard to cut costs without cutting corners. The universal truth about renovations is that every little thing adds up. So save a little here, save a little there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

1. Efficiency, not size
If you can reorganize and equip your home, kitchen or bathroom for maximum utility, you may not need to rebuild to create more space. Start by replacing space–hogging shelves with pullout drawers or concealed cabinets. This is especially true in the kitchen, where planning to gain more storage space pays off by not having to expand the cabinetry into other rooms or extend.

2. Natural light without adding doors or windows
Before cutting a big hole for those bifold doors you've longed for, consider less invasive—and less expensive—ways of capturing light. To brighten up a windowless hallway, for instance, install a solartube skylight for less than $500 - it slips between roof rafters and funnels sunshine down below. Velux also make beautiful skylights.

Reap big savings with recycled or lightly used fixtures and building materials. BUt beware, because some tradies and builders won't guarantee their work if they have to use salvaged items because they don't want to assume the liability if something goes wrong. That said, if you're doing your own work, you can find anything from prehung doors to acrylic skylights to windows and reclaimed hardwood timber floors.Oh, and this one works in reverse. Don't forget to salvage any re-usable materials if you're about to embark on demolition work.It will also save you on skip and rubbish removal fees. And doing your own demolition can also save you. Knocking down may not be as costly as rebuilding, but you can still shave dollars by doing some of the demolition yourself—as long as you proceed with care. Beware of unwittingly take out a load–bearing wall or, worse still, sawing through live wiring or plumbing.

4. Consider long–term costs
Buying pre-finished materials can be costly upfront, but works well if it means you save on an extensive paint or finishing job. Some examples of this include primed and painted weatherboards, decking boards, skirtings and even some prefabricated wall finishes. These materials cost more upfront but will save time and money down the track by helping you avoid too much painting.

5. Tap into your tradies sources
When it comes to things like flooring, ask your tradie if he has stock left over from other jobs. Sometimes tradies have mates who are about to trash material from a demolition job and want material taken away, which means you might just get something for nothing (OK, that's unlikely, but it will be cheaper than buying from new).

6. Limit recessed lights - especially old-style halogens
Low voltage halogen downlights can cost more to run and usually require eight or 10 for one room to create general lighting. In addition to the fixtures, there's labour costs cut all the holes and insulate them properly. One wall or ceiling mounted light can also deliver more wattage, which means you may be able to get away with fewer fixtures.

7. Consult an architect
Depending on the scale of your project, you might not need a full–on architectural commission, which involves extensive meetings, multiple visits, and several sets of construction drawings. You might be able to tap an architect's design savvy by having them undertake a one–time design consultation. For example, for a flat fee, some architects will meet with a homeowner, examine the problem, and sketch out a few solutions that can be given to a builder or drafting service to crank out formal construction drawings.

8. Put in sweat equity 
Unless you've got loads of time (and expertise) to spend on your project, the best way to add sweat equity is up front, by handling your own demolition, or at the back end, by doing some of the finish work yourself. Most people can try their hand at installing insulation, painting, sanding and rubbish removal. And slash your material delivery fees by picking up goods yourself.

9. Demolish and start from scratch
It's a fact that major renovating can cost more than building from new. Carefully weigh up the best approach to renovating if demolishing and starting again is an efficient option. Don't schedule your reno in the height of peak demand times for builders - wait until there is a lag and fit in with their availability to get the best price.

10. Don't move the kitchen sink.
Or the toilet, if you can avoid it. If your new layout requires that you move the toilet, use the opportunity to upgrade the pipes at the same time.

11. Plan with stock sizes in mind.
Use manufacturers' off–the–shelf dimensions from the outset and you will save the premiums of custom fabrication. Buying doors, windows and storage systems in normal sizes will save hundreds, if not thousands. This also applies to kitchens, which can be bought cheaply from flatpack factories if you don't need to custom-make each cabinet.

12. Make renovation decisions early
Start prowling the aisles at the hardware store way before the wrecking crew shows up. Get a good feeling for what you want in fixtures and appliances and what they cost. If you aren't absolutely specific up front about what you want, you'll have to rely on your builders allowance or quote, and his notion of what is acceptable may be quite different from yours. For instance, you may have had a glass–tile backsplash in mind, but your builder priced in basic white ceramic tiles.

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