house – day 365 – one year on (and a few months late)

Exactly one year ago we picked up the keys to our new house, stood on Tankerton Slopes in the biting wind and rain and wondered “what on earth have we just done?”. Three hundred and sixty five days on, I think we have an answer. When we bought the house, we knew we’d have to do some work on it. For a start, the layout and of the kitchen and scullery would need to be changed. The original Edwardian plan is just not appropriate for a modern household. The kitchen was far too small, the scullery wasted space and there was only one bathroom in the entire house. The chimney breast in the kitchen, which was built to accommodate a range (probably used for both cooking and heating water), occupied a significant amount of floor area.

As we considered our options, we also considered changing the layout of the house on the floor above the kitchen so that we could have an ensuite bathroom for our bedroom. At that point, we realised that this wasn’t a trivial project and it would take a few weeks to complete, but the building work would be confined to the rear part of the house. We assumed (naïvely as it turned out) any other work in the rest of the house would be cosmetic – mostly updating decoration – and we could accomplish this whilst still living in the house.

However, once we started to look closely at the the house, particularly after we’d received an electricians report on the wiring, it was clear that the rest of the house needed a lot more work than we first thought. At the very least we would have to replace most of the wiring, update the central heating system, re-plumb the house and repair quite a few walls, all prior to any decorating work. We were quite unprepared for this,. We’d already put almost all of our stuff into storage, keeping a bare minimum of items to tide us over. Now it was apparent that we would not be able to live in the house for quite some time. so we’d have to stay in our Blackheath flat whilst the bulk of the work was completed.

Once we’d got people started on the work, the entire project took about eight months to get the house into a state where we could retrieve our possessions from storage and properly move in. The first four months or so of the project saw the bulk of the heavy, dirty work completed. The final part of the project mostly involved repairing the existing fabric of the building and prepping it for decoration. I’ve undertaken a good few large DIY projects over the years: updated a few kitchens (floor to ceiling); renovated a couple of bathrooms; I’ve even installed a mezzanine floor, so I knew pretty well how much work the building and installation work would need. What caught us out was the amount of time and effort we would need to expend on work that we thought was merely cosmetic. Now we understand why new build is so much easier than restoration. To do things right you can’t cut corners and every task has an impact on the next. You must invest hundreds of man hours in work that will never be visible once completed and progress appears to be extremely slow. It’s not until the final few days of painting, wallpapering and flooring, that you see the real result of all that labour.

However, all that labour is now in the past and we can get on with our real lives. But, just for the record, here’s a list of the work we did, room-by-room.

room-by-room – what we did


drawing 11northwood

This is where the biggest changes were made to the house. The original layout on the left – “before” – is not to scale (estate agent’s schematic) and doesn’t show exactly how much space was taken up by the chimney breast between the kitchen and utility room. It totalled about four square metres. We considered a couple of  potential layouts before settling on the final plan (thanks Chris). We had originally intended to keep the kitchen in its original position towards the centre of the house and have much smaller shower room and utility room across the back. Chris’s option gave us a new downstairs bathroom in the centre of the house and the opportunity to open up the back of the house with large doors and windows – something Fiona was keen on getting – and this is what we finally went for. Naturally, this third option was the most expensive! Here’s a brief list of the work we did in this area:

  • removed chimney breast and wall between kitchen and scullery
  • removed pantry and toilet walls
  • installed new RSJ and buttresses
  • filled in two windows and door to side of house
  • created new aperture for bi-fold doors to rear
  • new window for shower room
  • removed old scullery floor (mix of concrete, screed, soil and tiles)
  • new floor laid to create level space (floor tiles in scullery were re-used for hearth in rear reception)
  • removed and stripped old doors to re-use in new layout
  • built new partition walls for shower room and rear hallway
  • raised floor of shower room
  • installed bi-fold doors
  • replaced old toilet window
  • replaced old lead pipe with new plastic  water supply from street
  • new gas supply
  • re-wired completely and installed new LED lighting
  • re-plastered walls and ceiling
  • new tiling – kitchen floor, shower room floor and walls
  • new central heating boiler
  • new radiators in kitchen
  • towel radiator in shower room
  • kitchen units and appliances
  • new shower, vanity unit, boiler cabinet and toilet
  • decorated new rooms

front reception

The reception room needed a lot less work than the kitchen area although, thanks to the poor state of the walls, there was a lot of prep and it took Paul eleven days to prep and decorate. New wiring, wall lights and sockets (in more consistent positions) were installed. Old aerial sockets removed and filled. New central heating radiator installed. The walls were filled and papered with heavy duty lining paper. New wallpaper applied to chimney wall, rest of the walls, cornice and ceiling re-painted. New ceiling rose installed. The door was stripped, repaired, filled and painted and skirting board repaired (old electrical socket was in skirting board). Woodwork filled and painted. New oak flooring and quadrant laid.

rear reception

Room re-wired and new sockets installed in new positions, old sockets filled. Old fireplace and surround removed, new fire surround and gas coal-effect fire installed and gas pipe re-routed under hearth, new hearth made from floor tiles out of old pantry. Walls stripped of wood chip wall paper, ceiling paper stripped. Ceiling repaired where water damage had occurred (leaking sink upstairs).  Walls and ceiling steamed and scraped to remove as much distemper as possible, then painted with alkali blocking paint. Cracks in ceiling and frieze filled. New ceiling rose installed, walls and ceiling plastered. Plaster cornice stripped, filled and repainted. Woodwork stripped, filled and repainted. New skirting board made to match existing skirting board around new fireplace. Walls repainted. Room floored in oak, with new quadrant.

downstairs hall

Removed flimsy partition that formed the wall of the cupboard under the stairs (it was made from very thin ply and old bits of wood, including an old cupboard door frame). New fuse box, PME bond on mains, consumer unit and new alarm master control unit installed under stairs. Hall rewired and new sockets added, old sockets replaced. Hall extended back towards kitchen, old kitchen doorway replaced with new, larger aperture. New, larger radiator installed. Removed old fret-cut balusters and badly hacked-about base rail. Removed wooden mouldings from ceiling and below base rail. Installed new base rail, cut new groove in existing hand rail to install new balusters. Created new cupboard wall under stairs with panelled exterior. Stripped old wallpaper, removed old pelmets. Scraped and filled walls, painted walls with alkali blocking paint. Installed new ceiling rose, plastered walls and ceilings. Arch scraped, filled and re-painted. Stripped, filled, primed and painted woodwork. Walls painted. Some woodwormed floorboards replaced. New oak flooring and quadrant installed. New Flemish chandelier, replacing pendant light.

bedroom one

Rewired room, added new sockets, replaced old ones. Cornice: old paint peeled off, painted with alkali-blocking paint, filled and repainted. Fireplace unblocked (removing old kitchen doors and other crap that had originally been used to block it), re-blocked with studding and plasterboard, skirting board replaced. Ceiling re-plastered, chimney breast plastered. Cracks in wall filled and plastered over. Walls and ceiling filled and painted. Woodwork stripped, filled primed and painted. Laminate flooring and new quadrant laid. Office furniture installed.

bedroom two and bedroom four

Bedrooms two and four got more or less the same treatment: existing shelving etc removed walls stripped, filled, papered with heavy duty lining paper; ceilings re-plastered; rooms rewired and new sockets and switches installed; new radiators installed. Bedroom four had a built-in cupboard and a wall removed (part of the work to remove the chimney). New stud wall plastered. Picture rail repaired in bedroom four and all woodwork stripped, primed and painted. Walls repainted. Rooms re-carpeted.

bedroom three

Bedroom three was always intended to be our main bedroom. We removed the old sink. plumbing and tiling. Ceiling plastered, some walls plastered. Room re-wired, new sockets and light switch installed. New radiator installed. Walls filled, papered with heavy-duty lining paper and painted. Woodwork, stripped, filled, primed and painted. Walls painted, floor carpeted.

bathroom and toilet

Bathroom: bathroom wall removed, new stud wall installed. This gave us an extra 200mm of space which enabled us to install a toilet in the bathroom. We’d spent some time trying to find a sink that would fit in the small, separate toilet – it just wasn’t possible to fit one in so we had to leave it without a hand basin. The old airing cupboard and hot water cylinder were removed, as was most of the lath and plaster in the bathroom. Walls boarded and plastered. A new partition wall built between the bath and new shower cubicle. Unit built for concealed cistern and mounting toilet pan. New hot water cylinder re-located in small cupboard in bedroom two. Bathroom rewired for lights, shaving mirror and vanity unit with charging socket and lighting. Bathroom re-plumbed for new sink, toilet, power shower and bath. New towel radiator installed. Bathroom tiled (walls and floors). Remaining walls and ceiling painted. Woodwork, stripped, primed and painted. New hinged loft hatch and extending loft ladder installed.

Toilet: walls stripped, pipes boxed in, new toilet installed. Walls and ceiling plastered, new tiling to floor and part of walls. Rest of toilet walls painted. Woodwork stripped, painted etc.

upstairs hall

Ceiling plastered. New down lights installed, new sockets installed. Walls painted. Woodwork stripped, some replaced, filled, sanded, primed and painted. Some floorboards replaced. Floor carpeted. New oak thresholds made to replace old pine thresholds (some of which had woodworm).

roof space/loft

Chimney removed and hole left in roof tiled. Leaking valley repaired. Old water tank and old plumbing removed. New water tank installed with new plumbing. Upstairs lighting re-wired, lights installed in loft. Remaining rubbish in loft removed (there was  a lot of it left behind). Insulation relaid and new top-up insulation added. Approximately 16m2 of loft flooring laid on loft legs over top-up insulation.

general – things we did all over the house

Interior: carpets and flooring removed. Old blinds and miscellaneous fittings removed and disposed of. Old sinks and kitchen furniture removed and scrapped. There was just over one ton of rubbish left behind in the house which cost us £250 to have removed. There are still sheets of asbestos roofing that needs to be removed. Twelve interior doors stripped of hardboard, paint and existing door furniture. Doors filled and repaired, primed, painted and rehung. Old cast iron hinges stripped, oil-treated and replaced. New door furniture installed.

Exterior: we cleared out the rubbish from the workshop. Built stud wall and benches across old garage door and repainted garage interior. Installed shelving, racks and workshop machinery. New gas main, new water main laid. Render patched, where apertures filled in. New front and side fences at front of house. Gaps in rear fence filled in. We still need to paint the render.

expectation vs reality

When you buy a house, you can never know exactly what you’re buying until you take possession of keys. Unless the building is unoccupied, it’s not realistic to expect to lift carpets and floor boards and thoroughly test electrics etc before you buy, therefore, buying a property is always going to be a punt. Ironically, it seems a derelict house could be a surer proposition – at least you have a pretty good idea about what needs to be done, not so much is hidden and your tradespeople have a much better idea of the scope of the job and are able to give more precise estimates.

When we bought the house, we had an idea in our minds of the budget and timescale we’d need to bring it up to scratch,. It turned out were 100% inaccurate in our expectations. We spent twice as much and it took twice as long as we originally envisaged. On all the property shows we’ve watched (and we’ve seen a lot – Grand Designs, Restoration Man etc) this is the recurring theme. What’s a little irritating is we didn’t learn from these other projects and we made the same mistakes as everyone else. Having said that, I suspect if we had known the true scope of the project, we probably would have backed out of the purchase and we would still be looking for somewhere to live.

As it is, our house is now restored to a good standard (at least inside), it’s warm and will soon be comfortable and we love the location. Fortunately, we had the time, the skills and the funds to complete the project, although it’s left us with very little in reserve. We’ll have to work to rebuild our finances and get the furniture and fittings we need to complete our vision for the house, but we think it’s been worth the effort.

NOTE – after months of procrastination I finally published this post – six months past day 365. I don’t know why it took so long to complete – it had been 95% written for ages, I just couldn’t get around to finishing it. Shortly, it will be a year since we properly moved in, although, after writing 65,000 words on the subject, I don’t think I’ll be writing another house post – and here it is!

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