Anne Interiors Interior Designer Glasgow UK

Our John Lawrence Home Renovation (with Plans, Real Photos and 8 Tips)

home renovation

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We expected a home renovation project. But never in a million years did we imagine that we will be taking on a major one on a very tight budget. 

It was in the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic hit when we began looking around for a home. Alex had finally secured a job in Construction back here in Scotland after being away from us a month at a time for a year working in the Middle East and it just made sense to set permanent roots for our young family.

At the time of our search, our budget could only seem to afford semi-detached properties needing a sensible amount of renovation in the heart of Milngavie or Bearsden. We wanted to be within 30-minute walking distance to the primary school where our daughter attends and the town centre for convenient shopping.

I am restricted by the fact that I haven’t got my driving license yet. The lockdown has messed with my driving lessons and felt like I will have to go back to square one again so I decided to just put that temporarily aside. 

We almost purchased a semi in July which was taken off the market after our offer was accepted. But it eventually fell through because the seller is taking more than a month to produce a document that we required regarding the house’s structure.

Time is of the essence for us because we didn’t want to continue wasting money on rent anymore (we have been renting a new-built 2-bedroom flat for almost two years). It was a blessing in disguise that the sale fell through because it allowed us to consider this detached property that’s been on the market for over two weeks.

See if you’re a home buyer/ seller during the 2020 lockdown, you would understand how the housing market went crazy when viewings were allowed again. Houses began selling like hot pancakes and two weeks of being on the market without any offer would be frustrating for sellers.home renovation

before and after facade

Pre-Renovation State

Let me show you the original state of the house when we first viewed it so that you can understand why it wasn’t selling:

Everything was a mess! All furniture and decorations (even some clothes and personal belongings) were left scattered haphazardly everywhere.

We learned that an infirm lady in her 90’s had passed away a few months back and it seemed that whoever was left to sort the house had just made it worse.

The decor style is stuck in the 70’s when the house was built. Everything was wallpapered including all ceilings even in the toilet and shower room. 

Carpets were heavily patterned and dingy. 

Dirty pots and pans and dinnerware in the kitchen were left in disarray. No wonder a kitchen photo was excluded from the listing!

Overgrown garden with far too much weeds, two dilapidated sheds and a neglected lean-to glass summer house beside the leaking two-car garage.

The Bid - We Got Lucky!

It was clearly a fixer-upper so we thought that we might actually stand a chance putting in a cheeky offer. We started with a £20,000 below asking price. After a couple of back and forth, we luckily secured the property for £10,000 below asking price! Yay!

It seemed surreal that we are able to afford a detached property with big front and rear gardens in a quiet, elevated and prime location (literally a two-minute walk from the grounds of one of the top five secondary schools in Scotland, Douglas Academy), a big open play park, surrounding nature parks for walking and cycling, and a view of the Campsie hills beyond. At this point I’m celebrating because I actually got what I wished for— a fixer-upper! 

The Renovation - Reality Kicks In

So we knew that we will be needing renovation work done to this house. To what extent, we only found out once we received the keys a month after and asked our friends in the electric and plumbing trades to have a good look and see what really needs done.

The joy of the discount we got from the sale was immediately extinguished when we learned that the house will need a gut-out—a full rewiring and re-plumbing, new boiler, radiators and new switchboard— which we had not expected and certainly did not budget for. On top of that we eventually needed re-sheeting and plastering instead of a straightforward stripping of wallpapers and re-painting.

When we put in our offer Alex had only estimated that all the problems in the house was purely aesthetic and we’ll only need to put in £18,000 at the most taking into consideration that he will do all of the joiner work himself. To be honest, I don’t know what he was thinking or if that was more of wishful thinking!

All along I thought it would be at least within double of that amount. Maybe he’s not used to UK pricing of trades and materials anymore having worked for over a decade in the Middle East? Maybe he’s forgotten how VAT eats up a chunk of the budget because we never had to worry about that in Dubai?

Whatever the reason he was definitely naively optimistic about the extent of work for this home renovation. Whereas I think I have watched far too much Grand Designs and other home renovation shows to know that that wasn’t a very realistic budget projection.

I didn’t bother rubbing salt to his wounds by telling him “I told you so!”. Let’s just say if he had known that he’d be putting this much effort and money into this renovation, we wouldn’t even view this house to begin with! BUT, while Alex was too deflated during the entire reno, I was always excited at even doing menial and dirty work.

This is my first home renovation and as an interior designer I’ve always dreamed of doing my own fixer-upper and making a house my very own. As opposed to Alex, he’s just fed up with construction sites his whole career life so, he’s not really looking forward to any more. Hah! 

To be fair, most reno work is hard work. And there’s only so much hard work my minuscule muscles can do. As much as I want to help him lift frames of glass walls, doors, floor slabs, demolish and erect walls, trusses and joists, he’s left to do these all by himself most of the time. So another obvious tip: unless you are prepared to do a lot of hard work, I suggest you prepare a lot of cash instead as labor in UK doesn’t come cheap!

<< The Gritty DIY

Anyway, the main purpose of this blog is to inspire you with how a tiny budget can go a loooong way in a home renovation provided you are willing to put in a lot of DIY heavy work. In our case, we did it as a team plus a much needed helping hand from friends (especially during demolition).

Stretching the budget is of great importance to us because unlike other DIY renovators, we refuse to live in a construction site for months or years. Aside from wanting to stop paying for rent, moving into a decent habitable home is our paramount priority because we have a 6-year old who deserves a normal life after uprooting from one house to another in three different countries for the past five years of her life.

So, we were handed the keys on the 8th of October 2020 and began ripping things out right there and then. We moved in on the 3rd of February 2021 with minimal snags (painting of secondary rooms and temporary vinyl tiling). Four months of hard work mostly on weekends as Alex keeps a day job.

This means that our family survived four months of no proper weekends. Relying on friends and family to baby sit our daughter observing restricted lockdown rules or having her with us in the dirty, noisy and cold house or inside the car with only a mobile phone to play games or watch Netflix on.

To top that, it’s during the dead of winter and the first two months we didn’t have any heating on. It’s a very depressing scenario having no quality time left for the most important person in our life— the main reason why we bought the house in the first place. That’s why we desperately endeavoured to finish quickly.

Our Total Investment (Budget)

To emphasise on the budget (cost-effectiveness) part of our home renovation in order to motivate you with your own budget renovation, let me be transparent with the total amount that we spent to take it from the dilapidated property that it was into a move-in ready modern home. 

We spent £30,000 in total! (Ka-ching! Ka-chiiing!!) 

Furthermore just out of curiosity, we asked for a valuation of our newly renovated property and according to Corum’s assessment of our home’s market value we had easily made 35% gross profit off our investment. We could easily net double of that £30k reno budget when offers go beyond market value.

All of this without even doing any home extensions yet. However tempting it is to resell, we don’t want to break our daughter’s heart. She is so proud of her new home and very happy with the new friends she has made. So selling is out of the question…for now.

So this goes without saying that it pays to tackle your own home renovation. That’s the biggest advantage of doing it yourself, provided you know how to do it properly and know exactly where to spend the money. While it could be lucrative, it is not for the faintest of hearts especially if you’ve got a wee one tagging along. But it could be your best investment yet.

Before - During - After

Now that we have happily settled in, it is good to look back and share some helpful tips and pictures to encourage you that there is light at the end of the tunnel in every budget-restricted home renovation project. You may also follow our ongoing renovation and refurnishing journey on my instagram here

Here are some before, during and after pictures to put that cost (money well spent!) into perspective:

Tips and Learnings:

Let me share with you a few handy budget-saving tips for any home renovation. 

1. Layout

From a 3-bedroom, 1-shower room, 1-powder room, we turned it into a 4- bedroom (one of which is a 1-bed/ home office), 1-family bathroom, 1-shower room. The ground floor became a fully open plan kitchen-dining-living space. 

diy renovation-floor plans

TIP: Rewiring and re-plumbing means you are no longer limited to where the existing sanitary wares and appliances are but rather you have absolute freedom to re-layout your floor plan.  Everything needed new pipework and wiring anyway.

But I made sure not to touch structural walls and worked around existing areas and heights (eg. the reclaimed loft space’s slanted shape instead of converting it into a dormer) to keep costs down. And best of all, it means that I can have as much power points as I want!

2. Demolition

Alex had done most of the demolition work himself. A few times with the help of his good pal, Scott. 

TIP: Prepare to rent the biggest skip (in our case a 40-yard) if you know that you are demolishing a lot of walls and outbuildings. A two 8-yard skip is the same price of one 40-yd. Do your maths, you know that there is big savings there! We used two 40-yds at £600 each for this project.

And don’t just dump your scrap in the skip! Maximise your skip rental by properly flat-packing your junk whenever possible. Note though that you will need council permit for this at a reasonable fee (no more than £60 in our case, check with your local council).

Garden Demo

We first demolished all the outbuildings (two garden sheds and a lean-to glass summer house) and cut down some trees and hedges. Immediately the garden felt a lot bigger, even more spacious than we had foreseen. It is very plain and unappealing for now, so it is the next big project to undertake hopefully next year— both the rear and front gardens.

Interior Partition walls

Leaving the load-bearing walls intact, the main walls that we demolished were:

Ground floor: The partitions between kitchen and shower room and two smaller cubicles housing the old boiler and built-in wardrobe of the bedroom downstairs. 

By doing so, we were able to create a smaller but more efficient shower room with utility cupboard for the boiler and washer-dryer and gained an extra one and a half square meters for the kitchen.

diy home renovation -Revised ground floor with new partition between kitchen and shower room/ utility

We also stripped that eyesore of a balustrade. We’ve gotten used to no railings so we left it at that for the meantime while we decide on a railing that we want and goes with our Scandi-modern style.

Up at the First floor: we knocked down the entire length of built-in wardrobes including the dinky toilet separating the two bedrooms. This revealed at least an extra one and a half-meter wide loft space which we had planned to reclaim for the new home office and family bathroom. 

On the other side of the existing bedrooms, we further tore down 50cm off the dormer window walls to gain an extra bit of space beside the beds. And for our daughter’s room, the wall was even pushed a further 120cm back to allow for a cosy reading nook.

diy home renovation -Revised First floor with 2 new rooms and adjusted dormer cheeks

3. New walls and ceilings

There were at least three different decorative wall coverings within the dining area, living room and hallway and all the ceilings were papered throughout. Thank goodness the panels were easy to rip off! But 50% of the walls were damaged due to the previous owner’s poor choice of adhesive and thus needed re-sheeting.

We also removed the stone platform where an old electric fireplace once stood immediately giving us extra floor space. And all the dingy wall to wall carpets were binned.

However, the wallpapers proved to be a true test of character (and strength of neck and arm muscles!). Thankfully I had discovered early on that a soapy solution of warm water using pressure sprayer together with a wallpaper steamer are a great combo. Best buy ever!

Then I used a Metabo palm sander which is handy for removing more stubborn papers and smoothening out ruggedly plastered old walls. It is light enough so it won’t be as tiring to use for long periods at a time compared to bigger sanders. Surprisingly durable too (although I’m the only one who ever operated it so it was always on gentle hands; I can imagine Alex crushing it if it was him who’s done the sanding). 

Oh, and make sure that you get a cable reel extension (no more than 15meters long). It’s a handy extension for your steamer and hand sander especially when you get to the ceilings and stairwells. 

Handy tool recommendations:

We had hoped that we won’t be needing new drywalls and plasters (especially for the ceilings). Unfortunately, even after sanding them out, the surfaces are still too uneven and it would show imperfections through a new coat of paint. It would be a waste of effort not to re-sheet and plaster. 

We managed to pay a plasterer to skim our ceilings on the first floor. But the whole of the ground floor ceilings needed new plasterboards which Alex installed himself with a reliable drywall lifter borrowed from his site. 

Apart from plastering and tiling of walls (in the showers), we did not have to spend on any labour for joinery and painting. Alex fitted in the new joists and drywalls while I sanded, primed, painted and caulked the lot—walls, ceilings and doors!

I even had to give plastering a go for the stairwell and family bathroom because a new lockdown rule was in situ come January 2021 and we refused to wait it out.  

TIP: For my primer and sealer I used a mixture of 1/3 PVA glue and 2/3 water diluted with a bit of emulsion paint (the same colour I’m using for the main coat) on both old and new walls. I never had any problems with bubbling and cracking. A much cheaper alternative to special primers and sealers you get from the big shops which don’t have promising reviews anyway. 

4. Floorings

I had grander plans for the floors initially– engineered hardwood floors and patterned ceramic tiles with underfloor heating. But as quickly as our budget diminished so did I find myself soon sourcing for cheaper alternatives. 

Laminate flooring:

Because this is less than half the price of engineered floors, we used it throughout the ground floor (excluding the bedroom and shower room). Surprisingly there is now such a thing as high quality laminate flooring and it comes in stylish patterns like this beautiful chevron which we wouldn’t be able to afford on a normal engineered or solid hardwood.

Gone are the days when laminates look like cheap photos of wood glued on a chipboard. 

I sourced ours from Quick-step (which is the main flooring contractor of my husband’s company so we got an extra trade discount as well).

Their laminate floors have realistic textures of various patterns and an evident “tongue-and-groove” bevel for that hardwood effect that is even missing in some LVTs on the market which are even more expensive than engineered floors. I

t boasts of easy maintenance and water resistance (perfect for the kitchen) as well as compatibility with underfloor heating. It also uses a Scratch Guard technology making it scratch-resistant and comes with a 25-year warranty.

Vinyl Tiles:

This is a real cheap temporary solution for both our shower room and family bathroom. To be honest, I hate it! We will definitely change this over to proper vitrified tiles once we have the budget. Good thing the power supply for underfloor heating is in place so we can just always redo the floors whenever suits. In saying that at least they come in the style/ pattern that I like.

TIP: Never get a vinyl tile that is less than 2mm thick! The thinner ones will simply not lay well. There will always be pieces that will warp or bend out. It’s annoying to look at. I had to redo the bathroom because of this and chose a thicker vinyl tile. 

5. New second-hand kitchen

My perfected “dream” kitchen plan has to be put on hold while a more standard but still functional one has to do for the meantime.

We installed a second-hand kitchen which we bought from Gumtree for £750 including almost all appliances (good quality Seimens brand). I only needed to source an integrated dishwasher and washer-dryer for the separate utility which cost £55 each at Gumtree (Siemens and Samsung respectively).

A great score! It has proven to be the best money-saving and wisest decision of all in our reno. This bit of the reno I’m so proud about, I decided to have a separate post dedicated to purchasing and planning for second-hand kitchens. Check it out, here.

TIP: Don’t start looking around for second hand kitchens before you even have a kitchen floor plan as a template for your shopping. Second-hand kitchen shopping is strategic.

You might think that one can just go ahead and buy whatever you see out there (especially once you get excited after seeing that it is literally a fraction of the price of brand new) but it actually takes a lot of careful planning involved in deciding to buy second-hand kitchen.

6. A brand new family bath and single-bedroom/ home office

These two rooms were added on the first floor of the house by reclaiming about 100 to 150cm of space from the loft/ roof eaves just behind the old built-in wardrobes. Most UK chalet house types have this extra bit of space to reveal when you open up the eaves.

And these two rooms in particular only require very minimal square footage (at least 5 to 8 sqm) but could add up 6%* to the value of your property according to this link.

diy home renovation -2 news rooms created by reclaiming loft space

TIP:  We invested on big roof lights from Keylite to bring in more daylight and a sense of “airiness” into the rooms. It makes it look more spacious than the actual footprint as well as providing a bit more headroom. That way we saved on building a dormer window or a loft extension.

7. Lighting

If there’s one thing that I “kinda” splurged on it’s lighting. I’ve always been a sucker for statement lighting and I made sure that I have a few dotted around the house. Having said that, I still managed to source my preferred designer style lighting from the cheapest online store there is — Aliexpress.com.

I was nervous because it was my first time to order more than £200 worth of lights (even though that amount is just a fraction of the price of the original designer brand) from an unknown seller halfway around the globe.

TIP: Look out for reviews and star-ratings when choosing an Aliexpress seller to buy from. Make sure to double check shipping cost and time frames. The downside of Aliexpress is most of the time the items will arrive more than 60 days from purchase date so plan your install accordingly.

I was lucky with the Vertigo lamp arrived within two weeks. But the Serge Mouille-inspired one was a different matter. I actually thought I got scammed by that seller but thankfully it arrived just a couple of days before the scheduled final fix. That was over 60 days. 

Another uncommon lighting choice I made was instead of the typical recessed spotlights or pendant light in the hallway, I opted for a striking LED lighting. To each his own! The designer in me wanted to be different.

With the recommendation of our friend Scott, who runs his own electrical company, we bought our LED strip lighting system from CEF. They are the trusted and certified electrical wholesaler in the UK. And we got an extra 50% trade discount through him! 

8. Energy Efficiency

We took baby steps towards a smarter home which will both benefit the environment and our pockets (in the long run). All our interior and exterior lighting are LEDs. Eventually we plan to invest on smart bulbs since we have a Hive Hub in place. 

Since our boiler and all our radiators are now brand new plus underfloor heating is in situ, smart heating is the first to get lodged on our Hive Hub. Especially after months of renovation without heating in place, we had to make sure that we’ll never have to endure a piercing cold winter again.

We look forward to coming home one day from a vacation somewhere and not worry about coming home to a freezing house. We can set our heating remotely from the app and have a cosy house to welcome us back. 

TIP: We have two separate smart thermostats for the ground and first floors. As we learned in physics, hot air rises up so we can save heating on the first floor. We only turn on the first-floor heating an hour before bedtime or whenever necessary. Scheduled heating can even be set automatically via the app.

Summary

So there you go! If there’s one thing you can take away from this post let it be this: having very little budget doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot achieve a stylish home. Be wise in deciding how and in which areas you are planning to save so it’s not at the expense of your vision as a whole. Do not sacrifice that vision because that distinguishes a house from a home.

Trust me, when you see your home coming together and looking cohesive it will make all your efforts (and spendings) worthwhile. To achieve cohesion, you must stick to your preferred look or style with minimal compromises.

The secret to this is a lot of research— there are a lot of cheaper alternative materials out there just do your due diligence. I hope to help in this aspect by providing you with contents where I will share tips and resources on my own cost-saving finds and designs.

One last TIP: 

If you haven’t already, convert your Amazon memberships to Prime! Amazon Prime has been very handy on our renovation especially during the lockdown. I cannot stress enough the usefulness of their free delivery and one-day delivery services for items that we have forgotten to buy or aren’t available from the big stores.

In our experience, the £7/mo fee to upgrade to Prime is well worth it even just for the free delivery service because there is not one week where we didn’t have to order something we need for the build, and not to mention the free movies on Prime when you wind down after a hard reno-day’s work!

As most home renovators say, “a home renovation is a lifetime process”. Quite an exaggeration of course. But yes, while the major renovation is done (until the next project) I am happily ticking away minor snags primarily the decoration and furnishing bits which is most likely to change every so often. Ha ha, yeah ok lifetime process indeed! 

I hope you are able to find some useful tips in here for your very own budget renovation. Again, you may find our journey on my instagram where I also share tips and ideas on a regular basis. Do share your thoughts in the comment box below or let me know if there’s any topic you want me to expound on or write about next.

If you plan to do any form of renovation, whether a full house or just a minor room or space, and would rather seek professional help to nail down your layout and design please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m more than happy to help!

Any designer can create a beautiful interior given an ample budget but a good designer will come up with something special even with the scarcest resources.

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