Neale Whitaker’s bold move to save Brisbane couple’s home

Brisbane residents Erin and Jules Tognini with Love It or List It co-host Neale Whitaker.

TV host and interior designer Neale Whitaker talks about how he convinced a young Brisbane family to stay put when “everything says they should have moved”.

Jules and Erin Tognini – of the well known Brisbane hairdressing family, the Togninis – sought help after their 97sq m home became too cramped for their growing needs, entrusting the design guru with a $120,000 renovation budget to convince them to stay put.

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Brisbane residents Erin and Jules Tognini.

“Everything on paper says they shouldn’t have gone with it but the heart plays a big factor,” Mr Whitaker told The Courier-Mail. “Sometimes the heart can overrule the head. They loved their little home and they really wanted it to fit how they live.”

“They needed a renovation to convince them. The one thing that had never occurred to them was the house was back to front, it needed to be flipped.”

The Love It or List It Australia co-host said the challenge was that he couldn’t add any extra square metres.

The stunning new kitchen with skylights is where one of the bedrooms used to be.

The old kitchen was out of the way in an annex that is now the master ensuite.

“I knew that I couldn’t add anything, we couldn’t build an extension, we couldn’t increase the size so it was all about the flow of the home. Looking at the space, you could tell the layout wasn’t working for them as a family. The house belonged to an era when people lived very differently to how we live now. We like open plan now, especially Brisbane where there is such amazing weather all year. We want that flow. We want to go out to the rear space. So it was all about opening up. Sometimes it’s about what you take out.”

Mr Whitaker flipped the home’s entire layout, putting the bedrooms upfront and moving the living, dining and kitchen to the back where it could open up to the backyard.

The kitchen had to be in the command centre of the house, he said, because it was important to be able to see the children.

The new living room at the back of the house opens out onto a deck that leads to the backyard.

The old living room was accessed straight off the front door in an area that is now a bedroom.

“The beauty of Love It Or List It is time and again we see that the solutions are there, it’s just that people can’t see them. I get that. When you’ve lived in a house for a long time and put up with its quirks, you stop being able to see the potential. It does take a complete stranger to walk in and see that. My advice to anyone in a similar situation is look at what you’ve got and, if you can, rethink it.”

It wasn’t a solution that could apply to everyone, but in the Togninis’ case it fit the bill.

“I never like to apply blanket rules, but I’m Team Love It and I’m very close to that concept of loving your home. I would always advise anyone in that situation with doubts about their home and its suitability to have a look at the space and see what is bothering them, see what the solutions might be.”

The lightfilled open plan space at the back of the home.

The old dining area.

Mr Whitaker said “more often than not” the list of things a person dislikes about their home could be fixed with spatial planning.

“Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone do that for them, Jules and Erin were lucky in that regard. It was a renovation that punches well above its weight.”

Mr Whitaker urged anyone renovating to be realistic about what they could afford.

“I see people biting off more than they can chew.”

Plan, plan, plan and then plan again, whether it’s a $50,000 reno or $160,000 or $250,000 it’s the same. Always make sure you have some contingency of up to 30 per cent up your sleeve.”

The new bedroom at the front of the home.

How one of the bedrooms used to look at the back of the home.

He said with more people working from home in a way they didn’t before the pandemic, it was a good time to assess how well their home worked for them.

“I urge people to look at the way they live and the way they need to live.”

Jules Tognini told The Courier-Mail “this is the renovation we’ve been wanting”.

“They opened up the house to the backyard,” he said. “It definitely made us feel like we’ve got more land, more outside space, it’s like an extension of the house. Since then we’ve done a few more extra things including putting a pool in the backyard.”

Erin Tognini said “the footprint didn’t change but the layout and storage all of a sudden made the living, bedroom, everything function so much easier”.

“We’ve had so many friends come over and the common response is thanks for having us, everyone feels like it’s a holiday home, it makes them relaxed, the freshness through the house.”

The front door was moved to create a bedroom, and now faces the street.

The old front door leading straight into the living zone.

“It’s like the same house from the outside but inside you do feel like you’re in a new house. There’s no going back, it’s all going forward, even the kids have forgotten what the old home was like.”

The design makeover has been so successful that the family has gone from being able to only entertain two friends at a time, to now planning to host Christmas lunch for 30 people.

“Local agents have come and said you’d be silly to sell. They said you should stay and enjoy it, it’s a great little pocket here and what the renovation did has suited us.”

Mrs Tognini said “with not travelling and being at home more, it’s more important than ever to make your home what you want and need”.

The couple said while going on Love It or List It was out of their comfort zone, it was a great experience and landed them the dream home they didn’t know they were sitting on.

*Love It Or List It Australia airs Wednesdays at 8.30pm AEDT on Foxtel and is available On Demand.


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