THE BEST and the worst part of any home renovations journey has to be the planning stage. Especially if you’re ‘Living In It As It Is’ for a while, critical, but frustrating nonetheless.
While your evenings are Pinterest heaven, your days are spent making do with a host of original features you didn’t sign up to. In the case of the last Forever House, an Edwardian fixer-upper, these included a 1950s oven with just a single working hob and a bath running brown water only. In the current Forever House (Victorian) the worst off it - so far - seems to be windows that don’t actually close.
While we live in it and take our time to decide what we want, I’m thrown back to being at this same stage eight years ago in the Edwardian Forever House, and the rocky road that lay head. For the first six months we lived as squatters, making do with a plate, bowl and cup each, two IKEA kitchen knives I’d borrowed from my sister, a pan, a tea towel and one colour coded bath towel per person. Honestly it’s amazing what you can exist on once you’ve set your mind to it.
I’d stand and look at the 257 boxes GB Liners had stacked all around us and think, what the hell do we have in there? Surely we don’t need all this stuff? The very thought of unpacking terrified me, somehow symbolising that we had resigned ourselves to live like this forever.
So I shut my mind on our belongings, living without creature comforts in a house that was basically filthy, with a crawling baby. Six months in I was beside myself, but luck was on our side as we were offered the use of an empty flat, which meant we could move out while the work was being done.
At home with a young baby I decided to act as project manager to save us money, hiring independent trades myself – plumber, electrician, plasterer, decorator, carpenter, rather than employ one builder to do everything. It’s difficult to know exactly how much this saved but we believe it was a lot. Better still, it meant each stage of the process was more accountable, as each trade was taking instructions directly from me. It meant I could be very specific about every element of the design and finish.
Of course managing the project myself from start to finish was was not without its challenges. Could I do it again, I wonder? If only I’d known then what I know.
But wait. I do?
I should point out here that I am not, and never have been, trained in project management, of any sort, renovation-wise or not. Throwing myself into the breach with a baby strapped to my front was no picnic. Building sites are not child-friendly places and you cannot plop one down anywhere once you’ve crossed the threshold. Imagine, if you will, attending a team update meeting while manhandling a struggling goat. Squeezing in site visits between Jo Jingles, tantrums and Ella’s Kitchen pouches in the back of the car while attempting to look like The Person in Charge.
I spent much of my time in tears swearing I would never do this again. (Note to self :))
If it wasn’t for my dear Dad, himself a renovations veteran, I would never have thought that being my own project manager was even possible, but as he quite rightly sold it to me ‘it’s not rocket science, darling.’ And it wasn’t.
Of course it wasn’t without it’s learnings, and for the benefit of anyone considering the same, here’s a handy ‘What I Know Now’ guide.
1. All your workers will need a toilet, so you will be responsible for providing a Portaloo on site. Never, ever enter said Portaloo.
2. You will probably need to open up the site /lock up each day. Most builders arrive around 7.45am and leave at 4pm which doesn’t sit well with the gym/school run/any other kind of gainful employment.
3. A building site is much like a children’s playground. Everyone’s in the blame game – ‘I didn’t do that, it was the electrician/plumber/chippie’ – or simply telling tales ‘the decorator’s been sat on his arse reading The Sun all day.’ Let it all roll off you.
4. Don’t pay anyone a day rate. If they won’t quote for the work as a whole, find someone else. People on a day rate will take the proverbial.
5. Be prepared for your 6ft Polish bricklayer to have a breakdown halfway through the job and disappear to Poland. Shit happens.
6. Decide with your electrician whether all your wiring runs up, or runs down. This will be a lifeline later.
7. Trades are often looking for the quickest /easiest way to do their job. The clue is often in the question, so listen carefully. ‘Do you actually want the switch HERE, love, or could it go THERE.’ Think what you actually want.
8. If you channel in an HDMI cable for a TV make sure it’s in a tube, not chased straight into the wall so you can’t ever get to it again (see point seven above)
9. Never assume your man on the job knows which way up those handles should be fitted. Spell it out. If you need convincing of this, think how many Dads you know that have dressed their kids in a pyjama top.
10. While on site, never imagine that the ground beneath your feet is load bearing. Even if it’s actually earth. It might be an 8ft hole disguised as turf and you might dislocate a shoulder.
11. If you catch anyone drinking a can of Special Brew on site at 8am, that’s really really bad.
12. Pay in stages, as agreed works are completed, to schedule.
A self-confessed control freak, now fully invested in a career in interiors, I’ll admit that being project manager this time around is pretty much a given. Much easier now the little one is in school of course. But possibly less fun. x