Find out how this Christchurch homeowner transformed a ‘cold and unused’ area to create indoor-outdoor flow.

Walking up the long driveway draws out my anticipation of two things: seeing just how much the backyard has changed, and whether I got everyone’s coffees right.

As I reach the back of the house I’m given a warm welcome by homeowner Lex, and following inquisitively behind is his kitten Naki – in Māori meaning ‘to glide’, and in Ngāi Tahu dialect, ‘cat’.

Naki jumps up onto the newly finished deck as if to begin the grand tour, and I’m amazed – what a transformation! It’s completely reinvented the look and feel of this space.

It’s not long before Ashraf joins us – he’s the tradesperson who got the job done with his teammate Conor. And after a few minutes of seeing Lex and Ashraf talking, it’s clear as to why this job went so well; there’s a lot of respect here.

Ready for the project rundown and eager to sip our coffees, we take a seat at the modern stone table (which on a side note, compliments the deck so well).

It’s a Jungle Out There

During lockdown, Lex spent his weekdays working from home in his role as an Education Consultant – and the rest of the time – he was putting in the hard yards outside.

“It was overgrown, closed in and dark at the back here; so we filled up a giant skip with branches and stuff we pulled out from the garden,” Lex says.

“Before, it was cold, unused and a bit of an afterthought, so now that we’d cleared it up, we thought we might as well make it a liveable space.”

Timing is Everything

Lex’s older brother who’s a civil engineer originally put his hand up to do the deck. But due to time constraints it wasn’t going to work, so Lex decided to get someone else in, and so ensued the brotherly banter.

“I’m the youngest, so if you have older brothers, you’ll know what I mean when he says things like ‘make sure you do this, make sure you do that’,” Lex laughs.

And at a time when people were being laid off or without work, Lex says something that speaks volumes for the kind of guy that he is.

“I thought, don’t put it off, now’s probably the best time to put it through the platform so people can get some work.”

The Brief

When Lex posted his job, he was looking for:

  • Sustainability: Materials that had a lower environmental impact than others
  • Aesthetics: A design that would make the most of the space
  • Affordability: To try and achieve what he envisioned
  • Durability: To ensure the deck would last, and
  • An owner-operator: A preference to give the work to a small business or independent contractor.

“Ashraf was very thorough; he spent the most time here, took the most measurements, asked me the most questions, and he talked me through his solution for the job,” Lex says.

“And he had some pictures of previous work he had done, that was really important,” Lex says.

Thinking Outside The Box

On the same note, Ashraf from Top Corner Construction appreciated the amount of effort Lex put into the job posted on Builderscrack.

“It’s really good, because before you go in you can kind of picture what it’s going to look like, and build on that by talking with the homeowner – it’s a good starting point,” Ashraf says.

“I came and had a look, met Lex, and he discussed what he wanted to do with the deck.

“From there, I said we’re going to have a bit of an issue fixing the decking to the concrete slab; so we came up with the idea of cutting some out to allow for the moisture gap and joists.”

When The Unexpected Happens

From day one to completion it took around 80 hours, or 8.5 days – one day more than Ashraf estimated.

“Initially when I looked at it, I thought sweet, we’ll pull the pavers up and bore out the holes for the piles,” Ashraf explains, “but we flipped the pavers up and there was about 50mm of concrete underneath, and then asphalt, and then all sorts of other stuff in the ground,” Ashraf says.

“So we spent the whole day with a jackhammer getting it sorted.”

“But once we were through that – all the set out we did at the beginning to make sure it was all square – it all came together.”

Alluding to the hindsight, Lex jokes with Ashraf that it was lucky he didn’t opt to grow grass instead of building a deck; and I think, how cool it is that they’re on good terms, even after the unexpected happened.

Job Done

“It’s created a new living space. There’s a natural flow from the kitchen and lounge and it makes that area seem heaps bigger,” Lex says.

“The really important thing is that it’s all eye level; they brought it up so that it’s continuous – it makes a big difference.”

Job Details:

  • Total cost: Approx $13,000
  • Total size: 7.8m by 5.6m
  • Decking: 140mm by 32mm pine
  • Features: Box seating and steps

New Territory

Since we’ve been sitting down, Naki has been weaving in between our legs, and now swiftly jumps onto the table to see what all the fuss is about.

We laugh at his nonchalant strut taking prominence over the conversation, and I ask Lex what Naki made of the deck being built in his territory.

“He was curious, he sniffed around at first – but now it’s a good jumping space to get straight up onto the fence. He likes it,” Lex says.

As Naki plonks himself right in front of our photographer Alana, Lex jokingly calls out ‘show off’ and we all agree he’s quite the model.

Leaving a Lasting Impression

Out of curiosity, I ask Lex what it was like working with Ashraf and Conor.

“They were really tidy – I really appreciated that. And they were really good with some of the finishing touches too,” Lex says.

“They had to trim some of the back doors so they would open, so he rang me, explained why and how, and asked if it was okay to go ahead.”

I can hear the delight in Lex’s voice as he explains how they went the extra mile by installing a draught guard for the door, trimming the downpipe and adding a gas bottle cover.

“You know, little touches like that, it just shows that they’re thoughtful and they’re thorough; and if I had other work to do I would definitely consider them again,” Lex says.

Advice For Other Homeowners

“At the start there’s no obligation to one another, but you want to respect each other’s time. You don’t want to be a tyre-kicker, but you also want to say: ‘this is what I’m thinking of, how would you do it?’” Lex says.

“I liked that Ashraf had a definite vision for how he would complete it. He asked me all of the questions I would have expected, and his thinking matched my prior research, so it was good.

“My advice is to give as much information as you can, and get as much information as you can back – then, use the quality of that information to make your choice.”

Next Job On The List?

To finish up our interview, Lex shows me around inside and it’s not long before we hear Naki’s muffled meows from behind the glass door, demanding to be let in. I jokingly ask if a cat door is the next job on Lex’s list.

Lex opens the door for Naki and he waltzes on through – it’s in that moment Lex reveals what’s hiding behind the curtains and shares what any cat owner can empathise with:

“We’ve got one, he just doesn’t use it.”

Before and Afters