Inside Josh + Jenna Densten's Restoration Of A Heritage Homestead

It’s been almost two years since serial renovators and The Block favourites Josh and Jenna Densten started the transformation of their heritage homestead in Rutherglen, regional Victoria.

The renovating power couple found the 1800s house on Facebook Marketplace (!) and fell in love with the 3.5-acre block, sold their dreamy Melbourne family home, and moved to the country property — which they’ve been renovating while living in a shed on site with their two daughters!

We spoke to Josh and Jenna in the latest podcast episode of TDF Talks, where they reveal all the challenges they’ve tackled with this ambitious project, the surprising costs involved, and lots of valuable renovating advice!

Listen now on Spotify and Apple Podcasts, as we step Josh and Jenna’s half-renovated home, that’s finally coming together!

Christina Karras

The view of Josh and Jenna’s half-renovated, Rutherglen homestead! Photo – Eve Wilson

It’s located on the hill of a serene 3.5-acre block, where the family has been enjoyed country living, complete with 16 chickens, three ducks, six full vegetable gardens and a very productive beehive! Photo – Georgie James

They’ve completed three of the four rooms in the old home so far, and are currently working hard on the bullnose veranda decking says Josh. Photo – Eve Wilson

Inside the old home before it was renovated — purchased without a roof!

Josh and Jenna with their daughters, Story and Freddie. Photo – Sophie Marsh

Their daughters’ pretty-in-pink bedroom is one of the few finished homes of the house! Adele 3 Wall Light from Beacon Lighting. Blinds by DIY Blinds. Vintage desk and chairs painted Dulux Casper White Quarter. Vase painted Dulux Sea Kelp. Walls painted Dulux Mornington. Photo – Eve Wilson. Styling – Josh and Jenna Densten

Vintage mirror from Rachel Donath. Children’s play chair painted Dulux Sea Kelp. Walls painted Dulux Mornington. Photographer – Eve Wilson. Styling – Josh and Jenna Densten

As an interior designer and plumber/project manager, respectively, Josh and Jenna have also started offering their advice to others in their pre-build consulting business, Plan Proofing. Photo – Georgie James

Their own renovation has been almost two years in the making, but they’re hoping to be into their restored dream home by Christmas if all goes to plan. Photo – Eve Wilson.

Christina Karras
28th of July 2023

The moment Josh and Jenna Densten first saw this run-down, yet picturesque heritage house, perched high up on a hill in Rutherglen, they knew it was going to be their future family home.

‘It just had stunning views and the previous owner had really looked after it well. It was immaculately maintained, except for the old house,’ Josh reveals in the latest episode of our podcast, TDF Talks.

Jenna had already ‘planted the seed’ about making the move back to regional Victoria to be closer to their family after enduring Melbourne’s lockdowns. So when they discovered the listing for the 1800s country house, surrounded by fruit trees, fresh air, and with an ‘epic shed’, they decided they were ready for the challenge!

Now that the home is finally coming together, the project manager and interior designer joined us for a chat about the challenges behind this major transformation, and their advice for anyone else tackling a renovation. Listen to the full podcast and find some of the best bits from their interview below!

Get your planning done early

Josh says they were lucky that the purchase of the property came with a planning permit to reinstate the roof, sweeping veranda and deck of the old house, so they were able to use their settlement period to start booking in trades to help get it to a lock up stage.

‘Even through settlement we put in the plans for the extension as well. So we actually designed it while we were living in Melbourne and then put it through council, so then we could just hurry that process up.’

Living on the site has its pros and cons

Another bonus was that the huge shed on the property had a certificate of occupancy, allowing the Josh, Jenna and their two daughters, Story and Freddie, to transform it into a comfortable (albeit temporary) family home, and live there while working on the main house. Jenna says they did ‘spend a bit of money’ converting the shed into a home, but having the option to live on site rather than rent elsewhere really helped take away some of the pressure to finish their renovation on a rushed timeline.

‘This one’s definitely been a bit of a slower burn and we’ve been enjoying our time on the weekends, more rather than just like working seven days a week to slog out the renovation,’ Josh adds.

Beware the ‘ridiculous’ increased cost of materials

Despite its dilapidated appearance, the old house was in relatively good structural condition, beyond some rotten floorboards and crumbling render. The more expensive part was building the new extension, containing a main bedroom, living, kitchen and dining. ‘The quote for the windows in the new extension came back at like $130,000, and we nearly fell off our chair,’ Jenna says.

Even for these seasoned renovators, recent increases in the costs of building materials have been a bit of a shock!

‘Everything’s so expensive. And there’s been delays on materials that were just once upon a time off the shelf, and you could get it immediate deliveries,’ Josh says.

How they saved money

In addition to Josh being very hands-on with the build, and learning how to render the original brick home (something that was initially quoted at $50,000!), the couple say one of their biggest learnings on this project was to be flexible with their plans, and not too attached to any one way of doing things! Reducing the scale of some elements of their design has meant big savings.

For instance – they shaved that $130,000 window quote back to just $50,000 by reducing their window heights.

Previously designed at 2.9 metres high, their sliding doors and windows fell into ‘commercial’ pricing, requiring much heavier window frames and mechanisms required to operate the windows.

By reducing this window height back to 2.4 metres, and adding a bulkhead above, the windows instantly became much more affordable.

‘Don’t go [more than] than 2.4-metres high,’ Jenna says. By simply changing their 2.9-metre windows to a more standard height of 2.4 metres, they managed to save about $70,000-$80,000 — something they recommend to all their clients in their pre-build consulting business, Plan Proofing.

Prioritise functionality and liveability

After renovating more than 10 homes together, Josh and Jenna have learnt that sometimes it’s best spending your money on the ‘unseen’ elements of your home – like double-glazed windows or good ventilation, over expensive design elements.

‘My advice is to really knuckle down on the floorplan and spend the time making sure that you’re building only what you need and within your means,’ Jenna says. ‘Try not to get carried away and not get influenced by what you’re seeing, and just really look inwards when designing your own home instead of looking outside.’

Their renovating mantra is ‘time is money’

Whenever the couple have felt caught up in the renovation and unsure about a design decision, Jenna says they’ve been reminding themselves that everything in the renovation costs money, which means more time working to pay for it, and less time spent enjoying life as a family.

‘Really every decision we make we’re like, is it going to add value to our lives? And if it’s just a purely aesthetic or purely something that’s not going to add that genuine value or happiness to our lives, we’ve realised “no, time is more important”.

Listen to the full episode with Josh and Jenna below, or find TDF Talks on Spotify and Apple Podcasts!

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