5 Tips For Living in a House While Renovating It

Having recently moved into a house that needs renovating – like, completely renovating – I feel compelled to share some wisdom on the subject. If ever you feel the urge to move into a property and live in it while doing it up, I have one word for you. Don’t.

For as long as I can remember, I thought it would be fun to renovate a property. Growing up, I was addicted to changing rooms. I would watch in awe as Linda Barker, Anna Ryder Richardson and Laurence Llewelyn Bowen (swoon) transformed ordinary looking rooms into extraordinary eye candy (pink flock wallpaper anyone?). As I got older I found myself engrossed in programmes like Home Front and Design Rules, which then progressed onto Grand Designs and Amazing Spaces. It was Anna Ryder Richardson who inspired me to study Interior Design – y’know, because we had so much in common. Seeing as she had once been an aerobics instructor too, I decided I could become an Interior Designer – because the two were quite obviously interchangeable. But when I realised my Diploma and my City & Guilds certificate weren’t opening any doors for me, I watched my dream fade away and reached out for the next shiny object instead. Until 2014 that is when Ian and I decided it was time to finally move. In the process of deciding where to live, the topic of property renovation came up again and instead of dismissing the idea, we decided we should just go for it. Finally, on 30th November 2016, we moved into our new house: a 3 bedroom 1950’s bungalow that needed completely renovating.

While the idea of property renovation can seem quite exciting, the reality is a lot different – especially when you’re living in the property at the same time. So, if you’re thinking of doing the same thing, here are a few tips that might help you in the early days after moving in.

Don’t plan any work until you’ve moved in

Viewing the property a few times compared to actually living in it are two very different things. It’s easy to look around and get carried away, starting to plan out in which order to do the rooms. In reality, it’s only once you’ve moved in that you can assess everything properly.

We had plans to renovate the living room first because that’s where we would be spending most of our downtime. Oh, how wrong we were. It wasn’t until we moved in that we uncovered the hidden secrets of the bedroom. There were holes in the floor and damp up the walls (hidden by the built in wardrobes) which in turn was rotting the floorboards and joists. Unfortunately, we had to sleep in there for a couple of weeks while we did a quick fix on the spare bedroom. We felt this was the logical thing to do because it gave us somewhere clean to sleep while we rebuilt the main bedroom. As it happened, the living room turned out to be the least offensive room in the house (apart from the bathroom), it’s just that the decorating left a lot to be desired. And the kitchen we thought we would leave until next year, is going to be ripped out in the next couple of months.

Expect the unexpected

If you can prepare yourself for the worst case scenario and be ready to deal with it, you’ll be just fine. It wasn’t until we ripped out the wardrobes in the front bedroom that we realised the extent of the problems. We’d braced ourselves for having to replace a couple of floorboards, but it was only when we took the carpet up and dismantled the wardrobes that we saw everything in all its glory. We ended up having to chisel the plaster off all the walls, pull the floor up and tear out the rotten joists. We’ve basically had to rebuild the whole bedroom: new joists, new floor, new plasterboard and new electrics. Everything has now been plastered and covered with two coats of cheap emulsion. I’m looking forward to decorating it and making it look pretty over the next couple of weeks.

Stake out an area (or two)

Living in a property that needs renovating can be a nightmare – especially if you work from home – and spending your time in a cold, ugly space can be depressing. There will be unpacked boxes, tools, and decorating equipment all over the place so you need to stake out an area – or two. Clear it, clean it and most important, make sure it’s free from boxes. For us, we chose the living room and the spare bedroom (where we’re still currently sleeping). After cleaning it from top to bottom, adding a couple of pictures to the wall and lighting some scented candles, the living room is where I find myself retreating to during the day. When I can no longer cope in my cold, make-shift office space at the back of the house, I stick the fire on, cosy up on the settee and work from a laptop. In fact, it’s where I am as I write this. With the fire roaring in the background and my pussy cat lay sleeping next to me, it may sound idyllic. But with the boiler being somewhat temperamental, and my heater not pumping out as much heat as I need – it’s the ONLY place where I can manage to keep warm! Plus, hunching over a laptop instead of using a desk is not really my idea of fun.

Unpack boxes as soon as possible

This may sound quite self-explanatory but stick with me. We have a lot less space compared to our old house. We don’t have an airing cupboard and we currently don’t have a wardrobe either. Although we have a clothes rail, we’re losing out on the shelf space that comes with having a wardrobe. And when you’re short on space, you find yourself keeping things in boxes. You end up rooting around in them as and when you need something, then tell yourself you’ll sort them out later <shakes head>. And being in a house that needs renovating, it’s easier to overlook that pile of boxes because everywhere is work in progress. What are a few boxes anyway? Compared to the circular saw and the pile of skirting boards that have taken up residence next to the kitchen, boxes will be the least of your worries.

I would suggest going through your boxes as soon as possible. Condense them down, throw stuff away, and take out any items you need before storing everything else in a spare room. The way things stand at the moment we have a bunch of boxes in the back room (which also doubles as my make-shift office), and I feel so overwhelmed I just can’t find the headspace to sort them out. I’m starting to think if I’m not missing anything, perhaps I don’t need those items anyway. In which case, Ebay and the local charity shops may be working overtime in the next couple of months.

Get out of the house

I work from home so getting out of the house is a must. I go to the gym in a morning or out for a run, so at least I have a couple of hours each day where I can focus on something else. If you go out to work then you’ll be out most of the day anyway. But if you’re at home, for whatever reason, make the effort to go out for a while so you can get away from the clutter.

Closing thoughts

We’ve only been in our house for a couple of months but I’ve quickly discovered that this isn’t for me. Not the renovation part, but living here while we’re doing it up. And being someone who hates clutter and wants Monica Geller as their BFF, I’ve questioned my sanity a few times since we moved in. If we were in the position to have a second house to renovate, somewhere I didn’t have to live, I think I’d be a lot happier. But sometimes, it’s only when you get the things you thought you wanted, that you begin to see other things more clearly. And while I’ve decided that this situation isn’t for me, it’s helped me put other things into perspective. But that’s another blog post altogether.

If you’re currently renovating a house while living in it, I’d love to hear any tips you have. Either drop me an email or leave a comment below.

*I feel I must apologise for the quality of the photographs. Normally I use a Canon 5D MKII, but due to the state of things at the moment, I’ve been shooting everything on my Samsung Galaxy S6!

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