Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Countertops for Kitchens and Bathrooms

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Any real estate sales person will tell you that it is kitchens and bathrooms that sell a house, so this was no time to be cutting back on budget – however, I still believe that one can get a high quality product for a good price with a little time invested. There is a vast range of products available and it comes down to getting value, rather than cost reduction. Since the countertops are the ‘work zone’ in both bathrooms and kitchens I decided to start validating my design theme by looking at options in this area – as i felt there would be more constraints here than in cabinetry and hardware.

To get a sleek, contemporary look in either white or brushed aluminum look I sought out:

  • Laminates
  • Acrylic
  • Engineered stone
  • Granite


The high gloss laminates look much better today than a few years ago as they now have complimentary backing colors and finer edge joins so that one gets a near seamless look – not too different from the edge of stone.
The drawbacks were that over a large surface, gloss laminates still appear to have ‘bubbling’ in the surface and according to many sources scratch a lot easier than the manufacturers claim. Even though my look was to have a ‘brushed’ look to it anyway, the bubbling was a problem on all the horizontal surfaces I saw. To date I have not seen this problem with the vertical laminates – I don’t know why this is so as I imagine the process is similar, but they seem to be less apparent.


I was not keen to return to acrylic worktops – I have previously had Corian benchtops and they were not successful.
The final choice was down to engineered stone and granite. To get a ‘speckled-free’ look is quite difficult but not impossible. There is a big range in quality in these products so it pays to check them out carefully and ascertain the differences.

Engineered Stone

The sample I found I preferred was from Quantum Quartz – it contains 93% natural quartz, with bonding agent, pigment and additives making up the other 7%. The color range is extensive [50 colors].

  • Non-porous
  • High resistance to scratching & chipping
  • High abrasion resistance
  • High resistance to acids & oils
  • Strong resistance to staining
  • High flexural strength
  • Heat resistant

Design considerations:

  • 10 year limited warranty
  • Fabricate your design to suit sheets of 1400 x 3000mm x 20mm thick

Standard range
For a small flake – Luna white or new Diamond white
For a large flake – polar

Deluxe range
Alpine white
Dawn [grey] – for bathroom vanities

The Designer and Boutique ranges have large flakes and steel which are outside the design scope of this project.

Check out the product Gallery for Quantum Quartz

Selecting a Design Theme

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Selecting a design theme is the NUMBER ONE task that must be agreed before any other design decision are made.
In this instance i wanted to reflect the harbour-side environment, the expensive, quality homes in the area and add a twist of modern Italian sophistication [read expensive looking]. The house had to integrate high energy efficiency, low maintenance and low cost of ownership.

As the house structural design is very contemporary, stepping down the side of a hill, the interior needs to reflect this to provide an harmonious bridge between inside and out. Accepting that I have loved some very modern interiors within the walls of solid traditional structures, this is not one of those structures, and the ‘opposites attract’ does not apply.

My main aim was to differentiate this house from the very nice, but very bland offerings currently in the new home market for this suburb. To take it up a pinch, to give it more edge, without increasing the cost beyond the target price bracket. With some design sense, we can all achieve anything we want with unlimited budget, but the budget limit on this house is 100% unmovable, so I needed to tread carefully.

The final look:

Exterior cladding – white Palliside weatherboards with soft grey joinery – a light and lofty look, with a large honed polished block walls at the entrance anchoring the house with some weight.

Decks – are composite wood; giving a no screws or nails clean sleek look with very even color and texture. Take care in selecting the right product here to ensure you are not skirting your house with highly toxic materials. Some are excellent – some are supposedly recycled cellphones.

Roofing – Long run iron suited to the minimal pitch roof.


Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Scheduling a building program is a daunting enough task for the builder – but most overlook the scheduling required by the homeowner. This is especially so when the house being built or rebuilt is the one the homeowner is living in at present.

  • Concept plans
  • Estimated pricing
  • Surveyor levels
  • Detailed drawings – pre-engineering
  • Engineering design
  • Detailed drawings – post engineering
  • Specification
  • Final Pricing
  • Building Contract
  • Find temporary accomodation
  • Building permit submission
  • Move out
  • Storage
  • Disconnect services
  • Forward phone communications
  • Demolition
  • Site works
  • Building

Alongside these all of these tasks, the home owner has to research all the building materials, finishings, appliances, lighting, heating and ventilation systems, landscape design, hardware, kitchen and bathroom design and materials, flooring, cabinetry….this list goes on and on.

Each one of these items must be confirmed before the detailed drawings are complete if you want to avoid making changes during the build phase. For example, different types of flooring require different substrata thus requiring a change in design, specification, timing and price. Many building companies charge an administration fee for every change.

I have just started this phase and have allowed 2 months to complete my detailed specification. This will then be forwarded to the design team to be used as a guide to the detailed design.

Building a house is a draining experience and can be very demanding on relationships and existing work committments. If you can take time out to work through these decisions on a full time basis, this is recommended.

Getting Building Permissions on Cross Leases

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Cross leases were an early form of unit title that is no longer created, with full separate unit titles now the norm. There are advantages and disadvantages for owners with cross leases. The main advantage is that you get some control over what your cross lease neighbours can build on their properties – this gives you protection against any new building that will either:

1. Impact your sunshine or daylight levels
2. Impinge on your views- where these are of notable value e.g water or mountain views
3. Impact easy egress to your property
4. Infringe your privacy – for instance, if they were to build a deck that looked straight into your main living area
5. Add a noise nuisance – e.g adding a garage to be used as a music practice area
6. Increased any water run off to your property
7. Use more than your share of any building allowance – where cross leases are a 50:50 undivided share, it is reasonable that each party has 50% of the building allowance. This could be a tricky point as the occupant of the largest private use share may seek to gain more than 50%. In this case, i would work out what your percentage share of the site is and see if you can keep within that amount; otherwise, take your chances.

Or any other factor that may reduce the enjoyment you have of your own property. This is why even the color of the cladding etc needs approval.

So what happens when a cross lease neighbor refuses to give consent? Most cross lease agreements stipulate a clause stating that whilst consent must be gained, it must not be unreasonably withheld.

If you meet all the above requirements – and your neighbors refuse to grant approval, you can take the risk and continue with the building. The outcome of this is that the neighbors may seek an injunction. However, to do so they have to have reasonable grounds that you do not/will not meet one of the above criteria AND they must put up a bond to cover all of your legal costs. In NZ, appearances in Court are not required for injunctions, it is all done by memorandum, and the defendant is not required to stop building in the meantime. This normally prevents most spiteful neighbours with no grounds from attempting to lodge an injunction – however, there are those who are just so entitled that they think they have grounds, when in legal terms they do not.

So tread carefully, but don’t let cross lease neighbours without grounds for objection to prevent you from achieving your building goals.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a legal professional and provide this information as my own opinion based on my own experiences. Seek legal advice if you are considering making changes to your building on a crosslease site.

Selecting Bathroom Hardware Fittings

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

I was standing in the bathroom fittings department of a large building supplier, and was pondering why one shower mixer cost $99 and another $347. Surely this could not all be down to the design elements – incidentially, the design of the $99 fitting was better than many at around $200.

So I asked the sales person and struck gold – he was so knowledgeable and willing to put in the time, even after I told him I was just in the scouting phase.

I was in a dilemna. One of my shower mixers had stopped working – the hot water would not come through. I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a fitting that may only be in use for 6-9 months, yet I wasn’t ready to commit to buying a complete matching suite of fittings for 2 bathrooms + 2 cloakrooms. Until the full building price for the rebuild was more ‘reliable’ – which is probably after we are halfway through the rebuild’ I didn’t know whether I would be able to complete the bathroom refits during the rebuild or at a later date.

This is what he shared with me:

Shower Mixer – The cheaper fittings generally have the same functionality as that more expensive fittings, however the copper used is a cheaper grade, and not as durable. In addition, the warranty on lower cost options were on a 12 month ‘return to store’ basis. This means if something goes awry, you have to dismantle the shower, take it back to the supplier, who in turn send it to the manufacturer. In the meanwhile, you are without a shower for a few weeks. More expensive items are sold on a 5 year ‘on site repair’ basis – no fuss. The supplier arranges for the manufacturers remediation crew to fix or replace the unit at your house.

Shower Heads – these are designed for either pressurized or mains pressure systems. The way you can tell which system you are on is by turning on a shower. Now turn on another tap in the house. If the pressure in the shower reduces significantly, then you are on a pressurized system. In a mains pressure system there will only be a slight drop.

Also watch the layout of the holes. Some have a ring of holes on the outer rim, then another close to the center – this ends up giving a very uneven flow of water. More modern heads have a ‘rain water’ system where a double hole is used so that the two streams of water collide to reduce their speed from needly piercing velocity. If you like to use your shower to massage your shoulders – get a pulse system, but make sure the layout of the holes is not compromised.

Selecting the Best Rebuild Strategy

Monday, October 26th, 2009

In considering the rebuild I had to look at the overall strategy:

  1. Tear it all down and start from scratch
  2. Repair current house as is – add nothing new
  3. Repair current house, plus add a little

Start From Scratch

In considering tearing down the whole house and rebuilding from scratch, I looked at whether i could build something substantially different from the current design, it confirmed that the current layout is the best for the site. Hence there would not be a great value add by starting from scratch.

Repair Current House As Is

This would be extremely depressing. Spending over $200k for something that looks exactly the same – no value add is not something I can mentally handle.

Repair Plus

The third strategy – tear down all the rotting parts of the house, redesign those areas that were leaking to prevent further problems, and add a few extras to make me feel like I was getting something new for all my pain.

The third option was definitely the most appealing. After years of court battles and trying to work out how to finance the rebuild after paying out the legal fees, I decided that I would allow myself a limited budget to add a few improvements.

For instance – the kitchen will need to be pulled out and will most likely be further damaged – so a new kitchen is a good start

The upstairs main living floor does not have a visitor cloakroom. Instead it has lobby access to my personal en-suite bathroom. Fortunately this bathroom is a good size and with a little additional floorspace added – I can close off the existing toilet, add a handbasin and voila – a new cloakroom. The additional floor space can be used to add a new toilet into the ensuite, plus convert the existing shower into a bath/shower combo.

The downstairs bathroom [bath+Shower] has a separate toilet that is not accessible to the main bathroom – since it is immediately below the upstairs bathroom, the identical additional floor space can be used to add a toilet into this bathroom.

Obviously, this will all cost more than my limited overspend budget, but if i focus on getting the additional floorspace built, the internal fittings can remain where they are and the internal structure can be added bathroom by bathroom at a later date.

As for the kitchen – since i don’t want a kitchent that is conservative – I don’t need to buy expensive stone, granite or marble countertops – hence i have a sleek design that should be a real bonus to the house for less than $10,000, including appliances. This also gives me the opportunity to totally redesign the layout, which could certainly be improved from an entertainers perspective.

The Key To Avoiding Building Failure

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

How many of us expect high quality construction at a cheap price? I mean, really,
is it too much to ask for a job to be done professionally at the best possible
quality, and for a reasonable price. Well, it seems the answer is YES!

The saying ‘You can have it good. You can have it cheap. You can have it quick.
But you can only have two of the three any time’. In other words, a good and
cheap building will not be quick. A cheap and quick building will not be good.
Or a good and quick building will not be cheap.

As the owner of your home remodeling and renovation project, you need to decide
right up front which combination of these three elements you want to base your
project on. It is very easy to be very economics focused at the start out phase
of design of any remodeling project, but as construction proceeds and quality
starts to become an issue, suddenly, as building owner you are not happy with
the quality of the workmanship – but often it is too late.

So think very carefully about the cheap and crappy approach – it is what you
are asking for, and it is what you are likely to end up with. Our recent article
on ‘What Causes Building Failure‘ may give you cause for reconsideration before you start your next home remodeling or renovation project.