Renovating Your Own Home From Top To Bottom, With BuildHer Collective


Having previously renovated a modern industrial-style home in Melbourne’s north, Alison Lewis discovered she had a passion for residential design and development. So after the sale of their house, Alison and her family spent five months on the hunt for a new space to renovate and call home.

Viewing a 1930’s Californian bungalow in the suburb of Kew off-market, Alison took a walk-through video of the home for reference, verbalising ideas for the space as she went along. Afterwards, Alison placed an offer, but it was rejected. As the unsold property moved on-market, Alison and her husband weren’t entirely convinced that the home was for them – but they hadn’t really let it go either.

Standing on the busy street on the day of the auction, the couple quickly realised how few people were bidding. Seizing the opportunity, they jumped in with a relatively high bid and blew the active bidders out of the water.

As bidding ground to a halt, the couple negotiated 45‑day terms, and their offer was accepted from their one last-minute bid. What a rollercoaster!


Now the proud owners of a Kew masterpiece in the making, Alison had 45 days to rack her brain and create a vision for their new home. She spent most of her time finessing the floorplan, turning dark and pokey rooms into a light, open-plan space.

As an interior designer, Alison is always excited to work with different aesthetics, in this instance redesigning a period-style home with ornate cornices, 3.1 metre (10 ft, 2 in) ceilings and original Baltic pine floors. She quickly crafted an initial concept for the home by taking inspiration from local minimalist interior design companies, referring back to her walk-through video musings and pinning well-executed small homes on Pinterest.

Yet upon moving in, the couple didn’t begin straight away, simply ripping up and replacing the carpets and choosing to sit thoughtfully in the property for a while. With only 300m2to work with, and the house taking up most of that space, Alison cites this process as crucial in helping them understand the flow and best use of each space – not to mention the best light.


Alison took the building journey entirely at the pace her family could handle and afford, affectionately referring to the stages of the build (to the exasperation of the builder) as stages one, two and three. Little by little, as the couple saved money, they ticked through their stages, taking 2.5 years to complete the renovation.

Alison loved every step of the project from her position as designer and project manager. This was the first time that she had managed and scheduled various tradespeople, but Alison insists that the trusting relationships she developed, particularly with her builder and carpenter, and working through the (many) challenges were her favourite parts of the process, learning a ton along the way.


Throughout the renovation, Alison worked hard to ensure that everyone on the build felt involved and that they were working towards the best collective outcome. She never lost patience and was never short with her trades, even bringing her team morning coffee and checking in that they had everything they needed. Alison says, ‘My top tip would be to go with the flow. Things are going to come up. I think if you accept that it’s not going to be exactly how you envisioned it, but it’s still going to be beautiful, it takes a lot of pressure off. Don’t get too stressed, there’s always a solution.’

A big part of being able to ‘go with the flow’ is a solid contingency plan and budget. ‘I’ve never come across or worked on a project that hasn’t had something come up that meant an additional cost. Make sure your budget and costs are right.’

Alison also insists that a collaborative approach with the builder, designer and architect will help you find the best solution.

This extract was shortened for digital re-publication.

‘BuildHer: Empowering women to build + renovate their Australian dream home’ is published by Smith Street Books, and is available for purchase here.

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