Big Blue House

Bitchen in the kitchen

So we bought a kitchen.

By we, I mean Rebekah.
By bought, I mean overpaid.
And by kitchen, I mean half – as in half of the required cabinets to fill the space we have planned for our new kitchen.
That’s what happens when you leave your pregnant Mrs alone with a smartphone, access to your Trademe account and 30 minutes to kill.


The new kitchen complete came with as-new smeg oven, gas hobs and rangehood

If you follow her logic, it’s my fault because the only reason she was at kindy early was because she had to drop me at work (it was raining and I couldn’t ride my bike) and the kitchen was on my watchlist.
If you follow my logic, she is nuts for buying a major purchase for our house without considering it’s dimensions, checking our plans or consulting the person who is managing the project.  Me.

The only warning I got was two short text messages:
“I just bid on a kitchen”.
Followed 2 minutes later by
“I just bought a kitchen”


The sink and tap were included by the dishwasher wasn’t

At first I was bit gutted (my response resulted in my buying a bunch of ‘sorry I said you’re nuts’ bunch of flowers) because the kitchen is a delicate part of the renovation puzzle and I had spent many hours researching our options.
From the outset I earmarked the kitchen as a one area where we could save some money without compromising on the finished look and feel.



They say it is the heart of the home – and sure it’s where you prepare the family meals and share a cuppa with the Mrs in the morning – but it’s essentially a bunch of MDF boxes and there are plenty of ways to achieve a brilliant finish without paying the dazzling, custom-made prices.

In our last house, we bought a $12,000 ex-display kitchen from local joinery The Seller’s Room for just $3,400. I installed it myself and it looked brand spanking new and significantly improved the value and our enjoyment of the home.

brunner street kitchen

Our old kitchen

This time the kitchen space is much larger. An L-shape with a double return (I think Rebekah just made that description up –does it make sense?) and the longest bench runs for over 4metres. When it’s finished it has to look and feel brand new. The brother-in-law says we are looking at the wrong side of $20,000 to walk in through the front door and order that through a joiner. But I’m not a front door kind of guy.

kitchen layout
The best case scenario would have been to land another load of cabinetry from a local joiner who’s updating their show room. If you’re can find one these, you basically get a brand new kitchen at a second hand price – with the added bonus of building a relationship with someone who is actually skilled at making kitchens. The Seller’s Room were a top bunch of people: they gave us fixings, and installation advice and follow up service. You’ll see these kitchens come up every now and again on trademe but they often go for a premium. I think you’re better off to simply hit the phones and call all your local guys and ask them if they’re updating their show room anytime soon.
Our second option was to buy a second-hand kitchen and make it new again. With the Christchurch rebuild in full swing, there are heaps of kitchens coming out of red-zoned houses all the time and you can pick them up for a song. The thing when looking at a second hand kitchen is to forget about it’s current shape. It’s very unlikely you’re going to find one that you can copy and paste into your home. Instead think of them as a jigsaw puzzle. Modular kitchens are just a collection of standard-sized boxes called carcasses lined up next to each other with doors and drawers and a bench on top. It’s the carcasses that you build the kitchen with and to some extent, it doesn’t even matter how old they are. They’re all made from the same stuff and spend most of their lives hidden from view so you won’t notice the difference between them in a $5000 or a $50,000 kitchen.

My approach was to get cheap carcasses and spend good money on the things where you can feel the quality – door handles, bench tops and tap ware. If the doors are dated you can get the repainted or replaced or even relaminated. You can get cool handles cheap from ebay. Tapware and bench tops are something I’ll look at in more detail in future blogs.


It comes with a massive pantry

So obviously we (or she), has opted for the second option and I should point out that its not all bad. The kitchen cost $4000 (+ $700 delivery), and was part of a renovation that was underway at a Mt Pleasant home when the earthquake struck. It’s mostly white and comes with Smeg appliances, a glass splash back, a sink and a tap. It’s actually really good value. But the problem for us is that we can’t use either of the benches and we still need to by a bunch more cabinetry. And here lies the dilemma. It doesn’t make sense to refinish new joinery and its unlikely we’re going to get another lot of second hand goods to match.


So what do you think? Was this kitchen a bargain? And how do we make it work….


Budget update:

Total cost of project so far:

$1100 Architect concepts
$115 Floorboard salvage
4700 Kitchen

$5915 Total so far


Categories: Big Blue House | Leave a comment

How to salvage floorboards

Big blue house #3 (our renovation blog):  How to get a house load of salvaged Rimu hardwood floorboards for free.

“Do you want to go to that auction?” asks Rebekah.

“What auction, I don’t remember talking about an auction.” I’m suspicious.

“We’ll just go for a look.”

That should have been my first warning.  (The last auction she went to, she came home with a box of old paints and a rug that you wouldn’t step on in bare feet without a tetanus shot).


Rebekah has signed up to the e-mailing list of the local auctioneer John Walker and he’s tipped her off about a demolition sale for a 1950’s bungalow.  The house belongs to a young couple who are knocking it down and starting again – and they are selling off all the pieces in an effort to see them reused and to save on landfill costs.  There’s an automatic garage door (sold for $110), a heat pump (sold for $140 but cost another $100 to be degassed) a 30m2 deck (sold for $50) a kitchen (sold for $50), an aluminum external door (sold for $10) as well as internal doors, bathroom fittings, windows, carpet, a fridge, a stereo, a coffee table and even a couple of framed art prints.

But we were there for the floor.  Turns out, Bob was too. Bob is an old pensioner who’s building a loft at his house and needed the joists but had no use for the Rimu floorboards attached to them.  We met him before the auction started and came to a deal not to bid against each other.  The floor was the last item to go under the hammer and when the bidding started, it was only us interested and we bought it for $10. That’s $5 each, but when we went to pay Bob he said not to worry about it.  So effectively we got a house lot of floorboards free.


Bargain! The only catch was that I had to remove it. By hand. By myself.

demolition man

demolition man…

What followed was 8 days (hours spent after my day job and on the weekends) of the hardest, dirtiest, s#@test work of my life.  Without boring you with all the details it went something like this:  Bend, bang, squat, jimmy, squat, cut, squat, cough, choke, squat some more, groan, step on nail, limp, swear, borrow boots from neighbor, get kick-arse power tool, catch red hot metal in your lips, lay on broken tiles, roll in spider webs, break the mother-in-law’s tail light (don’t tell her, she hasn’t notice yet)….



the walls and roof were removed while I was lifting the floorboards

After getting practically nowhere for 6 days, I was ready to give up when the brother-in-law (everybody needs a builder brother-in-law) lent me his reciprocating (repo saw) saw and I got up most of the floor in the final two days. I’m sure there are plenty of smarter people out there who could give you a better way but this is what I found best:


The foreman keeping watch on my progress

  •          Step 1: Get under the floor and use a sledge hammer to bang up at each board directly to next to each joist.  You need to hit the board hard enough to lift the nails (and create a gap between the board and joist), but not so hard that you shatter the board.  (Old Rimu is really dry and really brittle and easy to crack)
  •          Step 2: Insert repo saw blade between joist and boards
  •          Step 3: unleash the power!  If you’ve lifted each board enough, the saw will slice through the nails like butter.  (There’s nothing as satisfying as feeling each one ping). And once you’ve cut all the nails, the boards should just wriggle apart.

In the end I managed to salvage a little over 60m2 of boards.  It’s 82mm wide rimu that if you look on trade me goes for upwards of $5m/per lineal metre.  That’s approx. $60/m2 which means I managed to harvest about $3600 worth of floorboards.

IMAG0105 (1)

A labourer’s impression of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ – I call it, The Stinker

As well as being a massive saving for our budget, the hard work we put into salvaging those boards will make them a sentimental favourite feature of the finished project.

On a sad note, I’d like acknowledge my favorite pair of old footy shorts that sacrificed themselves for these floorboards.  Although much loved, they were just not up to all that squatting and split down the seam from too much squatting.


Got wood: the salvaged floorboards all tucked up in my garage

If you’re interesting in salvaging your own materials here’s a few things to consider:

  •          (Demolition/salvage auctions don’t come up every day and they’re generally not well publicized.  To ensure you’re ready when they do come up, it’s worth phoning/googling your local auction houses to get an idea of who specializes in these types of auctions and then join their mailing list.
  •          The young couple who owned the house were quoted upwards of $12,000 for the demolition and removal of their house.  By running the auction they made a small profit, saved thousands in dumping fees and gave much of their old home a new life. But before you consider opening your home up to the amateur salvagers, check with your local council to find out about permits and health and safety requirements.
  •          Invest in some basic safety equipment – ear muffs, glasses, and footy shorts at the least.  Also, if working with floorboards, a decent pair of builder’s gloves will save you heaps of pain – trust me!


Total cost of salvage:

$40: koha (donation to neighbor) for electricity
$75: for saw blades
Priceless:  my old footy shorts
Total: $115

Total cost of project so far:

$1100 Architect concepts
$115 Floorboard salvage

$1215 Total so far


Categories: Big Blue House | 2 Comments

Big Blue House #2: What’s the plan Stan

Status update:

  • Draftsman working on plans
  • Rebekah entered final trimester (and fell down the stairs) – 12 weeks to go!
  • Alvin stole a family size block of chocolate then spewed on the brother-in-law’s new shag-pile carpet (awkward!)
  • Tasman rode his pedal bike all by himself (= one very proud dad)


Tip of the week

  • Maximise your planning spend by getting an architect to create design concepts and a draftsman to turn them into working drawings.


So, What’s the plan Stan……..


As my brother-in-law the builder likes to say: ‘a good build starts with good drawings”.

Our drawings started with two tables for sale on TradeMe.

We’d already had a couple of draftsmen around to quote on our renovation project when I bought two work desks (fashioned from old doors with Kermit-green legs) for The Inside’s show room.  As fate would have it, the desks were being retired from local architect firm Arthouse, and its founder David Wallace gave up his lunch break to help me carry our new character pieces down the stairs. What a champion.

david wallace

David Wallace

Next thing, David is up at our house talking over our grand plans and sharing his blend of artistic flare and practical design experience gained over 20 years in the game.

With our budget, it simply wasn’t feasible to contract an architect as they operate on a project-management-like basis as opposed to just supplying a set of building plans (and their fee schedule is based around a per centage of your build cost which will work out more expensive than a standard draftsman’s drawings).

But we were lucky enough to be able to get David to create some hand-drawn concepts for us.  Much more than delivering a set of sketches, David led us through a process and helped us realise a balance between what we desired, what we needed, what we could afford, how to maximise existing space and how best to tailor it to our family’s needs. He was also very clever at using existing walls and window openings to minimise cost.


With projects like these, you have to choose where you spend your money (and where you don’t) so at $1100, this was approximately 1% of our budget – and a big call.  At the beginning, it’s impossible to see around all the corners ahead but David helped deliver clarity and focus and a sense that we are heading on the right path.  I think we’ll look back on it as money well spent.

So, this is the plan, Stan.  We are going to convert our 2 bedroom 1970’s retirement home into a modern 4-bedroom home for a young family.  The rabbit warren that is our existing bottom level, will be turned into our main sleeping quarters with three bedrooms, a master bathroom and plenty of storage.

14121 (C01) Hicks Adam - 6 Britannia Heights Nelson - 03 Mar 2014_Page_1

Downstairs current (left) and future floor plans

The over ’80s couples retreat that is our top level, will be transformed in a large open-plan space with kitchen, dinning and lounge with a separate guest bedroom/playroom with an ensuite.

14121 (C01) Hicks Adam - 6 Britannia Heights Nelson v 2- 03 Mar 2014_Page_2

Upstairs current (left) and future floor plans


We’re going to replace the conservatory with a new deck to create a good indoor-outdoor flow, and bring the great views into our main living quarters by putting in as much glass as possible. We’re talking all new joinery, a new staircase, new kitchen, new bathroom, levelling floors, new log burner, re-insulating all walls, and re-jibbing.  And that’s just off the top of my head (I’ll talk budgets and costs in a coming post – but already I’m having heart palpitations at the thought of the mortgage…breathe Ads, just breathe…).

We’ve taken David’s concepts to our draftsman, Jeremy at Gowan’s Walters who turned them into these floor plans.  In the long run, we hope that having the architect concepts sorted before going to Jeremy will cut down on his time and work out to be a similar cost as if we just used a draftsman – except at the end we can say that we have an architecturally-designed renno….

It has been a real process to arrive at this layout and we’re satisfied this will give us a good balance of practical family living and maximising it’s best asset: the view.

What do you think of our plans?

How have you handled your own design process?

Drop us a comment below or hit us on our facebook page.

And if you like reading of our misadventures, please sign up so you receive all future updates.

Categories: Big Blue House | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at