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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Kitchen Reno

We moved into our first house together while our builder was laying the new downstairs timber floor, and with no kitchen. Arran and I agreed that if the bank wouldn’t lend us enough money to at least replace and renovate the kitchen straight away, we weren’t buying the house! In its original state it wasn’t functional. The kitchen cupboards weren’t attached to the floor and the floor tiles had been laid directly on dirt!
(Notice the beautiful exposed brick arch entry)

Those first months we alternated between BBQ dinners (washing up in the laundry sink), meals at The Australian Youth Hotel and eating take-away in the bedroom. Getting out of the house each day to go to work with clean dust free clothes was a challenge. At the end of eight weeks we had a lovely new kitchen and a beautiful solid timber floor. The rest of the place was still a renovators dream but at least we could cook!

I really love Terrace houses and swore that when I moved to Sydney I would live in one. It was a romantic notion that got into my head somehow. Very quickly though, you learn the 2 rules of Terrace House renovations: Get in as much light as possible and get in as much storage as possible, as Terrace Houses typically have neither! I think these rules hold true whether you are maintaining the original structure and are just trying to make it more liveable or whether you are doing some major work with the help of an architect. We were doing the former. The Beirut end of Glebe location meant that renovating beyond making the house modern, clean and liveable, would be overcapitalising. This turned out to be a sensible decision when we came to sell 4 years later.

Terrace houses were traditionally built to make the best use of the land i.e fit as many houses in as possible so workers could walk to and from work or easily access public transport. This translates into housing built on a long thin rectangular blocks butted up against other sharing common walls and fences. Houses are either built in pairs or can take up a whole street. Every now and then you will see a stand-alone Terrace. Windows are typically only at the front and rear of the house unless the Terrace is at the end of the row. Even then I could show you examples of end Terrace's in Glebe with no windows down the exposed length (what a waste!). The middle parts of the house are DARK..

Our Glebe St house was sandwiched between a warehouse-style structure and another “mirror-image” terrace. This combined with dull and dark colours and depressing cheap reno’s meant the house didn’t have a choice to be anything but dark.

We used lots of white and new lighting in our kitchen renovation with a bright colour on the glass splash back on one side and a stainless steel look Laminex on the other. The glass splash-back is a great choice. So easy to clean and you can have any colour painted and baked to the back. The bench-tops are Caesarstone.

Terraces are challenging to live in with lots of modern things. When these houses were originally built their occupants didn't have much in the way of material possessions and therefore no need for much storage.  If you were part of the working class poor residing in Glebe you were lucky if you had a change of clothes to wear. As such Terrace Houses have bare square rooms with nothing built in, like cupboards. 

While living in Glebe St we instituted a "something in, something out" rule, to handle all the stuff we would have accumulated with no where to store it. The biggest issue was books. Arran and I both love to read and Arran would often get pulled into Gleebooks and come out with 6 new ones! Every few months I would make him attend to the piles of books suffocating our bedroom and take them to the Gleebooks second hand store or Sappho Books to sell. He would then have money to go buy more books!

To get as much useful storage in our kitchen as possible we used big deep drawers under the benches and pull out drawers in the pantry. If there was space for an additional cupboard, we put one in. We even managed to fit in a display cupboard with glass doors to show off our growing wine glass collection, complete with lights.

We choose a gas cooktop and the biggest under bench oven we could find as well as a really quiet dishwasher. Unfortunately Kleenmaid went out of business a couple of years after the appliances were installed but we had no problems with them while we lived there.

We ended up with a kitchen we just loved. It was light and bright and a great social place when people came for dinner. People would hang out with their wine and nibbles while Arran cooked up a storm (and a big mess!).

(Sleek and functional)

What do you love and hate about your kitchen? If budget was no issue what would you do?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Part 2 - The affair continues.....

We found a 3 Bed, 2 bath, 2 storey Terrace with prized off-street secure parking in Glebe St, a couple of doors up from The Australian Hotel (affectionately known as “The Aussie Youth”). The house was a deceased estate that was then rented out for a bit to students. I think it would be referred to as a "Renovators" dream. Unloved and not pretty. Somehow though we fell in love with it, couldn’t stop thinking about it and were already planning the renos on the floor plan on the back of the real estate agents flyer, the same day we first looked at it. It had so much potential!!

The building report outlining rising damp, termite damage, creaky stairs and not one door in the place fitting the door jam properly, didn’t sway us from purchasing it. Anyone with experience of houses in Glebe, or any inner city suburb with 200 year old houses will know that rising damp and termite damage is par for the course). We also had an understanding and helpful real estate agent in Mari Luise from Zello Real Estate. She helped us work through the issues identified in the building report, recommended the right trades people to talk to about the issues and eventually sealed the deal. She also had some great suggestions for improving the layout of the house, which we eventually implemented.

The best thing about this house was its location. A 2 minute walk to Broadway Shopping Centre, 10 minute walk to the Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre (awesome indoor pool and fitness complex), a minute walk to a couple of parks and a 5 minute walk to all the great cafes and restaurants on Glebe Pt Rd. Not to mention a 30-minute stroll to the city. Bliss.

The worst thing about this house was its location. Not long after we moved to Glebe St some people we met at a dinner referred to the Broadway end of Glebe as the “Beirut” end. Somewhat unkind but not inaccurate. The house came with window and door bars already fitted. Each Sunday morning as we walked up the road to enjoy breakfast on Glebe Pt road there was a selection of cars with broken windows and ransacked interiors. Many evenings our sleep was woken by kids, drunks or drunk kids being generally rowdy (OK many nights I entertained violent fantasises  about how I could move these people on at 3 in morning). Despite this we really enjoyed living there just for the overall convenience and energy. We were living right on the fringe of the city.

Except for having to leave my beloved Mini Cooper S on the street one weekend (yes it got broken into) and an underage kid using our roof as a path to the Aussie Youth Beer garden, we lived there without any real incident. Dad on his interstate visits was most impressed with the pub being so close!

We moved into that house on top of the builder laying the new timber floor downstairs and with no kitchen. Next Blog update I'll tell you about the start of the renovations (including before and after shots)!

I would love to hear about the favourite places you have lived. What were the pluses and minus’s? What location would you really love to live in if you had the choice?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Part 1 - The start of the affair......

1. I love Glebe and Sydney’s inner west! There is such a diverse group of people who live in close proximity to Sydney. Glebe is an eclectic mix of students, professionals, young families, backpackers, “creative” people (musicians, artists, writers, actors…) and one of Sydney’s largest Aboriginal populations (the Cadigal and Wangal Wangal people). Glebe also has its share of homeless and those living at the poverty line. This mix of people makes for an energy and grittiness that defines the suburb.
2. I love the houses of Glebe. I am particularly interested in how people live in their homes, many dating from the 19th century, in a modern way.
3. I love walking. And I love walking around Glebe exploring the streets, lanes, houses and parks that make up this special suburb.
4. I love learning about people’s stories.

This blog will tell the untold stories of the ‘secret’ homes of Glebe and the people who live in them. I will explore the way we adjust and apply new design ideas to old and historic homes to live in the 21st century. You’ll also hear a little bit of me and my family and our life in Glebe. Want to tell me your story? Drop me an email at

I moved from Brisbane in 2002 and started living in Sydney in the suburb of Penshurst, near Chatswood. Why the move to Sydney? When my sister Emma and I were little we used to come and stay with our Great Aunts in Hunters Hill, Whale Beach and Stanwell Park. We used to ride the ferries and buses and climb the trees in the botanical gardens. I don’t think I was consciously aware of the gasping in-your-face beauty of Sydney but I somehow knew Sydney was in my future. I was also on my way to a career in Human Resources (HR). I had a great entry level HR role in Brisbane but knew that the bigger career opportunities lay in the Big Smoke. Lastly (or most importantly) my recently re-found soul mate and best friend and I decided we wanted to be in Sydney together. Arran’s consulting work had taken him all around the country for a few months at a time and he craved a home. Sydney was it for both of us.

How did we end up in Glebe? We were living in a brand new and HUGE unit in Penshurst but there were issues. Small annoyances were emerging. Body corporate rules disallowed washing our car on the property, no pets were allowed, a very noisy and annoying automatic tyre inflating machine beeped at all hours of the night across the road at the BP service station. We had started to think about moving. Arran’s work  colleague decided to move overseas and as a result needed to break the lease on his unit, in Cook St Glebe. Arran and I arrived on an overcast Saturday morning, hung-over and not speaking to each other after a somewhat drunken falling out the night before. The only thing I can tell you about the unit on that day was Arran and I walking out onto a large balcony, the clouds parting, the sun bursting out to sparkle on the blue water of Blackwattle Bay, and the ANZAC Bridge in the background. We took it straight away. The rent was reasonable and the location was fantastic. We were talking again.

The two of us (and Jemma the cat) lived in that 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom unit for 4 years and we had a blast! We could walk to and from work in the CBD or catch the bus at the top of Cook St. We drank lots of wine and enjoyed the company of lots of new friends on that big balcony overlooking the peaceful water. In the mornings we watched the dragon boats training and the fishing trawlers coming in with their haul, to the fish markets.  In the evenings we watched the lights of the city and the tourist boats cruising into the Bay. As it turned out, the balcony was the best part of that 1980’s unit. The kitchen was falling apart, the curtains in tatters, the carpets stained and the bedrooms tiny with no storage space. No matter, we lived the high life in a peaceful ideal part of Glebe.

Eventually though the space got to us and we were lucky enough to be in a position to start thinking of buying our first home together in Sydney, something that many young couples struggle to do. I had decided by this time that Glebe was for me. We put together a wish list - 3 bedrooms, a bathroom that would fit a bathtub (I adore having a bath and reading a book!) and off-street parking. As was to be the start of a tradition of agonising over small decisions (take-away meals, what to watch on TV…) but being incredibly impulsive and decisive over the life-changing ones, we bought the first house we looked at!