Looking at their renovated beach house, it’s fair to say that The Design Files editor Lucy Feagins and her husband, furniture designer and cabinet maker Gordon Johnson, are a bit of a dream team.
The couple bought the 1970s fibro shack on the Mornington Peninsula last year, with plans to make some ‘simple updates’, including adding a new kitchen and bathroom.
Gordy was set to take around three months off work to work (and live) on-site, while Lucy planned to manage the project from Melbourne, driving down to join Gordy and ‘camp out’ at the half-finished house on weekends. The ‘basic reno’ was supposed to be done and dusted, just in time for Christmas 2022.
Like most renovations, it didn’t go exactly to plan. It was a bit of a ‘Pandora’s box’ once Gordy started pulling the property apart, and their original vision for a simple renovation quickly evolved into much bigger, nine-month-long transformation.
Listen to the full episode on TDF Talks to hear Lucy and Gordy talk through the process, and find some of the best bits of advice from their interview below!
How they approached the project
Gordy’s hands-on skills meant he naturally took on the practical side of the build, and Lucy handled all the admin, including managing the budget, paying people, paperwork, sourcing fixtures, finishes, and keeping the project on track.
‘We just started with massive lists of everything that needed doing. I’d write that down in a long spreadsheet and then we mapped it out over a timeline, and blocked out what tasks would be completed each week’ explains Lucy.
‘We sort worked together on [the design]… Then once I got the approval, it was full steam head’, Gordy adds.
Their advice for estimating your budget
The couple broke down the budget by listing the costs of materials per metre, and working out how many days each trade or job would take, to give them a rough budget figure.
They originally planned to spend around $80,000 on the kitchen and bathroom renovation (which ‘wasn’t too far off’ the actual costs for those elements) but that was before the project evolved into a ‘total refurb’. It eventually came in at closer to $180,000 — and that figure doesn’t include Gordy’s time (around 8 months full-time!).
Demolish with caution
‘The job itself grew, which is what really blew the budget,’ Lucy says. In hindsight, the pair said they should have known better! As soon as Gordy began demolishing, it became clear that the renovation would be bigger than originally anticipated. Every window that was removed meant the surrounding walls also had to be replaced, and once Gordy had reconfigured the kitchen, that left big holes in the floorboards.
‘Once things are gone, it’s really easy to get carried away. Just be measured and have a list of what you’re actually pulling out, because that’s where you can really extend the renovations,’ Lucy notes.
‘We pretty much replaced all the windows, took all the external cladding off, the internal cladding off, all the floorboards up, removed the old kitchen, then put in a new kitchen, built a whole new bathroom, a brick hearth, [built a] drop-down bed, a queen bed, dining table, and the list goes on,’ Gordy says.
DIY what you can to save money
One of the biggest costs of the project was the tiling in the bathroom. For this task, they used a professional tiler, because it was an extensive, fiddly job. ‘It’s the most expensive room in the house’, Lucy says. After spending so much tiling the bathroom, Gordy ended up doing the (simpler) splashback tiling in the kitchen himself.
Similarly, they had worked with landscape designer Jo Ferguson for the gardens, and originally planned to contract a landscaper to build the garden, as this was outside Gordy’s skillset. ‘The quotes were insane,’ Lucy says. ‘I think we were looking at over $100,000 for just the garden, which is just so much more than we expected it to be.’ Instead, they paid someone to come on for a week with a digger to level the garden and redistribute soil and coatings, and Gordy worked alongside him. After that, Gordy roped in a couple of friends to help build a deck, timber path and fencing, and eventually, the front garden came t0gether in around 4 weeks, at a cost of around $20,000.
Find joy in the process
Lucy and Gordy’s hard work, shared passion for design, and personal time they invested in the home is part of what makes it so special. Gordy says while working together as a couple ‘had its moments’, one of the most rewarding parts of the project was collaborating closely on a shared vision.
‘If we had all the money in the world and could just get a designer and a builder to build this for us and move in, I don’t think that would be as rewarding as doing it ourselves, and having a million conversations about it,’ Lucy adds. ‘A lot of the joy really is about the process, not just the outcome’.