What’s Your ‘Home Maintenance’ Style?
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What’s Your ‘Home Maintenance’ Style?

Finding your place on the Fixer/Non-Fixer spectrum.

By Kris Frieswick
Mon, Nov 22, 2021 11:40amGrey Clock 4 min

Since ancient times, humans have believed that the world is divided into two types of people: those who perform timely routine maintenance and repair on their homes, and those who don’t.

Fixers take great pride in their understanding of the complications and quirks of their home and how to keep it all working. They possess many tools and manuals. A stud finder. Soldering gun. Extra copper piping in the cellar. A toilet snake. They sometimes won’t stop talking about gutters.

Non-Fixers are overwhelmed, uninterested or too busy to learn the basics of maintenance and routine household repair. They’re terrified that if they try, they’ll start breaking stuff that worked perfectly well. Or they very reasonably believe that if they learn to do one maintenance thing and demonstrate any proficiency in it, they will be on the hook for learning and doing all the other maintenancey things their home requires. Many pay others to do the work. Some Non-Fixers just ignore their house maintenance and repair needs thinking they will go away. Actually, many Non-Fixers do this. Others could be Fixers, but their life is filled with other things they would prefer to do, such as drink martinis on the couch and watch ‘Full House’ reruns.

Conventional wisdom holds that we are assigned a Fixer or Non-Fixer designation at birth and that it is an immutable trait that cannot be altered during our lifetimes, like eye colour or a hatred of cilantro. Alternatively, some fervently believe that our maintenance style is a choice, and that we can simply decide which type of person we wish to be. The extremists among this group also believe that being a Fixer is the only proper, moral choice, and that Non-Fixers are broken, bad humans.

I suggest a third option: We are all on a “maintenance spectrum.” We each have a bit of Fixer and a bit of Non-Fixer and the percentages ebb and flow and shift back and forth as circumstances in our lives and homeownership change.

Take the Late-Life Fixer. This is a person who was always too busy with family and job to learn and perform routine maintenance or repairs. They hired somebody to do these things for them. The math worked: the Non-Fixer’s job paid more money hourly than whatever they paid the professional. They reserved their weekends for friends and family, not Fixing stuff.

Then, they retire. Suddenly, not only does their fixed income require them to learn and perform household maintenance, they actually want to. They are bored with their new, endless hours of free time, which they have because they never developed a real hobby. Fixing stuff also creates a sense of purpose and control that is sorely lacking since they lost their minions and bosses.

Conversely, some lifelong Fixers approach retirement age too tired and broken down by a lifetime of diligent maintenance to continue tackling their perpetual to-do list. So they convert, at an astonishing speed, to a Non-Fixer: They buy a condo, hire out every single interior maintenance and repair project, and if they can’t find someone to do it, they call one of their kids to come over and do it. They begin to drink martinis on the couch while watching reruns of ‘Full House.’

Some Non-Fixers realize that they are Fixers when they purchase a home. After several unsatisfactory encounters with paid professional Fixers who take months to arrive and overcharge by a factor of four, they decide to learn to do it themselves. They venture slowly into this terrain, but thanks to the Font of All Fixer Knowledge (YouTube), they begin exploring projects of which they never could have conceived: fixing garbage disposals, cleaning gutters, changing water filters, even rewiring lamps. They like the sense of self-sufficiency and freedom. They enthusiastically embrace their Fixer identity, including joining a plumbing repair Facebook page and going to electrical-wiring Meetups.

Some people are Maintenance Fluid: A Fixer one day when the stopper/floating-ball mechanism on the toilet stops working; a Non-Fixer the next when the ceiling fan starts making a sound like it’s chewing ground glass.

Of course, there are some who are so far on one end of the spectrum or the other, so wedded to their maintenance identity, they will never move either way. This phenomenon is most common among The Obsessive-Compulsive Fixers, who view maintenance of their home as a battle against entropy and chaos that they simply cannot stop fighting, and the Sloth Non-Fixers, who don’t even know how to work the oven, let alone fix the pilot light. These people never question their identity one way or the other, often due to local cultural norms, family pressure or fear of bullying. On the rare occasions when these people do explore alternatives, they are likely to swing so far to the other side of the spectrum that they become almost unrecognizable to their family and friends, who may ostracize them, especially when a new Fixer convert renders the dishwasher inoperable, or a fledgling Non-Fixer refuses to change out the remote control batteries.

The most important thing, regardless of where on the maintenance spectrum you or your loved ones fall, is to accept that there is no right answer. We must learn to respect and honor people who occupy all points on the Fixer continuum and allow them to explore and experiment with their desires to maintain and repair the siding, gutters, water filters and rotting wood on the deck—or not. Most importantly, remember this: There is no room for hate in household maintenance. Only room for improvement.


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But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.

For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint. 

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Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.

“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”

The decision to demolish was not taken lightly. 

“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”

Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.

A central courtyard captures northern light. Image: Bo Wong

“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”

To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.

“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says. 

“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”

A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.

“That’s the plan anyway,”  he says. 

A modern day ‘folly’ provides an unexpected breakout space with room for a rooftop herb garden. Image: Bo Wong

Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.

The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.

Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.

The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.

Adjustable blades allow the owners to control light on the upper floor. Image: Bo Wong

“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”

Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.

Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish. 

“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”

Rotary cut timber reveals the beauty of the natural grain in the kitchen joinery. Image: Bo Wong

Even the laundry has been carefully considered.

“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”

The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.

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