Real Homes

How this homeowner transformed her dated brick unit on a budget

Hard work and a savvy budget has helped this first-time homeowner transform her ’70s brick unit one room at a time. See the before and afters below

When Rebecca Hall clapped eyes on the 53sqm 1970s Huntly brick unit in New Plymouth, she saw the opportunity to star in her very own The Block NZ, or perhaps more aptly, “Bec’s Block NZ”. With a limited budget and help from her teammates – family and friends – she has transformed the once worn-down unit into a bright and welcoming first home.

When did you buy your house? I brought the house in 2019 through a private sale. I liked that it was small and would be low maintenance for myself. It meant that whatever I did would not be too much work to handle on my own – and the location was a plus.

Sunroom after:

Sunroom before:

Tell us about the buying process. It was a private sale. Family friends of ours own the unit next door and told me about it. We got in touch with the owner, had one quick viewing and decided to buy it. The process was hassle-free – the owner named the price and I was happy with it, so we worked through the process with our lawyers.

Kitchen after:

Kitchen before:

What were the main parts of the house you wanted to fix? I really wanted the whole house fixed and renovated because it was so dated and rundown. But I had to prioritise the key rooms as my budget wouldn’t allow for me to do it all at once. The bedroom, lounge and kitchen were done first. I was lucky to be living with my parents when I took over the property and started renovating, it made it a lot easier and quicker. It’s a small house, which is also an advantage. Being a first-time homeowner, the size meant my reno goals weren’t unachievable.

Tell us what you’ve done to it and why?
• Put in a fence to create privacy.
• Updated the bedroom by stripping back four layers of wallpaper, re-plastering and re-painting all the walls.
• Transformed the conservatory by removing the MDF boards used for the walls and exposing the concrete block wall, which I painted in a fun feature colour. I also removed the door from the lounge into the conservatory to create more room and flow. I installed sunblock blinds, which help reduce heat in this room during summer, and also work as a privacy screen.
• Updated the lounge by stripping back three layers of wallpaper, re-plastering and painting the walls. I purchased a second-hand sliding door that will be added off the lounge onto the future decking area for when the house gets landscaped and when budget will allow for these things.
• Gave the kitchen a new look by stripping back the wallpaper and removing a wall cabinet to create the appearance of more space. I also took out the door into the lounge to create better flow between these two spaces and installed a new benchtop. I retrofitted new doors and handles on the existing kitchen cupboards and tiled the splashback with subway tiles.

Were you daunted about doing it up? Not really. I come from a family of DIYers and we all love a project. My parents renovated a rental property and we all pitched in to help, so I knew what to expect. It was almost like our very own The Block NZ. So, I was very eager to start ‘Bec’s Block’. Having the final say on colour choices and materials was a highlight – even if I still had to run them past the ‘Hall Block Committee’.

What has been the biggest challenge? Money, money, money. Everything always costs more than what you think. I also want everything done now, but I’m learning to just be happy doing one space at a time.

What was the biggest thing you learned? Discovering that I can do a lot on my own. I installed the tiles in the kitchen myself. I did a lot of research and watched many YouTube tutorials. In the end, I was quite confident – it was like icing a cake!

What has been your favourite moment during the process? Choosing the design, colours, materials and interior styling on my own. I have loved creating my own space with my own taste and having all the things that I enjoy.

What was your budget and how have you kept to it? $10,000 was what I thought it would be but spent about 50 percent over. So, it ended up around $15,000.

Where did you save and where did you splurge? I saved on materials. I couldn’t afford to gut the rooms and reline the jib, so I stripped all the wallpaper back, then skim coated and painted instead. It took longer but it saved me a lot. I splurged on items like the curtains and blinds. They weren’t originally in the budget and to date they have been the most expensive purchase for the house, but was totally worth it. They’re all custom made. The wooden blinds allow privacy in the kitchen, the sunblock blinds give shade and privacy in summer and the curtains make the space feel bigger.

What is your favourite room in the house? Hands down the kitchen. It’s the latest room to be improved. I love to bake and it’s such a treat having a clean, fresh and functional area to work in.

What is something you’ve learnt about your house while transforming it? Everything always takes double or triple the time you think it will to complete. And a budget always takes longer to save than spend it.

Have you done most of the work yourself? Yes. And when I say yes, I mean with the help of family members. All that was expected in return was to make sure everyone was well fed.

Has your vision evolved throughout the process? Not really. Before I settled on the house I knew exactly the colours I wanted and the style of furniture I was going to buy. I had bought a lot of the furniture before even settling on the house. I always envisioned a subtropical garden for the exterior – and that hasn’t changed either.

Exterior after:

Exterior before:

What inspired your gorgeous colour choice in your bedroom? I love pink and thought ‘why not?’ If Lisa on The Block NZ can do a pink wall and win, it can’t be that unappealing. But finding the right pink was key. The walls are Dulux Half Haast and the feature pink wall is Berger Paints Pink Note. Two years on and I’m still in love.

What was your inspiration for the exterior makeover? The inspiration was sub-tropical beachside. I had Michael Mansvelt [landscape designer] in for a consult and he suggested painting the brick dark blue to help the unit stand out against the others. This area is still to be developed due to budget.

What are you most looking forward to doing next? The bathroom and laundry. These two areas are going to be a full gut and redo!

Interview by Bea Taylor. Photography by The Virtue. 

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