A Sharp Left Turn: Renovating for the Long Term

December 1, 2023

When Life Gives you Lemons, Make Lemonade: How an Unexpected Health Diagnosis Prompted a Renovation Pivot that Would Change One Couple’s Life

When Martin and Jeannie were in their late 40s, they decided it was time to renovate their beloved 1925 heritage home. Since the age of 18, Jeannie had collected antiques, which were beautifully displayed throughout the three floors that were so distinctly unique to the couple. The couple knew exactly what changes they wanted to make to their home, and had gone as far as to commission architects’ drawings before approaching contractors and deciding to work with Flintstones Design and Build.

With a background as a structural engineer in the aviation sector, Martin valued precision and efficiency. But, despite their best efforts, life soon threw them a curveball that would significantly change their plans.

Three months into the design process, Jeannie was diagnosed with early-onset multiple sclerosis, and the couple decided to pause the project until they gained more clarity about what that would mean for them and their lives. Moving into a home wasn’t an option for Jeannie for a number of reasons including the cost, her dog, and her sense of style — she just couldn’t face trading in a home of antiques for the beige carpets.

When they were ready to return to the project, two years had passed, and the reality of their needs had changed significantly. Any renovations would now have to support Jeannie’s decreasing mobility. The project team welcomed the challenge of making the original scope of renovations accessible.

“With my disease, every day is different for me,” explains Jeannie, who brought new priorities to the project. “When I wake up, I never know what’s going to work and what’s not. Not having transitions on the floor, it was very important to me.” The renovation included a three-storey addition to the back of the home; a seamless transition between new and existing flooring was created using reclaimed wood to match the home’s vintage.

While function and accessibility were two of the most important factors in this renovation, Flintstones never compromised style. The new design communicates with the century-old home, amplifying existing characteristics while adding fixtures and fittings sourced, many from Jeannie, refitted and commissioned to suit the period.

To make the multi-level home accessible, an elevator was added in the rear extension. In the end, says Martin, the cost wasn’t significantly more than the high-spec staircase they had planned, and an additional benefit to the build was its reduced footprint: “I think that’s something for anyone to take away, is to consider that the economics of space and footprint are so little with an elevator and so huge with stairs.”

The couple were really impressed by the level of consideration and detail Flintstones brought to the project. Jeannie uses the example of a flowerbed that the project team suggested to fill space created in front of the house by the winding ramp. “It’s really cool because then I can actually work in the garden and it makes the whole thing fun.”

Additional changes included a primary ensuite with a bathtub and shower unit specific to Jeannie’s mobility challenges and doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair should she need it in the future. Aside from a minor raised roof, to accommodate the elevator shaft, the rear renovation is hardly noticeable from the street.

“Our house, I don’t know how to put this, but it doesn’t look like it’s made for a person with a disability,” says Jeannie who adds that her friends have exclaimed that it’s the most accessible house they’ve ever been to in their life. “It looks totally normal.”

The whole experience was so great that the couple was able to live on-site throughout the year-long renovation, with no complaints. Martin and Jeannie knew they were working with a team they could trust. In fact, Flintstones had repaired their chimney many years ago and, at the time, Martin was so impressed with the professionalism and site cleanliness that he said “It would be awesome if Flintstones did renovations and additions because I’d hire them, they’re so bloody good.”

Martin’s advice to those considering a renovation: It’s about the long term, and preparing for any eventuality, regardless of your age. “Think ahead. Don’t think you’re going to be young forever.”