Project 4: Settle In

This is really something that happened way back at the start of the journey, but I guess I’ve been so caught up in all the fun things (:|) that I forgot to mention the basics. Settling in involved heaps of cleaning. As mentioned previously, the elusive bro-law JS was a cleaning fiend, whrilwinding through our bathrooms and kitchen before moving in.

Other fun tasks included changing all the locks (garage, doors, windows). Our ever-so-helpful real estate agent (see: eyeroll) didn’t manage to pass along all the keys to our place. Nor could she pass on information from the previous owners about the strata, but that’s a story for another day. I digress (and vent too much). Our locksmith was fabulous – nothing was a problem. Got a quote to us quicksmart and had everything in tip-top condition in no time.

While we were on a roll, we got the central heating checked out (and learned it is not also central cooling – sad face). Appears to all be in order – check. Getting the heating folk out gave us some useful information about how old our system was, when it will need to be upgraded (and how much that will cost) and also the most efficient way to run the system. As a result, we’ve blocked up one vent that was too high (i.e., the heater was sucking in warm air at ceiling height, and thus the cold air at people-height was staying chilly). This has made a big difference to how efficient our home is heated and keeps us warmer and wealthier!

Fixed a few small dings around the joint. We replaced a cracked toilet seat cover and now have a fancy schmancy soft-closing, slam-as-much-as-you-like toilet seat. Also replaced bung lights, filled-in holes in tiles, grouting, etc.

A big job was simply finding manuals for all the appliances in the house. This was a really useful process for reading up on our newest friends – appliances (it seriously feels so luxurious to have a dishwasher, dryer in the house and instant hot water!). When searching for our Whirlpool dishwasher I found a lot of people listing a few potential issues with it if it doesn’t get the lines cleared regularly (flooding!). Also found reviews for the company that installed our heating system (needless to say, we won’t be using them in the future).

Overall, this process was time-consuming. Finding recommended tradesmen to come out; taking time out from work to be at home (I can totally see the benefits of some of these futuristic tools!); searching for no-longer-available appliance manuals, and waiting on hold to a heap of businesses. But on the whole, I feel it was definitely worth it. We now have a HOUSE folder that contains all our manuals, business cards for helpful tradies , and the overall satisfaction of know that things just work.

Total Cost: new locks: $450, heating service: $170

Next Project: The Garage.

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Let me take you on a tour

(Note, these pictures are from the open house – while I would love to live in such an un-cluttered house, that is not the reality I live in!).

The house is really lovely. Ready to move in. Nothing really needs doing. But it was built in the 90s and some rooms are looking a little worn out. Other features, like the terracotta tiles, we’re starting to realise might not be the best choice for our region, where it gets crazy cold in winter and tiles on a concrete slab just suck the heat out of the air, even with our ducted (ceiling) heating.

The entryway: Novel and quaint in a newer house. It’s a great place for us to keep our shoes and winter jackets handy. It needs a bit of a tidy up. The front door looks like it’s been painted while closed – there’s a gap of paint at the bottom which is weird. Might need a sign on the door, or a door knocker. A number of people have wandered around our house looking for the front door, somehow not realising that the only door, at the front of the house, is our front door. Project: minimal intervention.

Entryway - the introduction to our home.

Entryway – the introduction to our home.

 

The living room/dining room: Again, this space is ok. Over time, I’d like to make the flooring consistent (instead of half carpet, half tiles) and we will likely avoid tiles – they are just too chilly in winter. A big plus for this space, which I fell in love with at the first open house, are the huge windows on every wall in the lounge room. To take advantage of all that light without losing any heating/cooling, long term, we will look at installing double-glazed French doors. Project: minimal intervention; long term.

Lounge room - A sunny spot with plenty of natural light.

Lounge room – A sunny spot with plenty of natural light.

Dining room - on the small side.

Dining room – on the small side.

 

The kitchen: ah ha – here we have our first point of order. It’s not terrible. Like the whole house, it’s fine. It’s even quite nice, with a composite stone bench-top no less. But LS and I like to cook. And it just doesn’t fit two people in there. For instance, you can’t open the pantry and the oven at the same time. And if you’re using the stove cooktop, there’s no space for prep work. The draws and cupboards are getting a bit loose and dinted. And there’s not heaps of task lighting over the benches, making it a little dicey when dicing. On top of this, the hallway next to the kitchen has beautiful double doors that open out to our patio. Only problem is they can’t be opened as the hallway is too narrow. Project: Major – remove a wall (load bearing??), brick-in a doorway, replace flooring, build new kitchen.

Kitchen - Tucked in behind the dining room.

Kitchen – Tucked in behind the dining room.

 

The bathroom: Again, when people walk in they describe it as “fine”. The number of people who have had the guided tour get to the bathroom and say “oooh, it’s fine”!! It really is fine. There’s a shower-bath, with sliding glass doors. There’s a working sink with plenty of storage underneath. There’s a skylight for some natural light. There are HUGE mirrors. But it is a bit tired. And it would be nice to find hear other descriptive words like “luxurious” or “relaxing”. Project: long term. As it is “fine” we won’t be rushing to fix this up. Moderate project planned – replace fittings, but keep existing layout. Will also paint over the peach and mint trim that is visible on sunny days (!?).

Bathroom - Too small to get a clear picture.

Bathroom – Too small to get a clear picture.

 

Bedrooms: Here again I hear the same adjective every time – oh, they’re big! And they are. For a small Canberra home, we do have lovely spacious bedrooms. It’s a luxury to have bedside tables on both sides of the bed. And to have enough wardrobe space for the two of us. If I had to nit-pic, I’d say they are a little on the boring side. Maybe that’s just winter talking, but I think we need to inject a bit of colour and brightness into the rooms. Project: minimal – possibly replace floors while doing the dining, lounge, kitchen and hallway. A bit of styling could be done here.

Master bedroom - Spacious master bedroom.

Master bedroom – Spacious master bedroom.

'Guest' Bedroom - also spacious.

‘Guest’ Bedroom – also spacious.

 

En suite bathroom: Sometimes I think my guests have been handed a script at the front door. At the ensuit they exclaim with delight how “useful” an ensuit is… especially if you do decide to renovate the “fine” main bathroom. The room is compact. We don’t use it much as it doesn’t have much storage. Also why shower when you could bathe? I think the layout could be improved, but this will be something I’ll need to get some advice on. Project: Potentially significant. Shuffle the sink, toilet and shower. Add a vanity with storage. New tiles. New (waterproof) window.

Ensuit bathroom - a cosy little space.

En suite bathroom – a cosy little space.

 

Garden: oh my lordy, I’m glad we like to garden. Along the permitter there was an abundance of trees. Shame they were scarecrow trees, entwined with creeping ivy and wisteria (both weeds in Canberra). A big weekend with both families chipping in cleared the lot of droopy trees. And my goodness what a difference it made! Let there be light!

It’s great to have the bulk of removal already done. We evaluated every single tree we removed – we didn’t want to rip out trees that could still provide beauty or joy. Any trees or shrubs that could be saved were kept. Some of the native shrubs out the front will be moved to create a hedge and provided much-needed shading for our herb garden. Any trees removed will be replaced with varieties that are well-suited to the soil and local conditions.

The garden gets a fair bit of sun. The challenge will be incorporating producing plants (fruit trees and a veggie patch), providing privacy, letting light in during winter, and finding plants that can tolerate our local conditions (heat and frost). Project: on-going. It feels like a huge head-start to have had the help from our families. It took 7.5 people 2 full days of hard labour to pull out all the bracken and branches. We will upgrade our paved patio, add a bocce court/sandpit, plant some produce, add a gate for our four-legged visitors and get some grass growing! Oh, and weeding weeding weeding.

Patio - a glimpse at the garden.

Patio – a glimpse at the garden.

 

About the Journey

I chose to call this blog HouseHomeCastle after a brilliant quote from The Castle – It’s not a house, it’s a home. And a man’s home is his castle. The Castle is an Australian film about the strengthening power of home, family and community. In the movie, Darryl Kerrigan takes on the government to defend their right to stay in their house – their home, their castle. And that’s how LS and I feel about our place. It’s more than just bricks and mortar – it’s a place where family memories will be made, people will come together; it will become our site for sharing celebrations and sadness. The film was made in 11 days on a budget of $750,000. I think it’s inspiring that with a small budget, some hard work and the help of our friends, we’ll be able to transform our house into our own castle.

A lot of these kinds of sites show stunning transformations from dingy, decaying rooms made over into bright, airy spaces. Our house is not falling down (I hope). LS and I are not what you’d call “skilled”. We’re not builders or tradespeople. I’m not a designer or a stylist or a photographer. In fact, I write policy for the public service. But I am rather house-proud. We are very house-proud. This is a grand adventure for LS and I. The quote from the Australian classic, The Castle, resonates strongly:

It’s not a house it’s a home. And a man’s home is his castle.

Over the coming months and years I look forward to tinkering our little house into our own oasis – a place of refuge at the end of long days, and a site for family gatherings full of laughter and good stories.

My husband and I bought our (first!!) little house on the morning of celebrating our 30th birthdays. As we were having a big do that afternoon, a number of friends and family decided to come along to the auction (like, 13 people – more than the number of bidders). No pressure.

It was our second auction as registered bidders. We had our game-plan. We had our deposit. We had read the contract. We were all set to play it cool. Dear husband may not have stuck to the game-plan, but we did get the house, for about what we wanted. I was shaking at the end – we were pretty stoked with the purchase. Bottle of champagne in hand, we headed home victorious, to celebrate, and pack.

We moved in 1 month later, the same week I started a new job, and about the same time we found out our “guest” room would be occupied permanently in approximately 8 months by the first addition to our family. Team W (my family) and Team S (his family) were on hand with ute and truck and prius and barina to help us move gear in, and dead trees out. We met our lovely neighbours, enjoyed cake, dust, and dinner on mis-matched chairs. With all the help, we were in within two days. It was a whirlwind but great to have everything settled.

Special mentions: Pappa W who sacrificed his knee in the battle of the root system (ultimately a team affair resulting in a large hole and no ivy); Bro-Law JS – moved half our belongings in his prius, including a cannon (literally, a cannon!) and all our potted friends. Then he volunteered to clean our bathrooms for us before we moved in – what a legend); Team W and Team S for all their help; and the Fuvilles who came over for dinner, when we didn’t have chairs, to be our first guineapigs guests.

HouseHomeCastle - our future castle.

HouseHomeCastle – our future castle.