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Lean Renovation – Two things to make your home renovation simpler and more rewarding for you and your family.

Over the last two years we have been slowly renovating our late 1950s home which has been at times both frustrating and highly rewarding.

Like many aspiring minimalists, this is our downsized home. In 2015 we moved from a 246m2 modern home with a 2 car internal access garage, a big section and two massive bathrooms to an older, 110m2 house with a garage we can’t actually put our car into.

We put a lot of thought into our renovation plans and have focused specifically on improvements that add value to us in our daily life. This includes; warm carpets for the Dunedin winter, a double glazed replacement for our indoor-outdoor patio door, better lighting and a laundry and bathroom renovation.

It’s the bathroom renovation that’s really the topic of this post. Over the last few months we have learned two important things that could make your home renovation simpler and more rewarding.

1. Know who the customer is

In business based lean thinking, value is what the customer defines it to be and we spend all our time trying to deliver as much value to the customer as possible and consequently eliminating as many non value adding activities as possible.

In our home, we and our children are the customer. You would think that this would be pretty obvious but before we committed to this idea we were strongly considering the needs of the other customer in the mix. This is the customer that will ultimately buy our house one day.

Our main bathroom does not have a bath. When we bought the house we said to ourselves “we’ll have to do up the bathroom and we’ll have to put in a bath.” We had two reasons for this. One – we felt that a house had to have a bath and that we needed one. Two – we felt that not having a bath had lowered the appeal of the house and if we ever wanted to sell it for a good profit, we needed a bath.

At the time, my now four year old daughter was two and was not really ready for showers. We bought a cool plastic baby bath with a cat face on it and she happily had tub baths in the bottom of the shower cubicle. Our older daughter who was then six, was too big to fit in the baby bath and had to settle for nothing but showers.

Then a funny thing happened. Over time, we got used to not having a bath. Sure, we would fantasize about a warm tub full of bubbles on the odd occasion when it was cold and sore muscles were present but ultimately we realised that we could live without a bath. Once we realised this we also realised that when we did renovate the bathroom, we would only be putting a bath in for the next buyer of the house.

Since we had no intention of selling the house anytime soon we would only be putting a bath in so that someone 10-20 years from now could enjoy it. We also realised that rearranging the bathroom to put a bath in would take all of the budget we put aside for the renovation. If however, we only upgraded the bathroom with what was really required, we might only spend a third of the budget, leaving the rest for doing other value adding upgrades around the property. We decided that the needs of a customer 10-20 years in the future was far outweighed by what we as the current customer valued now. Putting in a bath suddenly became extremely non value adding to us.

If you are in the business of buying and flipping houses, your customer will of course be the person that ultimately buys the house and their needs will be what defines value in your renovation process. In the same way, if you are renovating your house as part of your investment strategy then thinking about both yourself and the next buyer as the customer will be a must.

However, if like us, your main focus is to enjoy your home for many years, understanding what is value to you before signing up the contractors will make all the difference to your satisfaction in the end result.

2. Design for simple and fix what bothers you

Once we knew that we were the customer, the whole renovation project became easy. The project became less about designing and installing the perfect, magazine ready, house selling bathroom and everything about creating a space that was warm, easy to use for the kids and easy to maintain.

Heating was a must. Dunedin is cold in the middle of winter so we’ve planned to install extra heating. We got rid of the annoying, mould attracting shower curtain that sucked into the cubicle whenever the window was open (which was always) and replaced it with a custom glass door. A shower dome reduced escaping steam and eliminated the need for an expensive extraction system.

We wanted the bathroom to be suitable for our girls to use as independently as possible. The vanity was changed to one that had a mixer tap that our girls could turn on and off themselves. Our previous taps had been separate and difficult to turn on and off for small hands. We even set up the shower in a way where we stored only what we needed, in the right place and at the right height for small bodies as well as taller ones.


We eliminated as many surfaces as we could because I really hate the chore of removing things off shelves to clean under them. The shelves and items in a bathroom attract dust and grime like nothing else so now most things are tucked away in easy access mirrored cabinets and drawers with the bare minimum of toothbrushes and hand soap out in the open.

By designing our bathroom renovation with our focus on simplicity and the elimination of things that were bothering us we ended up with something that is ultimately more rewarding, less of a financial burden and downright ‘happy-making’.

I really wasn’t looking forward to cleaning that new bath anyway.

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