Stripping Wallpaper

I bought a wallpaper steamer. I bought scrapers and rubble bags and dust sheets. I naively assumed the wallpaper would just leap off the wall. Ha! Not likely. The shiny paint when it gets hot from the steam is like stringy cheese, or mutant’s slime depending on the colour of paint.

It stretched out, clinging to that sodding wall as if it was being ripped from its mothers arms. And then underneath all this was the wood chip paper that as my daughter said, ‘looks like the old fashioned B&B’s we’ve stayed in on the Isle of Man’ (harsh – but fair) which also had no interest in leaving the wall – and then under that was the 70’s floral with a light foam surface – and then plasterboard. Not sealed, just straight onto the plasterboard. So, impossible to remove with out damaging. Waaaww. It was such hot work that I couldn’t actually see out of my glasses, they kept steaming up! And them the steamer would overheat. Below is about two days work – my fingernails were more effective than the scraper! I gave up.

Oh my god, now I understand why decorators charge what they do.

A few days later when the wardrobes were being removed – yes, they are all gone, *do a little dance* – I discovered that underneath the wallpaper in my room (a very interesting collection of 80’s textured plaster effect in orange and a floral sprig with a blue background – and the lovely feature wall of chocolate and silver blooms) was grey lime plaster. Isn’t it sad when something as mundane as grey plaster is exciting? I got excited. I started pulling off that paper and it just fell into my arms. It was meant to be.

I got the steamer out again but discovered that a wet sponge and patience was actually more effective – and much less hot! I developed a technique: slide the scraper under the top layer of paper, removing the shiny paint, strip that off, wet the area exposed. Move to another spot and do the same thing, go back the first place and wet the area down again then, attack! Lo and behold it came off cleanly and easily! I am now completely hooked. A friend of mine said he loved stripping wallpaper, which I thought was a bonkers thing to say. Who could ever love something like this? But oh my, when you get good results, it’s fantastic!

And exposing that plaster has completely changed how I’m planning on decorating my bedroom. I’m going to keep the plaster exposed. All it needs is filling, patching, sanding and sealing. Hello, rough luxe! Alright, you might just have to bear with me on this.

And, you will have noticed that there is a big patch of pink plaster where the fireplace was taken out, so there is a bit a remedial painting to do.

I actually do have decorators on site at the moment. They’re doing the top rooms – including the study (which has more wood chip paper covered with shiny paint) and a beeoootiful mango-custard coloured floor! My word, were these people colour blind?? Who ever would look at the colour and say ‘it’s perfect’? but, again that has changed the way I’m going to decorate that room. I’ll paint the floor and put one of the rugs I currently have up there.

So, already I’m making changes that respond directly to what the house is giving up.

And here is the first bedroom – of the wood chip over 70’s floral foam topped paper – lined and ready for decorating.

The front bedroom is ready too, so the decorators will finish these two rooms this week and then I’ll get the electrician back to do the second fix.

This is the point that you realise it is worth spending the money on getting someone to do the lining for you (and in this case the stripping too.) Would I have persevered if I’d been living in the house already? Given that this was my first experience of stripping wallpaper in a house that has only had surface decorating done in the last (at least) 20 years, probably not. I was too worried about damaging the plasterboard and thus making the whole thing much more difficult to sort out. It’s taken three decorators three days to do this – (8am-4pm.) I imagine that it would have taken me a week to do each room and I can’t hang wallpaper, so I’d still have had to get someone in to do it. The mess is quite fantastic, currently we’ve removed about ten rubble bags of paper waste from these three rooms alone. I’ve also cleared four from my room, so if I’d been living in the house, this level of refurbishment would have been very invasive. Obviously if you move into a property as soon as your purchase completes, this is something you have no choice about, but these are the kinds of things that sour a house move pretty quickly and it really pays to consider what level of refurbishment you think you can cope with. This is just re-decorating and it’s been hard work. If you hate disruption, maybe a house that needs work done to it isn’t for you.

Next, I need to contact the carpet fitter…

Let’s Start at the Top

After I got the keys, the first couple of visits to the house in Ramsgate were about taking lots of measurements and coming to grips with the fact that it wasn’t quite as I remembered it at the rear of the house…

While I was waiting for the purchase to complete I planned all kinds of projects that would turn the house into a gem. I really love stripped plaster and exposed brick, I’d want some of those. I love painted floors, I’d want some of those. I love bold wallpapers and I have a thing for vintage lighting, I’d want some of those too – and I got excited about having all my things out of storage again; my big dining table and church chairs, my chandeliers and armoire, a wicker sofa and gardening tools. Oh, I had a lovely time spending money that wasn’t going to stretch quite far enough to do everything on the list… So the reality of that first visit shattered a few of my lovely dreams.

This is the breakfast room (and will be my studio) and immediately to the right is the kitchen, the weak spot of the entire building – it’s dark and has no connection to the garden – but I’m not all that bothered because the first time I saw the place I knew that I would want to do a kitchen extension to improve this. I had thought that as a temporary measure I could slightly reconfigure, move the sink and put in french doors, but I hadn’t even spotted that the ground and floor levels don’t line up. That’s what happens when you view a house in the dead of winter and it’s too cold to spend any real time outside poking into the positions of windows.

Inside, the kitchen window is 900mm above the floor, outside the kitchen window is 400mm above the ground. Naturally this is causing issues with damp – which would obviously be solved by doing the extension – but there will be a lot of soil to move and groundworks are expensive; this is not something that can be done as a temporary measure.

Now you can see my dilemma. This area at the rear of the kitchen is really unlovely – and when I first viewed that didn’t concern me at all – but if you’d asked me a few weeks later what the rear of the house looked like, I’d have said it was the original brick. Clearly it’s not, but I didn’t even notice – and I’m used to looking at buildings with a critical eye. And what about that garden gnome?? Is he a keeper?? They left so much junk behind.

So, how best to spend the money that I do have right now? I’ve decided I’m starting at the top and working my way down. With both children abroad from October I realised that if they moved to a house that had had nothing done to it, they’d go away and not even know what their bedrooms looked like. That pulled me up quickly, they wouldn’t even know what they were coming home to – because the rooms are not staying as they are now.

The children’s bedrooms are at the top of the house, they’ll have their own study (the fourth bedroom) which will have a daybed for friends to use when they stay over. All of these rooms came to us with fitted wardrobes that I was just never going to keep, never ever! So, they have been dismantled and will be discarded. I tried listing them online for sale – no takers. I tried offering them to a charity, they didn’t want them either. Take note, if you are buying flat pack furniture, no-one will want them when you no longer want them. There is no resale value and you will have to pay to get them removed. Yay, me. Yes, I could pay the council to remove them, but I’m not able to get them out of the house on the prescribed day by myself, so this is not an option either.

Next will be the bathrooms and my bedroom. The bathrooms are a total reconfigure as they’ve carved up the rear bedroom on the first floor to create an ensuite and family bathroom. The line to the far left of the shot is the wall they’ve added to create the ensuite, the bathroom is L-shaped. It’s badly thought out and awkward, so this will be an invasive process but not completely mad as the pipework is all in place. What they haven’t done is put in an extractor fan in the family bathroom. This is now a regulation for any bathroom refurb, so there will be re-wiring to do and in the course of this whole process each floor will be re-wired and linked when we get to the bottom of the house and do the kitchen extension.

Just in case you’re now thinking I’m completely crazed and have taken on a wreck, there are plenty of areas in the house that are simply decorative updates. I’m not keen on shiny paint on walls, but the stairs, landings, front room and my bedroom only need a refresh and I will likely tackle them myself. I have light fittings for all of them already and with those small changes this house will take on a new identity.

In fact, I’ve already started… in my room. More on that another time.

Finding my Home

I made the decision a few years back that when the children finished school I was going to head to the coast. I wasn’t going to pine for the days when my children were small and school was the focus, no if they could be off having adventures, then so could I!

But then I got stuck, which part of the actual coastline did I mean? I’d looked at properties in Rye and if you’ve followed the blog for a while you’ll know I came very close to buying there. In the last year the property market down in that part of East Sussex has really stalled and I got nervous first that there was very little I liked (and I would be settling for whatever I could get) and second that I would find it hard to sell on when I was ready to move. And what if I didn’t actually like living there? Then what?

So I started looking in Suffolk; I have family there, but property was moving so fast in that area that I never even got to view any of the properties I earmarked. And then I thought about Essex because I also have friends there – but my heart wasn’t really in that search and then someone suggested Kent, by which point my search area was so diverse that I couldn’t compare the specific properties objectively. Confused of Dulwich, please step up!

The only way forward was a very pragmatic process of defining what criteria I wanted for my new home. It had to be in a town – not a village – with beach access walking distance from the house. It had to have good transport links to London; nowhere further than 60-90 minutes from the centre of town. It had to have three or more bedrooms, it had to be spacious enough in the communal areas that I could have guests regularly so that the teenagers could arrive with a crowd and not cause a problem. It had to have outdoor space for the dog and I wanted it to be pretty. It had to have reasonable street parking and be walking distance to the train station. It had to be sound – no complete wrecks, I just didn’t have the budget for that – and in good enough decorative order that I could move in without doing works immediately. (This last one was flexible but what I really didn’t want was a property that needed to be modernised; they’re as costly as wrecks.)

Then I started to refine what that might mean for locations and Rye, my old favourite was right on the boundary distance wise. Suffolk was completely out because the coast is on a branch line from Ipswich and the areas I liked were driving distance from train stations. The Essex coast is the same. Brighton of course, is the most obvious choice because it’s only an hour by train, but I’ve never been that interested in living in Brighton, it’s a bit too hen and stag nights for me. So that was when Kent raised its head and lo and behold the high speed links to France travel right through Kent (Rye is accessed by the same line,) which suddenly made this part of the world more accessible and late last year I went on a recce to Ramsgate.

And what did I find?? A very nice little town, a bit scruffy but with a handful of lovely restaurants, cafes and shops, a Royal harbour that was the departure point of the Little Ships operation to Dunkirk in WWII, sandy beaches hugging the cliff face on which the town is built, very lovely housing stock and lots and lots of building work going on. Hmmm, for an interior designer that was interesting…

Then I looked on internet property listings and found that the prices in Ramsgate were within my budget – and there were some pretty houses for sale. I went down to stay for a weekend.

I had a really nice time.

I went back and viewed two houses. I had an offer accepted on the one I fell for and was so excited! But then it transpired that there were no consents for building works and the house was listed. It’s a criminal offence to alter a listed building without consent… So after a few weeks of watching the situation unravel and having to consider the possibility of being fined because of the sellers negligence, I pulled out.

So the search began again and this time, it all went through. I’m now the proud owner of a four bedroom house in Ramsgate with a big garden and – bonus – it’s not a listed building! Naturally I want to do work to it and as we’re not moving down for another six weeks I’m hoping to get a couple of rooms redecorated before the removal vans pull up outside.