Renovation Diaries: A Sustainable DIY Apartment Transformation

After purchasing a dark, cramped ‘hot box’ apartment in Brunswick West, Shaun Tompkins decided it needed a full renovation. But to keep to his budget and ensure the home was as sustainable as possible, he took on most of the project DIY-style!

With some cost-saving hacks like renting power tools from a local tool library, and some lucky finds on Facebook marketplace, Shaun completely transformed the tiny 42-square-metre pad by himself.

See exactly how he did it, and his top tips for renovating on a budget below!

Emily Holgate

Yabby tapware. Buildmat sink. IKEA cabinetry with custom cut by PlyCo.

Shaun Tompkins completed most of his renovation DIY-style. Print above couch: ‘PG. 8-9’ by photographer Tom Batrouney.

Recycled timber benchtops by Urban Salvage.

Shaun made most of the pottery within the apartment himself.

A new oven and two-burner induction stove was also installed, as were venetian blinds.

Coffee table from Facebook marketplace!

The dining table and chairs were also sourced from Facebook marketplace, and reupholstered by Shaun.

Green curvy shelves custom designed by Marcus Rigon at Blu Haus Studio and built by Shaun.

Print from Etsy. Bedside tables and bed frame from Facebook marketplace.

Terracotta subway tiles were used in the bathroom.

The bathroom sink was another marketplace find!

Emily Holgate
27th of June 2024

When contemplating a home makeover, one of the biggest factors to consider is your budget — renovating can quickly become a pricey endeavour, even if you’re aiming for a cost-effective approach.

This is why Shaun Tompkins took on a major DIY project for his Brunswick West apartment renovation, completing as much as possible by himself, with the total transformation costing him $24,041!

The end result was worth every penny. The once cramped ‘hot box’ (which in turn was too cold in winter) is now thermally comfortable, sustainable and filled with pops of colour and textural elements that bring life into Shaun’s previously dark and dull home.

‘My vision was to open the space up, maximise the natural light and improve the thermal performance of the apartment,’ he explains. ‘I looked towards natural materials and finishes such as timber and cork, both for their environmental outcomes and aesthetics.’

Below, Shaun takes us through the process of transforming the 42-square-metre pad, including his top tips to save money and space (like renting any power tools he needed from a local tool library!).

DIY if you can — but leave anything dangerous to the professionals

‘Don’t be scared to try new things even if you don’t think you’re handy,’ Shaun says. ‘Leave the hard or dangerous things to qualified electricians and plumbers, and try the easier things such as flooring or even building the kitchen yourself (especially if you use IKEA, it’s pretty straightforward to follow the instructions).’

He also says not to underestimate the amount of waste created by construction and demolition. Installing extra insulation in the ceilings and walls, and opening up the kitchen and living area by replacing the U-shaped kitchen with an L-shaped structure created about five cubic metres of rubble and waste!

‘While most of it was unavoidable to get the outcome I was after, it still shows the impact of interior renovations.’

Consider cork flooring for thermal and acoustic benefits! 

Shaun replaced the apartment’s existing carpet with natural cork flooring by Ready Cork. ‘I used cork flooring because it’s a renewable, natural product,’ he explains. ‘The large cork tiles clip together and rest on top of a foil membrane; a floating floor that expands and contracts with humidity and temperature.’

He also improved the home’s insulation by replacing fabric blinds with off-white blockout blinds that sit within the window frame, with a natural timber venetian blind outside of the frame.

‘This provides me with the ability to reflect excess solar heat away to the best of my ability without external shades or double glazing, while still matching the warm interior aesthetic.’

Don’t have tools for your DIY? Rent instead of buying

‘I did the whole thing while only owning a drill and a few hand tools!’ Shaun says. ‘I signed up to the Brunswick Tool Library for $85 a year and got access to everything I needed including compressor tanks, nail guns, grinders, drop saws, tile cutters, you name it!

‘This is essential for apartment dwellers to save money and space in having to buy tools. Highly recommend!’

Find a colour palette and stick with it

Shaun originally planned to paint a solid colour over the white plywood kitchen cabinets, but was stuck on which shade to choose. It was only when an architect friend suggested the idea of a timber stain (rather than solid paint), that Shaun quickly decided on a pistachio green stain for the kitchen cupboards. Combined with recycled timber benchtops, the kitchen soon provided the distinctive green and brown colour palette that would inform the remaining renovation.

‘With the existing bathroom floor tiles being green, the terracotta (shower and wall) tiles were a no brainer!’ Shaun says. ‘The bathroom ceiling is done with recycled hardwood floorboards from an apartment development in South Melbourne, so the brown-green theme was once again prevalent. I’m obsessed with saunas and the timber roof is my attempt at recreating that vibe at home.’

Facebook marketplace is your best friend

To help cut costs and approach the renovation in a more sustainable way, Shaun purchased several items he needed from Facebook marketplace — including bedroom wardrobes, the fluted glass bedroom door (to match the new fluted glass shower door in the bathroom!), coffee table, bedside tables, bed frame and dining table, plus dining chairs that he reupholstered himself.

He also bought the kitchen cabinets and frame from IKEA which allowed him to assemble it himself — a rewarding and budget-friendly experience!

Final word

‘In general, I’d recommend people do their due diligence and plan a budget, mood board (Pinterest is GREAT), research products and look at resources such as The Design Files and Never Too Small, and reach out to people on social  media doing similar projects,’ Shaun adds.

He also notes that even when planning a budget, it’s normal to go about 10 per cent over — you might forget to account for the accumulative cost of small items such as nails, glue and screws!

‘I was also fortunate enough to have a friend living across the park that I could stay with rent free for two to three months while the main works were underway. I want to acknowledge the privilege I’ve had with this option and note it would have cost more and been more difficult without being able to stay so close to the build.’

Budget breakdown

Kitchen tiles: $250
Kitchen + bathroom tapware: $1480
Kitchen sink: $499
Kitchen cabinets: $3276
Colourwood stain: $200
Kitchen benchtop: $1000
Appliances: $1785
Flooring: $3630
Paint: $250
Wardrobe cabinets: $200
Bathroom tiles: $950
Shower door (including installation): $1000
Blinds: $2567
Ceiling fan: $279
Insulation: $2500

Total materials cost: $19,866

Plumber: $675
Electrician: $1000
Plasterer: $2500

Total trade cost: $4175

Overall total: $24,041

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