Great Brownings renovation – lessons learned

After four months of daily calls and meetings with different contractors, missed deliveries, trips to Argos and Leyland for supplies and consecutive weekends spent sanding and painting walls, the renovation job on our house is finally finished.

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While our project seemed to go more smoothly than this renovation of a Parkleys Span flat that I followed on another blog (though this could be due to the fact that theirs was a sensitive, faithful mid century restoration and ours was most definitely not), it wasn’t all smooth sailing. With the benefit of hindsight, I thought I would set out some (basic) things that I should have known at the start of the process.

1. It makes more sense to engage one contractor to do everything (or subcontract work if they don’t have the specialist expertise) than separate contractors who have to having to share the work space and who end up blaming one another for problems or mess. We didn’t appreciate this and ended up hiring a separate builder, plumber, electrician, blinds fitter, rubbish removal company and carpet fitter – this situation was less than ideal.

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2. It’s important to get on with the builders as people because out of all of the contractors, you will be dealing with and seeing an awful lot of them. Thankfully, the builders that we used were great – they were transparent and communicative in relation to costs, competitively priced, paid attention to small details, seemed invested in our project, had a very “can do” attitude to everything (unlike another builder we saw who tutted, shook his head and generally couldn’t hide his dismay at everything he’d have to do to our hot mess of a house) and were generally nice people.

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3. When builders provide an estimate for painting, it seems really expensive for a task that doesn’t really require any skill or expertise, especially when compared to some of the stuff that they do which definitely does require skill and expertise. As such, we decided to ask the builders to paint everything downstairs but leave the whole of the upstairs for us to paint in an attempt to save on costs. I’m not sure if I’d do this again – while we did save a fair bit of money and there was some satisfaction to be derived from doing a little of the work ourselves, it took us weeks and there is a marked difference in quality between the rooms that were professionally painted and the rooms that we attempted.

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4. If you want smooth, matt walls but the existing walls are covered in layers of old wallpaper, the only way to achieve a flawless result is to painstakingly strip back the walls to the plaster, sand it down, fill in holes, repair damaged plaster, paint and then paint again. We ran out of energy towards the end of the project and decided to slap lining paper on top of old wallpaper in certain rooms to save time (including, unfortunately, the master bedroom) and it just doesn’t look as good – you can see where the lining paper joins up and it has already started to bubble.

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5. Decorative mouldings on wardrobe doors are easy enough to prise off but they leave marks which are almost impossible to get rid of. We would have just bought new wardrobe doors for the master bedroom at the outset if we’d known that repeatedly sanding, filling and painting them would only achieve a not-quite-perfect result.

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6. Tile paint applied over the top of tiles with a textured or embossed surface looks a bit shit, quite frankly. I did one bit of border and decided I’d had enough and that the pink tiled walls would have to stay.

7. A dated bathroom still looks dated even with a few choice embellishments. While the ensuite does look a bit fresher with the wallpapered panel painted over and a new vinyl floor and shower curtain, it’s still the same pink bathroom with rust spots in the bathtub covered up with Tippex.

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8. It’s important to look at a large enough swatch when choosing a carpet. I thought I’d picked out a cool toned light grey one for upstairs but once it’d been fitted, it looked decidedly more oatmeal (the brown tones and flecks weren’t as obvious when looking at a small sample).

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9. Getting a blinds specialist to fit measure up and vertical blinds is worth the additional expense. I’ve attempted to buy off-the-shelf blinds and cut them to size in the past and it’s always resulted in a bit of a mess so it was a real luxury to have them measured up and then installed in the space of a few hours.

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10. A replica George Nelson bubble lamp from a Shenzhen-based eBay seller costing a fraction of the price of the real thing was always going to look akin to a flammable nylon swimming costume stretched over a clothes hanger. I learned my lesson, swallowed the expensive import duties, shipped it back and bought an ex-display model from SCP.

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George Nelson apple shaped bubble lamp from SCP

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11. The actual cost of a project is about 20% more than the anticipated cost.

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