Things have been so busy lately, mainly because of the work we’re doing on our new home. It’s been a rollercoaster ride so far, but when things get stressful, it’s the character of the place that keeps me going…
Since we bought our new place back in December, despite not moving in straight away, we’ve spent most of our time there; ripping out walls and ceilings, removing hundreds of nails, stripping wallpaper, and doing so many runs to the local tip that we’ve become ‘recognisable regulars’…
This will be our second home and our second fixer-upper, after buying and doing up a lovely little flat in 2017/18. But as I’ve mentioned on here before, this is a project on an entirely different scale with every single room needing work.
I’ve never been as exhausted, both physically and mentally. Any time not spent at the house (or at work), is largely spent thinking about it…
But despite the moaning I’ve undoubtedly done (you try removing nails by torchlight with about 5 layers on because your electrics and central heating haven’t been fitted yet…) it’s still been rewarding even at this early stage.
And a large part of that it because with each step we take, we’re bringing out the Victorian characteristics of the house that we fell in love with…
But, old houses also mean surprises and I’ve quickly come to realise that the work we think we’ll need to do, and the work the house actually needs are two entirely different things…
A few words on ‘lath and plaster’
Never heard of it? Don’t worry. Me neither before this house.
This is one of the phrases I now throw out whenever I get chance – to make it sound like I know far more than I actually do about renovating a property…
Lath and plaster is a building process used to finish interior dividing walls and ceilings from the early-18th until the early-to-mid-20th century. It consists of thin wooden slats nailed together then covered with a layer of plaster. You can often spot it in period dramas when walls are crumbling down in poverty-stricken neighbourhoods (I recently spotted it in the TV adaptation of Les Miserables!)
We knew we’d have to remove lath and plaster from some rooms, but we definitely didn’t realise that we’d end up having to rip it down on nearly every single wall and ceiling due to the numerous cracks, damp patches or popped plaster. We decided to do this ourselves to save a bit of money and, to begin with, it was quite fun (if you’ve had a bad morning, it’s pretty therapeutic!)
However, when we removed all the plaster and the wood, we were left with hundreds of nails – and we had to remove every single one.
So the nails weren’t great.
But the dirt was worse. When removing lath and plaster on the ceiling, we’d unleash torrents of dirt, dust and old insulation dating back to the 60’s. More than once, a piece of slate came crashing through the beams narrowly missing my head…
I may have looked like an idiot but the best thing we did at that stage was to invest in safety goggles, good quality dust masks and a full body suit.
My top tip? Don’t underestimate the dust mask. One evening we turned up with brand new white masks, and left just a few hours later with masks that were completely black.
A few words on damp and woodworm
Again, we sort of expected to find damp considering the age of the building, but it’s still amazing how annoyed you feel when someone points it out.
It’s not the end of the world – we just have to be careful about ventilation and try to find the source if we can.
Woodworm, on the other hand, I’d not really thought about. But yep. We had it.
The good news is it didn’t take too long to get treated. The bad news was that, last week, we discovered that our floor joists (the beams underneath the floorboards) were rotten. Apparently it’s a miracle we hadn’t fallen through them! Needless to say they’ve been changed now…
A few words on fireplaces
We were so excited about the prospect of having an old fireplace but sadly, most of ours were ripped out by previous owners. It felt wrong to have a property of this style without a fireplace so we’ve put in a stud wall in the lounge to replicate the old chimney breast with the aim of buying a cast iron fireplace eventually.
Having come to terms with the fact that the old fireplaces had been removed though, we definitely didn’t expect to find remnants of one in the 3rd bedroom a few weeks ago after peeling back some damp plaster.!
We’ve decided to make this into a little feature but it definitely taught me that old houses can hide a number of secrets…
A few words on cornicing and ceiling roses
Original details, like cornicing and ceiling roses, are further things to remember about Victorian properties.
Sadly, because of previous work done in the house, we had a weird variety of cornicing styles so have had to re-do most of the house to keep everything similar.
Thankfully, we’ve managed to find a local company that both make and install cornicing and after working with them, I’d definitely recommend going local on this sort of work. We were able to visit their workshop, check out multiple plaster casts and find exactly the style we were looking for with an abundance of honest advice.
But dealing with details like this have also taught me how to take a deep breath when things go wrong.
Sadly, a corner of our hallway cornicing (which is over 100 years old) has had a fairly substantial chunk taken out of it. I was so angry. But, as my boyfriend pointed out, no one else working in the house is going to have the same sort of consideration for it as we do, particularly when it looks like a building site! It’s annoying but it will just have to be fixed.
A quick word on ceiling roses too. We have a huge original one in the lounge which we love but are constantly amused by the faces pulled by friends that come over. True, with the old decor, it didn’t look brilliant, but we’re confident that when the room has been redone and the walls are crisp and modern, it will bring heaps of character. It’s part of the heritage of the house so we’re in no hurry to remove it.
A few words on skirting boards and architraves
How do you match old skirting boards and door architraves? Do you even need to?
Victorian skirting boards were much deeper than modern versions which make sense when you think about it, as the ceiling is typically much higher than in modern houses.
Door architraves too were much more detailed than they are now, meaning you need an eagle eye to be able to match them.
If you have any original features like this, our advice would be to keep them, restore them and try to match them in any rooms that are lacking or where door frames are too damaged to keep.
Again, take a deep breath if any damage is done. One of our door frames was actually removed and I almost had a meltdown…
We’re only two and a bit months in so it’s amazing to me that I’ve learnt so much already. The thing that has helped is that the minute we walked into this place, we loved it, regardless of how much work needed doing and how unloved it appeared.
But that’s the key. We loved it for its character, and as long as we have the vision of how to bring that back and restore it in all it’s glory, (hopefully) we’ll be fine…