House By The Water – The Movie.

Every spare moment has been spent in the garden lately.  Planting, reticulation, lawn preparation, mulching and cobblestones, of course…  No time at all for blogging.  We’re on a mission.  Guests are coming for Christmas.

 Fortunately, the “House By The Water” videos, made by our builders, are ready.  You can enjoy a little chat in our kitchen and living room instead of reading a post.  There are two short videos.  Click on the pictures below to view.  I don’t think I’ll take up vlogging, but it was fun to do this once.



A garage for anything but cars.

Garage of the Rubix display home by Webb and Brown-Neaves.  Our garage should look like this, minus the logo.

Garage of the Rubix display home by Webb and Brown-Neaves. Our garage should look like this, minus the logo.

Our double garage is going to have to work its butt off.  Every inch will need to be used.  Our last place had a 4-berth shed, plus a single garage.  We filled the lot.   Work benches, tools, wood offcuts, sports gear, lawn mower, 5 bicycles.  The Nice Wolf hoards, and he has many, many hobbies, for which he needs the right gear.  On top of that we own a camper trailer that could stay outside – but it doesn’t suit my front yard mood board!

We priced the option of adding a third car space.  $25K.  We’ll park a car on the driveway.

Our garage - present state.

Our garage – present state.

The garage is the one space where aesthetics will come last.  Clever storage must come first.  So I’ve been on the look out for ideas to hang, stack, and store our gear.

The Nice and Clever Wolf will be able to knock together plenty of these ideas.  I think I just have to provide the inspiration…


Photo sources:  1. Home Base  2. Unknown  3.  Imgur   4.  Etsy   5.  Fixa via Design Milk.


Photo sources:  1. Family Handyman  2. A bowl full of Lemons  3.  Tote Trac.


Photo sources:  1.  Tool Crib  2.  Bench Solution  3.  Ikea Hackers.


Photos sources:  1. Container Store   2.  Woodsmith Tips.

Have you had to think strategically in your garage?  Any genius tricks to share?

For more garage storage ideas, head over to my Garage folder on Pinterest.



House progress

How did you choose your builder?

I’m back tracking a bit today, by about 2 and a half years. To that compulsive moment when we decided to buy a block of land and build a house on it. I admit that it was a fairly emotional decision, with very little comparison of alternatives, in terms of land or building versus buying a house. In our favour, we knew the area very well, having already lived nearby and we knew the location was not one we would regret. To our demise was our complete naivety about the cost of building.

I’m thinking of these things again now, because one of my sisters, let’s call her The Sensible One, is considering buying land with the plan to build her family home.

Choosing land:

Aside from the obvious fact that land should be somewhere you want or need to live, here are my thoughts based of the luxury of hindsight and from reading many a saga on the HomeOne Forum.

  • Siteworks, site works, site works!!! $$$$. Site works costs are not included in the sticker price of an “off-the-shelf” (volume builder’s) house. Site works vary greatly depending on the contour of the land and the geology. A “site survey” before you purchase can help builders to estimate some of the costs to prepare the land for building, but there is still the possibility of hitting unexpected problems (rock!) once site works start.
  • Location can limit your choice of builders.
  • Location can dictate some of your building choices, especially in a developer’s estate.  You’ll need to comply with their guidelines in addition to council regulations.
  • Orientation.  If you are aiming for a solar passive house, this factor might be critical, but let’s face it, not everyone in suburbia can choose the perfect North-facing block.  Volume builders will easily “flip” a house plan to improve a home’s thermal performance, while trees, screens and blinds (interior and exterior) are all simple solutions to reducing the impact of that pesky sun as it sets.

    Our land

    Don’t be fooled by a relatively innocent looking piece of land. The “provisional sum” for earth works on our 747 sqm block is $20 000, not including retaining walls.

Choosing a builder:

We chose our builders, Webb and Brown-Neaves, from a fairly limited pack.  The field was narrowed by our key requirements of the house, namely:

  • A footprint small enough to leave us with lots of outdoor space.
  • A house plan with rear living areas to make the most of a rear view.
  • Four bedrooms.

My shortlist of “off-the-shelf” (pre-designed) houses that fitted these requirements was very small. In the end, we were wooed by a floor plan with a void space above the living area.  It seemed to us to take a house from ordinary to amazing.  Although we didn’t know any one who had built with Webb and Brown-Neaves, they had a good reputation, having built houses on the Mandurah canals for a long time.  Of course, I looked for online reviews for WBN and found a mixed bag.   With only 22 reviews over 7 years, I didn’t really trust this source.  It seemed to me that the minority of customers that couldn’t resolve problems with their build had headed there to seek revenge.  And a few blissfully happy customers had been encouraged to submit a review to balance the ratings.  Every one had either rated Excellent or Bad/Terrible.  There was no in-between.

I’ve noticed that many of the mega building companies, particularly in the East of Australia, have many more reviews.  Take Metricon, for example.  They have 400+ reviews.  Perhaps you can give it some credence but I wouldn’t use these reviews alone.  In fact, one of Metricon’s competitors was accused of offering rewards for customers positive reviews.

My big-sisterly suggestions for selecting a “volume builder” are:

  • Stalk the area you plan to build in for new homes recently built by the companies that interest you.  (Or you could try asking the companies for references.)  Talk to the home owners and ask how they found the process and how satisfied they are with their home.
  • Stalk the area you plan to build in to see home building in progress.  If you go on weekends, you might get to chat with some customers.
  • Get acquainted with the HomeOne Forum.   Lots of Australians thinking about building, going through the process, recently built and even repeat-building customers hang out there.  There are some building professionals there too, adding their two-bobs worth from time to time.  Follow some threads from your area.  You’ll soon discover that very few builds are stress free and problems arise.  Most customers quickly forget the problems when they move into a new house that they are happy with, others stay unhappy.  For the larger building companies, in the low to medium price spectrum, there are enough people on the Forum to form a balanced idea about how the companies generally perform.   You can get an idea of pre-construction issues, build times, the range of costs that are added on to sticker prices, customer service and how companies deal with problems.
  • Last, but definitely not least, read some independent blogs written by builder’s customers.   (Duh!!!)  There are plenty out there.  Some are tricky to find, but once you find one addressing a particular company, it will often lead you to many more.  Ask the blogger questions.  Bloggers are friendly people!

So, readers, since I’m no expert here;

What advice would you give my sister for selecting land and a builder?

The Sensible One, all the answers are just for you.  Feel free to pipe in with questions. xxx

Construction site visit

I’d mentally prepared myself to expect some disappointment.  Maybe the house would seem small.  Maybe the retaining wall – house relationship was not right.  Perhaps I’d added a big window where there was nothing to see but brick wall, or the building neighbours might have blocked out all the morning sun.

But my first (and probably only) visit to our house whilst under construction revealed nothing but excitement.  Naturally I took a zillion photos, but I’ve narrowed it down to just 10 for you.

1.  The first floor brick work is complete.  The scaffolding and planks are installed in preparation for pouring the second floor slab at the end of this month.

House front

Bottom half of front facade. L to R: garage, entrance, bedroom.

2.  Our fireplace in the living room.  The First Little Pig was a bit worried that Santa won’t fit down the chimney.


Living room fire place.

3.  From the canal side, looking through the dining room to the kitchen (marked by pipes for the sink).  The three openings at the back of the kitchen are for the hallway, cellar and scullery (L to R).  I was relieved to feel that the ceiling not too close.  The dining room is 31 courses high.

Dining room.

Dining room through to kitchen.

4.  View from the future couch location.  Looking from the living room, through the alfresco area to the canals.  Both traditional paddlers and stand-up paddlers passed by while I was there.

Couch view.

Testing out the couch view.

5.  Stairwell.  And a bit of blatant evidence that I missed an opportunity in the planning stage to incorporate access to the under stairs space.  Never mind, my lovely old Tasmanian buffet table is going to look perfect right there.


Pre stairs.

6.  The alfresco area seemed huge.  Probably large enough for sofa and dining set.


The alfresco area as seen from the canal front.

7.  Checking out the deck width from the dining room to the planter boxes.  Could be a bit squeezy for outdoor dining. (2.2 metres across.)


Measuring up the deck.

8.  Kitchen sink view test.

Kitchen sink view test passes.


9.  The First Little Pig made a movie starring brick walls, scaffolding and herself.

First little pig.

Tools of the visit: camera, measuring tape, chalk.  Looking through the living room to the hallway.

10.  This week’s work.  Steel reinforcements for the second floor slab.  I had no idea so much steel would be involved.  I find it very reassuring.  I met the fellow who is singlehandedly going to lay the steel this week.  He said he’d been doing this job for 25 years.  He looked tough!


Steel reinforcements for second floor slab.

I met our site supervisor from Webb and Brown-Neaves, really just to be acquainted.  We discussed a few minor details and he explained the process for the next few weeks.

There wasn’t a lot of time for soaking up the atmosphere but I had my fix of all-things-house for a while and now have a better picture in my head of the scale of things.

Next week I’ll post about my other activities and discoveries during my visit to Mandurah and Perth.


Shipping container houses.

Redondo Beach House by De Maria Design.

Redondo Beach House by De Maria Design.

I’m still twiddling my thumbs.  So it’s another “light” news week on the blog.  Last year I resolved to go shopping for the house, to bide my time when the building process was going through a quiet patch.  I bought some fancy-pancy tractor stools, a pendant light and a persian rug.  Unfortunately, in our most recent move, the stools and rug were damaged, putting me off making purchases that will be subjected to one more move.  So, I’m changing my dealing-with-lulls strategy and I’m going to chat with you instead….

We’ve used a few shipping containers in our time.  It has been suggested to me, more than once, that we could be putting those containers to better use, have an almost-instant house and go someway towards compensating for our disastrous carbon footprint.  (OK, no one said that last bit, that was my conscience speaking.)

I’ve gotta tell you, some of these houses made from shipping containers are very nice.  I could certainly live in them.  Here are some of my favourites:

Source: Price Street Projects.

Cordell House, Texas.  Source: The Coolist.

Finally, an amazing Australian house, made from 31 shipping containers by Zeigler Build.  I love the container door details as a feature in the hallway.

One website that I read likened the construction of container homes to stacking lego pieces.  I think that the ambitious owners of one Australian container-home-in-the-making would beg to differ. You can check out the nitty-gritty of building a home from containers on their blog, the Odpod.  If you were to choose to build a shipping container home for the sake of speed and simplicity, I would suggest sticking to one or two containers.  I am coveting a little box in the bush just like this:

Port-a-bach, thanks to Atelier Workshop.  (Bach is a New Zealand term for a small holiday or beach house.)

P.S.  Since starting to write this blog post, 56 pages of final house plans, contract variations and an addendum landed in my inbox for checking and signing.  I’m no longer twiddling my thumbs.

Easter unplugged.

Spare room for HBTW?  Guests over-staying their welcome?  Just release the ropes.  Source:

Spare room for HBTW? Guests over-staying their welcome? Just release the ropes. Source: Home DSGN.

I don’t wish to make you jealous, but the island I am going to this Easter break is unlikely to have internet.  So this week’s blog post is just a bit of silliness (put together in a rush between packing sunscreen and snorkels) to wish you all an eggcellent holiday.

Here’s the best of egg-inspired design that I could find:

Picture sources: 1 & 2. China Whisper.  3. Top Creative Works.  4 & 5. dmvA. 6. Lomme. 7. Houzz. 8. James Law Cybertecture. 9. Helberg Design.

How do you like your eggs?

Merry Christmas from HBTW!

OK, so it's not exactly the Mandurah canals, but I can dream.  Source:  Habitually Chic.

OK, so it’s not exactly the Mandurah canals, but I can dream. Source: Habitually Chic.

I’m getting in the holiday spirit and will (metaphorically) put my feet up for a week or two!

In case you miss me and need a little online reading, I thought I’d share my favourite home building blogs with you.

1.  We’re Building a House.

You’ll have to be quick to join the many fans of this blog because the lucky owners of this NZ home have just moved in.  But there are still a few bits and pieces to finish up.  Jon and Gemma’s unique and beautiful home has been built on a very tricky site.  The result is great and Jon has been keeping a diary.  Jon is a talented wordsmith with a sense of humour, so not only do you get the nitty gritty of home building, but you often get a good ol’ belly laugh too.  My favourite recent post includes a discussion about whether or not to let house guests wear their shoes on a gorgeous, new wooden floor.  Personally, I voted “no”!

2.  House Nerd.

This blog has everything from new and old house tours and DIY home reno projects, to reviews/introductions of homeware stores and other fun bits and pieces (like weddings).  The best bit is that it’s all based in Western Australia and that’s kind of ground-breaking!  It was a very tough decision to pick my favourite recent post – any of the house tours are contenders, but I really love this tour of an Old Stone Farmhouse in rural Western Australia.

The next blogs on the list are from new home builders just like me!  The twist is that they are not building with the common, big name (big volume) builders in Australia.  Their houses are so, so far from mine, and each one is going to be wonderfully different.  This list also doubles as my “house swap list” for when I’ve lived in my new house for a while and am ready for my next holiday.  (I haven’t warned the home owners yet, but I’m sure they’ll agree once they see my finished house!)

3.   Our Self Build Story.

With permission from:  Our Self Build Story.

With permission from: Our Self Build Story.

Check out the view from this house-to-be in the Isle of Skye, Scotland.  Whoah!  The stunning view comes with some geographical and meteorological challenges.  To keep warm in the future, the owners have installed a ground source heat pump.

4.  Home in the Making.

This “contemporary farmhouse” is being built in Johannesburg.  I find it amusing to see how construction differs in South Africa.  The author, “Africadayz”, is sometimes disconcerted by the chaos of so many people on the building site.  In Australia, we’d be celebrating that.  It’s good to know that supplying tradesmen with “morning tea” of Coca- Cola and biscuits is a worldwide practice.

5.  Happy Laughs

With permission from Happy Laughs.

With permission from Happy Laughs.

Happy Laughs is building a barn in Texas.  When I saw her photo of recycled farmhouse beams arriving at her property, I knew it was going to be a special project.  Happy Laughs’ home is currently being framed, and, can you believe it, her tradies recently had a few days off due to snow.  In Texas!  Happy Laughs has 4 kids and from the pictures she’s selected to inspire her home, I know she is building a warm and lively home.

Wishing all my readers a very, happy Christmas!  

Thanks for all your tips and comments.  See you in January when I will be very excited about my trip to Australia for the “pre start” meeting with our builders.

The “Rubix” – Coastal Elevation

The house we are building is called the “Rubix”.  It is no longer a display home, so we had been relying on house plans and old photos to picture what our future home would look like.  We weren’t too worried about that, after all plenty of people build custom homes that they’ve never seen before and I’d measured everything that resembled a living space for the past 6 months in order to get a feel for the size and space of the Rubix.  But, as luck would have it, while browsing around display homes, we found a “Rubix”, complete with the coastal elevation (non-standard roof line), the same as we have ordered.

The Rubix coastal elevation.  (Not open for viewing.)

The Rubix – coastal elevation. (Not open for viewing.)

Yup, it's big.

Yup, it’s big.

Not too shy to have a good gawk over the fence.

Not too shy to have a good gawk over the fence.

Our house will be the mirror image of this.  There is a lot of white going on there.  Nothing some outdoor furniture and good landscaping can't fix.

Our house will be the mirror image of this. There is a lot of white going on here, but nothing some outdoor furniture and good landscaping can’t soften.  Not to mention, my secret lighting feature – only to be revealed upon building completion.

House plans

At last, we can reveal our house plans.  Our “house by the water” will be based on the “Rubix” plan by builders Webb and Brown-Neaves.  Last week we signed a PPA (preliminary plans agreement) to build the “Rubix” – making a commitment with our signatures and a payment equal to 3% of the build price.  We’ve been playing with the standard plan for a few months, making adjustments to suit our site, taste and family size.  The most obvious change we made is to the roof line.  We’ve selected a “coastal elevation” which softens the look of the house.  Other changes include increasing the size of the dining room window, changing sliding doors to stacking doors, changing the design of the kitchen bench to accommodate 5 stools and turning the study into a 4th bedroom.  We also added a laundry chute, an external door to the powder room (for poolside access), a 900mm freestanding oven, space for a chest freezer, and provision for future gas fireplace, gas to the alfresco dining area and water for an outdoor shower.

Ground floor.

Ground floor.

Upper floor

Upper floor

What we love about this plan:

  • The void space above the living area.
  • Open, rear living.
  • Plenty of windows to the canal view.
  • An indulgent kitchen space, including the scullery.
  • Plenty of space to add storage/cabinetry to rooms later.
  • Plenty of room left on the block to enjoy the outdoors.
Site plan showing plenty of room to entertain and play outdoors.  There is even room for a veggie patch.

Site plan showing plenty of room to entertain and play outdoors.   I’ve cut the plan short, but there is even room in the front yard for a veggie patch.

Door heights.

Hedging your bets...   (Picture source:

Hedging your bets…
(Picture source:

For the hard core house-building readers, a quick note on door heights.  The standard door height for our favourite house plan is 25 courses* or 2040 mm.  When I informed the builder that we’ll be installing wood floors throughout, the question of upgrading door heights to 28 courses came up.  The sales pitch was that they “look awesome and are currently fashionable”.  Of course, my first question was “how much?”  Answer – about $4000 to upgrade most of the doors in the house.  No, thank you.  However, I was a little bit tempted by the idea of raised door heights for the main front entry and the entry to the living room, but at approximately $1000 a pop (they’d have to be custom made) I’m declining at this stage.  Our ceiling heights will be varied, ranging from 28 courses in the kitchen, 29 in the upstairs bedrooms, 31 in the dining ares, 32 in the library and a ginormous 63 in the lounge room (with void overhead).

As always any measurements of your door and ceiling heights will be appreciated – especially from those of you whose homes I’ve been in and so already have a sense of the space.  And you could throw in your opinion on the matter too, if you like.

*One course = height of brick plus a layer of mortar.  Typically about 86mm.  Or so I’m lead to believe…

Owners of this beautiful Bayden Goddard Design home, if you could just measure up your doors for me, that'd be great.

Owners of this beautiful Bayden Goddard Design home, if you could just measure up your doors for me, that’d be great.