Grand designs; our new year, new house renovation project

January 3, 2014

StairsWhen I was very young, my parents decided to design and build two of our childhood homes from scratch. For an IT consultant and part time PA it was a pretty adventurous move (this was way back in the 80’s, years and years before Kevin McCloud, Kirsty and Phil and Sarah Beeny had ever graced the silver screen). For the second build the five of us lived in a tiny caravan on the site during one of the most snowy winters on record. I don’t remember it being anything other than a huge amount of fun though – some of my earliest memories are of making dens on the building sites, and riding my bike around the foundations. All the hard work was worth it, of course; the houses they built were brilliant and the backdrops for a significant part of our happy childhoods.

Later on, the grown-up me thought the property and building bug was something I’d most definitely not caught. I resisted the responsibility of buying anywhere in my 20’s as I couldn’t fathom the idea of a mortgage when money was clearly there to be spent on shoes and going out…right? The first flat Alex and I lived in was a just finished new-build where we didn’t need to touch a thing (and I swear it cleaned itself). Our last flat, while being old with original features, still only needed decorating to our taste as the kitchen and bathroom were brand new. And we were more than happy with that.

Toddler bedroomSo it would have come as a big surprise if you’d told us then that we’d be living in a house like our new one. Where every room needs something doing – from the small (painting and new carpets) to the much more daunting (complete renovation, extension). There’s walls of dodgy woodchip to remove, along with a half-done loft conversion and strange built-in cupboards and cubby holes everywhere. Most things are unfinished and I don’t think it’s been decorated – or cleaned – since the early 80’s. But there’s also lots of original features, a lovely garden, extra rooms, space, and more than anything, huge room for improvement.

Despite never having any inclination to do anything with houses but paint them prettily and hang pictures, we bought this one after one viewing, as we instinctively knew it had the long-term potential to do what we liked to make it our own. We’ve resolved to do as much as possible ourselves. And do you know what? Strangely enough, I’m really excited about it.

We had to adapt the style of our old flat to fit our baby who turned up two years after we bought it, but I’m excited about designing this one to fit the needs of our family first. I’m excited about turning it into a lovely home that’s a child-friendly but most definitely not boring – somewhere that’s colourful and fun with room for all of us to grow along with all of our favourite things (Eliza’s room is in the photo above – it still needs lots doing to it but we’ve put all of her familiar things out and built her a temporary cosy corner so she can get acclimatised to it).

With both Alex and I having computer-based, media, officey jobs we have not much idea how to do most practical things. But hey, neither did my parents at first. So expect lots more home and interior based-blog posts soon, probably around all the things we’ve done wrong. And any help or advice would be gratefully received. I can’t even hang wallpaper.


  • 3yearsandhome

    January 3, 2014 at 10:03 am

    You’re so, so brave but how exciting! We live in a brand new home and I’ve done nothing bar choose furnishings. We would like a project but are saving that for when the boys are older. We figure this is a ten year house and then we’ll look for something to accomadate their need for space. Can’t wait to read about what you’ve got planned.

  • Kiran from Mummy Says

    January 3, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    Congratulations on your new home! And what an exciting project. Our first home was also in need of major work. The day we moved in was the day my husband took the sledgehammer to the rotting bathroom floor! In three months, we’d put in a new kitchen and bathroom, doing most of the work ourselves. I’d recommend using a plasterer instead of tackling that yourselves – it really is difficult! Tiling is tricky too. Other than that, go wild on Pintrest, have fun and enjoy making it all your own. Hanging wall paper is easier than it looks too – it’s finding your perfect paper that takes hours upon hours! Look forward to following your progress x

  • Karina

    January 3, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Congrats Gillian & family sounds like lots of fun(labour of love:-) and great memories too!


    1. gillian

      January 4, 2014 at 11:58 pm

      Thanks so much! Really excited / slightly terrified at the amount of work to do 🙂 x

  • JJ Miller

    January 5, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Brave lady. Good luck with it… Think of how wonderful it will be when it’s all completed! X

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  • Lyla Lopez

    January 8, 2014 at 5:33 am

    One of our new year project too is house renovation most especially our roof it really needs a repair. The house was given to us as a wedding gift from our parents. 🙂

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  • Laura

    January 19, 2014 at 7:10 am

    What an exciting project to start the year with! My husband and I have a ‘project’ house too and yes, it will be stressful and exasperating at times, but totally worth it in the end. Just make sure you stock up on wine – you’ll need it now and again!

    1. gillian

      January 24, 2014 at 10:04 pm

      Please send all tips in my direction! Feeling a bit better now we’re actually underway with everything – it feels a bit more like ours and not a random house we’re squatting in x

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    January 26, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Lovely to find another home rennovater (via Twitter!) we are about to do a massive project doubling the size of our house and totally transforming the exterior. We are doing bits of it ourselves and like you are not very practical (we are learning!) my parents were rennovators and then latterly housebuilders and they made it up as they went along too (like yours!)

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