Having started her own DIY website almost ten years ago while working as a Town Planner in London, Geneva Vanderzeil had no idea that her innovative creations would bring her hundreds of thousands followers and a big publishing deal.
Turning her passion into a career, A Pair and A Spare has since become a collaborative hub of tips, tricks and tutorials for her loyal readers.
Today, the website has now broadened it's focus to showcase all her creative loves, from fashion and business, to styling and design.
To add to her accolades, Geneva has also designed a shoe collection and published a best selling book. But last year, the DIY fashionista felt it was time to take on a whole new creative pursuit – home renovation.
Having purchased a heritage Queenslander in West End, Brisbane with her Interior Designer husband Ben McCarthy, the design savvy duo worked their magic to transform the rundown property into a beautifully designed and stylishly curated home.
To get the lowdown, we had a chat with the DIY queen to get her tips on renovating, styling and where she goes for creative inspiration.
Q&A: Tell us a little about the Brisbane renovation project
The house is a traditional Queensland cottage, built in 1871, situated close to the inner city in West End. And although it was tiny, we saw so much potential, and also loved all the traditional features.
The main goal for the architectural design was to keep as many of the original features of the home as possible, like the original flooring, the iconic bullnose veranda, the tongue and groove walls and the details above the doorways, whilst also extending and opening up the spaces to bring in much needed light.
In terms of décor , we wanted light, bright spaces where we could integrate colour, through fittings and fixtures like cupboards, cabinets and doorways.
Another major goal was to integrate a range of DIY ideas and hacks, simple updates to off the rack items and vintage pieces that made the house feel high end and bespoke, without blowing the budget. Being DIY obsessed, this was my favourite part.
Were you heavily involved with the design?
Ben is an Interior Designer and runs his own International practice Charlie & Rose, so he did all the design work. From there I did all the styling and décor, so other than the actual build we were involved in every element.
What did you enjoy most?
I love inspiration gathering, and then finally seeing it all come together.
What’s your favourite room in your home and why?
The most surprising space to me was the master bedroom – it's lovely. Ben created a stunning bedroom space, with gorgeous walk-in wardrobes and a bathroom that's flooded with light.
But what I wasn't expecting was the ceiling height and plant ledge down one side of the room, underneath the long skylight window. We filled it with plants and it honestly makes me so happy.
What’s your favourite piece in your home?
The bar cart that we filled with plants.
Save vs. splurge
I think you should spend what money you have on getting the structure and foundations right by hiring professionals to do things like layout, bathrooms and kitchens.
If you get these elements wrong it can affect the overall value of your space. Once that’s in place, you can create amazing styling and décor on a very small budget.
Favourite DIY projects during the renovation?
The whole renovation itself was the most involved, intense DIY project I have ever completed, but it was amazing to be able to pepper the whole house with fun design solutions and smaller DIYs.
The pink hand-painted vintage vanity and the wardrobe hack using pantry cabinets are two of my favourites.
Top 3 DIY hacks?
- Making coffee tables and side tables out of any flat piece of wood and hairpin legs.
- Hanging coat racks that are simple to make, provide lots of storage and are a great place to take a few pictures of your favourite things.
- Beautiful headboards made from jute or Persian rugs.
Your essential DIY advice?
Start small, and then think big. Small projects around the home are a great place to start, and once you mastered a few of those, you’ll soon be wanting to really roll up your sleeves and get creative.
Any challenges or key learnings from the experience?
I learnt so many lessons, mainly from Ben who seemed to know everything and was able to remedy any issue in five minutes flat. The big one for me was the importance of not changing your mind.
It's so easy to see something else you like midway through the project and want to change the design or style, but this is when costs and time frames blow out.
Top 3 tips for fixing up a new home?
- Make your design decisions and stick to them.
- Get the light and orientation right.
- Layer and mix your furniture and decor so your space feels like you and not like a showroom.
Are you pleased with the end result?
We're so happy with the end result! I think we've managed to maintain the details of the cottage that we loved so much whilst also being able to modernise and meet our goals of it being a really functional house.
Obviously the house doesn't have a huge garden because it is a tiny block, which is something I would love one day, but we had to decide on internal space versus external space, and in the end chose to lay out the house itself really well.
I absolutely love the front deck area. It's a tiny little space but its so quiet and relaxing in the afternoons.
The next space I love, and one which I really wanted was the open living, dining and outdoor space. It was so important for me to have a great space that transitioned across a range of uses. The back deck that looks out onto the neighbour's big mango tree is just a delight!
Another feature I love so much is the mid century inspired wardrobes we created using simple pantry cabinets from Kaboodle kitchens.
We used mid century legs and doorknobs by Kethy to create these incredible wardrobes that give so much functional space but also look fantastic.
The house is full of these sorts of little DIY details that focus on taking the design from basic to beautiful - an idea I've always reflected on my website, and I'm so happy to see it within the house design too!
Would you choose to renovate a house again?
I'm sure we'll do this a few times in our lifetime, and we've had such a great experience that I think we wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
I also think we'll be constantly tweaking this house as our needs change, Ben's already got some amazing ideas for updating the back of the house.
That's the problem with being a designer, you've always got new ideas.