saving up for

Rip it up and start again

It’s happening! The builders are here, clearing the gravel as I type.

Your traditional Essex builder, there.

Your traditional Essex builder, there.

Say goodbye to an unloved, underused, difficult space and hello to a lovely new garden.

The plan is to pave the side return, leaving a tiny strip to fill with scented, shade-loving plants. Then we’ll put a small fence across, about a metre from the end of the house to make an enclosed L-shaped garden so that Betsy can run about with minimal supervision. I’ve chosen edible plants for that part so that, since she’s probably going to eat them anyway, Betsy will be safe. We’ll have a piece of turf along the back of the house to start with but I’ll swap that to chamomile lawn as we grow the seedlings (they’re supposedly a bugger to germinate, so I’m expecting it to take a while to get enough to cover the whole patch).

On the other side of the low fence there’ll be the grown ups garden. A few stepping stones will lead through a rose arch (see! grown up!) and onto a small patio in the centre, then the path continues from the other side out to the back gate. The patio will have a few pots of lavender and other scented plants and we’ll have a tiny table and chairs, just for two. (We have spare folding chairs, don’t panic, visitors!) I want to put chamomile lawn along the edge of the path so as you walk you crush the plants and release the scent.

To either side will be flower beds. We have the bones of the beds already, with our dogwood, mock orange, verbena bonariensis and so on. We may need a few more perennials to make sure it doesn’t look too bare in winter, but we’ll fill it out with masses of annuals like cosmos and nigella for summer. There’s not that much space there anyway, so it shouldn’t take too much to pack it with flowers.

Originally we planned to have a utility area at the back for the shed and somewhere to store the recycling, and shield it from view with a line of bamboo. But, since we and a few neighbours cleared the shared pathway that runs along the back of our gardens, we’ve decided we’ll leave the rubbish and recycling out there, and we’ll tart up the old storage bench to make a second seating area. It’s a tiny garden, to go with our tiny house, so two seating areas may seem excessive, but the end of the garden gets the last rays of sunlight in the evening, and it might be nice to sit there with a glass of wine after dinner.

More as it happens.

endless DIY

Sometimes you have to remind yourself to take a break.

We don’t go out much and we’re not big tv watchers either, but we do have one hobby that will take up as much time as we give it. That’s LOTRO, also known as Lord of the Rings Online. It’s a massively immersive game where you take your character into a rich, visual interpretation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and there you interact with hundreds of other characters played by other real people, just like you. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun, I know, but we both love it. We play together, helping each other out and fighting orcs, goblins and trolls together. We could easily (and sometimes do) spend three or four hours playing. And sometimes we take a break for dinner before going back online for another couple of hours.

But when there’s this much DIY on the to-do list, well we tend to limit our game time to an hour here and there. This weekend we had a long session, to the detriment of our sleep patterns… A couple of weeks ago, after long sessions of DIY every weekend, booyaa went on strike, as it were. He downed tools and we spent the weekend playing LOTRO and cooking nice food, and we tried to simply enjoy our house for a couple of days. That was really nice. We’d both like to do that more often.

So we’re talking about rounding up some of the bigger projects. Looking at what we can complete and trying to have some time off before we start anything new.

So, current state of play for the bigger projects.

  • Finish off the dining room fireplace – we’re getting someone in to do that for us. Just waiting for them to slot us into their schedule.
  • Finish off the floor in the dining room – that was supposed to happen this weekend but one of the steps in the process took longer than expected and held up the whole project. Hopefully we’ll get the rest done next weekend.
  • Decorate kitchen, dining room, living room and staircase – all in one go, as soon as we’ve got the fireplace and floor finished in the dining room. Again, we’re not doing this ourselves. We’ve got quotes and it’s honestly not worth the hassle. Outsourced!
  • Landscape the garden – we don’t think we can afford to get someone in to do this (though we haven’t requested quotes) and it seems like too much for us to do ourselves, so we’re scaling back our plans and going to build just one flower bed for now. As long as there’s something to enjoy this summer.

Since we couldn’t work on the newly-sanded floor this weekend we spent about half of our time doing some of the smaller jobs that have been on the list for weeks. Plenty of things we’d started but never finished, or we were waiting for something to be able to complete it. Or just excuses ;) But we tore through a bunch of stuff:

Re-fitted the bedroom blinds and curtain poles (one of the blinds had a dodgy mechanism so we were waiting for a replacement; in the meantime we realised we’d have to move it around so that we could the drill into the tight corner we had to deal with). Now, to make the curtains. (Procrastination klaxon!)

We have a built-in cupboard in our bedroom. It’s just a rack of shelves in an alcove, nothing fancy. We’ve had each of the shelves piled up with bags of out-of-season clothes, spare duvets, guest bedding and so on. But we have so little clothes hanging space in this house, just the one tiny wardrobe, that we decided to convert it into a wardrobe. We’ve put two rails in, one at the back and high up for dresses and coats and the other at the front lower down for shirts. It’s a bit weird, but the space was too deep to waste. We’ve still got the highest and lowest shelves to use, too. So all in all, it’s maxed out all the possible storage space.

Following on from this, we sorted through some of those bags of clothes and bedding and vacuum-bagged as much as we could. Each of the bags then went into a plastic box and in the loft, out of the way.

Emptied the garden shed. We didn’t have much choice about this: someone answered our ad on Gumtree, so it had to be done! With any luck they’ll also take some of our gravel to use as a base for the shed.

booyaa fitted the TV bracket in the living room. We started this weeks back, but the wall crumbled and we had to fill it with polyfilla, then we couldn’t get the huge bolts lined up and had to redo it. Ugh. It’s a very unforgiving piece of kit. You need a specialist drill bit and screwdriver because the bolts are so long and the slot is too wide for your average screwdriver. But at last it’s up and the tv is hidden away in the alcove. We can stop using the hallway shoe cabinet as a tv stand, to my immense relief.

Lastly, we hung up the hanging plant pot in the bathroom for our spider plant. It’s been sitting on the windowsill for weeks. Tiny job, but still.

And that’s where we’re at with tiny jobs. Next weekend we’ll revisit the dining room floor. The major jobs on the list will take up the next four to six weeks, but we’re not doing most of it, so it looks like we’ll get our weekends back very soon. Hurray! More time to enjoy the work we’ve done so far.

to dos (and to don’ts)

Plans. I have a to-do list.


To-dos on the wall. The dining room has become one giant chalkboard.

We have some amazing ideas for renovating and improving the house and garden. We have a “what if…” plan, because why not? And a slightly less ambitious one.

All of the upgrades depend somewhat on finances; plus what the architect says will or won’t work for rearranging the space.

Things we plan to do:
Let’s call this phase one, though even so it will probably be done over the space of a year or two. It’s also very much a cosmetic phase.

Living room
Open up the fireplace. We might get a stove rather than reinstating the fire
Upgrade the laminate to real wood boards (or paint it for now)
Buy new furniture that fits the space

Dining room and kitchen
Rip out the carpet and restore the boards
Paint the kitchen cupboards
Restore the wooden worktop with sanding and oil
Install a dishwasher (means converting a cupboard)
Possibly open up the fireplace here, too, but use as a wine store (I know. Very 70s of us.)

Nice paint colour to bring in some warmth
Accessories should brighten it up
Might swap the light fitting (it gives off a greenish light)

Rip up carpet, restore boards
Swap light fitting
Hang pictures

Only the small bedroom which will be my study really needs decorating
Renovate old chest of drawers
Possibly paint cheap wardrobe until we get a fitted wardrobe

The long game
The ambitious plan is dependent on money and architect’s say-so. It’s not outrageous. There are no only-in-London huge new extensions made almost entirely of glass or magicking a third floor by excavating the cellar. No. Much more modest than that, but still substantial.

The plan, if it will work, is to turn the loft into a dual-purpose study and storage area. The way the stairs sit means we should be able to put a second flight of stairs directly above them to gain access to the loft. The room will be split in two by the staircase but that works for us, and would be perfectly usable for a twin bedroom. But you wouldn’t get a double bed up there.

Then the study will turn into a bathroom. The guest room will remain the guest room, so visitors get an en-suite bathroom and we have to use the cloakroom downstairs in the middle of the night.

What cloakroom? Aha. The current bathroom will lose the bath, the loo and basin will stay put. Where the bath used to be will become a utility area, with the washer, the boiler and some storage.  This area, along with the back lobby, will be incorporated into the kitchen. We’ll upgrade the kitchen at this point, with new cupboards and worktop, and maybe, if I’m very lucky, a bigger cooker.

If a full loft conversion is not feasible for financial or practical reasons then we’ll try to at least turn it into a usable space for my home office but with a fold-down staircase. Then the bathroom and kitchen will go ahead the same. Obviously having a three bedroom house with an upstairs bathroom is worth more than a 2 bed with a usable loft space. So… well, we’ll see.

We used to have an allotment, so growing our own food is a hobby. We recognise that such a garden won’t allow us to go all Tom and Barbara so we’ve reconciled ourselves to having a couple of veg planters for tomatoes, salad, a courgette plant and then we can stick some beans in the flower bed and put a potato bag on the patio.

Get rid of the gravel
Downsize the shed
Paint the fence
Create a patio area for table, chairs, bbq and our collection of potted plants
Create a large flower bed in a curving sweep, packed to the gills with scented flowers in summer and good autumn-winter colour shrubs
Make a small patch of herb lawn for summer enjoyment
Build two raised beds against the back wall of the house
Rose and honeysuckle arch at the gate
Shade garden along the side return with some brunnera, heucheras maybe a hosta or two
Path and patio areas will need landscaping materials, but we can manage with bits of gravel for the time being

bedtime stories

Boy do we love our bed. It’s served us well. We bought it when we moved into our first unfurnished flat about 9 years ago. It’s a super king size (that’s big) with a firm, memory foam mattress. But… it takes up too much space in this room and looks daft.


So it’s going on Gumtree. Let’s see if we can get a few quid towards a new one. Along with it are the bolt-on bedside tables and the matching chest of drawers.

For now we’re using the guest bed and various bits of furniture to replace the bedside tables. I totally get the mismatched but also artfully paired furniture look so many vintage and scandi homes do so well… but this is just whatever we have cobbled together. It’s not exactly a ‘look’. This bed is a standard double with a standard mattress. I was expecting we’d get in each other’s way after years of acres of space, but so far there’ve been no turning-over-in-the-middle-of-the-night mishaps. And neither of us has fallen out of bed. Though my back would like my firm mattress back.

bedroom with guest room furniture

This weekend we’ll be swapping the woefully inadequate slatted blinds for blackouts so we can sleep past 6am, and add gauzy curtains for privacy when the blinds are up.

Next task here is to renovate the old chest of drawers so we can start using it. Then we’ll turn the shelving in the built-in cupboard into hanging rails for a temporary wardrobe. We could do with some pictures on the walls, too.

Long term we’ll get a new bed and bedside tables plus a substantial wardrobe built into the alcove.  For now, though, this is it. Other, more pressing projects, come first.