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 recent times these have included a 1950s oven with a single working hob, a bath running brown water only and fabulously huge sash windows that don’t actually close.
We recently moved into our Victorian Forever House, an 1860s fixer-upper in west London. While we’re Living in It As It Is we’re planning What We Want To Do With It, otherwise known as What Can We Afford With Our Budget. Dreams of Crittall panels and Moroccan plaster have quickly been shattered in conversations around whether we can hand this project lock, stock and barrel over to builder - they call this the turn-key service - or whether, like at the last forever house, I need to project manage things myself, to save money.
As I ponder the implications of this for the second time I’m thrown back to being at this same stage eight years ago in the Edwardian Forever House, and the rocky road that lay ahead.
Living In It As It Was could more accurately be described as Squatting in the Edwardian Forever House. We made do with a single 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 anything 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.
Low on budget but desperate to crack on (just desparate, basically) we decided we could do it if I ran the project personally, hiring independent trades myself – plumber, electrician, plasterer, decorator, carpenter, rather than employing one builder to do everything.
I should point out at this stage that I am not, and have never been, trained in project management of any sort, build related or not.
If it wasnt for my Dad, a renovations veteran, I would never have believed such a thing was possible. But as he pointed out to me, ‘it’s not rocket science darling.’ And it wasn’t.
Of course, throwing myself into the breach with a toddler strapped to my front was no picnic.
Building sites are not child-friendly places and you can’t just plop one down anywhere once you’ve crossed the threshold. Imagine, if you will, attending a site update meeting while man-handling a struggling goat. Sandwiching joiner briefings between tantrums, jo jingles, and Ella’s kitchen pouches while attempting to look like The Person in Charge.
Looking back its difficult to know exactly how much cash this madness saved but we do 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.
But am I mad enough to do it twice? As I weigh up the pros and cons I’ve put together quick tongue in cheek reminder for myself of things I wish I’d known the first time around, which might come in handy for anyone else considering the same. Of course it would be easier this time, with the little one in school. But possibly less fun. Watch this space! X
‘Project Managing your own Build’ - tips for beginners & anyone mad enough to think about doing it twice
1. All your workers will need a loo, so you will be responsible for providing a Portaloo on site. Never, ever enter said Portaloo.
2. You will 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 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 for them 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 taken their kids to the park dressed 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.