It pays to have geeky tendencies when you’re renovating your own home.
Just ask the country’s most recent DIY experts Ben and Libby Crawford, inaugural winners of new TV series The Block NZ.
The brother and sister – who are former Queenstowners – believe their extensive planning was crucial to their success and recommend any DIY home renovator should be organised with a clear strategy from the beginning.
Ben, the former youth marketing manager for Tourism New Zealand, and Libby, a graphic designer, are used to deciding on a direction and sticking to it in their everyday professional lives, so it was second-nature for the pair, Ben explains.
“You’ve got to realise from the start who is going to be buying this house potentially, what people will be looking for, and what the style is,” he says.
“That was always the outlook that we had. We assumed that the others on The Block would have been doing something similar but it didn’t really turn out that way which is probably to our advantage.”
Libby adds: “We’re geeky, that’s how we work. I freak out without a plan and lists.”
Libby and Ben’s
top renovation tips
1. Make a plan from the beginning: Include your overall vision for the house, colour schemes and overall themes. “Planning helps with achieving a cohesive flow throughout the house. It keeps you on track,” Ben says.
2. Time management: Manage your project carefully to avoid time and budget blowouts.
3. Get on side with your tradesmen: “Like with any interaction with people, you get out what you put in. Our tradespeople were working as much for themselves as they were for us and had the same pride in the project that we had,” Libby says.
4. You don’t have to be an artist to create your own art for the walls: “We did such a variety of stuff in there, from taking old skirting board timber and painting that up and framing it to photographs we’d taken which were just shot with an iPhone down at Takapuna Beach, to playing with paint on canvases. It can be quite simple,” Libby says.
5. And if you can’t do it yourself ... “With the skirting board piece, all we did was got someone to frame it up. There are so many services out there to get people to do it for you but it still means something to you – it’s not some random piece from Freedom Furniture.”
6. Landscaping – get the structural stuff done properly first: “Once you’ve got that in place it’s much less scary to fill in the gaps all around it.”
7. Doing up to sell on? “Remember the end-buyer all the way through. You’re not designing for yourselves,” Libby says.
Ben, 31, and Libby, 29, came into the competition with a master plan of how they wanted their house to look and had prepared a mood board with preferred styles and colour schemes that they both agreed on.
Libby explains: “It narrows your field of the decisions you’re trying to make throughout the process.
“You can flounder a bit if you’re trying to make decisions on colours or what you’re putting into the house if you
have to consider every option that’s available.
“But if you’ve got your style guidelines that you keep referencing, then as soon as you walk into a shop or look at something online you have a narrower range of stuff you’re looking for.”
It was their attention to detail and creativity that earned them praise from judges in weekly competitions during the hit reality TV series – and resulted in their Takapuna house selling for $961,000 at a live auction earlier this month.
They convincingly beat other contestants – couples Sarah Adams and Richard Boobyer, Ginny Death and Rhys Wineera and Rachel Rasch and Tyson Hill – whose homes also sold at auction but for much less.
Libby and Ben won profit of $157,000 from the sale, plus collected $80,000 in prize money allocated for the overall winners.
Aside from their careful planning, the siblings say another key to their renovation success was creating artwork that had a connection to the house and Takapuna area.
“Customised and localised artwork from that area was something that people identified with and recognised when they came through,” Libby says.
“That’s why we made that a priority, to tie it in with the story, hoping that that would add a bit of attachment to the place.”
The Block contestants each had to search, assign and coordinate tradesmen to complete the major renovations – it wasn’t done for them by the TV production company.
Libby and Ben learned the importance of time management and say for any DIY home renovation it’s vital to keep a track of every aspect of progress.
“In a normal situation if you let timeframes blow out massively or not manage it very well, all of a sudden you can have cost blow-outs,” Ben says.
“A high priority would be to make sure you’re good at project management.”
Following their success on the show, the Crawford siblings have launched their own creative ideas agency, called Libby & Ben. It’ll focus on marketing, advertising, design and space ideas.
“We’re not really looking to do residential renovations or design with the business,” Ben says.