There are plenty of home design shows on the box, but unfortunately their stories tend to revolve around outrageous 'Grand Designs' that many of us cannot afford. The rest focus on quick and easy fixes that will ensure you get the best price at auction. And while that has its place, it overlooks the value and importance of design, conflating a coat of white paint (always white) with good design. That is light-years from the truth. So when you're planning your family home? When you're in it for the long haul, not a quick flip? Where do you turn? Well, I may be biased, but engaging an architect is a great start. As Jos Tan Architects show us in this renovation of Staley Apartment in Melbourne, an architect's touch is valuable, even on small projects with limited budgets...
With the owner-occupiers of Staley Apartment expecting a baby and in full nesting mode, they were keen to create a home for their fledgling family. Their apartment, the victim of many years of the buy, rent, flip cycle, needed some work. This is the story for many similar apartments where years of bare-minimum maintenance and neglect leave them feeling sad and tired - not the place you'd want to raise your family.
Jos Tan Architects saw the project as their opportunity to prove an apartment can be a great family home, while also doing their small bit to improve the quality of Melbourne's older housing stock. The challenge was to balance cost and quality to deliver a high quality home on a modest budget. The solution was to focus on good design that will enrich the family's life, rather than focus on fancy materials. "As a general rule, we believe that good planning and design go a lot further than expensive materials when it comes to getting value for money", explains Jos.
Not many families consider living in an apartment, but the architect's focus on spacial planning and quality of life means a relatively small space can now function for the young family. As Jos explains, "Not many units like this have a separate kitchen complete with pantry and ducted range-hood, much less a proper laundry space that doubles as a baby change area."
No young family has surplus time, so material choices such as the composite stone bench tops came down to durability and ease of maintenance. There were also some bargains which helped to stretch the construction budget, "The porcelain tiles in the kitchen were sourced from a disposal warehouse for next to nothing, and those in the bathroom are standard white glazed ceramic", says Jos. Simple timber shelves add extra storage space (you can never have too much), but also help to warm and soften the other hard surfaces.
Anyone who's renovated will tell you you're bound to uncover some nasties in the process. In this case, several layers of flooring laid on top of each other over the years in both the kitchen and bathroom needed to be pulled up before laying the new floor. In addition, the electrical cabling in the bathroom wasn't installed correctly. "It was evident that past renovators had chosen to cover up, or to do half-fixes – presumably because it was cheaper to do so", explains Jos. "Fixing those problems properly was not just the right thing to do, but also improved the experience of using the spaces while increasing the value of the property."
And for those watching at home, hoping to transform your own tired apartment, Jos offers this sage advice, "If you ever want to completely transform the feel of an apartment while significantly improving its thermal performance, just replace the old venetian blinds (and they are always old venetian blinds) with some good quality drapes."
So unlike the TV shows that encourage short-term thinking to fuel the buy, rent, flip cycle, taking a step back and prioritising what changes will make the biggest impact to daily living is the best way to prepare a home for long-term family life. Best of all? Good design doesn't have to cost a bomb.