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Where to splurge and where to save in a bedroom renovation

By Rachel Wallace

Carlene Duffy’s tips on where to splurge and where to save in a bedroom renovation. She’s renovated everything from converted office blocks to vintage caravans, so it’s fair to say Carlene Duffy has an eye for both style and savings.

We spoke to the serial renovator – who’s renovated numerous properties with her husband Michael, including two seasons of The Block – about where she splurged and where she saved in the bedroom of her most recent renovation.

The room features beautiful earthy tones, brick feature walls and VJ paneling in an olive green. Duffy says it came together organically, with an overarching sentiment that the space should be flexible and able to evolve.

“I didn’t subscribe to any trends, which I think is important when you want a space to have design longevity,” she says. “I have not changed a thing in this bedroom since we did the renovation, so everything is as it was six years ago.”

The biggest expense was structural, but Duffy says it was worth the cost.


Internal brick wall

As feature walls go, brick can really elevate a space, but it does come at a cost. Both the labour and materials can be higher than they are for plasterboard, but you can’t beat it for the wow factor.

‘I just love it. It feels tactile, it feels natural,’ Duffy says of the brick wall in her home. Photo: Mindi Cooke

“In this house, we did an internal brick wall which actually runs down the whole hallway and therefore plays into every bedroom,” she says.

“I just love it. It feels tactile, it feels natural and it just adds an element which you can’t achieve with a plasterboard wall.

“All the other walls in this space are VJ panelling. VJ is a go-to for me. It’s a classic for a wall panelling – something that can be employed by multiple styles of homes and it’s something I’ll never tire of.”

Laminate timber

One of the biggest expenses in any renovation is joinery. For the custom cabinetry in the bedroom, Duffy says they wanted a beautiful timber-look wardrobe, but without the expense.

“We went with a timber-grain laminate, which is just a really beautiful natural oak print,” she says.

“It’s a print, it’s not a timber veneer, which is a real timber. That would have cost me about double the price.”

Tip: Look for something with an organic grain rather than a streaky look which can cheapen the finish.

Laminate timber looks great at half the price of timber veneer. Photo: Mindi Cooke

Forgo the bedhead

Bedding can quickly add up and put a big dent in the budget if you’re not careful. Consider how your bed will be positioned in the space and whether you need to install a bedhead.

“’I’m actually able to get away with not spending money on bedheads,” Duffy says.

“I’ve done that by making sure I’ve got beautiful panelling on the walls, a really awesome large-scale piece of art and wall lights, and then my Euro cushions finish the job.”

For extra savings, Duffy advises avoiding seasonal linen and opting instead for a doona cover in a block colour you won’t tire of.

Wall panelling and large-format art can be used in place of a traditional bedhead. Photo: Mindi Cooke


Hunting out statement pieces in op shops and antique stores is a great way to add uniqueness to a room without breaking the bank.

“When I found this daybed I was not looking for a daybed,” Duffy says. “I just happened to be in an antique store on the Gold Coast. It was affordable [and] really interesting.

“Maybe one day I’ll spend the thousands of dollars it will cost me to reupholster it, but until then I’m just going to enjoy it in all its rustic-ness.”

Duffy says renovating can be an expensive exercise, but doing the basics right means you have the flexibility to evolve the space over time.

“Creating that homely, lived-in, inviting feeling, to me, comes from creating a space that’s very specific to you,” she says.

“It’s something that comes about by being open to the idea that maybe your space is never finished – it’s an evolution.”


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