A Quick Cloakroom Update

The bathrooms and cloakrooms in this house clearly never got the love they should have done. Another small area that I haven’t photographed is the lower ground floor cloakroom. It didn’t even have a sink! I was shown the ‘room’ when I viewed the property but it was used for storage, so the fact that there was no sink wasn’t obvious until I got the keys. I assumed they’d taken it with them, bizarre – but if people can take light fittings and fridges, why not sinks? When my solicitor asked them to provide a replacement, they said that it had always been like that! So, no pictures of that room and for several months it has been the receptacle of step ladders and paint tins, but no more!

I bought a wall hung vanity and hand basin online and a tap to go with them for the princely sum of £93 and yesterday it was connected up! I wonder how long it’s been since that room was plumbed? If it’s never had a sink, then this means it’s the first time it’s actually been a proper cloakroom. In a house that is 152 years old (or thereabouts) it’s quite funny to think this is a first! I’m chuffed.

As with my ensuite this is essentially a temporary measure – but this will be in place for much longer as I won’t be doing the lower ground extension for another couple of years. It will be a complete reconfiguration involving both the kitchen and my studio, so I’m not able to take that on yet. I don’t have the funds right now and I’m also studying so my workspace is doing a double duty.
Because I do spend a lot of time at my desk, I want to enjoy being in the space – even if it’s a short term fix – so the walls in the kitchen and dining area are being stripped and this cloakroom update is a part of that process – getting things the way I want for right now.

Let’s be honest, I did not want to spend any money on it at all! But I didn’t have a mirror I could move from somewhere else in the house and with no sink or tap, there were things that had to be considered, so the online research was all about size, cost and style – the least offensive, the best price and the right size for a room that is 610mm x 1650mm. The lighting is harsh and as it is off the utility area, it isn’t what you’d call welcoming, but it is close to the kitchen and my desk – and the closest WC to the garden – so I wanted it to be functional. Another thing, because the pipework was capped off with gaffer tape, there were a few nasty niffs from that area which I didn’t care for! So, spending even a tiny amount to get rid of stench had to be considered a good thing.

The paint colours went through several incarnations. I had some pink that I’d bought for a different property and then *chickened out* decided not to use, so that was first put on the walls, I mean I had 2.5 litres. But, I didn’t like it here either, I think this colour just needs more natural light and both areas I’d tried to use it were lacking in that. Then in the process of finding a vanity I found one that was supposed to be black (of course it isn’t, it’s a dark wenge effect) so decided to embrace the idea of high contrast and realised I had, as always, several dozen tester posts in various off whites and earth tones. The tongue and grove paneling became an off black and the wenge effect vanity and oak mirror add a little warmth to the deep tone. I got out the spirit level and measured a random grid on the walls and then just brushed each patch on in a different colour. The lines aren’t completely straight but nothing in this house is, so I decided to embrace that too.

What I’ve ended up with is a cloakroom with character, that I managed to pull together for about £150. It won’t look anything like this when the reconfiguration is done, but spending a small amount to make a space functional over the next two years or so, is money that has improved an area that wasn’t usable before. I could have ignored it completely but the idea of nasty smells just wafting out from time to time didn’t thrill me either. On balance it’s one small improvement that actually pleases me a lot.

Temporary Measures

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve never shown pictures of the bathroom or ensuite. There is a good reason for that, they’re both hideous. And this isn’t just a matter of taste, it’s much more to do with the fact that whoever did the work in the first place was quite happy to go for the cheapest method possible, so the ensuite is carved out of the bathroom – which would have been a really rather lovely bedroom at some point in the building’s history. But now that all the pipework is in that part of the house, there’s really no point in me relocating the bathroom anywhere else, so I am left with two rooms that are ugly and vulnerable – both have issues with leaks because the work has been done so poorly – (which doesn’t show in a building survey because a new mastic run makes it look like it’s in good repair) until such a time as the builder can put me on his schedule. It looks like February… but holding my breath would be a mistake…

The textured plaster effect is actually wallpaper, so it’s coming away at the joins of the strips and in the corners. It doesn’t matter what anyone tells you, the high steam levels in a bathroom will make wallpaper come away from the walls. I mean, my old friend the wallpaper steamer uses exactly that method to encourage wallpaper to part company with the wall, so even modern ready-mixed wallpaper paste will eventually succumb to the invasive nature of steam. See what I mean about the cheapest method of updating? This was done so they didn’t have to do a skim of plaster to the walls. You’ve probably guessed by now that I won’t be keeping this wallpaper…

I won’t be keeping that bathroom suite either. The loo cistern has a big crack across the top and the hand basin is too deep for the plans I’ve drawn up for the new ensuite (hoorah.) And now you can see the full extend of the mosaic tiles. They are the cause of the leaks in this shower. Whoever did the tiling has stretched the mesh backing to the mosaics, which come in squares of about 300mm. The adhesive can’t grip onto something that is stretched because the tension of the mesh won’t bond and this has made the grout lines crack…

Don’t get me wrong, I like mosaics. I love the Mediterranean but loving the Med is no excuse for slapping every wall with textured effects because guess what? All it really is is a cover up for laziness. Beware. Mosaic tiles are tricky to install, if the grout lines aren’t straight, this is how you can tell that the adhesive bond is likely to be substandard and there will be issues where water penetration is concerned. You will also have quite a job to make good walls that have been covered by this type of textured wallpaper – it is used as a disguise. In this case though, I knew I would be changing the bathrooms as soon as I could, so I took that on board…

To get me to that point I decided that as shiny paint is my pet hate, (and even worse, shiny Magnolia paint) it had to go. So enter the ‘what colour will make fake Mediterranean mosaic tiles look less fake?’ dilemma. I considered greens and browns that would tone with those in the tiles and then came unstuck because my bedroom is blues and greys. I considered various blues and found that they changed colour in the lighting so much that I really didn’t like them in situ. I really don’t like yellows… not that keen on terracotta in this space either… Step forward good old navy blue, or Stiffkey Blue by Farrow and Ball to be precise.

And then I had the ‘exciting’ idea of painting the tiles in a metallic paint to disguise them. Disguising the disguise, hmmm, good thing this is temporary. I settled on a bronze colour and then went off to get my preparation layers. The tiles need to be primed.

I looked at various options and felt my brain glazing over. This is temporary, how much prep did I really want to do? In a nutshell, the shiny surface of tiles requires preparation for paint to adhere successfully. There are different formulations, either oil based or water based will work, but in a bathroom I was best off using an oil based primer. Most primers are coloured and generally have to be brushed on. I didn’t want brush marks, so I selected a spray primer that was colourless and just about asphyxiated myself applying it. Blimey o’riley, I had to go off and have a little sit down.

Then I cut a sponge into a square much the same size as the tiles and started by sponging the bronze onto the mirror frame. The grout lines on this were so wide that I did get quite a bit of paint on the grout, oh boo! Repairs were done with an off white eggshell paint, so again I was disguising the disguise, something that I wasn’t all that happy with.

Initially I was thinking I would paint the tiles in the shower enclosure as well, but having done the frame and splash backs, I’m not so sure now. And this area is constantly wet, so I really don’t know how long the paint will adhere. I think I’ll live with it a few weeks and see what I think. Right now, I’m mildly pleased with the results, not sure if that’s quite enough to want to do more.

The moral of the story is when someone tells you not to bother painting the tiles because you won’t like the effect – and if that someone is a professional decorator who knows you well – they’re probably right!

A word on paint coverage: the decorators I’ve worked with over the years have often mentioned that they don’t like working with Farrow and Ball paints because they’re a thin consistency. What that means is you can build up layers which is fine if you want a chalky finish, but not fine if you need to touch up the paintwork or if you’re painting over a dramatically different colour. To get around that it is very common for decorators to get colours mixed into trade paint bases – because they know the performance will be better and more reliable. Having moved recently I don’t have a decorators merchants around the corner the way I used to so on this occasion I did buy the Farrow and Ball paint from the shelf. And guess what, it is thin and it doesn’t cover well. Going from magnolia to dark blue was three coats. No wonder decorators don’t like it, when time equals money having to do three coats is another half day or more on the same job. Sorry Farrow and Ball, much as I love the colour, I was disappointed with the coverage.

Advice to Property Sellers

Finally, finally after thirteen months, I’m a property owner again. For those of you who don’t know, the one I now own was property number four and it seems appropriate for me to offer some insight into why this has been such a difficult process. Considering the property press is quick to say it’s a buyers market, why exactly did I have such a hard time getting back on the property ladder?

Purely from my perspective, I think it’s to do with the fact that the media seems to focus on the buyer. It’s the buyer who has to have finance in place, the buyer who has to arrange for a survey – and any other reports that need to be done – the buyer who pays the stamp duty and who has the bargaining power of pulling out of the transaction if they’re unhappy. It’s the buyer, therefore who causes the problems. Or is it?

My finance was in place; I sold my house last June. I have a great surveyor in London who can turn his report around in five days, I have a great building contractor who comes to viewings with me to keep me focused and not let my heart pull the strings. I trust the advice of my solicitor and know that she acts in my best interests and then it all falls apart again. So where is the weak link?

Property Number One had two commercial units attached to the title and the vendors renegotiated the leases with the tenants during the time that the property was marketed for sale without consulting their solicitors.

Property Number Two had an incomplete lease lodged at the Land Registry (even though it was share of freehold) and the vendor wouldn’t take the responsibility to rectify it.

Property Number Three had a short lease which needed extending (and I agreed to do this as part of the purchase) but wouldn’t allow me to contact the freeholders or negotiate with them on my behalf unless I paid them a ‘consideration.’

Property Number Four was bought in shared ownership so the title was only 75% in their name and I was told when my offer was accepted that they were in the process of buying the final 25% so that I would own full title. The owners took five months to sort this out!

In every case the vendor wasn’t ready. Their paperwork hadn’t been run past a solicitor to check if there were any outstanding issues. They hadn’t considered the time that this would take nor even if this would hold up the sale. And this is all before the opposite side (the buyer) gets involved. Remember, this has to be done whoever you sell to, it can’t be bypassed – because solicitors are trained to look for irregularities. They’re risk averse, if they’re unhappy with something, they will tell you they think it’s unwise to proceed. The old caveat emptor (buyer beware) still holds true, so if you move forward against their advice, on your head be it. It pays to read everything in the solicitors report carefully because this tells you who the energy supplier is, who the local authority is, who the alarm is maintained by, who the tv service is supplied by, who your landlord is – if the property is leasehold. All the nuts and bolts in one big file; it’s the paper version of the property you are buying and it’s all information supplied by the seller.

As a seller the person you have most contact with in the early phase is the estate agent contracted to market your property. And of course you pay them a commission for this, so they are keen to demonstrate their skill. There’s often a lot of contact to keep you updated about viewings feedback, to keep your spirits up if progress is slow and to adjust expectations if the offers are not quite at the level you hoped for. But – and it’s a big but, their advice doesn’t form any part of the legal contract between you and the buyer. This is the role of the solicitors. The estate agent brokers the deal to act as the negotiator between seller and buyer and once an offer’s been accepted, they’re there to keep the lines of communication open. That’s it.

As a seller if you’ve told the estate agents anything about the property that you’re uncertain about; this is interesting to them but it isn’t directed at the right person because they can’t instruct any further action. The person you should be discussing this with is your solicitor. And as a general rule of thumb if anything was an issue when you purchased the property – and wasn’t resolved by your solicitor as part of the purchase – it will still be an issue when you sell. It won’t have sorted itself out while you get on with the business of living there – IT WILL STILL BE AN ISSUE WHEN YOU SELL.

Very often I’ve heard friends agonise over the buyers of their property and how they’re mucking them around; making so many demands and asking for all kinds of things to be included in the sale. There’s certainly room for good manners in this process, but for the most part when the finance is in place and the reports have all been read, there’s nothing much for a buyer to do but wait. If they wait too long, they get frustrated (and that’s when all the demands creep in; they feel they’re owed some special treatment for being patient.) Sellers have to ask themselves if they could have done anything to reduce this.

The estate agents have a part to play in this too. As I discovered when I collected the keys to my new flat, they hadn’t realised the owners had never sold a property before, so they really didn’t have any idea what was expected of them. This is the big divide – if you don’t know the paperwork needs to be ready for the solicitor before they can start the conveyancing – who is responsible?

In most cases to sell a property we have first to buy; it pays to remember the agony of trying to secure the property in the first place. In other words, remember what it feels like to be the buyer. Would you have liked the person you bought from to be more amenable? Perhaps the question sellers should be asking themselves is, ‘how can I help my buyer with this purchase?’ If you really want to sell – no, if you are committed to selling – you’ll need to do just that.

Another One Bites the Dust

This property – the third – was supposed to be the lucky one. It was supposed to be mine! And to be honest I really did want this one, but I didn’t get it. Why? It’s another long story.

When I first lived in London over twenty-five years ago I lived in a shared flat on the Fulham Road. There were 10 of us; it wasn’t exactly private. Or quiet. We shared everything and it was CHEAP, which made living in London affordable on a very low salary. It was also a fantastic flat in a fantastic location; you could hear the Household Cavalry trotting off from the stables to exercise in Hyde Park a couple of times a week.

I lasted there three months and then moved to leafy Putney… And it always stuck in my mind that if I had the chance to buy a property on the Fulham Road, I would go for it.

So after the warehouse disaster, I started looking in the areas I knew and this little, tired, gem of a flat on the Fulham Road just called my name. It hadn’t had anything done to it since the 90’s, it was just waiting to be taken in hand (by me) and given a new lease of life. So what was the catch? HA – you figured that out already, did you?

first floor flat

It needed its lease extended.

And that was going to cost. The agent mentioned this at the first viewing, so I did know I was going to have to pay for this and the agreed purchase price certainly accommodated the lease premium. I was happy to take that on, but things unraveled really quickly.

Within the first week of my offer being accepted I discovered that the sellers hadn’t had a leasehold survey done. What is this? Well, its jolly expensive is the first thing I should say. It’s a report done by a surveyor to set the value of the lease premium in relation to the value of the property and others of the same ‘type’ in the same area. Essentially the premium compensates the freeholder/landlord for loss of earnings (ground rent) but does not factor in things like the general condition of the building and certainly not the decorative order of the property. What we found was that the premium we’d been told was likely to be asked was a fabrication – though not a million miles from what was an accurate value – just more than I wanted to pay for a building that needs a fair bit of TLC – because the moment I became a leaseholder, I too would have a share of those costs.

With the advice of the surveyor and my solicitor I asked the sellers if they would consider extending the lease in their name – if I increased my purchase offer to cover the premium – so that it would be transferred to me as part of the sale. That way the whole process would be ‘friendly’, they already knew the freeholders and it would be a simple conversation between them to get an agreed price for the extension. Or so I thought. They would only agree to doing this if I paid them a consideration – which they would split with me if the premium was less than what was agreed between us. Hmm. And then I got a really weird call from the agent to tell me that they could get more for the flat with the lease extended, if they remarketed it. Hang on, I was buying it, it wasn’t being remarketed. Was it?

From that moment things got nasty. The sellers refused to talk to the freeholder on my behalf, they would only allow us to start the lease extension after exchange of contracts – so at the point I owned the property and deposits had changed hands – and they kept pushing for me to agree to their terms. I got twice weekly phone calls from the agent, to see ‘how I was getting on.’ One of them left me shaking. So after three weeks of this I couldn’t take it anymore and withdrew my offer.

That was nearly three weeks ago and more pieces of the puzzle have revealed themselves, but the bottom line is that the sellers wanted more money for the flat than the market was prepared to pay. The place had been for sale since March of 2016 and they hadn’t accepted any offers before mine. Somehow in the process of accepting my offer they decided they would recoup some extra funds from somewhere. But how to do it?? Aha. Inflate the lease premium. Thing is they hadn’t done their homework.

the palette for the updated interior

If they had initiated the leasehold survey and agreed the price with the freeholder in advance, they could have added their little bit extra and no-one would have known. I’d never have questioned it because it would have looked like they were organised sellers, paperwork in order and all ready to go. But because the agent kept making ‘out of nowhere’ comments, I knew something was up. Every time he tried to coerce me into accepting the sellers terms he would mention that they could get more if they remarketed it.

In the end they got what they wanted, but the market is pretty uncertain right now; maybe it’ll be another year before they actually have it off their hands. And have I found another place to buy?


Planning a Space

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to have your interior space work for you. Not only does it have to house all your belongings, it has to accommodate you, your family and visitors too and if you live in a period property the way it functions now will be very different to how it functioned when it was built.

A house I’m working on at the moment had a raft of alterations done to it about 16 years ago that modernised the property. The clients signed off on the plans and liked the work, but considering my brief, I’m not sure they were ever particularly happy with the function of the space afterwards. So it’s been an interesting task because what those improvements did has actually created problems that in rectifying, I’ve had to decide not to do anything with. I know, that sounds mad, but where steels have been put in, I’m leaving them; where windows have been fitted, I’m leaving them; where ceiling heights have been reduced, I’m leaving them and where soil stacks have been installed, I’m leaving them too.

Yes, I am actually planning on doing things to the house – in fact we’ve finished the first two phases and the final, most invasive scheme was kicked off at the end of January. The clients gave me the go-ahead to radically update the downstairs by putting back in a wall – a glazed wall – early in December. But more on that another time, the space just finished is a master bedroom suite and so far, it seems to be a success.

miranda bedroom

We started out with two adjacent rooms – the bedroom which was the full width of the house and overlooked the street and the ensuite which had been created by borrowing from and reconfiguring the bedroom behind it. The ensuite was also able to be accessed from the bedroom behind and I think when the family first moved in would have been a practical nursery for their new born son. But times have changed, the rear room is now a study and both parents have said how they wanted to have their room back – privacy was definitely a motivating factor in this redesign.

existing layout

At first I approached the layout in a very conventional way, left the ensuite where it was and just closed in the door to the rear bedroom/study, but the issues surrounding this were largely of storage and whichever way I looked at it, I couldn’t get enough wardrobe space by leaving it in the bedroom. It just didn’t feel very exciting, the bedroom would still be long and dominated by a wall of wardrobes. Yes, I do put together schemes that are simple and don’t involve a lot of building work – but they usually happen when the space is good to start with – and when the client wants a lot from a space, sometimes there is no choice but to spin it on its head.


That’s when I started to think about this annoying soil stack that had been installed from the upper floor and came down on the party wall through the master bedroom and the front entrance way! It wasn’t at all noticeable but it couldn’t be moved, so why not use it?? Why not spin the layout round and put the ensuite at the far end of the bedroom? That’d mean the old ensuite would become the dressing room and we could double the amount of wardrobe space, the mess would be out of the bedroom and the whole space would have a more intimate and enclosed feel to it.

new layout

I re-drew the space to see if it worked and it really did!

Usually there’s a point where all the thinking and the drawing comes to a natural conclusion – and I know I’ve got it right because I get all excited about it – I can see it in my mind. In this case, I wouldn’t have suggested putting in a new soil stack but because it was already there, I was able to take advantage of the location it was in – and in making that decision the whole scheme fit together like puzzle pieces.

creating the ensuite

creating the ensuite

creating the dressing room

creating the dressing room

Yes, it has created a smaller bedroom, but it is one that is focused solely on sleep and relaxation. It has a serenity to it; a sense of calmness. There used to be two entrances to the bedroom before, now there is only one. It’s become a destination instead of a corridor and each piece of furniture in there enhances that feeling of peace. The ensuite has that same sense of tranquility too – and this really is a small space. These are all issues to consider when you’re planning a bedroom suite. How much time do you really spend in your bedroom as an adult? In your own home, not that much! So the important function is to promote rest and allow you to start the new day refreshed. It’s worth considering the surrounding rooms if you want to get the space right, but most importantly, take advantage of what you already have. Don’t make something that can’t be moved a negative, instead make the things you can’t change a ‘feature’ or at the very least the pivot for changing the way you think about the room.

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard

using the existing drainage to be concealed in a cupboard


miranda's bedroom

Choosing Estate Agents

Well the house went on the market on the 22nd March – I did pull out all the stops and get it listed before Easter. It was a bit of an anticlimax after the chaos of getting the listing to go live because I didn’t have any viewings over the long weekend, but it was an interesting exercise.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 16.04.41

I decided to take a punt with this house sale and to use an online estate agency – you may have noticed in the picture on the previous post. Having bought and sold before, worked at an estate agents for a short time and being the daughter of someone who is the third generation to run a family owned estate agency, this could have been a controversial move! So I didn’t tell anybody I was doing it. But the numbers stack up – SERIOUSLY.

In the UK estate agents fees are 1-1.5% of sale price and there is VAT added to that, so this is a chunk of money to part with and the previous sale had given me cause to complain about the behaviour of the agent handling my property. I didn’t want to be mucked around or to feel that I had no control, (both of my children are doing major exams this term) so my research instead was of the type of package offered if you took some of the responsibility for the sale yourself.


At the end of the day as a designer I draw plans and take photographs almost every day. It seemed just an inconvenience to have someone else do them for me. I also liked the idea of being able to schedule the viewings according to my commitments, instead of rushing out of the house in the morning and just hoping that everything was looking ok. I work from home, so some rooms are always more lived in than others, I had a house guest (who was with me for eight weeks) and I also have a dog, a very excitable puppy who loves everyone. I needed to be able to have her contained and happy – and I wasn’t sure how she would take to having an agent she didn’t know in her domain.


When I sat back and thought about it, I decided that having a local agency involved could possibly be more stress than I could cope with, so doing some of the work myself and having the property listed on a hosting site was the way I wanted to go. Never having done it before, I was keen to see how it worked. And for someone who does computer drawings almost every day, I was surprised at how much time it took me to do my whole-house floor plan. Who knew!

27 Queensville floorplan no text

And how has it all gone? The house sold itself really. Apart from turning my car into a mobile storage unit (bursting at the seams with laundry baskets and ironing, dog toys, partially eaten Easter eggs, leftover tiles from the kitchen and winter hats and gloves, not quite finished with for the season) I had the place looking as good as it could. I had four viewings in the space of a week and the third viewing made an offer – which I didn’t accept – and then increased to a price closer to what I wanted. So I accepted that. I can’t say that being with an online agency had anything to do with that!

In fact I’m not sure being with an online agency has done anything other than give me more control over the viewings and viewing schedule. I’ve had to chase them for information about my buyers, I’ve had to follow up each conversation with checking the website – as opposed to my ‘dashboard’ – and another phone call to check that things have been done. Considering they sit behind computer screens – the very definition of an online company – I honestly can’t say I’ve felt that they were more efficient than an agency conducting the viewings for me. So, the only real benefit then is the hugely reduced fee? Yep that’s about the size of it. From my experience at any rate.


And this should be something you take into account when you want to choose an estate agent. If you work full time, conducting the viewings yourself will be hard, unless you can opt to work from home on certain days and take some time from that schedule. If you have a young family who need your full attention when you’re at home, then this too will make taking responsibility for the viewings hard work, especially if they have a sleeping pattern that rules out certain times of the day. And you have to keep things looking immaculate (or as close to) because when you take people around your own house, you’re aware of the things they don’t like by what they don’t say. It can feel very personal – if that’s going to make you feel unsettled, then this process isn’t for you.


I’ll tell you the one thing it has done though, listing my house with an online agency has given me the choice to accept a lower offer than I might have done. That probably sounds counter intuitive, but because the fees are so much lower I’m actually ahead of where I would have been – by about £14,000 – if I’d sold through a local agent. So what it really does is give you more control over the money going into your pocket. That £14K will go a long way to paying my stamp duty on my next property. And as soon as I exchange contracts, I’ll tell you all about it.

Getting your House Ready for Sale

I think I mentioned that I was planning on selling my house this year. Having been through the process before, there is a good time to list and a not so good time. For homes that come into the family bracket as mine does, listing in spring means that anyone who is wanting to move for the new school year in September, has the time to view, offer, instruct solicitors, arrange finance and move in before it’s time to dust off those pencil cases. So my plan was that I would list my property just before Easter. But Easter was early this year and the school holidays started the day before. I had to decide to either pull out all the stops and get my property on the market the week before – and everyone going away would be thinking about their holiday – or I had wait until the beginning of April. What to do, what to do?


I wasn’t particularly bothered either way until I saw a property that I actually wanted to buy. How annoying.

So a couple of weeks ago the rear of the house was painted – it never did make it to the same colour as the front and I’ve hated that I’ve lived in a two toned house for so long. Finally the back garden will have the intimate feel that only a dark colour can provide and considering I help people with these choices every day, it is frustrating to say the least, to always be at the back of the queue – because I’m working on someone else’s house.

As you might be able to tell, I had a list! Richard, my builder thinks I’m nuts, that people like to do work to their new homes. But not everyone does, a lot of people are looking for something they can move into and just get on with living in. After all they’ve spent all the money on the purchase! So, because there are things that have annoyed me for a while, there was a list.

ensuite bathroom

Install a towel rad in the top bathroom – a very cold room in the winter.
Re-turf the back lawn.
Change the windows in the loft room – the seal of the double glazing has gone and they’re cloudy to look through.
Oh and I painted the bathroom…

family bathroom

Ok, so you’re wondering why I would bother to go to this trouble when I want to move on. I recently heard of a previous client who had a two bed flat to sell that had been tenanted for about 6 years and the place was looking tired. He had it valued and was disappointed with the price the agent gave him. Then he spoke to Rich and asked how much it would cost to redecorate and replace the carpets. I think he replaced the shower door and fittings as well. The work cost about £4000 and the agent revalued the property at £60K more than the initial quote. That’s a nice increase in value!

rear exterior

The same thing will happen with my house. I know that when the building survey is done they will mention the state of those top windows and that will be a point the purchaser will try to negotiate on – and they’ll want several thousand off the price. To replace them supply and fit will cost about £700. So it is important to look at this as a transaction. I have to spend a bit of money to make a good job of the sale!

wall colour enhances church pew

There are other things that matter too and it’s very hard to be detached when you look over your own home, but you need to see things as someone viewing your property will see them. So when I saw a post on a blog I follow, Mad About the House, I was interested to read her comments. I don’t think she’s gone far enough. Spraying some air freshener round and tidying up don’t in any way make a property aspirational. Because every property is listed online and people can peek in from the comfort of their sofa, the property has to look better than the images. Something that’s supposed to be shiny, has to sparkle; something that’s supposed to be plush, has to be lint free; beds have to be made and cushions plumped up. It’s this level of care that makes a home look loved – and it is that love that brushes off on people as they leave a viewing.

bed cushions

Because of course you want them to come back and to put their money on the line! Surely that money – and let’s be honest, it’s not chickenfeed we’re talking about – is worth you putting a bit of effort in?

Bathroom Checklist

A couple of the bathrooms I’ve done recently have had issues with the water pressure in the shower. It’s the first thing that the client comments on and the one thing they really want improved with the upgraded shower. But I have bad news for you. Sometimes it’s not the shower that’s causing the problem. Sometimes it’s the boiler.

When a system is plumbed the route that the pipework takes is the most direct that the structure of the building allows. But if that pipework was run by an owner three of four ahead of you and the bathroom has had changes made along the way, there’s no telling how many alterations to the original route have occurred – nor indeed the age of the boiler itself. The reason that’s important is because of technology. I can see head scratching, go with me, here.

fired earth style shot

fired earth style shot

As technical processes become more advanced and the making of bathroom metalware is done by precision instruments, the fittings available to us are a great deal more intricate. On the outside they look uncomplicated and streamlined but on the inside they have restrictor valves to adjust water flow rates and they need a certain amount of pressure to operate at their best. For something so comparatively small, the inside (the gubbins – one of my favourite words) is extremely high tech. And here is the problem. If you try and plumb one of these sensitive, modern belles to a boiler that is 10+ years old, you’re going to get a few generational differences. It’d be like putting your great aunt behind the wheel of a Ferrari.

The output of your boiler is designed to take both hot water and central heating activity, but it can’t adjust to the demands of fittings that are trying to second guess it. What I mean by that is if the fittings make allowances for the boiler output and it isn’t keeping up with the factory settings of the fittings, then the two components are out of sync and the end result is lost pressure. The thing to remember is that with current regulations, the factory creates a setting that inhibits the temperature – so you can’t scald yourself. Often this can’t be altered which is tough luck if you like a HOT shower! And even more annoying this is only apparent when the fittings change. So, you may have hated the old shower but the pressure may have been fine and with the new shower the pressure is awful – or much less hot than you had. The first option is to take out the restrictor valves, but this doesn’t really solve the problem because with every upgrade you do to your property, the boiler will have to supply the fittings.

tiled shower enclosure

As the designer, I’m often the person specifying the fittings and so I’m likely to be asked to sort this out. The problem is that often I’m not told about the boiler – because the clients don’t necessarily see it as part of the problem – but it definitely is.

If the work is done in stages, then the technology of each fitting (tap, shower, bath, radiator) will be step on step more advanced than the boiler – and the blame will be laid at the feet of the contractor that fitted the bathroom (or the radiators) not the boiler. But the workman has no control over regulations nor indeed the build quality or specifications of the metalware. This is something that should be factored in when you decide to make changes to your bathroom. If the boiler isn’t modern enough to have factory updates done remotely (the time now updates automatically when the clocks change, for example) then you’re likely to suffer with issues of compatibility when you do want to make changes. Yes, it adds money to the work being undertaken, but contrast this to how upset and dissatisfied you’ll feel when the bathroom you’ve been planning for months doesn’t meet your expectations. In that situation it’s natural to want to lay blame with the workmen, but with issues of compatibility between fittings and appliance, you only have two choices – live with it, or upgrade the oldest parts. And if you’re going to go to the trouble of having the work done, surely that should mean you’ve done your homework, you’ve researched the minimum requirements and understand the problems you could encounter if you decide to ‘take your chances?’

mother of pearl mosaic

Getting My Hands Dirty

To try and speed up this kitchen refurb, I knew that I would be doing some of the work myself. I knew I’d be painting the units, sealing the work surface and tiling – a new skill for me. But I didn’t realise I would also be doing the sanding of the floor boards and helping to build the carcasses!

kitchen floor

I started with the work surface because it was being stored in the hallway and was essentially a hazard. It came in 3 metre lengths and weighed an absolute ton! Richard, the building contractor only had me to help him manoeuvre it into the house and we really must have looked like a comedy act. I’m not much use when it comes to heavy stuff! But now that it’s cut into appropriate lengths and is secured in place, it looks fantastic. I chose a wood stain that can be applied with a soft cloth and was really happy with how it went on. Because the work surface is a composite wood – small blocks of wood fused to create a longer length – the wood stain goes on in an irregular way. Each small block is a different part of the grain and takes colour differently, so getting the colour even isn’t really the issue. I just wanted it to looked aged and weather worn. The colour I used from Mylands http://www.mylands.co.uk/wood-finishes/earth-stains came in a 250ml container. So I didn’t have the fear of knocking the thing over and turning my whole room Clay coloured. Apart from the smell, which is horrid, I found it easy to work with. I applied two coats and was sparing with the amount to allow it to build up colour in a natural way.

choosing a wood stain


I took Mylands advice on how to finish the work surface as well. They felt that oiling the surface would give me a more robust finish rather than varnish in either a water or oil based formula. What they said – and I’ve seen it myself – was that coating the surface with a varnish allows water to get trapped underneath. This isn’t visible until the varnish bubbles – and that could be months later – but by this time the water has penetrated the wood and starts to blacken the timber. If timber is oiled, this disperses on the surface and naturally repels water. Building up that protective layer takes time and you have to be quite diligent in the first few weeks because it needs to be applied every day for a week, every week for a month, every month for a year and thereafter once a year.

I have done this with kitchen units in the past and they did come up well; fats wipe straight off and the wood patinates really nicely. So, I decided that this would be my approach. It’s now been oiled every day for a week and the water simply forms beads on the surface. So far so good!

danish oil

The tiling was really fun. Richard has done so much of this over the years that I was keen to get the tricks of the trade. He started me off with lines all over the walls – where each row would start and where we would finish. The adhesive is applied to the individual tiles to give enough movement that they will bed evenly onto the wall. This allows you to get the tiles level on the surface as the adhesive doesn’t set hard for a number of hours. Each one has a spacer separating it to allow the grout lines to be even and to allow you to get them level. Then when all of the regular tiles are positioned, the ones that need cutting are measured and cut with either a scorer or a wet wheel tile cutter. They are applied the same way but every so often something needs to be slotted in around a socket. Make sure you turn off the electricity to that circuit before you attempt to remove the socket cover! Wipe each tile as you go to remove any adhesive and keep the edges clean so that the grout lines are clear. Then when everything has dried, you can remove the spacers – even without grouting, the wall looks really finished!

tiling the kitchen

ready for grouting

Applying grout is a bit like icing a cake, you have to watch where you’re putting it and work quickly to make sure you get the finish you want. The thing about it is that mixing it takes patience. It’s a waterproof product so doesn’t naturally want to bind – but once you get the consistency right, you end up with something a bit like butter icing in texture. When you spread the grout, you also have to work it into the crevices and run a finger over the gaps between the tiles to make sure you haven’t missed anything – so that’s where the cake icing analogy ends! Then you wipe it off with a sponge and fill in any gappy bits. You wipe it again – and again – and then you buff it. It’s worth taking the time to get it smooth because this finish is the difference between a professional look and something that is a bit ‘homemade.’ Grout does not look good if it’s rough and ‘rustic.’

Now I’m just waiting for the doors…


A Busman’s Holiday

Richard, the contractor I work with, recently had to have surgery on his foot and ankle and as a result was stuck at home for a few weeks unable to drive. To be honest having someone with an injury on site is dangerous, they can’t move fast enough to get out of the way and for that reason cause a hazard just by being there. Even worse, if they should overbalance or land awkwardly, the risk of damaging the surgical repair is quite high. Would you want to go back to the surgeon and say ‘I’ve ruined your work’?

So nobody wanted him around and not being one for sitting still, he decided to rip out his bathroom at home! I know, right? So this is the only family bathroom; WC, handbasin and bath, quite a small room. Downstairs luckily, there is a separate WC – so far so good. **This was the reason he thought replacing the new bathroom right at the same time that he was sporting a surgical boot was a good idea.

plumbing the shower valve

plumbing the shower valve

One wet Sunday in March he investigated the tiles on the wall and low and behold, they ‘fell off the wall almost without effort at all.’ Hmmm. So the walls were completely stripped and the pipework for the WC was capped off (because there was still the WC downstairs.) Then it all got a bit complicated because the only place for the family to bathe was in the bath that he was removing. He ran the pipes for the new shower position and put the bath in its place. He ran the pipework for the new WC position and the new handbasin position. He skim coated the walls with plaster around the area that the bath had previously been in. He started tiling the floor and did half of the room, waited for the adhesive to go off (dry) and then moved the bath back to its old position and tiled the other half of the floor. He repeated the process to do the grouting, moving the bath around the room as he went. The bath could still be used at that point because he reconnected the taps to the new handbasin position and had the waste going out via the new WC position.

the existing bath position

the existing bath position

But then it all got a bit difficult because he had to wait for the shower tray and every time he needed to do something, he had to move the bath and re-plumb it. So for a couple of days the family showered at friends or the gym, while the project inched forward and the wall tiling was done. But even when the tiles went in, the shower tray was installed and the shower valve and shower head were plumbed, there was still the shower screen to be fitted (which was a special order – and it was delayed.)

By that stage Rich was mobile and his name was mud at home. Complete mud. Think about how frustrating it is to have delays on site when the project is your own, you want someone to blame, don’t you? When it’s a project that you haven’t really asked for and certainly not when the builder is on sick leave, I imagine that you don’t hold back. So Rich was living in a building site and going off to work in one every day. Complaints at home and complaints on site.

awaiting the vanity unit

awaiting the vanity unit

How fun – not. If you decide to refurbish your bathroom while you’re living in the house, expect to be unpopular!

mirror and hand basin

It all turned out well though, the shower screen is in and the family are really happy with their new bathroom. And it looks fabulous – Rich is back to valued member of the family status. Woop!

walk in shower

Don’t let this put you off, it is possible to do the work and live on site with a bathroom that is the building site. It isn’t fun, but it is possible. And if you’re prepared to put up with the frustration of delays and having dusty feet and a gritty handbasin, you will save yourself some money in the process. Keep in mind though, when you’re living on site, there’s no escape from the dust and the noise – and generally work takes longer if the site is habited – especially if fittings need to move every day and be re-plumbed or re-wired every time this happens.

wc and shower

The interesting thing is you get a perspective of your own home that you wouldn’t otherwise see, the raw, vulnerable side of a building with wiring hanging out and pipework exposed. And I think that makes you feel more protective of where you live, more inclined to care and less blasé about the responsibility of homeownership.

vanity unit

When you see that your property needs you to care for it, I think that is when your house becomes a home.

glass jar