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How to build a studio apartment in your backyard

Simon Vos and wife Ash are on a mission – to bring a slice of California to Coffs Harbour! The couple purchased a fantastic mid-century home, packed full of potential, in the Northern New South Wales coastal town with the express purpose of renovating it as a Palm Springs-inspired “forever for now” home.

The first room for an overhaul? The downstairs laundry, which they transformed into a stylish studio apartment.PlayMuteCurrent Time 0:06/Duration 4:03Loaded: 20.59% Quality LevelsFullscreen

From damp laundry to stunning studio conversion04:03

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“Ultimately we wanted to use it as a space for family to stay, or have the option to rent it out,” says Ash, who is married to Simon, one half of renovating duo Shannon and Simon, who took out The Block: Glasshouse back in 2014, pocketing a cool $335,000 profit plus the $100,000 grand prize.

Picture: Ben Adams

Let’s take a closer look at how they did it – and how you can too:

Designing a studio apartment

Before you start any structural work, sit down and plan how you want the space to work.

Gather your ideas in the one place and consult with a professional building designer or architect. It’s important to ensure your ideas will work in reality and proper planning will help with any council approvals.

Picture: Ben Adams

Simon and Ash employed building designer Dan Bowland to work on this build.

“He came over and we talked about our desires for the house,” Ash explains. “It was great, because they really aligned with what Dan had in mind from a professional point of view, with the sloping block, and that kind of thing.

“We spent a couple of weeks back and forth with him, and what we have ended up with is almost to the tee what he drew up.”

Think about how you want your space to work

Ash and Simon knew they wanted their downstairs studio to be multi-functional. As well as a space for a bed, they wanted to include a living area and also a place for both a kitchen and bathroom (the existing laundry was already plumbed, so that made things easier).

Picture: Ben Adams

Down the track they thought they may want to use the room as a play space for children, or even a home office, so were mindful to design the area to be as flexible as possible.

“We took a while to design it because it’s such a small space – we had to try and design and utilise every corner; every nook and cranny,” says Simon, who custom-built a bed nook to add even more usable space to the room.

“Making the bed off the frame and making the storage off the frame meant we could utilise the floor space,” he explains.

Get in the zone

In a studio conversion, every square inch counts. So you’ve got to think about zones in one room and how they work with each other.

In this conversion, Ash wanted a bathroom, living space, kitchen, storage, and somewhere to sleep – all in the small space.

She had to figure out a way to make all these different ‘zones’ work seamlessly together.

Make a budget – and stick to it

Make a list of everything you want to include in your reno, and cost it out.

Figure out how much you should be spending so you’re not over-capitalising on one small area, especially if it’s only one part of a bigger renovation.

Simon saved money by doing a lot of the work himself. If you’re at all handy, this is a great way to save on costs.

“It was just me and a friend doing all the groundwork – he helped me build the bed frame,” says Simon. “It’s good to have friends that are also good with a hammer!”

Picture: Ben Adams

In order to maximise floor space, Simon dug out the sloping block to create their bed nook, which solved their damp problem in the process.

“Simon hand dug it,” says Ash. “(Our house) is on a sloping block, but one of the issues with that laundry was that it was actually pretty damp because there was ground and earth behind the wall. We had to solve that problem anyway, and do a couple of retaining walls and a few things like that, so it worked out well.”

Ash took inspiration for their nifty nook from Instagram designer, Jessica Reed Kraus, of @houseinhabit.

“I had seen this one photo she posted where there was this walk-up-the-stairs bed, so I started researching ideas around a bed space,” she explains. “I brought them to Simon and our building designer, Dan.

“Dan was the one that suggested, ‘Well you’ve got a sloping block, so you can actually go into the wall.’

Think about using colour to make the space feel bigger

Using colour effectively can actually make your space look bigger – don’t be afraid to take some risks!

“With a studio space, I imagine a lot of people would like to keep it charcoal and white,” says Ash. “To me, that is personally not very comfortable; it feels quite clinical in a small space.

Picture: Ben Adams

“We grabbed our colour palette from a bush walk. The tiles are eucalyptus green, the top colour of the kitchen is ‘spinifex’, which is an Australian native plant, and the bottom is a French Navy.

“The floor is travertine, so there are lots of little spots of colour here and there, too.”

In the bathroom, they opted for gorgeous Eucalyptus-hued tiles.

“It all came to us walking in the bush one day, and picking up a couple of leaves,” says Ash.

Use furniture to create a mood

Once you’ve designed your studio, think about how you’d like to furnish it.

Furniture can bring different moods to a space depending on placement and size.

“It’s all so changeable. We opted to include a large couch, as at Christmas, Simon is part of a really big family, and we’ll have everyone here. We thought the kids could go downstairs and watch a movie and all sit on the couch together.”

Picture: Ben Adams


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