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.

more floor

The floor in the living room is laminate straight over concrete. A couple of the neighbours have concrete floors in the front room, so I think something must’ve happened to make people rip out the wood and lay concrete. (Flood? Though I can’t see how the river could get this far. Really bad woodworm? Possibly. After all, there was woodworm elsewhere in the house. Some bonkers 1960s craze? Who knows.)


laminate flooring and gas pipe running along the top of the skirting board

laminate flooring and gas pipe running along the top of the skirting board

Anyway, I’m sure you can imagine that makes for a cold, cold floor. Not such an issue in summer, but it was very chilly when we moved in early Spring, and we’re not looking forward to an icy floor through the depths of winter.

Because the floor’s concrete we don’t have much room to manoeuvre. We don’t want the whole pneumatic-drilling-the-floor kind of work, so we had to find a way of insulating and recovering in less than 2 inches before the door wouldn’t open. You can buy sheets of polystyrene insulation which are about an inch thick. Bingo.

So, this week the builders came and took off the skirting boards and lifted the laminate flooring. Then the gas engineer came to move the gas pipe, which was running along the top of the skirting boards, and lay it out of the way for when we get a woodburner. This step wasn’t linked to the new floor except that since we’re lifting the floor it seemed like a good time to do it. (You can see the pipe above the skirting in the photo at the top.)

One wall of skirting had been routed out to hide some cabling. We didn’t see that until it became clear that the skirting was somehow tied to a plug. Interesting.

concrete floor, new pipe, cable routing

concrete floor, new pipe, cable routing

The next day the sheets of insulation went down, followed by half a tree of tongue and groove. The old skirting boards were reused. The badly damaged pieces were flipped over. We considered getting new skirting but we had enough to reuse so it seemed pointless to buy new.

And now it’s time to sand everything, floorboards, skirting, cupboard doors, the lot. Then we’ll be repeating the process from the dining room of staining and varnishing the floorboards. Cue aching arms by Sunday evening.

Saturday and Sunday

The stickers on the floorboards were an absolute nightmare to get off. I tried a combination of damping them with water and scraping with a metal spatula and soaking off the adhesive with rubbing alcohol. I was concerned we’d end up with square patches, so, while I sanded the rest of the woodwork that I’d started on Saturday, booyaa sanded all of the floor with the orbital sander.

By then we were both exhausted, but we found enough energy to stain the floor. That was my job. When you start painting on the stain you panic that it’s horrendously dark and artificial looking and you’ve made a huge mistake. But we remembered feeling this way with the dining room floor and that turned out really well once it was finished. And, as I carried on painting myself out of the room, the first boards were drying and starting to look like old pine, as planned.


action shot of me painting on the scary brown stain

Then I went to have a long, extremely welcome shower while the stain dried. Then first coat of hard wax went on. That was booyaa’s job. It’s really hard work. You have to drag the applicator in one firm sweep from one side of the room to the other, with no stopping and going back over because that will make it patchy. It takes 4-5 hours to dry, but we’re leaving it overnight to be on the safe side.

Clean up time and dinner. Luckily dinner is easy. So very tired.

Tomorrow the second coat of hard wax varnish goes on and we’re done.



tongue and groove stained and varnished

All done! New floor!

The wood isn’t as attractive as the wood we have in the dining room. They’re different products from different places. In the dining room the grain is really nice with a few knots and the planks are quite wide. The living room wood is narrow, it was much paler to start with so the finish is lighter now, and there aren’t that many boards with attractive grain. The knots are weird, triangular shaped, like the wood was cut at an angle. I’m pleased that most of it ends up being covered up by rugs and furniture. But is it warm? Because that was the main reason for doing this. And the answer is: yes it is! I mean, it’s not like having underfloor heating (I wish) but it’s markedly less chilly than before.

And now it’s time to paint the living room. I’m getting fed up of spending my evenings at the dining room table.

Are we there yet?

The bathroom isn’t finished. I know. How long does it take? Well, we were away on holiday for a week and the bathroom fitters were going to complete the bathroom then. We got back to find a few things that needed changing (some of which, it turned out, we couldn’t change) and a couple of things which that the builders wanted to discuss before going ahead.

Things I wasn’t happy about but we couldn’t change mostly came down to a combination of wonky and fragile walls.

The toilet unit, after all that fuss, has a gap of about 15mm at the top rather than sitting flush with the wall. (flush! a joke! totally not on purpose.) The argument goes that the unit is snug at the bottom but the wall is wonky on both the vertical and horizontal plane so by the time we get to the top there’s a noticeable gap. (Solution is to put a trailing plant on top of the unit to mask the side. I think it might work. Fake it till you make it and all that.)

The electrics were a bit of a nightmare too. We’ve ended up with 3 unattractive boxes on the wall above and to the side of the door. One is an isolator for the fan and it’s in a fairly good place and not too prominent. The next one would ordinarily go the other side of the ceiling and you wouldn’t see it but that room’s loft space is almost inaccessible so it’s on the wall instead. A bit wonky, unfortunately, and not intended to be on display. Finally, there needs to be an isolator type box for the Saniflo and the volume of cables requires a big chunky box. There was an alternative suggestion, when I said it looked awfully messy and I’d like a better solution, to put all threee boxes in a single box. I said “Yeah! Let’s do that!” and then they said, “Except your bricks crumble as soon as you look at them and we wouldn’t want to have to make yet another channel through that space which should have a lintel but doesn’t.” Basically the ceiling might fall down… So that’s pretty much ruled that out.

I don’t like the placement of the extractor fan. It’s too prominent. Because the ceiling slopes on that side it means the fan is very much within eye-level range, so I’d have preferred it tucked a little more into the corner. But meh. I can live with it. (Qué remedio.)

They didn’t fit a shower pump as there was a misunderstanding between the plumber and the project manager, and it’s not as cheap or straightforward as they’d led me to believe, so they want us to live with the shower and make our minds up later.

The floor needed sealing very last of all, and that happened on Friday. Since then we’ve started on the painting. booyaa spent hours on Saturday sanding down the plaster over the crumbled bits and channels they made for cables. That was quite a feat. Today he masked off the bathroom and did the first coat. We think the colour will turn out to be the right choice, but we’ll reserve judgement until the second coat is on and the accessories are in.

mid-painting, which is why you can see masking tape, and a pot of paint in the shower...

mid-painting, which is why you can see masking tape round the tiles, and a pot of paint in the shower…

One exciting thing is that we’ve both had middle-of-the-night trips to the loo without tripping down the stairs. Hurrah! And we’ve both tried out the shower. Hurrah! The shower is very nice. I love walking straight in with no doors. It also looks nice with its curves. And the overhead drench showerhead is just amazing. I’m so used to wetting my hair by tipping my head back but with this one practically your whole body is getting wet at the same time. The thermostat is great. You set it at the right temperature and it won’t go above or below it. We tested out the water pressure. While I was in the shower booyaa flushed the downstairs toilet and ran the taps. I noticed a drop of pressure but at least it didn’t turn cold. We think we’ll go ahead with the shower pump having experienced the pressure drop. In the mornings here the pressure is really low as everyone in the street is competing for water from the mains. I had cold showers for days on end because the pressure was too low for the boilet to kick in. No point having a fancypants bathroom if you can’t have a good strong shower.


tricky getting a good shot of the whole shower but hopefully you can appreciate the beautiful curved glass, which is not that green in real life

What have we learned so far, now we’re near the end?
Have all the walls straightened before you start. I would definitely, were I to do this again, have the whole room reskimmed to get it as straight as possible.
Don’t go away, even when you think the builders have nearly finished. It’s so much easier to choose to do something a particular way than change it after it’s been done the way you wouldn’t have chosen.
The picture you have in your head is absolutely the Perfect World scenario. Dial down your expectations. If you don’t, you’ll be disappointed with the real thing when it’s presented to you.


bathroom building: week two

Over the weekend we cleaned up the fine layer of dust covering everything in the house. We swept and mopped the floors. We washed anything that wasn’t put away in a cupboard. It was a cycle of rinse the cloth, wipe it down. Rinse the cloth, wipe it down. So that was fun.

But we also walked in and out of the bathroom-to-be being very excited about our almost-bathroom.


Mr Plumber turned up with piles of bits and bobs for the day’s work. He got to about 11 am before things went a bit wrong. The plaster fell off the bottom 12 inches of the sections of wall that were so far untiled. He had to fill in the gaps and slowly build up the layers of plaster, which meant he couldn’t tile them today.

Hey, let's watch plaster dry.

Hey, let’s watch plaster dry.

However, he did manage to tile the corner of the shower and he did a bit more plumbing. I know this because he kept turning the water off.

Stand by with your loofah! We nearly have a shower!

Stand by with your loofah! We nearly have a shower!


Today Mr Plumber broke the bad news that we were going to run out of tiles. He dashed off to a local tile merchant but the nearest he could find was not near enough.

I ordered two more boxes of tiles from our online retailer and bit the bullet on the delivery charge. We’d bought enough in the first batch to qualify for free delivery. Bit annoying. My spatial awareness and/or measuring tape skills are obviously poorer than I thought.

Mr Plumber rearranged his plans so that he could make progress while waiting for the remaining tiles to arrive. And that means we now have grout! first row of black tiles! pencil tiles!

grout-no grout

grout-no grout

row of black tiles at the bottom, black pencil tiles at the top

row of black tiles at the bottom, black pencil tiles at the top

It’s starting to get that art deco feel we were aiming for. Even Mr Plumber’s boss commended my choice for creating something in keeping with the age and style of the house. proud face


Mr Plumber tidied up the last of the pipework ready to fit the towel heater and the basin unit and finished laying plyboard over the floorboards. Then he got on with laying the mosaic flooring.

He needs to finish the edges and do the grout. But still! Look! Floor!

fancy marble floor tiles

fancy marble floor tiles


The desperately-awaited spare tiles have arrived. Though they were delivered to the wrong house. I don’t know. Really. How hard is it? (The delivery company then made the mistake of sending me a request for feedback. So I called them incompetent. They replied with a grovelling apology and told me that the delivery driver will be ‘on probation’ for 3 months now. Which seems somewhat excessive, but if it teaches him to read instructions then so be it.)

So, the remaining tiles are on, some are already grouted. The mosaic floor edges were a pain. Mr Plumber had to cut each of those tiny hexagons in half to finish the edges. I felt so bad when I realised that was going to take him half a day.

Then he put the toilet in its place, ready to build the box for around the Saniflo and… it wouldn’t fit as expected. Usually, I’m told, there’s a cut out right at the back the toilet, where most of us don’t ever venture, and the macerator sits in there nice and tidy. Not our loo. The cutaway at the back isn’t deep enough. There was much gnashing of teeth. We’d need a big boxed in area and even if it was tiled, it would probably still look rubbish.

So – deep breath – we’ve ordered a back-to-wall toilet with a concealed cistern unit. Now, I was considering one of these when I first started looking at bathroom suites, but it didn’t seem worth the extra expense. But there you go. Concealed cistern, slimline unit to match the basin unit and a very modern back-to-wall toilet are all now on order. The earliest regular delivery was next week so me and the bathroom fitting company are going halves on next-day delivery instead. They’re also going to buy the no-longer-required toilet off us at cost price, which leaves us not so terribly out of pocket.

It will look a lot better this way, I know, but I keep thinking we probably could’ve avoided the extra expense, not to mention stress, if things had been measured more precisely right at the start.

Let’s cheer ourselves up with some photos of the rest of the bathroom being tiled and the floor edging looking all smart and ready for grouting.

that's it, we're all tiled!

that’s it, we’re all tiled!

yesterday's corner, now with added grout!

yesterday’s corner, now with added grout!


Mr Plumber spent a great deal of time cleaning the floor tiles of excess grout so they’re ready to seal. There’s still a fine coating of grout on them, so they’re going to need another good scrub once the grout has set properly. Poor Mr Plumber.

But, tada! We very nearly have a finished bathroom!

Look at all that space! I love the floor. Can't wait to see it properly cleaned of grout.

Look at all that space! I love the floor. Can’t wait to see it properly cleaned of grout.

The new toilet plus unit arrived early afternoon and it’s in place but not yet plumbed in. It will look very smart, it has very clean lines. (Talking of clean. Has anyone else thought about being the first person ever to use a toilet? That little gem thanks to a friend from work [Hi Dan!].)

Meet the toilet of doom, or at least frustration. Fancy shape, though, isn't it?

Meet the toilet of doom, or at least frustration. Fancy shape, though, isn’t it?

The basin unit is in place, but again, there’s some plumbing left to do. The basin is a cute shape with a straight lines AND curves thing going on. Much like the loo. So that’s a nice but unexpected outcome, the matching, sort of, styles.

Basin and unit by the window – handles yet to fit

Basin and unit by the window – handles yet to fit

Square but curved, see? Modern-with-a-nod-to-Victorian tap.

Square but curved, see? Modern-with-a-nod-to-Victorian tap.

Still to do are a few bits of plumbing and electrics. Downstairs, the shower pump needs fitting and the pipes that come out of the boiler still need fixing to the wall and/or boxing in, depending on where they are. In the bathroom itself the lights and the extractor need fitting. The towel heater, shower fixture with the thermostat and riser and whatnot, and the shower screen are all still to fit.

Nearly there…

bathroom building: week one

The bathroom building begins! Here’s how week one went.


The plumber pulled up the floorboards, and investigated the existing pipework from the heating. He dismantled the boxing round the boiler and attached pipes to take the water upstairs.

First gotcha came along, with a problem of how to get the pipes from our main water entry point through the floor. An error of judgement during the planning stage meant they thought the boiler was under the bathroom-to-be, but it’s not. Directly above the boiler is the flat roof. A phone call to the boss resolved the issue. There’ll be some more pipework on show in the back lobby, but we care not a jot. It’s a place of passage, we won’t notice it. There’s going to be a small box in the kitchen to cover up where the pipes go upstairs, but again, we don’t mind. It’ll be fine once it’s painted. Plus, hopefully we’ll have the kitchen redone in a couple of years and we tackle hiding pipes neatly then.

We had to duck under dangling pipes to get into the downstairs bathroom, which was interesting. They’re now partly hooked up, so we’re free from accidental middle-of-the-night garotting.

pulling up floorboards

pulling up floorboards


3 men with drills, stone cutters, hammers and chisels took the house apart. We have gaps in the brickwork, pipes dangling out of internal and external walls, great chasms cut into the walls of the bathroom.

There’s dust EVERYWHERE.

starting to make holes in walls

starting to make holes in walls


The plumber spent the day finishing off the pipework. All the pipes are now in place and joined up. They’re not all fixed down, but we have water upstairs now. high fives

The electrics are half done with cables ready for the extractor fan and the mirror light. The socket and light switch have gone.

The floor is partly covered in ply, there’s a layer of cement and the shower tray is set into it. My first purchase to be used. Have I made the right choice? It looks smaller than I thought. minor panic

An hour later booyaa came home and said something along the lines of, “Whoa, that’s huge.” So maybe it was just bathroom planner’s nerves.

shower tray sitting on its cement base

shower tray sitting on its cement base


The tiles are going on! It’s really starting to look like a bathroom. There’s a wall and a half done so far. They’re not grouted yet, so it’ll look cleaner with white grout instead of grey adhesive.



It’s very tempting to sing Down in the Tube Station at Midnight in here.

And that’s it until Monday.


Smaller tiles are fiddly and take longer to fit. Which is obvious when you think about it. But if we’d chosen large format tiles, as is the trend these days, they would have looked horrendous because of our wobbly walls. The plumber, with his tiler’s hat on today, said we’re much better off with smaller tiles. He’s able to compensate for the bumps and lack of square corners. If we’d used large format tiles they would have been wonky, or, presumably, we’d have to have the walls replastered first.

showered up

We decided we wanted a bathroom upstairs. We had no idea how much it would cost, but going to the loo in the middle of the night with the perilous staircase we have, well, it’s not much fun. Having a shower in the bath? I’m so over it. Time for a real, walk-in shower. We considered upgrading the downstairs bathroom to have a decent shower in it which would have been a relatively cheap upgrade, but that wouldn’t fix the coming-downstairs-half-asleep issue.

So we got some quotes from bathroom fitters, took the one who actually turned up when he said he would, and got planning.

We didn’t go to a one-stop bathroom shop as I expected that to be really expensive. It’s undoubtedly more stressful doing it yourself, but it means we got to choose our products from the places we wanted them from, rather from the range a high street bathroom shop offers. I felt like the bathroom fitters were advising me on the best I could have for my situation, not on what would cost the most, because they would only get paid for the work they did. It made no difference to them what type of taps I wanted.

Going through our requirements and wishes with the bathroom fitters meant changing a few things I’d chosen as they wouldn’t work. There were a couple of issues I hadn’t considered. Things I learned:


If you currently have a bathroom downstairs in an extension added on to the kitchen, and you’re planning on installing a brand new bathroom upstairs you need to consider how to get the water up there and the waste back out again. You will probably need to put pipes up from the kitchen or wherever your boiler is through the ceiling and into the room above. You might end up with a few pipes running up the wall in your kitchen or new boxing inside a kitchen cabinet.

There’s a minimum ‘fall’ required for waste. So you can’t have a straightforward horizontal pipe from your shower running under the floorboards to join the pipes that run down the outside wall, as it’ll just clog up. And without putting you off your breakfast, the toilet is an even more tricky matter. We were persuaded that a Saniflo was our only option without having to cut the backs out of kitchen cupboards to accommodate some considerable boxing. We plan to renovate the kitchen and remove the existing bathroom, but we can’t do that yet, otherwise we could combine the two projects and resolve the waste issue. Never mind. Saniflo it is. (Don’t read the Mumsnet thread on the joys/horrors of fitting a Saniflo if you’re remotely squeamish.)


The floor is at a slight angle in that room – great for shower waste, not so great for getting nice neat rows of tiles. Equally, wobbly walls with crumbly plaster. Fun tiling times! The tiler tells me that smaller tiles are more accommodating for getting a good finish on wonky walls. Big tiles are quicker to fit. We’ve got brick tiles which he says are fairly forgiving, as long as they cut well. Another “who knew!” moment – different tiles are more/less easy to cut. It’s obvious when you think about it, but some are fragile and will crack raggedly. Others make a good clean break. Our marble mosaic tiles are probably not cuttable, so let’s hope the hexagonal form fits round the curved shower tray.


Despite it being an old house we don’t need to strengthen the floor before we put in the sanitary ware. I had assumed we would. There’s a lot of very heavy stuff going in that room. But two different plumber-builders said it’s not necessary, so let’s trust them. They will seal the floor with plywood sheets before they tile, but we could have had that done under the floorboards and not had floor tiles. That would have been a much cheaper option, so consider that if you like the painted floorboards look and are on a tight budget.


I want a super-drenchy shower so we need a pump. In our case it’s getting installed next to the boiler downstairs and will kick in automatically when the hot water is turned on in the upstairs bathroom. The pump is a pricey piece of kit, but unless your house is blessed with amazingly high pressure water flow, you’ll need one for a decent shower experience. Especially if the boiler is downstairs. If you have a water tank in the loft you might be ok. Aah, gravity.

So that’s what I learned. Here’s what we had to do to get this ready.


The study never really finished becoming a study. I worked in there a few times but thanks to foot-thick walls (sturdy house, this) the wifi signal collapsed before it got to my desk. So I mostly worked at the dining room table. I never finished unpacking and sorting everything out. It became a bit of a dumping ground for things that didn’t have a home. When we made the decision to install the bathroom we started creating a study corner in the guest room, but never dealt with the random stuff left in the ex-study.

The week before the bathroom fitters were due to arrive we finally faced our demons. We opened the boxes and sorted them into bin/recycling; find a home for them in the house; repack and put the box in the loft. We tidied the guest room and organised the boxes of bathroom stuff so that the plumber and tiler and whoever could actually get in and do their work.

empty room, ready for bathroomising

empty room, ready for bathroomising

boxes of sanitary ware and fittings

boxes of sanitary ware and fittings

piles of tiles

piles of tiles

NEXT: bathroom fitting, day by day.

Groove is in the hearth

Cast your mind back to when booyaa opened up the fireplace in the dining room. We finally had the slate arrive for the hearth and lovely Fireplace Man came to complete the job.

We were advised to seal the brick so that we don’t get a slow but constant release of brick dust. We used a soft brush to remove as much dust as we could, and then two coats of spray matt polyurethane varnish.

The varnish stank out the house for a whole day. It was horrible stuff. But it’s left the bricks looking exactly the same as before, no plasticky finish which other products would have left.

The slate hearth is beautiful. It’s so tactile you just want to stroke it as you pass.

cleaned and varnished bricks and lovely slate

cleaned and varnished bricks and lovely slate

What it has made us think is that we might need to rearrange the dining room. You can’t stroke the slate as you walk past… Or even, the table partially blocks the view of our lovely fireplace.

Fireplace Man left the recess nicely tidied and plastered. It’s ready to decorate now. As is the whole dining room, at last.

The opening for the fireplace is now huge, certainly big enough for booyaa's wine store (contributions to fill the darn thing are very welcome)

The opening for the fireplace is now huge, certainly big enough for booyaa’s wine store (contributions to fill the darn thing are very welcome)


(For those who don’t get the joke in the title, try this.)

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.

utterly floored

This has been a ton more effort – and cost – than we’d anticipated. It goes in four stages: ripping up carpet and repairing floorboards; sanding the floor; finishing with varnish or paint. Here are stages 1, 2 and 3.

Three weeks ago

The carpet in the dining room and up the stairs smelled of cat pee (even after dousing it repeatedly with a cat-pee treatment spray) and was a depressing beige colour. Both of us had decided we wanted to pull it up and restore the floorboards underneath. Bare floors look great and are easy to keep clean – and since we’re planning on getting a pair of puppies soon it’s a more sensible option.

What concerned us, though, was that in a number of places you could feel a depression in the floor under the carpet. I was worried we’d have unusable boards. We did a quick exploratory carpet lift in the tiny square at the bottom of the stairs and our hearts sank. It was covered in two pieces of board of the sort you’d use to board out a loft. Boards on the floor, yes. Floorboards, no.

A week later we removed the whole carpet. We cut it into strips and rolled it up. It’s in the shed. Another thing that needs to go to the tip. What we found when we lifted the carpet was a fairly decent if dirty and smelly floor. We let it air for a few days and then I gave it a really good scrub. It came up a shade lighter and didn’t smell quite so musty. Progress!


Pulling up the carpet

We had a look at the state of the boards and tried to work out what we could hope to achieve with what we had. Some of the boards were badly damaged where they’d been crowbarred up to, presumably, lay pipes for the central heating. Some of them had dozens of nails in. Dozens. Ridiculous. One of the dips in the floor turned out to be due to a board being more sunken than its neighbours. The other dip was slightly more problematic. One corner of the room had the floorboards replaced. The replacements, it turned out, were all cut to the same length and thinner than the original boards next to them, hence the sudden dip.

Floorboards with damaged edges

Floorboards with damaged edges


Corner patched with boards of the wrong depth

Last week

We called in handy Mr Joiner-Painter for a consultation. His verdict fitted in with what we’d anticipated: lift the skinny boards and use them to board the bottom of the stairs and relay the whole section on the far side of the dining room so that the boards don’t all join in the same place. We’d need a few new boards to fill in the gaps.

Mr J-P came and started taking up boards and cutting and refitting them. He re-used as much he could then took me to the timber yard at Kent Blaxill (a local trade supplier, like B&Q for grown ups) to choose our new boards. It was quite exciting. I flirted shamelessly with the guy on the till and got a 10% discount usually only for trade customers. Result!

Back home with the new boards, and Mr J-P got on with laying the new boards. He proclaimed the joists in good nick; some of them have been replaced in the last 10 years, he says. So with the joists, the new boards and repaired original boards the dining room should have a sturdy floor for another 100 years.


New boards laid


During the week we read blogs and FAQs and DIY forums until we were blue in the face, then booyaa ordered a drum floor sander and an edging sander. We guesstimated the number of sheets of different grades of sandpaper we’d need based on advice elsewhere. We had the sanders delivered on the Friday so we could start on Saturday after breakfast and finish the job by early evening. We were both hoping we’d get it all done in one day, but knowing we had Sunday to finish off if we needed it was a bonus.

So, Saturday morning we moved all of the furniture out of the room (yet again) and got started.

Everyone said over and over about punching in any nails as even a tiny nail head will tear the sander sheet, and they’re pricey, so you don’t want that. After breakfast we cleared the furniture from the dining room and booyaa got on with punching the nails. This was when we discovered just how many nails were in the floorboards. Ridiculous amounts. Those he couldn’t punch down any further he marked with a chalk circle so he knew to avoid that bit – we’d get as near as we could with the edge sander and after that it would be the mouse (my dinky palm sander intended for furniture restoration).


Marking protruding nails (also: look how many nail holes are in those boards!)

After watching the instruction video one last time, he got his face mask, goggles and gloves on, tested the breaker switch and got going. We’d decided to go the wrong way across the boards first time, since the boards are so uneven. The sander hire video recommends a diagonal motion, but our room is just too small for that to be practical. So, on a clear run with no nails jutting out, he set off. Half way across the room the sanding sheet shredded… Gah! We had a look and saw there was a nail which was probably flush the board, but given how much the sander skims off the top of the board it was too high. Back to hands and knees and punching in nails again.

After the clear up (the sanding sheet was in a million bits all over the floor) we also saw that the edges of the boards which protrude were splintering badly. Change of plan! We decided we’d follow the direction of the boards, at least for now.

It took about an hour to do the whole of the old section of the floor with the coarse sanding sheet. booyaa said that once he’d realised that he needed to pull the machine back to slow it down that it was fairly easy to use.

Then, once he was feeling confident, he went across the boards with the coarse sanding sheet and smoothed off a few of the bigger differences in the board heights.

He went over the old boards again once with a medium sander and then over the whole floor, including the new boards, with the finest grade sanding sheet. After copious vacumming we could see the state of the floor. It was looking pretty good, but not, we thought, good enough to be able to stain and varnish. Too many patches. We noticed that there was a dark area at the very edge of the old boards where the sander hadn’t reached.

Now we could see it closely, we also worked out that some of the edges where we thought the boards had been crushed by a crowbar actually are actually woodworm damage. One of the patches is so big we’re not sure how sturdy that board really is. We’ll do some investigating and hope that woodfiller will repair it, though we’re both being optimistic and we know it. At some point we know we need to replace at least three more floorboards. At this point it dawns on us that it would have been cheaper (and easier) to have had a flooring company come in and replace the whole floor with engineered tongue and groove. It’s a crushing disappointment. We try to hang on to our reasons for doing this: we’re restoring the original features of the house. That’s the point. I’m not sure either of us is convinced.


After breakfast in the garden, a positive outcome of the dining table being out of bounds, booyaa got back into his smelly DIY clothes ready to use the edge sander on, yep, the edges of the room. It isn’t nearly as effective as the main sander. One disc disintegrates, another wears out. Three goes with the edge sander and a two inch strip of floor all along the skirting board remained resolutely dark.

Another close up investigation of the edges shows that they have a greyish opaque finish, and we’ve decided we’re probably up and against old carpet glue. I tried a water-based white spirit alternative, but that doesn’t do anything (serves me right for being so darn eco-friendly, right?). Then booyaa had an epiphany. He cut the coarse sheets leftover from the belt sander and fitted them on the edge sander. It worked! We’re left with a few tiny patches which I’ll work on with the mouse over the next week.

sanded floorboards (and booyaa's feet)

sanded floorboards (and booyaa’s feet)

Next up: woodfiller to patch the damaged boards. Stain the new boards to blend in with the old. Varnish. Avoid the floor for a day while the varnish dries… Tune in next weekend to find out how it’s going.

I bet you look good on the dance floor…

kitchens of distinction

We’ve got a new kitchen!

We haven’t bought a new kitchen. We’ve upcycled what we had.

We renovated one worktop and installed one new worktop which we needed in order to fit the dishwasher. Then we had the cupboard doors painted and added new handles.

The kitchen is from Ikea, I believe. A bit of detective work shows up Ikea stickers here and there and I recognised the handles. So it’s not going to last forever. I think Ikea is brilliant at getting you a well-furnished, good-looking home on a tight budget. Most of their cheaper stuff doesn’t last and the more substantial stuff fails on the surfaces. Things tarnish and scuff easily. At least, that’s my experience. This kitchen is sturdy enough. The soft-close mechanisms have failed. The paint finish has worn or cracked in a number of places. What looks like steam damage had made the cabinet above the cooker swell. One of the drawers looked to have swollen in a similar way, making the edge all wavy.

So, we sanded off the swollen bits, took off the very boring handles and polyfilla-ed the resulting holes. There’s a small cabinet without a door where the microwave sits, so we filled in the spare holes there, too. It looks much neater.

Then Mr joiner-painter came and did the painting. The original colour was a light cream, and the top cabinets have been repainted in a warm white. That needed one coat of primer and two top coats. The bottom cupboards were painted dark grey so that took two coats of primer and two top coats.


Top cabinets are painted in Farrow and Ball Wimborne White.
Lower cabinets are painted in Farrow and Ball Down Pipe.
Cupboard handles are large ceramic knobs in Lime Zest from


We could have had new doors made fairly cheaply, so was it worth it to do it this way?
Paint. There’s still plenty of primer and paint left over, and it will get used on other projects. It’s already earmarked and was planned in advance to keep costs down. But still, it was £74 for the two cans of primer and two cans of paint.
Mr joiner-painter charged us £140 for a day and a half of work.
The new handles cost £33 (we needed 11).
The new worktop, joinery and oil all together came to £220.
So, not quite a new kitchen but it certainly looks like it, and all for under £470.


The colour of the lower cabinets is just stunning. On the website the paint colour looks like a darkish, dull grey. In real life it’s a beautiful, rich colour. It changes depending on the light — I’m finding this is a speciality of F&B paints — from a greenish grey to a deep bluish grey to almost black. The top cabinets are a warm white colour. They don’t change as much as the lower cupboards, but the overall effect is a clean, bright not-quite-white.

This is the kitchen on the day we moved in.

Day 0: kitchen

Day 0: kitchen

This is the kitchen this morning (I was going to wait until the kitchen was clean and tidy, and the shelf next to the microwave needs putting back…. but you might never get a photo if I wait until it’s perfect.)


You’d think we’d had a new kitchen fitted.

Close up of the drawers with their new shiny handles.

drawers smoothed, painted and sporting their new handles

drawers smoothed, painted and sporting their new handles