Renovating Your Home: This Much I Know

When we viewed the house we now live in – I shall call it Oakroyd, for that is its name – it was 2011 and I was heavily pregnant and toting a toddler who was determinedly inept at the art of potty training. I’d taken approximately three steps into the house when I’d made the decision we were buying it. By step five, I’d decided that we would also be knocking down some walls as soon as humanly possible. Thankfully, the stars aligned and I had the baby, we got the house, I got an architect round, plans were drawn up, I got some builders to quote…. and that was the end of the fairytale, as my dream of sledgehammering the interior of the house was going to cost a bomb. We were all out of bombs.

The house that stole my heart

We knew we wanted to live here for a long time, and I knew I wanted to wait until we could afford to make the house exactly the way I wanted it, with minimal compromise, before we did any major work. A mere seven years later, and we were ready to start with the sledgehammers.
The plan revolved around taking out a huge, load bearing, chimney breast wall, from the foundations to the roof, which would give us a large kitchen/dining/living space downstairs, and reconfigure the upstairs to improve the space in the two girls’ bedrooms, and enlarge the family bathroom. We were also knocking down the utility room next to the kitchen, and rebuilding it from scratch. Easy! This all affected the left hand side of the house, leaving the smaller, right side for us to live in throughout the work.

This is what I learned:

  1. Think carefully about your builder. I went with my gut, the place from which all good decisions emanate, and chose the one who was easy going, smiley and who didn’t flinch or start pointing out problems when I talked through my plans. My gut did well. Joe ran the full shebang, project managing, co-ordinating and supplying all the necessary trades. It’s probably cheaper if you project manage the build yourself, get separate quotes from each trade, and organise the timetable, but it was worth every penny to me to not have to do this.

    You spend more time with your building team than your nearest and dearest during a renovation project, especially if you work at home throughout, like I did. The happy conclusion is that I really liked everyone on the team, without exception. They were fun to be around, cheerful, and had a can-do attitude. I still liked them, and was prepared to make them tea AND offer them a biscuit, at the end of the project.
  1. I knew it would be hard living on-site throughout the project. Everyone told me it would be, but I consider myself made of tough stuff (I’m from the North East, it’s in my DNA) and I was confident I’d be absolutely fine. And for the first four months, I was. I’d wanted to have this work done for so long, I was excited, it was summer, the fact there were walls missing from the house was a bit of fun, it was going to take three months (insert Fleabag-esque stare to camera), all was well. By month five, it was November, it was cold and constantly raining, I had absolute decision fatigue, I hadn’t been on my own in the house for months, I was exhausted to my very bones, everything was constantly filthy and I was completely over it. Is it the worst thing I’ve ever gone through? Hell no! Is it hard? Yes. It is hard. If you can afford to move out during the build, then grab that opportunity with both hands.
  1. Decisions. There are many to be made. I’m the one that took charge of this in our house, being, shall we say, a details person (or control freak, if you insist). The upside of this is there were no arguments. The downside is that it was all on me, from the positioning of internal walls to which colour screws to use in the door handles. Life was one big Google search. A lot of decisions need to be made way earlier than you think they do too, the first fix happens relatively quickly after the sledgehammer stage, so you need to know exactly where you want your sockets, switches and snazzy shower nook whilst you’re standing amidst the rubble.
“So where are you having your sockets, love?”
  1. Budget. It’s a cliché to say projects generally come in over budget, but clichés become clichés because they’re oft-repeated. And they’re oft-repeated because they’re true. Off the top of my head, we ended up forking out for unforeseen work to the foundations of the house, screeding beneath our under floor heating, plastering of various extra bits of wall and ceiling, and blocking up windows. In some cases, I’d absolutely presumed it was included in the initial quote, but it hadn’t been. In the “living” end of the kitchen, there was revolting textured wallpaper, which I’d assumed would be stripped and the (crumbling, knackered) walls replastered, along with all the kitchen walls. The builders had assumed they’d be somehow blending the two together. No, me neither. In retrospect, at the quote stage, I should have made an enormous, comprehensive list of everything I needed the quote to cover, however obvious it seemed. Surprises will always crop up, so have a reserve within your budget, but I made a mistake in assuming the builders would be on the same page as me about everything.
  1. You soon find yourself down with the building lingo, and you’ll be casually dropping references to “OSB” and “dot and dab”, and jauntily calling radiators “rads” before you know it.
  1. The highs are high and the lows are low. The lows included, but were not limited to;
  • my 7 year old daughter sleeping on a mattress on our bedroom floor for seven long months (she’s not a sleep loving, order-obeying child at the best of times);
  • cooking in a microwave/combi oven and on a camping hob for months;
PING! Dinner’s ready!
  • everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, including my nasal cavity) being constantly covered in a thick layer of dust;
  • washing up in the bath, and the subsequent finding of stray bits of pasta, or perhaps a lone pea, in the plughole when running a relaxing bath to remove the aforementioned layer of dust; and
  • memorably, the day I popped downstairs to find four terrified looking men trying to swill out a small lake from my kitchen, which had had a new and beautiful parquet floor installed the day before. Someone had managed to hammer a hole in my new underfloor heating pipes. No-one was accepting blame. I was so tired by this stage, I barely batted an eyelid, and it all got sorted out.
  1. All of that said, there were so many highs!
  • The day the wall between the kitchen/dining room came down and I saw the size of the space we were going to have, for the first time.
  • The day we said goodbye to the old, obsolete, temperamental, Aga-style range that we’d lived with since we bought the house. Then we got a normal boiler and a normal oven/hob, like normal people and lived happily ever after;
The day my nemesis, the crap, pretend Aga, was removed. The builders really enjoyed removing an enormous, heavy hunk of metal during a heatwave, as you can see from Joe’s eyes, here. It took six of them.
  • The day the Crittall-style doors were installed in the kitchen and the space was flooded with light after being boarded up and resembling a dank cave for months;
The dank cave….
Darkness begone!
  • The kitchen going in. So much joy! And;
  • Most importantly, every day brought progress and brought me a little bit closer to the finished house. A mantra I repeated daily, sometimes through gritted teeth.
  1. Every trade thinks they are the most important of the entire project. It is important to emphatically agree with each and every one of them about this, out of earshot of the others.
  1. A pneumatic drill sounds surprisingly like my youngest daughter having a tantrum. I lost count of the amount of times I hollered “Polly, what’s wrong?” to a confused bloke with a power tool downstairs.
  1. Tea and biscuits. Buy in catering size and distribute often to the whole build team. They never say no, and there are very few stumbling blocks that can’t be overcome with a cup of strong tea, a Hob-nob and a strokey-chin discussion.

Would I do it again? Not in a hurry, but yes. I can see the fear in my husband’s eyes as he reads this but, honestly, moulding a house into something that works perfectly for you is a wonderful thing. This too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass.

53 Comments

  1. Julia
    10 January 2021 / 7:48 am

    Having just lived through building work and a new kitchen installation I can relate – the caption ‘So where do you want your sockets, love?’ – pure black comedy, house renovation stress, gold! Good luck with your blog xxx

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:12 pm

      Thank you so much Julia! When you look back you wonder how you got through it 🙂 xx

  2. Tracey Grancevola
    10 January 2021 / 7:49 am

    Love it Sandra! My husband is a builder, and loved it too x

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:13 pm

      Oh good! I expect tea-fuelled, strokey chin meetings are a big part of his life! Thanks so much for reading, it’s much appreciated x

  3. 10 January 2021 / 7:57 am

    Very handy/ scary as we put in planning for our extension!

    Il picking your brain for your builders number when we get approved I think! Nothing better than a recommendation!

    Looking forward to next Sunday’s post already!!

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:14 pm

      Oh that’s very exciting Emily! Very happy to share Joe’s details, he gets booked up way ahead, so get in as early as you can! Thanks so much for reading x

  4. Trish deaville
    10 January 2021 / 8:18 am

    Enjoyable informative Sunday morning reading.

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:15 pm

      I’m so pleased you enjoyed it, thanks for taking the time 🙂

  5. Rachael Fletcher
    10 January 2021 / 8:31 am

    Great post Sandra! We’ve just bought our Victorian house and are in the early stages of getting our renovation started, it’s so amazing to read your advice and recommendations loved it!

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:15 pm

      I’m so glad it was of some use! Thanks so much for reading, and good luck with your project!

  6. Rachel
    10 January 2021 / 9:00 am

    Loved this! We are at the beginning of this and already I recognise so much… off to buy catering pack of hobnobs now!

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:16 pm

      Hahaha, don’t forget to keep a stash just for you! Thanks for reading 🙂

  7. Natalie
    10 January 2021 / 9:08 am

    Brilliant! Thanks for sharing! Your home is incredible….. We are just finalising our brief for the architect for our house in the Cotswolds after leaving London in 2019 – we have EVERYTHING to do. We bought the house for its POTENTIAL;) I can’t wait to get to the good interiors stuff but there is so much to do – none of the house is even insulated and so it’s like living in an ice box.

    And I have a Polly too 🙂 xx

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:19 pm

      Thanks so much for reading! I love the Cotswolds, that sounds like a brilliant project! There’s still quite a bit of basic stuff to do here, like replace all the windows, but I opted for the good interiors stuff instead, so I am often in 3 jumpers :). Good luck with it and thanks so much for reading (say hi to Polly!) xx

  8. Nikki Crowhurst
    10 January 2021 / 9:11 am

    If I could write brilliantly like this ( which I can’t! ) this is exactly what I would say about my experience of renovating our home. Loved reading this and the memories it brought back.

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:20 pm

      Thank you so much for such a lovely comment! It’s good to be out of the other side, isn’t it? x

  9. Nikki
    10 January 2021 / 9:21 am

    You know someone is in the trade or has done a reno when they know what a rad is!

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:21 pm

      I am a bit baffled as to why it’s quite so necessary to shorten radiator, but it makes you sound profesh ;). Thanks for reading Nikki 🙂 x

  10. Rachel
    10 January 2021 / 9:28 am

    Love this and about to embark on our own, albeit smaller, project. I work from home, am running with the project and the design led partner in our marriage so very much in your shoes. We still manage to have the arguments though, sigh! Will be interesting to see the comparisons. I am going into it eyes wide open!!! Thank you. I love following you on insta so your blog should be a dream. So glad you decided to do this. X

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:22 pm

      I should clarify, there were still arguments, always about me spending too much money! Thank you so much for following along and reading the blog, I really appreciate it. Good luck with the project! 🙂 x

  11. Hazel McGinnes
    10 January 2021 / 9:30 am

    Great blog and took me right back to the realities of getting our work done. I found the whole experience a bit like childbirth, totally worth it in the end albeit significantly longer.

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:23 pm

      Yes! Just like childbirth! You wonder how you got through it, then suddenly start thinking about another…. Thanks so much for reading 🙂

  12. 10 January 2021 / 10:01 am

    Ahh that was a great read! That really took me back to when we had our build done Sandra! Everything you said! ‘Dave the Builder’ as we still refer to him as if it’s his actual full name, is still a friend of ours and the first person we go to with a problem lol (not marital one lol, but he’s even come and got my Christmas tree out of the loft for me and posted a letter on his way out ha ha) – I’d do it again in a shot! *Forgets all the shit bits after 11 years

    Your house is beautiful lovely Sandra! XX

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:24 pm

      Eeeeh Donna, you do make me laugh! I am now annoyed with Joe the Builder for not coming and getting my Christmas decs out for me! Thanks for reading, lovely woman xx

  13. Laurie
    10 January 2021 / 10:12 am

    This is wonderful. Looking forward to next Sunday’s post already.

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:25 pm

      Thanks for reading, Laurie! Now I just need to work out how to use this new fangled blog without help!

  14. 10 January 2021 / 11:33 am

    Great commentary Sandra, and well done for living thru the reno

    • 10 January 2021 / 3:25 pm

      Thanks so much for reading Inge xx

  15. Lesley Hancock
    10 January 2021 / 3:14 pm

    Wonderful Sandra xxxxx

  16. Lesley Hancock
    10 January 2021 / 3:14 pm

    I love this ……Wonderful Sandra xxxxx

  17. Claire
    10 January 2021 / 4:26 pm

    Oh, you’re off to a flying start! Loved this and can’t wait to see what you’ve got lined up for future blogs. Required Sunday reading from now on. And looking forward to Friday. Love a frippery.

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:56 pm

      Yay, I’m excited to pull the shopping posts together (but worried I’ll just end up spending a fortune!)

  18. Karen
    10 January 2021 / 4:34 pm

    Really enjoying your blog so far and hope you’ll keep writing! If you’re looking for topics, I’d love to know more about your thoughts on paint and wallpaper.

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:56 pm

      Thanks so much for reading! And I’ll note those down, all topic suggestions gratefully received! I’m planning to post every Sunday, if I can keep it up! 🙂

  19. 10 January 2021 / 5:43 pm

    What a great read & congratulations on entering the world of blogging ??
    This brought back many memories from way back when we renovated our money pit/home from 2 rental flats into a house again, with a 2 year old in tow. Not glamorous at all, would test the patience of a saint, but so worth it after it’s all ended & the memories fade. Your kitchen is amazing & your vision superb! Looking forward to the next blog ??

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:53 pm

      Thanks so much for reading Karen! I take my hat off to anyone renovating with a toddler, that must have been HARD. I’m feeling slightly faint just thinking about it! I suppose one advantage of not being able to afford to do it when we first moved in was that the girls were 7 and 10 by the time we got round to it x

  20. Rachel
    10 January 2021 / 9:16 pm

    You forgot about the 2 kilos of sugar for the trades! And the fact that a happy tradesman is a complete oxymoron! Can’t wait to tune in for the next blog x

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:44 pm

      That’s spot on, how could I forget the sugar?! Literally none of them took it without it! Thanks so much for reading 🙂 x

  21. Kemi
    10 January 2021 / 10:55 pm

    Love the run down – so funny and true b look forward to reading more of your posts

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:43 pm

      Thanks so much for reading, Kemi 🙂 x

  22. Victoria
    10 January 2021 / 11:41 pm

    A brilliantly amusing and candid account of what we are currently going through with home schooling and a global pandemic thrown in for good measure. Only 3 days in. 16 weeks to go! Good luck with your blog x

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:42 pm

      Thanks so much for reading Victoria! And may the next 16 weeks fly by! x

  23. Suzanne
    11 January 2021 / 7:17 am

    Really enjoyed this, and your comment about radiator/rad made me laugh out loud – you are describing me!! My shopping lists now tend to include things like universal bonding compound rather than glittery nice things. Glad to say that 10 months in to our own building works we’re starting to see the light and my big take-home lesson is that renovation and pandemic are 2 words you don’t want to see in the same sentence ?

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:42 pm

      You feel all professional when you’re pointing out where your “rads” need to be, don’t you?! I really feel for you being in the middle of everything in the pandemic – I thank my lucky stars we were done by the end of 2019. Hope the rest is smooth sailing 🙂

  24. Wendy Leat
    11 January 2021 / 12:20 pm

    Loved it Sandra… especially the references to becoming fluent in ‘builder speak’ … when you live through several renovations it becomes dinner table talk! Sometimes hubby says “now the same again in English please” ha ha ha!!

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:30 pm

      Haha, that’s what felt like saying to the builders sometimes, they forget we’re not all fluent in plumbing etc! Thanks so much for reading, Wendy x

  25. Andrea
    11 January 2021 / 3:24 pm

    Oh honestly Sandra I could relate to so so much of this! On the builder front I totally agree… choose someone you can live with… because you will be! I still see and speak to our builder! Like you the first few months were soooo easy, exciting and then… so hard! However, we were so lucky it was just us… no kids so I really had to tell myself to get a grip! My husband was also not involved in the decision making which, as you said, on the one hand is wonderful but by the end I found I had total decision fatigue and interestingly to some extent, this has continued to be the case nearly 3 years on…I have really struggled with my last bathroom!

    I really enjoyed looking at your photos and what a wonderful space you created in your kitchen!

    • 11 January 2021 / 8:29 pm

      There’s a tipping point, isn’t there, where it stops being a novelty and then makes you want to cry! Thanks so much for taking the time to read, Andrea 🙂 x

  26. Kim
    13 January 2021 / 6:45 am

    Loved reading this so much. We bought our house in 2015 and I have been planning an addition since then! We managed to renovate the kitchen, which was horrible. Just the kitchen. No walls even being removed. So I’m not sure why I’m still like:

    Woo who! Can’t wait five more years to add the addition!
    .??

    But I’m like you: I’ll bleed for pretty.

    Ps. Your house is my favourite. It’s amazing from the outside. I think that’s the first time I’ve seen it!!!

    • 14 January 2021 / 10:26 pm

      Thank you so much for reading, Kimberley! Hang on in there, it’ll all be worth it 🙂 x

  27. 16 January 2021 / 12:14 am

    This has taken me right back to the house we lived in before this one when we had a big extension built across the entire back of our then house.

    I remember it was a late autumn night when we had to have a thick mat type covering against one of the windows that had had problems that day. Meaning no window for one night!!! My husband literally stayed on guard duty all night! We were watching tv and had to mute because we literally couldn’t believe how much we could hear everything that was going on in the garden and people walking by about 4 houses away!

    Now we live in a Victorian semi and doing similar but different for the last 5 years … which we love but a money pit!!

    Sharon xo

    • 17 January 2021 / 4:19 pm

      Oh my goodness, your poor husband! And I hear ya re the money pit – it feels like one thing after another most of the time, but I do love it 🙂 x

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