The heart of a home

We spoke to DIY duo Kyal & Kara about renos and raising children – and reflect on the chaos and the joy that both bring.

For anyone who’s ever tackled a renovation or build, looked into the logistics of revamping a room – or even just trawled endlessly through covet-worthy home inspiration (hello Pinterest) – I’m certain an old adage comes to mind: ‘It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it’. And doesn’t that chestnut seem to apply to parenting, too?

At home amidst the dreamy beaches and laid-back, café-studded hamlets of the Central Coast of NSW, this couple has a wealth of experience in both arenas: renos and parenting. I’m talking about Kyal and Kara Demmrich.

Renowned for their participation in hit series The Block in 2014, their passion for taking a property and transforming it (spinning straw into gold, if you will) began well before their television appearances. “Our love for renovating really kind of began early on when Kara and I first started going out,” says Kyal. “We upcycled a few furniture items … and gave them a new lease of life. Then we purchased our first house.” Kyal’s talking about the little fibro shack they acquired at Killarney Vale more than a decade ago, which they transformed over years into a coastal haven. “It certainly was a labour of love – so much time and effort and money going into it,” says Kyal, “but we just loved it, we loved the transformation, we loved the process, and I think what hooked us was being able to sit back and see what we’d achieved, and have that job satisfaction – it was such a good feeling!”

After completing their season of The Block and finishing up almost six years of renovations, the duo flipped their Killarney Vale home. Since then, Kyal and Kara have contributed to The Living Room, continue to run a successful design and construction business, and have project-managed, designed or completed over 35 renovation projects – and in the past few years, they’ve done so while remaining cool and collected parents to their son, Ziya, and daughter, Vada.

Their current home at Toowoon Bay is a stunning beachside oasis – complete with sumptuously spacious living areas, a parents’ retreat (reno gods be praised!), AND a spiral staircase. The sandy timber finishes, bright palette, luxe features, and Mediterranean-esque façade are all hallmarks of Kyal and Kara’s style. “We just love that coastal lifestyle where you live with that indoor-outdoor vibe,” says Kara. Being within a stone’s throw of some of the Coast’s most idyllic spots, the natural world influences their vision. “We take a lot of inspiration from the beach, the rockpools, and those beautiful coastal colours.”

Was renovating something they always wanted to pursue as a career? Kyal finished up his apprenticeship as a carpenter just before that first Killarney Vale remodel, while Kara was studying physiotherapy. Before they transitioned into the industry, the pair managed the demands of revamping their home by committing to late nights, early mornings, and weekends. “The thing with renovating is it doesn’t come easy,” says Kyal, “especially if you’re living in a renovation. There are those late nights you’re up working on the tools.” “And painting!” laughs Kara. “You make a lot of sacrifices too – like weekends and not going out with friends, not going away. That’s what we did to get our reno done and get across the line,” explains Kyal. Hard work, crazy hours, sacrifice. Again, we could be talking about parenting.

When asked how they manage to remain present parents while juggling their work, Kara admits it’s a constant struggle. Running their own business, they explain that the emails don’t stop, and the kids are often around while they carry out the brunt of a day’s work. “We are fortunate in that we both work from home at the same time so we can tag-team it a lot,” admits Kyal. But as Kara adds, “that comes with the struggle that sometimes you’re not completely switching off from one thing.” It’s something many parents can relate to, as we’re pulled in different directions throughout the day.

“We have to remind each other a lot, ‘Put your phone down, don’t read that email’, it can wait ’til tomorrow,” explains Kara, “it’s just a constant reminder to ourselves to be present in what we’re actually doing.” This is the advice they’d give to other parents – whether trying to complete a renovation amidst the buzz of family life, or simply wanting to balance any kind of work with raising a family. “Be in the moment. Don’t try to multitask too much,” says Kyal.

It seems counterintuitive from the duo that have multitasked their way to transforming unassuming shacks into sprawling, beachy retreats. “I find that when you try and take too much on when you’ve got the kids, it does become overwhelming a lot quicker. Whereas if you just give them your whole attention for a period of time, you’re much more likely to have a productive day,” says Kyal. Kara explains, “If we have to get a few things done for a renovation project, we might say to the kids ‘Right, we’re gonna go to the park from this time to this time, and then you guys are going to help us by doing some running around and some errands.’” She says that they try to set the expectation early on that there’s a bit of work and a bit of play, and that the distinction helps them to remain present and attentive in each setting.

Of course, as Kara says, “No two days are the same.” But from their dulcet, laid-back voices and easy manner, I get the sense that these two Coasties know how to roll with life’s waves. Their mornings are spent making the most of their signature style of tag-teaming: Kara ducks off for a run, followed by a coffee with friends. “That’s my me-time,” she says. Meanwhile, Kyal is getting the kids into brekky. Coming home around 6:30 am, it’s Kara’s turn to take the baton and Kyal heads off for a surf. Day-care, then work, then picking up the kids – which they’re fortunate enough to often do together.

“We try and burn some final energy [from the kids] before the bath and bed routine,” they both chuckle. “We run them around the park or go for a surf or do an activity in the afternoon,” says Kyal. Like their outdoorsy parents, both kids have a huge appreciation for nature, getting amongst the froth in their own little wetties, then trading the boards in for an exploratory visit to the rockpools. “One of our favourite ways to spend time together is to go to the beach, we love surfing down at Toowoon Bay,” says Kara. “The kids are so cute, they ask us: ‘Is it low tide at Toowoon?!’ They’re not kids that want to sit inside all day, that’s for sure,” Kara laughs. After the dinner-bath-bed routine, “then Mum and dad get to relax,” says Kyal.

But they’re quick to point out the Achilles heel of day-to-day parenting: unpredictability. “It all sounds like that in theory, but sometimes it doesn’t go that way,” Kyal admits. “And you know, the wheels fall off quite often, but that’s parenting though, isn’t it?” I add that it’s chaos – but beautiful chaos. “Yeah, that’s right,” agrees Kyal.

Just as they juggled their early careers and renovating, and then their design business with child-raising, amidst the busyness, Kyal and Kara are sure to schedule in time for themselves. Perhaps this is the secret to their carefree demeanours and chilled-out vibe?

“Exercise is definitely a really positive outlet for Kara and I,” says Kyal, “I do a lot of surfing and swimming, and water sports like fishing and diving – and I feel like that’s my place where I can go and reset. And Kara’s the same, she’s really outdoorsy, she’s getting really stuck into her runs.” They point out that the benefits are emotional and mental, as well as physical. “We keep going with that sort of stuff because it is such a positive part of our life,” explains Kyal. As any parent knows, it’s no mean feat to reclaim time for ourselves, but Kara says that it helps to set intentions at the start of the week and organise collaboratively to ensure these blocked-out periods for ‘me-time’ happen.

While they’ve created many envy-worthy spaces (I mentioned the parents’ retreat, right?) their favourite room in their house is the kitchen. Kyal points out that this build at Toowoon is their dream home, and it’s tough to narrow it down – “there are so many nice parts of it.” But Kara is quick to jump in: “It’d be the kitchen for me for sure. Because it’s where everyone ends up congregating … Lots of memories made there already.” Kyal gets on board: “Yeah, it’s probably the hub of the home.”

What’s next for the down-to-earth duo? “We’re actually just about to start another build in a couple of months, so lots of planning of that at the moment,” says Kara. Their new project, still set in the seaside suburb of Toowoon, is sure to inspire lust and longing for those in the market (and for those, like me, who like to window-shop on real estate websites). “We’re looking forward to that next adventure,” says Kyal.

For anyone who’s considering sprucing up their space, Kyal and Kara are adamant that though the journey can be tough, the payoff is worth it. “It’s such hard work but there’s so much to show for it at the end of it,” Kara says. “That’s the biggest reward,” Kyal adds, “being able to sit back and enjoy what you’ve achieved with your labour.” And isn’t that the crux of being a parent, too? That even though there’s no definitive ‘end’ to the journey, the messiness and the sacrifice and the immense love poured into the labour are so, so worth it in the little basking moments; the moments when you pause and see that what you’ve created, well it’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Words: Erin McDonald

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