It’s been 6 years since we bought our house, and I’m so happy to be able to say it’s almost completed! Seriously, you have no idea how good it feels to say that!
We purchased our home in 2014 and in early 2021 it finally looked exactly how we wanted it to look. The house is complete, but it still needs decorating and I can’t wait to add the finishing touches.
The work on our house is divided into three sections:
- Renovation work (2014-2015)
- Extension (2019)
- Landscaping (2021)
Please excuse the photos in this article. I’ve been meaning to take them for weeks, but with 3 kids at home that just wasn’t possible!
When we first bought the house, it was uninhabitable, so it was completely demolished, back to bare brick, and renovated from head to toe. Only the exterior walls, roof, stairs, and fireplace remain as they were originally.
The house was built in the 1850s and was originally a chapel but was converted into two semi-detached cottages. You might not think of it now because it looks like a normal house, but there was an arch hidden within the brickwork.
When we bought the house it was two up, two down with a weird conservatory on the side. It’s small, but in a great location, and it was love at first sight.
Initially, they didn’t change much to the layout of the house, just converting the attic into a nice bedroom suite. Even though it was ugly and cold, it made a great storage space, so we kept this unstable greenhouse for several years. To provide additional living space, we added a wooden garden office and BBQ shelter outside. This is what I really needed when I had two young children with her!
The house was small, but I loved it.
The renovation took 10 months, with Sam and his father working on most of the work at night and on weekends. His father owns a construction company, and some days he pays people who work for his father to come to his house and do big jobs that take Sam forever to do by himself did.
In 2019, we added a 3-story addition to our home with a large kitchen/diner, 2 additional bedrooms, and an attic conversion bedroom addition. I’ve documented much of the extension’s work on Instagram, so I’ve saved highlights of the extension there if you’d like to take a look.
We always knew we were going to add on to the side of our house, but it wasn’t until we decided to have our third child that we realized we were going to build a full 3-story addition. Prior to this we were considering the idea of a very grand single storey extension for him with vaulted ceilings.
Sam did almost all of the expansion work himself and it took about nine months to complete. And yes, it’s no coincidence that it was just the perfect time for the baby to be born!
^ The fireplace was original, but was painted black and covered with wood. In front of it was an ugly gas heater and we were so happy to have found this brick fireplace!
And this week we will finally finish the landscaping around the house. Sam did not do this work himself, but organized a professional to do it.
We live next to a river and much of our garden and driveway are raised due to the river flooding. We also wanted the patio to be at the same height as the house.
Large patios have been installed, driveways completed and new boundary walls built or repaired.
Adding trees, plants, and flowers to your garden will be a fun part of this summer.
OK, so now it’s time for the house renovation and extension Q&A!
I asked you some questions on my Instagram story and I answered them all here. There were some questions that came up over and over again, such as “Did Sam already have building skills?” “Where the hell do I even start!!?’
Is Sam a builder? Did you/he already have the physical skills?
OK, this is a big deal and has brought us great progress. Sam wasn’t a builder when we started the project, but he was a gas engineer so he was familiar with the building industry and had lots of tools and a van.
Sam makes light of it and says, “If I can do it, anyone can!” But I disagree! Sam didn’t know how to build a roof, so he watched YouTube videos and taught himself from the tutorials. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anyone can build a roof just by watching a YouTube video. I certainly couldn’t!
Sam has extensive experience working on construction sites and major renovation projects. He may not have done physical construction himself, but he was around a lot of it, and many of his friends were also tradesmen, and just being around them gave him a lot of experience. You must have learned your lesson.
But here’s the big problem: My father is a builder. He owns a construction company and does real estate development, so his father taught Sam a lot as they renovated a house together. And they had so much fun renovating our house together that Sam ended up working for my dad full time. Well, as a result of our project, Sam became a builder.
Sam asserts that being a tradesman really helped as he had access to all the tools he needed and even had access to his father’s lorry. The truck made it easier to gather supplies and remove all debris and items from the home. This is something that a normal car would never be able to do. Of course, you can skip it and have everything delivered, but that will cost you a hefty extra fee.
Did we live in the house while renovating?
We did not live in the house while we were doing the initial renovations. When we bought the house, we had no idea how bad it would be, so we thought we would live with our parents for a month or two before we moved. I ended up living with my parents for 9 months. And did we mention that George was born in the middle of this whole process!?
When we moved in, the house was 100% complete. We painted the whole house and then went on vacation to the Maldives. While we were in the Maldives, a carpet fitter came and installed new carpet so when we returned it felt like we were moving into a brand new home. It was an amazing feeling.
But we lived in the house while the addition was being built.
Living in the house while Sam was building an addition wasn’t too bad. Here’s why:
- He did it really quickly!
- Sam didn’t have to break through walls at first. The addition was simply built on the side of the existing house, so there was no clutter in the house
There were three nights when I went out with the kids to escape the chaos. Two of his are from when Sam broke through the kitchen wall and into the new addition. He went to the Abersoch caravan so it was a bit of a break for me and the kids, but I felt really bad leaving Sam to do the awful work all by himself. On the third night there was a screed on the kitchen floor. This meant I couldn’t get into the house because both the front and back doors were blocked with wet cement.
What do you start on first? Plumbing? Room by room?
Our house was a complete wreck, so we started by completely tearing it down. All the floors, ceilings, windows, doors… everything was stripped out and the house was back to bare brick.
If you plan to continue living in the house during the renovation, you will first need to sort out the plumbing and electrical equipment, then do this room by room. If possible, try to block off the room you’re working in as much as possible.
How did you budget for the project?
When we did the renovation work, we didn’t have a particular budget. We spent all our money buying the house, so we didn’t have much money left. So all the extra money we earned went into renovating the house over the course of almost a year.
When we did the extension, Sam calculated how much it would cost and we released that amount from the mortgage.
We just saved up for landscaping work. Sam was actually saving up for a boat, but as we all know, 2020 and lockdown put those plans on hold!
How did you see the potential in what looks like a bit of a wreck!?
Ah, now I know! This house gave me the ‘feel’ and I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.
Sam still remembers the moment I saw the house on RightMove. Apparently I saw it and yelled at him, “I found it!” I found a house! ! ” The house had been on the market for years, but sales kept dropping for various reasons. We knew we were meant to have this home!
First of all, it’s the perfect location for us. And the second thing was light. Ah, light! The light in this house was absolutely amazing and I remember falling in love with it first and foremost.
On paper, this was a terrible house to buy. Almost abandoned, on a floodplain, small, overpriced, and because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the house and its previous owner, it was actually an absolute nightmare to buy. But the heart wants what the heart wants, and my heart wanted this house!
Are you glad you renovated or was it more work than you thought it would be?
It was a lot more work than we expected, but we are 100% happy with the renovation.
The main reason is simple. There was no way we could afford a 5-bed house in our area without doing a major renovation project.
People talk about the satisfaction they get when they do all the work themselves and everything turns out the way they want it. I get that, but since this is the first home we’ve owned, I really can’t tell the difference.
How did you have the time to do it with the kids?
Oh, this is all Sam. When Sam gets serious about a project, he becomes like a machine.
When he was doing his first renovations, he would go to work from 8 to 5 every day, then go home right after and work from 5 to 9. And I’m there for 12 hours every day on the weekends. He did it for a solid nine months.
When Sam took the extension, he worked three days a week (Tuesday through Thursday) at work and then four days a week (Friday through Monday) at home. This has clearly made a huge difference in the speed of work.
And it was hard for me too. I was pregnant with Alba at the time, so I had to keep my boys out of Sam’s way. I was really tired, and summer vacation was especially difficult.
Did you have any problems getting planning permission for a 3 story extension?
No, not at all. In fact everything was completed very quickly. However, since we live in a nature reserve, we knew there would be stricter restrictions on extensions, so we kept that in mind when designing our home. We worked with a local architect who had a lot of experience working with local planning departments, so he came up with a plan that we knew in principle would be approved. Sam also did a lot of research so we already knew exactly what we could and couldn’t do.
The biggest mistake we made?
I don’t think we did anything wrong. Every decision we make was the right decision at the time, and even if we were to go back in time, we would definitely make the same decision again.
Here are some possible mistakes….
I installed a deck in my garden. It was a gorgeous and lovely space, but he only left it alone for two years before demolishing it for expansion. It was a waste of time and money considering it’s expensive and doesn’t last long!
But I didn’t know when to build the extension, and I’ve had two great summers using it, so I can’t say it was a mistake.
The other thing that wasn’t great (in a way!) was that the renovations were completed very quickly. Of course, this was amazing in most ways, but it also meant that a lot of things were done in a hurry and we didn’t enjoy the renovation process at all.
I remember going to the tile store to choose bathroom tiles, bathroom tiles, kitchen tiles, floor tiles, and hardwood floors for the living room. This was supposed to be a really fun and exciting experience, but it wasn’t. Sam had to run an errand and rush back to the house, so we were there for about 20 minutes and literally just picked out the first tile we saw and liked. I toddled into the store (8 months pregnant!) and was like, “Oh, I’m going to buy this, that, that, and that.’
In some ways this isn’t a bad thing since so many decisions were made quickly and intuitively. We didn’t overthink ideas or get overwhelmed with plans. Everything happened so quickly that we had to make decisions on the spot. And thankfully, I still love all the tiles and flooring we have, so it worked out!
We also chose a cheaper bathroom, but we’re actually fine with that for both of us since we want to redo the family bathroom when Alba gets a little older. We currently have a large bath, which is great for our three small children, but we would much rather have a large shower, so we plan to replace the bath once the kids no longer take baths together.
The original deck was mostly demolished to make room for the expansion.
Did you need to reinforce any of the banks as you are by a river?
No, it wasn’t. That’s not something we can do because we don’t own the riverbank. Our garden is next to a river, but the height of our house is about 2 meters higher than the lowest part of the garden, which is much higher than the river. Your garden may flood, but it is highly unlikely that water will reach your home.
We have a wall around our patio, but we decided to build it with stone and wire cages to prevent water damage in case of flooding. If we had built a regular brick wall, it would have collapsed right away.
How do you know much you’ll need to save?
This is a very difficult problem because you may spend almost nothing, or you may spend hundreds of thousands. We just saved as much as we could, but the reality is that life gets in the way of our plans and schedules. I don’t think you can start by waiting until you have enough money. No matter how much you have, you’ll always need a little more money.
We always accepted the fact that the project might be prematurely finished and we might have to stop it if we ran out of funding. Thinking this way makes it much easier to start a project.
Would you recommend doing an attic conversion?
That’s right, 100%! The house has changed by renovating the attic. I love the bedroom there. I think that’s what gives this house something really unique and special. We were able to get so much space without spending any extra money.
However, if possible, it’s best to do it while you’re doing a major renovation project. It will be difficult to live in your home while the attic renovation is being done, as it will cause a lot of disruption to your home.
When renovating the attic, we lowered the entire ceiling on the first floor. The ceilings were very high anyway, which gave us extra ceiling space in the attic. His one of the bedrooms also had to be changed to fit the new staircase. His Velux windows were installed in the roof and a Juliet balcony and double doors were installed on the gable side. We also had to install fire doors throughout the house to comply with fire codes.
Basically, it was a big job, but I’m glad we did it while the house was being turned upside down during renovations.
Where do you start with revamping an overgrown garden?
We started simple and had the excavator come and clean out the entire yard. We left 3 trees behind, but literally cleaned everything up. The ground was leveled, new grass was laid, and we had a blank canvas to start again.
Our garden was too overgrown to try to deal with it or maintain the trees and shrubs. We had a fruit tree in the garden, but it had grown so big that it no longer produced any fruit, which I was very disappointed about, but I made sure everything was as it should be.
Do you have any tips for a couple renovating a house and planning to start a family?
The woman who sent this question explained in detail how difficult it is to plan a family home before the birth of a child. And yes, I completely agree!
Here are some things we have to make life easier as a family of five. These are things you may not think about until you have kids:
- I love that our washing machine is outside in the outhouse and can be used at any time of the day or night.
- I love having a huge fridge freezer in the kitchen. We used to have a small fridge in the kitchen and a large fridge freezer in the villa, but this was a hassle!
- There are 5 beds, but you don’t have to worry about children sharing a bedroom. My kids still sleep better when they share a bedroom.
- Having a large pouch is very useful for keeping coats, shoes, bags, strollers, etc away from the main living space.
- Having hard flooring everywhere downstairs is a good idea – especially if you plan on having a dog
- I want a large pantry/utility room
- I think it would be nice to have a built-in closet in the child’s room. No wardrobe or drawers, which saves a lot of space
Although you can’t really see it, there is a porch large enough for a double stroller, all your shoes and coats, and a toilet downstairs. I’m always a mess, but my house never gets messy!
Is it OK sleeping on the top floor of the house and being on a different floor to your kids?
Yes, there is no problem with this. We have a baby monitor for Alba, but I don’t hear her crying at night, so I plan to keep it on for longer than most people do. If the boys needed us at night, they would just come upstairs to our room, but that was never a problem.
Walking up and down the stairs in the middle of the night can be a bit of a pain, but that’s all we know so far. You notice a difference when you go on vacation and the kids are sleeping in the next room and it’s so much easier to go to the bedroom at night and clean them up!
Actually, I love having a bedroom on the top floor of my house. This feels like my little sanctuary away from all the other chaos in the house. And I’m sure these stairs will keep me healthy!
How much did it cost?
Yes, the answers to the questions we all want to know but never know if we can ask.
Refurbishment – approximately £40,000
Extension – £50,000
Landscaping – ongoing
That concludes our Q&A regarding large-scale home renovations and additions!
If you have any other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. We will contact you shortly!
Decoration planning is currently underway, so I’ll be sharing updates from each room as I decorate and put the finishing touches on each room. Most rooms just need to be painted, colored, painted on the walls, and decorated with nice accessories, so this can be the fun part!