19-21 April 2024
Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre

House Rules Katie & Alex: Renovating on a Budget

House Rule’s favourites Katie and Alex shared down-to-earth advice for improving your home on a budget.

When asked about their unexpected loss on series six of the show, Alex replied, “It’s all subjective; maybe the pressure got to us! Maybe it was too much for us and the limelight got us down… We were really rocking good at the start. As things were picking up, the teams really showed their wares, and we just couldn’t keep up at that point!”

Katie is optimistic about the outcome, “It gave us a huge amount of confidence in the design space. We’re mum and dad designers, let’s not pretend we’re Darren Palmer! Before that, we were just doing Pinterest boards, so we weren’t sure of what we were capable of. To see what we could do, especially under the pressure that House Rules places you under. Which is very real. We were pleasantly surprised by what we came through with.”

Elaborating on those pressures, Alex spoke about how it affected their relationship. He said, “It became us vs them; I got very protective over this one [holds Katie]. We got stronger every day. Even when we were tired, it was us vs the world.”

Renovate on a budget

Through their traumatically inspiring journey, our humble couple has crawled out of the experience with a clear mission.

“Our niche is: ‘we renovate on a budget'” revealed Alex. “We are mum and dad renovators from a place where you need to use what you got and be savvy with it. That’s our space; we love sitting in that market with it.”

Where better to showcase their ideas, then at the Home Show, where visitors can find affordable products for improvements large or small. Alex announced, “These stands around here want you to buy their product for good reason: because they’re tried and tested. They will help you install it into your house.”

People from all walks of life attend the Home Show with different budgets. Katie admitted, “We all don’t have a lot of money to spend on designer kitchens. A lot of people can relate.” But that shouldn’t put you off getting stuck in, one project at a time. Alex supported Katie’s claim, “For those thinking about doing a renovation, go home and do it. Put a hammer through the wall, because you will never look back.”

Downsize and Prioritise

Like many of our Block or House Rules speakers at the Home Show, opposites not only attract but also prove invaluable during filming. Katie and Alex capitalise on their complementary skill-sets. Katie is prettiness and styling while Alex is the pragmatic one.

Alex admitted they adopt the WIN (what’s important now) principle. But Katie interjected, “Everything’s important!”

With Katie’s weakness for the glitz and glamour, Alex is left making the difficult decisions, “You need to decide, especially as a couple, which lane you’re gonna choose. You can’t, as a couple, both be designers. Someone’s got to have the final say.”

The hard and fast rule is this: provide three options for every item you need. Because not everything will fit into your budget, so you need quality options to help make that decision. But how do you know what you need to buy? Two words: mood board.

Katie expressed her excitement, “It’s amazing! The feeling you can get just from that [mood board] alone.” Season seven House Rulers Pete and Courtney explore mood boards [LINK] further. Katie continued, “You can put your floor down, wall colour and add furnishing.” It’s essentially a physical Pinterest style collage which you decorate with items like handles and wallpaper. Then review saying, ‘no that won’t work’ or ‘It’s amazing!’

But with great excitement, comes a big fat reality check. Alex, always the pragmatic one, comes down with the hammer. “Katie might put together her dream mood board. And I’ll say ‘that looks amazing!’ We’re not going to do it…” Alex laughed, “I want to see the other two first. It doesn’t mean Katie has to do two full boards, it just means everything else has to be priced out ready to move in and out on the mood board.”

Renovating your home in moderation is a process of prioritisation. Choosing an expensive velvet headboard can be a statement piece for the room. However, this requires compromise elsewhere. Alex said, “You can have the plantation shutters, but you’re going to miss out somewhere else in the room. Ask yourself: what is of more value to you?”

Doing it Yourself

Katie and Alex are enormous advocates for DIY, saying ‘it’s not as hard as it seems’. Katie stressed, “Every time you don’t do something yourself, you have to bring someone in to quote it. If it’s not a specialist skill, you need to save your money and do it yourself.”

YouTube was once (and still is) a graveyard for forgettable viral videos. Now, it’s increasingly also used as a beacon for well-formatted and easy to follow instructional videos. Many of the home improvement projects Katie has completed are the result of watching YouTube.

For example, they had a client who wanted their kitchen colour scheme completely revamped. Most designers would rip out everything and start from scratch. But seeing as they already had high-quality Shaker overhead cabinets, Katie took a different approach. She dismantled the cabinets, bagged and labelled them, took them to a paint shop, had them spray pained and replaced them at a fraction of the cost.

Sound difficult? Katie assures us that dismantling overhead cabinets is “easier than it sounds. They have a clip on the back of the door and you can take it off yourself. It looks really daunting, but it’s really not. I don’t think you’ll know it’s not a new kitchen.”

Another inspiring example was deciding on new windows or plantation shutters. Our couple couldn’t find a cost-effective solution and instead “went on YouTube and actually spray painted the window frame. It looks beautiful, so fresh. Let the room breath first, then start adding things slowly.” Instructed Katie.

Un-costly Kitchens

Kitchens are known at the Home Show as ‘big-ticket items’. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Our couple practically got away with murder in Sydney, “We got EVERYTHING for $1,500” beamed Katie.

Alex explained, “We got those appliances, because someone went to Sydney, found a house that was being torn down that had brand new appliances in it. We picked up an entire kitchen with double ovens and steam ovens.”

While that story contains a level of luck and effort, the difference between bargain and full-price is negotiation. Most exhibitors at the Home Shows have limited-run Show specials.

Alex admitted that sometimes you will make mistakes and that’s ok. He said, “We are amateurs in a building world; we’re going to make mistakes, that’s the risk you take. You need to make contingencies to be able to fix it.”

Budget Bathrooms

Katie confessed, “In House Rules, we had a pretty healthy budget, but that’s not what we have in real life. We save really hard for that money so don’t think you have to reno from floor to ceiling.”

Katie & Alex’s Tip No1
Don’t move plumbing unless you absolutely need to. Keep everything where it is and replace the vanities. Remember, plug holes are located differently in every bath, shower and sink. Therefore, you will have some lee-way if you want to rearrange your bathroom creatively.

Katie & Alex’s Tip No2
Never pay full price for anything. Steam proof paint, panelling and tiles are expensive. So, it’s imperative you shop around. Alex goes as far as raiding major building developments (where they tend to over-order) and buys excess supplies. Bathroom stores have big outlet centres or clearance warehouses that are constantly shifting floor stock. Do your research.

Katie & Alex’s Tip No3
Wallpaper in bathrooms; sounds ridiculous right? “We swore black and blue, never to use wallpaper in a bathroom. Now we use it all the time!” Laughed Alex. It’s the industries best-kept secret to use wallpaper in a bathroom. It invites textures and colours into the room at a fraction of the cost. Our couple uses it in every mood board they create. It’s also worth looking at panelling to get away with savings.

7 Quick-fire Hot Tips

  1. A mood board is flat, remember to use all 5 walls.
  2. Hang curtains 10 cm from ceiling, it makes the room feel like it has high ceilings.
  3. Tint your trim paint with semi-gloss.
  4. Get three quotes. Educate yourself before going to a builder, you are paying for their trade hours, profit margins and materials margin.
  5. Doing it yourself comes with inherent risk, sometimes you don’t know what you’re buying, educate yourself.
  6. Find out rates – day rate or hourly.
  7. Educate on tradie’s line of work.

Watch the full talk with Alex and Katie below.

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