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As a complete novice, extending and renovating my home was by far and away the largest, longest (10 months), most fun,  tiring (is there such a thing as painter’s arm?), scariest and hardest project I have worked on. It swung from exhilarating – actually designing and building something and seeing it come together – to phenomally testing and trying- wrong things turning up, not having enough tiles, having far to many tiles, water leaks…

All these things made it the experience it was and from it I gleaned so much. So whether you are thinking about sprucing up a room or building a new part of your house there are so many possibilities are endless and it can be a bit difficult to know where to start.

Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to pass on things I have learned and I am  going to be:

  • sharing ideas on interiors – wallpaper, lighting, mirrors, accessories and furniture – and colour palettes (the most fun parts);
  • looking at the best ways to plan and utilise your space;
  • giving details of shops and warehouses that have been invaluable;
  • passing on the tips I learned during the build that I wish I’d known at the outset and other handy tips I picked up during it; and
  • sharing survival tips for what to do when it starts to get on top of you (hopefully this is one you won’t need but I did have a couple of moments, it’s almost inevitable – note the answer may involve gin (and, if you are having your kitchen done, plastic cups)).



1. Find and talk to people who have been in the same boat.

Once I started asking around I was amazed by just how many people had fantastic nuggets of knowledge to share; family, friends, people I mentioned it to in passing,  colleagues who had done home improvements as well as the gentleman our builder provided as a reference (something I’d always suggest – he was phenomenally helpful and nice enough to give us an hour of his Sunday). Talk to them about their experiences, things that they have been really pleased with and things that they wish they had done or had done differently. There really is no point in you repeating a mistake if it can be avoided. Everyone I spoke to had different views too (occasionally too many views!) but listening to them really helped me to make more considered decisions and opened my eyes to new ideas.

For example, I was mad keen on having wooden work tops but after talking to a couple of people about their experiences (mixed at best, including one adamant “don’t do it!” from my mum) I realised that I was just not willing to deal with the upkeep (frequent oiling is necessary to seal them, who knew? I knew I’d forget). Also, the fact I knew I would end up inadvertently putting a hot pan directly on it and accidentally mark it, changed my mind. When it came down to it opted for dark granite and I haven’t regretted it for a second although I still do love the idea and look of wood.

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2. If you like something that someone has done, ask them about it.

Sticking with the kitchen worktop for a moment, after I realised that wood was a no-no I was stumped. Then one day we went to the house of a friend of a friend who had extended their kitchen and saw something I had never seen before. Firstly, it was a huge kitchen island which looked awesome and, secondly, it was made from a material that I just hadn’t seen in any of the shops I had been in. It was textured granite in steel grey and it was swish. It was SO swish (and, as it turned out, very reasonably priced). They were kind enough to tell me where they got it from (Beltrami a warehouse on the outskirts of Birmingham – the choice is immense and you can actually pick the particular piece you want) and a week or two later we were stood (in rather fetching hi-vis vests) in the most enormous warehouse surrounded by hundreds of enormous slabs of granite, marble and sandstone. There were some real beauties in there unlike anything I have ever seen; marble with ripples of vivid blues, purples and greens flowing through it and exquisite swirling grains. You can see below a selection of stones but the pictures really don’t do them justice. At all. We opted for the steel grey in the end, one that has some highly polished areas so when it catches the light it twinkles. It’s brilliant.

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The same thing is true if you like a piece of furniture, a paint colour or a tile. Ask them where they got it from. If you can’t find it scour the net for something similar, at least now you have an idea of what you like. My experience is that most people are flattered to be asked.

Although at first I rather uncharacteristically argued against it, just as a fyi, a 30cm wine fridge turned out to be not that much more expensive than a 30cm cupboard. You’re welcome.

3. Don’t be too impatient about buying things.

There have been a fair few instances (*read many instances) of buying things because we need something but we have been too impatient to hold out for the something that we really like. Instead we have ended up picking something pretty meh on a “that’ll do for now” basis. Case in point is a (rather hideous) purple light shade we bought for our spare room. It sounds pretty grim even writing this (think purple Quality Street). We needed a light shade, it sort of matched the wallpaper that was in the room when we bought the house, six months later we really didn’t like it. Don’t buy stop-gaps. Wait and buy something you love. Otherwise you are more than likely to look at it a few weeks or months down the line and wonder why you did buy it. I wish I’d have left the purple light shade, saved the money and bought one I really liked.

4. Accept that will lose your weekends and evenings to incredibly dull things (but knowing it will all be worth it on the end).


Pink Regency Cushion ♥ Kura Lightshade  Sintra Plates & Bowls  Green Vase

There have been a lot (and I mean a lot) of weekends spent in Homebase, Wickes and Screw Fix (the latter was I didn’t even know existed). Not to mention the multiple Friday nights to IKEA (and the naughty McDonalds afterwards) and after work trips to Argos. Oh, and the trips going back to Homebase, Wickes and Screw Fix because we forgot something (wall plugs, paint brushes, drill heads) the first time or what we bought was the wrong thing (lists do help we learned later, common sense would dictate we’d have done this sooner). The tally of most trips to Homebase in one day was four. Pretty grim. When it all gets a bit much in Homebase, head to the Habitat section, it’s full of great goodies. I particularly love the Sintra plates. If four visits to Homebase in one day leads you to eat your emotions keep your fingers crossed its a Homebase with a Costa in it that sells Millionaire’s shortbread.


To be continued…