Sunday, 4 November 2012

Metal Mickey

It's been a while....  you could reasonable assume thatt I am stuck in some kind of parallel renovation world where you never see the light of day... only dust.. endless dust.

I'm not, I am simply tardy with my posting! Project Loft Space is well and truly finished, much to the satisfaction of all and it has worked our rather well.

As I believe I have mentioned, simplicity was key here, the space is a beaut in its own right. Double height ceiling, open plan an abundance of natural light. In this country with our dank Northern light it is tricky to do white well but here the light bounces off the walls and emphasises the magnitude of space.

The floor, was, initially a bit of a conundrum. A wood laminate (of sorts), a pale orange shade (of sorts), it wasn't ideal and because there was so much of it the impact was immense. We toyed with various solutions - rubber flooring, new wood, natural wood, tiles even at one point (not a personal favourite). But with budget in mind we opted for painting... a risky choice with such a thin wood, not designed for sanding. Still we like to live life on the edge and by 'ec it worked a treat. The paint of choice, a commercial grade floor paint was comparable to laying a sheet of rubber, so thick and durable. It really looks fantastic and creates a brilliant canvass for the rest of the space.

Once again though it is the smaller details that really make the difference to my eyes. In this case the radiators, it took some persuasion convincing our client that this not insubstantial investment would be worth it. But their natural gun metal patina they stand out  an jewel in this urban crown. A thing of beauty to behold. The client, on the other hand, was in most raptures about his new commercial kitchen tap.

As a man who works in commercial kitchens, it was all about the stainless steel, ALL about stainless steel, if we had let him apply it to the walls to live in a stainless steel box he would. But evidence, once again, that when re-inventing an interior, it really is important to be true to the building you are in. In a city centre loft space like this, stainless steel works a treat.

The photos here unfortunately do it no justice but it is amazing what a difference a spot of painting, some wall construction a new kitchen and alot of steel can do to a place.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Cowboy Song

Today’s state the obvious pearl of wisdom I have to share is the overwhelming importance of working with tradesmen, sorry trades people, you trust. This, I realize, is not a groundbreaking revelation but it was a lesson that was hit home to me this week, when I say hit, I mean literally smacked square on the jaw.

I shall spare you the, somewhat dull, details but needless to say, the making or breaking or a project (and your sanity) can live or die through working with skilled, experienced, trustworthy and most importantly RELIABLE builders, plumbers, electricians etc. These people will basically live in your home for lengthy periods of time. Not only will they help themselves to your milk (all your milk) and use your loo (best not to think about that one too much), they literally hold the project, your baby, in the palm of their hands. Now you wouldn’t let just any old fool near your baby now do you?

So ask for recommendations, do your research well, if in doubt do not, I repeat do NOT take a gamble, it isn’t worth the pain of ‘ When good builders go bad’. Because they can, they do, and God forbid you find yourself wanting to be on that TV show with that irritating bald presenter. When you do find that special someone, the one that ticks all the boxes - you know, turns up when they say they will, doesn’t rip you off, knows how to use a hammer; hang on to them, treat them well, cherish them. These, my friends, are the people that hold the key to your renovation happiness and they are worth their weight in coffee.

In other news, all is progressing well with project loft space. Destruction phase complete we are now moving into build with the stud walling going up to create the new bedroom and the old kitchen space being patched up and plastered.

This project offers a fantastic example of how good interior design must by sympathetic to the building in which it is housed. The scheme for this space was all about minimal, simple, industrial. I can’t lie, even I, a big fan of industrial, had my reservations, about the level of austerity, but I was wrong.

The simple act of applying a coat of paint is really bringing the place to life, that paint is white, pure, brilliant white, you can’t get much more simple than that. But oh how it works, and the reason it works? The light. With double height ceilings and huge windows, even on a grey autumn day, there is an abundance of natural light flooding the space and bouncing off the walls. For white to really work, this is what it needs, light… lots of beautiful natural light. If you live in a dark space, no amount of white paint is going to change that fact; the white will simply look full and washed out. If you live in a bright, open space… the whiteness will shine.

There is nothing more satisfying than watching a project start to take shape, the old space being injected with a new lease of life and emerging as it’s new improved self. As we move from first fit into kitchen installation phase we can really start to see what the loft is going to become and by jingo it’s exciting (well it is to me!). 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Appetite For Destruction

And so it is, I find myself back in my true spiritual home… where we speak mainly Polish and we eat mainly dust. Yes, indeed folks, I am back on a building site.

This job, Project Loft Space, as it shall now be known, is on behalf of a client. The challenges may vary to some degree and whilst I don’t get to make the final decisions on every last detail, the joy and delight I feel from knocking a place a part and piecing it back together and as you know, there’s nothing I love more that spot of building site chic.

Blessed with having a truly stunning shell to work with, this site offers a wonderful example of less is more. Whilst my personal taste is not minimal, I am a firm believer in working to suit the needs of the space (and client obviously!!). Here very little is required in terms of decoration to maximize the natural beauty.

The creative brief – minimal, industrial and definitely not appearing designed is highly achievable. Light floods in through the huge ornate windows, it bounces around the huge space and up to the high ceilings. The naturally industrial features are easily accented to created beautiful features in their own right.

But I am moving ahead of myself… what comes before renovation? Operation destruction…..

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Renovation Song

We've got damp. Fact.

Yes we did a full damp course, yes we added in air bricks, there is so much ventilation in this house you can literally feel the breeze blow through it (not sure that's a good thing?!) and yet the damp just keeps on coming back.

Hello, by the way, it's been a while and you must have missed me terribly. I'm sorry, I won't let it happen again.

I will now summarise the last few months in renovation world the only way I know how..... through the medium of rhyme.

The new rental squat became project number one
In a mad, dash, rush to get the work done
Walls were removed, ceilings were too
A kitchen re-built as was a loo

All outfits accompanied by a handy tape-measure
The Internet scoured, the trash of others became my treasure
We travelled the country in a large hired van
Nothing like removals to get the best out of a man (?!)

The finish was added - carpets, tables and seats
By the time it was done it looked rather neat
The search for tenants was set underway
Not so intrepid, we had them signed in 1 day

The homestead was littered, I'd perhaps been too keen?
Radiators, fridges, the odd washing machine
It's the new thing, I declared, scrap yard style chic
Every living room needs a washer with a leak

Spring became summer and the rain came with power
The garden thrived with rhubarb and passion flower
Touches were added to the original bowl of dust
When a heatwave descends, carpet's a must!

As time passes the house starts to wear
After the work we put in, God knows how it dare
But walls become marked and gutters they do leak
Skirting gets scuffed and doors, start to creak

Still, no need for despair, no time for fear
The team of Polish builders are here
Set to return with their special kind of charm
And remove any semblance of order and calm

And so we go on with phase number four

If miracles abound we might get a handle on the door
One thing you discover, through time spent, just living
Renovation really is, the gift that keeps on giving

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Round Like A Circle In A Spiral....

Despite my very uncharacteristically negative ramblings (!) project rental squat is actually progressing great guns, the kind of guns you can't really keep on top of when you have work, a course, life to attend to guns. So as ever we have found ourselves playing constant catch up and making decisions on the hoof. But when the builders are in, stuff has to get done, there is no time for casual musings over bevelled or flat edges on ones tiles. It goes like this - You want tiles? Give me the tiles, tiling done, I need more tiles, give me more tiles.

Playing catch is also a down-side of not being on site all the time and let me tell you, it's tricky to go back on work once the work has been done. As you all know I love my builder, I trust him, value his work ethic and on the whole accept that if something can't be done it is for good reason (he also reads this blog!). He is, however, still a builder and therefore prone to classic builder-isms - these transcend age, origin and reason, they simply can't help themselves.

"This paint coverage looks a bit patchy"?. It is because you have bought Dulux/ Farrow and Ball/ B&Q/ Fired Earth (delete as appropriate) paint. I have tried them all and the response will remain the same, any problems that arises, the fault lies with the paint and ABSOLUTELY NOT with the painter. "The stain on the floor is a different colour there?". Hmmm yes, yes, that is because of the wood, it is old wood (SO?) that is what happens. (of course it is).   "That blind you have put up/ row of tiles/ cupboard you have fixed/ coving applied... isn't straight". SARAH it is straight, the problem is your walls, you have wonky walls.

As I said though I love my builder and yes I do have wonky walls and all problems aside they have worked at a rapid rate of knots and turned a home into a shell into a building site into a blank canvass and would you adam and eve it we have just about come full circle!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Project rental squat has been an altogether different experience than the original dust bowl. Not being woken up at 7am to the dulcet tones of Polish camaraderie and the sweet scent of cigarettes and instant coffee is, if I'm honest, a blessed relief. The absence of endless hammering and the gritty dust up the nose sensation seems to reduce the stress levels of house renovation. But it does have its downsides...

As a semi-qualified interior designer, I am ashamed to admit that I have committed many design sins. I should and DO know better and I only share them now in order that you yourselves are never tempted down the same dark paths. My excuse was lack of time it's a poor excuse and it does not warrant forgiveness. Here are my top 5 don'ts of renovation.

1. NEVER pick paint colours off a computer screen - you think you are getting a nice matt grey, grey, you are actually getting a faintly purple/ greeny/ blue. When we tell you to paint generous testers on the wall of each room - we tell you this for a reason.
2. NEVER trust your builder to get paint mixed on your behalf- it will always end up ever so slightly wrong.
3. Do NOT try and rectify above mistakes by using Farrow and Ball paint in a rental house. Yes it is beautiful, but it will cost you a fortune you will never make back. Sarah Beeny I feel your
4. Don't skim read adverts on ebay, such that you think an advert for 6 panel doors is for 6 doors, not 1 with 6 panels. There is a difference, it is significant.
5. Finally, please DON'T find yourself, unable to miss an opportunity, buying all your furniture before the work is done then having nowhere to keep it so you end up with, say, for example, I mean as if anyone would, a massive wardrobe at the bottom of your stairs blocking the entrance to and from your house for approximately 6 weeks!

All that aside, things are going swimmingly and despite what everyone tells you, I stand by my ethos of putting your heart into your project. DO think about the standards you would want to live in, do use interesting colours and finishes where you can, it doesn't have to cost more and I firmly believe will make all the difference to your tenants. Let's hope I'm right....!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

It's A New Dawn, It's A New Day

As some of the more astute/committed readers amongst you maybe have noticed (someone? anyone? Mum...?) There has been a not so brief hiatus in posts of late. For this I can only apologise and assure you that it is not due to lack of activity. On the contrary life has been somewhat crazy in squat towers and it is with proud excitement that I announce the birth of squat number 2, or SJ (squat junior) as we like to call her. Yup you guessed it, we are at it again… with a vengeance.

SJ was never destined for the same fate as the original, this is an entirely different proposition, a business proposition no less – a buy to let. When operating in said business environment one must be governed at all times with head not heart. This is what they told me, they ALL told me and you know what they can be like, so god damn self-righteous. But, I bowed to their superior knowledge, yes, of course we will just paint over the existing flock, fake artex paper and make do with the kitchen in place, no, no, no, no, of course, no need to touch the ceilings, 60’s style gas fireplaces, fine for a rental, absolutely, boiler, it still runs doesn’t it? Yes, definitely leave well alone. I nodded and smiled with good intentions of following it all through.

Strange then, that I seem to find myself 1 month in with, pretty much the shell of a house, all ceilings and walls have been pulled down and stripped back, kitchen ripped out, fireplaces- can’t see them for dust (literally). It’s fair to say, I fell at the first hurdle, giving the house a name probably wasn’t the best start. In defence some of the work has not been caused by me, the house that we bought, although cared for by it’s lovely previous owners (and I mean that sincerely) had been largely maintained through DIY- herein lies a problem. Peel back one layer of paper and the wall comes tumbling down, inspect one of the sockets and discover it needs entirely re-wiring, take out a kitchen unit and reveal the large patches of damp carefully concealed by layers of plastic... and so it goes on.

Don’t get me wrong, I really am not doing this to the spec I would my own home, I haven’t even changed the radiators (yet), but it seems fair to say that when it comes to me and houses I cannot help but be emotionally attached, they very quickly do become a labour of love. Here she is in her finest original form (these are estate agent photos fyi).

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snow Is Falling...

We all love the first flurry of a snow fall don't we? The landscape turns into a Dickensian image of crisp perfection, children laugh as snowmen are built and sledges are used, couples frolic making snow angels on the ground. That lasts for about a day.... then the snow turns to ice/murky slush, children cry as the snowmen melt and adults live in constant fear of breaking their necks en route to work.

For me the snow also brings a painful reminder of blunders made in project squat. 1 word folks INSULATION! Given that we re-built every single wall in this house we had the perfect opportunity to install the finest insulation man has to offer, be it 2 for 1 B&Q, bales of straw or a god damn piece of cotton wool. But the combination of ignorance, lack of research and cowboy builders meant that this vital factor was overlooked.

Having solid brick walls our only option now is to remove the plasterboard and start again or clad from the outside, both expensive, messy options which, let's face it aren't going to happen. Yes we've checked for draughts, the roof has the thickest layer available, un-used windows have been sealed. But no amount of effort post event can right this wrong. So it is we are left with a bathroom and back bedroom that are pretty much made of ice. This is both environmentally bad, uncomfortable but mostly just plain irritating.

So let this be a lesson to anyone about to undertake any building work, whatever corners you may cut, don't let insulation be one of them, lest you forever mourn its absence and sit under blankets til Spring.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Over Christmas I was lucky enough to acquire a broad range of new pictures. When I say new I mean old, (more mothball than antique), when I say acquire I mean given by relatives who were planning on chucking them out.

Such has been the nature of 80% of the items in this house, art, sofa's, dining room chairs, curtains, beds, crockery... you name it.. if someone else don't want it I end up with it. My motivation was initially financial - with all money plowing into building walls, there was little left for cushions - but essentially I have a deeply ingrained waste not want not attitude to life and really do support the 'one man's trash' philosophy.

Of course there are the occasional mistakes (80's crudites dish with pictorial representations is yet to leave the cupboard) and yes, I have, occasionally, entirely without reason in my eyes, once or twice, on a bad day, been referred to as a hoarder. But for the most part I honestly believe this re-using a rejected item in a new, different setting injects it with a new lease of life and gives a depth and soul to a home that is almost palpable. As I look around my home and consider the history of each and every item some take me back to childhood, Aunts or Grandparents past, some have origins not known to me, so I can make up their history (as well as a name!). What is for sure is that very little has come straight from a factory floor - what could be colder than that!?

People who come to my house, often comment on it's warmth and homely feeling (they sure as hell don't mean temperature), it feels like a house that is loved. This does not come from the colour of the walls or the carpet on the floor (definitely not that in our case). Would it feel the same if we had all the finery's that John Lewis had to offer? I don't think so. Personally I think this random hotch potch of belongings bring with them the lives and loves of their owners past, they have stories to tell and they are happy to live to see another day. They might not match but somehow they feel like they belong.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Stairway To Hell

I have dust in my hair, eyes, ears and over every item of clothing. A small layer adorns the entire house, I have back ache from bending in odd positions and I am so bored I'm angry. What am I doing to create such misery I hear you ask....? Sanding the god damn banisters of course. Again? I know, I KNOW.

It is the most misery inducing, relentless and un-rewarding of tasks ever known to home decorating. Fact. The kind of job that sucks you of energy but offers no rewards, no-one will ever notice that you lost actual days of your life at this callous inducing work, but everyone would notice if you didn't do it.

I realise this is more rant than post, I have no photos, I have nothing positive to say, I am in a sanding induced fury.

That's all!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year from project squat!

It is with bleary eyes that I greet you on day 3 of the New Year's hangover, slowly emerging from the Christmas relaxation bubble which I happily spent with my good friends red wine and Stilton. I hope you all had a wonderful festive period and have avoided the onset of gout (maybe it's not just a hangover...!).

In keeping with this glorious time of reflection and resolutions for positive thinking I thought this the perfect opportunity to look back at the achievements of 2011, to focus on what has been done rather than what is still to do. So, folks, here are my top 10 highlights from the dust bowl (in no particular order).

1. The Live-able Living Room: Re-energised from a lovely holiday a week was devoted to getting the living room ship shape. Books shelved (colour coded of course), cushions retrieved, pictures hung. Let's casually over-look the 25 year old sofas, which are still yet to be replaced. The result was a welcoming, elegant room finally worth relaxing in.

2. The Arrival Of The Prodigal Lights: Yes it was a foolish idea in the first place, yes I was an idiot to give my credit card details to a random teenager with an American accent over Skype, yes it was a lot of hassle fighting to get them out of customs. But, when love strikes....After months of no communication from the seller, weeks in customs, days in a delivery depot and finally my local post office the arrival of the infamous Etsy lights was well worth the pain (even if they came with non usable American bulbs!)

3. Project Garden: An achievement for which I can take little/ no credit except for a quick, non thought through sweep round a garden centre. The transformation of the wasteland of a garden was a sight to behold. From barren home of barbed wire to urban paradise it has proceeded to bring much joy to BBQ lovers and smokers throughout the year.

4. There's Only One Down-Pipe: By hook or by crook down-pipe was going to get a mention. It continued to delight me with its restorative powers on two occasions. The near disaster that was 'black gloss gate' on the fireplace and the re-decoration of the slightly unloved spare room. Both episodes proved once again that this is the king of paints.

5. Loo loo Skip To My Loo: The downstairs loo had always been something of a let down, the un-even walls highlighted by the wishy washy grey and mistake of a window. A room to be avoided at all costs. UNTIL intervention came in the beautiful form of House Of Hackney wall-paper and matching dark blue wood panelling. A stroke, if I may say so myself, of genius!

6. Wine, Women (and men) And Song: Of course a house isn't a home unless you can share it with your friends. Many of ours braved it in the tough times and it has been a real pleasure to invite them back for many less dusty occasions. Despite my continual screams of 'don't touch the walls', the only damage has been inflicted by myself and an unfortunate incident involving red wine and a white wall.

7. Money, Money, Money: Enough sentimental rubbish, let's face it, what we really care about is the cash. Would we make some? well the confirmation was so gratifying I had it valued 5 times, crassness aside it was re-assuring to know it had been worth the effort.

8. Street Smart: Oh happy day it was when the curiously painted red brick 'accessories' that adorned our upstairs windows were painted over. Re-modelled wall and painting of rendering soon had the dust bowl looking like the smartest house in the street.

9. Shabby Chic: After something of a - buying, collecting, stripping, waiting a month for their return, scrubbing, sealing, lifting, floor destroying - toil we finally replaced the final two radiators. We are now happily Victorian stylee shabby throughout.

10. Heart Home: Of course one highlight shines brighter than the rest. Our appearance in Heart Home was an honour and a joy. Much fun and inspiration on the shoot and so much satisfaction seeing the results, it is from there that I take these photos. To check it out in full visit

That's all folks (for now). Here's to 2012 and all the carpet it may bring.