Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Carolyn Boyd's top 10 renovation mistakes - up, up and away

Carolyn Boyd is a lovely property writer who took over one of my favourite alltime gigs, blogging for She wrote a story a few weekends ago about the Top 10 renovating mistakes, and her advice was pretty good. You can read the full story here, but the summary of her tips include:

Ten ways to devalue your property

1. Worry about the Joneses — loss $40,000
A renovation that gives you the best house in the street could leave you out of pocket. The streetscape and
neighbours’ houses influence resale value and sensible renovations should take this into consideration.
2. Ugly little brother — loss $28,000
Don’t add an extension without thinking carefully about the exterior. Renovations should be sympathetic to the original building.
3. Spending too much — loss $25,000
Going over the top on expensive fittings such as imported cooktops, taps, door handles and tiles can burn a hole in your pocket. Purchasers often don’t like the previous owner’s choices and won’t be prepared to pay extra for them.
4. No playground, no barbecue — loss $18,000
The trend is for outdoor living, so try to create a usable outside space.
5. Suburban desert — loss $20,000
Removing trees can cause more damage to a property than if you left them in place. A large, attractive tree can add $10,000 to $15,000 to the value in some areas.
6. Illegal building — loss $30,000
In some suburbs, one-quarter of all houses have an illegal extension. It can cost $30,000 or more to make
it comply with regulations.
7. Faulty structure — loss $25,000
When installing new kitchens and  bathrooms, check that the subfloor structure is sound. Some new kitchens are destroyed in the first four years by subsidence.
8. Do it yourself — loss $18,000
Installing your own wiring and plumbing is illegal and can be dangerous.
9. Expensive rip-offs — $8000
Archicentre warns that underpinning to remedy brick cracking may not be the best option. In many cases, low-cost watering systems and tree pruning do the job and underpinning will cause more cracks in other parts of the house.
10. The house that Jerry built — $12,000
Joining the renovation on to the existing building in an  unsatisfactory way can result in major cracks appearing because of incompatible structural systems.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Laundry now legal

Fancy that. NSW apartment dwellers can now legally dry their washing on their balcony without falling foul of strata by-laws that prohibit drying laundry on their balcony. The new by-laws will allow apartment residents to dry their washing on balconies, provided it is not visible from the street. Most apartment dwellers rely on clothes dryers, which cost around 70 cents to dry each load of washing. Clothes dryers can create more than 800 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

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Pictures: Rice

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tasmanian Style - it's the service that's slow

Am staying in Tasmania where the weather is wild but the service is even, ahem, wilder. Have literally battled 80km/h winds, hail and quick glimmers of sunshine to arrive in the town of Stanley, which is simply gorgeous. We're staying at a half-finished "suite" on the hill overlooking the beach. But I rather like what the owners have done with their reno - old hardwoods in a sleek charcoal bathroom, full curtains, gorgeous lights .... tis noice.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Quote of the week


"An empty house is like a stray dog or a body from which life has departed."
Samuel Butler

Pictures: Jean Marc Palisse for Cote Maison

Monday, September 20, 2010

HOME HINT: stuff plastic bags into tissue boxes

To keep plastic grocery bag clutter under control, stuff your bags into an empty tissue box. At least the clutter turns into box-shaped cubes rather than rustly little explosions that keep cupboards, drawers and bags from closing. 

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Angelina's about to start reading me, for sure

Angelina and Brad have just bought a $40 million mansion in the hills of Valpolicella in northern Italy. It's a renovators delight. And given that it's the couple's third home, joining their LA pad and a $3.5 million New Orleans house, they need to start reading my book and this blog to get the job done. Their European holiday house has its own vineyard, stables, a movie theatre, a gym, two swimming pools, all with 15 bedrooms and seven bathrooms. The couple, who have six children, plan to restore the mansion. She loves having paint in her hair and dust in her eyes, that Angelina.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Knitted light shades: Warm enough to leave the light off

If braving the cold is too much for you, make your home feel so cosy you won’t want to venture out, with the Casamania Granny knitted pendant lamp shade. It looks like that itchy jumper your mum made you wear as a child, but looks sooooo warm and welcoming that you could leave the lights off and simply snuggle in the dark. Hey, it's even made of fire retardant wool. Ummm, isn't all wool a natural fire retardant?

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Pictures: Espacio via DailyCandy


‎"I catnap now and then, but I think while I nap, so it's not a waste of time,"- Martha Stewart

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Pictures: CoteMaison 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IKEA herds cats, I herd children. Same same.


Anyone who knows me knows I love IKEA. Like, love IKEA. There's something about an allen key that gets me going. But how cool is this new London ad for IKEA, which made no use of CGI and had a hundred cats let loose in an English IKEA store.  It features a song called Pianni and comes supported with a short making-of film called 'Herding Cats', showing the production team wrangling the animals and meeting their owners. The law of 'cats + internet = success' has again been proven correct, as the behind-the-scenes film has already notched up over 1.7m views on YouTube in the four days since it was uploaded.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Q&A: Cheap ways to make bad carpet come good

Q. Our carpet has rainbow-coloured swirls and a black chewing gum stain in the middle of the hallway. We rent so don't want to spend a tonne of money - help!

Rugs. They are your best friend. There are cheap and cheerful Chinese-made options around that don't have to break the bank. A good steam-clean works wonders on a carpet and most managing agents will ensure carpet is clean (if stained) when tenants move on. If your carpets don't look as though they have been done, put in a request. Patterned carpets tend to make a room look busy and overwhelmed, so a big, bold rug or runner in one block of colour might be the best option. Cheap woven cotton rugs often don't stay in place, so you may need a grip or underlay to keep it down. Some people resort to double-sided tape. That might be what you think is the gum stain. Have you tried rubbing ice over it to harden the gum and brushing it out with a stiff brush? Eucalyptus oil can also work wonders on gummy stains.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

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Q&A: Why is it so hard to grow lettuce

Q. Why can't I grow lettuce? I planted salad greens but most of them died while two plants grew into steroid-pumped tall shrubs with flowers.

A. Lettuce remember there is a reason we don't ALL grow our own food in gardens and try to subsist from grow-your-own greens. Unlike its good friend the tomato, lettuce is much easier to buy at the supermarket than grow in our own garden or courtyard. While it is true lettuce will grow in pots, a humid Sydney summer is rarely kind to leafy green delicates.
Lettuce has a shallow root system so reacts quickly to heat, humidity or water stress. Cool-weather-loving lettuce varieties tend to bolt to seed when planted during a warm Sydney summer. And most lettuce can't stand being blown about in the wind. It's best grown by those who can offer tender loving care and understand the growing conditions needed.
There are some easy varieties to grow, like cos or rocket, which have tougher leaves and can withstand Sydney heat but it's important to select the right plant for your soil, weather conditions and patience.

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"There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see."
- Leonardo da Vinci

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

POST OFF What makes a house a home?

There are so many platitudes and cliches about homes, houses and properties:
"It takes hands to build a house, but only hearts can build a home"
"A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams."
"A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body."
Is this all a load of codswallop?
I interviewed the Australian Psychological Society about this, as they had studied why we choose to live where we do, and they found that function and convenience had more to do with why we choose our homes.
But with houses and property costing us an ever-increasing portion of our incomes, what features, factors and ideals make a house a home?
Is it budget?
Is it location? Most of us need to be close to work or schools or uni.
Is it being a part of a community or village of other people who understand and like you?
I really don't know the answer, except to say that it is something that you feel inside. 
Demographer Bernard Salt says our property ideals are related to our lifestyles - or the lifestyle we aspire to.
He says more of us want to live in places where we can be surrounded by people "like us" rather than being too worried about whether we have the fourth bedroom or the triple garage.
I suspect that every person has different ideals of home, different lifestyle needs and wildly varying ideas of decent accommodation. Which is why it's always so hard to find the perfect "home".
Since most Australians buy established homes (that's the fancy word for "second-hand"), a property is usually tapered to someone else's ideals rather than your own.
When I bought my current home, I had to remove the carpet that smells like four truckers rubbed their armpits on it and scrub the kitchen clean. Oh, and put in a bathroom that didn't look like a kitty litter tray.
"Home" isn't just something that's three bedrooms or is in a particular suburb - it has to have all those other quirks, tweaks and little things that determine whether a property will suit you and your lifestyle, don'tcha think? What makes your home "home"?

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

RENOVATION COST-SPIRATION: Paint, the cheap option

What's the cheapest renovation? 
Paint, paint and more paint. Painting is the most cost-effective spruce-up a property owner can organise. For $600, you will get more bang for your buck by doing the job yourself - but you need to dedicate plenty of time to the job. A good rule of thumb for a DIY painter is to spend as much time preparing your surfaces (cleaning with sugar soap, filling cracks and sanding smooth) as painting them.
There are so many paint colours on those charts that I feel dazzled - how on earth are you supposed to select the right paint colour without remorse?
Most paint manufacturers now have websites dedicated to helping you. Dulux has a great site and also offers good colour advice. The real key to choosing is to buy a test pot (which usually costs less than $10) in your desired shade and paint it on the wall next to other shades you are considering. The light in the room will determine whether the colour works. Light from various directions is quite different so it is worth considering the direction the windows of a room face. Fluorescent lights can cast a bluish-green light while halogens offer a yellow-white cast. The number of coats of paint, and whether you are choosing an easy-to-clean acrylic or dense, colour-rich enamel, will also determine the final outcome of how a colour will look in a room.

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Pictures: Brownstoner

Monday, September 6, 2010



"Architecture is a visual art, and the buildings speak for themselves."
- Julia Morgan

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Pictures: Frederic Vasseur for CoteMaison

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cleaning for crawling babies: how to keep floors clean

Q I have a baby that’s just started crawling – his clothes are so dirty at the end of the day that I have realized I need to improve my cleaning, but don’t want to use harsh products.

A. American writer Dierdre Imus, who founded the Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology and wrote Greening Your Cleaning, says the floor is often the most dangerous place in a house for babies and pets. Imus insists that the gasses given off by cleaning products and our furniture, paint or curtains often hover down at floor level, ready for the most vulnerable household members to breathe in. Ick. Carpets should be vacuumed at least once a week – probably more if you have an allergy sufferer in the house – and ideally with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner that won’t recirculate all the dust and dirt.  Hard floors such as timber, tiles or vinyl are easier to keep clean by daily sweeping. One of the best ways to keep floors clean is to make like the Chinese and insist shoes stay off inside the house – that way dirt stays on the bottom of people’s shoes instead of being tracked in to your floors. You can also put small rugs and door mats at the entrance to capture as much dirt as possible.

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Clean your house the easy way
A slacker's guide to cleaning the house
5 home repairs that add value

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Q&A: Painting tips for tired renovators

Q. Painting is the worst job I have ever done. My arms ache, the cat walked through the paint tray and now everything's a mess. How can it be easier?
Here are some painting tips I've learnt over the years:
  • Cut down the number of coats by tinting the primer or undercoat. Make your first priming coat half the colour density of the final shade to get better coverage.

  • Cover odd-shaped bits of the room you want to keep paint- free with plastic wrap.
- Painters seem divided over whether to use masking tape to protect carpets and skirtings. Most pros have such a steady hand they don't need it but DIYers need all the help they can get. You will need good, low-tack masking tape.
  • When painting a ceiling, wrap an old towel or cloth around the brush and secure with a rubber band. There'll be no more paint running down the handle.

  • If you don't paint the top and bottom door edges, timber doors can swell in damp weather. Instead of taking them off their hinges, use a scrap of carpet as a paintbrush instead and slip it under the door.
Go to the gym in advance and prep all those arm muscles. Buy Deep Heat. Find someone to massage you the next day. You'll be grateful that you listened.

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Pictures: Photo by Sam McAdams, Inside Out magazine
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