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Auckland couple's bungalow renovation journey

By day, Blair Houston is chief financial officer for a health-tech company, but in the evenings and weekends, you’ll see him tackling DIY. An accountant by trade, he’s now honing his tradie skills renovating the Kingsland bungalow he shares with his wife Gretchen and their daughters Gwynnie, eight, and Margot, three.

This is the fourth time the Houston family has renovated – and it’s their biggest and most challenging project to date. The house was in a sorry state when they purchased it in June 2021, but they were drawn to its potential and the north-facing, leafy backyard, and relatively flat section.

Blair and Gretchen, who are in their early 40s, planned to start the renovation in late 2021, but Covid lockdowns brought delays.

Pandemic hold-ups haven’t been the only challenge they’ve faced. The Houstons are embracing DIY life to save money, unlike previous renovations where tradies were onsite until the end. Like many New Zealanders, the Houstons weren’t able to secure finance after Responsible Lending Code legislation came into force in December 2021. 

“It’s been challenging with the supply issues and also banks aren’t lending, so it’s meant being on the tools a bit more for me. I was more used to a keyboard than a paint brush or hammer,” Blair says. 

“We used builders for structural work and waterproofing, Gib installers, and a plasterer, but since plastering, we’ve been doing it all ourselves,” he explains.

“Blair’s laid proper tongue-and-groove flooring,” Gretchen says. “Things he wouldn’t have known he could do a couple of years ago, because of this need.”

“I’ve also done the spouting, the drainpipes and connected them all up to the system and plumbed-in the kitchen. I’ve got an uncle who is a plumber and when I was at university, I did some work for him, but he used to tease me about how useless I was. But the more I’ve done, the more confident I’ve become,” Blair says.

Blair also punched nails in new weatherboards, filling, and sanding ahead of external painting. “There were hundreds of those nails. It’s an easy thing that I don’t mind doing so that the builders can do the harder stuff. It just has to be done.”

Gretchen and Blair took their time selecting the perfect Resene colours to use in their Kingsland home.

Both Blair and Gretchen have been on the brushes, painting throughout the house. They’re fitting in the DIY around taking care of Gwynnie and Margot – and work. Gretchen is a food writer and stylist who works under the name My Weekend Table. She brings the creative nous to the project. The home’s living area shows Gretchen’s creative touch – and handiwork. The walls have a subtle textured concrete look.

“I just treated the walls like a piece of art and worked at it until I got the look I wanted.”

Over a plain basecoat, Gretchen painted the walls Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen in Resene Alabaster. Over that she applied Resene Double Sea Fog mixed with Resene FX Paint Effects Medium in a ratio of one part Double Sea Fog to two parts Resene FX Paint Effects Medium. This was applied with a brush in a criss-cross effect and finished with a rag.

Deciding she would like a lighter look, she did another coat, using Resene Sea Fog and Resene FX Paint Effects Medium, using the same application technique.

For the brick fireplace, Gretchen says she was initially going to paint it Resene Sea Fog. “But as it’s the only historical feature in the house I wanted it to shine on its own, so we mixed Resene Sea Fog and Resene Alabaster.”

In Gwynnie’s room, Gretchen chose a Gravure wallpaper from the Resene French Impressionist Wallpaper Collection, teamed with panelling painted Resene Atomic. The look is “not too grown up and not too babyish”, Gretchen explains.

Second-hand pieces give their home flair. “I just love finding unique pieces that other people don’t have and making them my own. Everything here is second-hand, bought from TradeMe, auction houses or op shops, such as our dresser, which was $90 from the hospice shop in Warkworth. We put new brass handles on it, applied amazing Resene Waterborne Smooth Surface Sealer, which meant no sanding, and painted it with Resene Lustacryl semi-gloss waterborne enamel in Resene Avant Garde,” Gretchen says.

There is plenty more work ahead and the Houstons will be busy. “This is a huge job. We’re so grateful to have support from Resene,” Gretchen says.

Follow Blair and Gretchen’s renovation journey here:
Part 1 – Lounge

Part 2 – Hallway and entrance
Part 3 – Gwynnie’s bedroom
Part 4 – Kitchen

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