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?

How Ugly is Ugly?

It’s very easy when you drive around the same areas repeatedly to not see the buildings you pass by. In the new Channel 4 programme ‘Ugly House to Lovely House,’ George Clark and his team of architects take the eyesores and turn them into individual and unique homes. What I had thought was different about this show was the emphasis on the exterior transformation. I’m not an architect. I’ve always thought that I really only understood how internal spaces worked but watching this programme, I don’t think they’ve gone far enough!

before and after - but they've forgotten the porch and the front door

before and after – but they’ve forgotten the porch and the front door

By definition if your home is referred to as ugly, that’s an opinion based on appearance – so, what is seen from the street. If your house looks ugly from outside then surely that is where you would expect the bulk of the budget – and the attention – to be focused. But no, it’s really just another refurb show. The inside is ripped to bits – and the bulk of the money is spent there – and then the outside is the wrapping that finishes the scheme off. On all three episodes I’ve watched so far, I’ve felt that the exterior didn’t meet expectations. They have local residents giving their opinion of ‘progress so far’ (and of course they can only see what’s happening outside) and their criticism really reflects what I felt to be lacking – a transformation of the defining parts of the house as seen from the street.

neighbouring properties

neighbouring properties

but still with their own touches

but still with their own touches

So let’s strip it back to basics. If you’ve bought a house for reasons other than aesthetics as many of these people did, you’ve bought it because it ticks other boxes: close to children’s schools, affordable, within an easy commute to work, close to family or countryside that you enjoy. At that point, how it looks isn’t the focus. But when you’re living there – and the purchase is just part of the history – aesthetics do become an issue. If you refer to your own house as the ‘ugly house’, then you too have a negative opinion of your own space. And this has an impact on how you feel about living there. Do you love something that you think of as an eyesore? Or does it make you feel protective? Would you defend it if someone told you they thought it was the worst house in the street? Or have you just stopped seeing it? Do you even care anymore?

attention grabbing

attention grabbing

Can you see the apathy building up? It’s so easy to just make do and ignore the things you don’t like. But why should you put up with living in a space that isn’t what you want? Especially since it is probably your largest financial asset.

a modern 'between the wars' house

a modern ‘between the wars’ house

Exterior transformations are not as difficult as one might think. They’re not always straightforward, but none the less changing how the outside of your house presents itself says that you care in BIG capital letters. I changed the colour of my house about 18 months ago – it is now a grape-grey and I’ve had so many positive comments about it. The word most used is LOVE. “I love your colour; I love your house; I love that it’s different to the others, more individual.” I’ve also been told it’s bold and different, but hey I quite like that too!

defining the property with colour

defining the property with colour

highlighting the features you want to accentuate

highlighting the features you want to accentuate

Not every house suits being painted, of course, but changing the colour of the window frames adds a distinctive feel that really opens the windows wide, a bit like mascara on the eyes. And then there are the more remedial approaches – porches and roofline updates, pillars and new front doors. Many of these things come as kits and provided the measurements work can be installed fairly easily by your building contractor which not only cuts down on cost, but allows you to plan exactly how the new exterior will combine with the old. And let’s be honest a transformation will leave traces of the old building intact as with this building below, if you look closely the brickwork around the front door hasn’t been disguised.

simple updates

simple updates

doors and windows - contrast to the house next door

doors and windows – contrast to the house next door

And that’s the point when an exterior refresh has to acknowledge what was there before. Short of tearing down the original structure, you will be working on top of someone else’s vision. It is easier to say ‘what have I got to work with?’ and plan to enhance the bones of the building than it is change a street frontage – especially if it’s in a terrace. Adding porches and incorporating the details gets around this neatly though and again many kits are available for this type of job. The house below already had a porch – but to create a more modern and individual look they’ve opened it up, stripped the wood and enhanced the timbers for a more handcrafted feel.

modern mock tudor

modern mock tudor

Ugly doesn’t have to be the defining feature of you home and transformation isn’t something to be scared of. The resulting property will make you feel so much better about living there and that in itself is reason enough to take the plunge.

The End of An Era

Last week was a very busy week. My ex husband moved house. I thought I was just lending a hand but it turns out I was actively – and emotionally – involved in the process.

wilfs house move

We moved in as a married couple with a one year old son in 1999. We did a loft conversion and created a six bedroom house, three and a half bathroom house. We had another child, a little girl. We redid two of the bathrooms and the kitchen. We replaced missing cornicing and two missing fireplaces. We added stained glass to the front door – and to the back door. We redecorated throughout, refinished floorboards and replaced the carpet. It was during this process that I retrained as an interior designer and throughout my coursework Wilf was my ‘client’ – I used his requirements to act as my brief.


Both of our children started school and developed a wide range of interests. We made wonderful friends in our neighbours. We had lots of parties and many guests from abroad – some staying for months at a time. It was a busy family life in a home that answered the needs of its inhabitants.

I’ve been separated and then divorced from Wilf for nearly eight years and since then I’ve been in and out of that house countless times – my favourite arrivals have always been on Christmas morning with bags of presents, in my pjs (I don’t even own a onesie, but Christmas morning is a tradition: I arrive in pyjama’s.)

Christmas carnage

After I left, I never felt particularly attached to my old home. It was Wilf’s house, the kids were there three nights a week, it was just a part of the scenery, so to speak. But last week packing up, I’ve been in tears countless times. I felt the love that we’d put into it over the years. I saw for the first time, stripped bare, all the work we had done. Without the furniture, the house was still beautiful, a little grubby where picture frames had rubbed the paintwork and where furniture had scuffed the floor but its bones were good; spacious and light and welcoming.

megan's mural

So what was it that caused me to get so upset? I was really surprised at myself. When you start unpacking a home, you unravel the history of the time that you’ve spent there. All of the events that surround the furnishings – the carpet from Turkey, the mirror from Stow-on-the-Wold, the clock from Newark, the painting from New Zealand, all come back to you and the trip down memory lane as you remove them becomes a part of the leaving of that building. It also brings up the milestone memories, the bathtub filled with toys by my son for my daughters first bath; the murals painted for the children by my mother; the measuring wall under the stairs – even the dog was measured on that wall; the first day at school; the birthday parties. It goes very quickly from a family home to simply four walls and looks incredibly unloved. It had no personality, it didn’t look like ‘ours’ anymore – I found that the hardest part. Somehow I wanted the house to know it had done nothing wrong and in thinking that, I found that the memories of living there were also enriched.

wilf's bathroom

the little room

It’s really important to understand how much a part of you your home is. I say so often that you can’t under estimate the impact your surroundings have on you and I suppose because I haven’t lived in that house for eight years I didn’t regard it as my surroundings, but seeing each room undressed made me analyse the progression we had made through that environment as a family. The room that was the catalyst for this was my son’s room. Full to the gunnels of models planes and books about trains, space and birds (it took me two days to box up all the models, destined for deep storage – likely not to be unpacked until he is a father himself!) you would be forgiven for thinking he was 10 years old. He’s nearly eighteen! He’s reading Whitman and Donne not Tintin and Biggles. That room hasn’t grown with him. He was still living surrounded by his childhood – not with the kit of his youth; guitars and amps and computer gadgets. I felt in a way that we had let him down, to look at that room we hadn’t let him grow up, which isn’t the truth at all, but then looks are deceiving and that was what got me thinking. If our homes are to meet our needs they need to be flexible enough to grow with us. They need to accommodate not only the inhabitants but the possessions that hold our memories. And if that’s not possible, it means we need to be brave enough to let go.

railways poster

My final task as Wilf gave back the keys was to put up replacement lampshades. It’s fanciful I know, but when I looked around the naked rooms I got a real sense of the house enduring, of shaking herself off and moving on, ready to receive her new family. I hope they will be very happy there and love the things about her that we loved.

front door

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

A Sense of Calm

Ensuite bedrooms have to work hard, which is a strange thing to say about a room that largely revolves around the unconscious state. But, think about it. Because they’re often used by two people, the space has to function for both of them as well as providing a quiet place to sleep and easy access to the bathroom. When you add a dressing room function as well, the space has to prove itself up to the job. And that means there’s a lot at stake for the client. They have an equal share in the restorative value of the room – so they both need to feel at ease in the space. The level of comfort has to be suitable for both of them and it needs to reflect their combined taste and lifestyle. There’s a lot to consider in a master bedroom.

master bedroom

The last master bedroom suite I worked on was not without its problems as a project – delays in deliveries, carpet cut to the wrong size and a work force who didn’t quite feel any time pressure. In a bid to be efficient, Rich and I used a second team – he was having surgery on his ankle – but this was a big learning experience for us, because they did not work the way we did. We had communication issues, builders losing their temper and yelling at other members of the team, threatening to pull off the job and asking for more money. It was more soap opera than refurb project and it was hard work. It really made me realise just how lucky I am to work with a good contractor, one who thinks things through and is good at problem solving. You would think that these would be qualities all building contractors would possess – I can tell you, they do not!

through to the bedroom

Eight months on, the pain has been forgotten and the bedroom suite has a sense of gentle luxury. It’s quiet, both in colour and in sound. It’s uncomplicated, the furniture all matches (so not my choice, but in this space, I have to agree) the simplicity of the decor is what gives it that sense of calm. The bathroom takes advantage of the sloping ceiling and has a much more dramatic feel because of its location. The dressing room is streamlined and accentuates the ceiling height with full height wardrobe doors.

dressing room

The pendant ceiling lights at two different levels add a more glamorous element and provide a layered lighting plan that works according to the time of day or task required.

pendant lighting

It was a collaborative process, this space and I feel really pleased with how much of the clients’ taste is present in the suite. I was the guiding hand – and at times I did insist on following a certain direction – but largely speaking I suggested a type of fitting and the clients then researched what they would like and we arrived at a choice according to price and availability.

ensuite bathroom

There are two things I would say about this type of process: it takes forever and this was a first project. The clients had never had any building work done before and didn’t really know ‘exactly’ what they wanted. So, the sourcing was slow – there is a lot of choice out there, we looked at maybe twenty wallpaper samples (I would normally give a choice of three) and at times we couldn’t dovetail the lead-times, so the clients didn’t move into the space for several months after the building work finished. But overall the project has built their confidence. It looks great and it works the way they want it to. And that really, is what you want at the end of project. After all if you plan on spending money on a bedroom ensuite, the result should be what you want – a space that works for both of you.

shower enclosure

A Kitchen Gallery

Because the kitchen posts have covered such a long period of time, I thought I’d put all the pictures together in one place, so that the process of before and after is easier to see.

1 august 2015

1 august 2015

2 august 2015

2 august 2015

3 september

3 september

2 sample board september

4 sample board september

5 september

5 september

6 september

6 september

7 september

7 september

8 september

8 september

10 october 2015

9 october 2015

10 october

10 october

11 december 2015

11 december 2015

12 december

12 december

13 december

13 december

14 december

14 december

15 the inspiration

15 the inspiration

Nothing is more inviting than tantalising smells coming from the kitchen. In the short time I’ve had this space I’ve cooked for Christmas dinner and various dinner parties, had a drinks party and a birthday costume bash. It’s not that I wouldn’t have done these things if I hadn’t done the work to the kitchen, its that the space now copes with what I want to do in it. It’s more pleasurable to have guests and to simply be in it. I’m enjoying the process of preparing food so much more.

And that is the single biggest reason for deciding to upgrade your kitchen – if you want to prepare food, the time you take over it and the quality of ingredients will also be of importance. If you’re looking forward to sharing a meal with other people, your approach to mealtimes becomes one of social enjoyment and less of a chore. When food plays such a big part in our lives, our attitude toward it is the difference between health and unbalance. Having a space that allows food preparation to be done easily enables us to see food for what it is – our source of energy, vital to our wellbeing.


A Place for Everything

Little did I realise when I last wrote that my kitchen would not actually be finished until Christmas – and it would be all my fault because I came down with the flu – TWICE! Yep, its been a strange winter. But I’m all better now and my kitchen is great. Oh and we got a puppy too – another reason I haven’t been sitting in front of the computer as regularly.

unpainted cabinetry

unpainted cabinetry

still missing the drawer frontals

still missing the drawer frontals

So much of this kitchen fitout has been done when I’ve been here as the second pair of hands – I even had a go at putting a couple of the units together – they’re still in one piece too! I didn’t even know how to use a drill before this project, so to say I’ve learnt some new skills doesn’t even come close to the reality. But what I would say if you are planning on doing the work yourself is do not let it overlap any other events like people coming to stay or major family milestones. It takes too much of your time and to turn your focus away from the project means things don’t happen the way you want them to – if you’re the project manager as well as the client as well as the builder’s labourer!

Because I do this all the time for clients, I totally thought I’d be on top of things and could schedule deliveries and painting of units to fit around other activities. But I hadn’t factored in what a short amount of time had been allowed for this job and when it’s your own home, it doesn’t work like that, you are the one that has to box everything up and then move the boxes every few days because the space is needed. You never escape from the work or the mess. I’d have Rich the builder arrive and give me instructions for how to tile/grout/fill and then I’d have a frantic few hours trying to do what he had asked at the same time as having to cook dinner for my family in a room that was only partly functional. It was beyond stressful and I think that’s why I ended up getting ill. I was living in a building site and working on it too. All these DIY programmes with members of the featured family getting ill or not speaking to each other, this is why. IT IS VERY TIRING because there’s no reprieve.

making good still to be done

making good still to be done

And let me just say I have had kitchens done before – but that was when my children were much younger and the kitchen came from a company that fitted the units as part of the price. It was a much bigger kitchen with a much bigger budget. This project has been an exercise in achieving the look I wanted without having the price tag beyond my pocket – and that meant some of the work would have to be done by me. I knew I would be painting and I really enjoyed learning to tile, it’s a very satisfying activity and the results are quickly revealed – you can see very early on how it will look when it’s complete. What I didn’t realise was that Rich would rip the kitchen out when I was on holiday and that only 4 weeks later my mum would arrive for an extended visit. My mum is very handy with a paintbrush, so she was put to work too – but that wasn’t what I wanted out of her visit and it was things like that that added to my stress.


So when you start looking at scheduling some refurbishments for yourself, be very strict. Do not take on anything else at the same time. Do not think it’ll be done so much more quickly because you’re on site and DO NOT ever think you’ll make the decisions as you go along. Make sure everything is ordered in advance and chase the orders. AND DO NOT CHANGE YOUR MIND.

smoke blue - not quite right

smoke blue – not quite right

final paint choice

My biggest issue of the whole project? The wretched paint colour for the wall units. Seriously. I’m usually pretty good with colour, so this was a shock and very, very frustrating – not being able to get it right. I wanted a grey blue – I thought, quite pale. BUT most blue greys are too blue, oh it was so boring getting my hopes up and then finding that the most recent sample was also wrong. So I went all around the houses and came back to my inspiration and settled for a dark grey blue. Actually, I don’t know why I didn’t do that in the beginning – I have an ink blue wall in my front room and this balances that really well, if you’re sitting at the dining table you can see both, don’t quite know why I didn’t realise sooner!

relaxed utility style

relaxed utility style


And the best bit? Pan drawers. Oh lovely pan drawers. I can put things away now and get at them easily – and there’s room for more in the drawers too. I had no space at all before and I got so bored with cleaning up because I couldn’t put things away. Now, I actually enjoy the washing up and get so much pleasure from having a clear work surface. What a saddo. But you know what? Without that feeling of satisfaction at the end of a project, there’s no point in doing it!


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 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…


And Then I Saw This

And suddenly all my ideas for the kitchen took shape. I’d had a picture from Smallbones tucked into a file for about six months and had thought that that might be my jumping off point, but it was much grander than I knew I could achieve in my space – I didn’t want stone work surfaces to start with. What I liked about it was the contrast of the blue and grey, with the natural warmth of the wood introducing a more relaxed feel to an area that could otherwise feel quite cold and impersonal.

It was this contrast of colour and texture visible with the wood and the painted surfaces that I thought I could achieve. But although I’d found a tile and the paint colours, it just wasn’t quite coming together for me. So when I saw the jug at Designer’s Guild, I knew how I could make it work.

kitchen samples

It would be wooden work surfaces and they would be oiled – not varnished – to a colour that would age a bit like driftwood. The base units would be pale grey and the wall units would be blue. I’d create a shelf below the wall units and use a bracket to support the shelf so that the units would look longer and more like furniture. The handles and draw pulls would be black, the sink and taps would be brushed stainless steel as would the oven and hob. The light fitting would have multiple pendants – in different styles, some metal, some glass. The feel would be functional and arty, a bit like a studio space in essence.


I decided I’d also use french doors in the opening to separate the kitchen from the dining area. This may sound mad, but for those of you used to open plan living, you will know how noisy the space can get when you’re cooking or running the washing machine or dishwasher. If someone is also watching the telly, that too increases in volume and things can get tense – no one can hear themselves think! I’d seen a couple of kitchens that had glazed doors across the opening and it really fitted with what I wanted to do.

Homes and Gardens magazine August 2015

Homes and Gardens magazine August 2015

I’m not usually one for ‘copying’ ideas because I think it’s quite a lazy way of approaching design, but sometimes the ideas are so very similar to what you were considering that it can’t be avoided. The above kitchen is very different to mine – urban and streamlined, mine will be very utilitarian and play with styling based on the shaker heritage – the feel will be very different. My doors will be hinged into a frame with side lights, not pockets doors on runners as these are. And sometimes a picture helps the builders understand what you want much more easily than even doing a drawing of it!

So that was my side of the design work done, this is how the space is looking now.

tiling in the kitchen

Things are coming along…