Blood, Sweat & Dust. House Renovations aren’t for the Faint-Hearted.

Blood, Sweat & Dust. House Renovations aren’t for the Faint-Hearted.

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-15-56-55Three and half years ago we had outgrown our first flat in Balham, South West London, and wanted to buy a house. Our hearts were set on the Bellenden Road area of Peckham (yup, what a cliché). Problem was the more we looked, the more obvious it became that we couldn’t afford what we wanted.  Then one day The Right Move Gods shone down on us. And our future home popped up.


  • It was what we wanted. Where we wanted.
  • It was 100k below budget.
  • Problem was it smelt like death.
  • In fact, the smell was so strong that the rancid aroma of decomposing stuff clung to your clothes for days after a visit.
  • Oh, and apart from the stench, the only toilet was outside.
  • And the ‘kitchen’ was in the second bedroom.
  • But, at the time, Bertie was 8 months old and a terrible sleeper.
  • So, in a cloud of hormones and sleep deprivation we decided ‘A Project’ was just what we needed. Idiots.
  • We sold our flat.
  • Our gorgeous first home with Farrow & Ball Downpipe walls and a nice garden and exchanged it for a crumpling pile of bricks in ‘the right postcode’.
  • “When you said it was a wreck, you weren’t exaggerating” muttered our parents the first time they visited. Their tone suggested we had finally bitten off more that we can chew.
  • But by then it was too late. We were in our rented accommodation in Peckham. In a flat that closely resembled a Halls of Residence. Every Friday & Saturday Night the base from club nights at The Bussey Building made our headboard shudder.
  • And then suddenly we were doing it. Making it up as we went along. Learning from our mistakes. Here, in no particular order, is what we learnt:
  • Install more plug sockets than you think. You will always be grateful.
  • White for the win. There are soooo many decisions to make along the way that, although I love a muted paint swatch, we decided to go for bright white throughout.
  • It’s the cheapest option. We planned to add colour once we’d moved in.
  • We haven’t. I now love the white. It’s really calming.
  • Unfortunately The Boys find it an inviting canvas to draw on. Still, at least its easy to repaint.
  • Don’t under estimate the cost of boring stuff. A house-worth of skirting boards add up. Top tip: we went for MDF ones with a Victorian profile. You couldn’t tell they weren’t real wood.
  • Spank the cash on one thing in each room. It gives the impression of the whole space being more high-end than it actually is.
  • A Rangemaster oven, but a Magnet kitchen.
  • Burlington shower, shower unit from the Bathroom Store.
  • Fallen in love with poured concrete? Us too. But it’s expensive and difficult to lay. These ‘Concreate‘ tiles were a good alternative.
  • Similarly if you want column radiators , but can’t stretch to the super fancy (and very pretty) ones these do the job.
  • Ebay + Anyvan are your friend. Means you can get reclaimed stuff from further a field. Our Victorian school sink was my best find.
  • I love Fired Earth, it’s tile porn. Unfortunately we couldn’t afford them (there’s a theme here).
  • We also had a terrible incident where Bertie puked all over the Dulwich branch, so that also put us going in there.
  • BUT, according to an internet forum these metro tiles from Tons of Tiles  are made in the same factory as the Fired Earth ones. Who knows if it’s true but we’ve been pleased with them.
  • Pinterest the shit out of it. It’s the best my way to figure out what you like. I pinned and pinned (and did my husband’s head in with options). Eventually it became obvious what I was after.
  • Here’s me on Pinterest if you fancy a squizz.
  • Don’t get too obsessed with designing for resale (unless you are property developer).
  • Design it for how you want it. Homes are expensive, you ought to enjoy living in it.
  • And the chances are there will be another person, couple or family out there who will want exactly what you are after.
  • Fun touches don’t have to be expensive. Our ‘disco lights’ up the stairs are just strip of LEDs.
  • We had hopes of making the place great for a house party. In reality they are a brilliant way of illuminating the stairs for kids who wander to your bedroom in the middle of the night.
  • Ikea picture rails. We have them right across the two largest walls downstairs. That way you can move art/photos about without screwing up the walls.
  • Our ‘statement wall hung seating’ in the kitchen. Is actually just a changing room bench. Which is just as well because it’s permanently covered in bags, miscellaneous clothes and cardboard that can’t fit in the recycling bin.
  • The build will cost more than you think.
  • It will take longer than you think.
  • There will be more tears than you think.
  • You will spend in inordinate number of weekends in Screw Fix.
  • And lose sleep over the merits of charcoal vs light grey grout. We avoided making a decsion by going for one in each bathroom.
  • LED’s are frighteningly expensive. It’s an investment. Three years later they haven’t needed changing. And they’re good for the environment too.
  • Dust is a mother fucker.
  • Go with the flow. Our exposed brick wall and RSJ beam weren’t planned. During the build I fell a bit in love with them and decided to keep them. Plus it saved a job, which is a victory in itself.
  • (Quick interlude: one thing you DEFINITELY shouldn’t do when you are skint and stressed and living surrounded by tools and builders is decide to get pregnant again. Yup, we’re dickheads).
  • Still, doing a home renovation is very much like having kids:
  • There are times when you feel regretful, and question why you did it. But by that point there is no turning back.
  • You wonder why people didn’t warn you how hard it is. (They did, you just chose to ignore it).
  • There’s guilt. Because, like growing a human, being able to design your home from scratch is a priviledge. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t reduce you to a snotty weeping mess on more than one occasion.
  • Though it’s ageing and bankrupting memory is selective. I struggle to remember all the badtimes of our build.
  • Even after all these years, I can’t believe that this small patch of London is ours.
  • The fact that it has made us money is, of course a MASSIVE bonus.
  • But the thing that really gets me, is knowing every doorhandle, tile and shelf was choosen by us. The blood, sweat & blazing arguments were TOTALLY worth it.
  • The best things in life often come as a result of taking a risk,  working hard and, unfortunately, a hefty credit card bill.
  • And then there’s all those priceless memories we’ve made within those four walls: Woody’s birth, countless family meals and bottles of wine with mates, lazy Sundays and cosy Friday nights. THAT. That is what it’s all about.

     

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5 thoughts on “Blood, Sweat & Dust. House Renovations aren’t for the Faint-Hearted.

  1. Love this! We completed our renovation last September and all of this is SO true of our story. We could not be happier to have done it (now we are in and enjoying it) – it’s a definite test on everything but worth it! I actually love hanging out in my house now!!
    Your house is BEAUTIFUL by the way 🙂 xx

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  2. Love this post it’s absolutely on point and so true and I just love all the pictures of all your hard work, well done and thank you for sharing 👍😀😀

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  3. Love this! I have a 7 month old ans when I was 38 weeks pregnant we moved into our home which needs a lot doing to it! Still going and will be for a while! Great tips and can definitely relate to the screw fix and Pinterest visits!!

    Keep smiling! Love your posts!

    Xx

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  4. Am also in the dickhead/reno-conception club. Apparently being surrounded by debris, dust and destruction makes you want to breed (a coroner I interviewed told me). Anywho, we’re neck-deep on our next one (having grown out of flat due to aforementioned reno baby) and really needed to read this. It’s going to be worth it (repeat every 45 seconds). X

    Like

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