Meet the couple who have transformed their Somerton Park house with the help of reality renovation show House Rules – to make their home dreams come true.
When Kate and Harry Whiting purchased their Somerton Park pad in October 2015, Kate was annoyed. “I didn’t want it,” she says. “I don’t think I had a choice. Harry said I’d crush his dreams if we didn’t move in.”
The pair, their now two-year-old son Xavier, and dog Harley had been living in a new townhouse in Novar Gardens and Kate had just made it feel like home.
“We’d barely lived in it for a year before coming here. I don’t even know why I agreed to it, to be honest. The location I think.”
Harry was excited by the renovation challenges. “For me it was love at first sight. I love the location and wanted to bring Xave up in an amazing area. This ticked all the boxes: park, cafés, and a shopping centre. I knew how much work was involved but loved it as soon as I saw it.”
“There’s nothing like watching yourself on TV and going, ‘Oh, I do do that. Sorry babe’.”
Reality hit as soon as they moved in. The home was literally split in two. “Next door was all one house,” Kate says. “It was literally cut in half and completely gutted. While the next door [neighbours] were building, they lived in this. Their plan was to knock it over and sell it as a block but Harry approached them and said we wanted to buy it. It didn’t have a kitchen and we had to fix the plumbing. It wasn’t functional.” With a young child and the limitations of a solo income, progress was difficult.
“We got in here and realised we weren’t saving a cent and it’d take so long to do,” Kate says. “So I applied for House Rules.”
Channel Seven’s reality show was a game-changer for the young couple. The gist of the series is simple: teams across Australia compete in renovation tasks and the winning duo’s mortgage is paid off. It was a leap of faith for Kate and Harry. Design decisions were handed over to a bunch of strangers but the South Australians figured they had nothing to lose. “Our house was so bad, so anything we got we were just so appreciative,” Harry says. “We bought this house and shouldn’t have. We didn’t really have enough money for it and now, looking back, we would have had to sell and would have gone backwards. We are so lucky.” He grins. “I’m pinching myself. It was mayhem.
“The most challenging thing about being on a reality TV show was each other.”
We probably would have broken up. We just couldn’t get it right.” Kate’s parents looked after Xavier while Kate and Harry crisscrossed the country renovating other contestant’s homes. Each team had seven days to work their magic on a room. It was a challenging process. Kate, a teacher by trade, was new to interior design. Harry, a carpenter, had the skills and the enthusiasm but handing over decision making duties was tough. “I found it hard because I know what I want. I had a vision in my head of what I wanted but it’s a team effort so I had to consider what Kate wanted and I found that hard. It took me awhile to get used to.”
The first episode, filmed in Tasmania, was difficult. “We were camping in the middle of nowhere, had no idea what we were doing, and were really left to our own devices.” They showered in a portaloo and slept in a tent on a hill. “We were really emotional because we were so tired and hadn’t been home. It was freezing cold.”
Leaving Xavier behind was also an emotional rollercoaster. “We missed him so much,” Harry says. “He was in the perfect age bracket where he didn’t actually know what was going on but I honestly couldn’t leave him now.”
The most challenging thing about being on a reality TV show was each other.
“Your relationship is out on display,” Kate says. “My mum said, ‘Are you sure you and Harry want to do this?’ We do have ups and downs and it hasn’t always been this fairytale relationship. We knew it was a make or break environment and we have actually come out of it stronger. Plenty of relationships have broken up after House Rules. Seven couples out of five series.”
Kate and Harry met nine years ago during a night out at Glenelg hangout The Grand. Kate had a boyfriend at the time so it wasn’t exactly a tale of love at first sight. “I wasn’t very friendly and that seemed to encourage him even more. Boys want what they can’t have. Certainly Harry, anyway.”
Persistence paid off and when she was eventually single again, the cheeky carpenter seized his chance.
The rest is history, and while they didn’t win the final, the House Rules experience made them stronger.
“There’s nothing like watching yourself on TV and going, ‘Oh, I do do that. Sorry babe’.” Kate laughs. “After the charity round I was really nice to Harry for a week.”
“I learnt a lot about myself, which is nice because I had some growing up to do,” Harry adds. “I didn’t really want to but it made me. Our relationship has grown, too. We didn’t just get our house out of it, we got a lot more. It’s pretty amazing.”
After seven months of filming, the couple returned to their transformed abode.
“We gave away all our furniture,” Kate says. “So everything you see is from the show.” A bull’s head statue, a Kate Moss print, and a chest of drawers are the only reminders of their former home. They were thrilled with what they found. A sleek, black kitchen, bohemian open-plan living area, and ensuite are highlights of the new-look pad. Harry even loves the refrigerator.
“As soon as I walked in, the pink fridge took me aback a bit but I actually love it. It complements the black and gives it a bit of personality. A kitchen overlooking the living area is brilliant. You can cook and look out over Xave playing and watch a bit of telly.”
Harry’s speciality is eggs on toast. “The thing is, I don’t even cook them good. The yolk is always broken and all over the pan but it tastes nice. How good is cooking in an amazing new kitchen?”
Kate chuckles. “He does zero cooking.”
Xavier loves his little adventurer-themed bedroom and the outdoor entertaining area (complete with kiddy tepee) will be a hit during summer.
“It was mayhem. We probably would have broken up.”
The lady of the house hasn’t changed much since their return. “I didn’t like the mismatched dining chairs so I bought in some outdoor benches. We’d love to get a new couch but we’ll get there one day. Nothing major.”
A new front fence to keep Xavier safe is top of their priorities. After that, Harry has his sights set on an outdoor spa. It is a topic of light-hearted contention.
“It’d be unreal,” Harry gushes. “I’ll make a really great feature wall. You won’t even see the spa because it’ll be decked. It’ll be so sick. I feel like it’ll be my little space. Kate can do what she wants everywhere else in the house and I feel that is my little area down there where I can create something amazing.”
Kate shakes her head. “In your dreams.”
One thing they do agree on is genuine appreciation. “I think we’ll have to thank House Rules for the rest of our lives. I can’t believe how lucky we are. We honestly couldn’t have done this without it.”
Kate and Harry’s design tips
- Really let loose and enjoy colour. We really wanted black and white but we love the colour in our house. Let go and enjoy it.
- We used to think we were on the same page but eventually realised we weren’t. Have a picture you’re both looking at and make sure you’re on the same page before you demolish something or do anything important.
- Be confident. Don’t compare what you’re doing to someone else. Put your own spin on it. With design there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong. Do it well.
- Be proud of it and own it. If you love it, everyone else will too.
Photos: Naomi Giatas
Video: Aaron Nassau
Do you know anyone with a great home renovation? We’d love to hear it. Let us know in the comments below. Liked this? Step inside Clare Valley’s historic Wolta Wolta Homestead for a change of scenery.