Lessons I learnt from our house renovation to take on to a new project

Welcome to a new project! It’s a real beauty as you can see…

This is a house very close to mine that my sister has recently bought and I am going to be helping her to decorate it. She is working with the same contractor we used J A Whitney Building Contractors who, when I first started writing this post a month ago (full time childcare is not allowing me much time at the moment!), had just started stripping out the house and they’ve been as quick and focused as ever because now a month on they’ve re-wired, re-plumbed, knocked through downstairs and in the bathroom, plastered and even had a mist coat on upstairs when I went to see at the weekend. It was such a joy working with James and his team on our house and they made the experience so smooth and stress free so I’m really pleased that my sister is able to work with them too (they already renovated a flat she sold before buying this place).

The first thing my sister asked me at the beginning of the project was what were the best things we did in our house and what were the things we got wrong or wish we had done. So I thought it would make quite an interesting blog post to document those things especially for those of you who are mid-renovation or thinking about starting one soon. It’s taken quite a while to make a list as it’s so easy to forget these things once you’re in the house. I found it especially hard because we were living with family during the renovation so Mimi slept in our room, which unfortunately led to a baby that didn’t sleep. I also couldn’t go on site much so I just wasn’t as hands on as I would have liked to have been. Anyhoo, after discussing with Jules we came up with our list that we have been able to pass on to my sister and I hope it may help some of you.

Have a look at the house first as it looked a month ago and my list is at the bottom of the post…

The sitting room with walls and ceiling stained with nicotine! The house is Edwardian so really nice square proportions and high ceilings.
The layout of the house is exactly the same as mine but the house is a little wider and deeper with higher ceilings. I have advised my sister to knock through downstairs and then because her stairs are further forward than mine she has some extra space for a utility or storage area.
The front bedroom.
The third bedroom.

Things we learnt from our own renovation (in no particular order):

1. Spend as much time and attention as possible planning electrics and lighting.

I remember so clearly having to do the electrics and lighting plan because it felt like the worst chore ever. My advice is do not do it in the evening, do not do it when you’re exhausted, do not do it sitting in front of the TV, do not do it mid-heatwave with a baby that is awake all night and do not do it after a big row with your partner because you don’t want to do it – ha! Carve out a moment of time when you can be fully focused and go through it meticulously as it will have such a huge effect on the overall look and feel of your home. Lastly, do not forget a blooming plug socket in your hallway so you can’t have a lovely lamp on the hallway table (I’m still deeply regretful of that). Also, think about the type of lighting you have – I’ll have to do a separate post on this as it is a huge topic – but we knew we would have quite a few lamps so we made sure we could turn them on and off at the wall with the other lights. Little things like that make a big difference day to day.

2. Consider cost of exterior

We very much glossed over this. We knew the inside of the house was right for us and we knew that we had enough budget to get it to a certain point that we would be really happy with. However, we wrote off the outside as something that was easily fixable and could be done later on. We didn’t consider how much that was going to cost us or what the extent of the work would look like. I think this is important because you don’t want to be in a position with an unusable garden for example because you will never have the budget to get it cleared or landscaped.

3. Knock through

Obviously this will be different for everybody but for us it has been the best decision as I don’t think we would have enjoyed living here if we had left the downstairs as three very small rooms. My sister’s new house is the same layout and even though the rooms are bigger I have still advised her to knock through as it will suit her so much better with a baby to be able to see her at all times and it makes entertaining so much easier too.

4. When you knock down walls properly consider the space that will be created

It is quite easy to fall into the trap of not considering the new wall space that is created once old walls are knocked down. Think about how those new walls will be used, plan electric sockets and radiators to go on them.

5. Add enough radiators and sockets

Too many sockets is never enough sockets! Get USB ones too.

6. Budget for built in storage

I wish we had done this. I hated having nowhere to put anything when we first moved in and I still have nowhere to put my clothes.

7. Have washing machine upstairs

This has worked out really well for us. All laundry stays upstairs (except in summer when it is hung on the line) and all linens can be stored above the washing machine in purpose built cupboard. Most importantly it freed up space in our teeny tiny kitchen space.

8. Don’t take on DIY jobs unless you are sure you can achieve them

It is very tempting to look at a builder’s quote and try to take on jobs yourself to cut costs. Be very, very careful about it. Most likely you will end up with a badly executed job and will have spent as much more more than it would have cost your builder to have done it. We made this mistake with sanding the floors in our house – BIG MISTAKE!

9. Don’t fill your loft with crap!

Just don’t.

10. Don’t put spotlights everywhere

A big waste of money for us was installing spotlights in the hallway, on the landing and in the dining room – we never, ever use them.

11. Think about your hallway as an extra room

When planning electrics and radiators and lighting don’t forget to give the hallway as much thought as the rest of the house.

12. Reclaim fireplaces

I’m so happy we did this and added fireplaces in the bedrooms and reclaimed one for the living room. yes we would have had more wall space without them but the house would have lacked so much character.

13. Reclaim and rehang doors

Sadly in my sister’s house none of the original doors remain so I have advised her to reclaim some because they make such a difference to the overall feel of the house. Also, make sure to rehang your doors so that they open onto the wall of each room rather than opening into the room.

14. Electrics and lighting outside

Get an electric point and wiring for outside lights even if you don’t have the budget for the lighting itself yet.

15. Try to plan furniture

So difficult but as much as possible try to plan where your furniture will go in each room as this will dictate changes that will need to be made. For example, I advised my sister to get the door in her living room moved as it was exactly where she would naturally place a sofa.

16. Invest in nice radiators

It makes such a difference.

17. Underfloor heating

The best thing ever if you can do it.

18. Use a dark colour below dado rail in hallway – it will save you a life of scuffed white walls.

A small thing but it really does make a difference especially living with a muddy dog who likes a good shake in the hallway.

19. Plan, plan, plan.

It’s very easy to be caught out and to have to suddenly make important decisions on the spot for tiles or flooring or skirting board profiles or wall colours. Try as much as possible to have it all planned and ordered and decided so that you don’t have to rush decisions or make the wrong decisions because you don’t have time to research properly.

20. Budget to get the place cleaned before you move in.

If you can get the place professionally cleaned because it will make a massive difference. Moving is so full on and there is no spare time to do anything so even if you tell yourselves you’ll do it you probably won’t and you’ll be wading through building dust forever.

21. Be flexible.

It’s fine to have a design in mind for your home or the decor but when it becomes clear that it’s not going to work, it’s not the best option or it’s going to be too expensive be willing to change your mind. Don’t dig your heels in just because you had your heart set on something.

I’m sure there are loads of other things that I can add to the list as they come to me. As I said a while ago I want to share more about the ins and outs of working with a contractor and I’ve already started that post and I will definitely follow up with more about planning lighting as it is a minefield!

I hope this is useful and I will be sure you keep you up to date with how the team get along and some of the finished rooms soon! If you have done a renovation and want to add to my list leave a comment below.

Katy x

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5 Comments

  1. Alison Myers
    9th June 2020 / 11:11 am

    Such a great list. Top tip for finding old doors-freecycle in your area. It’ll take a while but then they’re free! Alison.

  2. Minihouse
    9th June 2020 / 1:59 pm

    Thank goodness you have another house to work on! I was going to suggest you move again (ha ha) just to give us the pleasure of the renovation! Now you don’t have to move!!!!! What a relief!!

  3. Kismael
    26th July 2020 / 11:44 pm

    Wow came across this by accident via google.
    With exception of couple of points this is literally my list!
    Will definitely recommend following this list.

    We just started renovating our 1930s house and it’s a race against Time whilst kids are away on holiday.
    Thank you
    Kismael

  4. 30th July 2020 / 12:42 pm

    Helpful tips, especially the last one about being flexible! It never comes out as planned and there is no point fitting in something just because it was initially planned for!

  5. 2nd October 2020 / 2:25 am

    I find it interesting that this post underlined that it is important for us to plan the furniture prior to any renovation works as it makes things easier. My mother is planning to renovate the hallway of her townhouse. I will ask her to sort out the furniture before she calls the contractor to start the renovation.

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