From House To Home | The Story On Our Home Renovation So Far

Wednesday 16 October 2019

My husband and I moved in to No.80 in November 2014. The house is a 1900s Victorian five bed semi detached house that had been carved up into three bedsit flats for students, and it’s safe to say it was very unloved and dingy when we got there.

There were three floors of woodchip wallpaper, heavy fire doors and acres of brown nylon carpet everywhere. The place was an eyesore - but there were also so many positives. Tall ceilings, big windows, a long garden leading down to the canal with ducks and swans floating by, and a wonderful, vibrant neighbourhood - on the doorstep of a country park but ten minutes drive from the city, and bursting with independent shops, great schools and cafes.

All it needed was some love. 

Our mission became to turn the house back into a functional family home where we could raise the children we wanted. Change has been slow - that family did happen, and two babies halted progress a lot - but we’re finally making it happen and creating the home we dreamed of when we first moved, right here in West Bridgford, Nottingham.

Reading other home renovation blogs has been key for me in providing inspiration and helping me to explore ideas, as have my home renovation Pinterest boards - so I hope our story also inspires you.

The Search For A House To Renovate

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In the back of our minds, I guess we always wanted this. We’ve both always been interested in the process of home renovation - me from more of an aesthetic perspective (having once dreamed of being an interior designer as a child) and Mr A-F from a practical one - he worked briefly in estates while studying and is good at DIY projects, enjoying solving their challenges.

When we first viewed this place, we didn’t instantly know it was the one.  Our move came after a frustrating period of almost two years spent trying to ‘second step’. We had a small two-bedroom place in a nice neighbourhood, but with no scope to expand. We wanted to buy somewhere in the same area that was larger and needed work - we saw it as a fun challenge, a way to create something we really loved together, and a way to add value in case we came to sell.

The town where we live is brilliant, but homes are expensive and in demand. Finding somewhere where the cost was reflective of the level of work and the money it would take to redevelop it seemed impossible.

Several times we came close, only to fall at the last hurdle. Several times, we completely fell in love with a place only for the stars to refuse to align - we could never seem to have a proceedable buyer for our first home at the same time we were ready to offer on a second home.

I never realised before what a huge role timing plays in moving as part of a chain. There were immense lows, struggles and tears - it wasn’t just the house, but we felt like our whole lives were on hold while we waiting for everything to fall into place.

Nothing suitable was coming onto the market. Competition for anything that did appear meant asking prices spiralled way above our budget. Fixer-uppers were too small and overpriced for the level of work they needed. We were stuck.

When we came to view No.80, it wasn’t immediate love. We were rushed through an Open House with lots of other buyers, and not really able to look at the place properly. The house had some features that I loved (tall ceilings, lots of light, a relatively big garden for the area, lots of bedrooms) and some I didn’t (no off road parking, not the ideal road).

I remember standing in the garden - the only place we could escape from all the other potential buyers -  and trying to search my heart as to whether I could love this place.

Making that decision came down to two things: what we could change, and what we couldn’t. In the end, we chose this home purely for the potential it had.

Turning Potential Into Reality

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Looking past the dodgy decor, we saw a home with real potential. Generous room sizes, a great garden and lovely original bones. What it really needed was some attention to detail.

Being carved up into flats, the house had suffered a lot of alterations done on the cheap. So the first few jobs we tackled were of a distinctly unglamourous nature. We moved in the month before Christmas and immediately started stripping out three floors of beige woodchip wallpaper. People said we were mad. They were right! It took weeks and was exhausting and extremely messy. I half thought it would be back in fashion by the time we’d finished! What we found when the woodchip was peeled back were fist sized holes in the plaster all over the place, so we actually ended up having to replaster the whole house.

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The next job was tackling a monstrous bare brick fireplace that was extremely ugly and dominated the living room. Like most things with an older house, this proved to be less straightforward than we assumed. We had to lower the height of the hearth to achieve what we wanted by chiselling out the bottom, as it had been raised up on bricks and the bottom of the original fireplace filled in. Then we had to source a wooden Adams style mantelpiece on eBay, which we chose to paint white to match the deep skirtings in the room and contrast with the grey walls.

Progress slowed a little after that, as we found out I was expecting a baby! We didn’t want lots of work going on while I was pregnant and then we were adjusting to life as new parents. The only thing we really did was paint and wallpaper and buy furniture to create a nursery in one of the bedrooms. It took us seven or eight months to get back onto anything around the house after having our son, Theo.

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The next thing we did was replace the tired main bathroom. The state of it previously was actually disgusting - I used to shudder every time I got in the bath as it was so well used, with rusty taps and cracked plastic panels. We changed the layout, opting for a freestanding bath and a separate shower, as well as sourcing a vintage oak unit to top with a basin - you can see a post on that project here.

Then we were onto a couple of projects which have made a huge difference, but which you’ll never know we did - we had all the metal piping for the heating and hot water chased into the walls, and then more of the house re plastered. No more spiky bits of metal sticking out at toddler eye height! Its how it should have been done in the first place. We also replaced most of the old radiators at the same time, and added extra insulation into the loft space to make the draughty old house warmer.

We also did some smaller projects, like a revamp of our son’s nursery into a room fit for a toddler, repainting downstairs and adding coving to our bedroom. Last year, we had the roof replaced entirely, and skylights added into the front section of the top floor. It was a worthwhile thing to do, as the roof was very old and every time there was a storm, tiles would blow off and there would be leaks. But it was still another one of those things which, although essential, don’t make as much of a visual difference.

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We also had a joiner custom-make a curved door to enclose our open porch and turn it into a place we could keep coats, umbrellas and muddy boots. This really facelifted the front of the house, and made it warmer and tidier, so it was a great project.

The Painful Planning

At the end of last summer, we were ready for more changes. We’d had our second baby by then, so the family was growing and it felt like the house should grow with it. We approached an architect to begin looking at a ground floor extension.

Part way through that process, our next door neighbours (the ones who are semi-detached to us), came round. They asked what we were planning, said they also wanted a downstairs extension and suggested we do it jointly. There were a few advantages to this approach - sharing certain costs like the skips and some of the tool hire, being able to go right up to the party line rather than building off a party wall (gaining half a foot of space), and of course no objections to the process. We got plans drawn up, found a builder and everything seemed to be going well.

Then we hit the planning process. 

I haven’t ever heard much positive about trying to get planning permission, but it really didn’t go well for us. Our architect actually works in the planning department (of a different authority), so we assumed he’d know all the ins and outs. He also ran the preliminary design by some contacts in the planning department of our council, and they said it seemed fine. So we weren’t anticipating it to be so hard.

What I didn’t know was how much depends on the viewpoint of the planning officer who your project gets assigned to - there’s no standard ‘one rule for all’, it depends entirely on their opinion, which seems mad. The problems began because we had a site with several technical challenges and quite an inexperienced planning officer assigned who didn’t seem to trust his own judgement.

I also think we were caught in a moment in time - authorities knew that the planning rules were going to relax  a lot at the start of 2019, so I believe they were being stricter immediately before that coming into force so as to even out the overall numbers.  Progress dramatically slowed down as we tried to navigate aspects such as the fact that the gardens are at angles from the house rather than straight on - this caused major issues with designing a cantilevered roof, and the fact that the extension on our neighbour’s side was pointing over 45 degrees towards their neighbour’s.

There were issues with the pitch of the roof and how high it had to be to cover our house and next door - meaning it was judged to be more overbearing. And as we back onto a waterway, with quite a steep level drop between house and garden, there were a lot of technical issues to do with that.

We submitted an initial application in November 2018 and it went back and forth, passing through painful statutory notification periods each time. It began to feel as if realising our dream for the house wouldn’t be possible - at times, the various issues seemed impossible to resolve. Another two designs were cycled through and we began to wonder how much compromise you have to make before it becomes not worth doing at all.

In this time, we even looked at a couple of other houses as it honestly seemed easier to move. Although the places we looked at were nice, seeing them actually just made me want to stay more. It made me see how wonderful No.80 could be, if only we could overcome all the design hurdles.

Finally, in June 2019, seven months after beginning, we got the planning permission. I’d love to say we were popping bottles in celebration but by that point, we were so ground down by the whole process we’d really lost the love of it all. All we could see were problems and cost.

Beginning The Build

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While everything was rumbling on with planning permission, we’d also made a decision.

Thinking 'in for a penny, in for a pound', we also decided to bring forward a second phase that we’d thought we wouldn’t tackle for a few years; turning two unloved bedrooms on the top floor  - used as a dumping ground for clothes and old toys -  into a luxurious master suite.

It made sense to get all of the major disruptions out of the way at once, and as we were already saving and arranging a remortgage, it seemed we might as well do all the work we wanted at once.

The not-quite loft conversion (it was already a usable floor of the house, with a staircase, windows, electrics etc) came under permitted development rules, so thank goodness we didn’t need to go through planning again for that! We then faced a wait of a few months for our chosen builder to become available again. Finally, in September 2019, they started on site.

We’re now underway with a phased build. Phase one will add a large dormer window to the rear of the third floor and reconfigure the internal layout to make a master suite with a bedroom, ensuite bathroom, dressing room and walk in closet.

Phase two will replace the tired old kitchen with a new, open-plan kitchen/dining area/family room, plus an enclosed utility room and toilet. This will also give us back access to the property’s large cellar, which is currently blocked off with a toilet under the stairs. Could this be Phase Three? Only time will tell…..

We have so many exciting plans for this place that are finally beginning to become reality. I can’t wait to share the results with you.

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