Slowly does it


It’s true: sometimes I can be such a slow learner. You’d have thought we’d have our renovation planned to perfection, given we’ve been living here for more than a year. We actually thought we did. But just two weeks after work started, we realised we were going to have to rethink everything. For a start, the new ensuite bathroom was in completely the wrong place. With only a day or so before the tiler was due to arrive, we took the decision to remove it. It can’t have been much fun for our builder to unpick all that he’d so carefully put in place but the moment it was done we all agreed it was the right decision. Just like those architect impressions of new building proposals, the reality often doesn’t match the rosy image. Even making a small change can have a huge impact and throw everything out of whack. The answer lies in being flexible. In our case, it feels as though Cloverdale is telling us to take a breath and let things evolve more organically.

We should have realised as much after our experience with the front veranda. As with so many old Australian farmhouses, the verandas had been enclosed to create extra living space for a large family. We didn’t particularly like them that way but had convinced ourselves that we could make them look better, reinstating the balustrade and the curly wooden brackets so that it would look more like the original but with clear glass behind. We figured that we would remain protected from the worst weather and retain the useful inside space while gaining lovely views. I planned to use one part as my office. So what if most of our friends seemed surprised that we weren’t opening them up! We were certain that we were being clever and having the best of both worlds.

Cloverdale, when we bought her in 2002

Except that the moment the old frosted-glass louvres and the wonky plywood lining boards were removed and the front veranda was open to the world for the first time in decades, well, it felt wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that we realised we would be bonkers to enclose it again. I found myself drawn to sit there with my morning cup of tea or to watch the sun setting over the mountains. Last weekend we had lunch with friends, at a table set there among the various tools and dropsheets, and it felt glorious. I’d never realised just how great it would feel, that liminal space between inside and out.

With that decision made, we decided to press ahead with our plans for the side veranda, which included installing an ensuite bathroom on part of it.  And in it went, a generous space with a lovely walk-in shower and a long row of windows, with another window to let in the morning sun. As soon as the walls went up I had misgivings but I held my tongue. Anthony was the same. We tried to convince ourselves that we were creating an asset, a charming guest room with a lovely ensuite and French doors on to the front veranda. Such a gracious space to offer our guests. But it didn’t feel right.

And then a friend visited – and looking back now it feels like she was heaven-sent. She remarked that it was a shame how the bathroom took up part of the veranda that had the best view. Rather sheepishly, Anthony and I confessed we thought the same. And then she mentioned that, given the front bedroom received the loveliest light, wouldn’t it make a lovely sitting room? I could almost feel the donkey ears sprout from my scalp. Eye-ore! What a jackass! Of course it would make a perfect sitting room! And knocking it through to the large kitchen behind would make it even better, drawing light to the back of the house, while creating a large living area that flowed out to the wonderful veranda with its gorgeous views. Suddenly it was obvious. Eye-ore!

Opening up: a work in progress

So that’s what we’re doing. I’ve stopped telling myself what a dolt I’ve been to persevere with something that never felt entirely right. I realise that the wisdom is in knowing when to stop pressing forward. Small changes spark new ideas and open up new opportunities. (Actually, isn’t that a lesson for life in general?) It helps that we are working with a builder who isn’t just patient but who really enjoys the creative challenge of working on an old house. There are always problems to solve.

A timber house like ours offers limitless potential: it’s so easy to open up a wall here, raise another there, change windows and alter floorplans. But having too much choice can overwhelm and freeze the creative process. Anthony and I had been tying ourselves in knots going through every permutation we could think of and yet there were some we’d hadn’t considered. It took the fresh eyes of someone else to jolt us into seeing what was obvious. Other friends have given valuable feedback, too. We feel lucky to have so many supportive people in our lives.

It’s strange how the right solution seems to resonate right through your body. No matter how much you rationalise other plans, going with what truly feels right is usually the best way. In the end it comes down to trust – trusting your own feelings, trusting your friends’ judgements, trusting your builder. I know we’re creating not just a better house but a truly wonderful one.

You’ll have to forgive me for not telling you what’s coming next, though. After all, it’s probably going to change. I’ve learned that much, at least.

What plans have you changed at the last minute? Was it the right decision?

Categories: Australia, Design, OtherTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 comments

  1. It’s a process that you can’t plan! We were just about to start the build on our place in WA’s south west and happened to see the wonderful documentary about Richard Leplastrier and decided to knock out two side walls with big sliding doors to bring the outside in, Richard style. It was a genius master stroke and I can’t now imagine the house any different! ________________________________

    • Oh Cate, I love that. Truly there is no such thing as chance. I was lucky enough to spend a couple of afternoon at his place, just the two of us recording his memories for the State Library, and each time I came away not just utterly charmed by such a poetic man but wanting to bash down walls in my house. So I am utterly with you. How great you got the home you wanted.

  2. That sounds wonderful and looks perfect xxx

    Get Outlook for iOShttps://aka.ms/o0ukef ________________________________

  3. I have a similar house in Maryborough which I have been restoring for the last year facing similar issues about what to open up,how authentic to be, making my home not be a museum! and trying to get some of the best aspects of open space into the place.
    I enjoy your writing,I think you should look at Maryborough sometime which is a fabulously heritage town.

    • It’s a tricky balance, isn’t it, Guy. I’m currently struggling with putting in a pair of veranda doors in a space that is currently much more open and flooded with precious winter light. The creative mind is hard at work – possibility of clerestory windows, etc. Always a conundrum to process!… I was in Maryborough quite recently. So many beautiful houses, very inspiring, and with much fancier details than you find in northern NSW. I spent a few hours ambling gawping at the lovelies in and around Lennox Street. What an oasis Maryborough is. Do let me know if you blog or instagram so I can follow your journey!

  4. Slow and steady wins the race…especially when it comes to any kind of home decision! Or perhaps I should recoin a different phrase: “Renovate in haste, repent at leisure.” 😅 You are brave and so right to make these changes however last-minute! Agree that you know when something feels right and no point trying to convince yourself otherwise when it’s just wrong, no matter how logical it feels or how good it looks on paper. Very much enjoying this evolving story!

    • It’s a journey of a thousand steps, for sure! (And the rest.) Every 100% definite decision needs a cooling off period, which is often just mulling over it in the middle of the night. The roller coaster continues! (And looks like you’ve embarked on a similar journey again!)

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