29 June 2014

Things I Learnt Whilst Renovating : My Top Ten Tips*

(*Alternative titles that were rejected: 'Renovating? Don't Make All The Stupid Mistakes I Did' or 'Renovating? How Not To Have Several Nervous Breakdowns. Like I Did'.) 

Guys! The house is starting to look really goddamn good! We've had the landscapers here this week so the garden is mostly done, we have lights where we are meant to have lights, and decking and bookshelves and a heater. There's still a longish list of defects and incomplete stuff that's being slowly ticked off but generally the whole thing is looking more house and less building site. This is really, really exciting. (I have a rule of not swearing online but I'm finding it pretty hard not to swear in this post because it's freaking amazing that we've finally gotten to this point. I want to swear, a lot, in happiness.). 

It's been quite a journey. I have learnt a lot. If we ever do this again (DEAR LORD NO) I will do so many things differently. If you're like me and are embarking on this kind of thing you'll probably just wade in blindly with optimism in your heart despite of all those Grand Design episodes you've watched. So, I'm actually not writing this for you. I'm writing this for future me. Future me - pay attention, okay?

1. Invest in a really, really good vacuum cleaner. Or just hire a full time duster. Or both. 

2. Be nice. To the various builders and the tradies, to the architect if you're using one. These people are building your house. Yes, you're paying them lots of money to do the job, but a smile and a thank you will go a long way too. If you're the have-a-cuppa-and-a-freshly-baked-biccie kind of person share that with whoever is on site. I'm not very good with that kind of hospitality - I blame my parents (that's a joke Mum, okay?) - so that's not me. I try to be nice in other ways. Basically if someone does something awesome, tell them

We've met some really talented, passionate tradespeople throughout this project who've variously worked magic with wood and plaster and bricks, and steel and sandstone and joinery (and I can't forget the upholstery whisperer; he takes cushions to a whole other level). They have unique skills and they are proud of their work. It's really great to let them know when you think they've done something really great

It also pays to be nice to your neighbours (even when they complain), and to the council rangers (who are just doing their job). Keep the neighbours in the loop. When things were dragging on a bit I dropped a thank you note with my contact details and a bribe block of chocolate in a few letterboxes. I also put a thank you hamper together for our immediate neighbours. Without patient and understanding neighbours your big build won't happen. 

3. But not too nice. You may not want to be the annoying person who says 'You know how you spent six hours yesterday building that thing? Well it's in the wrong spot / looks like crap / shouldn't be fluro pink and you need to redo it'. But sometimes you need to be that person; you're the one who is going to have to live with that thing.

I'm not very good at being the annoying person; I tend to avoid conflict. But it just ends in tears if you put the short term needs of a tradie ahead of the long term needs of you and your family. Trust me. (Side note: our architect was awesome here. He is passionate about getting everything as 'right' as possible. Which sometimes made us all roll our eyes (like when he got the builder to redo a particular bulkhead for the third time just days before we were meant to move in) but with every decision, push, annoyance I can honestly say the short term pain was worth the long term awesomeness.) 

To be honest the whole renovation process has forced me to really look at my idea of being nice and what that actually means. It's okay if you live in a bubble, but sometimes you do need to be the bad guy to get things done or get your point heard. Which sucks, because I like to believe that people are generally lovely and nice and do the things they say they are going to do. But sometimes they don't, and you'll need to hold them accountable for that

4. Don't be afraid to look like an idiot. If you're a newbie like me you will go into this having no idea at all of what to expect, and you'll spend most of the time having no idea at all as to what's actually going on. Two things I wish I'd done differently: 1) Paid more attention in the early months (I didn't because we were still living in Korea and I kind of thought it was all okay), and 2) Asked more questions from the beginning. I didn't want to ask too many questions because I'd look like a fool (so I didn't ask questions and felt like a fool instead). These days I ask a ton of questions, and I'm thoroughly enjoying being more involved in the process. (Related - this post by Lana of The Sharpest Pencil was all too familiar...)
5. Don't underestimate the importance of relationships. The biggest lesson for me? It's not bricks and wood and paint that get your house built - it's communication. The interaction between the architect, the builder, the foreman and you is vitally important. Don't neglect those relationships because when you do delays and mistakes happen. 

Make sure everyone gets along on day one (when things are easy), and do what you can to make sure everyone still gets along on day one hundred and one (when things may not be so easy). I'm not talking a campfire love-in with hugs and singing and toasted marshmallows. I'm talking a good, working relationship. There will be creative tension, there will be differences of opinion and there will be the occasional rolling of eyes - and that's all fine and part of the process. But if open and clear communication becomes a casualty, you're in for some rocky times.

6. If you're paying for an expert, take their advice. Be prepared to compromise. Our approach throughout the whole project has been that we are paying good money for the advice of an architect, so we better bloody listen to it. And it's been a good approach. The injection of light into the house, the clever resolution of some tricky spaces, the flow from inside to outside - all of this has come from the advice of our architect (and the hard work of our builder and many, many tradies). 

Obviously the first step is making sure you've got the right expert for you and your project. But, once you do, pay attention to what they're telling you. If you've chosen well it's likely they know what they're talking about. 

7. But don't compromise on everything. If you feel really, really strongly about something, fight for it. For me there were three things that I really wanted in the house - a black front door, a Coco Flip light, a marble waterfall bench top. Those three things are in the house, and I adore them. 

Our architect made it clear from the outset that there were some things he felt strongly about and would petition us to invest in, but equally he was happy for us to put the case forward for things we felt strongly about. I thoroughly enjoyed both sides of that equation.
8. It will never be perfect. Well, maybe if you had unlimited funds and you were dealing with a completely new build it might be perfect. But generally you will be working to a budget and a timeframe, and you'll be dealing with the legacy of many, many previous builders and do-it-yourselfers (we've discovered there's not a single straight line in our terrace house...). Your renovation might turn out to be awesome and amazing, it might be 'very you', but don't put the pressure on it (or yourself) to be perfect.

9. It will never be finished. A few days after we moved in to our (still quite unfinished) house we did a walk-though with the architect outlining the things we wanted to change (remove a pendant light here, get rid of a door there, build in some shelves here...). Three months later and I'm currently in the midst of completely reorganising our upstairs spare room / office space, and I'm already planning to get the painters back in a few months to give the house 'one last' go over. There will always be something more to do.

10. Don't buy all your furniture at once. See how you use the space, what the space actually needs, before you rush out and get everything. Spreading it out over a long period of time also gives you the chance to both: a) snap up a bargain when you come across one (our bedside tables were the one's on display in The Design File's Open House which meant we got a decent discount), and b) invest in some super special pieces (our couch is freaking awesome...and took more than three months to arrive once ordered).


So, that's a few things I've learnt - how about you? Have you undertaken a big renovation project? What did you find out along the way?

24 June 2014

Typography Tuesday : Worry is Creative Kryptonite (Part One)

I've been struggling with creating a Typography Tuesday post for some months now because most of my favourite literary quotes aren't really appropriate for this kind of thing. They tend to fall in to the 'life/love is hard and confusing and complex and we're all going to die but isn't it a wonderful, wonderful ride' category, rather than the 'yay everything is great and you are great and we can all do great things' category. (I may have some issues with motivational quotes but that's a whole other blog post...) 

Then I realised - the quote doesn't have to come from a book or even a movie, it could come from anywhere! So obvious, so simple, so stupid of me not to realise that earlier! Sigh. 

Here's some thoughts from Josh Johnson on getting out there with your camera and taking some snaps:

Josh Johnson is a professional photographer who fell in love with Instagram in the early days. He's since gone on to garner a ridiculous number of followers and create an amazing, supportive, ever-expanding Instagram community.

This quote is from a recent 'Josh's Journal' post, and it hit home. It's about photography but it could apply to anything. How often do you let the perfect get in the way of actually doing something? For me, so very often. The thought of not being able to create at the level I want stops me from going out there and creating at all, which means I'll never actually get to the level I want. Vicious cycle huh? 

I need to remember that even the best of the best take photos that suck. It's just that they don't pay them too much attention. They move on quickly, shoot some more.

So, memo to self - spend less time fretting over the ridiculously high standard that exists only in your head and spend more time chasing your next loser. You might even find a gem along the way. 

The font used is the delightful Mr Anteater, one of my most favourite hand drawn fonts ever.

18 June 2014

Inspiration // Application : Indoor Plants

1. Sydney Garden, Jonathan West + Shauna Greyerbiehl | The Design Files 
2. Melbourne Home, Letitia + Michael Green | The Design Files 
3. 1980s Apartment, Scott Bromley + Robin Jacobsen | AQQ Index 
4. Sydney Home, Cassandra Karinsky | The Design Files 
5. Living Room, Bri Emery (Designed by Emily Henderson) | Design Love Fest
6. Living Room Jungle | Apartment Therapy 
And lastly, the seriously amazing office space of Random Studio, designed by X+L and seen on Share Design. If you like indoor jungles it's well worth clicking over to see more.

Since moving in three and a bit months ago I've been a bit obsessed with indoor plants. Partly because we haven't had a garden during that time, just dirt and mud and mess. And partly because I've fallen in love with all those images of jungle like interiors; rooms punctuated with lush green foliage. My sister also has a way with pot plants, and I'm often overcome with plant envy whenever I visit her.


Sofa by Softscape | Cushion by Signature Prints | Round Cushion by Castle | Sydney gold foil print by McKean Studio | Custom dachshunds by Bunny With A Toolbelt | Plant stand by Mr Kitly

As a result, lately I haven't been able to go near a Bunnings or IKEA without coming home with something green and leafy. I am definitely not a gardener, so I just make sure I go for a plant from the 'indoor / hard-to-kill' section, keep it well watered and feed it every now and again. So far there's only been one death - and that was a rather fragile looking maidenhair fern, which came with all kinds of warnings and instructions on the label. I was clearly over confidant the day I put that in my trolly...

If you want some slightly more helpful advice on grooming your own indoor jungle, this post from Amber Interiors is a pretty great start. Rick Ekersley shares some care tips in this post, and - if you're thinking big  - you can find a handy list of the best trees for indoor use on Going Home To Roost.

11 June 2014

IGEC : Dogs

One of the big reasons you don't see me round here quite so much as I'd like is because of the visual wonderland that is Instagram. I've spurned Twitter, turned my back on Facebook (sort of...), and neglected my blog for the love of this not so little part of the social media world.

Contrary to some popular opinion it is not all about selfies and feet and lunch shots (although they all can be amazingly good in the right hands). Instagram is actually chockfull of the some of the most inspiring, creative, hilarious, clever people I've ever had the pleasure of encountering on the internets. So - this new series is my chance to share some of those inspiring, creative, hilarious, clever people with you. And I'm kicking it off with one of my favourite topics - dogs!

First up, possibly my favourite Instagram account in the whole wide world - @harlowandsage. Harlow is a ridiculously handsome weimaraner and Indiana is his adorable dachshund sidekick (Sage was an equally adorable dachshund, who lived to a ripe old age and sadly passed away). These guys are freaking adorable together, and their owner has a really great sense of humour (plus a slightly strange obsession with Meryl Streep). Whenever I'm having a bad day - and there's been a few of them of late - I always turn to these guys to cheer me up.
Another canine favourite is @ma_hovina. Lal is a rather good looking hound, and is also clearly well behaved and very patient. The dog ends up in all kinds of amusing and beautiful compositions. See more of the best here.
Fugee is a rescued bordie collie cross who has the most wonderfully humorous and expressive doggy face. The posts from @thefugee are always beautifully framed and edited. Great dog, great shots...
Over to you - do you have any favourite doggy friends on Instagram?

With thanks to Brandi Hussey for the photo template. I can't recall exactly how I got my hands on it (so I can't link directly to it, sorry!), but I did and it's awesome! Oh, and you can find me on Instagram here if you're so inclined...

03 June 2014

The Galápagos Islands : My Favourite Shots

An alternative title for this post might have been 'Twenty-Seven Photos of Sea Lions' but I've tried to show a bit of restraint and mix things up a bit...

Given my normal penchant for fixed lenses, using a zoom was kind of a new experience for me. (FYI I'll write more about the camera kit I took with me in the next Galápagos post.). However, I did come out of the trip with quite a few favourite shots, so it must have been a good new experience.

Bring on the sea lions...

Alternative title for this post number two might have been 'Eighteen Photos of Blue Footed Boobies'. I really love these guys. There is something faintly ridiculous about them and their glorious blue feet, and yet they carry themselves in such a regal, self-assured manner. They remind me a bit of Ferdi in that way (not that Ferdi has blue feet, clearly, but the rest of it...). They really are wonderful creatures.

And then we have the marine iguanas, and pelicans, and crabs...
If you want to read more about our amazing adventures in The Galápagos Islands head on over here.