Lessons I learnt from our house renovation to take on to a new project

Welcome to a new project! It’s a real beauty as you can see…

This is a house very close to mine that my sister has recently bought and I am going to be helping her to decorate it. She is working with the same contractor we used J A Whitney Building Contractors who, when I first started writing this post a month ago (full time childcare is not allowing me much time at the moment!), had just started stripping out the house and they’ve been as quick and focused as ever because now a month on they’ve re-wired, re-plumbed, knocked through downstairs and in the bathroom, plastered and even had a mist coat on upstairs when I went to see at the weekend. It was such a joy working with James and his team on our house and they made the experience so smooth and stress free so I’m really pleased that my sister is able to work with them too (they already renovated a flat she sold before buying this place).

The first thing my sister asked me at the beginning of the project was what were the best things we did in our house and what were the things we got wrong or wish we had done. So I thought it would make quite an interesting blog post to document those things especially for those of you who are mid-renovation or thinking about starting one soon. It’s taken quite a while to make a list as it’s so easy to forget these things once you’re in the house. I found it especially hard because we were living with family during the renovation so Mimi slept in our room, which unfortunately led to a baby that didn’t sleep. I also couldn’t go on site much so I just wasn’t as hands on as I would have liked to have been. Anyhoo, after discussing with Jules we came up with our list that we have been able to pass on to my sister and I hope it may help some of you.

Have a look at the house first as it looked a month ago and my list is at the bottom of the post…

The sitting room with walls and ceiling stained with nicotine! The house is Edwardian so really nice square proportions and high ceilings.
The layout of the house is exactly the same as mine but the house is a little wider and deeper with higher ceilings. I have advised my sister to knock through downstairs and then because her stairs are further forward than mine she has some extra space for a utility or storage area.
The front bedroom.
The third bedroom.

Things we learnt from our own renovation (in no particular order):

1. Spend as much time and attention as possible planning electrics and lighting.

I remember so clearly having to do the electrics and lighting plan because it felt like the worst chore ever. My advice is do not do it in the evening, do not do it when you’re exhausted, do not do it sitting in front of the TV, do not do it mid-heatwave with a baby that is awake all night and do not do it after a big row with your partner because you don’t want to do it – ha! Carve out a moment of time when you can be fully focused and go through it meticulously as it will have such a huge effect on the overall look and feel of your home. Lastly, do not forget a blooming plug socket in your hallway so you can’t have a lovely lamp on the hallway table (I’m still deeply regretful of that). Also, think about the type of lighting you have – I’ll have to do a separate post on this as it is a huge topic – but we knew we would have quite a few lamps so we made sure we could turn them on and off at the wall with the other lights. Little things like that make a big difference day to day.

2. Consider cost of exterior

We very much glossed over this. We knew the inside of the house was right for us and we knew that we had enough budget to get it to a certain point that we would be really happy with. However, we wrote off the outside as something that was easily fixable and could be done later on. We didn’t consider how much that was going to cost us or what the extent of the work would look like. I think this is important because you don’t want to be in a position with an unusable garden for example because you will never have the budget to get it cleared or landscaped.

3. Knock through

Obviously this will be different for everybody but for us it has been the best decision as I don’t think we would have enjoyed living here if we had left the downstairs as three very small rooms. My sister’s new house is the same layout and even though the rooms are bigger I have still advised her to knock through as it will suit her so much better with a baby to be able to see her at all times and it makes entertaining so much easier too.

4. When you knock down walls properly consider the space that will be created

It is quite easy to fall into the trap of not considering the new wall space that is created once old walls are knocked down. Think about how those new walls will be used, plan electric sockets and radiators to go on them.

5. Add enough radiators and sockets

Too many sockets is never enough sockets! Get USB ones too.

6. Budget for built in storage

I wish we had done this. I hated having nowhere to put anything when we first moved in and I still have nowhere to put my clothes.

7. Have washing machine upstairs

This has worked out really well for us. All laundry stays upstairs (except in summer when it is hung on the line) and all linens can be stored above the washing machine in purpose built cupboard. Most importantly it freed up space in our teeny tiny kitchen space.

8. Don’t take on DIY jobs unless you are sure you can achieve them

It is very tempting to look at a builder’s quote and try to take on jobs yourself to cut costs. Be very, very careful about it. Most likely you will end up with a badly executed job and will have spent as much more more than it would have cost your builder to have done it. We made this mistake with sanding the floors in our house – BIG MISTAKE!

9. Don’t fill your loft with crap!

Just don’t.

10. Don’t put spotlights everywhere

A big waste of money for us was installing spotlights in the hallway, on the landing and in the dining room – we never, ever use them.

11. Think about your hallway as an extra room

When planning electrics and radiators and lighting don’t forget to give the hallway as much thought as the rest of the house.

12. Reclaim fireplaces

I’m so happy we did this and added fireplaces in the bedrooms and reclaimed one for the living room. yes we would have had more wall space without them but the house would have lacked so much character.

13. Reclaim and rehang doors

Sadly in my sister’s house none of the original doors remain so I have advised her to reclaim some because they make such a difference to the overall feel of the house. Also, make sure to rehang your doors so that they open onto the wall of each room rather than opening into the room.

14. Electrics and lighting outside

Get an electric point and wiring for outside lights even if you don’t have the budget for the lighting itself yet.

15. Try to plan furniture

So difficult but as much as possible try to plan where your furniture will go in each room as this will dictate changes that will need to be made. For example, I advised my sister to get the door in her living room moved as it was exactly where she would naturally place a sofa.

16. Invest in nice radiators

It makes such a difference.

17. Underfloor heating

The best thing ever if you can do it.

18. Use a dark colour below dado rail in hallway – it will save you a life of scuffed white walls.

A small thing but it really does make a difference especially living with a muddy dog who likes a good shake in the hallway.

19. Plan, plan, plan.

It’s very easy to be caught out and to have to suddenly make important decisions on the spot for tiles or flooring or skirting board profiles or wall colours. Try as much as possible to have it all planned and ordered and decided so that you don’t have to rush decisions or make the wrong decisions because you don’t have time to research properly.

20. Budget to get the place cleaned before you move in.

If you can get the place professionally cleaned because it will make a massive difference. Moving is so full on and there is no spare time to do anything so even if you tell yourselves you’ll do it you probably won’t and you’ll be wading through building dust forever.

21. Be flexible.

It’s fine to have a design in mind for your home or the decor but when it becomes clear that it’s not going to work, it’s not the best option or it’s going to be too expensive be willing to change your mind. Don’t dig your heels in just because you had your heart set on something.

I’m sure there are loads of other things that I can add to the list as they come to me. As I said a while ago I want to share more about the ins and outs of working with a contractor and I’ve already started that post and I will definitely follow up with more about planning lighting as it is a minefield!

I hope this is useful and I will be sure you keep you up to date with how the team get along and some of the finished rooms soon! If you have done a renovation and want to add to my list leave a comment below.

Katy x

Building a DIY kitchen on a £1000 budget

I’ve been promising to write this post since the day we moved in to our house, nearly two years now, so to make up for the wait I’m going to make this long and detailed! Are you ready?

As many of you will know our contractor renovated the vast majority of our house, which included: taking the entire house back to brick, re-wiring, re-plumbing, knocking down two walls to combine the kitchen, dining and living space into one open plan room, knocking the separate loo and bathroom into one room and installing a brand new bathroom, sanding and oiling the floorboards, re-plastering and painting the whole house, as well as adding new skirting, architraves and picture rails throughout. However, the kitchen was the one area that we had to make big compromises on for two main reasons: 1) We didn’t have the budget for a new kitchen 2) We had half an eye on the fact that we would like to extend the back of the house in the future so we didn’t want to spend a lot on what could effectively be a temporary kitchen.

Therefore, we made the decision not only to fit the kitchen ourselves but also salvage as much of the existing kitchen as possible. We set ourselves a rough budget of £1000 and as soon as the builders had left we gave ourselves a week to get it done as we were DESPERATE to move in by that point (we stayed with my sister during the renovation, which was a total of five months as we had to wait for two months for our builders to become available and the renovation itself took three months).

First and foremost, this is what the kitchen looked like when we bought the house…

The house was never going to work for us if we kept the 2m wide kitchen as it was. Mimi was just starting to walk and was in to EVERYTHING and I had to have eyes on her 24/7 so being locked away in a tiny kitchen would have been a logistical nightmare. It also wouldn’t have worked well when we have friends over. It was cramped, claustrophobic, dark and I hated everything about it! The right hand side of the kitchen units and worktop were half the standard depth as there was so little width to the room. One of the worst things about the room was that the door opened outwards into the hallway and when that door was open it completely blocked the door to the dining room (see the floor plan). It was a case of constantly banging doors. Therefore, the decision to knock down the walls downstairs was an instant one for me and a total deal breaker – it had to happen for us to consider buying the house. A quick check on Rightmove showed me that many of the houses on our road (it’s a super long road so there really are a lot of examples to look at) had already done what we wanted to do so we were happy to make an offer. As soon as the right hand side of the kitchen was ripped out I could already see the potential and light flowing into the space and that was all I really wanted.

So much of the light was being blocked by the right hand side of the kitchen (and the awful black shiny floor tiles!) and as soon as the units were gone I could begin to see what the space would look like once that wall came down.
I was SO happy to see and feel the space when the wall between the kitchen and dining room was removed.

The actual design for the kitchen was dictated by budget. In lots of the other houses on our streets that have been renovated and made open plan, the kitchen has been made into a horseshoe shape by blocking up the doorway from the hallway and the garden door. We had a couple of problems with that. Firstly, we just simply didn’t want to/couldn’t spend the amount it would cost for that amount of fitted kitchen. Secondly, I’m not mad keen on this design as I feel like I would have my back to the dining/living space a lot of the time and it feels closed in. Thirdly, we really wanted to keep two points of access to the kitchen/living space as sometimes we don’t want Otto coming through the sitting room when he’s really muddy etc. The added benefit of keeping the kitchen door was that we could have really easy access to the larder cupboard under the stairs so we could spend even less on the kitchen in terms of cupboard space. Finally, I just LOVE the original glazed kitchen door and I couldn’t bear getting rid of it!

Having a very small budget actually makes designing a kitchen pretty simple as options are so restricted and our builder James from J A Whitney Building Contractors helped us with the layout and measurements. We decided that we could salvage the existing hob, tap, hood and oven as well as the unit that holds the oven with a drawer below.

We decided to salvage the oven and the unit it sits in, hob, hood and tap from the old kitchen.

We decided against having the fridge freezer on the left hand side and instead planned to fit two under counter kitchen cupboards there instead. That would enable us to have a worktop that spanned the back wall so we could have space for a coffee machine and toaster on the left of the oven. As we were keeping the garden door and not replacing it with a window our only real option was to have another worktop running parallel with the back wall. We would essentially recreate the original galley kitchen but in an open plan space. This is what we had to work with when the builders left and we had one week until move in day!

Now let me show you the image that inspired the ‘look’ I wanted for the kitchen…

deVOL kitchen (not keen on the lights, FYI)

I was led to this deVOL kitchen as I had decided on a dark blue kitchen because I wanted to tie in with the dark blue in the living room rug (remember, it is an open plan room so I had to consider the whole space quite carefully when designing the kitchen), as well as providing some contrast with all the white in the room. The dark blue also helps define the kitchen space from the dining and living spaces. I had bought Railings paint for the front door and stairs (I still haven’t painted them!) and so I tested that and it worked perfectly with the Light Blue in the rest of the room as well as the Inchyra Blue in the hallway. I was really keen to create a sense of continuity in this house as it’s so small and that helps to make it feel bigger so I’m pleased that the kitchen ties in with colours in the hallway. We painted very large pieces of cardboard boxes with Railings Modern Eggshell and stuck them to the kitchen units to help us visualise what the kitchen would look like.

I was very keen to keep a period feel in the house so it was easy for me to decide on a shaker style kitchen and James suggested buying a Howdens kitchen as he works with them on a regular basis. I chose the Burford paintable units (I’ve had a look online and I’m not sure if they are available anymore but there are lots of similar styles) that we could paint ourselves. This brought cost down and enabled us to have exactly the colour we wanted. Ordinarily it would be A LOT of extra work to paint a kitchen but because we only bought four cupboards – two on the left of the oven with a drawer, one under the sink and one under the ‘island’ for the bin – it wasn’t too hectic! Also, because the house was completely empty there was enough room to lay everything out and it was late summer so everything dried nice and quickly too. The cost of the carcasses, four door fronts, one drawer, end and dividing panels and kick boards was £816. Therefore, we needed to find door handles, worktops and a sink for as little as possible.

deVol shaker kitchen

I really liked the idea of mixing the worktop finishes like the deVOL kitchen as I definitely wanted a wooden worktop for the island but I didn’t want too much wood because we were going to have floorboards and a wooden dining table and big wooden wall cabinet. I knew I could get away with a cheap white laminate worktop quite easily on the back wall as so much of it would be covered by the sink and oven. I’m not very keen on laminate worktops but I can honestly say the white one I chose from Worktop Express for £80 is really great and very easy to keep clean.

Jules started the fitting process whilst I was at home with a sick baby and so I got these photo updates every now and again!
The 3 metre white laminate worktop needed to be cut to fit the space.
The birch worktop was 186cm and so that also needed to be cut so that it would be easy to walk around it into the open plan space.

The wooden worktop for the island is birch from IKEA and cost £100, which took us up to our budget of £1000. We were left with a black sink from the existing kitchen and that was a big no from me so we stretched the budget to buy a new white resin sink from B&Q for £94. This is by no means my ideal sink but for the price and the ease of fitting it works well as well as looking ok.

The cheap white resin sink works really well as it matches the work top so it’s quite inconspicuous.
The island houses an under counter fridge, freezer and one slim cupboard with a bin that’s so handy. This picture was taken before the worktop was trimmed.
We were able to paint the oven unit and handle to match the rest of the kitchen so that you can’t tell that it was part of the old kitchen.

At this point we moved into the house and it was pretty tricky as we still didn’t have any storage. We actually went away with family for a week to Rye almost as soon as we moved in and whilst we were there I found a £5 shelf in an antiques shop and I won an eBay bid on a wall cabinet for £40 so when we got home they immediately got put up.

With no storage other than two cupboards and one drawer it was quite tricky when we first moved in (also note the hole in the wall, the fact we hadn’t added the back to the island unit or the kick board under the oven).
The £5 shelf unit I found in an antiques shop.
The antique wall cabinet was an eBay find and houses all of our glasses and excess crockery that we don’t use on a daily basis.

The shelf in the kitchen quickly became a priority as we had no where for crockery and we recycled old lengths of MDF and brackets from shelves in our flat so they cost us nothing.

We didn’t tile the splash back for ages but we now have left over white metro tiles from when we tiled our kitchen in our old flat. We also had leftover grout and adhesive from the bathroom, so again that cost us nothing.

Very quickly I could tell that the kitchen was going to work really, really well and as soon as we fitted shelves into the larder, which is under the stairs, everything had a home. The larder is accessed through the kitchen door and actually it’s one of the best things about the kitchen. It makes storing food so easy as I can see everything and nothing gets lost at the back of a cupboard.

This is how the kitchen looks today…

The larder is just through this door.
AO sent me a black dishwasher as a PR product, which works so much better than the white one we brought from our flat. Otherwise I would have painted the white one as it really did stick out like a sore thumb.
The wooden worktop island is the perfect work space as I can look out into the living space and Mimi loves standing on a stool to take part.

Things I would change…

  1. I would have removed the cooker hood altogether as it no longer works (we salvaged it from the old kitchen) and we so rarely fry food so we really don’t need one.
  2. I wish we had lowered the shelf and added another on top of it to give us more storage space.
  3. We still haven’t oiled the floorboards after it was sanded just in the kitchen section. As a result they are now filthy and I’m furious about it every single day(!)
  4. I wish we hadn’t bothered with spotlights in the kitchen as I never ever put them on and have instead added a clip on lamp to the shelf and have a big standard lamp next to the island. I would have preferred wall lights above the shelves and a pendant or two above the island.

I told you it was going to be a long post! Well done if you managed to get to the end but if there are still any questions I haven’t answered please do leave a comment or send me an email katy@18.200.196.112.

Katy x

Kilim flat weave rugs

Since selling the ottoman in my sitting room a lot more of the rug has been on show and I have been deluged with questions about it. Very sadly the gorgeous company who made it, The House Of Rym, has since closed down so the rug is no longer available. I spotted it on their website quite some time before we moved in to our house but at £700 it was out of my budget. I had the tab open on my phone for weeks and then one day I checked it again and the rug was in the sale at £190. I have never ever bought anything so quickly! I based the decor of the whole living space around the rug and I still absolutely adore it.

Rise and Shine rug designed and made by The House of Rym
A flat weave kilim style rug

The rug is made of wool and a kilim style flat weave so it feels quite different to a lot of wool rugs or carpets as there is no pile. It is soft but not spongey or shaggy. This type of kilim rug is quite unique when compared to other patterned rugs as they actually act as a neutral; it is possible to layer pattern upon pattern with a kilim as the base. The geometric patterns are timeless and as can be seen in these homes they will fit in with many different styles of interiors…

Image via @ournewstorey
Image via @annacate
Image via Living Etc

It is impossible to find anything the same as the rug that I have – trust me, I have looked endlessly – but I would like to share my pick of similar style rugs and I hope that may help those people that have asked me about mine.

Vintage Scandinavian flat weave rugs

These Scandinavian rugs are probably most similar to my rug, which is a Swedish design. They are all vintage rugs from Vinterior and there are other rugs in their Scandinavian rugs category if you like these:

Kilim Afghans

Hand woven using traditional techniques, these flat weave wool rugs are beautiful and all one off unique pieces. There are hundreds available from Nain Trading so check out their Kilim Afghan rugs category. I have just bought a ‘modern kilim’ from them for our office so I will show it to you when it arrives.

ebay one offs

You’d better be quick if you like the look of any of these are they are all Buy It Now sales…

Modern kilims

And just a couple of mass produced kilim style rugs that are quite tricky to find…

Some advice when buying one off rugs

When choosing a one off rug there are a few things you need to check and consider. Firstly, the size of one off rugs varies hugely and there are no standard sizes like you get on the high street. Do make sure to check the exact measurements very carefully and don’t be fooled by images of the rugs that can make teeny weeny mats look like large area rugs. Some ebay sites in particular superimpose rugs into room images and scale them up to make them look a lot bigger than they actually are. Also be mindful to check what the rugs are made of; wool rugs will generally be more substantial, thicker and heavier than cotton rugs. If you want a rug that won’t wrinkle or for a heavy traffic area you will want a relatively thick rug. You will also need to bear in mind the cost of underlay for any rug you buy. I have always found that kilim rugs are amazingly good at disguising marks and stains and they wear so well too. Our sitting room rug looks as good as when we bought it two years ago despite living with a very large dog and young child.

I hope that helps! If you are looking and don’t see something you like here do make sure to click through to the different sellers as they have lots more to offer.

Katy x

DIY lamp makeover

One of the great things about the street that I live on is that we have a Whatsapp group so we can communicate with one another really easily. One of the things that we use the group for is to post any household items that we want to get rid of and more often than not there will be someone who needs whatever it is that is being given away. When one of my neighbours asked if anyone wanted an old M&S lamp I said yes as we desperately needed one in our bedroom at the time. Even though it wasn’t nice to look at I knew with a different shade and a change of colour on the base it would be as good as new.

A salvaged lamp that was being given away by a neighbour.

The shade was cracked and marked and the frame was wonky so there wasn’t much I could do with it. However, with a few pounds or with paint I already had I could see that the pretty shaped base could be transformed. The base is ceramic so I gave it a good clean and taped off the candle part and used an all surface spray paint and it couldn’t have been easier to get a good finish. I actually found the spray paint I used by chance at my local DIY store. It was the only colour they had and it was reduced to £3 (these cans are normally £5-11 in big DIY stores) so I decided to just give it a go!

I used Painters Touch gloss spray paint.

It’s definitely not my first choice of colour normally but I actually really like how understated it is and it works well with the other colours in my home. These sprays are quick drying and intended for use on wood, metal and ceramics. This paint provides a gloss finish.

Tape off any parts of the lamp you don’t want to paint.

Originally I decided to tape off the candle part of the base so I used decorators tape to cover anything I wanted to protect from the paint.

Spray the base outside and do thin coats with lots of drying time between coats.

I find it easy to use spray paints outside and I did three very thin coats and left a decent amount of drying time between each coat (a minimum of an hour). Once I removed the tape I could see that it would look better to paint the candle part of the base too so that’s what I did. And this is the finished lamp with a brand new shade…

The finished lamp with new knife pleated paper lampshade from The Lampshade Loft.

I decided to spend a bit of money on a really lovely shade as I’d only spent £3 on the base. This has been a really good way of ending up with a lamp that would have cost a lot if I bought it new, plus I have prevented the waste of an old lamp and supported a small business from whom I bought the new lampshade. Win, win!

There are some very beautiful unique lampshades available at Rosi de Ruig and Matilda Goad but if you are looking for something similar but much more affordable do try LeKrazyHorse, Pooky, Munro and Kerr, The Lampshade Loft and Compton Marbling. I’m very excited about all the knife pleated lampshades coming back on trend – I so remember having one in my room in the 80s that coordinated with the curtains, duvet cover and frieze!

Katy x

Sebra Kili junior bed review

Since writing my last Sebra Kili cot review we converted it to a junior bed when Mimi turned 2.5 years old. I want to give you a clear review of the cot in this new configuration, as I promised I would in my first review, because it’s the longevity of the cot that justifies its high cost.

I felt very nervous about converting the cot into a bed as Mimi is such a good sleeper so I was worried changing her bed would totally disrupt this. I forecast lots of running around her bedroom, roaming the halls in the middle of the night and rolling out onto the floor! I put the move off a little too long if I’m honest as Mimi was too big for the cot by the time she was 2.5 years so I had to take the plunge.

The cot was super easy to convert and I just had to add an extra chunk of mattress that is sold separately at the bottom. The cot lengthens but it doesn’t get any wider. The very clever design means that the mattress is sunk down by about 10cm so that rolling out of the bed is almost impossible. In the 18 months that she’s slept in it she has never fallen out.

I wasn’t able to find a sheet to fit this mattress size so I use a single one tucked in around the sides and that is fine. Mimi is quite a wriggly sleeper so a toddler sized duvet that fits in this junior bed was no good as it just got kicked to the bottom so I also gave her a single duvet in the hope that that would provide more coverage.

Mimi was super excited about sleeping in the bed for the first time and she had a really great first night. The bed is very cocooning and comfy and I needn’t have worried about the transition disrupting Mimi’s sleep.

As you can see there is lots of space in the bed for the toddler and lots of length for growth. However, the big downside for us was that we couldn’t sit or lie in the bed mainly because of the 10cm lip around the bed. We don’t stay with Mimi whilst she gets to sleep but I can see how this would be a huge downside for some parents. For us, we just had to organise to have a chair next to the bed to read bedtime stories.

The only other potential downside is that the bed is relatively high. Mimi never really had a problem getting in and out, especially as she got taller, but for some less physical children it may be a stumbling block. My nephew, for example, fell out of the bed trying to climb out.

Mimi is about to turn four and we could easily have kept the junior bed as is for another couple of years but we’ve made the decision to pass it on to my niece. This decision was mainly prompted by the fact that we need to create a dedicated office so we need a home for the single bed that was in that room. It made sense to put it into Mimi’s room and I have to say it is a welcome change being able to snuggle in bed with her now, which I was never able to do with the junior bed. But saying that it really did make the transition to a bed so, so easy and I was heart broken saying goodbye to the cot as it’s been such a big piece of the baby and toddler years and we’ve loved it at every stage.

If you do have any other specific questions please do ask me below!

Katy x