Sleeves up and gloves on was how Papamoa’s Cilla Walker dealt with a house the same as all the others around it.
“They all had a very, very blue kitchen, the same layout and that fake-marble laminated benchtop look,” says Cilla. “I never liked it.”
A huge DIY project ensued, starting with turning that eye-hurting kitchen into a cream-with-red-accents fresh and modern room featuring wooden benchtops to replace the laminate.
“When you first buy a house you don’t have many funds, so I started a bit of DIY renovating room by room.”
The house was built in 2000 and, thanks to the property being relatively young, there wasn’t a need for any structural changes or electrical or plumbing work. So Cilla was able to do everything herself.
Cilla’s a self-taught DIY-er. While living in Italy, she and husband Claudio Semeraro renovated the hundred-year-old house they owned.
“We wanted to get some tradies in to do the renovations. We called around, booked some to come in, they said they’d be there in two weeks and they never showed. In Italy it’s very much, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow’. I got fed up with that and wondered if I could do it myself.”
Around this time, Kevin McLeod’s Grand Designs began screening on Italian television.
“I watched that and thought, ‘Yeah, maybe I can do it by myself’ – and that’s how it started. My father-in-law is pretty handy with DIY, so he gave me inspiration and help.
Cilla says in Italy it’s all just limestone bricks, mortared with a kind of clay. She started doing a bit of stone masonry, learned how to build outdoor stone walls, before progressing to the interior.
“It was all very scary at the beginning. You just have to have a bit of willpower and a bit of Kiwi can-do attitude.”
Everything in the house is bespoke. “Because money is an issue, my motto is to use what I have. I’ve used a lot of recycled wood I collected at council throw-outs and garage sales over the last couple of years.”
The designer-looking furniture is also the product of Cilla’s DIY skills.
“I went op-shopping, and then upcycled – changed the material, changed the layout, cut some legs off, added some legs, changed a base to rustic wood, and so on. With a mortgage, I don’t want to pay anyone to do anything.”
One of the quirkiest renovations is the upcycled horse float into a bar and camper; a population talking point at camping grounds.
“I started looking at caravans and campers, but even the broken, run-down caravans were expensive. I bought the horse float for $3,000.”
Cilla says a horse-float is lighter than a caravan, and not burdened with rules.
“I googled it, checked with council, and as it’s classified as a light trailer, there are no real [heavy vehicle certification] rules, like you have with caravans.”
The carefully designed camper has furniture and features that all fold in and out as required.
“The bottom of the bar top lies down on the ground. I put a couple of beams on top of it and a mattress on top. Gone are the days of having to break down the tent in the rain and come home sopping wet.”
The best advice Cilla can give to others starting a DIY project is have the correct tools.
“That’s a big one. And map out all your building materials first. It was different for me as I used recycled materials, so if I wanted something a certain length and it was too short, I’d have to adjust. But if you’re using new materials, plan it all in advance.”