Renovation 'one major learning curve after another' stuff nation

Sanjay and Jess Singh with their daughters (from left) Leila, Nala and Me'a.
Jess Singh

Sanjay and Jess Singh with their daughters (from left) Leila, Nala and Me'a.

Late last year we realised we needed a bigger home but after two-and-a-half years of renovating we were reluctant to sell. We decided we could leave it behind if we could find a new build or something that required little work.

We did not expect our house to be snapped up before we even had a potential home on the horizon. Panic set in and we ended up breaking all our rules, purchasing an outdated and unattractive 80s red brick house that required a complete overhaul.

Why did we buy it? It is a large family home, it's warm, has great bones, and the kids loved the pool.

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The goal is to renovate this house as quickly as possible. After what feels like 10 years of ongoing house renovations we couldn't put ourselves or the kids through another drawn out remodel.

* What to think about before renovating
* Keep neighbours onside when renovating
* Films for interior design lovers

We have been here five months now and have completed three bedrooms, the hallways, entrance, living room and the kitchen (minus the flooring which is sitting in the garage calling out to be laid). On sunny days we attack outside and we are two-thirds of the way through painting the exterior brick and fences.

As a family there's just one guideline for the Singhs' decorating style... if they love, they do it.
Jess Singh

As a family there's just one guideline for the Singhs' decorating style... if they love, they do it.

We like to think we enjoy doing it all ourselves - installing plaster board, plastering, painting, tiling - but it means loads of late nights, throw-together meals and semi-neglected children. As a family though, we know the end result will be worth it.

This is our fourth renovation. People often say we are lucky we have the skills to renovate ourselves, but honestly it has been one major learning curve after another.

When we started on our first house we were in our early 20s with no hands-on experience, but we were determined to learn. We had ideas of what we wanted our home to look like and knew we didn't have the money to get professionals in to do it for us.

Over time, as our confidence grew, we went from painting and making minor changes to trying anything that didn't require a qualified builder, electrician or plumber. Even then, when they were called in we tried to be as hands-on as possible and pick up as many new skills as we could - this is the royal 'we', it was really just my husband Sanjay.

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Our renovation budget is tight so having a plan and deciding what we want to accomplish is really important.

We always start in an easy room, the one that needs the least amount of work. That way we can see results in a short period of time, which motivates us to continue onto the next room.

Worst renovations when you want a return 
Surviving the trauma of renovation
* Tips for avoiding renovation blowouts

We always have a clear design concept in mind. We are minimal by nature, but in this house I really want a more organic feel.

I was inspired by the Bohemian vibes in my favourite Instagram feeds but we knew an authentic Bohemian aesthetic wouldn't work for our family. So we have compromised by adding loads of natural fibres, textures and plants, yet sticking with natural colours and white walls.

Mood boards are a must, taking home enough options of paint and flooring to compare and see what will work with permanent fixtures. Wherever possible we will purchase locally made, handcrafted or second hand.

Our girls all like to get involved with designing their bedrooms and have very strong ideas about what they like and what they DON'T!

Guide to choosing tiles
Natural fibres for natural beauty
* How to spruce up your kitchen cabinets

Jess says the couple love different wall hangings. The Bleubell Macrame bedhead in their master bedroom is a favourite.
Jess Singh

Jess says the couple love different wall hangings. The Bleubell Macrame bedhead in their master bedroom is a favourite.


We have had loads of wins. The features I hated when we moved in have definitely grown on me as we progress through the reno.

The stained 80's glass, raked ceilings and angled windows have become features of the house, now they are not competing with the poorly painted multi-coloured walls and mis-matched ceiling light shades and wall lights.

Everything has run nice and smoothly so far - nothing has been rotten and no major construction has been required. Budgetwise those are massive bonuses.


Painting the kitchen cabinetry didn't go to plan. It was all new for us, we did not have the budget for a new kitchen and after many heated debates we decided to paint the cabinetry.

It a long time to dry and harden - oil-based paint and winter is not the best combo. It also didn't help that I hated the grey we originally selected so we actually repainted everything white. It does look great now that it is done, so maybe that's really a win?

We also had to go back and re-visit our daughter Nala's bedroom as she was unhappy with our first attempt. Although she was very gracious and would have been okay with the original room, we wanted to give her something she loved.

Fortunately I had stashed away some amazing giraffe wallpaper that I picked up for $5 a roll from an emporium. It acted as a fantastic backdrop for her dream bedroom, featuring loads of pink and a fantastic large wall tapestry.

Late nights and long weekends are tough, especially for Sanjay who has used all of his leave this year working on the house.

We are really fortunate our girls are such troopers, who happily entertain themselves while we work away in the background. We always try to get out together for a walk on the beach or a trip to the park, but renovating with children isn't always an ideal situation.


We love to op-shop together so when Sanjay is on days off we often hit all of our local stores. It is amazing what you can find for a few dollars and even if something needs sanding and respraying, having unique pieces in your home makes all the difference.

You never know when you're going to find an unexpected treasure to make your own. PHOTO: JESS SINGH

My favourite thrift store piece is my double cane planter. I picked it up for $4 and it gets moved around the house weekly.

We love different wall art. Other than paintings and prints, our feather wall hangings by And She Flew and the Bleubell Macrame bedhead in our bedroom are standouts. It blows us away the talented artists available to us in NZ.

* Embracing all things woven
* Different uses for baskets
6 tips for hanging art

If we do buy something new we like to buy things that are unique and well made. Our handcrafted desk and numerous decor pieces have been purchased from Willow & Ash here in New Plymouth.

We don't have hard and fast rules for decorating our home - if we love it, we do it. Somehow our collection of mismatched styles seems to work and renovating and decorating this house has definitely made it feel more like home.


We have constructed a plan for a new laundry, adding a second small bathroom and a main bathroom overhaul. Our goal is to have this completed by the end of the year.

We also have big plans for a bedroom and office downstairs. This will involve major construction work so we are still in concept stages but we have one very eager girl who wants her own room, so who knows? That may get bumped to top of the list.

What we do know is we are due a family holiday, so that is the next thing on our to-do list.

 - Homed


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