2016: A year in DIY

And so goes another year in the house. A year of slightly failing to blog, but actually, not failing at all where DIY and house progress was concerned.

I started this year disappointed with the slow progress we were making with the house, but I end the year feeling very proud of ourselves, and with a sense that we have very much turned a corner and the end is in sight. Which, is a good place to be, finally, after 3 and a half years!

Last Christmas I was lamenting the fact that our upstairs bedrooms were still unfinished. This Christmas we hosted six people, in our three, almost complete, spare bedrooms. Sure, one of them was just painted white and had no floor, but it did have a window that finally closed, a blind that worked and a room for a double bed.

This year was the year that we dug deep into our own DIY skills, (well, hard work rather than skills) and took on as much of the remaining work as we could. Furniture was ripped out, floors pulled up, ceilings and walls were painted and flat pack furniture was put together. Even if painting my first ceiling ended up with me having a face like this:

My face after painting the ceiling

Our own bedroom sadly remains unfinished, for now, (while we prioritised readying the guest rooms for Christmas) but our biggest transformation is in our loft conversion. Badly done in the past, we always planned to redo the whole thing, but time and money told us we probably weren’t going to do that for a long time and so during the May Bank Holiday we just resolved to paint the whole thing white and see what we could make of it. The transformation is remarkable; a room gone from bright pink and purple, with a fogged up window, half a floor and a lime green bathroom, into a clean and serene guest room. A new floor, new glass for the window, ripping out old fitted units, a lick of paint all round and suddenly we have a beautiful space that we almost fought over this Christmas. (See gallery below)

And we finally have a kitchen roof that doesn’t leak! This was the year that we closed our eyes and swallowed the cost of a new flat roof, and thank god we did as the mess our builder found when he pulled it off was unbelievable. Three different layers of essentially a patched roof over the years made it pretty obvious why we’d had so many leaks. A hot week in August saw the laying of a new liquid fiberglass roof. Only marginally more expensive than asphalt but much, much durable – it should last years!

So, without further ado here’s how things have come along this year in the house…

Spare room 1

Loft conversion

Kitchen Roof

Final spare room – still missing a floor

All in all, a lot achieved!

The Christmas deadline pushed us on, but it was worth it that’s for sure. We now have 3 spare rooms! And we filled them with our family. It was busy, noisy, the cats hid under our bed for most of the period, but it was great fun and we loved every minute.

And now, we sit still for a while…

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Merry Christmas!
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And they all had a jolly good time…

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and wishing everyone a peaceful New Year.


What we used/bought:

  • Paint for the first spare room was Green Blue, from, you know it, Farrow & Ball. We just loved this shade.
  • Cornicing was from a great place in Leytonstone. Made to order, fast and fitting available.
  • We must have made a least a dozen trips to the wonderful Webster’s in Forest Gate, for paint and materials. Love them.
  • Our favourite, basic, white paint for walls and skirting became Johnstones, which we bought from Webster’s above. Goes far and great coverage.
  • IKEA provided our daybed for the loft that transformed into a truly enormous king size bed. Comfortable and not too tricky to put together.
  • My good friend saved the day in our makeshift bedroom with a raised double airbed, a lot like this one. It was incredible and I am very tempted to buy my own now!
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On never, quite, achieving what you set out to. (Another year, lots done, more to do)

I was feeling a bit melancholy on New Year’s Day, and not even down to a hangover. No, I was trying to write a blog but feeling a little bit of a failure due to the last post I wrote and being sure we would be finished all the bedrooms upstairs by Christmas. Needless to say, we didn’t. We didn’t really get close. And I was feeling stupidly annoyed with myself about it, for really no reason.

We progressed as far as having one room plastered, and my plan was to try to get the rest done before Christmas so I could paint them all over the break. But, the only thing I managed to actually paint in the end were the doors to the ensuite and wardrobe (three, maybe four months after they were hung, but hey ho…).

No, in hindsight I wished I had started the year just giving myself a break really. Last year we did actually achieve a huge amount in the house, but all I could see was the fact that whole upstairs is still a mess and there is still so much to do…

What I should have been doing was feeling proud that in the last year we have actually completely rebuilt and redesigned the downstairs bathroom, have a lounge that is almost, so very nearly, finished with lovely shelves, a nice new floor and new sofas, that we lived through the restructuring of our bedroom dividing one room into two and now have a shower and a wardrobe that everyday I love. We have achieved a lot this year and what’s left, compared to what we’ve done is really quite small now. And I should be telling myself we will get there. Repeat after me: we will get there. (And then we’ll just go round again, right?)

So here’s a few pics of this year’s progress…

For anyone about to start, know this: renovating a house is endlessly hard, at times really dull, will take way more time than you ever thought it would, and cost at least double. (These are hardly new statements). But, if you can take all that, it is worth it. Honest. I absolutely love our house, and whenever I hear friends embarking on a move or house hunt I hug my unfinished, unpainted walls and think, thank you. We love you house, we’ll make you pretty one day house. And Forest Gate continues to thrive, and grow and we’re endlessly happy we managed to move here over two years ago.

So, I won’t tell you what the plan is next for upstairs, because I don’t want to disappoint myself…but I’ll just know that we’ll get there soon. And that will be okay.

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In other news, I read a lot of books last year (when I probably should have been painting), here are a few of my recent highlights:

H is for Hawk – Helen McDonald: I read this on holiday after having it on my ‘to-read’ shelf for about a year. It won the Samuel Johnson and Costa prize for Non-Fiction and I’d been told it was a bit of a hard slog so I just kept putting it off, but I really shouldn’t have. It was remarkable. Compelling, moving, fascinating and life-affirming. About grief more than looking after a bird of prey, but also immensely insightful about how looking after and respecting another living thing can, at times, restore you.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr: This probably was my book of last year. Again one I’d had on the shelf for a while and heard many great things – all of which were justified. The story of a blind teenager surviving during the siege of San Malo during WWII – it is just beautiful.

The Versions Of Us – Laura Barnett: Kind of Sliding Doors meets Life After Life, perfect for anyone that ever asks What If I never met/said yes/no etc that person? It’s a wonderful life (or multiple life) story. It’s just out in paperback – read it.

After The Crash – Michel Bussi: I put this in mainly as I have a real fondness for it. It’s kind of a crazy, weird, compelling but little bit silly “who dunnit/who is it” thriller, translated from French. I just really enjoyed reading it while on holiday.

Tiny, Beautiful, Things – Cheryl Strayed: I loved Wild, the book (the movie, not so great). Cheryl Strayed definitely has a thing with words, and this collection of letters from her Dear Sugar advice column was just a joy. I read it in one sitting on a plane, and it deals with all of life’s big (and small) questions giving honest, direct and often hilarious answers.

And here are a few that I’m excited about coming this year (that I haven’t already mentioned – no need to say anymore about the wonderful Trouble with Goats and Sheep coming out at end of this month):

Jonathan, Unleashed by Meg Rosoff: Out in February I think. I was lucky enough to read this on submission, and very sad we didn’t get to publish it, but as a long time fan of Meg Rosoff’s teen novels I gulped down her first adult one. Set in New York, with the hopeless but hopelessly loveable Jonathan – it’s a modern day love story, both insightful and hilarious with the best characters I’ve read in a long time (and dogs).

Not Working by Lisa Owens: coming April. Read some of this on submission again and want to read more. A very funny novel of a women who quits her job to find herself, only to find out it’s not so easy…

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: also out in April. I *heart* Curtis Sittenfeld and loved both American Wife and Sisterland so her doing a spin on Pride and Prejudice was eagerly awaited. I’m lucky to be working on the book and read an early copy and absolutely loved it. So so funny and totally accurate in bringing the characters up to date, I could almost read it all over again (and I only just finished).

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And finally, I am over the moon to see a Christmas present well-received. My best friend recently quit her high-powered job in law and I bought her Nigel Slater’s Year of Good Eating (the third Kitchen Diaries book). She’s spending her time incredibly wisely (I think!) and aiming to cook every recipe in it over the next year whilst also looking after her lovely almost 2 year old. She’ll be blogging her progress here – wishing her much luck and hoping to enjoy one of two of those meals!

2013: A year in boxes

It was a year ago that we decided to move house.

We stayed in last New Year in our flat in Stoke Newington. We went to bed about 1am, feeling smug about the potential of not being tired and hungover on New Years Day for a change. But, living in a flat, at the front of a house, on a busy-ish street – sleep, we did not. People coming in and out drunk, people having long conversations about how and when to get a taxi right outside our window, people singing down the road. The next morning, possibly more tired than had we been out, we started the conversation. If only we could have a house, maybe we should just think about moving?

By lunchtime, we were on Right Move, looking at houses in Manor Park and Forest Gate, after having spent Christmas with my other half’s parents there, having a nice walk on Wanstead flats and thinking, could we live here? Became pleased about how much we could get for our money if we sold up in N16. Decision made, we started planning. People had said to me, it could take you a year to move. Well, it didn’t quite take that long, but it certainly did take up the whole year, in many ways. I kept thinking in January, maybe by the end of the year I might have a house, and space for a Christmas tree.

And here’s how it happened:

January:

Having made the decision to move, it was time to ready the flat to sell. A.k.a – do all those jobs you’ve been putting off for the last few years. A.k.a – find handyman to fill small hole in bedroom wall, look at the light in the bathroom, fix the cooker hood. During time he is there: cooker hood explodes, upstairs washing machine floods, water comes through ceiling; handyman is booked to return again to repaint the kitchen ceiling once the damp has dried out.

February:

Flat finally goes on the market. After panicking for weeks about whether it will sell, it sells in four days,  after an open house viewing. To a cash buyer. Stoke Newington had become ‘that’ kind of place. Go to New York; panic about finding somewhere else to live now we had sold so quickly.

March:

The house hunt in Forest Gate and Manor Park starts. Take afternoon off work and see a house on Godwin Road (with holes in many walls), house on Sebert Road (detached! With huge garden! But which needed complete gutting and starting again) and house on Durham Road (fall in love, immediately put in an offer!). Offer accepted the next day. Start planning work and picking paint colours. Think, well, that was easy. Two weeks later: house falls through after vendor pulls out. Heartbroken, we return to search. See house on Ridley Road (dank, damp and depressing), another house on Sebert Road (open house viewing, sizing up other couples like us, could be amazing, but it again needs gutting, though, I am keen). Call estate agent – house has gone for full asking price offer. Nothing else on market.

April:

Dearth of property; completion date on own sale set for 11th April. Receive kind offer of a room at both parents’ houses. Decide to pack up and do it. See house on Rosedale Road, just south of Romford Road. Could we live there? Beautiful features, needs some work but all liveable. Amazing cornicing and tiles. It’s under budget. My grandparents were born around the corner. It could be fate. We offer. Have gastro-enteritis, find out offer is accepted. Feel numb. Book survey. Pack, pack, move to temporary room in Whitta Road, Manor Park, take more boxes with us than necessary. Ten days later: receive email from old estate agent about a house back on market in Godwin Road (not the one with holes in walls) that we’d seen early in year but was under offer. Bigger house, better location, near Wanstead flats. Decide we should take a look. Other half is away, so I go alone with instructions “if you like it, offer”. Pressured viewing with two other couples. Feel nervous and excited. Love the road. House needs work but area is just perfect. Decide to offer. Go to Cornwall with friends. Offer accepted while standing in middle of a field with limited mobile reception. Jump up and down, then feel immediately guilty about Rosedale. Call other estate agent to pull out. They are sad, but happy as we have just saved the Godwin Road chain from falling through and they act for the house our vendors were buying. All is well again.

May:

Rush to get things in order for exchange at end of month. Everyone keen to move as quickly as possible. Still staying with parents. Exchange date is imminent when we hear that top of chain are now buying a different property and there is a hold up. Everyone is angry. No movement.

June:

Constant calling of agents and solicitors to find out progress. Play the waiting game. Get more angry. Go to stay with friends for a week to give parents a break. Hassle all the agents in chain to no avail. Finally we exchange contracts after everything nearly falls through on day of exchange. Completion date set for 28th June. Day of completion comes. Solicitor’s bank has error and no money leaves their account. Cry at Westfield and cancel our movers. Error is sorted by mid-afternoon, and money starts to move. Solicitor calls to say they sent the wrong amount of money. Everyone panics. Eventually, somehow we all complete at 4.45pm. We finally get keys at 5.30 but don’t get to move in that day. But, we do, finally have a house!

July:

Moving day, but no sign of movers. Swear we are never moving again. Eventually move in 2 days before we go on holiday. Call electrician friend who comes day before we go to look at electrics – find out we need to rewire. Start process of drawing all over the walls night before we go away. Rewire started while in France! Rest of month taken with rewire, dust and more dust. Oh, and a bit of gardening.

August:

Still rewiring. Get the garden in order. Hmm. It was sunny…? Discover lovely restaurants in Wanstead, just a short bus ride away – Tapas, Pub and Italian (actually owned by our electrician’s dad, who sadly recently retired and sold the restaurant).

September:

Rewiring finally finishes! And clean up begins. Forest Tavern opens to much delight. Friends decide they will also try to move to Forest Gate. Remove horrible en-suite bathroom. Decide to redo kitchen. Finally put clothes away, but still have hundreds of boxes as yet unpacked.

October:

Quiet in the house. Move all the boxes to another room, and make a spare room for our first overnight guest. Take up carpet and discover nice floorboards! Duct tape up the holes in her ceiling. Guest comes and loves the house. Phew! Get call from our builder – he’s ready earlier than planned and can start work on the kitchen at beginning of November. Panic buy floor tiles and take trip to Ikea to decide on kitchen.

November:

See great, free, firework display at Wanstead flats. Try to meet up with other friends who moved to the area from Dalston. Fail. Too many people and rain. Work starts on lounge. Give up all living space downstairs and decamp to our bedroom. Lament decision to do kitchen and lounge at same time. Go on holiday! Return to no kitchen. Eat many excellent meals at Forest Tavern and Siam Cafe and have many curries delivered from Sagor in Manor Park (now, also, sadly closed). Have breakfast with a colleague who tells me ‘Everyone is moving to Forest Gate’. Honestly, nobody had heard of it a year ago.

December:

Kitchen starts to take shape. Lounge is painted, orange! Move back into the downstairs of house. Buy A CHRISTMAS TREE from The Old Slate Yard just down the road. Spend happy day decorating tree. Think back to January and feel pleased. Panic about finishing kitchen and diner by Christmas. We are cooking for 11. Have final day with builder where our glass splash-backs don’t fit, and when trying to trim one, it smashes.  He looks like he might cry. We raise a glass to great progress and not worrying about splash-backs. We move yet more boxes and make up the spare room again for Christmas guests. More holes are covered, but this time with pictures. Sofas are moved around. A shower is made in the downstairs bathroom out of a painting pole! Guests arrive, love house. Phew. Diner remains unpainted for Christmas day but we decorate with paper chains and garlands and nobody cares. Oven works, there is a lot of wine and we christen our kitchen and new house with our family. Card is put through door from someone desperate to move to Forest Gate. Friends are still trying to find a house here. Go on weekly run on Wanstead Flats and feel lucky. Paint the dining room on New Years Eve, but don’t mind.

Feel so pleased we made the decision to move when we did.

Resolve that by next Christmas we will have unpacked the rest of the boxes.

Open wine. Rest.

Happy New Year Forest Gaters!

A sigh of relief

We made it to Christmas – and an almost complete kitchen and lounge.

We served Christmas dinner in an unpainted, but newly plastered, room  – but made it work, with the help of paper chains and garlands!

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Kitchen revamped from dark:

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To light:

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Ikea kitchen done good
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Just missing skirting boards and something for the far wall
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Painted glass splash backs will eventually match the colour of the dining room walls

Lounge gone from dull:

Living room (sans much furniture)

To bold (and Christmassy):

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We’re loving the Orangery.

Someone said to me, when you’re living through all the mess of your renovation you can’t see the end, but once it’s done, you start to forget it quicker than you thought possible. Obviously at the time I didn’t believe it could be true, but, remarkably, it was. We finished the last bit of work almost a week ago (placing the splash backs, moving furniture back into the living room, rearranging furniture from various parts of the house) but I am now already completely in love with our new rooms. The kitchen is so light and airy, and seems bigger than ever.

(And it was fab to christen the space on Christmas Day with so many people in it. 11 to be exact. And no major breakages.)

We are particularly happy with our table. We’ve always wanted a farmhouse feel to our kitchen (even in East London!) and found a table on ebay that we liked and then found the maker and his entire range online. They makes tables to order from reclaimed wood, with any changes you want (painted legs, drawers added etc). Much discussion has been had about where our table might have come from – the latest theory is we think it’s made from old scaffolding planks. Who knows? But either way, we totally love it:

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Things to finish off now are: paint the dining room walls, fit new skirting boards in both rooms, fit the window sill in the kitchen, stain and polish the floors and rehang the original doors. But, that’s nothing compared with how far we’ve come, so we aren’t too daunted.

And in the meantime, we have our feet up for a few days. With a functioning kitchen, a warm lounge, and dust free (ish) spaces to enjoy.

Until January, at least.

Living through dust, or, a kitchen transforming

I have neglected the blog recently. This is because since I last wrote, we haven’t had any living space. About a week after the living room started being torn apart and put back together, we started on the kitchen.

Anyone who’s ever lived through having a kitchen refurbished knows the upheaval that comes with it: the lack of sink, oven, washing machine; the constantly feeling of dust, EVERYWHERE; the longing for the day where you can cook a meal again and wash up in the same room (slash, load the dishwasher). It’s certainly a test of wills, I tell you.

Luckily we just happened to be away for the very worst part of the refurb which we were thankful for. While we were swanning around the US, our builder was ripping out our kitchen, finding the walls in a bad state, rebuilding them, reskimming them, and starting to lay a new floor.

We dismantled as much as we could before we fled the scene:

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Bye old kitchen…

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Everything had to decamp into our spare rooms…including the new kitchen which was delivered (Thanks Ikea) just before we went away, and single-handedly carried upstairs (all 83 packages) by my other half. Goodbye spare rooms, for now:

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So…when we returned, what did we find? Well, actually, things had moved along nicely, and despite feeling like you constantly can’t find anything, and getting sick of takeaways, we shouldn’t complain that much. In two weeks things have been moving pretty quickly…take a look:

We have been mucking in as much as we can to help speed things along. My other half has been helping with laying the underfloor heating mats (a very straightforward way of getting some heat into our very cold kitchen, and easily bought online), and we have spent each weekend since being home painting…not always what you want to do after a busy week, but suddenly we can see the light.

This coming week should see some big things being done. The sink should be functioning in the next few days, the wall cabinets should be going up, the final coat of paint going on. The tiles we raced around to buy before we went on holiday (just from B&Q, but we’re very pleased with our choice in the end) should be unearthed again after being covered in cardboard all week (to avoid paint spillages…). The lounge is being painted so we can move back into it.

We have just over two weeks to get ready for Christmas, and I *think* we will make it.

The next part to do is the diner. And if we don’t quite finish that, what better way to say ‘Merry Christmas’ than by handing each relative a paintbrush  with their turkey and putting them to work, eh? Certainly one way to work off the Christmas dinner.

The spare room exists…

While there hasn’t been much building work progress, as I mentioned in my last post, we have been continuing to find things to go in the house – to try to make it liveable for the time being. So, when a close friend who is also doing some decorating, offered us a double bed for our spare room, we jumped at the chance to take it off their hands.

As we are likely to have family staying with us over Christmas, we knew we had to get the spare rooms in some sort of order soonish, so getting this bed gave us a reason to finish clearing all the boxes and rubbish out of there.

A few weeks back, my other half organised a junk clearance company to come and collect all the building materials and things we’d ripped out during the rewire and plumbing work we’d had done. They were fantastic and I jumped up and down in the new spaces we had that were finally clear.  So after a quick hoover, and moving of some doors from the room (we have four original doors which need to be stripped and rehung at somepoint which are stashed away now), we were then ready for our new delivery.

So, here’s the spare room progression from moving in to now.

The week we moved in.
The week we moved in.
Have I made any progress? 8 weeks in.
Have I made any progress? 8 weeks in.
Remains of the old built in wardrobe
No boxes but, the remains of the old built in wardrobe
What a difference a bed makes!
What a difference a bed makes. 12 weeks after moving in we have a workable spare room.

We still need to repair a wall, revamp a window, paint, and decide on what to do about the floor but, for now – it’s starting to look like a room. And cosy! I even picked up a cute clock just in Ikea at the weekend which I thought gave it a homely feel.

So. Now. Who wants to be the first guest?