December’s been quite a busy month for work on the house with last week especially taking some major leaps forward. Here’s a quick round up of the highlights.

Decorative order

I’ve been painting for what seems like months. Almost every surface in the house has to be either painted or replaced with something, including ceilings, so there’s a lot to do. Much of this is undercoating which has, in a lot of cases, required two or more coats so what seems like just a quick once over with a brush is actually the result of multiple passes.

In the front bedroom, Katie made some decisions about how she wanted her ceiling and walls finished. My avant garde tendencies were toned down into something a little more sober, painting the ceiling right to the corners and the random strokes resolved into zig zags. Also put up a blind.

In the back bedroom I opted for an analogous colour scheme of deep blue and a duck egg blue (which looks quite green some of the time). I realised I needed this room to be both atmospheric but also refreshing and not too bonkers in terms of colour combinations but also not too bland. This colour scheme seems to do that and it goes well with the OSB wall. I also painted the ceiling, door, window inset and woodwork in the lighter colour.

Out in the hall I’ve been thinking about ways to disguise the deeply textured wallpaper which I’m keeping for now as I honestly can’t face the horror of stripping it all back and dealing with whatever lurks beneath. To that end I experimented with some coloured triangles and painted the banisters orange – you may have noticed that as a recurring theme.

During November I was in discussion with the local carpet shop so I was conscious that I’d have to get the stair woodwork painted before anything went down. I opted for an industrial grey which will run through the hall woodwork. I may have to rethink how the stair colours work as I’m not sure the blue and grey are quite right together.

Round the corner, on the ground floor, I continued the grey on the woodwork and louvre door.

Light works

I’ve been buying lights on a random basis as I’ve been working on the house. I don’t have a big budget for lights so am choosing carefully when I see the right thing at the right price. I’m also limited by the existing wiring and the fact that I don’t like a lot of the lights on the market so installation comes in bursts when I have enough to justify bringing the electrician back. Here’s a few I had put in in November and December.

The back bedroom had to have some atmosphere so I had a couple of spot lights installed on the OSB wall (one of the functions it was built for). I also had the white ceiling light cable replaced with a more fashionable twisted black cable and put on a bargain light shade I got at Sainsbury’s. The small light above the mirror is a replacement of an existing light, the concertina arm reminds me and Katie of the Pixar animated light. A fancy LED bulb from B&Q really sets it off I think.

In the front bedroom we needed something really special to go with the colour scheme. It took some research but eventually we found this combination multi-coloured lamp with Bluetooth speaker. Needless to say it’s a big hit.

Downstairs I’ve replaced the white ceiling cables with more twisted black cables (all these from B&Q). Pics to come in due course. I also had the kitchen ceiling light replaced with a cool, coloured one (only one of these I’ve ever seen in this colour).

Wallpaper

I turned my attention to the wall around the door. This has been bugging me since I stripped it a few months ago. The combination of uneven surfaces caused by mixed materials and the generally poor nature of the plaster made this pretty ugly but also difficult to deal with given the array of narrow surfaces, insets and other obstacles (switches, light, door bell, electrical switch box).

I mulled over various options but kept returning to the cheapest and most obvious, cover it with lining paper. I’m no wallpaper expert so this is would never be my first choice but, with the electrician due to install new lights ahead of carpets being fitted, I had to bite the bullet and get over my reluctance.

It was a challenging operation and the results are very far from perfect but I’m satisfied that it’s a huge improvement and I’ll hide the various defects with more decoration. I also patched in that vast section of bare plaster where the coat rack was, but that’s a story for another post.

Carpets

All that the painting, papering and light installation was done to get as many mucky jobs as possible out of the way before carpets could be fitted. I’m delighted to say, on the 15th of December, the fitters arrived and did this:

This has been a long time coming and the subject of quite a bit of thought and discussion. My budget being what it is (nonexistant) I didn’t have the option to go for the best available floorings so I took the approach I’ve followed all along to get the best value for the money I have. I asked the carpet supplier about any off-cuts he had. After reviewing the available stock, I chose three, one each for the stairs and bedrooms as none. I’m really pleased with the results, they’re much better quality than I’d have been able to afford otherwise and they they do work together. I do have a plan for the downstairs flooring which will be completed in January after the last of the kitchen work.

Windows

The final, and largest development is the installation of some new windows downstairs. This has been ongoing since later summer and was delayed due to import issues caused by, you guessed it, Brexit. I was advised by my contractor that it would be unwise to replace the kitchen sink before replacing any windows as it was a very destructive job. Windows weren’t part of my phase one plan but, given this advice and a good price on the job, I decided to stretch the budget and get two windows installed. I’ve been on tenterhooks for weeks wondering if they would ever actually arrive and when they might be installed but, on Thursday 17th December, it finally happened.

I’m really pleased with the results. Apart from looking good, they’ll improve the light, sound proofing and heat retention. They’ll also keep out the rain, which the old ones didn’t always do. My only regret is that I couldn’t stretch the budget to get all four windows done so the upstairs will be done in the future. There’s some finishing work to be done on both windows, which will be completed when the contractors come back in January to replace the sink. Stand by for another update then…

I’ve been getting on with more niggly jobs recently. The ceiling in the hall has been annoying me since the old partition wall was removed. It left an ugly gash along the width of the ceiling with some deep holes. My first approach was to patch the holes with filler and hope that paint might hide the worst of it. That turned out to be a bit optimistic and the result looked as bad as it sounds. I stripped off the wallpaper as far as I dared and removed the filler and set about making a patch to cover the scar.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that the new light fitting was smack in the middle so my patch had to be in two pieces and go round a light fitting. The result isn’t exactly pretty but it’s a lot better than before and saves the ceiling from a full scale strip down.

The pic is after I painted the ceiling with filler paint. I”ll probably paint it again with a colour.

I’ve mentioned the main plaster wall previously. Although I plan to leave it raw, it does need some more finishing. I applied some more plaster filler to smooth out the worst of the uneven areas and sanded the whole thing down. It just needs to be sealed now.

I also started on the woodwork. The skirtings downstairs had all been painted a grim brown colour. I’m not even sure what it is. It’s somewhere between a thin paint and a stain. I assume the desired effect was something like wood but it’s so poorly applied that it just looks like someone has poured coffee over it all. I really don’t know why they bothered because the underlying colour is a quite acceptable cream/white. There’s also the issue of the louvre door on the under stair cupboard. I hate louvre doors. They have too much surface area, are difficult to paint and just act as dust catchers. This one is backed with flat board on the rear so it doesn’t even function as a normal louvre. Unfortunately my budget doesn’t extended to replacing it just now so it had to be painted.

I’m not delighted with the results of the white paint. It certainly looks better than the brown but the eggshell paint I’m using is quite thin and tends to drip and gather in awkward nooks – of which there are many, especially across the multiple angled faces of the louvre. I’m thinking of applying a third coat in a colour to improve things.

As these areas near completion, I’m starting to think about the other end of the hall, at the front door. There’s an area of uneven, raw wall around the door which I think I might have to cover with lining paper and there’s the main wall which runs up the stairs. Originally, an oversized coat rack was mounted here. I took it down to find this…

Honestly, who wallpapers round a coat rack? This is the kind of thing I find time after time in this house. I’ve resigned myself to living with this hideous wallpaper if I paint it but, seriously, what am I supposed to do with this gash? If I’d realised it was going to be there I’d have kept some of the paper I stripped from elsewhere for a patch.

Suggestions welcome…

One of the down sides of having far too many tasks on the go on a project like this is that some just take a while to get done. While I’ve been working on the bigger aspects of the house, I have also been juggling a few small projects for variety and because sometimes you just need to do something for fun.

As I’m not going to have a fitted kitchen, I’m repurposing some old pieces of shelving for wall storage. I thought I’d give them a consistent look using some chalk paint I bought over the summer. I thought they’d work with the industrial look of the OSB if painted in a slate grey. Inevitably, although chalk painting promises to be straightforward, there’s more to it than I first expected.

Although there’s no sanding involved in Chalk painting, there are a number of stages. Each piece needs at least two coats of paint, they also need to be finished with either wax or lacquer for protection. I quickly got lost between the number of pieces, the number of sides and the number of coats each had. In future I’m going to use some kind of marking system with sticky notes so I can tell what’s at what stage.

The chalk paint is easy enough to apply, but there is a technique. You don’t paint in nice smooth strokes in the same direction, it’s better to paint rapidly in criss-cross fashion, covering as much surface as you can.

After you’ve done all the surfaces as many times as required, it’s time to finish them. I opted to use lacquer as it provides a harder wearing finish (useful for kitchen use) and it doesn’t need to be reapplied (as wax apparently does). Again, this required two coats so I got lost again. Interestingly the lacquer had quite an effect on the colour too. Before finishing, the shelves were a dusky slate grey colour, after lacquering, they are quite a deep grey with a slight sheen.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the result though the finish is more ‘rustic’ than these pictures suggest. I also learned quite a bit about applying paint and lacquer in an environment full of dust, cuttings and shavings, all of which tend to want to stick to every layer of paint or lacquer as it’s applied.

So I managed not to write an update for most of October, largely due to to a slow down in progress due to the October school break. It’s time for another round up of what’s been going on. There’s been quite a bit of progress on decorating as well as some more electrical work and some background discussions on flooring.

Front bedroom

Having finally completed the undercoating of all the walls and woodwork I was able to do some colour testing with Katie and come up with a colour scheme. She opted for a blue/pink combination.

I started by painting the OSB wall in white then improvised a blue ‘splash’ running up the OSB and onto the ceiling. Katie came along to help add the pink. There are a few final decisions required but it’s nearly there. I also painted a first top coat on the skirtings and door.

Electricals

Mark the electrician came back to finish up some jobs, specifically reinstalling the heaters downstairs (which had to wait until the OSB had been varnished), installing a new light in the living room and moving smoke detectors.

Living room

I’ve said before that there’s always another job to do on this house. Generally that’s good because it means I have a variety of things to attend to if I get bored by any one of them. The other side of that is some jobs can stall especially when they are tricky and annoying. One of those is finishing the downstairs ceilings. I’ve documented how bad the walls are and have resisted taking the wallpaper off most of the ceilings for fear of what horrors will be revealed. That means I have a lot of rough and torn wallpaper edges round the tops of all the rooms. I’ve been mulling over what to do about them for weeks and I finally made up my mind to get on with it. They needed to have the worst rough areas trimmed back then any torn or loose parts had to be glued back up with extra strong paste. Even after that, they looked grubby and uneven so I had to find a solution to hide that. Decorator’s caulk turned out to be the answer. It can be squeezed along a thin line, is malleable enough to be spread very thinly and can be painted over. I tried a test section of the living room ceiling and was chuffed to find it worked. That meant I could finally get on with painting. This is still ongoing and the final finish is not quite certain but, so far, I quite like the textural effect…

There haven’t been any huge developments in the last couple of weeks, just a lot of mundane, background jobs like sanding, touching up, scraping etc. The biggest task is, ironically, the least photogenic. I’ve been varnishing the OSB walls. This took a while and involved sanding everything down and then applying two coats of varnish. Award yourself brownie points if you can tell which is before and which is after.

On a more visually interesting level, I sanded and primed the living room inset. This will eventually be shelved. I’m now mulling over ideas for what colour to paint it.

Good grief, it’s October already and there’s still loads to do. Of course all this was supposed to be done by now and I was aiming to be moved in and on to the second phase. Predictably everything takes longer and costs more than you expect so phase one (make the house livable) is very much still ongoing. Here’s what I’ve been up to recently.

Removed the wallpaper from the hall walls and round front door. I’m going to leave the wall in its raw state as it looks pretty interesting. I’m not sure yet what to do with the doorway.

Sanded the woodwork in both bedrooms and painted first primer coat thereby removing all traces of the weak-tea coloured paint that was there before. None of this is exactly pretty but it will become much more interesting in the near future.

There have also been some changes in the garden thanks to various plant themed birthday presents from friends and family. Thanks all.

Finally some rocks I dug out of the garden. There are quite a few of these around and in the other gardens, I think they may have been part of the original boundary wall. Most of the ones in the pic below were buried edge up as a divider. They are actually huge and could be used in all sorts of ways.

Friday 25th September, an important day as the joiners returned to finish off the fireplace. You may recall the last time we saw the fireplace it looked like this…

I didn’t have a specific plan for this area of the room as I wasn’t sure what would be left after the fireplace was removed. I confess I wasn’t expecting quite this level of devastation. Clearly a significant solution was required. Luckily, Mike, my chief contractor, was quick to offer an idea that fitted with the rest of the room and was very cost effective.

Essentially we would replicate the OSB theme from the kitchen but as a single panel across the wreckage of the fireplace and top it off with a rustic shelf.

I’m dead pleased with the result. Yes that it is a scaffolding board used as a shelf. It’s a nice touch that fits with the overall look and it was beautifully sanded by Craig. We even kept the metal corners.

You can also see skirting boards in the earlier pic. I wasn’t originally going to have any but the frankly amazing variations in the floor levels dictated that they were required just to make everything appear level. Craig also installed skirtings round the rest of the OSB walls.

I’m really pleased with the joinery work so far and this isn’t the end, Mike and his team will reappear soon for yet another intriguing development. More on that later…

I should stop calling these posts interludes as the garden is every bit as important as the rest of the project it’s just not quite the top priority just now. That said, plans for the garden are also ongoing and, though I may not start anything structural for a few months, I am developing ideas on what I want to do with it.

Having somewhere to sit is a key part of the garden for me so I’ve been browsing Gumtree for benches for a while now. Unfortunately they are fairly pricey even when used and the majority are really quite ugly, ranging from overly twee and ornate traditional furniture to ‘cooncil’ style utilitarian beasts to home made clunkers built from leftovers and bits of decking. You might think the latter would appeal to me, and they do, but only when done with some imagination and there seems to be very little of that around on my budget.

I was pleased, therefore, to come across this simple but quite elegant bench with some accompanying tables for £40.

I took a quick road trip up to the very pleasant, upmarket Dundee suburb of Broughty Ferry to collect them last Friday night and had them in situ on Saturday. I’ve been happily enjoying the late September sun ever since.

I also started moving in a few items from the old garden so it’s starting to feel like home.

And here’s Dill enjoying the garden…

After last week’s burst of activity, things have been a bit slower this week. Progress has been made and I’ll do a post on that soon but I wanted to share some pictures of a short but impressive day out I had last week.


Thursday was the kind of spectacular September day that’s too good to spend stripping wallpaper or painting. I decided to have a day off and took the dog on the 30 minute drive to Corbenic Poetry Path near Dunkeld.

Set in stunning Pethshire countryside, the path runs for about 3k through varying terrain including woodland, moor and riverside and it’s peppered with imaginative poetry and artwork. It’s a hugely enjoyable and uplifting walk and Corbenic joins my list of favourite outdoor destinations alongside Jupiter Artland and Little Sparta.

Final day of having joiners on site so this would be the exciting completion of nearly all the work for this phase.

Day two finished with the frame being constructed on the outside kitchen wall. This wall was a nightmare of different finishes (lining paper and painted plaster) and wildly varying levels (the bottom of the wall bulged by several centimeters). I might have considered leaving it raw if I could have achieved the look of this stripped area across the whole wall but it wasn’t feasible so it was more effective to cover the whole thing.

Once again OSB was the material of choice. The rest of the frame was constructed in minutes and the whole wall was faced within an hour. Both the joiner and I were well pleased with the result. We both reckon the kitchen now feels much bigger.

Next the loft wall was completed. It’s not pretty but they did a good job in a very awkward space and it is now safe.

The final part of this phase was to hide the two fireplaces in the bedrooms. The chimney had been removed from the house years ago so there was no value to having any real fires. The fireplace in the living room had been replaced by a giant monstrosity which we demolished on day 1 (more of the plan for that later), in the bedrooms the two cast iron fireplaces had been hidden behind ugly, ribbed hardboard in a delightful shade of salmon pink.

The fireplaces were just about the only original feature of the house worth keeping (and even they had been modified or were replacements as ghost shapes of much bigger fire surrounds were visible after the wallpaper was removed) and I would have been happy to use them if there had been some way of doing so. Removing them wasn’t an option due to time and budget (who knows what the patching and clean up job would have been like had they been taken out) so I decided to hide them with a couple more OSB utility walls.

The idea was to create a feature which would be both interesting and make it easier to add functional stuff like sockets, lights, shelves etc without having to negotiate with the variable quality plaster.

The fireplaces were boxed in and the walls constructed around them so they’re still intact if anyone should want to exhume them in the future. In the front bedroom the OSB box goes right to the ceiling, this will allow for maximum flexibility in adding interesting stuff for Katie.

In the other bedroom there were going to be complications due to the proximity to the coomb of the ceiling and also because there are some original cornices left in this room. The solution was to change the depth of the wall by boxing in the lower half then attaching a single sheet of OSB at the top (thanks Chris for the idea). This reduced the complexity of adjusting for the coomb and removed the requirement to cut a complicated shape to accommodate the cornice. It created a very useful mantle shelf in the middle and reduces the slight ‘tombstone’ effect of the OSB box.

Once again the joiner and I were very pleased with this, though I reckon the joiner was just grateful not have have to do all that scribing.

This completed all the work for the phase of the project. It was a very satisfying but hugely intense week. Keeping up with overseeing multiple workmen, making dozens of decisions and putting up with Radio 1 blaring out at deafening volume for 6-7 hours a day took its toll on me. The final job for me was to remove debris which had accumulated in the garden over the week. Thanks again to Chris for taking particular care over the breaking and clearing up of all the panes of old glass.

I hired a van so I could get rid of it then make a road trip to Ikea in Glasgow the next day for some vital fittings for the kitchen.

One final job which was not completed was the replacement for the living room fireplace. After the demolition, it was clear that a substantial solution would be required and that nothing original could be kept and the wall is so packed with rubble and other material that it will have to be held in with something. Thankfully Mike the contractor came up with an industrial styled solution (involving yet more OSB…) that will do the job. They’ll be back to finish that soon.