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Getting Ready for Baby: How We Improved Our House

Posted Thursday, November 19, 2015 in: Nerd Life DIY Our House

When we bought the Crap Shack, I never thought it would one day become our first family home. I was never clucky; never been one of those people who turned to mush when a baby was around. Babies always seemed “five years away”. (And then when I reached that age, five years after that).

Babies were just unfathomable. Plus, the Crap Shack was our party house! Not the house we would bring a baby home to. I was 24 when we moved here and back then I would never have even thought we would be adding a baby to our lives just five years later.

You'd be happy too if you had the power to make people renovate an entire freaking house for you without lifting a chubby finger. Photo: Earthbound Images.

Us at 24... not long after getting started on the house, in our sexy renovating clothing. Apparently back then we liked to coordinate our outfits to the paint samples.

Little was I to know then that I had just moved in with a conniving mastermind; a boyfriend who not only planned his years out (“and in THIS year we will get engaged, and the next year we will get married, and then we will have my son who I will groom to become the next Casey Stoner” etc). The whole time I thought we were renovating to merely add value to the Crap Shack, he had actually, all along, been planning to make it a future home for his future kid. He had an agenda. Intelligence.

Don't let this face fool you.

It took me a long time to realise this. But every so often a clue would arise. For example, I had always told Mr Nerd I would NEVER have a kid unless I had a dishwasher. This seemed, to me, like a pretty good way to not only eventually get what I wanted, but to forestall the “kids” thing for a while longer, because Mr Nerd has always been vehemently anti-dishwasher, so we never got one. Then, seemingly overnight, he decided we needed to renovate our entire kitchen so we could have a dishwasher.

And once, while I was heavily pregnant, there was the time he was on Facebook chat to his friend Colin, and they were talking, as always, about motorbike racing, and I looked over his shoulder to read what he was writing (yeah, so what, I’m a journalist, I’m inquisitive) and he had said to Colin, “I married the shortest woman I could find so I could breed future MotoGP racers.”

Look out Rossi. Photo: Earthbound Images.

Yet whenever I tried to grill him, Mr Nerd always said he would have been happy whichever path our lives took; whether that encompassed a child or not. Then he would laugh with this triumphant glimmer in his eyes and walk off. Sometimes my own husband makes me feel deeply confused.

The fact of the matter is, the Crap Shack has become our first family home. Whether they were carried out with future babies in mind or not, here are some of the things we have done that have turned our Crap Shack ‘party house’ into a family home.

Remember our super-ugly, impractical 1970s bar? Not only was it the eyesore of our house, we knew that its open doorway and open shelving would just be temptation for tiny hands when Little Nerd eventually starts crawling and walking.

BEFORE: Our bar.

AFTER: Our new pantry.

We walled the bar in and knocked out the wall behind the current pantry in the kitchen to turn the bar into a scullery-style walk-in pantry. It still has open shelving, but now it has a door (which we could put a latch on in future to keep it safe from little nerd men). The walk-in pantry will also double as a future hiding place for when Mr Nerd or I want to hide from Little Nerd for just a few moments of privacy, and trying to go to the toilet alone just ain’t cutting it.

When I was pregnant, I had no idea how much ugly crap little babies required to keep them amused. I thought Little Nerd would be totally content playing for months with just like, some nice, tasteful wooden blocks that look like they belong on a Scandinavian Instagram feed. WRONG. A good general guideline is the more hideous the toy, the more they will be mesmerised by it (buying you, and your greasy hair, precious shower time).

Nerd Sister-in-Law, a mother of two, taught me this when we went to Baby Bunting when Little Nerd was about two months old. She picked up an unsightly toy; some kind of purple animal with creepy, hypnotic eyes. “You should buy him this,” she cried, brandishing the animal at me.
I recoiled. “No. It upsets me.” I was surprised at Nerd Sister-in-Law. She works as an interior stylist for The Design Hunter and usually exhibits impeccable taste.
“YES. They love this ugly shit,” she said darkly, looking at a wide-eyed baby being pushed past in his stroller. “This will keep him happy in the car for hours.”

I didn’t believe her at the time. She was correct. We are now the not-so-proud owners of a vast amount of baby crap: a bouncer, a tropical-inspired swinging chair, four carriers as well as a wrap (he loathes them all) a baby seat, a giant teddy bear that is actually a chair, two play mats, two jungle gyms, a jogging pram, a cafe pram, two boxes of toys, one box of the most boring, nonsensical books I’ve ever read in my life, a Snuggle Bed, a Portacot, and this ugly musical contraption on castors that my mum found on the side of the road. You put the baby in the seat and they smash buttons that light up, gnaw on the plastic microphone and remix songs I have come to hate, including London Bridge is Falling Down and the one about Bingo, the farmer’s dog. I’m not sure what the technical term is but we call it the Crazy Chair.

The Crazy Chair and all this other stuff takes up a lot of space. So when my two younger sisters recently moved out of the family home, we seized the opportunity to offload all the other crap we didn’t want give them furniture and things we no longer needed – meaning just that bit more floor space and storage.

Our house was always freezing in winter. And Little Nerd was born in the coldest part of the year. We decided to get two split system air-conditioners installed, one in our bedroom, where we have had Little Nerd’s bassinet by our bed, and one in Little Nerd’s nursery. The units have been fantastic and some of the best money we have spent on making our house more comfortable.

I have to admit I was not keen on the idea of split systems at first when Mr Nerd raised the issue because they brought to mind visions of those clunky, ugly brown 1970s units. But Brivis, who have a big range of home heating and cooling options, do really nice-looking, unobtrusive split-systems. They don’t take long to install at all – we actually had the one in Little Nerd’s nursery put in the day after I got home from the hospital and he slept the whole time!

Remember my craft room? It is no longer. (Sad face). The craft room is now the guest bedroom; the guest bedroom is the nursery. I actually didn't want to have a guest bedroom at all, but when Little Nerd was tiny and Mr Nerd had to go away for work, having my mother, mother-in-law or sister over to stay to help me with the baby, cooking and cleaning was a godsend. 

Photo: Red Images Fine Photography.

My friend Heather horrified me recently by telling me her toddler son’s had been plunging his hands into the pot of her large fiddle leaf fig, then shoving fistfuls of soil into his mouth. And he ENJOYED this pasttime. She would realise Luke had been suspiciously quiet for a little while and would run into her bedroom to find him gleefully happy, chomping on soil, his teeth blackened.

I said to my mum in horror, “Heather’s baby likes to eat dirt!” My mum was nonplussed. She looked at me funny and was like, “All babies like to eat dirt. You ate dirt.” I think I will be on the lookout for some plant sitters very soon. 

Other things that are going to get put out of reach: Mr Nerd’s guitars (our books (we are going to make some high-set, built-in shelves) first aid kit, and all of the renovating tools, which usually we like to leave lying around on the floor. 

When we were renovating our kitchen and I was heavily pregnant and grumpy, House Nerd readers told me it would be worth doing to have a dishwasher before the baby arrived. They were correct.

Photo: Earthbound Images.

I always told Mr Nerd I would never have a baby unless we had a new laundry. My thinking was, “Excellent. I hate our laundry. Plus, over my dead body am I renovating anything while I am pregnant.” (Look how well THAT turned out). Then one day Mr Nerd said, “Maybe we should make a start on our laundry.”

I was thrilled. I couldn’t stand the lack of storage or benchtop space in our laundry, and dreamed of overhead cupboards where I could alphabetise our cleaning products. By this point along, I also realised that us having a baby in this house was probably inevitable, so I thought about how we could make the laundry a perfect area to change and wash the baby. Pre-baby, everything I knew about changing a nappy was gleaned from that episode of Full House where Jesse and Joey change Michelle’s diaper. So I made sure there was a benchtop by a sink with an extendable hose, so if there were particularly bad nappy disasters, we could just hose the baby off. And the new laundry tub would be large enough to wash a baby in. Ideal.

Full of naiive enthusiasm, as I always am when at the “fun” stage of renovating a room (picking materials and colours, and daydreaming about organising things, alphabetising spices etc, and not actually having to do anything tedious or hard) I called a guy to come round to measure for custom-made cabinets while Mr Nerd was at the gym one day.

However, no-one was more surprised than me than when the cabinetmakers called just a short week later to tell me the cabinets and benchtop had been made and were ready to be delivered to my house. “Oh,” I said bleakly. “I don’t suppose you could keep them at your warehouse like, a couple of months longer, could you?” My suggestion was not met with enthusiasm. Nor was Mr Nerd happy when he realised he would now have to gut the laundry, organise tiling, plumbing and electrics and we would have to be washing machine-less for a while.

Some lovin' in the laundry. I'll be posting a full before-and-after story on this room after we get that gross door replaced! Photo: Earthbound Images.

Photo: Earthbound Images.

Mr Nerd and I had a rather invigorating shouting match the day the cabinets were delivered (it turned out they took up the entire back room, and they stayed there for months on end until we could renovate the laundry properly. Oops). Husband was NOT happy. But hey, pain is gain, the laundry got done. And now it’s a perfect baby washing/changing area. Worth it.

Did you make changes to your house before you had a baby? What did you do? Did you ever move into a house intending to live there for only a short time, only to end up staying (happily or not) a lot longer? Maya x

Don't forget to check out my post on tips for Renovating with a Baby for your chance to win a $50 Menulog voucher!

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