We had to move home. It’s never fun, is it? So we decided to minimise the stress by finding somewhere close. We bought an apartment 15 metres up the hallway. The new abode was, in real estate agent parlance, a renovator’s dream. Or, as others pointed out, parts of it resembled a public toilet. It needed a serious spruce and we had five months to do it.
I knew moving and renovating, while working and parenting, would be challenging (it was). But surely there was plenty of time and there’d be many eager tradespeople ready to help us transform the apartment (there weren’t). But many lessons were learned, which I will share in the hope of helping others.
Lesson number one: global pandemics and geopolitical events need to be factored in when sourcing tradespeople. I called, emailed and practically begged anyone I saw wearing a hard hat to take our money and swing a hammer. But property prices, Covid-19 and somehow Russia’s Ukraine invasion meant that everyone was booked up until 2027.
When we finally found the last eight available workers in the state, the greatest challenge was coordinating them in a game of Tradie Tetris: if Roger demolishes the kitchen on Sunday morning and Stanley installs a toilet on Sunday afternoon, can Ken install the flooring before his son’s christening?
Having snaffled our workers, there was no way I was going to lose any, so I started the “tradie snack table”. I kept it well stocked, ensuring that it complied with the Australian Dietary Guidelines (NHMRC 2013). Every evening, I’d obsessively scrutinise what had been consumed. Lesson two: the Carman’s muesli bars were most popular.
The third lesson is that overthinking will wear out your adrenal glands. In my case, white paint drove me to the brink. Much of the apartment was a sickly pale green and our painter suggested going over it in Dulux Lexicon Half (AKA bog-standard white).
Before he put brush to wall, I thought it would be wise to consult the Mums Who Build, Renovate & Decorate Facebook page. There I learned that if there are 50 shades of grey, there are 50,000 of white. Who knew that white could be too sterile, creamy, yellow, “throw” blue. After a 90-minute whiteout reading posts about paint, my psychological health could withstand no more. The painter applied Dulux Lexicon Half. It looked good. And white.
After months of organising painting, carpet, hybrid flooring, blinds, lights and a kitchen, the bathroom was our final push.
My final, largest lesson comes from marketing – it is the “unattainable triangle” concept. This idea is that you can’t expect speed, quality and affordability all at once. Well, our bathroom won on affordability. After getting quotes ranging from $25,000 to $45,000, the $18,000 quote was like a breath of fresh air.
However, the drawback was a skew-whiff basin, a top drawer that occasionally falls on your toes and a toilet roll holder that offends me every time I look at it. Happily, the LED lighting is lovely – even our builder seemed shocked that something had gone well.
As the renovation wore on, we became haggard, embittered. I was even restocking the snack buffet with less gusto. We just wanted everyone out.
There was one last thing.
The bathroom people helped us paint a kitchen wall. When they finished, my partner went to put the kettle on.
“Careful,” they said, indicating the wet paint.
Pfft, I can walk through a doorway, my partner thought. But as he did, the pressure of leaving a 10cm gap on either side of his shoulders became too much. Somehow, he veered towards the wall and shouldered it, smearing their work. Was this subconscious retribution for the toilet roll holder?
“So sorry!” he cried.
The builders were dumbfounded. Wordlessly, they applied another coat.
Weeks later, we were eating dinner when there was an unexpected knock at the door. It was the bathroom builder.
“For the children,” he said, giving them a Barbie Chelsea Playhouse. Then: “Sorry for all the mistakes.”
The girls tore open the playhouse (RRP $55). It was cute, with a nifty slide. As I looked at Chelsea’s bathroom, I felt a little jealous.
She clearly opted for quality over speed and cost.