This project was an absolute beast to work on. After some consulting and planning, the owner gave us the keys, a budget and said “make it all nice again please and I’ll come back in a few months when you tell me it’s done” and walked off. We had full design authority, full budget control, the house was still full of all his personal effects and furniture and he wanted to get rid of EVERYTHING, literally, his clothes, his documents, his furniture, new kitchen, new bathroom, new doors, new floor, EVERYTHING! (Save for a few boxes of personal effects). We’ve never had such a daunting task. The original plan was that we were refurbishing it so the owner could sell it, however once we’d finished he liked it so much that he decided not to move!
° The apartment is in London and we’re based in MK that made for a 4 hour commute every day, assuming no traffic…
° The building had tight building controls due to being part of a block.
° The owner didn’t know what style they wanted.
° Limited space made for challenging storage of building materials.
° The lounge has 25′ high ceilings and required a full scaffold rig.
° The old chimney stack was leeching sulphur into the plaster causing damage so needed completely re-rendering.
° Making all design choices is an abstract experience. I always want to go creative/wild but don’t want to risk a customer hating it.
After just two weeks of commuting combined with long working days of 12+ hours it became obvious I couldn’t maintain the pace. I decided to move into the apartment, leaving the kids at home to fend for themselves, so I could get some productivity flowing. It was a game changer being on site and being able to work 16 hours on a project however this threw up a new challenge; I was working faster than materials were arriving as they had been planned to arrive based on the old timeline, so I had a great idea…”I know! Rather than work room by room, staying tidy and organised, I’ll rip EVERYTHING out all at once.” The kitchen, the bathroom, all floors, all doors etc so I could work from a completely blank canvas. In theory it sounded sensible, smart and efficient. That is, unless you’re trying to live there which was a first for me. (I’ve actually lived in a few properties full time while I renovate due to distance!)
I suddenly realised I had no way of cooking food, the kitchen was gone, no sink to wash dishes or even get drinking water. No toilet and no shower, I did however, have the bathroom sink which I simply hadn’t gotten round to disconnecting yet. For about six weeks I had to wash myself and my dishes in a tiny hand basin, going to the local petrol station to use their toilet and to a neighbours flat for a far too occasional shower. I bought a microwave and survived on junk food, takeout and microwave meals which really isn’t as cool as it sounds when you’re working hard and really need those calories. I was sleeping in chaos, on a dust covered mattress on the concrete floor, in front of 20′ windows with no curtains… In short, it was not my smartest moment.
I’ve renovated plenty of bathrooms and they are the worst for space issues. A complete bathroom renovation needs a full carpentry kit, a full plumbing kit, a full tiling kit, a full decorating kit and storage for a full bathroom suite, stacks of tiles, adhesives, grouts, paints etc AND somewhere to cut tile. In most houses, it’s a nightmare trying to remain efficient and clean. I’ve actually turned down a few projects purely on the basis that with young children in the house and limited space I would spend half my time moving things and packing away tools. This was also true for this build as finally all materials began showing up and needed storage in this small(ish) apartment.
Despite all these challenges, there is always a way. My background as a Project Manager has been essential in tackling the larger builds we’ve done. Planning, logic, organisation and process – they are my best friends and stop me going insane amidst chaos like this. For this project, the starting point was easy, the bedroom. It has no major fixtures or construction required and once it’s complete I can move my bed up there and have some degree of a normal sleep space!
My customer was a male professional so I decided to go with a multi-grey colour scheme using three different shades of grey, plus white. This subtle colour scheme allows for accent colours in soft furnishings and is clean and sharp. Should the worst happen and a customer not like it, it’s also simple to paint over. You can’t really tell from the images below (my phone-based photography is terrible!) but the multi shades of grey were really subtle and looked amazing together.
I love going above and beyond where possible. The customer here was not expecting carpets, curtains and appliances to be included in the quote but I just couldn’t resist going one step further to make the apartment completely ready to take on a new tenant or be sold, as is. It also gave me selfishly, the delight of seeing the end result, where so often I leave once construction is complete but before soft furnishings are completed.
With the bedroom tackled and completed (the carpets didn’t actually get fitted until the very end of the project) I now had a huge space available and finally a calm environment to sleep (and hide) in. I got better rest, started taking some down time and generally looking after myself a little better. I still didn’t have a shower, toilet or a kitchen but one step at a time. Speaking of which…
With a heading that makes it sound like a low budget horror movie, it couldn’t be more accurate. This was one the toughest bathrooms I’ve ever tackled. Pretty much every challenge that could exist was thrown at me. Parts arrived late, some didn’t arrive at all, some arrived and wasn’t what I ordered. I had zero space to work in, I then found completely dangerous electrics that forced me to stop in the middle of construction while I scheduled in an emergency electrician and none of the walls were remotely straight/level as it was such an old building.
You know the phrase “I left a piece of myself ‘there’ when I left”? Well I literally bled so much blood into the bathroom floors and walls from multiple nicks, cuts and scrapes that years from now it wouldn’t surprise me if a clone of myself burst out of the walls.
While I normally love a challenge, these issues combined with my living conditions, poor diet and lack of sleep was rapidly building to an unhealthy mental health space. I am however a total sadist so in between bleeding and crying, kicked the crap out of the bathroom in bursts of inspiration and motivation. In short…It was horrible but I won, so there. Plus as motivation goes, each day I struggled bought me one step closer to being able to have a poo without a ten minute walk.
First of all, removing the floor tile left a horrible cement/self levelling mix that needed chiselling up which was not cool and lots of work.
The main shower glass panel then shattered during removal and shredded my hands, hence blood. Once I had finished hitting it really hard, multiple times with a crowbar, I won the day.
It was also at this point I found completely dangerous electrics by the heat radiating from the bathroom spotlights onto my bald head! This is a block of flats in a very old building. The lights fitted were not only non bathroom rated lights (zone 1, 2 etc) but the wiring was so poor that the connections were heating up to the point I had to wear insulated gloves just to handle them. Each spot was also surrounded in the cavity by burnt insulation. This was a potentially fatal accident waiting to happen, to which I reported it immediately to the building management company responsible and advised all tenants to get their own electrics checked out immediately. Although I am electrically trained, I do not hold a current qualification so had to pause the bathroom works while I got an emergency electrician in to rewire the bathroom completely and perform checks on the rest of the apartment. Similar issues were found throughout that were ultimately rectified.
I think it’s safe to say, fitting this toilet was possibly one of the top 5 happiest days of my life.
I went back to this property several months later to see what the owner had done to the place (at his invitation) and I am not exaggerating when I say that seeing this bathroom again gave me actual anxiety <shudders>.
In contrast to the horror show of a bathroom, the kitchen went in like an absolute dream. At least it went in like a dream after FIVE weeks of delays as firstly I received the wrong units, then when the replacement kitchen finally arrived, half the panels were missing and then finally discovered that no handles had been shipped but EXCEPT for that, it took two days to fit it, literally! It slotted in like new lego blocks and presented no major obstacles. I celebrated with a home cooked meal and a delightful evening of washing dishes in a sink. Luxury.
The lounge was super fun. A great opportunity to play with the paint sprayer and scaffolding. I did fit some curtain tracks and ordered some gorgeous custom made curtains but apparently I’d had enough of the project by this point so didn’t take any photos. I JOKE, I JOKE! Not really. It’s totally true.
During redecoration I had noticed a patch of salt damaged plaster and knowing it was an old building surmised that a chimney stack must be present in the affected area. While it wasn’t part of the scope, I had no choice but to begin stripping the plaster to find and address the cause. I did indeed find a small fireplace that had been bricked up then rendered with normal plaster. This is not the correct method for bricking up a chimney as the sulphur from the old burnt materials leech through the porous bricks and then attack the plaster. I called in an expert who took detailed measurements including moisture levels and created a report from which I was able to remedy the issue using a special pre-treatment and chemical render process. The chimney was then re-plastered.
With all rooms complete and the end in sight, all that was needed were the carpets and LVT (luxury vinyl tile) to be fitted, the whole place cleaned to death and dressed with the surviving personal effects. This was one job where I felt I had truly earned every single penny of my fee and a great example of why using a multi-trade builder can save you thousands of pounds.