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Home Renovation: Interior designer warns against costly DIY mistake

This dilapidated cottage looks completely different after a clever overhaul, with one major change that can trip up first time renovators.

By Jessica Wang


Despite the drastic before and after images, Luke Davidson insists the upgrade of this rundown weatherboard cottage wasn’t a huge overhaul.

The interior designer and co-founder of design firm InScene said he wanted to execute a renovation that wasn’t “overly complicated,” describing it more as a “facelift”.

“Really, there wasn’t anything majorly structural that we did with it. It was cost-effective while being high impact,” he said.

“We kept the internal carcass of the kitchen and didn’t knock down any walls or change the windows.

“We really kept a lot of the features that were already there, we just restored them.”

Working with the client, Mr Davidson made it a priority to maintain the period features like the front facade, Federation skirting and stained glass detailing on the front door. Since the home consisted of an original heritage space combined with a modern extension, he wanted to ensure both spaces felt cohesive.

“That was the problem beforehand – the front was really beautiful and had a lot of character but the back just didn’t really match.

“One of the smallest changes we made that I think had the biggest impact was doing the flooring all the way through because the two different types of flooring really separated the house.”

One of the biggest transformations, however, was the change in the front facade. While it was a simple roof replacement and white paint job, Mr Davidson said it made the home “come alive on the street”.

“That was the feedback from the neighbours too, they were very happy to see it not look so sad,” he said, laughing.

“It was quite bushy beforehand and looked a lot smaller. The house just looks so much bigger and prouder in the after photos.”

Although Mr Davidson and his team were prepared for the work that comes with renovating an older property, he stressed the importance of knowing the condition of your home before committing.

This is especially important if you plan on buying a property to flip, as costs can blowout to an excess $500,000 to a million, depending on the upgrades needed.

“It has to be a methodical process,” he said. “They’re definitely a more difficult home to tackle. If you’re going to renovate a property that’s in the age bracket of 100 years, you’re going to need that room in your budget,” he said.

“Expect the unexpected with that. Expect the worst.”

While getting a check from a builder and electrician is crucial, simple things like conducting a damp test or checking the condition of the roof is also imperative.

“Especially with an old house, I always have a builder go up onto the roof. Roofs are really, really expensive and it could be an extra $100,000 and blow out your budget,” he continued.

“Everyone generally does a dilapidation report before they buy a house which checks termites and things, but checking the extra things like the roof and electrical can help give you a good understanding of how big the undertaking is going to be.”

When it came to tackling the more difficult elements of getting an older home up to code, he also admitted that some things are definitely better left to the professionals.

“I definitely think it’s better to leave electrical, plumbing, waterproofing and anything to do with roofing to the professionals. The quality of these elements is so important in a home,” he said.

“It’s something you shouldn’t cut corners on as it’ll only create more problems – and more expensive problems – for you down the track.”