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Novice DIYers transform a brick and tile home on a shoestring budget

A 1970s brick-and-tile on Auckland’s North Shore was squandering its sea views and natural light until a pair of novice DIYers set it right on a shoe-string budget


Who lives here? 

Amy Rennell (project manager, Auckland Airport), Ben Rennell (commercial business manager), Isla, 3, and Poppy, 10 months, plus family pooch Jack.

The original home 

In February last year, after a nine-month search in a very hot market, Ben and Amy Rennell won the auction for a 1970s brick-and-tile home in Torbay on Auckland’s North Shore. The kitchen and bathrooms had been recently updated but the home’s layout was typical of the era it was built in, with lots of small separate rooms which did nothing to capitalise on the property’s best asset: a sea view.

Although the home is situated on a modest section (469 square metres) every inch is usable. “On our long hunt for a house, we saw time and time again that houses with good indoor-outdoor flow and charming outdoor living spaces attracted more interest and were in higher demand,” says Amy. “On this basis, we realised that the house had potential for us to add value without having to do the expensive parts – ie the kitchen and bathrooms.”


Ben and Amy did most of the building work themselves – no mean feat with a then two-year-old Isla in tow and Amy pregnant with Poppy. “My father helped us out at weekends and we employed a local builder, Lee Branford, for the key structural elements,” explains Amy. With limited building experience, Ben watched YouTube tutorials for many of the DIY projects he tackled single-handedly.

Amy admits that the design was an organic process that came out of many evenings spent brainstorming, debating, consulting and finally agreeing. They used the RoomSketcher software to plot and reconfigure their ideas, visualise their new spaces and work out the placement of furniture.



Oh so ’70s 

The house had some typical 1970s design features, but they looked dated and were out of character with the clean, modern look Ben and Amy were trying to achieve, so they had to go. The original amber glass panel from the front door was replaced with clear safety glass to allow natural light to flood in. The couple also ditched the old ranch slider and windows in favour of contemporary floor-to-ceiling door stackers to maximise the extensive views out over the Hauraki Gulf. And then there was the perplexing issue of the built-in pelmets fitted over every window and external door in order to conceal the curtain rails – but more on that later.


Open plan

The five-month renovation project completely transformed the dark, poky spaces of the living room and entryway, with the old entrance hall now merged with the living zone to maximise the floor area.

However, although the galley-style kitchen had only recently been modified, it wasn’t to Ben and Amy’s taste, the layout felt disjointed and it didn’t fit well with modern family living. So after the hall wall was removed, Ben and Amy decided to carry on with the demolition, knocking down part of the wall that separated the kitchen from the living room to create a seamless, open-plan space. Ben stripped the rear wall of the kitchen back to its framework, having ruined the plasterboard when he’d chipped away the old tiles. He then installed Aqualine GIB and created a splashback of offset white subway tiles – self-taught from a YouTube tutorial. A white engineered-stone breakfast bar completed the pair’s open-plan design.

Structural concerns 

The original front deck – complete with iron railings and grey-stained timber – turned out to have some serious structural issues so it was a blessing in disguise that the couple decided to rebuild it when they did.



Layers of cheap vinyl planks had been laid over the top of grimy old lino in the kitchen. It took days of arduous labour to remove the lino, which had been glued down. “Removing the lino was by far the worst part of the renovation,” remembers Amy.

New carpet had only recently been laid in the living room but it was impractical for family living and also not conducive to the seamless, open-plan vision Ben and Amy shared. “It seemed counterproductive to rip out good-quality, nearly new carpet so we shrink-wrapped it and put it in storage, ready for the next reno project!,” laughs Amy.

Laminate floorboards were then installed throughout the living area. “Solid wood floors will always have the design advantage, but laminate is so practical when you have children or pets, or for rentals,” says Amy. “The products available now are so diverse and look great.” It was also exceptionally cost effective with the lounge, kitchen and dining area (53 square metres) costing less than $4000, including installation.


Decks & landscaping 

One aspect that the couple found challenging was the design of the decks and garden. “We wanted to create privacy as well as maximise the sea views and indoor-outdoor flow,” Amy recalls. The solution was an amazing timber screening product called ‘Rhombus’ from Abodo. “We used it as the balustrade on our deck. It has an angled profile designed to allow light and airflow at an angle, but provide privacy when looked at straight on,” explains Amy. “Depending on how far apart you space the slats, you can control the amount of privacy you want to achieve. It is also super styley and looks incredible.”

Pelmet palava 

Unfortunately, removing the pelmets in the living area was to be no easy task as it would mean removing the entire ceiling, but the couple were determined to press ahead. Although the family lived on site during the rest of the renovation, they moved in with Ben’s parents for 10 days when the ceiling came down, as the dust made the house uninhabitable. It was at this stage that Ben discovered someone had simply plastered over two layers of fibreboard to make the ceiling, and also the wiring up there was not up to code. Ben and builder Lee plasterboarded the ceiling after an electrician had attended to the wiring and installed new LED downlights.


The aspect 

Before Ben and Amy started their renovation they couldn’t see the view from the kitchen, and an unnecessarily large entrance hall occupied a big portion of the coastal aspect. “We wanted the house to feel relaxed, functional and, most importantly, we wanted the new layout to make the most of the views out to Rakino,” Amy says. “It was also important to us that we created natural flow onto the north-facing deck at the front of the house.” Fast-forward to the end of the project: the hallway and kitchen have been incorporated into a much larger, open-plan living area, and the home is visually connected to its lush surroundings and the sea beyond. “The reno was definitely the busiest time of our lives,” says Amy. “But would we change it? No way!”


Save vs splurge 

“With Ben doing the majority of building work himself (between working full time), we have saved significantly on labour costs,” says Amy, whose love of hunting out a bargain, or finding old or discarded items to bring back to life, has also helped balance the books. “I love experimenting, too, and doing as much as I can myself – making the frames for stretching canvas, making shelves from off-cuts, sewing cushion covers and upcycling furniture.” As for splurges, Ben and Amy steadfastly agree that splashing out on the Rhombus outdoor screening has been well worth the investment, noting they have received so many positive comments since its installation.

Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Emma MacDonald.

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