Deborah Hutton wanted to renovate and had found the right canvas in the eastern suburbs to realize her Hamptons-inspired dream home.
But simply renovating wasn’t enough for Deb – she wanted to share the whole journey along the way. ‘Renovation Rookie’ was born and after some research and recommendations from trusted friends, Virtue Projects was selected to take Deborah on her renovation journey. From our side, it was an absolute pleasure.
But how was it for Deborah?
“I’ve had a dream run. You often hear nightmare stories from others, but I really haven’t and I was blessed to have had amazing weather too.”
The builders have been a cut above the rest. They’ve just gotten on with it. They’re very focused. A young company that is really going places and I just love their attention to detail and the skills they brought to the project.
They’ve got fantastic trades too, so we really haven’t had any dramas. It’s been a joy because we have had very clear communication and great respect for each other. You look after them and they’ll look after you! That’s my biggest takeaway”
Most of our clients like to be around the site often during a renovation. It’s understandable of course, and also encouraged. Deborah enjoyed the renovation so much that she took ‘being on-site’ to a new level…
“I moved in next door during the renovation. My neighbour was happy to move in with his girlfriend during the time and let me rent his house, which was unbelievable. I know it minimizes any dramas and cuts the build time down. We pretty much 90% knocked a two-story house down and rebuilt it to finish in 9 months!”
The renovation saw many intricate features added along the way. We asked Deb what some of her favourites are.
“I love the timber detailing on the front balustrade and posts. When I am standing on the street looking up, that’s one of my favourite joys about the house. It reminds me of The Hamptons, ‘coastal colonial’ or what you might see in St. Barts.
It has a holiday feel to it and all the timberwork the guys have done is amazing. They’re all pure artists, true carpenters. I know they loved working on the house because few people commit to that level of detail and get this kind of result. They are very proud of their work and so they should be! They love what they do.”
I also love my custom wine cellar too… I jokingly call it my Panic Room.”
It was a genuine pleasure having Deb with the team onsite each day. But it as Deb will tell you it didn’t come without its challenges.
“I spent a lot of my television career hosting home improvement shows. So, of course, everyone thinks you’re an expert… I’m so not an expert!
Before starting this renovation, I had only ever retiled a bathroom. That’s all! I remember someone saying to me once this started: ‘Jesus! Don’t think you should have started on something a bit smaller?’ I started this knowing absolutely nothing.
The thing that spun me out more than anything was the bloody jargon. I found it challenging to get my head around the construction side of things. Architects, engineers, builders; they all speak a different language! It can all be quite confusing and you can feel quite stupid! I kept saying to them when I drew a blank ‘can you do that in interpretive dance??’ Ha!”
In the beginning, the challenges came thick and fast, but throughout the project, Deb definitely began to progress from ‘renovation rookie’ too much more.
“The thing I learned was when you’re looking at a set of plans it means nothing until you see it in the real world and feel the space
The scale is really, really different. You spend so much time looking at floor plans and trying to imagine the size of the rooms when it’s a building site, no walls etc. you have no idea if it is going to work or not.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with the boys because they understood I came from a background of knowing nothing and held my hand through the process which included a massive amount of changes along the way.
I have to say; the boys are great communicators and were so patient with me. Dave’s got this great character about him where you think he’s laid-back but he misses nothing and importantly never shows any signs of stress. He handles his trades well. They’re all great guys who instilled confidence and I loved working with them. I’m missing them already.”
We asked Deb seeing as she had such a great experience as the ‘renovation rookie’ is she planning on doing another renovation again soon?
“I’d love to do something down the line, I just need to settle in, feather the nest and breathe again. But I wouldn’t build another dream home – this is my dream home. I’m not going anywhere. I look around this house now that it’s completed, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Deborah Hutton – Client
Chris had a plan to turn his run down 27 room accommodation property in Randwick into a stylish but affordable 42 room accommodation venue. He had DA approval for a refurbishment of the building, including the addition of another storey and a new section at the rear. As a property developer since the 1990s, he knew what he wanted, and he knew what he needed. He also knew whom he wanted to do the job.
“Virtue Projects had done a house for a relative of mine, who had recommended them,” Chris says. “Then we used them first up in a property we did in Challis Avenue, Potts Point, another hotel.”
Chris had been happy with the work Virtue had done on the Potts Point hotel, and he had every confidence that they could get the job done.
“The business operates as budget accommodation, but the budget doesn’t have to mean nasty,” Chris says. “I want to deliver a quality product within a reasonable budget. It has to be functional, and it has to look more expensive than it might be.”
Virtue Projects were responsible not only for the structural elements of the build but the finishes as well. “The only thing Virtue didn’t do is make the furniture,” Chris says.
The result is a stylish, modern building, which meets the needs of the Sydney Lodges’ clients.
“It is pretty straightforward, with a nice fit-out, cable TV, WIFI, air-con, nice furniture, comfortable beds. Most people would be happy to stay here. I’d be staying here!” Chris says.
While the job was extensive, Chris could not have been more satisfied with either the finished product or with the professionalism of the Virtue crew.
“The delivery was fine, the timing was great, and they worked quickly and efficiently,” Chris says. “It was a very happy job site, and everyone got on well. I had some of my own staff who were also working on the job, and there were no issues at all.”
The relaxed attitude of the Virtue boys was particularly positive, says Chris.
“Attitude is really important,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s like a partnership. I’m a bit out of the box, I guess because I’m quite hands-on. So I’d come to the site a couple of times a day, and we’d talk on the phone a million times a day. To be able to work quickly on a major job like that, you need to be able to work together. And these guys were always calm, I could see that they were doing their work, and they certainly know their trades well
I was very happy, and I’d be happy to use them again.”
Chris – Client
Mark had a development site in Burraneer and was looking to partner with a company he could trust that would share his vision. He found that in Virtue Projects.
“We were looking for the right partners to see our investment truly come to life and the team at Virtue Projects certainly delivered. Joint ventures like Kurra don’t need to be complicated or challenging when you have the right people on board. I couldn’t recommend them highly enough to others looking at similar developments.”
The 14 townhouse multi-dwelling development was completed successfully within 9 months.
Mark – Joint Venture Partner
“ We were fortunate enough to engage in Virtue Projects to build our Hamptons dream home. Our build was a complex build as it was a design and construct, everybody from the Project manager to the company owners were outstanding. They finished the build before the completion date which was a massive effort as there was a huge amount of craftsmanship in the finishes”.
“We are so grateful to all the Virtue team for building our dream home. We cannot speak highly enough of Virtue Projects and would recommend them to any people looking to build or renovate “
Mark Fisher – Client
Living, Thinking, Dreaming. Brendan Cowell’s Home in 3 Acts
“I got some Bavarian beers here and guacamole… should we get started with a tour or something?” And this was how an afternoon interview with Australian actor, writer and director Brendan Cowell began at his Newtown home.
4 years earlier, the trio of Dave Klees, Mick Fahey and Virtue Projects’ apprentice at the time Kale Huggins (who is a tradesman with Virtue Projects to this day) were on the tools for Brendan, turning his ideas etched on a drink-stained piece of draftsman’s tracing paper into a creative urban reality.
Brendan Cowell is a very funny and creative guy, and we were lucky to catch him, literally a day after filming had been wrapped up for his part in a Peter Brock biopic. The point of catching up was to see how his home had been treating him after a few years and to grab some insights and reflections from the process of designing and building with Virtue Projects.
Virtue Projects co-founder Dave Klees was on hand to catch up over a beer or two and see how things were going.
When Brendan purchased the narrow terrace home it was one of the last properties in the area yet to be renovated. The wave of gentrification had already swept through Newtown, and now it was Brendan’s turn to see what he could make out of a tired old terrace from a bygone era. Well, as it turns out, Brendan’s creativity doesn’t end on the stage or screen. The home he imagined is simply breath-taking and inspiring in equal measure.
The sky is actually the limit in this terrace.
“People can’t believe it when they walk into the place.”
“In terms of the space being about transitions, you kinda come in here and go, ‘I’m in a Newtown Terrace’ and then people come in here and see a 40 ft void and go wow!”
“The philosophy was living, thinking, dreaming”
On the ground level, Virtue Projects helped Brendan create a space that was for ‘living’. There is room to breathe on the ground floor. A social space where people could catch up has a few drinks, dinner or whatever.
The polished concrete flooring makes it easy to keep clean, and the large glass retractable ceiling above keeps the air flowing through the whole house.
“It is kind of amazing, just having this light and air coming into the home, and I like the manual aspect of shutting the big window yourself.”
‘Thinking’ happens up the spiral staircase, on the middle floor of the terrace. It is here where Brendan spends long hours writing and reading.
“This is where all the magic happens. I sit in here and I write. It’s got beautiful flow up here, and I get this beautiful light in from Haberfield”
“This is my favourite room in the house. It’s fucken magic!”
On the ‘thinking’ level a semi-covered walkway connects Brendan’s office/library with a bedroom on the street-facing side of the building. Leaning on the internal rail you can look down into the ‘living’ area below, and up to the open sky above.
It was on this creative ‘thinking’ floor of Brendan’s home that some reflections on the construction stage of the project were shared, and some insights on how the relationship between builder, client and architect can play out.
“It all went really well (the construction process). The architect, the owner and the builder. They kind of form a triangle, and with a triangle, inevitably there is going to be some things that are or aren’t communicated at different times. But eventually, you figure it all out and the project keeps developing.”
“I was overseas a lot of the time during the build, but it went really smoothly. These guys were so efficient and so clean, and honest guys.”
“There were some surprises along the way, such as when we had to underpin the neighbour’s house to avoid it collapsing, which was annoying. But we knew when we dug down that that would be where the mystery costs might be.”
This part of the home is truly space where the imagination can roam free.
Finally, the ‘dreaming’ stage of Brendan’s home is warm, quiet and cosy. It still has a certain charm, but with fewer inspirational flourishes of the ‘thinking’ level (and it definitely isn’t as much fun as the ‘living’ space). The ‘dreaming’ level is just as Brendan wanted it essentially — it is a space to close one’s eyes and drift off.
Nothing more, or less.
Living. Thinking. Dreaming.
Brendan Cowell’s home is a masterpiece of character and inspiration, made for a character who continues to inspire. This project (in Dave’s own words) was one of the most complexes, challenging and rewarding of his (and Virtue Projects’) career. Nothing was straightforward or simple, but everything was beautiful, and driven by a creative meaning and purpose.
The end result: a place to live, to think, and to dream in.
A huge thanks to Brendan for the beers and guacamole. The next round is on us mate!
Brendan Cowell – Client
Lindsay and Caroline Adams loved their Marrickville Neighbourhood. So rather than packing up and selling they employed Virtue Projects to extend and renovate their family home.
“We were running out of space and we wanted to see what we could do here this location. It’s a beautiful street, really quiet. Our neighbour on this site is the best neighbour ever and we all have Christmas parties and look after each other. It’s a lovely neighbourhood.”
All renovations come with their unique challenges. Our team are there to support and guide you through the whole process.
“It was very overwhelming when I was faced with a lot of choices, like which taps we wanted. I got really overwhelmed! But in terms of the build, it was all really smooth and really quick.”
If you’ve got a creative vision for your property as Caroline Adams did, we’re there to help you bring that vision to life.
“I really love the stairs. We came up with this beautiful hand-rail which I love. In Grand Designs they’re always talking about the feeling of the balustrade. I like the touch and feel of it. It turned out really beautiful.
The triangle window above the kitchen is my favourite. We told the architect that we needed light because the sun comes from the backdoor around the house to the front. The idea was to pop the roof up and add these windows in here in the kitchen and along the top floor and that I really love because it’s brought in so much light.
It was so dark here before and I just like being able to look out and you can see into the trees.
The kitchen is my favourite thing too. Because it’s heaps bigger than what it used to be and it’s like all my Pinterest dreams have come true!!”
At Virtue Projects, we’re not happy with the result unless our clients are. Here are Caroline’s final words on the project and working with us.
“We just love it here. It’s beautiful. It’s what we hoped for and more. It’s nicer than we could have imagined.”
“I have already recommended Virtue Projects left, right and centre. They were just very kind and always here doing their best and you can tell that they took pride in their work”.
Caroline Adams – Client
Tim and Sally knew they wanted to build their dream family home for themselves and their 3 boys, they just needed to find a builder they could trust to bring their dream to life.
“From our very first meeting we knew Virtue Projects was the right team for our coastal home build in Bronte.
All of Dave’s team are talented, professional and proud of the work they do. Our build was on budget and within the timeframe. We started with a plan and ended with our forever home.”
Tim and Sally Foy – Client
“Working with Virtue Projects in a year COVID – 19 took centre stage, proved to be an outstanding experience with building our new home, given the significant challenges.
From the beginning to end we had continued feedback, constant updates, which allowed for unhindered progress and completion on time.
The team’s expert opinions, advice and perfection created a “work of art” which will be admired by many for years to come.
We will be using Virtue when our next project arises”
Belinda Rowe and Scott Cuthbert – Client
“Cathy and I had a vision of transforming a falling down Californian bungalow that was on an irregular block and busy road into a quiet and comfortable home full of natural light.
We wanted to restore the elegance of the Californian bungalow while adding an ultra-modern extension to maximise the usage of the large block.
Dave and the Virtue team helped us achieve our vision with a premium build which was delivered ahead of time and within budget.
It was all the more impressive given that it was delivered during a pandemic and there had been a material change in the regulatory oversight by the building certifiers.
Dave and his team have been equally as diligent after completing the build, quickly rectifying any minor issues that have arisen.
There is so much we love about our new house and it really displays the broad skillset of the Virtue team.
We are equally impressed with the quality of the restoration of the old formal lounge and the new build for the modern extension.
I would not hesitate using Dave and the Virtue team again and would certainly recommend them to anybody wanting to build or renovate.”
Mark Vardenega – Client