Project Dining Room: or, the one that was supposed to be a ‘Quick Win’

The Dining Room. Probably the Least Bad room is our house – and so, even though it was one of the ones we could actually live with for the meantime, it was also quite high up the schedule for a makeover as it was to be our Quick Win. I mean, it just needed painting, right?


So, to re-cap – this was the dining room a couple of days after we moved in. I got the computer installed, put a cloth on the table, hung some pictures and then, erm, started opening all the boxes of junk in it. And those last few boxes that you don’t quite know what to do with? They stayed in there for 6 months, mostly because the cat adopted them as her bed.

The furniture was intended to be temporary, while we decided what we wanted. Thus it was soon supplemented by a G Plan unit, found at the wonderful Showtime Retro in Margate…


…while the table was replaced when Habitat conveniently put the one we wanted (Wanita) into the sale.


Compared to our other rooms, this was proving remarkably easy – shopping is a lot simpler than decorating! So why change it?

1)Textured paint on the ceiling *shudder*.

2)That fireplace. Doesn’t look so bad does, it? That’s because, as usual, I forgot to record the Full Horror.

Let’s return to our estate agent’s photos of the place to get a better look at it:


The fireplace itself wasn’t too my taste anyway but what you can’t see – and in fact it took me about 3 months to notice – was that the chimney wasn’t plastered. Of course it wasn’t, nothing in this house had been plastered. No, someone had boxed it in with huge pieces of wood. And not aligned them properly. And once you notice that, you can’t just shut your eyes and paint over it. Off it comes…


So with the help of a crow bar, out comes the fireplace. And, obviously, in goes the cat.


My dad and I then unscrew the wood from the chimney – you can see in the picture above how thick it was, a good inch and a half, and very very heavy. In the process of taking the top piece down, the textured paint starts coming away from the ceiling. So we decide to take it all off there and then.


I can only presume whoever painted it didn’t prime the plaster properly because it just full off with a slight nudge from the scraper. Until – hey presto! an untextured ceiling.


At this point it will come as no surprise to you, dear readers, that I lost my camera in the chaos, so I have nothing to show you until the finished product. In between we had the plasterers in and they created a sensible chimney for us, and I spent a not-so-happy weekend painting the room with Fired Earth’s Skylon Grey, something that could be described as a whim as I never even bought a tester, but decided on it on the strength of this post on Design*Sponge.


I love the colour to distraction. The beige of the old room looked dark and dingy, this colour just sings in all lights, and the furniture looks amazing against it.The paint itself is another matter. Let’s just say that when Fired Earth say their paint is almost odourless, they’re exaggerating. After getting used to using Farrow & Ball, it also goes on like custard.

The light came from Habitat and – ahem – had been decided on before we’d even chosen our house.


The curtains were replaced with a blind from Tuiss – custom fit and shockingly affordable. In the above picture you can also see our new and improved computer desk, which came from Marks & Spencer’s.

I’m thrilled with this room. There are still some finishing details ot be completed – putting more pictures up for starters, but with the exception of the fireplace hiccup, it’s been by far and away the easiest. Like the other rooms in the house it does have lining paper and a few of the walls are dry lined. But unlike other rooms they had been done competently so we could live with them here.

*Coming soon* (where soon is a relative term): we get plastered walls in our bedroom! The windows are replaced! we find something the house that is genuinely old! Stay tuned…


Project Library: or, a corridor with some bookshelves

We had originally been looking for a 3 bedroom house with the idea of using one room as a library, so when we bought a 2 bed, the books still had to be found a home. The previous occupant had a couple of bookcases in the corridor that had been carved out of the second bedroom, so I had the idea to do that on a grander scale.


And so here is the corridor before any work started. Obviously the first thing that had to be done was to get rid of that ghastly ‘chandelier’.

We bought some Billy bookshelves, which proved to be a bit of a mistake. The Billys are very very deep, much deeper than they need to be to hold paperback novels. And our corridor is not very wide. They didn’t stay there long before we had to move them anyway in order to get the partition wall re-plastered and then decided we might as well do the corridor at the same time as the guest bedroom. They now live in our living room, sinking under the weight of some rather hefty art books, until such time as we can afford Vitsoe shelving. [‘Hilariously’ I couldn’t actually get the largest of the Billy bookshelves out of the corridor and down the stairs so we had to take it through the front bedroom window and back into the living room through the front door. Such is the fun of a small house].

Although the corridor looks inoffensive enough in that photo, that’s only because you can’t see the woodchip wallpaper.


This all had to be scraped off, revealing a layer of turquoise paint (nice!) and another layer of lining paper underneath. The actual plaster below wasn’t as bad as in the guest bedroom, luckily.

P1010082In one place we also found a tiny piece of old wallpaper, our first glimpse of what the house might have looked like before it had its run in with the 1970s [If you’re interested in seeing old wallpapers, there will be more of that on a later date…]

Ultimately the corridor was quite easy to do, and I actually carried out all the decorations at the same time as I was doing the guest bedroom, which gave me something to do in the 4 hour wait between coats of paint.

I’d put the case for painting the room dark blue, reasoning that it was never going to look light whatever we did, as it had no natural light source, so we might as well go dramatic. The colour we chose, Farrow & Ball Stone Blue, required a dark undercoat, which I actually quite liked and was briefly tempted to leave the room dark grey!


We went to East Kent Timber to choose wood for our shelves. After feeling very uninspired with the selection we were initially shown, we found some Tulipwood which got us very excited. A lovely pale wood with interesting pink and yellow patches, and hard as nails.

P1020027It cost around £250 in total for all the shelves. We just used simple and cheap supports from B&Q as they would be hidden by the books:

P1020028As with the guest bedroom, this room is still awaiting carpet. At the moment that’s dependent on getting the front bedroom finished as we want to carpet the whole of the upstairs at once. We also still need to find some bookends that we can agree on like.

Project Guest Room: functioning but not finished

Sorry, that was a rather longer dramatic pause than I intended. Where was I?

So: We have our newly plastered walls…







We’ve bought the paint….

[yes that’s what £250 of Farrow & Ball looks like, in case you’re wondering]

and we’re putting a diluted coat of magnolia onto the newly plastered walls, because clearly only a lunatic would prime with F&B. We decide hey, while we’ve got this watered down paint, let’s just do a quick coat over the walls we’ve not had plastered so we can check if there are any holes we’ve missed. And that’s when the residual pink paint starts peeling off. Peeling off, as in like peeling glue off your fingers.

We panic, we call my parents, we all spend saturday scraping paint off the walls. But it’s becoming quite apparent that the plaster underneath is wrecked. So we give in and phone the plasterer and then that’s another 3 weeks delay.

When the decorating day does come round, or rather the weeks as I booked a fortnight off work to do this and the Library (the ‘Library’ being a whole other blog post), it actually goes very smoothly. The F&B paint is a dream to work use – it doesn’t smell at all and it washed out of the brushes easily. The only slight panic was that the first coat looked horrible and streaky but the second coat is perfection.

The most time-consuming part of the process is the chimney, as the tar bleeds through the first layer of paint (another precautionary layer of magnola luckily).









and so has to be time-consumingly daubed with stain block before the undercoat-paint-paint process can begin.








And this after I’ve already painted the bricks with primer so I think it’s far too say I know that chimney quite intimately.

Without further a do I give you….the functioning guest room.












In case you’re wondering, the light comes from the lovely Room 9 in east London. The shelf unit is an ikea Gorm whitewashed and varnished. This is going to be the storage for my sewing and knitting crap supplies, as it’s to be a craft room when we don’t have guests.

What’s still to do? Well we bought some tiles to go in the hearth that we’re waiting for my dad to lay. Once those are done we will be putting down carpet. Yes I know that’s a dirty word on home decoration blogs but it’s warm and comfortable and hides the cat fur for a few days at least. There will also be fancy curtains at some point. But for now, I’m pretty pleased. As is the cat, with her new double bed.

Project Guest Room: demolition phase

Despite deciding in advance to document, document, document (or at least: photograph, photograph, photograph) it would seem I failed to record the true hideousness of the second bedroom.

Obviously the overriding problem is the pink-ness, but the not-exactly-tasteful switch for the electric shower was quite near the top of our list as well.

If you look a little more carefully you can see the polystyrene coving that runs all round the room. I looked at this on a few DIY websites to see what kind of idiot would put it up and established that you’re supposed to paint over it. Obviously no-one told the owners of our house that. It came off deliciously easily but it left this lovely glue-y residue on both the walls and ceilings that then had to be laboriously scraped off.

I also forgot to take a photo showing the elaborate wood construction masquerading as a wall in the corner of the room. They cunning left a chest of drawers in front of it when we went to view the house.

We’d decided to leave this room to last as it was the worst but that didn’t stop my other half and my dad Needing To Know what was behind the wood. So, two days in to the house and we took it down for our first Surprise! moment:

Bare brick wall! The remains of a built inn wardrobe! Wasn’t expecting that.

In some kind of completely ridiculous first-flush-of-enthusiasm we decided we had to tackle this room first of all, because it couldn’t get any worse after this, right?

So, we started by taking all the plaster off the chimney breast (as you do) so that it would match the one in our bedroom.


Obviously this would have been more straightforward if they hadn’t attached a plug socket to the chimney. Who puts a plug socket *on* the chimney? and why? Shortly after this we had an electrician come in to move that and the rather ugly and oddly placed shower switch. Although I do miss its rather satisfying THUNK when you turned the shower off.

The walls were painted onto some very badly applied lining paper. This all had to be scraped off and I know I took photos of the mountain of removed soggy papers but they seem to have been lost, disappointingly. Instead you can see the result, after we filled in all the pits in the wall.

Yes, the wall is exactly the same shade of pink. That’s because someone seems to have painted the room, been dissatisfied with it, so put lining paper over the walls and then painted exactly the same shade of pink on top. What with it being such a nice shade of pink. All the white patches are where we filled in the holes.

And to continue the demolition theme….

…we tore down the partition ‘wall’. Originally this room and the corridor you see behind (which will have its own blog post soon) would have been as one, with the bathroom off this bedroom. The corridor allows the now main bedroom to access the bathroom and was very much part of our reason for buying the house. Unfortunately it had also been constructed out of chipboard and was bowing quite badly. So we tore off chipboard and invited a plasterer round.

And so, we thought, we were ready to paint.

Oh how wrong we were.




Please excuse the boxes

After the excitement of picking up the keys…would all our stuff fit in? and would the house look like ours even though the decoration left a lot to be desired.

I made a conscious decision to try to document the house, not least because I knew halfway through (or before) I would need reminding how far we had come. So this is two days after we moved in.

After picking up the keys and off-loading the van, we went straight to ikea and bought a sofa ten minutes before closing time. I’d done my research and the Karlstad sofa turned up in a lot of design-conscious houses. Plus the cat had done her best to wreck the one in our rented flat so we wanted something where we knew we would be able to change the covers. That hideous orange bookcase came off the wall within the first week, as did the fire surround and electric fire. If you look carefully, you’ll see we don’t actually have a chimney breast in the lounge as someone, sometime removed it. Unfortunately previous owners only painted up to the fire surround so we now have a patch of bare wall. This is better than an electric fire.

Our steep and narrow staircase. Any furniture upstairs is going to *have* to be flat-pack. There’s also a reasonable chance that one of us will be claiming on the other’s life insurance before the year is out if that darn cat has anything to do with it.

Temporary clothes shelving came from B&Q, with the idea that we will then be able to use it in the cellar once we’ve built in some wardrobe. I was determined to not waste money on temporary cheap furniture if possible.

The guest bedroom, which served as useful overflow space so we could use the other rooms to some extent in the meantime.

The hallway-soon-to-be-library. With useful hanging rail and the most hideous lampshade I’ve ever seen (and it had a lot of competition in this house).

The dining room, in total chaos. We got some of the pictures up straight away to try to make the place feel like home, and because it was easier than forever walking into them. The tablecloth is to hide the hideous hand-me-down table. We were grateful for it but didn’t really want to look at it. 

Did it look like ours? no. Did it feel like ours? Well, the one thing that really distinguishes owning a house from renting it is making changes. Which we started doing very soon….

First impressions

I am perhaps being unfair implying that we bought this house only because we thought it would be quiet. In fact it has much going for it.

1)It’s not Victorian/Edwardian.

It was sold to us as being 1890s but the surveyors put it as c1825, which makes more sense for a number of reason we will come to later. Our rented flat was victorian and the heating bills were astronomical AND we were cold all the time. When I occasionally went up a ladder to get a book from the bookshelves, I used to find out where all that money went – the top 4 inches of the room were really warm! I also had concerns about any original featues (edwardian fireplaces etc) dictating our aesthetic.

Which brings me to:

2)It’s a blank canvas.

There are no original features in this house, with the exception of the walls. And then not all of them. It’s also not been decorated in ages and doesn’t have a single thing about the decor I like. It gives us an excuse to rip everything out and start again. We looked at some houses where the kitchen had been put in a few years ago and wasn’t to my taste but it would have been difficult to justify buying a new one just on aesthetic grounds. There are no such concerns with this house.

On the other hand it is…

3)Liveable in the meantime. It’s structurally sound but an aesthetic disaster, which is what I was hoping to find. We looked at one house that had amazing potential but no bathroom or kitchen. We moved into this house Friday and went to work on Monday, albeit looking at paint charts on the train.

It took quite a lot of effort and a little leap of faith to look past how the house was. Not only was the decoration not to our taste but we also needed to look past the furniture in it at the time of the viewing. The living room furniture was much bigger than anything we would buy and made the lounge look tiny. The main bedroom had a somewhat overized wardrobe but no bed, so it was difficult to judge how it would look. The only helpful thing was the bookcases in the upstairs corridor, which gave me the idea of turning that into a library and thereby enabling us to do without a 3rd bedroom (as that would have been earmarked for books). And the garden was difficult to judge in January but it was at least the right size – not so big as to become a burden but so small that the cat would complain. There was just two months of paperwork to get through and we had the keys – right on the stamp duty deadline.

First viewing

Why this house? Why this house indeed.

We’d been house-hunting since September, it was January.  We returned to our flat in London from another unsuccessful all-day mission, feeling dispirited. As soon as we got into our flat we realised that next door were having band practice. Grimly we opened up the laptop and had another trawl through Rightmove to see if there was something, anything we’d missed. Preferably something quiet.

This house, marketed as a terrace, was on closer examination actually detached. There’s an alley on one side and the house on the other side is set back and doesn’t actually share any walls. Added to that the exposed brick fireplace in the front bedroom and the humungous bathroom, and we booked a viewing the next morning, and had our offer accepted the following Friday.

These are the estate agent’s photos. In my next post I’ll add the photos I took when we moved in, to show what it looks like in real life.