DIY cabinets

I’m sticking to the subject of storage, but this week I’m trying to balance utility with aesthetics.  In Australia, we are lagging when it comes to planning built-in cabinetry in the design stage of our new homes.  We manage to get it right in the kitchen and bathroom, and recently in the bedroom too, but our living areas and dining rooms typically get fitted out with non-custom, ad-hoc items of furniture.

Is this because we are such cool, unique collectors of eclectic pieces that ooze character and style?  Nope.  It’s because built-in cabinetry costs so bloody much.

Example one:  House By the Water. Cost to add a built-in-robe (1.37 m wide) to our study to convert the room to a bedroom. $2200.  (Rejected.)

Example two:  Friend’s home.  Cost to install book shelves to all walls of one medium room to create a library.  $50 000.  (Rejected.)

Luckily the Nice Wolf is handy, and when equipped with time, he will make us some lovely shelves for our future library, dining room and scullery.  I might have to wait until he retires for furniture and cabinetry.  In our laundry, we’ll need overhead cabinets.  The garage overflow can go here, plus we’ll need to hide what I imagine will be an ugly, exposed (but oh, so convenient) laundry chute.

The plan is to turn this:


The laundry from the Rubix display home by Webb and Brown-Neaves.

into something more like these:

Photos:  1.  The Block  2.  Int2Architecture.

It might be in our laundry, that Ikea has its “House By The Water moment”. When we gutted an old kitchen years ago, we used some Ikea components for the new pantry and cabinets.  The quality was good.  So I sketched up some laundry plans for HBTW and dived into the Ikea website.  Woah!  It’s a minefield of choices and digital tools in there.   I found it quite overwhelming and it’s probably best to head into Ikea and leave the maths and design up to their kitchen planners.  Never-the-less, I managed to come up with a basic list of what we’ll need for laundry wall cabinets and a price estimate.  $750.

Trying to shop around, I checked out Masters’ website too. Although their selection is limited, the pieces all work together, so creating a shopping list was much easier.  Price estimate $750.  I wondered whether Ikea’s doors could be put on Masters’ cabinets, but the sizes are mismatched.

I also had a quick squizz at Gumtree for second-hand wall cabinets.   Most look dated and heavy, but there is potential there, at least to use the bases, if you are prepared to be flexible with layout.

Did you add cabinets to your home?

Have you got your own scary custom-cabinets quote to share?

Have you dabbled with cabinet installation?  

Do you know a great place to have it all done for you at Ikea/Masters’ prices?

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

Interview with new home owners, Miranda and Cameron.

HBTW's slightly older sister:  Cameron and Miranda's house.  Sketch by Webb and Brown-Neaves.

HBTW’s slightly older sister: Cameron and Miranda’s house.  Sketch by Webb and Brown-Neaves.

It’s no secret that I’m home-building obsessed.  But I’m not the only one. There’s a zillion people like me, and worse, hanging about on the “HomeOne Forum“.  There are first-time home builders, repeat offenders, and even professionals.  No question is too silly, tips are given and mistakes are shared.  It’s on the HomeOne Forum that I (virtually) met Miranda and Cameron, fellow customers of Webb and Brown-Neaves. Miranda and Cameron recently moved into their new home and it’s a home to drool over.  Miranda has been such a fantastic help to me during our build process so far, warning me of traps for beginners, sharing details of trades she recommends and answering my endless questions.

I’m so excited to introduce awesome couple, Miranda and Cameron, and their equally awesome new home to you!

When Miranda, a lawyer, and Cameron, a management consultant, became engaged and started searching for a family home in Perth, they were looking for established homes.  During their search they viewed a house built by Webb and Brown-Neaves a decade earlier.  The block was too small to accommodate a double garage and was crossed off the list but the house made a lasting impression on Cameron and Miranda, particularly how well it suited the neighbourhood.  This lead to some research into building costs, the purchase of an old house fit for demolition and the decision to build a new home.

HBTW:  What were your new house “must haves”?

M & C:  3+ bedrooms, study, home theatre, large WIR, scullery/ pantry, island bench in kitchen, large living areas at rear opening to alfresco, pool, storage spaces, as large a backyard as possible and a rear garage.

HBTW:  And “nice to haves”?

M & C:  Free standing bath, storage space that could become a cellar, 4th bedroom/ activity room, very high ceilings in the living areas (at least 33 courses), slightly larger minor bedrooms than the norm and the pool located beside the living area.

Freestanding bath

Freestanding bath (from The Stone Super Store), complete with view over the bedroom to the garden.  It took 6 men to move the bath inside!

HBTW:  What inspired your home layout and material choice decisions?

M & C:  Having a corner block with a rear lane way and a North-facing back yard dictated much of the design.  In terms of style, we are drawn to natural, organic but elegant spaces.  We stayed in some inspiring accommodation in the Maldives for our honeymoon just before we had to make a lot of the decisions for our house.

M:  I searched for a ceiling fan like the one we saw in the Maldives and was lucky that Beacon released the “artemis” just in time for our builders to install it.

HBTW:  What or who was your best source of building information?

M & C:  Hours of research on google, the HomeOne Forum, Miranda’s dad who is an engineer and friends who have built before.

HBTW:  How did you divide the planning and decision making between you?

C:  I looked after the electronics, cabling, sound and TVs.  Also the pool equipment and heating.

M:  Most decisions were made together.  Even though this takes time, the house belongs to both of us and we are both indecisive.  We usually wanted a second opinion, or third, or fourth!

We took a six-week interior design course at Home Base.  I think it was great that we did the course together. We learnt a lot and it gave us some structure to be able to work out what style we liked and why, which choices work together and the pros and cons of various options.  I was surprised that there were very few men at the course.

Oozing style!  Sofa and coffee table from Natuzzi.

Oozing style!  Sofa and coffee table from Natuzzi.

HBTW:  What are your top tips for those starting the process of building a new house?

M & C:

  1. Sales consultants can make a big impact on your experience.  Visit different display homes until you find one that you feel comfortable with.
  2. Get everything in writing.  Make lists of what you have to do and what the builders have said they’ll do.
  3. Check all drawings, addendas, variations and costings very carefully.
  4. If something is very important to you, be prepared to do the research yourself.  The “impossible” may actually be possible.
  5. Really think about your block, not just its aspect, but also the ground levels in relation to privacy and views.

HBTW:  How about tips for people already building?  Like me!

M & C:  Sorry HBTW, some of our tips won’t work for you…

  1. Visit your site often and take lots of photos.  They might not be relevant immediately but could be useful later.
  2. If issues arise and the builder proposes a solution, make sure you know the cost implications before you agree.
  3. Be able to describe your style in a way that makes sense to the various people you’ll be working with.  (Pinterest helps!)
  4. Add conduits everywhere, especially for motorised blinds.
  5. Watch out for quotes that don’t include GST or other essentials, like delivery.

HBTW:  What was your biggest mistake?

M & C:  Believing that Webb and Brown-Neaves could accommodate a custom design or even substantial changes to their normal designs.  The majority of mistakes we noticed were related to these changes. Their processes just aren’t set up for that, and it didn’t work well.

M:  On a smaller scale, I regret letting the lighting consultant talk me into keeping oyster lights in the walk-in-robe and laundry.  Even if the light is better from oyster lights, I don’t like how they look (especially how green they look when they’re on). We’ll need to replace those.

HBTW:  Were there any companies that were so good, you’d like to give them a plug?

M & C:

1. Aussie Clotheslines.  Their sales people were really helpful.  It was easy to book in a convenient time only a couple of days after I rang them.  They turned up on time and did what they said they’d do for the original price and didn’t leave any mess or damage anything in the process. If I could say that about everyone involved in building, it would have been a thousand times easier!

2.  Just Blinds.  Andy organised our blinds and shutters and has been very helpful.  He came back a couple of times, for example, when the electrician was struggling with the connections to motorise the blinds. He doesn’t have a shop so he comes to you, with all the samples to choose from and all the info. It was a very easy process.

3.  Freedom’s Decorator Service.  Felicia, from Freedom in Osborne Park was excellent. She really listened and understood what we wanted.  She made great suggestions and not just for Freedom things.  She helped us with all sorts of decisions like skirting, blinds and paint colours.  She gave us the confidence to do a few things that we wouldn’t otherwise have done, but really like: for example, having a couple of non-matching dining chairs; using several different types of timber in our living area and having a fitball in the study instead of a second office chair.  She was going for a feeling that was more “young and fun”, rather than trying to re-create the kind of rooms our parents would want.  No disrespect to our parents intended!

HBTW:  What is your favourite part of the house now?

M:  My favourite part of the house is looking into the kitchen from the living area, where you can see the kitchen, pendant lights, stonework and bar stools.   (HBTW:  Mine too, Miranda.  The combination is amazing.)

Caesarstone , under bench stone by   ,  Stanley hammered copper pendants from Dunlin,  stools.

Osprey Caesarstone (chosen by 90% of WBN’s clients!), under bench stone from EcoOutdoor , Stanley hammered copper pendants from Dunlin, Replica Norman Cherner barstools from Matt Blatt.

C:  My favourite part of the house is probably the home theatre, though I really like our bedroom and living area too.

Living area.

Living area.

HBTW:  What was you biggest splurge?

M:  At the time of purchase, my pendants and freestanding bath felt like big splurges but now that we’ve been worn down by all sorts of high costs, we’ve become a bit numb and those amounts don’t seem so high any more.

C:  Have you forgotten the cost of the ovens?

M:  Yes, the Miele warming drawer, normal oven and steam oven.  They were definitely my biggest splurge.

C:  My biggest splurge was the pool.  And putting the pool up against the house  – with the extra cost of footings and engineering work that required.  The plan is to put a tv in our alfresco so I can sit in the pool and still being able to watch the cricket!  I’m thinking of a housewarming party on boxing day, watching the Boxing Day Test from the pool.

HBTW:  What was the first thing you did upon receiving the keys to your new house?

M & C:  We rushed straight back to the house to let in the flooring people.  They needed to get started that day to get their work done in time for other people who were booked in. We had re-shuffled everything following a few delays.

The weekend we moved in was much happier – champagne was involved that day.

HBTW:  Thanks Miranda and Cameron for sharing your home pictures and all the nitty, gritty details.  I hope you have many happy years in your beautiful new family home!

Dining and kitchen.

Dining and kitchen.




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?

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.

Pre-construction survey

Discounting the purchase of land and a large pile of home design magazines, the pre-construction survey marks the first time we’ve handed over some money towards building a new home.  Although it only cost $500, it feels like commitment!

Land surveyThe survey confirmed that we do indeed have a rectangular block of varying levels with a canal at one end and a road at the other.  It shows some other stuff that will become useful eventually, but no surprises for us.  With this survey in hand, our preferred builder, is now willing to prepare some detailed drawings of our potential house design and its position on our block.

Current Bedtime reading

I’ve moved on from glossy magazines and Pinterest for a little while.  I’m trying to get educated on matters of home building.  There are two main incentives – getting the most out of our block and canal view in terms of house design and avoiding being ripped off at a later date because we forgot to include something in the original building contract.

This week I’ve read:

  • Town planning policy.
  • City of Mandurah Orders and Requisitions Planning Services.
  • House plan details, again and again and again.
  • Forum posts by fellow homebuilders on including an excellent multipage list of “Things you forgot”.

You can now quiz me on “set backs” (not a problem causing delay), 28 courses (alas, no food involved) and footing details (dance experience not required ).

Are there any other thrilling reads that I should be studying?

On a slightly more interesting note, I’ve spent a lot this week with a tape measure in my hand.  I have concluded that 29 courses in the bedroom is not really high enough to accommodate a ceiling fan, my current kitchen is about the same size as our proposed scullery in the new house (!!!) and the 1st Little Pig (see Characters) has grown 3 cm in 3 months.

The kitchen bench.

Attention has been drawn to the kitchen bench.  It needs to be big!  My uncle, very experienced at sitting around kitchen benches, says so.  He likes to sit and watch the cook(s), getting his fingers dangerously close to the knives, in order to sneak a little taste.  He reckons that my Mum and Dad’s kitchen bench is the perfect size, and given that it has recently been the scene of Christmas dinner preparations for 21 people, he could be right.  So I sent my Mum to measure.  3.2 m x .85 m.

Mum and Dad's kitchen bench - the gold standard in benches.

Mum and Dad’s kitchen bench – the gold standard in benches.

Here is another beautiful kitchen bench, in a beautiful home:

What do you think?  I think that it would be more useful if the space underneath the bench was cupboards, but I’m impressed by the bench’s capacity to seat a family of 5.  I wonder how long it is?  At our last abode, there was bench seating for 3, so I ate my breakfast standing up for a year.  That’s enough.

Here is another one of my favourite kitchen benches:

And here, sadly, is my current kitchen bench:

I promise never to make macaroni cheese again if I have a big kitchen bench.

I promise never to make macaroni cheese again if I can have a big kitchen bench.

If you love your kitchen bench, please measure it up and post a comment.