We worked within a budget and still managed to create a home I absolutely adore. Honestly, if we can do it, anyone can!
Just over a year ago I wrote a blogpost about a house I’d begun renovating with my boyfriend (catch the post HERE if you missed it). A lot has happened since then, most notably we’ve moved in! As the house is 90% complete, I thought it was high time for an update. The global pandemic and resulting lockdown gave my us a much-needed kick up the backside to move the project along. Previously, we’d had been living in a small flat in London with no outdoor space. In contrast, this new place in the Sussex countryside is considerably larger with a sizeable garden. If we were ever going to get the house completed, the last 12 months were the ideal time.
Like all renovations, it wasn’t a straightforward process. We learned numerous lessons the hard way. I thought I’d share a few of our trials and tribulations and how we overcame them. Most of these issues will apply to any home makeover, even a cosmetic one, so hopefully they’ll be handy to know. We worked within a budget and still managed to create a home I absolutely adore. Honestly, if we can do it, anyone can!
Never stop asking for help & advice
At the start of 2020 it looked like the project was going to be put on hold inevitably. We were told by a builder the roof could no longer be patched up and required a new one. We had a choice of either a new roof to the tune of £6000 or building an additional story to the property which would structurally cost £12000 (plus another £4k to install bathrooms and decorate). Creating an extra floor was something we’d contemplated doing in the future but it simply wasn’t a cost we factored in right now. However, paying £6000 for a new roof which we might strip away in 2-3 years’ time when we do decide to build an extension, seemed like a huge of money. We were flawed. After ample conversations we decided it was best to wait till we could afford to do the full extension rather than shell out thousands for a short-term solution.
Despite this decision, we never stopped asking for second opinions and advice. We asked friends, family, tradespeople and keen DIY-ers. In the end, we were advised several potential options which were fairly purse friendly and tried them all. Between new guttering, plastic sheeting and a lot of damp proof paint we have an almost perfect roof that will see us through the next couple of years.
If we hadn’t kept asking questions we would probably still be cooped up in a small flat in London. Don’t ever dismiss any suggestion, some out the box thinking can be the key to solving a costly problem.
LIVE IN THE SPACE
One area I wanted to finalise ASAP was the closet. Initially I had bigs plans and wanted to build a bespoke walk-in wardrobe in the back left-hand corner of the bedroom. In retrospect, it wasn’t the ideal spot as space was tight and it was right next to the bathroom door, however when assessing the room unfinished and unfurnished, it seemed like the most logical place. It’s worth noting, although I’m referring to it as a “walk-in wardrobe”, in reality it would have been more like a walk-in cupboard(!) as you would have only been able to turn around in it and not actually walk through it!
Due to lockdown we moved in sooner than expected, so a lot of the non-essential work was left unfinished or temporarily postponed including the closet. As it turns out, this was a blessing in disguise. Moving our furniture in, such as the bed, chest of drawers and temporary wardrobes, gave us a fuller understanding of how the space worked best. Simply living in it for a few weeks made us realise a cumbersome walk-in wardrobe would have been a big mistake. It would have eaten into the room and made the space feel enclosed.
The option we’ve ended up with is not only more logical but also, a lot cheaper. We went with the Ikea Pax wardrobe system which we’ve placed at the opposite end of the room from where we originally planned. It makes the room feel open and light and doesn’t encroach into the space. Instead of adding doors we’ve kept the wardrobes open. This prevents the space from feeling too solid or walled off but it also means we can see everything easily. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to see all lovely shoes and bags rather than have them hidden away.
EXPENSIVE ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
It was important to us we didn’t spend a fortune on this renovation as we’re not entirely sure this will be our long term home. Sticking to a budget and not getting carried away was so important. Places we learnt to save money was paint and flooring. There was no fancy Farrow & Ball paint for us. In fact, at the beginning we made the mistake of using Craig & Rose chalk paint in the living room and the quality was terrible. We primed the walls first and still needed 3 coats. It was also streaky and cracked off the exposed brick walls. On the ceiling we used a cheap eggshell and honestly, the quality is so much better! In the bedroom we used Andrew Martin’s paint which wasn’t cheap but at least you get what you pay for, a great quality paint which only requires one coat.
I cannot tell you how many compliments I get on the flooring which was the cheapest lament I could find at B&Q. Also, our bathroom has bargain-basement slate tiles and they look amazing. When I bought them, even the bloke selling them to me, made the point these are the cheapest they sell and I could pick something else but I knew they would so the job. Expensive doesn’t always mean better. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in the perception of better quality or having something “fancier”. I’ve found the basics, such as paint, flooring, tiles, can be done basically. It’s how you dress the room with furniture and accessories which makes a room look expensive and unique.
Where we did spend money was the furniture. We knew regardless of our future plans, if we stay here or leave, our furniture could come with us. By far the most spend-y purchase was the sofa. We got the Truman Junior sofa from Andrew Martin and it honestly feels like sitting on a cloud. It’s filled with goose down and is quite honestly softer than our bed. Given how much time we’ve spent watching Netflix’s and movies this lockdown it was the best investment we made.
WHERE TO START?
The one thing I hear a lot from friends and a question that has been asked on my That New Dress Home Instagram account is, where do I start with my interior design? My background is in interior design and product development, so I had a massive advantage in that I’ve been designing my first renovation in my head for years. However, there are some really easy starting points to get the ball rolling and creative juices flowing.
1) Pick one item you love and build a theme around it. For me, it was a plaster sculpture which I immediately fell in love with. It dictated the entire colour palette, look and feel of my interior design. From the moment I bought it, I was entirely focused on creating an airy, textured and informal space in which this could be the perfect centrepiece.
2) Choose the exact paint colour first and don’t be swayed from it. Often people get carried away looking at soft furnishings, flooring and fixtures before being fully set on the wall colour. Just knowing you’re going to choose off-white, blue or grey paint isn’t enough. You need to pinpoint the exact colour and then match everything to it. This is because colour can change dramatically depending on light and the juxtaposition of other colours. For example, two shades of white can look entirely different when placed next to each other. The walls are the biggest area in your home so take time choosing the colour and match everything to it rather than vice versa.
3) Be sensitive to the style of the property. We live in a Georgian stable conversion, so it has timber beams, exposed brick and textured walls. We were never going to go for a modern and glitzy design because it isn’t in keeping with the space. Whitewash and linen felt far more appropriate than flock wallpaper and crushed velvet.
4) Lastly and most importantly, a home is never finished. Tweaks and improvements are constant and as I said before, living in the space informs what works best. As your life changes, so will your house and the more it adapts to your life, the more it becomes a home. Whether it be something life-changing like having a baby or something more trivial like putting up a new photo, these moments that define your home.