Convent Makeover Part II

What a difference some paint makes
What a difference some paint makes

When I first thought of a country property, ¬†one of my key requirements was ‘No Work Required’. I’m not sure how I missed this with the Convent but tend to think it was price, the Convent, the area and falling in love. Anyway, it has put me into the unfamiliar territory of a complete renovation – and lots and lots of decisions.

Even the old bathroom looks so much better
Even the old bathroom looks so much better

At this point I’d have to qualify that most of the work is purely cosmetic. The building itself is very solid and in good condition. And whilst it was purpose-built as a Convent, it is currently very practical, whether for me and family/friends or for commercial purposes. I’m not building or knocking anything down. For the most part, I am working with the current building, layout and infrastructure. The changes are mainly more of a cosmetic nature, but that is still significant.

I’ve been lucky in my tradies. Being in the country is a totally different dynamic. The downside is:

  • there is a limited marketplace. This is a small town and some tradies come from Mudgee which they regard almost as a different state and can charge a travelling fee. It’s maybe 40 minutes which is nothing in Sydney but in rural terms when you don’t need to travel, can add significantly to cost.
  • Good tradies are well-known and busy. They are in significant demand so queue up and be prepared to follow up. If you need something very specialised, you may struggle or need to compromise. Don’t get too trendy.

The upside well outweighs the negatives:

  • If you get a tradie by word of mouth, they will be keen to please. They know their business depends on reputation, referral and existing business (that’s why they are so busy in the first place). It’s a small community and word travels fast.
  • They are locals/neighbours and likely to be your friends in the future and want referrals from you – they genuinely care that you are happy with the job, you like them and can look each other in the face in future.
  • For the Convent, they often have a connection or value the building so are keen to do a job that is sustainable and they are aware that it will be public and often have strong views themselves as to how things should be done.
  • In the country, you don’t pay Sydney prices. Whilst the locals may think as a small town they get charged highly as tradies travel (there’s what’s known as a ‘Mudgee tax’ if you utilise goods and services from Mudgee) it’s not Sydney prices for labour.Of course the Chapel gets special treatment
Of course the Chapel gets special treatment 
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Carpet for the bedrooms. Polished boards for the rest.

For me, this renovation is a quantum leap and has been made so much easier by having local tradespeople that have been so open in helping and suggesting solutions, which are often outside their special expertise. I’m finding that much of 30 years of corporate life of building relationships with trusted suppliers who understand the value of sustainable relationships, understanding¬†clients and long term relationships works the same in the country. In fact, when corporations seek “a consistent quality client experience”, they are just trying to corporatise the best of what local businesses who understand relationships consistently deliver as a matter of course. In corporate land we sometimes forget this – this is the source of the service experience we seek to deliver.

Anyway, so far I have been so happy with the people who are helping me with the Convent. This week I’ve locked in carpets and curtains, major decisions but ones I am very happy with. It’s all very daunting, particularly whilst managing a job back in Sydney and a Sydney property that will have another future… but exciting and rewarding as well.

Coming up well - the end bedroom known as 'Her Mother Superior's Room' or in latter stages
Coming up well – the end bedroom known as ‘Her Mother Superior’s Room’ or, in latter stages, ‘The Bishop’s Room’

The Convent Gets a Make-over Part I

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Painting gear set up in the Chapel. The Mission brown has already been painted out from the stained glass windows. This is just an undercoat.

The old girl hasn’t really had much attention for many decades. A lick of paint from time to time in some rooms and a few low key renovations to suit changing needs of Church inhabitants. But no serious updates.

Her time has now come. And it’s not one of those reality-type challenges. Some of the work will happen over the next year or two (like the kitchen), but the main work is being done now. The exterior of the building is a textured concrete painted a traditional ochre and is in good condition, but the timber work, fascias, columns and detailing are all very shabby and being restored, which is much more than a quick paint job.

The boys hard at work.
The boys hard at work.

The inside is being painted from head to toe – every room. As well as being well sanded back, having all the cracks repaired and the dark timber painted out. The floors currently have every carpet imaginable on them – every room is different and sometimes there are many layers (some of which I have kept for posterity). Whilst I keep being told it will be cold, I’m getting all the floorboards bar the bedrooms polished whilst the bedrooms will be carpeted. I tend to think that lots of rugs and runners will give the place more character and cover the warmth aspect. There’s also the possibility that to warm rooms, you can always put a heater on and shut the door! I won’t be trying to warm this whole house at once.

The Chapel is the centre of action
The Chapel is the centre of action

The painters have now moved in – and with a vengeance. Stott’s are based at Mudgee and have quite a team which means that once they start, they can put quite a few people on and just go gangbusters, rather than stop and start with multiple jobs on the go. The work only started this week and I can see heaps of progress – mainly just in preparation, gap filling, undercoating out all the ‘mission brown’ woodwork, which is making the place look lighter and more modern already.

What will be my craft studio
What will be my craft studio

The boys are only working on one half of the building (not the section I’m living in) so there isn’t much disruption yet, particularly now I have the plumbing working again down my end of the house! I’m sure it won’t stay that way for long (the painting, not the plumbing, hopefully!). Anyway, I’m looking at at least three more weeks of painting inside then the floors are booked in. …then come the curtains. After the floors are done, the plan is to actually move in some furniture which will be exciting and let me clean up the Sydney home to get it on the market!

A new stage begins …

A Facelift for the Nunnery

Beautiful detailing above the fireplaces
Beautiful detailing above the fireplaces

Much like me, the Convent is in need of some TLC. Whilst she is in good shape structurally (unlike me), there has been little care taken cosmetically over the years. She has beautiful arches, character windows, the niches and fireplaces, picture rails and of course, the Chapel with its lovely detailed stained glass and leadlight windows. However the paintwork is shabby and peeling, false fibro walls and cheap office type ceilings have been put in some rooms and every floorcovering imaginable has been used. There has also been little importance placed on comfort, let alone luxury. The fireplaces have been blocked off and for heating, there are two old wall heaters in rooms and no air conditioning. Old porches have been closed in (not by tradesmen, by the look of it) and some makeshift walls put in place.

One of the hallways
One of the hallways

Now settlement has finally taken place, it’s time to get stuck into bringing the old girl back to her former glory. The building is best described as being a ‘U’ shape – with a long central hall and two wings. The left wing is the main back entry via the laundry, with the master bedroom with an ensuite and a large middle room which is destined to be my kitchen in the future. This hall goes through to the lounge room. The central hall accesses the dining room, the front foyer, the future kitchen, and 3 potential bedrooms and leads to the right wing which houses the chapel, the main bathroom and another bedroom. Given it was built as a Convent, there are up to 6 rooms which could be bedrooms. Some alterations have taken out walls and changed layout, for example the big old kitchen and dining room was changed to be the master bedroom and ensuite, providing a small separate living area when the priest moved in. There is an ensuite, two separate toilets and a bathroom which is in its original 1930 style.

There are a few small rooms like the sacristy and utility room and some of the bedrooms are not overly generous, but at the same time, there are heaps of rooms. There are many external doors although I think I’ve finally worked out the keys. Initially it is a bit of a rabbit warren until you work out the U shape and then it makes sense.

A small galley kitchen replaced the original kitchen out the back. A new kitchen will be relocated in another room.
A small galley kitchen replaced the original kitchen out the back. A new kitchen will be relocated in another room.
An enclosed porch - destined for removal
An enclosed porch – destined for removal

The bedrooms were called ‘cells’ and still have numbers over them. Some of the changes, such as partitioning off rooms, closing in fireplaces and dropping in false ceilings will be reversed as I get the place back closer to original condition. This work has already started in earnest and painting quotes for inside and out have been approved. Next will be sanding and polishing the floors (which I believe are tongue and groove cyprus pine and are currently covered in multiple layers of lino, underlay and carpet). Bedrooms will be carpeted for warmth.

There’s a lot to do, but the local tradies have been helpful and interested, so I’m hoping that by the end of quarter three most of the major work will be done.

The central hall from the lounge room
The central hall from the lounge room

Until the painting and floors are done, I’m holding off furniture and currently ‘camping’ on an air bed, sitting on cane furniture that is destined for the porches and my dining table and chairs are a card table and vinyl fold up chairs from Bunnings – basic but fine for now.

The initial renovations of taking out the false arches and partitions have already made a great difference. I’m looking forward to the next stage, albeit somewhat daunting.

The original laundry complete with concrete tubs
The original laundry complete with concrete tubs