A little guest blog by my lovely cousin and home renovation extraordinaire, Becca.
Programmes like DIY SOS, Homes Under the Hammer, the vintage ‘Changing Rooms‘ with Carol Smillie and Grand Designs make us seemingly straightforward public think ‘I could do that’ at most aspects of a huge home decor change. So why not me? Sure I’m no expert, I’ve never painted, I didn’t know what a joist was (isn’t it a medieval knight duel?) but my general stress levels are normally managed quite well with a session of baking and a glass or two of Prosecco. “Let’s go for it!” I said to my equally excited and forthcoming partner… Naively, little did we anticipate the drain it would truly hold on our lives for the next three months; cue: tantrums, tears, living with in laws and arguments over money… lots of them.
Me and the Man had been looking for a house for 3 weeks before we found our HOME. We were planning to cancel the viewing due to a prosperous second viewing on a smaller, ready-to-move in type… but armed with my joiner step-dad, we thought we might as well have a look at the prospect of a great area, great price and a ‘forever home’. Whilst other prospective buyers groaned and eewed in disgust at the dusty tiles around the fireplaces, the hatch in the living room wall, the lack of bathroom and the overgrowing jungle in the garden, we thought ‘WOW, IMAGINE WHAT WE COULD DO WITH THIS’, after working out the figures and agreeing with my stepdad to lead the work. We thought we could get this, afford a mortgage and a short term loan to do it up and our offer was accepted within the week. Hastily collected the extra deposit over the following 8 weeks and on the 8th of July we picked up the keys. It was a 1924 solid wall, 4 bedroom house with picture rails, original doors and had been empty for over 3 years, previous to that, the same family had lived in it for much of its short of 91 year lifespan. I was in love.
The Learning Curve:
- Running before I could walk
Now don’t get me wrong. I know cleaning out needed doing, sanding (apparently), prepping, first fix for electricians to rewire etc. But the impulse of choosing wallpaper and paint more of less GOT me from day one, at the discouragement of my partner, who firmly believes I am a shopaholic, I explained my love for choosing these items and offered him to joy of coming to B&M bargain with me to choose colour schemes, to which he declined telling me he trusted my choices. Once these were chosen, then un-chosen and swapped and having to visit four of the same shop to match up batch numbers of wallpapers (who knew that was a thing??) I kind of settled into the understanding I needed to get stuck into the prep work as well. This involved carrying 30 plaster-boards from the end of the drive where the unhelpful driver left them to the garage three metres away.. in the rain…(such fun) and generally getting stuck in and hands/gloves dirty….. I didn’t wear my hair down for two months and I soon realised that wallpaper and paint were a long way off.
- Make it clear to your partner if you’d like something to be preserved.The garden was so overgrown, we couldn’t see the back fence. Rumour had it from next door but one that foxes often lived and played in our garden. Of course this was the perfect excuse for the man to invite his friends round for a full day of beers, pizza, sunshine, saws and petrol strimmers. I’d asked a few times about keeping the odd plant, we’d discussed the pear tree, we said we’d probably chop it as if covers the garden’s main spot of sun, but I liked some of the fruit bushes, I loved the small apple tree next to the right fence and some pretty purple flowers. I rang the day the tree-killers came round to see how the man was getting on, he sounded giggly and happy to be having fun cutting stuff down, as men do. I said ‘just try and keep some nice bits yeah’…
He rang at 5 pm.
No flowers, plants, fruit bushes left. No apple tree left. I cried for a solid half hour. Now, this may seem like a heavy exaggeration, but it kinda felt like… ‘you didn’t listen to me’…you know one of those things and also that tree was probably planted in 1924 and was 90 years old and he just fucking cut it down. Apparently he’ll buy me new one.
- The history of a house can be truly beautiful.
The garage had no key and therefore had not been touched since left 3 years ago. Inside was pretty much a time capsule of the old fella who lived there previously included ship magazines and manuals from the 60’s, a 70’s sewing machine and pattern, church readings, rusted screws, old records etc. was truly beautiful and discussing this with the guy’s brother when dropping off some mail was pretty special too, he’s coming soon to visit and I can’t wait.
- Fence painting is horrendously boring. Get someone else to do it.
- Use your neighbours. They are your assets. From lady loo runs, borrowing of hoses, moaning about horse weed together etc.
- No matter how wonderfully lovely your in-laws are, living with them is not the same. You’re used to your own space with the man, the man is back is his childhood home, you’re not. It’s just not going to work long term.
- Do not get a new job when buying a new house. ‘It’ll be fine I said, it’s a great opportunity that I MUST DO NOW’. small lie, I wanted out of my current company and I could have waited, but I didn’t want to. Hence additional stresses of life and monies.
- Buying picture frames when you’ve still got to the pay the plumber will not impress your partner. No matter how nice they look next to that plant from Ikea.
- Don’t go to Ikea with a credit card. It’s a trap.
- If your family can do it, let them. It saves so much money, my father-in-law tiled the bathroom and it looks swell.
- Carpet is really expensive and so are floorboards. Choose wisely.
- I like cleaning windows and sanding. With gloves on.
- Getting the original doors dipped was a pretty bad ass idea. They look immense.
- Get the electrician to write down what you tell him. He’s a man. They cannot remember all the positions of each coax by memory. And he will fuck up (and rectify)
- and I learnt overall…. keep your receipts.
Now this is a very non-exhaustive list, regarding which I must express: this was not a good time for me. The sheer weight of the organisation of the house was too much for me, I became more anxious, depressed, grouchy, I ate crap, looked like crap and whinged and moaned and quite frankly wish I could have turned back time and NOT DONE IT. The stresses were apparent due to attempting to do hands on work when I really didn’t want to, just being there made me stress, made a huge weight on my shoulders appear through understanding the sheer enormity what we had to do.
Every time a wall got finished, the man would say ‘Look what I’ve done’ and I’d respond with ‘What have we got to do now?’. We fought and fought, he loved being at the house doing every little bit of it and in truth was neglectful of our relationship which I should have wholeheartedly appreciated in prospect of our bloomin’ marvellous house to be and indeed future, but I didn’t, I resented him for not talking to me for long enough about my new job or wanting to come shopping etc, but we always said from the start that the next few months were going to be hard and trying on our relationship, what we had to understand was that we love each other and everything we do and say is cause of the house and not us. We both managed by the cliff edge to remember that, even through many a spell of ‘When this house is done, We’re selling it yeah?’ *shouts loudly down the phone*. I know I can be a pain too, highly strung, typical woman, I often didn’t appreciate the lack of communication and organisation on my step dad’s part, however, Could we do it without him? No. and he wanted barely anything, pocket money and a lunch each day, how could I ever be mad?…
Three months down the line, and I feel so much better we’ve moved in upstairs and there’s so much more to do, but it feels good to be at the end and have something to show for it. Everyone has worked so so hard, especially my man. Hopefully in a few more weeks, we’ll have downstairs complete too.
I have learnt a lot about doing up houses. How not to be grouchy cow and how trying a massive change can be on a relationship, but you can get through it.
Just don’t ask me to do it again.