Saturday, February 28, 2009

Renovate for profit: be energy efficient




Tomorrow marks the first time I will deliver one of my very own Renovate-For-Profit seminars ... but mine will be about spending small amounts of money on repairs and refurbishments to lower the running costs of your home, rather than taking on lashings of debt to build a second-rate investment portfolio.Renovating to improve energy efficiency makes perfect sense - you may have to invest a small amount upfront, but it will pay back. Especially now that we know energy bills are set to skyrocket. In the last 12 months, electricity bills in WA have been mandated to go up by 40 per cent and the state government says bills there could rise even more. If the Australian federal government implements its Emissions Trading Scheme in 2010, all Australians' energy bills are likely to rise in the order of 20 to 25 per cent. Electricity is one of the largest greenhouse polluters, so the energy companies will be heavily taxed and that means passing those costs on to people who use electricity. That's not to mention price rises that were already planned to upgrade aging infrastructure. The three easiest and cheapest things to improve energy efficiency are:

- installing insulation AND RIGHT NOW IT'S FREE. If you don't do it, you're mad. Simply ring an installer and keep the receipt and the federal government will reimburse you up to $1600 in July.



- changing light globes to CFLs and putting in a AAA shower head



- resisting the urge to over-cool or over-heat our homes with air-con or heating. In summer the thermostat should be around 21 and in winter around 18


These are very simple measures that cost virtually nothing except a bit of time and effort. And, boy, will your wallet thank you in the next couple of years! If you want to hear more, please come along to the Homebush Energy Efficiency Centre at noon. You'll not only see some of the best new technologies to save energy, but you'll score a free copy of my Planning Your Perfect Home Renovation book and a new copy of House & Garden PLUS be in the chance to win a solar hot water system.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

My terrible twitter addiction


This is the picture @MrsKutcher uploaded to Twitpics just before the Oscars ... is it the real Demi and Ashton?

Fact: Twitter is more fun that Facebook.
Another fact: Twitter wastes more time than Facebook.
And another fact: It's SOOOO much fun to follow the celebrities, the fakes and the dead people that have suddenly been born again on Twitter.
For those who have been busy with real life rather than the internet, Twitter is a social network that limits you to 140 character "tweets", which are like a cross between blogging and updating your status on Facebook.
I'm following @MrsKutcher, which is Demi Moore. She takes pictures of her and Ashton Kutcher which give you a real insight into their life. But while the pics LOOK pretty real, my suspicious internet partner in crime, MC65 (his blog link is on the left, too) insists @MrsKutcher is about as real as Demi's ironed-smooth forehead. Apparently Ashton is also mad, keen twitterer who posted live pics from the Oscars parties, too.
I'm also following @hugh_jackman who is a wonderful, delightful fake Hugh Jackman that Tweeted all the way through the Oscars ceremony he was hosting. I don't care that he's fake coz he's funny. I'm enjoying plenty of other fakes, too. (There is even an @fakecelebritywatch who is following me ... no doubt to spoil my fake-watching fun!)
And while I'm on the subject of MrsKutcher-Twitter-love, I came across these pics of Ashton Kutcher's Beverly Hills bachelor pad which sold recently. I was most distressed at the he-manliness of those interiors ... if they smell like they they look, then I reckon Ashton's house has an odour of beer-swilling frat party sprayed with Lynx deodorant. Demi wouldn't possibly allow him to live like that, right? Not so sure what @MrsKutcher would do, though.



Pictures: Twitpics and RealEstalker

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

RENOVATION INSPIRATION: Why wood is good

How can you not love a bit of timber? It sequesters carbon. Lives and breathes like a dynamic material (it expands across the grain yet is stable with the grain) and with a bit of love and care will last longer than you. I especially love the books made of timber. Cute, no?


Pictures: Livio De Marchi via The Blog On The Bookshelf

Celebrity renovation: Natalie Portman's New York apartment



Now that Star Wars has become a major focus of my life (thanks to my sons!), I get to see Natalie Portman in a whole new light. Back in the days when I worked on teen magazines, the little poppet was just a gorgeous model breaking into acting. These days, Natalie is not only a Harvard graduate but is also Princess Amadala, mother to Darth Vader (and the Star Wars character I am most likely to role-play when the boys crack out the light sabres in the backyard). My sons will never appreciate this pretty pink frock that Padme Amadala is wearing to the Oscars ... but I thought other people might! I also thought you'd like to take a look at the apartment she sold in Manhattan last year, which is rather unpretentious and sophisticated. What I want to know is ... where does she manage to store her collection of light sabres?


The lounge opens to a terrace - not a bad view from West Village of NYC, hey?
Neat and oh-so-white kitchen

This is my favourite room - so girly yet not overly feminine. All rooms were designed by Richard Meier.
Pictures: BreakingNews and CasaSugar

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why a property crisis is good for us

With house prices drooping faster than my once-firm thighs, I've finally realised how GOOD a little property crisis is for us. I have been caught up in the chaos of a sliding property market. Having my husband leave me and then force us to sell our home at a time when the market will not pay the same price we paid FIVE YEARS AGO, is about as much fun as going to sleep with a plastic bag on your head. But after much angst, turmoil and horror about my situation, I've realised that a small economic and property crisis is fantastic for making us realise what we truly seek in a house - shelter, sanctuary and a comfy cave to keep our loved ones safe. It's also perfect for making me see what the average homeowner (or aspiring home owner) needs to steer clear of. We don't need to take on more debt to "upgrade". We definitely don't need to take on more debt to "invest". And right now would have to be a very risky time to be spending lots of money on renovation. There are plenty of property analysts - read Neil Jenman or even Australian Property Monitors Liam O'Hara or economist Steve Keens - that think property prices are going nowhere fast. Tomorrow's Sun-Herald property guide will be in the Sydney newspapers, and the statistics are unpleasant for most homeowners, who will see slight drops in the value of their home. I wrote some of the stories in the guide, and hope this will be one of the last years where we see so many price problems. The majority of us won't mind the price drops because if you aren't selling, what does it really matter? Hopefully most of us will also take a good look at the home that gives us shelter each day, and see it in a whole new light. I'd like to think we go back to the good old days - like when these magazines were on the stands in the 1973 - when we bought houses we could afford, decorated them with style and love rather than lashings of credit card debt and went to sleep happy.

Related stories:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is feng shui a load of feng shwite


I rather enjoy the principles of Feng Shui - I find them a fascinating diversion from the way most Australians decorate and plan their homes. This house, pictured above, is known as the Butterfly House, and was commissioned by a Malay-Chinese couple who were Feng Shui-obsessed. The story goes that they commissioned an Aussie architect to create a house with no corners. None at all. Corners, you see, are supposedly bad Feng Shui. Not long after the house began to be built, the owners got Fenged by their own Shui and had to sell quickly. Another family completed the build - at great expense - with curved windows, a curved stair well and curved everything. I rather like it. I also like Daphne Guinness's story on guru Joey Yap's Feng Shui secrets. You can read the full story in the link below, but his super shui-ness secrets include:

Rules of the door

Avoid trees outside, they stop the flow of qi.
Don't sit with a door behind you, concentration will go (if you must, close the door and qi will flow).
Workspace rules
Don't have your desk directly under a beam.
Don't sit under a slanting ceiling. If you must, sit where the ceiling is highest.
Don't sit with your back directly to a corner.
Bedroom rules
Accident-prone? Sleep in a bed with brass or other metal frame.
Squabbles with your partner? Put a red rug down, or a red table lamp, to negate the room's bad effects.
Kitchen rules
Don't put the stove right next to the sink, this creates blood-pressure problems. Make sure they are at least 30 centimetres apart.
Avoid an island with a stove. Food is affected by negative qi resulting in health problems.
Don't buy a house with a kitchen in the centre. It causes qi disruption and frequent illness.


What's your view of Feng Shui? Does it work?

Related stories:
Daphne Guinness's take on Feng Shui
Creating a beautiful bedroom
Order in the house: creating great storage

Monday, February 16, 2009

Celebrity house: Fashion designer Lisa Ho


Following news that fashion designer Lisa Ho has withdrawn business support for funky label Mad Cortes comes the listing of Ho's Southern Highlands weekender for sale. The 100-hectare retreat has horse stables and is perfect for cityslickers wanting to indulge their inner gum boot and get all rural. Robertson is known for its delicious pie shop and a rather odd Big Potato erected near the shops (see link below). That big potato looks more like a giant Poo-tato. Most unseemly.

The entry to the house - cute stone work, no?

Pictures: WebsterNolan
 and FashionForum

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Celebrity house: Toni Collette


Toni and her husband Dave Galafassi in LA
I love Abba. I love Toni Collette. And while she would probably hate me saying this, I still think Muriel's Wedding was the best movie, like, ever. (Only cos it understood how sing-able Abba was waaaay beforeMamma Mia.) One of the highlights of my house-obsessed life was walking through her hillside retreat on the south coast of Sydney when she was trying to sell it last year. Toni and her muso husband Dave had this great nature retreat up a one-lane dirt track outside the little town of Berry. Surrounded by tall gums and gorgeous birdsong was a sustainably built house crafted from recycled materials. It even had a music studio where Toni and Dave assembled their mates to make nice songs (see links below). The house was as calm and relaxed as I will never be. The woman must be a zen master, with motivational pics of the Dalai Lama taped to the fridge proclaiming: “Never give up, no matter what is going on”. Another Buddhist wall hanging in the living room espoused, “What matters most is How well did you live, How well did you love, How well did you learn to let go.” I confess to becoming anxious around relaxed people. (I couldn't spot the white wine glasses in the sink, or any tabs of Valium lying around, so I just had to believe that Toni really IS a calm, centred being.) I did become slightly worried about those mismatched light fittings ... but a few days of Mummy Wine Time (evening medication that's better than meditation) helped me put my Home Nazi to rest. You likey Toni's house?

The music studio where their CD was born ... it's also called "Dave's Shed" but apparently is one of the best recording studios in Australia (the real estate agent might have been embellishing, though).

The open plan living area is large and airy with clerestory windows to let in the northern light.
There were lots of gorgeous timber sculptures dotted through the house and property, which look better in real life than they do in the pics.
Oh I like a big dining table - especially one that's all timber and gorgeous like that one.




Friday, February 13, 2009

Quote of the week


"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow," George Patton

Pictures: TineK via StyleFile

Thursday, February 12, 2009

How to clean up after a renovation

Housekeeping is a lot like eating steamed vegetables. It's good for you but has about as much appeal as licking a power point.
I envy those people who commit acts of neatness on a regular basis. I've always wanted to be someone who can straighten a kitchen in the blink of an eye. Alas, my housekeeping skills have conjunctivitis.
While most of us appreciate the zen of a clean and tidy house, embracing a planet-friendly cleaning regime can seem greener-than-thou and as much fun as wearing hessian high heels. What could be worse than trying to clean a dunny without the gun power of hardcore cleaning chemicals? Bicarbonate of Soda? Pah!
But it's worth it. Truly.
Think about this: spraying those chemicals inside the home adds to indoor air pollution. Then our slacko cleaning abilities means chemicals are left all over the household surfaces for children and pets to ingest and inhale (American writer Dierdre Imus says the gasses given off by many cleaning chemicals tend to hover down at floor level, ready for the most vulnerable household members to breathe in.) Ick.
I confess to being a planet-murdering housekeeper in the past. Here is my list of sins:
  1. I love thick, gluggy Domestos, a chlorine bleach that cleans the toilet and bathroom quite unlike anything else.
  2. Yes, I have deluded myself that spraying copious quantities of cleaning chemicals on to a kitchen bench somehow makes the world a cleaner place.
  3. The smell of bleach, and Pine O'Cleen, is joy to my nostrils.
  4. Overloading the washing machine dispenser with detergent has been a pleasure - if the washing smells detergenty then surely it's cleaner?
Ah, there are plenty more of cleaning sins I've committed but that's enough planet-guilt for one day. I have changed. Yeah. Truly. And it wasn't that hard.
BABY STEPS: Reduce the amount of chemicals (my trigger finger is still tempted to go machine-gun style, but I hold back).

BIGGER STEPS: Replace the old-style cleaners with newer, planet-friendly brands which avoid the use of chlorine bleach, ammonias and phosphates. It's even better to go for biodegradable and naturally sourced ingredients. There's plenty available in supermarkets these days, right next to the regular products and some of them clean as well as - or better - than so-called normal products.

BOLD STEPS: Learn to love microfibre cloths and embrace chemical-free cleaning routines such as wiping the shower down with a squeegee after use.
I was hoping that planet-friendly cleaning might actually make me LIKE housework. Alas ... I'd prefer to find something to plug in to a power point and do it all for me. How 'bout you?
Related stories
Pictures: Moose doing graffiti via InhabitatInSpaceLocation

RENOVATION INSPIRATION: green roof, save costs!


Iceland's Hof House ... tres cool.HofHouse via Inhabitat
It's all about what's on top of me. Yesterday, it was my ex-husband's mid-life crisis. Today, it's my roof getting on top of me. It's just so, well, mediocre. It's iron. And while it looks sweet atop my little wooden house, I really, really, really want a green roof. You see, green roofs are meant to be the best insulation ever. Better than a pink batt. Better than wool. And I like the idea of having more garden space in the city. (OK, so I don't like the idea of my wooden house falling over under the weight of its own green roof, but with all those clever engineers out there, surely something could be done?)I saw the cutest heritage cottage from the 16th century in rural Sweden with one, the picture is below. Apparently the green roofs not only kept the house warm during bitter winters, but also provided much-needed feed for the goats when the ground was frozen. The gorgeously modern house in Iceland pictured at the top of this post has a very chic green roof. Even Sydney's Conservatorium of Music has one - as does Parliament House in Canberra. It would be nice to have something lovely, lively, nature-iscious and green on top
Sydney's Conservatorium of Music, designed by Water Sensitive Urban Design
Sweden's Rashult cottage built in the 16th century

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Saving energy, the Google way



If Google has its way, it will be reminding us to turn the lights off.
Thanks to a new Google-powered meter, our computers will monitor how much energy our household guzzles. Wow, just like opening an email, only scarier.
Smart meters are popping up all over Oz as energy companies realise that regular Joes like you and me are able to cut down our energy consumption more easily if we measure it. The idea is that when we see that meter clicking the $$$ over, we flick off the lights and sit in the dark with the smugness of knowing how much money we are saving.
Google's power-meter is still in testing, but the basic idea is that it hooks into smart meters to allow people to read their energy consumption from their desktop. Given that Google is taking over the world, it won't be long before our computers are nagging us more than our father's ever did to turn off the lights ... but can the computer yell, "this house is lit up like a bloody Christmas tree" while wearing a bad dressing gown and snapping off light switches?


Picture: UrbanOutfitters

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

RENOVATION FIX: bushfire architect talks about his new beliefs

Lindsay Johnston is an architect famous for creating bushfire-proof houses, complete with "safe haven rooms" where occupants can sit out a fire safely, even if all is bursting into flames around them.
But after the devastation of the Victorian bushfires - where 750 houses burnt down and more than 130 people have tragically died - Johnston says he is not so sure there is such a thing as a fireproof house.
"After seeing what's happened in Victoria, it looks just like a war zone. The only thing I think could withstand that sort of disaster is a concrete bunker," he says.
Johnston's worked on creating homes that can withstand the first 15 minutes of a bushfire, suggesting they can be created by:
* building slab on ground
* using non-combustible materials like concrete and steel
* creating metal shutters to stop windows breaking
* sealing the roof of all air gaps.
"I think this disaster casts doubt on all my beliefs," he says.
"Everyone including the CSIRO and councils in bushfire prone areas are seeing a disaster beyond the scale we have ever experienced and I'm sure lots of things will be re-assessed."


Pictures: Rivertime

Renovating with pets: is it barkitecture?

Puppies and dogs are cute. Like children, the best are well-trained and enjoy being outside. Which brings me to this chair designed to be both a dog kennel and human seat. Designer Kim Hyun Joo says it "is a piece of funiture in which the dog house and chair coexist, expressing a need for intimacy between the pet owner and the pet. There are various ways to use Happily Ever. The owner can sit anywhere on the chair. The dog can rest inside the chair, or sit on top of it. There are two seats - the lower one is for the dog or owner, and the upper one is just for the owner." Does that sound OK to you? Weren't doghouses MEANT to be outside? And isn't half the fun of dog ownership yelling at the furry thing to get OFF the couch? Or have we all gone crazy pampering our pooches with designer items?

Pictures: Kim Hyun Joo via DesignZen

Monday, February 9, 2009

Celebrity: If Tom and Katie were a room ...

I find TomKat mildly intriguing. My intrigue is mainly: WHAT IS SHE DOING WITH HIM? They seem terribly, ahem, "at one" with each other in the outfit stakes. It's all a bit Stepford Wives and let's-dress-alike-today-honey. But what if Ron L Hubbard beamed TomKat's outfits into an interior. Would they look like more like Room One or Room Two, pictured below? Or something a little more creeeeeeeeepy?

ROOM ONE: SILVER SLEEK via ApartmentTherapy
ROOM TWO: AIRY NEUTRAL via InSpaceLocations

Related stories:
Top tips for entertaining at home
Painting colour tips
Find your inner decorator

Pictures: 1.Splash via mamamia2.InSpaceLocations via TwinsGarden
, 3.ApartmentTherapy


RENOVATION INSPIRATION: white is alrighty then




Why is white such a decorating star? Wildly colourful rooms are great for a thrill, but when it comes to every day living, white is the Cate Blanchett to the Lindsay Lohan. It's so changeable, update-able and authentic. And Wondrous White gets bonus points for making rooms appear larger, reflecting more natural light and keeping the need for energy-hungry artificial lighting down. These pics are of India Hicks' oh-so-swish home in the Bahamas, which she regularly has photographed to make you buy her books/products/design goodies. Tis nice, hey?Pictures by Miguel Flores-Vianna via Domino

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Decking out with timber





Is there anything better than sipping a chilled white wine on a deck in the evening? Yeah, OK. There’s more worthy things to do with your time – doorknock for Oxfam, perhaps?
There is something about a deck that just, well, works. Especially for those outdoor, relaxed-at-home, this-is-my- sanctuary kinda thing we crave at the end of a busy day.
Is it the timber beneath the feet? The trees rustling in the distance? (Or simply the wine in your hand?) Whatever it is, decks rule.
And there’s a few rules of “doing” a deck well, especially if you’re one of those DIY types that thinks a deck is a weekend of mates, hammers, decking material and beer. It ain’t. A good deck can be built like that. But a GREAT deck takes a bit of planning, a bit of designingenuity and some thoughts about materials. You can read about that guff in this story here.
The one thing that makes a deck is this: timber. And timber is one of the most durable, gorgeously evening-enhancing materials you can drink wine upon. It’s even better if your stilettos don’t fall through the cracks.
There are a few hints to choosing timber, and the most advised tip is this: hardwood is best. OK, OK, we all know that treated pine is cost-conscious and will withstand the termites, but there is nothing more sumptuous than an oiled and well-maintained hardwood deck. They will silver with age – just like George Clooney – and then come up looking all shiny and new with a light sand and some new oil. Hardwood will outlast treated pine by years and possibly even decades. Not sure about stilettos, though.

Related stories:

Pictures: Domain

Unreal estate: house perving


One of my favourite things to do is ogle houses, a perverse hobby I developed at an early age. Which one will I buy? And what sort of renovations might I need to undertake? Gosh, and where is Jeeves when you need him to peel you a grape (and bring you a Berocca)?
The harbour views and wet edge pool really make this Darling Point waterfront ... not sure what's going on with that ceiling?
For around $4 million, you get this over-designed Paddington terrace, not far from where Collette Dinnigan bought her new house. But do we really want a swimming pool as the backyard?

This one has its own beach but comes with a $16 million price tag. Tis on the northern beaches though, and those people do tend to like putting frangipani stickers on their cars.

Related stories

What will happen to real estate in 2009
How to buy well in property gloom
Pictures: Domain
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