home stories: theory V reality of home renovation with House of Spolland
How many of you dream of taking on a renovation property? I've owned two properties, one of which was really a modest renovation - new kitchen, new bathroom, new boiler, new windows and full redecoration- which is nothing in comparison to some of the projects I see people diving into.
We bought that house in 2003 and spent 10 years updating it before selling in 2013. On the one hand I shudder when I think of the months of disruption these projects caused, weeks in winter with no heating, takeaway food and supermarket cafes for dinner while the kitchen was being done. Then what felt like an eternity with no functional shower/bath ( we only had the one) meaning daily trips to the gym to use their facilities. Not to mention the layers of dust which seemed to take forever to settle. It was an old house, every time we drilled into the wall we could hear the old slat & lath plaster crumbling. Then on the other hand (with my rose tinted glasses on) I think sure, we could tackle a bigger project, we could learn to tile, to plaster, to fit a kitchen. Time has a funny way of glossing over those hideous moments of a house renovation and romantic notions seep back into your mind when you spot that unloved, practically derelict, bargain dream house on Rightmove and your heart begins to beat faster.
Back then we only took on the decoration, employing trades to do the big works. So when I see the brave, who challenge themselves to learn new skills, who renovate on tights budgets and live in their property while doing the work, I am always full of admiration.
Social media is full of incredible before and after renovations, inspiring projects which fire up the imagination of what is possible, inflating your bravery. Thankfully though, there are a few people who share the reality too, this weeks home story is a little different as Lydia Spencer ( aka House of Spolland) shares her renovation story. Lydia and her husband took on the renovation of a Victorian house, and despite being pretty handy in the DIY department, Lydia explains just how different the theory and the reality of a renovation can be and how much it can meddle with your mental wellbeing and your physical health.
Hello! I’m Lydia (AKA House of Spolland) and I live in a Victorian terraced house on the Lancashire/Cumbria border with my husband. I have documented the renovation of our home, fondly known as “Spolland House”, through my Instagram account and my blog houseofspolland.com.
We bought, what became known as, Spolland House in 2017. When I think back to our house buying journey it makes me realise how much theory and reality differ! We were first time buyers but not completely clueless. Mr S has had his own electrical business for over a decade and I have worked in both Local Authority Enforcement and Conveyancing over the years. We knew what we were doing in buying a house and taking on a renovation project.
Or so we thought.
Having both grown up in families that have renovated and that don’t shy away from DIY, we already had a sense of what a renovation project would entail. As a child, I was known to change the layout of my room and to used squared paper to plot out how I wanted my bedroom to look. I was following my mum’s example in doing this, and my dad gets nervous about her planning and list making even now!
In theory we had what it takes for a renovation project and were ready to work through floor plans, budgets and lists to the letter and number. We planned to systematically renovate our home and move onto the next one.
The house needed a new bathroom and kitchen. Plus the house had been empty for 18 months, and we guessed that it had sustained some damage in Storm Desmond of 2015.
We organised a fixed rate mortgage for 2 years and I remember Mr S asking whether we would be able to increase the value in that time. “Oh yes”, I said “2 years is more than enough time”.
While buying the house, in fact only 3 weeks before we completed, I was involved in a nasty car accident. I walked out of the car and so in my head I was fine. Life should just continue and I wasn’t going to let the stupidity of a careless driver get in the way of my plans, which included the house renovation.
I often refer to this time as a “hiccup” because I do need to recognise how much worse the accident, and my injuries, could have been. It did mean that moving day was difficult and I did find it frustrating. Once I had been given the ‘all clear’ by the physiotherapist, around 9 months later, I could finally start to take on some DIY.
The mental distress following the car accident had started to surface and that has affected my ability to plan, to have a positive view of the house and to enjoy the renovation process. I still have problems, as a result of my injuries, and so sometimes DIY can take it’s toll. This in turn can affect my mental health again, so I do find it frustrating.
This is why I feel so passionate about recognising how a renovation project can affect your mental health, and why it is so important to talk about it. Any upheaval at home can affect the way you feel and as much as a owning a house or being able to afford renovation works are an immense privilege, life does carry on and can have a massive impact. I must admit that this was something that I hadn’t factored into our renovation project. I’ll be taking that learning with me to our next renovation project.
Our Renovation Process
We decided to start at the top of the house and work down, in the following order:
• Guest bedroom
• Main bedroom
• Third bedroom/home office
• Hallway and landing
• Living room
• Dining room
In between a lot of the big jobs, we also cleared out, insulated and boarded out the loft space for storage and insulated the cellar. The wood burner in the living room was also fitted a couple of years before we fully renovated the room as we knew that it would get a lot of use in the meantime.
If we’d known how bad the roof was, we would have done this job first. Unfortunately the full extent of the damage wasn’t realised until we were organising the wardrobes in our bedroom on a rainy day and water started to pour down the walls.
We originally planned on a new bathroom and kitchen, a rewire, and then making the house our own with some restoration of original features along the way. We weren’t expecting to need completely new ceilings throughout upstairs, a new roof and to have to spend so much time in remedying the bad condition of the walls. Renovations are full of surprises!
The Reality of Taking on a Renovation
Whilst I have thoroughly enjoyed renovating our home, I have certainly found it to be a struggle at times and have learned a lot about my own limits in the process.
I personally feel that it’s important to share the reality, because it actually makes a renovation project more achievable for others. If someone were to just see a completed room in my home, they may not know about the panic attacks I was having at the time, or the neck problems I needed to have remedied after painting a ceiling. I know at times when I have felt really low about the house and where the renovation project was going, I have appreciated the honest reality that other renovators have shared.
The highlight of taking on a renovation project is breathing new life into a house. Being able to restore original features, show respect to a house that has stood the test of time, and truly let those period features sing, is a privilege. I feel so proud when I look at what we’ve achieved here, knowing that we have done a good job.
Designing with Feeling
As I’ve planned and designed each room, I’ve tried to focus on how I wanted to feel in the room. Looking back, I can tell I was subconsciously craving some calm in my life. I’ve really struggled with my mental health over the past few years and so it has been important for me to feel safe, calm and secure in our home.
In our bathroom I wanted to keep it fairly neutral, but with a pop of colour. As soon as I chose to have yellow accessories, the whole bathroom made me feel so happy. It still does.
We use our living room mainly in the evenings, and in winter time we use the wood burner daily. I wanted the room to feel like a warm hug. I decided on a dark green called Midnight Ivy from Fenwick & Tilbrook. It has the right undertones on sunny afternoons, when the light is pouring through the bay window, and is the perfect cosy shade of green for evenings. I love spending time in our living room.
The original features have also guided decisions that I’ve made. In each room the original features have been the starting point for the design and I’ve tried to enhance them.
We have original floor tiles from our dining room through to our kitchen so I didn’t want to detract from them when designing the kitchen. I’m pleased that we kept it traditional with the shaker style cabinets, and added some colour in the tiles and the cellar door.
By designing the room in line with how I wanted to feel in the room, it means that I’m in no rush to change anything. Trends come and go, and it can be hard during a renovation because it takes time. Choosing furniture, styles and colours that you love means that they’ll always work in your home. I’ve learned not to rush in making decisions. Yes, walls can be painted again but that doesn’t mean they don’t cost money and hard work.
What I’ve Learned About Renovating
There have been many learnings from our renovation of Spolland House. The main ones, for me, are:
1. Do your research
If you’re not DIY or renovation savvy, it’s important to do your research before buying a renovation project. There are shows that you can attend where you can ask experts for advice. We went to one in Harrogate a couple of years before we bought this house and it was so helpful.
There are also plenty of Youtube videos and guides on the websites of Wickes and B&Q. I know that I have found these helpful before starting a new project.
2. Prioritise your budget
As annoying as it is, the most money is often spent on the things that you don’t see in a house. You need to make sure that the structure of your house is sound first. Are the electrics safe? Do you need a new boiler? How good are the joists or flooring?
Getting the structure right means that you won’t need to disrupt a ‘finished’ room later on.
3. Plan out your rooms
This may sound like an obvious one, but it helps when deciding where things will go, especially for electrics and plumbing. Marking out the measurements of furniture with masking tape or old cardboard can really help you to understand how the room will flow. All of this planning and preparation will save any extra work needed to change decisions later on.
4. Look for bargains and buy preloved
My best savings in a renovation budget have been in buying vintage or preloved items. Searching eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree is a great way to find furniture, fabric and even DIY supplies. I’m also regularly visiting our local antiques and vintage warehouses to see what treasures I can find.
Be sure to check out your favourite brands for sales and reductions too.
5. Pace yourself and take regular breaks
This has been my biggest learning! There can be so much pressure to get a room completed. Honestly, I’ve probably put more pressure on myself than anyone, and that’s a constant side of personality that I have to battle with.
I’ve learned to be content with the pace that we have renovated at, to fill my happy cup with time spent with supportive friends and family and to take time out to spend together. We would often have a monthly date night where we would try and not talk about the house. Easier said than done!
Ultimately, I have enjoyed this renovation experience so much that I would do it again. We never planned to stay here for a long time and so I’m sure it won’t be long until we’re moving onto our next project. Until that time, I’m going to enjoy sitting on my sofa in a dust free room, knowing that I’ve been able to create a home that I love.
Thank you Lydia for sharing your renovation story and your beautiful handmade home. One of the reasons I love Lydia's Instagram account is for her honesty and for sharing her reality of a renovation, not just the pretty end results. If you want to see more from Lydia, hop over to her blog House of Spolland where you will find lots of inspiring, budget friendly ideas, practical advise and DIY tutorials.