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Lessons in home improvement

Many of you will know that over a year ago, we bought and renovated our own flat. Now we’re at it again with a house so I thought it was about time I shared some lessons…

We’re in no way DIY experts or interior designers. To do the work we’ve done, we’ve had to do a lot of research, listen to a lot of advice and spend an unhealthy number of hours on Pinterest!

But it’s all been worth it. At the flat (our first home), we knocked down a wall, moved and installed a new kitchen as well as a new bathroom, before redecorating in a suitably beachy theme, in a nod to it’s proximity to the coast.

We did as much as we could, removing the wall and redecorating everything ourselves, relying on good tradesmen for the kitchen and bathroom work.

The house feels like a whole other ball game. It’s a Victorian property and hasn’t been touched for about 30 years, so we’re looking at new windows, new electrics, new plumbing, a new kitchen and bathroom and of course, decorating. So far, we’ve completely gutted it, removing ceilings and ripping up carpets so it’s right back to bare brick and floorboards. It is a complete shell – and I have never ever been so dirty…

At times, it’s exciting and at times it’s stressful but what’s helped me is reading what others have done, and getting inspiration from various online sources, magazines and books. So I thought I’d share some of our lessons in case any of you are thinking of buying your own fixer-upper!

Do create a budget but don’t freak out when you go over it. 
Because you will. 

In the flat, we tried to budget but found it so hard mainly because we had no real idea how much things would cost. This time around, we’ve budgeted a lot more realistically but may have forgotten to create a pot for ‘other’. We knew, buying an older property, that we’d discover things that needed to be fixed and problems that would come up along the way. But I guess we forgot to put aside some cash for that! The good thing though, is that we’ve looked at our budget as a guideline and that’s definitely the way to go. The minute you’re right up against it financially, that’s when a project like this can become a nightmare you wish you’d never started.

Do expect to feel clueless when you start talking to various trades, particularly builders. Terms you’ve never heard of will be used in such a way that you’ll feel stupid for not understanding so don’t be surprised when you start nodding despite the fact all you hear is white noise… 

Over the course of two years, I’ve learnt more about larve and plaster, stud work, chasing in, and many more terms than I ever thought I would. But there are still many more words and phrases I have no idea about, and frantically find myself googling. Thankfully this time, I feel a little less clueless!

Do make mood boards and laugh in the face of anyone who tells you that’s what Pinterest is for. 

Don’t get me wrong. Pinterest is amazing. I’ve created boards for every room in the house (and did the same in the flat) and it’s great for ideas. But you can very quickly get sucked into a black hole and that is where you wish you’d just turned to good old fashioned paper. When we bought the flat, I excitedly made A3 mood boards for each room with my Mum, cutting and sticking images from the internet or from magazines and catalogues. They included colour schemes, flooring ideas and furniture (because at that point we had nothing!). When we sold the flat and I looked back at these, I was amazed how similar the images were to the look we’d ended up with. They definitely helped me come up with colour schemes I liked and that fit in with the beach vibe I was going for. And to top it all off, we had so many positive comments on the interior design, it’s given me so much more confidence for our house.

Do be prepared to put in the hours …

In both the flat and the house, we’ve turned up after work to do as much as we could in the evenings, as well as at weekends. In the flat, we had to be careful due to noise restrictions with our neighbours, but in the house, with no such restrictions, we’ve been working a lot in the evenings immediately after work. We’ve done so much in a short space of time and saved ourselves some money, doing work we could have paid someone else to do, so I’d definitely recommend putting in as many hours as you can. Do be prepared to get dirty though. Despite wearing overalls, plastic goggles and a dust mask, after knocking down larve and plaster, I came out of one of our rooms looking like I’d just climbed out of a chimney.

…but don’t forget to schedule in some ‘you’ time.

We actually both came down ill a few weeks ago, and it was a bit of a relief not to go into the house to do more work. We gave ourselves a break, I had a bath, did my nails, and felt more human again. That down time is important, so don’t forget it. You need to refresh and recharge otherwise this will feel more like a chore than an exciting project.

When it comes to decorating and furnishing, do pay attention to the little details. 

One of the things I really wanted to do in the flat was to inject a beachy vibe. Colours helped – keeping things bright and airy with injections of ocean blue and sea green in places. But also important were the little touches. Wall art from Sand and Seagulls immediately made our hallway feel coastal, but so did the real pebble doorknobs we bought for our hallway cupboards. And the rope doorstop we bought for the lounge. Never underestimate the power of a small object in injecting the style you’re going for.

These are just a few lessons we’ve learnt while embarking on our little property ventures but I’m sure there will be many more to come…

If you have any tips, suggestions or want to ask any questions with your own projects in mind, drop a comment below!

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