What makes someone want to take on a renovation?

Inside our home

For me, I believe my dad has a large part to play in it. All those years watching Homes Under the Hammer with him fuelled a spark inside me. Taking on an unloved building and transforming it into something bespoke that fits your needs, while being able to create a nice chunk of equity at the same time, sold it to me!

I remember visiting a Victorian property as a child and being in awe. It belonged to friends of my parents. It had a grand cascading staircase, really high ceilings and just the right amount of space for running around. Even at a young age I could feel my love for period properties develop.
Fast forward to January 2006 and it was time to make my own mark on the property ladder. I remember visiting properties and feeling claustrophobic in them, with bedrooms that would struggle to fit a single bed and chest of drawers. But my dream of something grander was being crushed by my minuscule budget. As the days turned into months of searching the disappointment was beginning to take over. Was I being too fussy?

Eventually, Rightmove came up with the goods. A repossessed Georgian property built in 1803 appeared on the market and I eagerly called to book a viewing.
When I first walked in I was struck with a sense of dread rather than the excitement I’d been hoping for. Each room had been painted in dark grey, creating an almost cave-like feel. The smell of dampness circled around me. The property had been left in a terrible condition: depleted, dirty and uncared for.
I remember opening the fridge and gasping at the smell. Overgrown with mould, it made my stomach curdle.

After carefully inspecting the inside of the house, it was time to investigate the outside space. Surely it couldn’t be any worse? Hesitantly I opened the door where I was greeted by the external steps (or what used to be the external steps). They were so worn they had crumbled away, and what was once a garden now resembled an overgrown jungle.
Could I imagine myself living here? No.
I took a step back, closed my eyes, and after a deep breath in (away from the fridge), I re-evaluated the situation.

Number one on my list was space and boy did this house have that. With two living spaces, a kitchen/diner, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and even a laundry room upstairs, it had exactly what I was looking for and more: a beautiful (albeit damp) curved staircase, solid wooden floors (so scratched they were almost unrecognisable) and a layout that was almost perfect (after moving a wall or two).
But could I take on such a large project?

Reflecting back to Homes Under the Hammer I decided if those people could do it, then why couldn’t I? I submitted my offer with some trepidation and awaited the estate agent’s call.
That sickly feeling in my stomach didn’t lift when my offer was finally accepted. In fact, it may have actually worsened.

Six years later, and after what sometimes felt like endless hours, the renovation was finally complete. All our blood, sweat and tears (literally) had paid off. And, when we put the property on the market, it had almost doubled in value.

So, it was time to start the search for property number two. The renovation bug had truly hit me, and I was desperate for another project. My husband David, however, longed for a new-build property where he wouldn’t need to lift a finger or a paintbrush. Can you guess who won?

Unsatisfied with my previous low-scale renovation, I somehow convinced him to take on a 1900 Victorian sandstone property that required every wall to be stripped back to the bare bones. Removing load bearing walls, moving bathrooms, new electrics, boilers, radiators, removing chimneys, new windows and doors, it was the project of all projects. But the property was just oozing with potential – the grand Victorian staircase that welcomed you as you walked through the door, those 3-metre high ceilings outlined with ornate cornicing and yes you guessed it, space!

This time when our offer was accepted my stomach still churned but with excitement.
In the months leading up to the sale completion I spent my time scrolling through Instagram and Pinterest looking for inspiration, taking screenshots of immaculate Victorian hallways finished with parquet flooring, dark atmospheric bathrooms and shaker style country kitchens, creating mood boards for each individual space.

Now came the real work – working out how to achieve my high-end home on a limited budget, whilst still completing all the renovation work needed. Let’s just say Google became my best friend for a while, and instead of scrolling through Instagram for beautifully finished homes, I began navigating, cost comparing and compiling spreadsheets of every DIY shop, always looking for the best deal. When we had to call in the experts I tried to be as money savvy as possible, gathering a minimum of three quotes and trying to find the best value for money.

Instead of replacing skirting boards and door facings we (painfully) sanded and restored the existing ones. Instead of hiring decorators, we painted and wallpapered ourselves. Rather than hiring joiners we built our own wardrobes, TV and speaker units and much, much more. We quickly learned (with a little help from YouTube) as many skills as possible. From laying flooring to tiling we took on as much work as we possibly could ourselves. And after nearly three years of hard work, we are finally beginning to reap the rewards.

We tried to enhance and add as many period features as possible by adding panelling to the walls, ceiling roses to the ceilings and reinstating cornice. I always think it’s important to keep a nod to the history of the property when renovating as it can add a lot of character to your home.

We began by moving the current bathroom into one of the bedrooms which gave us the space to have my lusted after slipper bath and open shower before completing our master bedroom. Next was our living room where we added a wood burning stove (one of the best decisions we made) a built-in TV wall and repurposed the existing shelves to hide our media centre and create our feature alcoves. Our guest bedroom was then sectioned off to allow us to add a downstairs toilet and walk-in wardrobe before we carefully restored our hallway to its former glory.

In May 2021 we received the long-awaited news that we were expecting, so it was time to add a nursery to the smallest room of the house in time for our daughter Emi’s arrival. I wanted to create a whimsical space, adding a split panelled wall mural, using pinks and earthy greens and quirky animal prints.
With three months remaining of my pregnancy it was time to tackle our biggest project to date, our kitchen/dining room. We knocked three rooms into one, removing the original bathroom and chimney, creating a large open space that allowed us to add my dream kitchen island and pantry (that I could not live without). It certainly came with its challenges. Delays, prices increases and the weather held the project up and we had to live without a kitchen for over six months! But it was definitely worth it. I won’t miss the microwave meals, though.

When it came to planning each room I chose a few key features before styling the rest of the room around them. For example, in our guest bedroom I had envisioned a black ceiling. I then selected a complementary wall mural, Relax from Rebel Walls, which brought a calming aspect to the room and added a little softness. Initially, David wasn’t convinced with some of my ideas (including a dark bathroom) but luckily he lets me take the lead on the design aspects.

As our budget was limited when it came to furnishings, Facebook Marketplace became my new best friend. Most of our furniture was purchased second hand and has been upcycled. I love nothing more than turning an unloved piece of furniture into something special. Some of my favourite projects were my living room sideboard, our guest bedroom furniture and our hall console table. But my favourite find must be our G Plan dining table and chairs which I managed to pick up for free.

I also enjoy a good mooch in a charity shop where you can purchase some bargain finds. When it came to styling our kitchen, I was able to find a number of vintage vases and jugs which cost no more than £2 each!

When it comes to choosing decorative items, Dunelm, The Range and TK Maxx are my go-to shops. You can find some beautiful pieces at very reasonable prices. The artificial flowers and stems in Dunelm are perfect if you’re looking to subtilty update your home throughout the seasons by alternating stems in your vases.

Hopefully I’ve given you a little insight into what makes someone take on a renovation and how to budget for one. If you’re thinking of taking on your own renovation project, I’d encourage you to go for it. They can be costly but being able to create your dream home from a blank shell is worth every bit of time and effort spent on it. Will this be our last project? I’ve a funny feeling it won’t, but you’ll have to wait and see.