The Renovation Game.

Falling in love with an old house is a lifestyle choice. It will take years of your life and cost you way much more than you will ever know, but these old girls get under your skin. I take the view that we are custodians of these wonderful buildings, nurturing them and bringing them back to life to be enjoyed by other families who will continue to add to their history for many more years. And PLEASE let us not muddle up renovating with redecorating. Renovating is living on a building site, being woken up by the ceiling crashing to the ground, climbing over a bath wedged in your hallway, weeing in a bucket and cooking beans on a camping stove in the cellar. All of these are true stories! If you are lucky enough to find an old girl that doesn’t require major work it probably means that somebody has already done that stage for you.

We moved into this house twenty one years ago. She was a beauty but had been so badly neglected. She was the worst house on the best street and right at the top of our budget. We were hopeless romantics with a new baby, and we fell for her hook, line and sinker. It has been a LONG journey, but she’s now part of our bones. It was never about doing a cosmetic job, there were many other things to consider too. The most important thing is not to rush to get it all done at once, this will lead to you cutting corners and making compromises. Our first priority was to get one room habitable so we could be clean and comfortable, we washed the nicotine off the walls, gave it a fresh coat of paint and bought a cheap carpet.

There were urgent jobs flagged up by the survey, just the small matter of rewiring, mending the roof, replacing the boiler and central heating system and sorting out corroded wall ties… The big jobs need to be tackled first before the cosmetic stuff, it’s a bit heartbreaking as you can’t often see where your money has gone. With all our budget eaten up by serious stuff we had no choice but to live in the house as it was but this gave us time to get a feel for it and understand how we wanted to use it.

There were some period features still here but many needed replacing. This is an Edwardian house in a predominantly Victorian area, finding the right pieces was hard and took research. Eventually we opened up and replaced four fireplaces, three had been bricked up, one was a hole in the wall. It’s a very messy job, you chip off the plaster to find a lintel and then bray the hell out of the wall beneath with a sledge hammer. Unfortunately there were no hidden beauties under there. We had to scour the reclamation yards to find them. The living room fireplace is from an old school and fits the previous footprint perfectly, it looks like it was always there. The bedroom ones were harder to find and it still irritates me that they’ re not a matching pair.

The downstairs rooms had the original plaster cornice, picture rails and ceiling roses. Some bits were damaged but it was easy to get replacements made at a local decorative plaster specialist. We could then use this mold to replace the picture rail in the main bedroom and hallway where it had been taken down.

We sent the beautiful internal doors to be stripped of the many layers of paint they had acquired over the years and had a new etched glass panel made to replace a broken one. We tried to restore the old bath by having it re-enameled, it lasted a few years before we had to replace it with a reproduction.

We replaced the windows one at a time as we did each room and finally this year we could afford to have our sash and huge bay window at the front restored.

Top tips

  • Don’t rush to get it all done, bringing an old girl back to life takes time, patience and lots of money.
  • Good trades people are like golddust and incredible hard to pin down. Get them round to quote earlier than you think and book them in, if possible ask around and go on a recommendation.
  • Think about why are you renovating? is to make a quick profit and move on or is it to create your forever home. this will impact on your budget.
  • Be realistic with your budget, do the work. Shop around for the best deal. A good way to keep costs down is to do work yourself, but don’t overestimate your abilities or how long this will take.
  • Don’t skimp and cut corners. It is important to get the basics right, quality work takes time and taking the cheaper, easier option will catch up with you in the long run.
  • Don’t compromise, if you have your heart set on something make it happen, save up that little bit longer. It will save you money in the long run because a wrong decision will haunt you and cost more money to replace.
  • Stand up to your trades, they will always try to talk you into the easiest option.
  • Start at the top and work your way down. Only after you have finished hauling things up and down your stairs should you begin to decorate there.

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