After 20 years of neglect and some questionable updates, this home is ready for a change. Will the owners renovate and expand, or begin again?

the story so far:

Paul and Bonnie bought this grand but knackered old lady three years ago with the intention of renovating and extending. Initially captivated by the 1927 Californian bungalow style and beautiful moulded ceilings, the home’s problems mean they’re becoming immune to its charm. Prior to Paul and Bonnie moving in, it had been rented out for 20 years and the only ‘improvements’ made during that time were aluminium windows, ’70s fireplaces and boxed-in rear and front verandahs. After doing a few small jobs in the home, they decided it wasn’t worth spending any more money while staring down the barrel of a major renovation. Then the couple noticed new construction going on in the surrounding streets – should they just knock down and start over? Although they love the original features in their home, Bonnie longs for clean lines and the pair are desperate for space to entertain. “We want to get moving but don’t know which way to jump,” says Bonnie.

the budget: $450k

what the real estate agent says…

Lane Cove is an extremely desirable area. It’s an easy commute to the city, there’s a wonderful sense of community and there are many beautiful old houses on good-size blocks. Buyers looking in the area are mainly younger couples with small children, or are planning a family in the near future, so they’re after a minimum of three bedrooms, open-plan living and a north-facing level backyard. Paul and Bonnie bought at a great time in 2013, just before the market exploded. As far as resale goes, I think they’d get a better return if they invested the money they have into a renovation. They secured the house for just under $1.2 million and I think if they spent $1 million on it they wouldn’t be at any risk of over capitalising. Do what needs doing and I’ll get them $2.5 million. The market is stabilising somewhat but, in my opinion, at worst, prices will hold for a while.

the solution:Expand upwards and out”

the Panel’s advice:

Andrew Benn Architect and director, Benn + Penna Architecture

On a block of 580 square metres, this house doesn’t lack space overall; it’s just badly designed. If they extended out the back, Paul and Bonnie could add a master suite above the extension with a bedroom, bathroom and office, and cantilever off it to provide shade over the garden. The children could have the front rooms as their bedrooms, and the existing kitchen and living areas could be knocked into a large, open family room. If they don’t alter the roofline, council should be sympathetic and there’s a chance they could get the work done under a Complying Development instead of a full DA. This is a charming character home and instinct tells me it’s worth more if you keep it that way. That doesn’t mean Bonnie can’t have the clean lines she wants; just make sure there’s a clear delineation between old and new.

Wayd Munro Builder, Focusbuild

In terms of a rebuild, Paul and Bonnie’s budget of around $450k will get them a project home, which would be less than ideal. On the other hand, if you put that money into a renovation, you’d get a second storey and a decent extension out the back. If they started at the original back wall and demolished the closed-in verandah, they could build a new kitchen and entertaining area. The masonry from the demolition could then be used to level out the back garden. Add a retaining wall and you have a perfect family garden. There’s even room for a pool, which could be added once Paul and Bonnie regroup financially. In terms of overall cost, I think we’re looking at around $600k to get it as close to perfect as possible. You’ll have traded in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom home for four bedrooms, plus a study and three bathrooms, in about nine months.

Lisa Koehler ISCD educator, stylist and interior decorator

Decor wise, these two can’t agree on a style: Paul veers towards Scandinavian and Bonnie has more of a modern industrial aesthetic, but we all agree that neutral, open and light is the way to go. No-one has loved this house in a long time. It would be amazing to see it restored and appreciated. The front of the house needs serious attention. The old bay windows were replaced with aluminium frames and strange fake stone panelling, which doesn’t quite cover the holes – I’d love to see them restored to their former glory. There is some wonderful sandstone block work around the exterior, which – once cleaned – could provide inspiration for a colour palette of grey, white and charcoal. I also think Paul and Bonnie could be a bit adventurous and go for a traditional patterned tile on the porch in the sandstone and grey tones, transforming this into a beautiful entry.

& the rest…

the planning “People often ask what they can do without an approved Development Application,” says architect Andrew, “and the answer isn’t always that clear. As a general rule, if you have a newish property and the changes can’t be seen from the street, you’re likely to be OK. Low-impact developments, such as pergolas and pathways, often don’t require approval. Sometimes, you can carry out straightforward renovations or extensions under the guise of ‘Complying Development’. This is a fast-track approval process used by many developments in NSW. Not needing a DA doesn’t mean you don’t need permission; you’ll still have to seek approval via an approved independent certifier. Rules vary between areas – talk to your council before going ahead with work or lodging paperwork. Precedents are your friends; if the neighbours have done something similar to what you have planned, this can be persuasive in getting permissions accelerated.”

the garden “There are several tall cocos palms in the backyard, which Paul and Bonnie want to remove; without constant lopping they look untidy and drop enormous fronds, which is not great when you have small children running around,” says builder Wayd. “There’s no problem with chopping them down as they’re classified as a weed. But as they’ve discovered, they’re expensive to remove and it’ll put a few thousand on the budget. That’s because, unlike most trees, palms are difficult to mulch so tree loppers have to cut them down and tip them whole, which they have to pay for. And it’s dangerous work wielding a chainsaw while clinging to a tree trunk, so insurance costs are high in the tree-felling business. Expect to
pay extra for that.”

the great divide “When renovating a period home, you need to make a decision about the finishes and internal details; do you continue the style of the home into the renovation or do you make a clear line between old and new?” says interior decorator Lisa. “In this case I think it provides a great opportunity for Paul and Bonnie to both get a bit of what they want in terms of style. First, select materials: I’d keep the original floorboards and sand them back, adding a white limed stain to give a hint of Scandinavian then in the new section, polished concrete would provide a clear contrast and work beautifully with Bonnie’s love of vintage industrial. To create a connection between the floor finishes and give a cohesive feel, they could run the same wall colour though the home. That done, it’s a case of blending your furniture to mix into both styles, which they can do by combining modern, clean lines with soft, round curves.”

Need more inspiration? Take a tour of this beautifully renovated 100-year-old cottage: