Real Homes

This 10-year Wellington renovation is the ultimate labour of love

A long-time renter saw the potential in a rundown Wellington townhouse that others dismissed on first viewing. See the before and after shots of this renovation below

When searching for property, hopeful homeowners will often wait for the magic “love at first sight” or the “this is the one” moment. Tracy Clements experienced the opposite on viewing a rundown townhouse in Lyall Bay, Wellington that would soon become her home.

“I walked in and thought, ‘Oh god, this is awful’,” says Tracy. “It didn’t present well at all, it was full of stuff and it hadn’t been maintained well at all. People were going in and coming out pretty quickly at the open home.”

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It took three more visits for Tracy to see any potential in the light-filled, three-storey home. “I felt like it had good bones, even though it had nothing else, so I thought, ‘Yes, I can make it work’. I put a bid in and got it. No one else wanted it.”

It was on her 40th birthday that Tracy describes having a lightbulb moment, asking herself, “Why am I still renting?” She recalls, “I had that panic attack moment where I thought if
I didn’t buy something soon, then I’m not going to be able to get on the [property] ladder.” She spent 18 months tirelessly working her way around various open homes, so when her offer was accepted for the townhouse, her inner homemaker was raring to go.

“I’ve always rented, so I’ve never been able to make something my own. With this place, it was like I can finally express myself,” says Tracy. “I realise all my walls are Resene Black White, so when I say ‘express myself’, I mean everything is done by choice.”

The background palette might be neutral, but the furnishings are not. A bright orange couch sits pride of place in the living room. “The orange sofa is the best choice I’ve ever made, it makes me happy. You come in the house and there it is. For a small space it makes a big impact, which is the point,” says Tracy.

Not only did entering the property game allow Tracy to make a house into a home for the first time, it also allowed this DIY go-getter to put her power tools to work. “I was quite excited, I love getting my toolbox out!” she exclaims. “I had to be patient and bring it to life as and when I could.”

Over six years, Tracy saved and spent as she could afford it. “It’s just me on my own here and I didn’t have the money to do everything at once. Every spare dollar I have earned has gone into this house,” she says.

Where to start was the main question, and an easy one to answer, as it turned out. A week before she moved in, Tracy painted all the interior walls white, saying goodbye to the fluoro yellow colour that had taken up residence previously. After that headache was gone, Tracy pondered the next big things to tackle. “I asked myself, ‘What could ruin the house?’ and the answer was water and fire, so I got on to the plumbing and electrics straight away.”

It was lucky she did, as her plumber quickly discovered Dux Qest plumbing all throughout the house. “It is the worst piping ever,” says Tracy. “It’s a failed product and
a lot of houses in New Zealand still have it.” Case in point, last year some pipes in the carport sprung a leak. They had to be removed and reinstalled. “Luckily, it was not inside the house,” Tracy says.

“I think you’ve got to live in a house for a while to know what you can live with,” she says. The carpets may have been threadbare, but that was something she could live with for a couple of years. Painting the walls was an easy option and curtains were simple to replace with a budget alternative until proper window treatments can be further down the track. “You’ve got to pace yourself,” Tracy says.

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The kitchen renovation was a turning point for Tracy’s feelings toward her new home. “I didn’t love this house. I wasn’t embarrassed by it, but I didn’t have a lot of people
over in the first year. But once I had the kitchen installed, it was just transformed.”

To describe the space as a “kitchen” was, in fact, generous. It was more of a kitchenette. Tracy worked with a designer at Kitchen Studio who helped bring her vision to life. They extended the space by one metre to make it a workable area and pulled together a palette of crisp white walls, streamlined cabinetry, a warm wooden bench and a hint of Resene Periglacial Blue.

“I come home at night, turn on the under-cabinet lights and that’s the mood. It’s really nice,” says Tracy. “It transformed the house, but it also transformed me a little bit. I felt quite proud of the changes that were occurring. That’s when I became really house-proud.”

In fact, it was the bathroom that got Tracy’s undivided attention from the get-go. “It was the first thing to be done because it was the worst room in the house,” she says. It took her six months to save up before she could go ahead and transform the rundown space into a room that’s now unrecognisably light, bright and modern. Lessons were learned along the way, says Tracy. “There’s nothing I’m super upset by, but I look at the bathroom and I think there is a lot I would change. It was the first room I did – and a lot I didn’t know.” Heated floors and a bespoke shower are among the “if only” musings.

With a house that’s 5.5 metres wide and a total of 110sqm (including the carport), storage space comes at a premium. Tracy has put in extra storage to make her home more functional. The kitchen wasn’t big enough to have a pantry, so she employed the use of a lazy Susan pots’ cupboard to be a pantry stand-in. Hidden drawers in the kick space also offer storage options.

Furniture, too, has come under a Marie Kondo-like ruling. “I had to stop looking on Trade Me,” says Tracy. “I didn’t have anywhere to put anything.” As a treat to celebrate finishing the reno, she bought a Meluka sideboard. She measured it out on the floor with masking tape to ensure it was going to work in the space but when they brought it over the balcony – yes, it had to be lifted in –
she realised it was too big. So, the dining table and chairs got the chop. A fold-out table and chairs have now replaced their larger predecessors, which are a better fit for the space, she says.

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It might have taken a while for Tracy to fall for her little townhouse, but 10 years of renovating and shaping it into her dream home have truly cemented the love affair. From her perch in Lyall Bay she can watch a storm roll in or the sun shine on the sea. “It’s a weather-watcher’s dream living in Lyall Bay,” she says. “When you live by the beach, you celebrate a nice day.”

“I’m in love with my house. I wasn’t for a long time and I now I have no intention of moving. It’s great, it’s such a relief. I love living here.”

Words by: Bea Taylor. Photography by: Elizabeth Goodall

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