How do you transform a rundown house whilst bringing up two children, a baby and two dogs? We spoke to a young family about the highs and lows of their Manchester renovation project
How did you find the house?
We were very happy living in our little two up two down and had no plans to move. But then we had our first child and realised how much space kids need – so that’s when we started looking. I kept an eye on the local property market for about a year while we saved up a deposit, so I could get an idea of how frequently houses came on the market and how long it took before they sold. We had a specific area that we wanted to live in so that we could be within the catchment for a particular school, but every house I looked at in the area just wasn’t right. I kept walking into the properties, seeing the postage-stamp sized garden, and then walking straight out again. The estate agent had to talk me into seeing the house we ended up buying because it wasn’t in our original area – but as soon as I walked through the door and saw the high ceilings, spacious rooms and massive garden I was sold.
How much of the work are you doing yourself and how much are you subcontracting?
We love DIY and between us have tackled kitchen and bathroom installations, tiling, plumbing, carpentry, flooring, plastering, simple electrics, decorating, and laying patios and decking. I also do upholstery, and make curtains and cushions. Living in a Victorian house means we’ve learned how to take care of a period property, including dealing with plaster and lath ceilings, ancient plaster walls that have been insulated with horsehair, and safely removing lead paint. So far we’ve renovated all four bedrooms, the staircases and landings, and replaced all the radiators. Basically if we can do it ourselves, then we will. We currently have a lovely team of builders here building a new wraparound single-story extension and remodelling the ground floor – that would have been a step too far, even for us!
What has gone well and what has been a nightmare?
We’ve had a few episodes of blocked drains causing flooding in the cellar, including one time last year during a storm where we discovered at 11pm that one of the cellar rooms was under six inches of water and rapidly rising. In fact I’d say that few projects involving the cellar – including insulating the cellar ceiling in the middle of winter with rigid insulation boards while wearing boiler suits and full face masks, and spending two months cooking down there in a temporary cellar kitchen after the builders removed our old one – will ever make it onto my Favourite Project list. Our projects tend to take a long time to complete, which can be frustrating. And spending 300 hours (yes, really!) patiently scraping lead paint from the stairs in the summer heat, because it wasn’t possible to quickly sand it off or remove it with a heat gun without releasing toxic lead dust and fumes, wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. But overall, because we have control over what projects we tackle, when, and how, it’s been relatively easy to manage. Every time I walk into one of our finished rooms (and certainly every time I walk up those stairs!) I feel a sense of achievement, so it’s all worth it. In particular, we love the bedrooms we’ve created for our daughters, especially their hand-painted murals. And of course, seeing the new ground floor take shape over the past few months has been incredibly exciting
How have you managed your budget?
We have saved substantial sums by DIY-ing most of the work. Because the project is a long-term one over ten years, our approach is to spend a proportion of our income on the renovation over a longer period, rather than having a finite budget for a shorter one-off piece of work.
What has been your most satisfying moment so far?
I loved showing our then two year old eldest daughter her finished bedroom – while she was at nursery during the day I hung the curtains and chandelier, made up her bed, and arranged all her toys on the shelves. She came home that evening and ran in circles round the room shrieking with delight. While the builders were doing all the dusty work, they partitioned off the house with huge pieces of chipboard. Recently they took the partition down, and we could finally get access to the new space. I was so excited by this that I videoed them taking the partition down, and then ran round and round from the living room to the new dining room, reading room, playroom, hall, and back to the living room – just like my daughter.
Would you buy another property to renovate?
For us, home renovation is a labour of love, and our current property is our forever home. I can’t see myself spending 300 hours lovingly restoring a staircase in a property only to sell it on. But while we don’t intend to renovate another property in the near future, in time we might consider investing in one, possibly for rental, or to sell – although instead of patiently stripping 140 years of layered paint off the stairs, I’d probably just put a carpet down and call it a day
Looking back what would you have done differently?
We lived with a tiny, old, impractical kitchen housed in a 2x3m tower bay window for over four years before the builders ripped it out. With hindsight, we should probably have replaced it ourselves as soon as we moved in with a set of cheap units and a new electric oven, instead of struggling on with a tiny work surface, a gas oven that was too small to fit a turkey in at Christmas, and a working triangle that involved leaving the room, crossing a small foyer, and going into another room in order to get to the fridge!
Finally any top tips for renovators?
My number one piece of advice for long term projects is don’t tackle it all in one go. Yes, it takes longer, but it’s so much less stressful to deal with one room at a time as you can just close the door on the dust and mess. It’s also a good idea to create a single haven – such as a bedroom – as your first project so that you have somewhere lovely to retreat to at the end of the day. Finally, don’t run into the house as soon as you get the keys and start pulling wallpaper off the walls and lifting up carpets to see what’s underneath, because then you’ll have to live with strips of paper hanging off the walls until you get round to doing the room
Follow more of Alice and Andre’s renovation at www.simplythenest.com