When interior designer and serial renovator Helen Benjaminsen and her husband Morten bought this two storey, three-bedroom house in Shelley, the plan was always to knock it down and rebuild their dream home.
Just 100m from the Swan River on a generous 843sqm block, the original house had been built in 1968 and extended upwards in 1992. It's dated, dark, daggy and has a convoluted layout that doesn’t make the most of the river views. So Helen and Morten, who works in the oil and gas industry, are planning to knock it down and rebuild. In the meantime they are living there for at least a year while they get a feel for the block, design their dream home, get their plans approved by council and find a builder.
ABOVE: The living room. Helen replaced the old carpet with DIY laminate flooring and painted the ceilings and door frames white, as is traditional in her native Norway. "I know there are as many opinions as people out there, but I will stick to my own opinions here: I do not like dark ceilings, doors or doorframes - they steal so much light," she says.
ABOVE: Helen rejuvenated the tired staircase by pulling off the carpet and painting the MDF underneath a deep blue-grey. Painting the banister white gives a bit of a Hamptons feel while a big mirror helps to bounce light around the space.
A PUPPY!!! This is Bindi, Helen's new Leonberger puppy. My sister and photographer Simone and I were totally distracted by her and had to spend half an hour loving her before we could continue with our work.
ABOVE: The lovely Helen with Bindi. Bindi is a Leonberger, a rare breed in Australia. Helen says she and husband Morten had to wait two years to get Bindi. "But it was worth it!" she says.
PUPPY BUTT! Ok, I promise I'll stop with the puppy photos now and get back to the house stuff. I just couldn't resist.
ABOVE: In the dining room Helen used a light grey paint of paint to cover the bright blue suede-effect feature wall (see the read more for a glimpse of the before). She hung inexpensive sheers over the window and put in her modern furniture, turning the dining room from dated to stylish.
Helen gets a big kick out of giving a home a makeover, whether it is her own place or a client’s. So while she designed their dream house, she was keen to give this dark, dated house an inexpensive renovation with simple cosmetic changes in the meantime.
You might be thinking, “If the house is going to be knocked down in a year anyway, what is the point of making minor improvements?” Many of us would just grit our teeth and live with the dark and depressing house as it is... but understand that for house nerd Helen, living in a space she can’t stand for 12 months is the equivalent of telling Katy Perry she has to give up makeup for a year. Helen says it would just bring her energy down. “When I first came to Perth as a tourist, I experienced going to a house with fluorescent light and dark brick walls,” she says. “I have never felt so depressed by interiors since!”
Lovers of their native Norway’s light-filled, modern Scandinavian style, Helen and Morten also like to entertain frequently and wanted to make their current digs as pleasant as they could for everyday living and entertaining while they designed their new dream house. “The plan was to lighten it up to be able to live in it while we work on the plans for a new house,” says Helen. “When we bought it the house was dark and dingy with brown everywhere and carpets from who-knows-when!”
ABOVE: While we don't have a before photo of Helen's outdoor area, this picture taken from the back garden gives you an idea of what the '60s brick in the alfresco area looked like. (You've probably seen it a lot around Perth!) To lighten up her alfresco area, Helen painted the brickwork white and I was stunned at how much brighter the area felt when I visited the second time. "Go for light and bright in your home," is her advice. "If you have that dark brick wall, attack it with light paint and brighten up your house."
ABOVE: Landing before and after.
I was so impressed by Helen's cosmetic reno, I got her top tips for easily sprucing up a property on a budget and with minimal fuss. These can be applied whether you want to:
Bulldoze a house but make it cheerful and liveable in the meantime, like Helen and Morten
Do a budget reno on a place to turn it into a rental
Boost your property’s aesthetic value to sell it on
Let's start! “First things first, get the place cleaned and the kitchen in working order,” advises Helen. “You need food - and wine. Yep, after a day with the buckets come wine o’clock and there is none? Don’t think so.” (I'd like to add having the number for a good fish and chips shop to this point. It's the best post-reno-day dinner).
ABOVE: Guest bedroom before, used as a study.
ABOVE: When it came to colours, Helen painted each room white with a grey feature in several rooms, like the guest bedroom. She says grey and white is an easy colour scheme. "That is the base of what you need to make your furniture and artwork stand out and make the house look good. If repeated throughout the house the feeling of unity and flow is present. You can put any coloured sofa or dining room table with the colours within the black-to-white scale."
ABOVE: A coat of fresh white paint in the dining room gives it a new look.
ABOVE: Helen snapped these 'befores' quickly at the home open. This is the informal meals area with the formal dining room beyond (with bright blue suede effect wall).
ABOVE: The informal meals area now, lightened with white paint.
ABOVE: I ask Helen how she ever reached the top of the wall above the staircase - it is perfectly painted. She explains that she balanced the ladder at a 45 degree angle across the railings to the little ledge below, then stood on the rungs to paint. Just a nice hard drop to the stairs below if she falls. I am horrified. “You’re like a crazy painting monkey.” Helen just laughs. “My husband always tells me, make sure you only ever paint with your mobile in your pocket so you can ring me at work if you fall!”
Secondly decide on your paint scheme. Helen went with beige and white in her last house but for this one chose grey and white – her favourite scheme. “It’s universal and timeless,” she says. She painted this house predominantly white with grey feature walls, but says feature walls are not for everyone. “I do not see the harm in using a normal white and then playing with feature walls IF you like it,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with white walls, it is how you dress the room that can make it interesting or not.” She painted every single room in the house on her own. I have to say, I hate painting, but Helen’s enthusiasm and energy is so infectious, I actually went home and painted after I first met with her!
Helen tore down the house’s dated blinds and replaced them with stylish curtains and elegant sheers. I love modern sheers – they always look classy and they are a great way to disguise detract attention away from dated windows. “Throw in new window treatments and your dated house has changed a whole lot,” says Helen. “I also ripped out the carpet in the living room and put in laminate flooring.”
ABOVE: Helen replaced the old blinds with new window treatments with sheers. Getting rid of old or dated window treatments is a great way to modernise your house and add value. provide a wide range of beautiful high-quality blinds, timber shutters, awnings, screens and security doors across Perth. They can be ed for a quote.
ABOVE LEFT: The lounge room now - Helen upgraded the daggy ceiling light with a modern fixture and painted the ceiling, door frames and tongue-and-groove cladding white to visually open up the space. ABOVE RIGHT: The lounge room ceiling when Helen bought it. BELOW: Helen describes herself as a hands-on interior designer - she installed the laminate flooring in the lounge herself. "If there is something I can do with a house, I will do it as long as it is within rules and regulations," she says. "I am a female, not the one with red nail polish, but the one with paint splattered work pants and old t-shirt!"
ABOVE: The end result - the inexpensive but good-looking laminate floor Helen put into the lounge."The key here is to be handy and do it yourself," she says. "That’s where you save money!"
ABOVE: This is not part of Helen's house, but part of mine. Our aim was to lighten up the dark, depressing 70s sunroom (which I call the conservatory when I'm pretending to be posh) on a budget. We replaced the fibreglass roofing (which cost about $300), rendered with Dulux Texture Full Cover Cover Roll On ($141.50 for a 10 litre tub) and painted all the wood and aluminium with White Knight Rust Guard S.L.S Etch Primer ($77 for 4L) and several coats of gloss white paint. I wouldn't really dub this as 'really easy renovating' because the painting took a really long time and we had to do about four or five coats (I wanted to kill Pascal every time he cheerfully pointed out a spot that I missed). But it's an inexpensive way of brightening a tired-looking space.
ABOVE: Kitchen before.
ABOVE: Kitchen after. Helen modernised the old splashback with paint. Helen and I both agree that White Knight tile paint is the best for this - you can paint give your splashback a whole new look for about $100. She also replaced the dated cabinet knobs and painted the ceiling beam which gives the illusion of more space.
In the kitchen she painted the splashback and replaced the cabinet knobs – the most inexpensive way of giving your kitchen a boost. Furnished with Helen’s chic, modern furniture, the end result is a home that is worlds apart from the dark, dated place it once was. In fact, the real estate agent Helen bought the home off was so impressed when he saw the simple changes she had made, he said he thought the house could fetch at least $30,000 more now. Not bad for just a few weekends' work! HN
Scented candles in the lounge
Norwegian-born interior designer and property developer Helen Benjaminsen of , her husband Morten, who works in oil and gas, and their new Leonberger puppy Bindi
A dark and daggy 1960s brick house with upper floor extension added in the 90s
To inexpensively brighten and modernise the house with simple cosmetic changes, so that it is a light and liveable home for Helen and Morten (and Bindi) until they build their dream house
Interior designer and renovator Helen does consults and can organise everything from a full home fit-out to room renovations, whether you’re the type who likes to get your hands dirty or you prefer to leave the renovating to others! Call 0400 028 650 or visit the or page.
After photography by Simone Anderson of