Making a house a home
Never one to have things go quite to plan, we ended up moving to our house a few years ahead of what we had in the life-plan! Born in Bristol, via a three year stint in Plymouth, lived in London for nearly 13 years before moving up the ‘shire’ for work coming up for 14 years ago. Married a local boy and Lincolnshire is now home. We always knew that we wanted to move into Stamford, the most beautiful market town, from the village we’d been in for a few years (which we always knew was an in-between house) but when we put the house on the market to test the water we fell over when it sold within the week. Houses on the same road had been taking two or three years to sell.
So we found ourselves with a conundrum – sell or not. Out of the blue the house that is now ours came on the market and while it didn’t tick all the boxes (main one being two bedrooms, not three or more) and a kitchen the size of a (small) postage stamp, we just felt ‘right’ there. Close enough to town to walk in, far enough out to be able to park. It is much smaller than previous houses but actually it’s perfect for the three of us.
The house is a typical Victorian terrace house (we’re at the end with which is nice) and there are three of us in a row nestled up a bank amongst other, much larger properties. Downstairs has a living room with a dining room at the back leading on to kitchen; past owners had previously added a small extension to the original kitchen adding on a small study. The garden is split over two levels with the bottom patio area being a strange long shape that added nothing to the garden but would be perfect for us to extend onto. To me the kitchen is the heart of the home and in all our houses we’ve made it a central point with sofas, arm chairs and – of course – large sideboards and shelves of pottery. So that was that, the walls could come down and the house would become our home.
Anyway, property moves fast in Stamford to we made an offer that night and then – before there was even ink on the papers – we had found an architect, builders and put in plans for a one-story conversion (with approval to develop the loft should the need ever take us). Luckily the house went through and planning got granted not long after.
To cut a long story short we moved in on 14 October 2016 and work started on the extension on 22 January (each day I had to live in the house before the work started I thanked my blessings that we’d putting planning permission before we’d bought the house - seriously the kitchen was so small that the Rangemaster – that came with the house – almost filled it up and it made me cry every time I walked in). Even with that lead time it only came through the day the work started: we like to live life on the edge. The two dogs went to stay with my parents in Bristol (I hadn’t thought that through when we agreed to do a build) and we bought lots of ready meals.
We decided that as no roofs were coming off – and with most of our stuff still in storage – we would stay in the house but I guess I didn’t realise how hard it would be not to have a washing machine or any cooking things bar a microwave, kettle and toaster, for three months.
The first week was fun, our daughter (who was eight at the time) lost patience with it by the second and Joe and I not long after. My knickers were quite frankly all over Rutland and Lincolnshire as, I didn’t realise until the washing machine was ripped out, that there are no such things as laundrettes anymore. Who knew!
That being said our builders were amazing and every day Violet and I would race home to see what had been done while we’d been at work and school. The walls coming down were fun but not as much fun as the ones that went up. When the foundations went in I did the usual panic of “this isn’t going to be big enough” but we’ve been able to turn that small wasted area into a perfect kitchen, dining and family space. We kept the previous extension as it was although turned it into a downstairs loo and utility room. It already had nice french doors there which meant that we didn’t have to use up precious space putting in doors or bi-folds that so many people told me I must have (I really didn’t!).
In all it took just three months to do it although at times it felt much longer, especially towards the end when the changes each day were less visible (like under floor heating or wiring). At the same time we also got the builders to rebuild our garden and floor board the loft – the fact that they didn’t kill us is testament to their patience which I know we tested at times!
Talking about the garden, we decided that as we couldn’t match the bricks to the original Victorian stone we’d be better to use a white-tone render on the outside. Which meant that we reclaimed many of the original bricks to reuse in the garden creating walled planters around the edges – with sandstone tiles in the middle. With two large dogs keeping grass green is a losing battle and while our previous house had a large garden that I was determined to fill with cutting flowers and vegetables (I didn’t) we wanted to embrace the words ‘low maintenance garden’ in its entirety.
Over two weekends Joe and I cleaned up over 200 bricks removing old mortar and concrete. To this day I’m not sure if we’re more impressed with ourselves than the builders who doubted we would (not could) do it! I love the fact that we’ve kept those bricks and that they blend perfectly with the rest of the house. It was worth the effort (and I say that because Joe did two-thirds of the work, obviously!)
Rather than building on the whole of the bottom part of the garden we did keep a small part of the patio (outside of the previous extension) for us to use as a sitting area. Originally we had a small table and chairs but replaced this with an outdoors sofa (which cushions that stayed out all summer – only going away in October for the winter) which has transformed that space outside. It has given us another sitting room which is sheltered, private and brings the inside out. We did question whether we should have used all the space for indoors – but the fact that we’ve been able to create the sitting area as well as a separate utility room means that we’ve got the best of both worlds.
I really wanted exposed brick (we had lots of it in our Georgian town house, the property that I had swapped my London two-up-two down house for 13 years ago) but the plaster/brick work on the wall I wanted didn’t allow for that especially as that is the wall I wanted shelving up on for all the glasses and plates etc. on.
I nearly fell over myself when I realised you can get wallpaper with a stone effect on. Bingo. Some people haven’t yet realised, others go up to it and stroke it just to check it’s not real. Who says you can’t fake it!
In our last house I had ripped out the kitchen and put in free-standing pieces but this time – probably as we hope this is it and won’t be moving again – I wanted something more modern but that blended with some of my favourite armoires, mirrors and furniture. In the last few houses we’ve had range cookers so I was ready for a change and I wanted something less ‘in your face’. We’re so pleased we went for a standard sized induction hob, main oven then a second steam oven. The kettle went and was replaced by the hot tap. I did think the steam oven doubled as a microwave (it doesn’t) and while I ceremoniously binned our previous microwave in the final skip of the build, I did have to buy another so my daughter can safely make herself hot chocolate!
We did end up replacing the kitchen table too – the last one was very old and had been repainted white so many times – which blends the old and new really nicely. Of course my favourite is my cupboards overflowing with pottery – mine and collected, new and old – that is the focal part of the space.