jean kittson


We are building a granny flat.

Although, because my mother wisely married a man some years younger than herself it is, in reality, a flat for Grandpa too. They are both moving in as soon as we finish.*

Isn’t the word “finish” lovely?

Much nicer than the word “bankrupt”. Or “homicidal”.

jean kittson

We all know the dangers of renovations.

My husband and I have always agreed – noticing our decaying bathrooms and the doors falling off the kitchen cupboards and the sag and strange stain on the ceiling just over the bed – that were it not for the certain knowledge that our marriage would not survive a renovation, we would do something about it.

So WHY did I think building a granny flat was any different to a renovation?

Well, it was the old garage under the house, not strictly part of the house and therefore the impact on us and our lives would be minimal. Wouldn’t it?

I thought the same about having a baby. You have a life, you pause to give birth, then your life continues as it always has, except with the addition of a baby. Boy, did I find out the hard way. Ditto granny flat.

We have our life. We have had pause to have chat to an architect and then our existence continues as usual – except with the addition of a builder and his 500 merry men. **  And their 2000 pieces of construction equipment specifically designed by rogue heavy metal bands to blow your eardrums apart and deconstruct your brain.

Deliberately, this information is nowhere shown on the plan. In fact, none of the pain of a reno is shown on the plan. The plan bears no relation to the product.

The plan is the most dangerous part of a renovation. The plan is a ticking time bomb, disguised as a luscious foldout from Beautiful Brides and Bathrooms magazine. 

It was my fault. Because in the beginning I viewed the plan as the “fun” part.

It’s the grand vision. It’s the dream. Imagining the layout and drawing a plan is brilliant fun. It’s like playing house when you are a kid and you can see the beautiful new bathroom – no mould, just gleaming tiles and taps like a Reece catalogue. The kitchen in your mind is slick and shiny and fancy and soooo much bench space, you can see yourself doing a My Kitchen Rules.

Everything in your mind’s eye is ideal and when you look at the plan you don’t see squiggly pencil marks –  you see sliding cupboards and glass coffee tables and schmick perfectly-positioned furniture, soft lights and deep, shady verandahs. You see a photo shoot for Retirement Living with Grandma and Grandpa swanning about baking sponges and pottering in the potplants.

I cannot emphasise enough how dangerous this vision thing is. So very, very fricking dangerous.

It’s like bushwalking towards a cliff and only seeing the view.

“Oh look, isn’t the sun on those mountains magnifi…aaaaaaarhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”  Poomf.

Understanding a plan is like understanding a map. Every squiggly line carries a secret meaning and it could mean a cliff or it could mean an extra $40,000 in engineering fees.

“Oh look, mum and dad can lie in bed and see the garden if we just remove that post… arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” Ka-ching!

I didn’t even know you would need engineering for a granny flat. I thought engineering was for space programs and suspension bridges and Stephen Conroy’s ego.

But then there are a lot of things I don’t know.

For example, I don’t know why the Chinese can build a perfect replica of Albury or a high- tech city housing 20 million people, in the time it takes to get approval from the local council for a two-room granny flat.

I suppose I thought I knew a lot because I am the daughter of DIY expert who has always built his own houses and it didn’t look hard and it didn’t cost anything much and also because I have watched every home renovation and building programme that has ever been on tele and it all looked pretty straightforward.

I have seen Noni Hazelhurst concrete an entire driveway without getting a spot on her cardie.


I have watched three people on Selling Houses Australia, renovate an entire house in just under an hour (with ad breaks) all for the cost of an organic pineapple.

The big question is: Why did I believe them?

I have also seen Man vs. Wild and never been tempted to drink my own urine.

My journey has not been without small wins. I have acquired some useful knowledge. For example, yesterday I stood with the builder and a couple of his mild men around a small hole in the ground discussing a pipe we could see poking out of the side.

We discussed where the pipe came from and where it went. We discussed if  we could move the pipe and what would happen if we did move the pipe or what the pipe actually had in it and if we should get a plumber with a camera (Ka-ching!) to come and show us where the pipe went and what was in it and whether it was worth disturbing this pipe to make way for a step and if we could perhaps go over the pipe or under the pipe or around the pipe or if it wouldn’t be better to perhaps move the step (Ka-ching!) which came out from a door which would have to be moved too, ( Ka-ching, Kaaaa-ching!!).

We stood looking into this hole for one and half hours.

So I understand now that when I see council workers standing around leaning on their shovels looking into a hole…it’s for a very good reason.

That hole is full of money.


*Maybe. If I am still living there myself. If the house hasn’t been classified a crime scene.

**OK I exaggerate, they are not “merry”. They are merely mild and competent and make artisans from the 16th century look like builders from the 21st century. Which makes me want to walk around the site whacking them all with a Scanpan.




Out of Control and Loving It

Marriage Counselling 101

The Curse of the Ancient Mummy


*Jean Kittson is a much-loved Australian performer, writer and comedienne with a thirty-something year career in theatre, print, radio and television. You can follow her on Twitter: @jeankittson.




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  • Reply March 29, 2013


    Love it! We renovated and put in an IKea kitchen! Nearly destroyed our marriage and the money hole?!?! Omg!
    Lovely to see Jean writing for The Hoopla!

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Nel Matheson

    Welcome to Hoopla, Jean! Great story (ongoing). I can see this becoming a series, complete with intimate details of your family counselling sessions, wonderful descriptions of the negotiations with the bank re mortgage extensions, and tearful conversations with your significant other over a few beverages late at night, surrounded by enormous mounds of invoices. Ah, the joys of renovations. The house shall crumble about my ears before I venture there. My heartfelt condolences to you and yours, and I sincerely hope you survive the trauma!

  • Reply March 29, 2013


    Welcome to Hoopla Jean! We are just emerging from the dark tunnel of a 6 month home renovation – during which time we only moved out for a week while the floors were sanded and varnished. I wondered whether our marriage would survive – thankfully it did – as he went to work and away on business trips and I made the decisions, bonding with the builders over coffees and doughnuts. There have been plenty of hour long discussions while staring at holes and poles and I have learned to like hard rock played alarmingly loudly so they can hear it over their hammering.
    I have also gained invaluable knowledge of plumbing, plastering, how many shades of white there are and also 15 pounds (of doughnuts).
    My ‘vision’ was an artistically styled house from Home Beautiful. I have ended up with nothing similar.
    Compromises were made. I am never watching ‘Selling Houses Australia’ again.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Valerie Parv

    60 Minute Takeover has a lot to answer for.

  • Reply March 29, 2013

    Janet G

    It’s not a renovation it’s a sink hole. You know those holes children used to dig to get to China? We now do it as adults.

  • Reply March 29, 2013


    Actually, renovation aside its a great thing to do for your parents.
    May it be a happy and rewarding experience for you.

  • Reply March 30, 2013

    Fiona R

    My BIL built my pergola, verandah and window awning. My local Council were helpful and made the process easy. Sometimes, choosing who you work with is the most important part. Bearing in mind how shonky the building industry can be, you’re probably still on the winning side seeing as how you haven’t had to ring ACA yet.

  • Reply March 31, 2013


    It is a good thing you are doing Jean. Ka-ching. Better than ego-enervation when all that was there before you to decide, plan and build whatever the conflict, tiredness and trouble , is well, disappointing…and just beyond reach..

  • Reply April 2, 2013


    Young homeowners besotted with the idea of renovating—beware! Every word rings true. We just built our own home and thought we were clever factoring in a 20% over-budget allowance. ha ha ha ha ha. You will never, ever, do a renovation or a housebuild on budget and if you factor in an over-budget allowance the building gods (or demons, depending on your point of view) will know and they will factor the over-budget allowance into your budget, meaning you’ll need to find another 20 to 30%. Without fail.

  • Reply April 2, 2013


    Hubby and I did up an old rural government building- no toilets but a toilet block about 30 metres away- yea Gods. My friends could not believe that a woman who used to have all home comforts and lived ( be it rented) in a lovely part of Melbourne would make the adjustment. Well I (we)did and it took 10 years of making do-as we lived in what was really a lovely large bedsit- in a gorgous setting, but now we have a home that we always thought would elude us. With not a huge amount of the home being owned by a bank.

  • Reply April 3, 2013


    How funny, as my hubby said “go and shake that money tree and fill that bloody hole”. It never ever ends and you also need a contingency fund over and above the original contingency fund.

  • […] Jean’s (Ka-Ching!) Granny Flat […]

  • […] with a pencil.“I’ve spent years telling my girls that what’s inside is important. Besides, the granny flat I’m building for Mum and Dad is costing me a fortune and I’d rather get new garden paving than a face […]

  • Reply January 2, 2014


    Hi Jean,
    An enjoyable and funny read! If I could ask if project management was a consideration for what was perceived a small project? I’d be really interested to hear/read your thoughts.

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