Gazing at it now, you’d never guess it was a rollercoaster ride to the finish for this beautifully renovated cottage in the Toowoomba suburb of Newtown. It took talented renovators, The Reno Lads, to see past the home’s dilapidated state, navigate the project through a pandemic and unveil the prettiest swan in town.
“We were actually driving to an open home and passed a small ‘For Sale’ sign out the front of this forgotten cottage,” recalls Nelson Marino-Hall, who heads up The Reno Lads with husband Baden. Despite the century-old property’s shabby appearance, the couple couldn’t resist doubling back later to arrange an inspection. “We saw the potential of Newtown in Toowoomba: so close to the CBD, with larger blocks and stunning character homes,” says Nelson.
As far as first impressions go, the interior really delivered. Just not in a good way! “Our jaws hit the floor,” recalls Nelson of their first walk-through. “The previous owner was a smoker, and you could see the outline of old artwork on the walls due to heavy nicotine staining. When we moved in, we ripped out all the old curtains and stained carpets and brought the garden hose inside to wash it all out!”
The surprises kept coming in the (carpeted!) bathroom. “It was a vision of peeling wallpaper and worn fixtures, and the laundry was outside,” says Nelson. “Overall, the original condition was tired, unloved, and dirty – with heritage charm concealed behind built-in verandas.”
Undaunted by the mess, Baden and Nelson moved in and started dreaming up ideas to breathe new life into the tired cottage. “It was a big adjustment: going from the comfort of our fully renovated rental to a house where you could see the ground through the holes in the floorboards,” admits Nelson. “We even had to go out the back door to use the loo in the old shed!”
The Reno Lads set out to blend heritage charm with contemporary comfort and a high-end finish. “Our brief was to create a modern colonial cottage with nods to its historical past alongside modern fixtures to create a loving family home,” says Nelson.
While the to-do list was plain to see, heritage restrictions kept the project in neutral for 12 months. “The local council’s planning and heritage team were not keen on having a double garage with internal access located to the side of the house,” explains Nelson. The pair eventually brought in local experts Precinct Urban Planning to help negotiate the “frustrating” impasse to a happy conclusion. “The Precinct Planning team is brilliant and knows the local planning regulations inside out,” says Nelson. “After multiple meetings and information requests, we obtained the green light to start renovating in early 2020.”
Although they were in full-tilt reno mode, there was another important project in the works for the couple: fatherhood. They were planning to welcome a daughter via surrogacy in May but needed to fly to Adelaide for that long-awaited moment. “It was all hands-on deck as we knew it was going to be a big for us,” says Nelson. “We wanted to have the house near completion before we became dads.”
But, you know, 2020. “The first sod was turned, and demo had started when we went into lockdown as a result of COVID-19,” recalls Nelson. “Our brilliant builder Clayton and his team from Clayton Jesse Construction Group were fantastic. They were able to continue their work while socially distancing on site. We had daily calls to run through details and everything was going like clockwork.”
While there weren’t many heritage features left to salvage, Baden and Nelson were passionate about giving this old dame the makeover she deserved. “Most of the house was badly damaged, but we injected sympathetic heritage pieces to create warmth,” says Nelson. “We secured a 100-year-old fireplace mantel on the Sunshine Coast, laid beautiful solid Tassie oak floorboards, and replaced the dodgy aluminium windows with double-hung wooden windows.”
The couple lavished special attention on their pet areas of the home. Nelson was committed to pushing boundaries in the showstopper bathroom, even “twisting Baden’s arm” to have a bespoke oversized arch window installed alongside a freestanding stone bath. “There’s nothing like sinking into an oversized tub with a glass of wine after a day’s work,” he says.
Meanwhile, Baden found his groove in the kitchen, working with One Time Cabinets to create bespoke cabinetry and source local stone for the bench tops and splashback. “Being an avid cook, the design of the kitchen appealed to me, particularly the butler’s pantry and ample storage throughout,” says Baden. “And the SMEG oven is every cook’s dream!”
Although they initially designed the home for themselves, Baden and Nelson received an offer they couldn’t refuse. “During the renovation, we were head-hunted for work roles in Brisbane,” explains Nelson. The impending move meant their dream home suddenly became their dream flip, but only reaffirmed the pair’s commitment to finishing the job. “Having put our heart and soul into the design and fit-out, we continued with the renovations,” says Nelson. “After owning the property for several years, we wanted to see its full potential realised, especially after all the hard work that went into bringing it back to life.”
And the final spanner in the works? The couple had to fly to Adelaide a month earlier than anticipated to quarantine before their daughter’s birth. Fortunately, thanks to their trusted builder and the wonders of technology, the project remained on track. “Clayton and his team took on this ‘remote reno’ challenge like true legends and were able to continue the work uninterrupted and to a very high standard,” says Nelson. “There are very few builders who would be happy to video call you to confirm the light fixture locations for the front façade of your house.”
With the safe arrival of their baby girl, Baden and Nelson were relieved to return to Queensland. And what a picture-perfect scene awaited the newly minted family. A new veranda has added that much-needed street appeal to the exterior, while inside, the decorative panelling of the entry, hallway, formal lounge, living and dining areas is a nod to the cottage’s heritage. The quadrupled living space is elegant and fresh, with touches of black accents throughout. And to cap it off, a Waldorf chandelier with smoke glass from Beacon Lighting brings a dash of glamour to the formal living room, where a natural gas fireplace offers the perfect spot to enjoy a wine on chilly winter nights.
They’ve since handed over the keys, but The Reno Lads will forever be connected to this sweet cottage. You can see the behind the scenes action and before and after transformation of this beautiful cottage renovation over on The Reno Lads Facebook or Instagram pages (we think it’s pretty awesome and super inspiring!).
Photography: The Reno Lads