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.

Temporary Measures

When you move house, it can often take some time to decide what you want to do with it. You may want to move rooms to different areas of the house, you may want to take walls down, you may want to improve functionality. All these things are worthy of reflection and you would be commended for taking time to consider all the implications – building work is not for everyone!

If you really don’t like disruption, mess and above all dust, you are going to find having the builders in very stressful, especially because they won’t be able to give you an accurate idea of what they’re going to find behind your bathroom walls until they start pulling things apart.

bathroom refurb

On this job, a ‘simple bathroom refurbishment’ the contractors discovered that the tiles had been applied on top of other tiles and that the ‘bonding’ underneath (the method used to seal the plaster or brickwork) hadn’t been suitable for bathrooms, so they had to hack out all the old plaster and start again. It was a mess and no-one could have for-seen it – or that the previous contractors had flung all their takeaway wrappers into the cavity under the bath! Uggh.

Sorting out problems adds to the cost, of that there is no doubt, but it can’t be avoided without giving a substandard finish to the new fit-out. On the plus side, we reclaimed 50mm of space which meant we didn’t need to move the bathroom door to accommodate the bath! So sometimes there is a silver lining.

bathroom from hall

You can see from the above that building work is very invasive. The whole upstairs landing has been taken over by the contractors kit and materials. And that’s the thing – everything coming into the refurb has to be stored somewhere until it is needed. This bit can be very unsettling as your bedroom will become overflow storage, because its handy for the bathroom. But, if you have good contractors, the results are always worth it and provided you don’t over specify the materials being used, you will see a return on the money you spend.

What do I mean by not over-specifying? If the value of your property is £500,000, spending £30,000 on your bathroom isn’t going to increase the value of your home by the same amount. You need to take into consideration the area you live and think about what potential buyers will be looking for when you decide to move on. If you have your heart set on mosaic tiles, for example, deciding to fit Bissazza at £380 per square metre would be very unrealistic if there is no appreciation for that level of taste – or expense – in your area and besides, there are other types of mosaic that will give the look, for a fraction of the cost. So, do your homework and don’t allow your heart to rule your budget!

But if you don’t have the money to do the work straight away, what then?

I moved to my current house two years ago and knew instantly that I didn’t like the layout of the kitchen – it had an oversized cooker, but no drawer space, it had two awkward corner cupboards and was totally unsuited for preparing meals for more than four or five people, even though the oven was enormous – so I started planning what I would do when I had the money to make changes. In the meantime though, I decided I didn’t want to live with it as it was. The wood colour wasn’t to my taste and the depth of tone made the room darker than it needed to be. So out came the paint charts.

queensville kitchen 1

I took my references from the tiles – again not to my taste, but the colour was ‘inoffensive’, (a fairly damning word, but my focus was creating a unity between the space and the rest of the decor) so staying within that colour family seemed to be a good starting point. I gave the units a good scrub with soapy water – to remove any fat splashes – and then sanded the surfaces lightly with a fine grade sandpaper.

After that I applied two coats of emulsion paint (yes, that’s right, I didn’t bother to use eggshell. I wanted the drying time to be much quicker because I wanted the job finished in a weekend) and top coated it with my favourite decorators glaze in a satin finish. Et viola!

queensville kitchen2

The kitchen still doesn’t function as I would like, but it’s much more inviting to be in and it complements the rest of the living space. For the price of 2.5 litres of paint and decorators glaze, I’ve got a space that I can live with until such a time as I can afford to rip out a wall and completely reconfigure the downstairs space.

And that decorators glaze has stood up to the knocks too, no chipped paint or scuff marks after nearly two years of wear and tear!

The Shed Roof Project – part 1…

I have a bit of a thing about sheds. There’s something very pleasing about their proportions, maybe it’s a ghost of my childhood love of doll’s houses. Anyway, earlier this year it became apparent that my green shed roof was in serious danger of bringing the whole shed down in a crumpled heap of bricks and ivy. It looked so beautiful though!

snowy garden
ivy clad shed

And the first thing I want to say is, I had been seduced by how it looked. Don’t be fooled by beauty when it comes to property! If it’s unsound – and you own it – it isn’t beautiful. It will cost you money and invite so much unwanted advice that you will wish you’d never raised the subject.

Most people want to make money from their property when they sell and being romantic about it is like saying you don’t care about your investment. It doesn’t matter in the slightest if ivy is a wonderful food source for wildlife – if your shed is like a swamp inside (and believe me, mine was – I put an old school bag of my son’s out there and within a month, it was covered in mildew) its a waste of usable space and you need to reclaim it from the plant – or the neglect – that is strangling it.

Ivy is a thug, if you don’t keep it well trimmed it will choke everything, plants, buildings and gateways. My added problem is that the ivy ‘bush’ (more like constrictor) was owned by my neighbour, so I had to pluck up the courage and go and talk to someone I had never met (the ivy comes from the garden behind mine) and tell him I wanted to ‘kill’ his plant!

He was surprisingly nice about it actually and said that nothing had been done to the ivy for about 30 years! Thirty years is a long time not to maintain something and as I’ve owned the house for two years now, there was nothing I could do but what I had planned – remove and replace the shed roof. So right there, I had the task of replacement and the neglect had not been mine.

removing the ivy

Richard got up there with a hand saw and ripped that massive plant apart. My job was to cart away the rubbish…

Nine trips to the dump later – and that was just the ivy, not the roof covering – we had to stop because Richard was due to have surgery on his shoulder…and this was heavy work. Sheer dogged determination, it was a horrible job and right at that moment I was so annoyed with the people who had owned the house before me. How could they have done nothing to keep that ivy in check?

To be continued…