Before & After Smart Reno; On a tiny budget A dark, rundown terrace is gutted and refashioned into a light-filled family home

Lucky FIND a home

THINGS DIDN’T look promising during the first year of Rachel Brown and Stuart Davidson’s quest for a home. Even though search radiated further and further out from inner-city Sydney, they were repeatedly priced out. – Then they struck gold – overnight. “We found a house on a website in Rockdale with best recliners, which is just south of the airport, and made an offer. With the help of a super-helpful agent, 24 hours later, it’ s ours,” Rachel says. They paid 1405,000, and after settlement rented out the place on a six-month lease while they drew up a renovation game plan. It was going to be a big job, and they had just $30,000 to completely overhaul the old, decaying, pre-WW2 house.

HELPING HANDS Stuart’s father is a builder and was able to* recommend best-value suppliers-” and give free instruction and advice; Stuart’s uncle is a plumber; friends and Stuart’s two brothers were willing to help with labour. So with the exception of electrical work, waterproofing and sanding, Rachel and the boys did all the work themselves. It took 41/2 months, and the couple moved in just one week before their wedding.

Let’s GO for home renovation


Demolition After the house passed its check for structural integrity (conducted by a builder), the team could begin. On weekends, after work and during school holidays, they knocked out the internal dividing walls in the rear section of the house, tore Gyprock and wooden panelling off walls, and pulled out all the fittings in the kitchen and bathroom. Floors were ripped out (see page 103), revealing a fascinating collection of pre-war newspapers and other long-lost curiosities.

Time factor: about 6 weeks.

structural check for home re-fashion
structural check for home re-fashion

Structural check for home re-fashion


Stuart’ luncle the plumber came inland laid new pipes. The couple had to keep the old plumbing in the laundry because of budget.

Time factor: 1 day. ?

Who lives here? Homewares designer Rachel Brown, her husband Stuart Davidson, new baby Pietta, and Ruby the kelpie cross

  1. Home shop New mum Rachel runs her Attia Homewares business from home. She specialises in beautiful ceramics and wooden servingware. Visit the site to check out the range.
  2. Home work Stuart is a high-school teacher. School holidays came in very handy indeed for the renovations!

ATTBR: Big difference Here’s the finished living/ kitchen/dining area, taken from a similar camera angle as the image opposite. The now-renovated bathroom is behind the door at rear. Rachel had a slipcover made (from a Mokum fabric) for their Ikea “Klippan” sofa, and had cushions made from leather from NSW Leather Co and Warwick Fabrics fabric. The hide is from Spence & Lyda, Surry Hills, NSW.

living kitchen dining area
living kitchen dining area

living kitchen dining area

Ladder time


The exterior wall to the left of this paragraph – you can see it better on the previous page – was remodelled. Part of the wall was knocked out to accommodate new, large floor-to-ceiling glass doors, and the part of the structure where the old brown exit door was (see page 100) was rebricked. The ceiling was patched and the electricals were rewired. This involved scraping back long sections of wall, replacing the old wiring and electrical hardware, and then filling in the walls again. Vents for the exisiting reverse cycle air-conditioning were replaced. The brickwork was bagged with a mixture of sand and cement to achieve a roughrendered look that would later be painted, and cornices and ceiling moulds were installed.

Replacing wiring and electrical hardware at home
Replacing wiring and electrical hardware at home

Time factor: approx 3 weeks.

AFTER: Arty accessorising An Ikea PS cabinet is home to a mini gallery of white homewares, a mix of vintage and contemporary pieces that Rachel has gathered over the years while working as a stylist. The rear wall was constructed of lining boards laid horizontally. “This creates the illusion that the room is wider than it is and contrasts against the room’s height,” Rachel says. The door to the bathroom was found on the side of the road.



Quite a few of the original floorboards in the hall and bedrooms were rotten; most of them in the rear section were. All were ripped up; salvagable ones from the rear were used to repair the floor at the front. Rachel and Stuart would have liked to use kauri timber for the living/ kitchen area to match the hall but, when quoted at $6500, they had to find an alternative. They settled for 150mm Cyprus pine from Sydney Flooring (cost: $1300), which they laid themselves and had sanded and stained by a professional. As for the stain, they had wanted to use Feast Watson “Black Japan” black timber stain, but it would have cost at least $4500, so they settled for a dark Cabots stain plus a matte polyurethane sealant.

Time factor: 3 days.

AFTER: Lovely living

Rachel and Stuart love the seamless look of the plain white walls; those in the living area were bagged to let the shape of the bricks show through, rather than being rendererd. They’ll install a Jetmaster heater in the fireplace, which has a gas point, once they’ve saved up. Rachel bought the Mogens Lassen for Jorgen Wolff folding leather chairs from Great Dane Furniture long before she was married; they were made in 1946. The “All Stops To… Watsons Bay” screenprint (see was a wedding present.

Clean & fresh

Furniture renew with classical table set and reclining chairs as relax spaces in living room
Furniture renew with classical table set and reclining chairs as relax spaces in living room

Furniture renew with classical table set and reclining chairs as relax spaces in living room

The kitchen was built and installed by ZW New Concept of Granville, NSW. Corian was installed as countertops on benches as well as on the Ikea. Best recliners were setup in living rooms as a relax space in the house as a suggestion by recliner reviews site.

“Stenstorp” island – the original oak top was removed. Attia baskets store Tupperware and so on. The old school science lab stools were bought at auction. Rachel chose Whirlpool oven, gas cooker and rangehood, and a Westinghouse dishwasher.

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