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!

Looking forward to spring

This is pretty obvious, given the weather today and how bleak it’s been, but – I have more than one reason for looking forward to spring. And that is that work is about to being again on our house – hurrah!

It’s been almost a year since I last opened my “House Work Planner” spreadsheet and since then there hasn’t been a lot of progress in our house. But, we certainly haven’t been doing nothing. During that time our household has acquired two cats, got one new job that has taken up many hours, written at least one book (not by me), travelled round Southern California, survived an office move and got a new mortgage. The last of which means, hurrah – work can begin on our house again!

So, that is why I’m looking forward to Spring.

Because in just under a month, our builder will be back and ripping out our bathroom. He has to start outside with our ancient pipes and drains, and then gut the whole bathroom before he can do anything. I’m trying not to think about that stage. Instead, I am doing the exciting bits – obviously – and dream shopping for bathroom fittings.

This is our current bathroom, complete with makeshift shower held up by a decorating pole and NHS curtain.

Old bathroom shower pole come decorating pole

It’s not hideous but it is dark, and so very blue. And always just a little bit damp. I dread to think what is lurking under the lino…(Poor Kristian…our builder).

So, I think after living with this for the last 18 or so months we will be going clean, and bright. And likely white, with one bright colour splash somewhere.

I took a walk to Romford Road today to visit the excellent TJR Bathrooms, which has a surprisingly good range of lovely bathroom fixtures and fittings. There I was before I went, saying, ‘look, I definitely don’t want to spend a fortune on the bathroom’. But, ahhh – but then I picked up a Clearwater ‘Simply Exclusive’ bathroom brochure. Disaster.

My current shortlist should budget/bargain hunting allow is:

This beautiful Clearwater Roll-top basin with stand –

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Swoon

Perhaps paired with this Modern Free-standing bath, again from Clearwater –

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Pass the sponge

And, oh definitely need one of these:

Heritage Heated Towel Rail
Heritage Heated Towel Rail

Hmm. I think I might have to do some shopping around. But, for now, I will carry on dreaming!

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In other news, I’m adding a feature to this blog – stolen from a friend and colleague Be Nourished. Seeing as I read so much in my job, I thought I’d share my recent reads and soon-to-be-reads with you.

So, this month:

– The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton. Stunning debut I thought and one of the books last year that everyone was talking about. Weird and wonderful, not perfect but I loved it.
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion. God, I loved The Rosie Project so much, and this sequel completely lived up to the first book in my eyes. I laughed and cried in equal measures. I love Don Tilman (though think he *might* be hard to live with)
The Wronged by Kimberley Chambers, for work – East End crime/drama at its best. If you love Eastenders, or anything to do with The Krays, you’ll love it. Coming in March – can’t wait to work on this one.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins – this debut went to Number One last week in the Hardback charts on its first week of release and surprised everyone. I’ve just started reading it, it’s definitely compelling so far.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – maybe my favourite author, I’m halfway through this and it’s as good as I thought it would be. Just need the time to get back to it! (You can probably tell I read a lot of books at the same time, bad habit of my job)

On my to be read shelf:
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – been hearing a lot about this haunting collection of essays and stories. Bought in Waterstones January Sale and staring at me on my bookcase.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – gift from a friend at another publisher, have been wanting to read for ages. Might be next on my list!

Let me know if you’ve read or reading any of the above and what you thought!

Until next time…

 

 

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.

Lounging

As you know, the building site continues. But as we have to live in it for a while, we have decided to try to make it as nice as possible. (As nice as it can be with holes in your walls and random patches of paint everywhere).

So, I have been unpacking more and more and rearranging rooms to make them as liveable as can be. The lounge is looking more lounge-like. This is what we had for a while.

Living room (sans much furniture)
Lounge, before (and without much furniture)

The one comfy chair situation was not one that could last long when there are two of you living there. Try watching a three hour film on a deck chair and you will know what I mean.

This room doesn’t need much work really but the work isn’t going to happen for while. The plan is we need to re-plaster (it’s crumbling), then paint (we picked the colour ‘Orangery‘ already) and then hope to be able to restore the original dark wood floorboards that should be under this bamboo flooring. They look okay from the cellar, but who knows what we will find when they come up. Oh, and we also need to replace the skirting boards too. And this is a room I said didn’t need much work.

But, as there isn’t anything structural, it isn’t a priority yet. So, we need to make nice for now.

First step was thankfully being offered a sofa on loan, which has been gratefully received and much lounging has already occurred. We then moved an old shelving unit from upstairs (which we aimed to throw out, but now I’m pleased we never got round to it) and today I have filled it with just some of our books (we have way too many). And with some pictures unwrapped and balancing precariously on shelves and fireplaces, it’s just starting to look just a bit cosy:

lounge sept 13-1

That will do for a while.  We have a few weeks without workmen coming up, so I did an epic clean today so we can enjoy the dust-free weeks.

The dust-free weeks until we get our kitchen ripped out and redone, and then all the dust in the world will be upon us again.

But, for now, I have my feet up on the (borrowed) sofa and I’m not thinking about anything else but lounging.

Moving to E7

In January this year, we looked around our teeny, tiny, one bedroom flat in Stoke Newington, where we had lived, on and off, in different forms, for the last 6 years and decided it was time for a change. We needed more space, a little more quiet and wanted to stay in London. That meant one of two things based on our budget  – 1) decide to stay in zone 2 and swap a one bed for a slightly bigger two bed for an insane price tag, and in a year’s time cry about how we still needed more space or, simply 2) SUCK IT UP AND LEAVE ZONE 2.

I know, for many people, leaving zone 2 is not an option. What we had in Stokey was what most people dream of: a lovely high street, tons of awesome places to eat all within walking distance, and a half hour commute to work. Bliss. But, we also had: a one bedroom flat creaking at the seams, seemingly noisier neighbours everyday and a wish for our own FRONT DOOR.

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Decision made and six months later (after some bumps in the road shall we say), we finally got the keys to our new house – our new four bedroom house – in Forest Gate, zone 3. Oh, Forest Hill she means I hear you say? No, no. Forest Gate is a different place, that you most likely won’t have heard of (most people haven’t).

It’s here:

E7 - oh, that's where it is
E7 – oh, that’s where it is

See, near Stratford? Where that thing called the Olympics happened? Now you know.

We swapped a one bedroom flat, for a four bedroom house, for not much more money and got to keep the half hour commute to work. The one thing we gave up:  the lovely high street, with all the food options. But I remain hopeful…

And the big gain:

THIS IS OUR OWN DOOR (AND ITS PRETTY)
THIS IS OUR OWN DOOR (…AND ITS PRETTY…)