The Panel tackles this family’s underwhelming front facade and plans a whole home makeover.

Karina and Rodney Wager with their children Scarlett, 6; and Theodore, 4.

the story so far

Karina and Rodney bought this 1970s brick house on a 630 square metre block in the Sydney suburb of Ruse in 2009. The house was in need of repair and updating, and the floorplan needed a rethink as there was plenty of space but it wasn’t well utilised. What sold it to the couple was the creek reserve at the back of the house that is home to a small koala population. “We absolutely love the view of the bushland behind the house,” says Karina. “The large windows bring a lot of light into the space and allow us to enjoy the view.” But eight years on, there’s a lot of work still to do. As a priority, Rodney and Karina would like to remove the large gate from the front of the house and create a proper entrance. They’d also like to rethink the kitchen and connect the add-on back room to the rest of the house.

what’s stopping them? The couple initially made many cosmetic changes – they painted the whole house, laid new carpets and re turfed the backyard – with plans for larger renovations down the track. “Then we started a family,” says Karina. “And launched a new business. The house became less of a priority, but now it’s back up there and we want to get it sorted out.”

Karina and Rodney’s dungeon-like porch.

the budget: $200k

what the real estate agent says…

Gary Luke Richardson & Wrench

“Houses on this side of the street all back onto Smiths Creek Reserve, which gives them a great bushland aspect. There aren’t many houses for sale around here at the moment and there have been some big increases in values, in tune with the rest of Sydney. Buyers here are first home buyers and young families looking for value for money. Compared to similar properties with a bushland aspect, such as those in the Shire, prices remain competitive. Rodney and Karina paid a little under $380k for their home in 2009 and as is, it would probably be worth around the $650k mark. Right now, spending money on renovations might not result in a higher selling price. Buyers expect to have to do a bit of work to get something at the right price and demand is so high they are taking properties with scope to making them their own. In saying this, Rodney and Karina are planning to be here at least until the kids leave school so they certainly won’t be out of pocket in the long term.”

the Panel’s advice 

Andrew Benn, Architect and director, Benn + Penna Architecture

The front door is a cave-like area that feels like a garage, and really doesn’t announce itself as the entrance to the home. The house is south facing, so it isn’t naturally lit but even so, the entry needs to be eye-catching and practical. I’d suggest incorporating the dead space into the house, bringing the door out to the line of the existing gate. Creating a new entrance would be an opportunity to give the facade a facelift so, at the same time, I’d advise adding a portico to the house. I’d be inclined to get rid of the balcony off the living area as it would compete with the new entry and spoil the symmetry. And yes, the letterbox will need to go if we’re creating a coherent design from front to back.

Wayd Munro, Builder, Focusbuild

The first thing to do would be to get rid of the balcony. Balconies out the front are a fairly common feature in houses of this vintage, but it’s south-facing and Rodney and Karina say they never use it – they’re not even sure if it’s safe. It serves no purpose other than a decorative one and, to be honest, it doesn’t look that great. Another way to give the frontage a facelift would be to paint the driveway. All you need is some paving paint from the hardware store and you can do it in a weekend. Hose it down with a pressure cleaner the day before then paint it dark grey. The guttering can also be cleaned and painted to match. That one thing will make a huge difference while Rodney and Karina are planning the rest of the renovation.

A storage space by the entry is an easy way to keep the family organised.

Lisa Koehler, ISCD educator, stylist and interior decorator

Turning the entry into internal space would offer a great opportunity to create a hallway with storage for school bags and wet-weather gear. The kids could each have their own cupboard for all the things that don’t need to come in as far as the kitchen. Once the new facade is complete, it’s time to think about the colour scheme. I think we have to embrace the bricks and work with them. I’d like to see the roof painted dark grey, which would really set off the greens of the garden and surrounding bushland. With the letterbox gone, we could put in a path with lighting, guiding visitors to the entrance. A colour is always nice on the front door, and I’m loving yellow at the moment. It would work in tonally and add plenty of personality.

& the rest…

room to grow

“The mid-90s extension includes an extra room off the back of the garage,” says Andrew. “It has plumbing for a kitchenette so it would be easy to put in a bathroom and turn it into a guest bedroom with an ensuite or later, a teenage retreat. But as is, the room has no internal connection to the house. From the new front door, we could add a hallway linking the front of the house to the extension. It would still be self-contained – and therefore future-proof – but it would be an integral part of the home and you wouldn’t have to get wet accessing it in the rain. The new hallway would also provide a glimpse of the back vista from the front of the house, letting in some of the northern light and giving a hint of the lovely aspect out the back.”

the back deck

“The balcony out the back is dangerous,” says Wayd. “It’s been tiled over at some point and the rainwater pools on the tiles, which means the timber underneath has been slowly rotting over time. It also has a really low roof that makes it feel claustrophobic and not an inviting place to sit, which is crazy considering the view. The best idea would be to take it down and start again. We could make it a bit wider and if the ceiling was a metre higher there would be a nice generous space out here, which would improve the outlook from the rooms inside. Rodney says it often gets over 40°C here in the summer so adjustable aluminium louvres above would be a great addition. They provide a great blockout in summer and you can open them up to make the most of the magical winter sun.”

Add interest and colour to the kitchen with curated open shelf displays over the bench.

kitchen connection

“Karina has a few issues with the kitchen,” says Lisa. “It’s dark, dated and disconnected from the casual living area. Andrew suggested placing a skylight in the kitchen and knocking down the wall between the kitchen and living area. But, overall, the kitchen is in good shape so the couple are not keen to replace it completely at this stage. In the short term, it would be great to change the benchtop but often during the removal process, the cabinetry and splashback are damaged so best to wait until a renovation is on the cards. In the meantime, painting the cupboards, changing the handles and introducing new tapware is a safe bet. To make the space feel more open – and add some relief to the sea of cabinetry – I’d suggest removing a couple of the upper cupboards and replacing them with open shelving to add colour and visual interest.”

Advice provided is of a general nature and should be treated as a starting point. Look into your local council requirements and regulations before starting any renovation work.

Need some inspiration for the front of your home? Check out these stunning entry gardens: