Thursday 30 May 2013

Our Kitchen Rules - Part I...

...getting the semi-kitchen of our dreams, starting with demolition!

When I say kitchen of our dreams, it's stretching the truth a little bit. What I actually mean is getting the best kitchen we can, without starting from scratch. And when I say demolition, it's more like a considered and selective removal, rather than a full blown gut. The kitchen had seen a partial renovation sometime in it's recent history, approximately 10ish years ago according to our cabinet maker, he could tell by the pattern of the laminate bench tops.  So that is also why we didn't need to gut the whole space.  So just to refresh everyone's memories, here is a quick snapshot of the kitchen as it was when we arrived back from America in February...

Our immediate challenge was working with what was already there. Horrible, dirty disgusting 'marble' lino (vinyl flooring), creamy coloured laminate cabinetry, a really old and really shallow single sink, an ill suited mixer tap, a strangely positioned extra deep double pantry, a 1950's black fluro light tube, AND the world's largest light switch. Oh, and no dishwasher or space for one... :o(

You've probably already read about what happened with the kitchen fluro light, but if you haven't you can catch up on our lucky escape here. And if you have a look at this subsequent shot, you can just see the 'emergency' batten light fitting our sparkie installed so that we would still have light in the kitchen, especially handy while I continued with the wall and ceiling painting.

Soooo, time to tackle all those jobs and prep the kitchen one 'small' task at a time. First of all we needed to get some new power outlets (GPOs) installed - in order to move the new fridge to the right hand side of the pantry, raise the old fridge outlet to a higher position to allow a bench top to be installed, put a new outlet in and hard wire in the new stove / upright cooker, add two more in cupboard locations for the soon to be installed rangehood and slimline dishwasher. (That's right, a beautiful, little slimline dishwasher as this ol' kitchen didn't have one).
At the same time as doing this electrical work we replaced every.single.lightswitch.and.powerpoint in the house so that it was standard throughout, rather than the existing blend of 1950's, 1970's and 1980's switches. Oh, and we needed to do something about the world's largest light switch. You can see it in the dodgy close up below, the second picture shows where I had to patch the wall, as the old switch had left an enormous cavity beside the new modern light switch.
There's an interesting story behind the coin that is 'blu-tacked' to the front of the new light switch, but we'll cover that in detail when we do the blog post about the master bathroom renovation.

My next task was painting the existing walls and ceiling (before the new cabinets were installed), and getting our trusty sparkie to install our flash new lighting fixture in the kitchen, which you can see below :o)

But that's the limit of the sneak-peaks on offer here!! I'll cover all the dirty jobs required to prep the kitchen for its long overdue remodel, and in Part II, Kate will cover off on the design, fit-out and finishes.

Having raised the powerpoint in the old fridge location (and relocated the fridge to the right of the pantry, I got busy painting the last two corner walls of the room. From there it was back over to the opposite corner to take down the existing microwave shelf and start the lovely task of removing the existing (once upon a time they were stylish) tiles from the kitchen splashback. Thankfully the majority came off easily, but as Murphy's Law would have it, the most stubborn ones were also the hardest ones to get to - those in the corner where the bench tops meet.


Having finished the splashback removal, the next event in the demolition derby was to remove the rest of the old lino flooring. While there are hardwood floors underneath that match the rest of the house, we wanted a newer fresher look that suited the kitchen, so we chose to stick with lino as the replacement flooring, as the sub floor sheeting was in good condition. Not only that, but without doing a complete gut of the kitchen, the sub flooring was put in over the original lino flooring so they only went up to the edge of the existing cabinets (which were going to get refaced). You can see what I mean in the photo below...

The check pattern lino is laid over the original hardwood floors, then the sub floor sheeting was laid directly over that, over which was laid the existing 'marble' type lino. One of the flooring supply shops insisted they would lay over the top of the existing flooring; I said no for a number of reasons. First of all, it would be yet another layer of flooring upon flooring, upon flooring. Secondly, there was a lot of dings and bumps in the existing lino, which would only show up again when new lino went down. Having ripped up a strip of the existing lino where a new cabinet was going to go, it immediately became obvious that the old glue had long lost its grip, and (thankfully) came up easily with the use of a Stanley knife and a dash of old fashioned muscle (yours truly).

And just to rehash old ground, if you read our post about 'Basil the Rat', then you would be pleased (??) to know we found a smaller / similar nest over near the new dishwasher void once we removed that existing cabinet.

Perhaps it was Basil's original home as a young fellow, but as he grew he obviously needed an upgrade so chose 'under sink' living instead. When you see the hole behind the cupboard he got in through, you'll understand why he upgraded his abode...

Yep, that's one hell of a hole. So while the cabinet maker had the cabinet out to reface it, I quickly cut a new piece of Villaboard cement sheeting to size and closed off that living space to any potential future tenants (in addition to finding the offending entry point under the house and closing that off as well). Obviously as you can see we took out the existing sink and capped the pipes ready to install the new sink (Kate will write about this saga in the next post). And with the flooring up and the tiles off it kind of left the kitchen looking a little bit like this...
So stay tuned and we'll deliver the next instalment of Our Kitchen Rules soon.
Cheers, Col

Wednesday 29 May 2013


..under the kitchen sink!

Yes, I thought that would get your attention, it certainly got mine when I started removing the existing cabinetry panels and kick boards and was greeted by this bizarre discovery...

"Holy frost bitten fingers Batman!" I know, that was my reaction too!  I did a double take and called out to Kate to come and see what was going on.  Let's take a closer look shall we...

This was an interesting start to the evolution of our kitchen. As time is money I wanted to get some of the kick boards off so that I could pull up the existing vinyl flooring (lino as we commonly call it in Australia), so that my cabinet maker could get straight to work when he arrived. Being a little dubious about why all these leaves were under my kitchen cupboard, I suited up with gloves, dust mask and eye protection and prepared myself to find out exactly what called this little space 'home'. Slightly suspicious that it may have been a nest of some description, I armed myself with a trusty carpenter's hammer and started to drag out the leaves, while Kate stood firmly behind me with a can of 'All insects must die' spray in case we unleashed the insect's version of 'The 300'. We pulled out quite an amount of leaves, as this photo shows (they actually completely filled the box by the end).

About halfway through, we made the discovery...the poor little ex-tenant of it's own little leafy castle, a mummified rat (cue 'dun dun dah music!)

Funnily enough, and on closer inspection, my first thought wasn't "where on earth did this come from?", it was actually a memory flash to one of my favourite Fawlty Towers episodes 'Basil the Rat', where Manuel's pet rat (named Basil after Mr Fawlty) is the subject of a big search within the hotel. But I digress; here is the little fellow I immediately dubbed 'Basil'...

I know, cute little thing ain't he...

I immediately felt sorry for this old chap who had obviously built himself a nice little nest after making his way into the area under the kitchen sink many moons ago, and who had eventually curled up in a ball to die when his time was up. And upon finding him, rather than take the Basil Fawlty approach of

I'll put an ad in the papers: "Wanted, kind home for enormous savage rodent. Answers to the name of Sybil." ...

I instead took him outside with the rest of his belongings, had a quick minutes silence in his memory, then turned back towards the house and set about getting the kitchen ready for it's remodel - not to mention finding out how 'Basil' had made his way into the land of Sunshine and Paint Pots :o)  Note - Sasha was just leaving the house for school and as she closed the door she shouted back, "I have the title of your next blog post, tragedy... under the kitchen sink"  so a huge thanks goes to her for this post inspiration!

As a further digression (or confession), we have been very busy getting a lot of the renovation work done as soon as we arrived back from America, and this came at a cost of how frequently we have been able to post updates on the blog. Our immediate priority was to get the work done before I started studying again. Beginning late May I have recommenced full time postgrad studies in finance, and Kate has taken on the role of Chief Renovator, and hopefully between us we will be able to get more blog posts done more frequently. Coming up next is the actual kitchen remodel, Part I.

Cheers, Col

P.S. A big shout out to the first official follower of our blog 'Brismod' - who has her own renovation blog called 'fun and vjs' - which was (and remains) a source of inspiration and ideas for us while we were planning our upcoming renovation from America. Welcome aboard and thank you !

Tuesday 14 May 2013

If you build it...

...they will fill it !!

Storage, storage, storage - one of the most important functional aspects for a home that most people will value after location, location, location. But unfortunately old Queenslander homes, bless their cotton socks (or white concrete stumps in this case), aren't really known for oodles and oodles of storage space. Traditionally they are empty rooms with storage provided by wardrobes, dressers, tall boys and bedside cabinets; but certainly nothing like the integrated masses of built in storage you find in modern homes.

Luckily for us, two of the three bedrooms in the land of Sunshine & Paint Pots had built in storage, those being the master bedroom and the third bedroom. While the third bedroom's built-in robes would scrub up nicely for the girls with a good clean, a coat or two of paint and some shiny new handles, sadly the same could not be said for the master bedroom. You can see what it looked like below:

The master bedroom's built in robes were the product of a bit of old fashioned home carpentry many moons ago and as a result they were not structurally very sound, were a bit smelly, and the lower wall panel (which backs onto the master bathroom) looked like it had some evidence of earlier water damage. So, given that we were conducting a renovation of the master bathroom, it made sense to get in there, gut the existing cupboards and replace it with a custom made floor to ceiling built in robe, built by our chippie Nick-Nack...with a little help from yours truly!
As we often call this house the learning house (it's not our forever home, it's a step up to get that forever home), one of the most important lessons we have learnt is that you don't save money by trying to do every aspect of a renovation or project yourself, but rather by doing some of the less desirable jobs like prepping, painting and demolition work. So I decided what better way to start the Easter long weekend than to gut the existing built in robes on Good Friday (and it did feel good ripping this lot out ;o) 

We painted the inside of the robes when we first moved in, purely as a temporary measure because we both refused to put anything inside it until it was done!  You can see in the picture above the four different colours the room has been over the years. The yellowy-creamy on the left hand side, the green colour on the back wall, the light cream between the door frame and the side of where the cupboards used to be and then the band at the top right above the door (and of course the back wall) which is the new fresh bright white paint we have been using throughout the house so far. 
If you look closely at the bottom of the cupboard, between the kick board and the hardwood flooring, you can see slivers of the 1970's fluro orange shag pile carpet that the built ins were sat directly on top of. Nice...BUT even when it's not to your taste it is still so lovely to see the history of a place unfold before your eyes.
Once the water damaged wall of the built in was removed, we suddenly had an impromptu large scale window to the bathroom renovations, (given the sheeting on the other side was removed as well, more on that in our master bath post coming soon). Given that I was  getting extremely irritated by Kate moaning about the possibility of spiders casually scurrying up through open drain holes and into our room unable to sleep in this new expansive space,  I put a drop sheet up to provide the illusion of a wall... happy days !! 
It was now time to get the experts in, namely our chippie Nick-Nack to whip us up a custom made floor to ceiling built in robe, that would fit in with the existing carpentry and joinery and not look like some poorly executed add-on. Another reason for using a professional for some jobs, is that they are tooled up to deal with many of the little challenges that houses throw at you during renovations, and they can solve them quicker than the hours/days/weeks it would take you to fix... One of the challenges a post war Queenslander regularly throws up is that the house was hand built using silky oak in the frames and trusses. Hand built means hand sawn and hand nailed timber, and not necessarily many completely straight lines or right angles. The years of experience our chippie has in working with these old houses has been an immense help, not to mention the quality of work he delivers.
The first step in the process was to resheet the wall frame with Villaboard cement sheeting, this was used both sides of the frame as it is suitable for use in a wet area.
New Villaboard sheeting and first timber stud up in the frame
The next step was to build the frame which would house the walls of the built in robes and support the upper track of the new sliding doors.
Next we sheeted the exterior and interior of the frame with Villaboard, then fitted the bearers to hold the internal shelves.
It was now time for all the trim to be fitted to the facing of the built ins, so that it all tied in with existing cornices / crown moulding, making the addition fit in properly to the rest of the room, like it has been there since day one.
At this point our chippie did us a huge favour and knocked off for the day, which allowed us to get two coats of paint on the inside of the built in robes, before he commenced the interior fit out the following day (saving us hours and hours of taping and cutting in had we have done it the other way around). Excuse the blurry photo, it was taken on my phone in a hurry ;o)
From here things progressed at a frantic pace, with Nick-Nack doing all the detailed work to get the melamine timber fit out installed. Again, all cut to size on site and installed with care.
While Nick-Nack finished off the internal fit out upstairs, I got to work downstairs putting together the basket frames for the wire drawers we purchased from Bunnings. If only it were as quick as the diagram and finished product suggests...
Once it was all put together it looked totally awesome and created far more space and functional storage than the original cupboard gave us.

The last step was obviously to get some sliding doors added. These were being custom made by our glazier/fly screen/shower glass expert Rusty, essentially to hide all the 'stuff' that was about to be piled neatly folded and placed inside.
This is quite possibly the worst photo ever, but for now it gives you an idea. 
(A better picture will be posted when we do our master bedroom reveal)
All in all, even though it is just a small part of a house, this was a huge change for our home as it has provided much needed storage in our bedroom, thus making the space more user friendly and ultimately neater and tidier.  We are lucky that the room is on the bigger side (in Queenslander terms) and having the built in robe in place is a huge advantage.  It is already full (meaning we don't have to sort through boxes and suitcases for clothes), and we are both extremely happy with it.

Cheers, Col


Saturday 4 May 2013

Cleaning up our act... more ways than one!

This is one of the less 'amazing' renovation makeovers you will see on our site but it is also one of the most needed.  The start of our Queenslander laundry refresh.

For those of you who have never lived in nor visited a traditional Queenslander home, you often won't see a laundry on the main floor plan. Why? Well invariably they are located under the house. Queenslander homes are usually elevated on either timber or concrete stumps, normally placing the house floor level around six feet above the ground (allowing airflow under the house to keep the house naturally cool and to act as a natural barrier to localise flooding in high tropical rainfall areas).

All that space under the house....Hmmm....I know what you're thinking folks; "woo-hoo instant man cave!!" But be that as it may gents (great place to store tools, lawn mover & beer fridge), long before man caves were invented, someone came up with the idea to locate the laundry in this underutilised space under the house. And if we think back to the heritage of Queenslander homes, this made sense in a time when twin matching front loaders that could fit in one cupboard hadn't been invented yet. We're talking about the good ol' days of cast concrete tubs for hand washing and maybe if you were lucky a new washing machine complete with twin rollers for wringing the water out of the clothes.

As time has progressed, along with laundry design and appliance improvements, the humble laundry for the most part has remained in this traditional location. It seems obvious - clothes go downstairs, get washed, get walked outside to the clothes line to air dry (all year round in the tropics), and in the event of a little bit of rain they just get hung up under the house. Yes - the small dryer is still there for random clothes drying emergencies.

So before we progress any further and to avoid any delusions that our laundry is anywhere within the realm of these envious laundries on let's see what our laundry looked like when we purchased the house sight unseen...

Yep, that's some pretty impressive concrete with a mish-mash of exposed plumbing hanging off the wall, not the stuff that laundry dreams (if they even do exist) are made off... Oh, and here's a close up to show it's as bad as you think it probably is (yes that is a wonky brass garden tap connected to the hot water pipe with a garden hose attached to it - what were they thinking??!!)

They only other 'fixture' so to speak is a cupboard hanging from one of the bearers under the house (which is from the original kitchen upstairs - many, many moons ago ;o)

(nb: gents - that sliver of corrugated iron in the bottom centre of the photo is actually the front of the bar - but more about man cave developments in a later post)...

So in an effort to make this a nicer place to utilise over all, and to address some immediate safety concerns, the laundry has become an ongoing part-time project. Taking our trusty plumber's advice that "if you've got me coming to do a job on the house you may as well ensure the full hour you are paying me for is completely utilised", we have been tackling the plumbing in and through the laundry in stages.

First up, that old laundry tub had to go, as the only thing holding it together were some 'daddy long legs' spider webs and a little dash of good luck.  I had warned Kate, 'do not look inside it...ever'!  It was nature's paradise in nature I mean the 6 and 8 legged 'freaks of' variety.  In order to maximise the space, we decided to install a slimline washing tub which we purchased from Bunnings. We also needed to correct the mish-mash of piping and how the plumbing was piped in to this area and the kitchen (directly above). Here's a list of the jobs it needed from the outset:

  • Remove old copper piping and tap ware from laundry
  • Remove adhoc pvc piping feeding kitchen water supply
  • Remove adhoc pvc piping feeding external (not securely mounted) garden tap
  • Remove existing laundry tub
  • Remove old galvanised waste piping from kitchen to grey water drain
  • Install new copper piping and tap ware in laundry to meet code
  • Install new laundry tub and waste pipe
  • Install new external garden tap and securely mount to external wall

And without further ado, here are a few of the in-progress photos (the proper 'after' pics are still a wee way off yet)...

The original kitchen cabinet - come laundry cabinet - gets a good clean and a new lick of paint.

Old garden tap replaced with new brass fitting, this time securely mounted to the wall, not waving around in the breeze on the end of a length of pvc pipe!

New copper piping and tap ware installed. We had the option to hide the pipework lower, but the copper is nice to look at so we thought why not make a feature of it. To the right you can also see the new waste pipe installed from the laundry tub to drain, and alongside it is the old galvanised kitchen waste (still on the to do list...)

Another view of the new piping, and their are no solder marks on the copper piping as our plumber uses new brass compression fittings which not only go on quicker, but look nicer and are infinitely more reliable than solder joins or pvc pipe joins.

These are quarter turn taps that feed the hot and cold water to the washing machine - it's the little things that make life easier.

The almost-finished-but-still-in-progress laundry 'after' shot.
So while it's not the most glamorous made over room in the house, it's definitely a lot more functional than when we moved in, and it's certainly one of the most used 'rooms' in the house. The kids can put their swimmers and play clothes straight in the machine after one of their many pool adventures or playing in the yard.  Likewise we can put our painting clothes straight in when we finish cleaning the brushes and rollers, or wash up after working in the garden or mowing the lawns. And as it's only about ten paces to the bar & beer fridge, often this is where I will find myself reflecting on the memories made during another day in the land of sunshine and paint pots...
Cheers, Col