When we moved into this house almost 4 years ago, we knew it was going to be hard. My dad looked around for a second viewing and agreed that everything needed doing: central heating, roof, replastering, woodworm floors, dodgy extension, damp, every room basically needed ripping out and putting back.
We didn’t take many ‘before’ photos as we moved right in with all our belongings, plus I remember saying that I wanted to look forward and not remember some of the tough times (this was obviously before we started documenting renovations – I now wish we’d taken more!).
I remember the first night moving in (there was a delay with the sale and we didn’t end up getting into the property until 10pm!) – we couldn’t do the spring clean I intended and had to put up our bed in record time, as I hoovered up mouse droppings!
As hard as it has been, we knew what was in store. We knew it was the deal, the house was top of our budget and apart from essential work like heating (we moved in during winter), we would have to wait, save and remortgage before any big jobs could be done. We stayed at parents’ houses for a few nights here and there but work-wise we needed to be in London and around for the builders so we didn’t move out at any point.
Now I know that everyone is different and most houses have different amounts of work needing doing, so this is a rough list of things that we found useful during the darkest times, especially if anyone is considering a renovation project.
If, like us, you decide to tackle a renovation room by room (which, I will add, isn’t the cheapest way to do it, more just cost effective in terms of access to funds – we could never have gotten our hands on enough money to do this house all at once), it actually really helps to live in the property for a bit. It really helps you get used to the space and how you use it. Really take that time to decide what rooms are most important to you, or the most cost effective to renovate quickly/cheaply. For some the kitchen is a deal breaker, for us it was the bathroom. We didn’t have enough money to do the kitchen properly but we could borrow enough from a small remortgage to do up a bathroom and, considering there were even periods where we got rid of the water tank so didn’t even have running water for a while, I just wanted to have somewhere tranquil where we could shower and feel clean – not something I felt everyday in our home.
Without a kitchen, we planned the first few weeks around friends’ houses – they’d cook us dinner and then we’d use their shower after! We’d stagger this with chip shop takeaways and microwave meals off paper plates until we had a sink and running water to wash things with. Chris joined a cheap gym to shower in (and has never signed up again since!!).
After a few months, the bathroom was done and we could shower!
Our builder plumbed in a temporary sink for us to use in what would eventually be our kitchen (we got one from Ikea, but Gumtree has loads if you search Ikea free standing sink). We bought one plug in portable hob (although later upgraded it to two – which I would recommend!), we had a microwave already and then we found a mini oven from Lidl for £20 which has served us well for almost 4 years now!
Although we haven’t been cooking anything gourmet, it hasn’t felt a huge compromise – we have learnt to make a lot of one pot meals (I can highly recommend Lorraine Pascale’s chilli con carne and Deliciously Ella’s cannellini bean stew) and we’ve just had to simplify what we make. I cannot wait to get my juicer back out one day and make a lunch for family with lots of little dishes – but it makes the wait worthwhile!
Now, I’m not one for hoarding BUT I would say to keep hold of anything that might be useful when it comes to renovations! My mum offered up a small roll of leftover carpet from their loft and I have to say, I laid a strip next to our bed so my bare feet could touch something clean and soft rather than having to put shoes on immediately out of bed. It offered a little bit of solace – and as rooms were finished we ended up moving it around, it eventually ended up by our portable rail and will go in our loft to help dusty footprints! We took a lot of half used tins of paint with us and friends offered spare leftover paint they had, which we used to paint the living room to make it liveable when we first moved in.
My next point is a bit of first world problem but I made sure I had a few different pairs of slippers, as the dust of living within a renovation is relentless. We set up rules so that we didn’t continually traipse dust and dirt through ‘nice’ rooms as they were completed. One of the reasons we focused on the hallway before the kitchen was because it joined so many rooms together, having that room finished and dirt-free was a huge deal psychologically and meant we contained most of the dirt to the back of the house (and has meant limited dust through the house for this final part of the kitchen building work!).
Chris and I discuss a LOT whether we’d ever do it again and to be honest, as rewarding as this has been, I’m not sure we would. Financially, we couldn’t afford to, but also mainly with a toddler we’ve found this latest stage has been harder, it’s difficult to keep a child away from dangerous objects etc, and you miss all your comforts even more when you’re raising a child (let’s just say this lockdown has had its challenges!). But as everyone says, despite the rollercoaster, it is always worth it and the fact that we are ahead of schedule with works is a great feeling. We will still have a lot of work to do outside (roof replacement, pointing, garden etc) but for us, it already feels like home on the inside.