Our first Real Mum renovating story is Hannah Tatam’s. Hannah bought her tiny 124sqm Annandale Federation semi in 2012 after what felt like a lifetime of looking… 

“It was described by my building inspector as the “dampest house he’d ever seen” as it had been neglected for many years; downpipes went nowhere, mould was growing from the floor all the way to the ceiling, and the nicotine staining had been covered with a million coats of buttercup yellow paint.

We spent our first weeks as first-time home owners making it habitable: stripping lime plaster off the walls, digging under the house to create airflow and desperately trying to replace some of the federation features which had been ripped out.  Eight weeks later we moved in and fell in love with our community, neighbours and suburb.  We knew at some point we would need to make it bigger if we wanted a family as it was only one full bedroom, a 2.4 x 2.3m second bedroom and our sole bathroom was a mere 1.2m wide.  Now after 8 months of renovating we have a home with 3 generous bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms and a combined kitchen/lounge/dining which allows us space to live as a family. “

Where did you find your design inspiration? Was it easy for you & your partner to agree on decisions?

I found most of my design inspiration from visiting local open homes for properties with similar features and challenges to mine.  As far as fixtures I relied heavily on Houzz and kitchen/bathroom magazines.  It was especially helpful to be able to share my inspiration photos from Houzz directly with the builder, and to bring it up on my phone whilst on site.  

I also followed a couple of builders and suppliers on Instagram and it is amazing how helpful these contacts can be when you’re trying to create your dream home.  

My partner runs a small business and was generally happy to sit back and let me make all the decisions, which made things a lot easier. 

How long did you live in the house before you started renovating?  

We first moved into our home in October 2012 and started our major renovations three days before my due date with number two in January 2017.  

How did you find the planning process? Any tips to make this easier? 

Visit your local council BEFORE spending any money.  They have duty planners available to speak with you and give you free advice before you go through the costly expense of engaging an architect.  Many people don’t realise that there are more stages to a substantial renovation than just a DA.  You require a construction certificate, engineering reports and insurances.

How did you go with the budget? Was there any unexpected costs?

We were very lucky with budget and managed to account for most things in our planning.  In the end we were about $6000 over but most of this was because we made decisions for improvements as we went along such as higher quality insulation and creating storage spaces in cavities.  

The thing we forgot to budget for were kitchen hardware (who would have thought you could spend hundreds of dollars on door handles), and we underestimated the cost of built-in cabinetry. 

How was the build period and trades management? What worked and what didn’t? Any tips for fellow mums to help them organise and make it easier?  

My top tip for trade management is to engage a builder for a large project, but to also keep a list of things you want to include, or need to discuss that is regularly updated.  

Make sure you cover everything you need in the original quote (fences, landscaping etc).  Organisation is key with this!  I saved my “checklist” document on OneDrive so had access to all the reminders I needed when on site.   

What do you love about the renovation? Your favourite fittings / fixtures?  

I love my Normann Copenhagen Bell Lamps.  They cost me an arm and a leg but they are a massive feature in my lounge room and to me it felt like I was taking a big risk in deciding where to locate them.  

Renovating A Federation Semi
Photo: Norman Copenhagen Bell Lamps

I also adore my kitchen tiles which were brought over from the USA and are individually hand glazed.  This means each one is slightly different.  I wanted tiles with straight edges but variety in the glaze which proved near impossible to source.  I feel we were successful in bringing modern elements to a period home without sacrificing the character or feature details. 

Renovating Federation Semi Sydney
Photo: Beautiful Entrance Tiles

How did you source your fixtures & fittings? 

I sourced all fixtures and fittings myself.  It is important to have some idea of what you want in the way of finishes before signing off on things like kitchen plans.  We were able to tell the kitchen manufacturer the exact size of the tiles and work out how high to make the wall cabinets without having any cuts.  

I found Reece to have an excellent range at reasonable prices and found some of the more expensive, luxury items by shopping around online (such as my Normann Copenhagen Bell Lamps, marble double length subway tiles and European appliances).

What does your partner and children love about the renovation?  

My partner loves that it is done and there are no more builders!  My children love that they have their own rooms and I love that we now have a family room we can all fit into. 

What was the hardest part of the renovation for you?  

We had some challenges with fitting our laundry into the space under the stairs as it was incredibly tight.  This presented some challenges when it came to finding doors and door hardware that would work in the space.  

In saying that I think the hardest bit has been accepting it is over!  I absolutely loved my experience and wish I could do it all over again. 

Did you have a timeline? Did you met it or did it blow out? If so, why?  

Our timeline took substantially longer than what we thought it would.  Our builder had multiple jobs and we often only had one person on site at a time.  There were some days that nobody was there, which was incredibly frustrating.  In saying that the quality was high, and that is what actually counts when it comes to a long term home.  

Did you do any DIY? 

I did two areas of DIY.  One was a custom copper art piece for our internal courtyard after seeing something similar in a restaurant in Balmain.  I taught myself how to weld and was really proud of myself for learning a new skill and happy with what I managed to achieve.  I welded together a series of copper pipe lengths, creating boxes which I will eventually use to frame staghorn and elkhorn ferns once I have cultivated them.  

Renovating Federation Semi
Photo: Copper Pipe Artwork

We also lined our attic which is my sewing room.  I was very difficult to get carpet up there due to the weight limits on our attic ladder, so I used carpet tiles and put them down myself.  I am happy with the result. 

Any regrets or things you would do differently?  

If I were to do it again I would have an incentive for on time completion.  When you renovate with a newborn, having your own home becomes a high priority.  In terms of regrets I have none that I can think of.  I have enjoyed this process so much that I am now looking to start my own business, helping people renovate their homes. 

Thank you so much for sharing your experience Hannah, we can’t believe you tackled it with a newborn and hats off to you for learning to weld! Inspiring!! 

See below the images from Hannah’s renovation, and don’t forget to join our community Facebook group to chat with other local renovating mums. 

Would you like to share your #realmumreno with us like Hannah has?

If you would like to feature as our next ‘Real Mum’,  we would love to hear from you! Please contact us here.

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  1. Caitlin

    Sounds just like our semi we renovated all worth it in the end!

    1. RenovatingMums17 Listing Owner

      Hannah’s done a fabulous job hasn’t she?! These semi’s make beautiful family homes and have so much character when renovated sensitively.