A BuildHer Building Tale with Alison Lewis
LET'S TAKE A DEEPER DIVE INTO HER KEW RENOVATION
Like many of us, Alison has worn a number of hats, collecting experience in a range of complimentary roles that led her to the hard hat she wears now. Harnessing the analytical side of her brain for her early career years working in cybersecurity and finance, eventually Alison craved creative stimulation, returning to study Interior Design in her late 20s.
While studying, Alison’s experiences in residential and display home property styling helped her to narrow down precisely the aspects of design and development that she wanted to be a part of.
After leaving her full-time role in April, Alison has pursued her Interior Designs career while designing and project managing their Kew home. But Alison reveals that if it weren’t for a spur of the moment decision, it wouldn’t have happened at all.
Previously renovating and selling an industrial modern home in Eltham, Alison discovered an appreciation for the labour of love that is the development journey. After the sale of Eltham, the family spent five months on the hunt for a new space to call home.
Viewing the 1930s Californian bungalow in Kew off-market, Alison took a walk-through video of the home for reference, verbalising ideas for the space as she went along. Placing an offer, it was rejected.
As the unsold property moved on-market, Alison and her husband weren’t entirely convinced that the home was for them – but they hadn’t really let it go either. The home had a beautiful period style and wonderful bones, yet on the day of the auction, they decided they might be rushing into the purchase, and decided not to bid, attending the auction for a little closure.
Standing on the busy street, the couple quickly realised how few people were bidding. Seizing the opportunity, they jumped in with a relatively high bid and blew the active bidders out of the water. As bidding ground to a halt, the couple negotiated for 45-day terms, and their offer was accepted from one last-minute bid! What a rollercoaster.
Now the proud owners of a Kew masterpiece in the making, Alison had 45 days to rack her brain and create a vision for the home, spending the most time on the floor plan to turn dark and poky rooms into a light, open plan space.
As an interior designer, Alison is always keen to try different looks, in this instance excited to design a period style home, enhancing those ornate cornices, 3.1m ceilings and original Baltic pine floors.
Influenced by the desires of the affluent Kew residents and wannabe Kew residents, Alison dictated the quality of build and the style to those who would choose to live there. Inspired by Hecker Guthrie and mim design, referring back to her walk-through video musings, and pinning well-executed small homes on Pinterest, Alison crafted an initial concept for the home.
Yet upon moving in, the couple didn’t begin straight away, simply ripping up and replacing the carpets, and choosing to sit thoughtfully in the property for a while.
With only 300m2 to work with, and the house taking up most of that space, Alison cites this process as crucial in helping them to understand the flow and best use of each space – not to mention the best light.
Alison took the building journey entirely at the pace her family could handle and afford, affectionately referring to the stages of the build (to the exasperation of the builder) as stage 1, 2 and 3. Bit by bit, as the couple saved money, they ticked through their stages, taking 2.5 years.
Alison well and truly loved every stage of the journey from her position as designer and project manager. This was the first time that Alison had managed and scheduled her trades. Blessed with an open-minded builder who relished a design challenge, Alison insists that the trusting relationships she developed, particularly with her builder and chippy, and working through the (many) challenges was her favourite part of the process, learning a ton along the way.
Feeling supported by her crew despite the design challenges she threw at them, Alison felt confident to say I appreciate that you’ve never done this before – thank you, and how can we try to get the best outcome?
The house was an overall challenge. Coined ‘the house from hell’ by the builders, unfortunately, the structural integrity of the 1930s home was compromised by particularly crumbly bricks and termites.
This forced Alison to redesign as she went along based on what issues that arose through the demolition work. As they went to replace the windows overlooking the north-facing backyard, they found the entire back section had been demolished by termites, and was no longer structurally sound, forcing them to spend funds meant for a skylight over the kitchen on rebuilding the back structure.
Endlessly positive, Alison insists that’s why we have contingencies! In a stroke of fate, when they replaced the back section with new windows and experienced the abundance of natural light it introduced to the space, they realised a skylight would have been overkill.
The other challenge presented by preserving existing features was the havoc termites wreaked on the pink painted floorboards, as the couple realised when they quite literally fell through the boards at the back of the house.
Believe it or not, Baltic pine boards experienced a change in standardised width in 1979, so sourcing their 1978 boards was almost impossible. Unwilling to compromise on attention to detail, it was a definite win for Alison when she tracked down enough down enough 1978 boards to complete their floors, insisting it’s the little 1%ers that make a difference!
Experiencing the result, it’s hard to argue with Alison’s logic. Replicating the subtle curves of the façade, curves form a large part of connecting the dots from original to serene new build.
I love the finishes – my KitKat tiles! I love being able to pick up little details through the house so it’s nice and cohesive. It’s a really calming space for me. Warm textures and materials appeal to me, they make me feel calm.
The curved island bar wrapped in feature tiling draws the eye, while whitewashed boards are illuminated by an abundance of natural light.
I love that we’ve been able to open it up. I love the new open plan floor plan; the kitchen, dining and living all have a nice relationship together.
Alison is also a massive advocate for practicality, citing her kitchen’s floor-to-ceiling cabinetry and the new ensuite as two of her favourite additions.
Never losing patience and never short with her trades, Alison always brings her team coffee, and works hard to ensure everyone involved feels as though they are working towards the best collective outcome.
My top tip would be to go with the flow. Things are going to come up. I think if you accept that it’s not going to be exactly how you envisioned it, but it’s still going to be beautiful, it takes a lot of pressure off. Don’t get too stressed, there’s always a solution.
A big part of being able to go with the flow is a solid contingency plan and budget.
I’ve never come across or worked on a project that hasn’t had something come up and mean an additional cost. Make sure your budget and costs are right.
Alison insists that a collaborative approach with the builder, designer and architect will help you find the best solution.
Last but not least, Alison insists that you have fun with it! If it’s what you want to do, renovate and be a part of it, have as much fun as you can.
Completing their building journey in Winter 2020, Alison and the family had planned to spend three months in Bali, but, thanks to COVID-19, the plan has pivoted. If there’s any silver lining to the pandemic for the family, it’s the flexibility granted to Alison’s husbands work life, showing his employer that he is able to work easily from home, and allowing them to get away.
At current, they’re living in their beautiful space, and are about to spend five months in Byron Bay! Having just listed the property on Airbnb as a luxury rental, the family are taking the opportunity while their daughter is young to experience a lifestyle change. Renewed lifestyle flexibility is certainly Covid’s silver lining. We will be scouting homes. If it’s something that we do like it will be a permanent move.
Everything has lined up and it’s given us this opportunity. The plan is that I invest in a property to renovate for myself in the next 12 months, either up north or in Melbourne.
One of the first guests to rent the home is another BuildHer member, whose own space will be unliveable for ten weeks, giving her the chance to experience the beautiful completed home.
In the meantime, as one of the BuildHer 8, Alison will continue to play her role designing one of the homes of the Rathmines project from afar, flying down for the key milestones. While in Byron, Alison and the family will be scouting homes, armed with the flexibility to wait for the right home before they begin their next development adventure.
DESIGN consults with alison now available!
And in breaking news… we are so excited to share with you the news that Alison has also joined the BuildHer Collective team and is now available to provide online “Design Consults”.
What’s a design consult you ask? It’s an opportunity to have a qualified Interior Designer to help you with floorplans, layout, materials and finishes, styling, share advice on suppliers, AND give you all of the insider tips and tricks of the trade!
Want to find out more, then book in for a free 20 minute consult to explore how we can help you. Click HERE to book in today!
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