Seven day reno challenge

When architect Abbie Whangapirita planned to completely renovate an apartment in just seven days, she knew she needed to call in the family.

Compiled by Francesca Emms
Photography by Che Thorpe

Featured in Capital #71
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Abbie Whangapirita is considered a “creative type”. If she’s not working on community based projects at Isthmus you might find her getting stuck into renovations, sewing, or practicing her tap dancing.

Abbie wanted to try out a few ideas. Not wanting to take on anything too large, she managed to convince her parents and partner that they should invest in a 30-square-metre apartment in central Wellington.

Abbie’s dad Walton is a plasterer by trade “but can easily build a house”, her mum Frances is “the best painter in the world (never any drips)”, and her fiancé Che “is creative and loves getting ‘on the tools’.” So, they had the makings of a renovation dream team.

To make it even more exciting, Abbie decided they should do it all in seven days.

She began to plan four months before starting on site. “I had a floor plan, 3D drawings, colour scheme and sourced as many things as I could (tiles, paint, toilet etc.) so when we started, we would have everything we needed. A lot of preparation and thought needs to happen prior to the sledge hammer coming out.”

As these things do, the reno took a lot longer than expected. “We got about 60–70% of it done in seven days and then the remainder was done by Che and me after work and on weekends.” About seven weeks later their stylish new apartment was ready.

Describe your style in five words:
Simple, tonal, calming, subtle, and considered

How has your education helped you with the project?
Studying architecture makes you think differently about design – aesthetically and functionally. However, being in practice, creating a design, documenting it, coordinating it, and sourcing materials is what really helped me with this project.

What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was space. We had four people working in 30 square metres doing four different tasks. We worked around this by working in teams. Mum and I would typically go out to source bits and pieces we needed (I basically lived at Bunnings for the week) while my Dad and Che would be doing demo work or building cabinetry. We also had tasks for each day which we had listed on a whiteboard and would discuss these each morning – we could then highlight any clashes before we got started.

What was the highlight?
There have been many moments – seeing the tiles go down in the bathroom, painting over the baby blue walls, adding the final styling touches to the space. But the biggest highlight would have to be working with my family and sharing a collective love for transformation. We worked on the apartment solidly for seven days in a row and we were all so excited (most) of the time. It was a lot of hard work but a lot of fun at the same time.

What are your top tips for making a small space work?
1. Think about what the space is going to be used for and who is going to inhabit it. This will allow you to make clear decisions on appliance sizes for example.

2. Consider what you need storage for. Everyone loves the idea of lots of storage but you don’t want to lose valuable space to this. Consider what needs to be stored and design your cupboards and shelving to suit.

3. Research. There are so many YouTube channels and Instagram accounts which have great ideas for small spaces. I drew inspiration from various designs, picking and choosing a few ideas that I thought would work well for our space.

What are you particularly proud of?
The trellis sliding doors / screens were a nightmare but look great and function so well. The doors are garden trellis screens, which we painted and hung on a track system. The finished screens divide the living room from the bedroom still allowing filtered light into the bedroom.

What are your tops tips when it comes to styling?
Make sure you purchase items that fit within your colour scheme. You should have a colour board which you can use to cross-check key purchases.

Style items that serve a function. A blanket, cushions, books, vases etc. all have a function in a living room and can add texture and layers to your space. In a kitchen, greenery, mugs, and chopping boards can look great displayed on an open shelf or on the benchtop.

Was there anything that surprised you?
How much interest we received from people following the renovation on Instagram. I would post most days and do stories to show people what we were doing. I also shared ideas and tips, which generated a lot of questions.

What did you splurge on, and what did you save on?
We splurged on the tiles for the bathroom and kitchen splashback. Since they are in such small areas, we could justify the extra dollars. They also really elevate the spaces and bring in the right tonal colour and texture. I love them.

We saved on kitchen cabinets by reusing what was there, putting on new handles and painting the doors.

Most of the renovation is a mix of high- and low-cost items. We purchased a new vanity and toilet for the bathroom but our mirror was $5 from the dump shop.

Would you do it again?
Absolutely! I love creating beautiful spaces. It doesn’t take a lot to transform a space aesthetically and functionally, and it makes people’s lives so much better. I can see so much potential in unloved buildings, and get such joy in transforming them. What I would do differently, though, is to be more realistic with the proposed timeframe. I am a forever optimist and thought that we could get a lot more done in seven days than was possible. Don’t get me wrong, we achieved much in a short period of time, but I should have been more practical with the timeframe allocated.

If there’s one thing you’ve learned it’s…
Just because it is small, it doesn’t mean it is easy!


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