The Tradie Lady
We packed the ute and drove to Manly, Queensland. A drop saw and a suitcase on the back seat, tools in the tray and random stuff that I need to survive like Matcha green tea powder, almond milk, my laptop, a Bluetooth speaker and our soda stream.
I spent the month of February living in a house, and renovating it with my husband (he was living there too FYI). Yes, we recreated our very own, scaled down, QLD version of The Block. It was more like Fixer Upper meets Reno my Reno. Luckily my husband is a kick ass builder and I am really good at taking direction, so we had the winning combination needed to complete a house renovation in tee minus four weeks and flipping.
We arrived into our temporary new ‘burb by The Bay and picked up the keys from the real estate. I had butterflies when we got the house, it appeared the front door was unlockable from the outside. Yep, our little home had sat vacant and unlocked for two months. I guess it’s a safe neighbourhood!
After doing a military check for squatters and dead animals, all clear, we moved in our stuff, a mattress arrived from Sleeping Duck to make our end of day collapse and much needed rest, super comfortable and we picked up a sofa from Vinnies for $50, the sum of our furniture for the next four weeks.
After a few bum-steers on gum trees seeking a fridge that was actually working and not $4000 we discovered our neighbours, Ross and Donna, who so happened to be moving out the following week, nothing to do with our arrival I assume, had a spare fridge in their garage. We borrowed it. Friendly neighbours. No break and enter issues. Seems like a good place to live! Let the renovations begin.
The house itself was an old railway cottage, one of the first on the street, a proper Queenslander with character, high ceilings and good bones. 3 bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen, 2 bathrooms and then a weird laundry addition on the back deck, shaded by some kind of old plastic covering and safe guarded by very unsafe barely bolted in glass balustrades. Quirky, to say that least. The original house had been raised and added underneath were 2 single bedroom apartments, long and skinny. Each contained a bedroom off the shared entrance hallway, bathroom, mini-laundry, kitchen and a cosy lounge/dining that rolled out some old French doors to an enclosed concrete slab/back deck. The shared garden was overgrown, the rollaway clothes lines squeaked and it was obvious, on a closer inspection, the previous owners attempt to recreate The Block on a Queenslander was taken on with gusto and zero skills.
Our Grand Design plan was simple. Update the downstairs and turn 2 single bed apartments into one 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom home. This involved ripping out one kitchen (as there were two), relocating a wall to build in a bedroom and updating the ensuite. It needed a good clean and a fresh coat of paint on some of the window frames, a bit of love and some new curtains. Not exactly Extreme Makeover Home Edition but enough work cut out for the two of us.
The previous owner had taken the galley kitchen out of the right hand downstairs apartment (which was insisted on by council) so when we first moved in there was not talk of ripping out the other entire kitchen and making over three out of the four bathrooms over the two levels of the house, but when a perfectionist with a strong work ethic moves into a house, guess what happens? That other kitchen got ripped out on Day Two in addition to the wall being relocated to turn 2 one bedroom apartments into one three bed, two bath living space.
Upstairs didn’t need a lot of work; re-do the roof over the beautiful timber deck and do something about that glass pool fence looking enclosure surrounding the deck, which seemed slightly unsafe and totally out of place. My handy husband built an entire new roof with beautiful exposed rafters and a wrap-around hand rail, turning the previous outdoor balcony into a stunning outdoor entertaining area. But just as the old roof was being ripped down in strips, and thrown into backyard ready for my collection and relocation to the skip out the front, there was a cupboard that just didn’t work for me in the upstairs kitchen.
I had no intention of tearing down a wall, opening-up the kitchen space and adding in a breakfast bar. It just happened. I just hated the cupboard where it was, so I asked my husband to remove the cupboard, at first thinking we’d replace it with some cute floating shelves, just to open the space up and make it less ‘boxy.’ Well that turned into a complete redesign of the kitchen entryway and the smart addition of a breakfast bar.
Once you get started, walls just seem to be easy to tear down, as do floor to ski high ceiling mirrored built ins which came down in pieces one afternoon, and almost gave me a mild heart attack as my husband and our friend dislodged two giant mirrors, stuck onto wood panelling, with nothing but a guess and me with my fingers crossed. Everything went well considering we had no plan for that small project. With a hole in the carpet, the built-in rebuild was underway, hand designed by a woman who knows a woman needs, a place to store her shoes and put on her prettiest lipstick. The new built in is glorious, white, new and I want it! It’s hard to not get emotionally attached to the work you are doing. For this project, and they’ll be others, this is a rental, I had to compromise and bend the budget to work for the functionality of the home for the future tenants rather than buy the prettiest of everything because I wanted it.
The upstairs bathroom had an accidental make over after we realised the vanity for the downstairs ensuite had no waste area, we had to figure out how to put a basin in an ensuite, that’s a problem we solved over lunch one day. Not the sexiest conversation to have with your loved one over a casual BLT, but after several google searches we decided on a small hand basin and a bottle trap fixture (any tradies reading this will be annoyed if I got that incorrect but I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s called). It’s basically a pipe you can see under a floating hand basin that goes into the wall. We opted to install a shaving cabinet in the skinny ensuite space, complemented by a ladder for towels. Industrial, practical and cool.
Renovating is tough fun.
I learned a lot during this last month, a renovation will;
· take a lot longer than you think
· cost more than what you budget for
· ensure you go back to Bunnings again
· improve your grip strength
· allow you to memorise The Greatest Showman soundtrack
· make you appreciate laying down in your heaven-sent bed at the end of each day (Thanks Sleeping Duck)
I surprised myself with my quick witted on site puns, requesting my husband ask for the chisel by stating, ‘for chisel, ma’ nizzle,’ and finding myself constantly pulling the trigger of any drill stating, ‘this is not a drill.’ I cracked myself up if no one else. I also asked some really stupid questions. Lucky my husband has heard a lot of them before. I was taught ‘no question is a stupid question,’ but in my case, ‘can’t you just screw the mirror to the wall, babe?’ was met with a, ‘oh sweetheart, screw through what, it’s glass,’ and me excusing myself to make a cup of tea. My solution for problems was to ‘just glue it down’ but I quickly realised there were much better options available.
I didn’t feel 100 per cent comfortable on site in the beginning. I didn’t really know what to do and kept asking for direction and help, which made me feel like a bit of a nuisance, no one, as a full grown adult, really likes being out of their comfort zone. But as the hours wound on and my drilling, hammering, taping, measuring, painting and sweeping skills improved, I started to feel more confident in this new, highly dangerous now that I think about it, 24/7 work environment. When my husband gifted me with my very own tool belt, it took things to a whole new level and with my very own tools to do my very own projects, I (with a bit of help) demolished, and rebuilt an entire kitchen in a week. Down to the black grout and picking out the white subway tiles, I did the lot, bar screwing the cabinets to the walls. I struggled the most with the kitchen island trolley and I wanted to paint the timber top black but hey, we had bigger things to paint by that stage, like the new roof.
My work before this project hasn’t been tangible, other than that book I wrote. You can’t stand back with sweat dripping off you, hands on hips and look at a hilarious talk break you did on a radio show, you can only remember it and how it felt. Sure, I could re-watch the MTV music awards that I hosted and find celebrity interviews on You Tube for days, but standing back from the new subway tiled, black grouted wall of the kitchen I had days ago torn to pieces and removed, dirty and exhausted, a rather empowering feeling swept over me. Like I did something. And someone is going to live here and love it.
It’s the small touches that gave me the most joy, finding the right lace curtains and black curtain rods, solving the kitchen island on a budget issue, asking my husband for impossible design ideas to manifest, like;
· can we build in bench seating into the downstairs outdoor area?
· can we turn the carport into a half basketball court?
· can we get that cute bright yellow table and chairs set for the garden? It will look perfect under the tree.
Three out of three of those ideas were shot down, and I get it. It’s not for us, not this time around and as much as she is my spirit animal I’m not on a Joanna Gaines type project. Not yet anyway.
My dream of having a home with an inside slippery dip is still on the dream list but I feel one step closer, I reckon I could build it myself.
Stay tuned for more from The Tradie Lady.