What makes a house a home?
Carly Dewey is probably the best person to answer that. She is, after all, in the business of building homes. As the woman behind She Builds Homes, Dewey has been creating functional homes for Canberra families since 2019.
It's a business, but it's also a passion project for the mum of three.
For her, it's not just about putting up four walls and a roof and calling it a day. It's about creating sanctuaries in the middle of suburbia.
Most of the time, Dewey isn't designing for a specific person. She doesn't have a client to answer to. All these houses are one of a kind and all her. But it does mean that she needs to know good design, and what will and won't sell, in order put these completed homes on the market.
And for those who are not lucky enough to purchase these properties or even see them in person, Dewey's creative process is documented on her social media, giving both information and inspiration to other people renovating or building their own homes.
Her Instagram, @shebuildshomes, might as well be called How to Give a House Personality 101. And personality is something Dewey's own house has in spades.
Built in 2018 - the unofficial first project for She Builds Homes - has a showstopping gabled entry, which is wrapped in Merbau cladding and leads to a living area that continues the cathedral ceiling line before reaching a wall of windows. The view? An idyllic country outlook of the neighbouring paddock filled with cows. It feels a world away from the city but is only a 15-minute drive.
But this personality isn't just limited to Dewey's own home. She makes sure every one of her designs has some sort of "wow" factor. The house she's designing in Taylor at the moment has a hidden pantry, for example.
"I think they all have to have a little personality," Dewey says.
"Each house has its own style. I did a couple in Taylor last year - one was dark and moody and the other was light and airy. And these next ones are sort of scandi on the inside, but they're all different, which I like.
"There are features that I really must have sometimes. So the houses that we're doing right now, they have gable ceilings. I love to raise the roof because it makes such a difference.
"A lot of the time we're working with tiny blocks and tiny houses. But if you raise the ceiling height, just in the living rooms, it makes such a big difference. So I've done that a few times with the skillion roofs and gable ceilings.
"I didn't do it on the last two but they've each got their own little features, like a huge fixed pane window at the front. They've got to have something that makes them not just stock standard."
Dewey is there for every step of the project. She's the person who not only designs and styles it - a role often taken up by women in the world of social media and renovation shows such as The Block - but she is also the one who builds it. If there is a problem that needs solving - which happens on a near-daily basis, as is the nature of construction - she is the one who solves it.
She has been in the construction industry for a decade. In that time Dewey has not only been building houses, but also demolishing gender norms in what is very much a male-dominated industry.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2019-20 women made up only 12.7 per cent of the construction industry, a figure that is the result of a decrease in women in trades. In 2006, the industry was made up of 17 per cent women.
Meanwhile, an RMIT report, Women in Construction: Exploring the Barriers and Supportive Enablers of Wellbeing in the Workplace, found that 95 per cent of women in construction thought they were treated differently by men because of their gender, and 60 per cent felt that they faced inappropriate and challenging behaviour in their workplace.
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"It's not appealing to most women to be in construction. Design yes - we love designing - but the actual construction part is not as appealing and it's just not welcoming," Dewey says.
"It's not friendly for women. It's not an environment that we necessarily feel safe in as well, because we're just dominated and it's like a different world on site. I'm not bashing all men, obviously, but they can get into this different mindset and a lot of the time, we're not welcome.
"No one takes you seriously. No one pays you any attention. Even now I still find it difficult to be taken seriously.
"And I'm picky with who I work with. If I'm hiring a trade, a lot of the time I'm in the office and my dad's in the office with me as well. If he's looking at my dad, and he's not speaking to me directly, I won't hire them because I know it would just be a nightmare working with them."
It's a tip she gives to anyone doing their own home renovations or builds. Don't be afraid to talk to as many trades as it takes to find the right one for the job. Not only will you be able to get a range of quotes to compare but it gives you a chance to ask questions and understand what the process is going to be.
And, Dewey says, don't be afraid to take your time. Nail down the design you want, finding similarities with design ideas taken from places such as Pinterest and Instagram to create an aesthetic. And think about the function and the purpose of the design as well. Are there areas that are more important than others?
"If it is a forever home, there would be things that I would suggest doing, like putting most of your money into the structure, or things that are really important, like glazing, a good heating system, insulation - and then spending less on things that you can change like the kitchen and bathroom, which you can redo later on," she says.
"If I'm building a house for someone to buy, those things are still really important, but because it's a business, I'm going to make the kitchen and bathrooms look really attractive because that's what they're buying. They look at the kitchen, and they look at the bathroom. [Most people] don't want to have to do anything. So different things are important.
"I have a friend who's doing her house, and she asked 'what kind of skirting do I use?' and I suggested one over the other because longevity is really important. It means you're going to spend a bit more, but I'd rather spend more on those things that ... [are] a nightmare to change, rather than really expensive splashback tiles or something like that."
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