In drawing up my plans, I've considered Bad Design quite a bit. I feel fortunate (really!) that I've lived in some places that have had either a complete lack of thought put into their design, or have suffered from a good idea that didn't quite work out. This has meant that I've had a lot of time to think about all the things that don't work, and I've also been able to work out exactly what it is that I value in Design.

The last house we lived in, in Melbourne, we rented for a year. We had sold our home in Albert Park, and while we were working out what to do next, we rented in the area (then bought our house in Adelaide and prepared to move). Nothing was available to rent (I really mean it - nothing!) and we were feeling panicky as the date for our move out neared. We pounced on a fully renovated Victorian townhouse, which had recently been sold, and when it came onto the rental market, we were the first tenants.


We were actually quite excited to move into the house. It was two storey, with 3 bedrooms upstairs, 2 bathrooms (one was an ensuite), and downstairs a front study (advertised as a 4th bedroom) with built in bookcases, a clever laundry that lead into a Powder room and an open plan living area full of built in shelving, entertainment unit and fully integrated Plasma TV/ sound system etc all controlled by a Sonos system. The kitchen had 2 Pak cabinetry, and was full of the latest Miele products, with built in Leibherr fridge and freezer. Outside the courtyard was fairly uninspiring (it was wall to wall decking - no plants), but it had an outdoor shower (we were two blocks from the beach), a built in BBQ, and built in bench seating. There was also a retractable awning to shade the North facing bi fold doors from the living area.


Sounds great - doesn't it! It had clearly had an Architect or Interior Designer involved in the design - there were too many touches that a home owner DIYing it wouldn't have been able to do/ have known about. But somewhere along the way, things had gone horribly wrong.

Firstly, it was clear that the builder had cut corners, and someone had not overseen the builder properly. I'm pretty much convinced that there was no insulation in the ceiling upstairs - it was freezing in Winter and boiling in Summer. We had to run the (very expensive and noisy) reverse cycle air conditioning system almost constantly. Windows had been double glazed, however they had no seals around them - there were massive air gaps on the sashes, which meant they were effectively useless. There were no seals around the front door - which faced towards Port Philip Bay. Anyone who lives in Melbourne knows that the wind in Winter pretty much blows straight off Antarctica when you're near the beach. Having a 5CM gap under the front door meant that leaves would actually blow in, it was so big (I actually installed door seals myself in the end).


The entertainment system constantly broke down. No one knew how to repair it, and we would have happily just put our tv up next to the Plasma and used it (it was in storage), but as the whole thing had been hard wired into the walls, there was no where to plug into the aerial. There wasn't actually a plug even to plug the electricity into. We had several months without any tv (in the middle of a very rainy and cold Winter, with a newborn baby with reflux and a 2 year and 4 year old - nightmare). Having been involved with expensive home automation systems on client projects in the past - this is something that I never recommend. They are great when they work, and when they break down (and they always do), they are almost impossible to fix. You can end up with technicians at your home for days and weeks, and in between your blinds are going up and down at 2am.



Moving on to the kitchen, I have to say, that I loath Miele. I have had the experience of two full Miele kitchens now, and had enormous problems with both. I will never use Miele again, and I have always recommended clients to steer clear of them, based on my experience with Customer Service and the constant problems with breakdowns. My kitchen in Albert Park had to have the oven rebuilt after 2 months of use. The part had to come from Germany, and it took them 8 weeks to fix it. When it was returned to me the fan rattled so loudly it sounded like a truck was parked in the room. They told me that it wasn't level in the cabinets, therefore not their fault (it was, I put a level on the oven to check). After arguing about it for a long time I gave up, as I had to concentrate on the problems with the coffee machine. The built in coffee machine was repaired 6 times before they eventually replaced it. The range hood had small plastic (!) parts that broke off after 3 years of normal use.

The kitchen in the rental house was the same. The oven didn't cook evenly, the dishwasher took 2.5 hours on the fastest setting to wash dishes, and the light globes in the rangehood would frequently blow and had to be replaced by Miele (they design them so that you can't just use normal bulbs from the hardware store). This was extremely expensive ($50 for a halogen lightbulb replacement). The Leibherr fridge and freezer were similarly awful. Despite the fact that these will set you back around $12, 000 the freezer drawers are too narrow to store puff pastry sheets in.


As for the finishes in the house - the extensive (and incredibly expensive) use of 2pak (on all wardrobes/ cuboards/ shelves) meant that a fragile finish was frequently damaged (fortunately the previous owners had done a lot of that themselves). Floors in the main living area were in a limewashed timber finish. This looked great, but was a soft wood, and was very hard to maintain. Limestone in the bathrooms stained easily and retained odours....


Outside, there was no shed. The retractable awning had a wind sensor and so would retract when too windy (which was usually when there was a hot Northerly breeze and you needed it the most), but wouldn't retract when it rained, so you could go out, and come home to find it almost on the verge of collapse weighed down with water. The built in bench seats were extra high (they were instead of a shed for storage), but this made them too high to sit at with the outdoor table. Those LED spots in the decking didn't actually illuminate anything - they would appear like floating UFO's in the dark from inside.


Basically, we couldn't wait to move out. I could keep going, (lack of hanging space in wardrobes as preference had been given to more Plasma TV's, no full height cleaning cupboard), but this is getting long enough as it is.

I'm sure many of you have experienced Bad Design - post 1960's apartments are especially afflicted by this with the expectation that people who will live in an apartment don't have possessions requiring storage. Bad Design is not just the aesthetics - the most important part of design is the thought put into how you will live in and function within a space. It's thermal comfort (insulation is SO important) so you don't have to run your air conditioning and heating.It's having appropriate storage where it's needed. It's about appropriate choice of finishes for your lifestyle -things that are easy to maintain and to look good even the day after you've cleaned them.

Aesthetics are really the secondary consideration (important, but more important to get the fundamentals correct). So when you are planning your own renovation or new home, or considering buying one already finished, look for all those things that aren't apparent at first glance. A lot of the thought I've put into our new extension and in the renovations we've already done has been about making it an easy house to live in for us. The irony of the sale of our cottage in Albert Park and the move to the larger, and more flashy place nearby was that our cottage was much better designed. While we had outgrown it with the soon to be arrival of the third baby, there was around double the amount of storage, and spaces that worked better for our family, for entertaining and for living. And there was nothing more depressing than spending hours on the sofa in the rental house feeding and holding a new baby with severe reflux and looking out on a view of timber fence, timber deck and timber everywhere with not a speck of green to be seen. It was an interesting lesson in Bad Design, and I hope you can all benefit from this as well.

All photos via Domain  . It's currently available to rent.

38 comments:

  1. what a NIGHTMARE!!!

    My oven never cooks evenly either and I have no yes NO insulation in my roof so I do run the reverse cycle aircon 24/7 365 days a year and then get cross that I spend $100 a week on electricity.....

    I would rather an ugly old home that functions well - I am UNPREPARED to live without tv. My house has no atenna either so the tvs that are not foxtel have 1970s bunny ear arials! x

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    1. Seriously, the first photo makes me think of the House of Horrors. It gives me chills.

      You need to get insulation installed - it will pay for itself very quickly, plus you'll be more comfortable in your home. It's actually not that expensive (and you could do it yourself, although we did that in our last place and I will never do it again. A better idea would be to get your Dad to do it). I've put so much insulation into our extension that the builders all thought I was a bit OTT. Plus we are having double glazed windows. I'm hoping I'll only have to turn on the air con when it's 45C outside.

      Living without TV that winter with the kids all at home was the pits. It was honestly one of the worst years I've ever had!! xx

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  2. Oh my, that sounds horrific! Out of curiosity... do you recommend any appliance brands. I love my Miele dishwasher and stovetop but completely agree about the oven not cooking evenly. However, so far I have now had Asko... never again, dishwasher actually caught fire about 2 months after insulation. Ilve was ok, but Miele is definitely better. So I am not sure what to do in our next place. Don't even get me started on 2pak or Caeserstone for that matter. Emma

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    1. Hi Emma, Oh dear with the Asko - that's one brand that I typically recommend! I've had my Asko washing machine and dryer for 12 years, with heavy duty frequent washing, and they've been fantastic - service call outs have been easy (after 10 years of use). Based on that I bought our current dishwasher, which has been great for the past year - I can't believe yours caught fire!!

      I have heard good things about Siemens, and that is one brand that I'm looking at for our kitchen, along with Neff. My only hesitation with Neff is that it is priced quite highly in Australia by the importer (Stamford & Sons. They do this with Gaggenau too, which is cheaper than Miele in Germany). For rangehoods I like Qasair, which are made in Melbourne, super quiet and very reliable.

      I don't recommend Gaggenau, for the same reasons as Miele. And I tend to steer clear of the Italian brands, like Smeg as they are quite hit and miss. Ilve is similar, a bit hit and miss. The thing with Miele is that it was a very reliable and good range for serious cooks - now it's more about 257 in built programs and how it looks with the rest of the range than actual integrity in the product. My mum had a Miele oven when I was growing up - it lasted 15 years and was fantastic. Mine lasted 2 months! Online forums can be confusing too....people only tend to write reviews when they have a problem, so you have to take it with a pinch of salt. Have a look at the Siemens and Neff ranges, you might find something you like there. xx

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    2. Such an interesting topic! I had a very expensive Qasair rangehood in my previous house. It was extremely noisy, didn't work well, was practically impossible to clean and the bulbs needed frequent replacement. Loathed the darn thing. In my current house we have inherited an Ilve oven and cooktop which is just rubbish!My list of complaints about the oven and cooktop is long, but they look great! Fooled me.

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    3. Oh no Kate! I've never heard of any problems with Qasair...maybe you just got very unlucky?? The Italian appliances do look good.... I think they've fooled many buyers (I have a lot of friends with Smeg complaints). xx

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  3. Heidi, I am bookmarking this post - great advice, thank you! We have moved very often in our 20 years of marriage (husband in the army) and we're always thinking about what we will do for our final move on retirement. I'm not sure if we will build from scratch, but it's nice to have ideas so that we end up with a house which works for us. For now, when we typically have 5 days in which to find a house on our house-hunting trips, it's been rather hit or miss!

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    1. If you've moved often Patricia, I'm sure you've experienced your share of bad design (especially if you only have 5 days to find a place - what pressure!). I'm glad my experiences can help... I could also write a post on my current kitchen and how terrible it is (mostly due to the layout). Experiencing the bad certainly makes you appreciate the good! xx

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  4. Dear Heidi

    What a wonderful object lesson using other people's mistakes! I'm sure it will help lots of people. Quite scary really.

    We've had Miele appliances for years, the dishwasher maybe 12 or more years and it's still going strong and washes well. It also has a gentle cycle so you can wash Spode and most other fine china - as long as it isn't hand painted or have gold or silver trim - certainly wouldn't put Herend in any dishwasher. The Miele cooktop is great and so easily cleaned. The oven seems fine and cooks really well (makes a great pavlova) but all our appliances are at least 10 years old (and still going strong), so maybe that's the answer. We do have a Quasair range hood though - really good. A friend who had Ilve appliances said, wise afterwards, she thought it was all about appearance and not function or reliability. She swore she'd never buy them again.
    Foxtel by cable is not available in Canberra so we had a proper aerial installed which really makes a difference. Our bunny ears were terrible before the aerial. Can't imagine how you survived with young children and no television during a cold wet winter.

    That renovated town house looks so like many of the places featured in design magazines. That particular look has never appealed to me anyway but it's terrible to learn just how bad the renovations can be. When we had our kitchen gutted and a new one installed it was tailor made for us: all drawers were sized to fit our specific requirements, including the height and bulk of the mixer and Le Creuset pots, mugs, glasses etc and they all fit perfectly. I just have to stop buying things! Best wishes, Pamela

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    1. You've been very lucky with your Miele Pamela, but it may be that when you bought it was on the cusp of the changes that brought the breakdowns that I've experienced. Your friends experience with Ilve is pretty much what everyone in the industry thinks of the Italian appliances - all form, no substance! And your kitchen sounds so lovely. I'm very envious!! I can't wait until mine is done...only another 6 months or so (once Mr AV and I have agreed on the plans, that is!) xx

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    2. Heidi

      Told my husband about your experiences with Miele. He wondered whether at least some of the products are made elsewhere now. Ours were made in Germany but lots of producers are going offshore (or at least elsewhere in Europe) now because of cheaper labour costs. Could this be one of the reasons for product failures do you think?

      Son suggested we have a coffee machine installed but husband never drinks coffee now so wouldn't do it just for me and our son's occasional cups. Must warn him about Miele in case he decides to get one for his own kitchen. I was lucky my husband was happy to go with whatever I wanted in the kitchen renovation. Best wishes, Pamela

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    3. I'm not sure that they are Pamela - Miele say that their products are all German made, whether the parts are made elsewhere is debatable....the coffee machines were Italian made when they started manufacturing them (which is why they claimed there were a lot of problems with mine, which was the first model they produced). I think that Miele has expanded hugely in the past 10- 15 years... they have a very strong brand presence now, which wasn't the case ten years ago (it seems to have gone hand in hand with the rise of consumer awareness of designer everything). Perhaps product integrity has suffered as a result. Now the big appliance companies launch one or two new complete ranges every year, whereas in the past, it would be one new range every few years, when they had a major innovation. I would definitely not get the Miele coffee machine - they're $4,500 and as I said in my reply to Romy below, my husband thinks that the $350 Nespresso Citiz machine makes better coffee. Heidi xx

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  5. Horrors....just arrived in MEL & typing on iphone so bear with me! My husband used to have coffee addiction so coughed up for inbuilt Miele.....fixed 7 times so far by neanderthal service man now weighing up whether to go with latest $1k repair or ditch....love my Ilve 6 burner double oven cooket & never had a problem....also have Qasair built in range so can't see it &. Cheap fridge & dishwasher built into standard sized cupboards with doors so again obscured & easily replaced...main prob with our kitchen is dwasher in wrong place thanks to husband. Wish had laundry chute! Giving up now.....have lovely weekend Miss Heidi! Rx

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    1. Hi R, I'd ring Miele and go absolutely nuts at them. I had to pull rank and say things about being an Architect etc etc (you could try that, they wouldn't actually know) and that it was a total lemon, that I'd call Consumer affairs etc before they replaced it with the latest model. I had to pay an extra $500 for the better model, but we decided it was worth it. We had put it in because I thought it would be a sales feature of our house..... and it was. The new owners insisted it was written in the contract that the coffee machine went with the house (we said it did, but they still wanted to make sure it was in the contract!!). It was good riddance from my point of view (I don't drink coffee, Mr AV does. I just got to sort out fixing it). Mr AV thinks the nespresso Citi machine we got after moving makes better coffee too.
      Husbands should not meddle with kitchen designs. This has been my problem with finishing my kitchen plans.
      Enjoy Melbourne and all the Bikram xx

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  6. such a great post - i totally agree - design is more than aesthetics it must function.

    do you remember philip stark's lemon juicer? i do - it looked beautiful but just didn't work so it just cluttered the workspace yet so many people like myself got blindsided by the form of design.

    while looking at the pictures - they look so inviting by the way - it really drove the point further - this should be part of a renter's guide.

    Sorry to hear about Miele - as an ex Melbourne girl myself - I did notice foreign brands
    dont have the parts readily available whereas here in London Miele is on the ball and conversely Hoover is terrible here.

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    1. Stark is famous for his slightly dysfunctional design. It all does look pretty good though! The house really did look great on first inspection. We gained only one extra room, but we thought that having the bedrooms separated upstairs would be fantastic. It wasn't. The stairs had no handrail, and I had to negotiate them with a baby and a two year old. They were the Stairs of Doom. The number of times I had to haul my heavily pregnant self up and down the stairs everyday drove me nuts.
      Things are much easier (and cheaper) in London. So much closer to the source. Plus the range! We get around 1/3 - 1/2 of the range that you can get in Europe. xx

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  7. We had the same experience after our Unley villa sold in a heartbeat (no thanks to MOTH snapping up the first offer!) & we were homeless. Ended up renting a new shagedelic, pyschedelic pad in Norwood while house-hunting in the Hills. It was a shocker - bamboo flooring that was so warped & wavy I got nauseous each time I looked down, front windows with no eaves that leaked like the Labor Caucus & a fully automated cable system that required a technician to live permanently in the 4th bedroom so we could use the internet once a day for 3 minutes. I feel your pain.
    Millie xx
    P.S. Smeg is Korean for Lemon.

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    1. Millie - Hilarious! Our place was aesthetically very pleasing, but functionally fell down. We had internet problems as well...I eventually lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman about Telstra, which made them up their game and sort the problem out in only a couple of days. Quite an incredible turnaround. xx

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  8. At least it looked great in the photos :)))

    Do you think that type of front fence would suit our red brick facade?

    B

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    1. Yes B, I don't think you have to match the materials exactly (meaning red brick fence with red brick house). Just make sure the creamy white complements the brick colour, rather than looking too stark. xx

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  9. I found this your most fascinating post. I think your knowledge as an architect helps with your observations. Re ovens - does St George still have the excellent reputation it once had - or do they even still make them? & sooo agree with you on insulation - the change in our place once we got it was crazy.

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    1. They do still make St George ovens, but I'm not sure that they have such a great reputation. I believe that there are a lot of problems with after sales service, and that the ovens aren't that reliable. I've never recommended them for this reason. I think their reputation back in the 80's early 90's was that they were excellent, but something went very wrong after that...

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  10. I am on my second round of Miele appliances. When we renovated our old kitchen in 1999, I bought all Miele. When we built our new extension in 2010 and moved the kitchen, I recycled the 2 ovens, but bought new induction cooktop, fridge, freezer, wine fridge, dishwasher and range hood. My 14 year old ovens are going well (apart from an annoying issue with one of the controls with I refuse to pay $700+ to get fixed). Of the new appliances I am happy with the fridge, freezer and cooktop. My best purchase was the wine fridge!! Our original dishwasher blew up after 11 years and the new one is nowhere near as good as the last one. We only replaced the range hood due to water damage to the old one by our builder, and again, is nowhere near as good as the original. My Miele freezer doesn't even have a light!! My 11 year old Miele washing machine has recently developed a water leak, so not many good things to say about Miele here - apart from the wine fridge, that is =) Miele quality has certainly lessened in recent years. Jo xx

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    1. You're experience pretty much confirms what I've felt - that the quality was great a long time ago, but more recently is about style over substance. Appliances have become somewhat of a fashion item, and are suffering as a result. Who on earth needs 300 programmable functions in their oven? You've done well to have had the ovens so long, and a washing machine these days is considered good if it's lasted more than 7 years. xx

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  11. Well it sure photographs well:).

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  12. My pet hate with houses is when doors open funny ways and get in the path of where you need to walk so you sort of have to walk around the door rather than through it (one bathroom at our beach house springs to mind!).

    We have a ten year old Miele dishwasher which is still going strong. And it has had to do the hard yards over the years..... Only other Miele appliance I have is a vacuum cleaner which has also been brilliant. Never had anything more complex though and tend to steer clear of any appliance with computer programming as no-one can fix it locally if it breaks down. Which is funnily enough the same reason I keep driving toyotas - amazing the difference having an agent/dealer in town makes to my purchasing.

    Hope you had a good weekend. Love the photos of your gorgeous little girl all dressed up in your latest post too. And the big earrings look fab. Giggled as I think I had those Saba pants in about 1999. Think they are stored somewhere - you may have inspired me to dig them up.

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    1. You just reminded me that when you opened the dishwasher in that house, you couldn't open the cutlery drawers to put away the cutlery as it blocked them. Doors opening in the wrong directions are the pits! I have often said that you wouldn't want a European car to break down in the country. It's fine in Germany where they have dealers everywhere, but drive a 4WD somewhere out of a capital city, have your tyre go flat, and your on the space saving spare driving at 60KM/h for hundreds of KM until you get somewhere they can fix it. Electronics with programmable features are entirely overrated - you always have service problems, and no one can ever fix the things!
      Get the saba pants out - they're back! xx

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  13. Great post. I think it's important to live in a house for a little while before embarking on a renovation.... To get the feel of it...! And to avoid mistakes. I'm learning a lot reading this blog! X

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    1. Quite true - we were going to do the whole renovation of our house before moving in. Thank goodness we didn't, because I've thought a lot more about what I want in the new extension, and the plans have evolved accordingly. xx

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  14. Heidi, this is a brilliant post.

    I am so sad to hear about Miele. My parents had Miele everything, however I am a bit nervous about spending money on most brands these days. To be honest my Miele vacuum cleaner has not been great either.

    We are currently house hunting, so I will use a lot of the tips you have suggested while looking at properties.

    Fifi xxxx

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    1. Definitely do not get sucked in by a beautiful kitchen while househunting Fifi! Too many people flipping properties now use that to hide all the shortcuts they make elsewhere. Good luck with the househunt - how exciting! xx

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  15. This is such an interesting post.

    My husband and I love talking about design and designing for functionality. As long-term renters who have moved a lot, we have a pretty long list going of dos and don'ts!

    The current issue where we live is that the houses are too well insulated, so there is no air exchange and everyone has mould problems. It is literally in our lease that we have to open our windows three times a day for ten minutes. So, we crank the heat (to dry the air) and keep the windows open. It is absurd. We had two walls replaced because of mould.

    Window screens are also not the norm here, and there are these awful outdoor cockroaches that come inside all summer long. We have rigged some DIY screens, but they don't really work. So, winter - windows open; summer - windows closed.

    The apartment is otherwise quite lovely and usable, though!

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    1. Mould is not good. My sister's place in Sydney was like that, and if I went to stay with her I'd wake up with an asthmatic wheeze - and I'm not asthmatic.

      Cockroaches!!! Yuck. Fly screens are essential. When I moved to Melbourne I was told (by other Architects) that you didn't need them there because there weren't that many flies. Let me tell you, there were. And mozzies too. We never had a house with flyscreens, so I'd never leave the windows open or we'd be covered in bites (I tried to get some for the house we owned, but couldn't get anyone to manufacture them for us as we only needed 4 flyscreens). xx

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    2. Yes, I'm completely sensitised to mould now, it's terrible. I'm trying to get over the gross out factor with the roaches because they aren't the "bad" kind (they don't infest anything), but having lived in NYC for a while, I'm having trouble with that.

      I am a new reader, and have been enjoying reading about your renovation and life in Australia - always neat to get a peek into another world!

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  16. Wow, I have just stumbled across your blog and have been enjoying reading it. When I saw this piece I went I know that house. It is only a couple of blocks from where I grow up and my father still lives. I used to walk past it twice a day heading to school and knew the people who lived next door. Very interesting read as we start planning our own renovation.

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    1. What a funny coincidence! We loved living in Middle Park, and were back visiting a few weeks ago, having breakfast at Hot Honey in the village. Such a lovely area... but that house still fills me with horrors. We drove past it and all I can say is I looked at it and though Thank Goodness we were now in a larger house, but most importantly a comfortable house. Good luck with your renovation planning, it's the hidden things that can make the most difference... like good insulation!

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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