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 The fireplace in the living room had been replaced by a giant monstrosity which we demolished on day 1 (more of the plan for that later), in the bedrooms the two cast iron fireplaces had been hidden behind ugly,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.

Day 2 continued at a similar pace to day 1 with the electrician returning to run cables through the new wall as the joiner started to fit the second side. I’m learning that getting what you want from trades on a project like this is a constant negotiation and a fight against established working habits. My OSB wall is designed to be functional – it has to bear the weight of shelves, units and kitchen utensils as well has as hosting cables for sockets, switches and other electrical services – but it’s also intended to be a feature. I chose OSB for it’s raw/industrial appearance and I also wanted it to be an architectural feature of the house.

There’s a lot wrong with a 100+ year old house and it’s not easy to achieve a modern look on the limited budget I have. The original design of the wall included gaps to allow light through along the top and insets (created by leaving out parts of one side of the wall) to act as display and utility shelves. I quickly learned that there are technical constraints (such as the need to run cables from the top and bottom of the wall) as well as construction practices (stud walls generally have uprights at 600mm intervals regardless of the overall dimensions) which dictate how a design can be achieved. There are also conceptual issues which could result in the tradesmen being reluctant to build a design.

This isn’t quite what happened here but the joiner was reluctant to implement my ‘gappy’ design which he thought was nuts. After some polite diplomacy and a bit of compromise, we agreed a solution and the wall was completed. You can see the asymmetrical gaps in the pictures. There are further developments to come which will happen at the decoration stage of the project. I realise now that the success of even a straightforward project (as I thought this was…) relies as much on the co-operation of the tradesmen as much as their skill.

The next job was installing a fireproof wall in the loft. For reasons unknown, the loft had never been separated from one of the other houses in the terrace and so was effectively shared, as was the risk of fire, so it’s a critical, though not very interesting, job.

The wall will be completed tomorrow along with the final jobs, featuring yet more OSB, stay tuned!

One of the things I haven’t mentioned much on here is the amount of research and planning that’s going on in the background. In week one I mentioned visits from electricians and joiners. While the electrical work has gone well the joinery has taken a lot longer to get going. From the beginning I’ve been planning some major changes which depended on taking down and installing new walls and facings. It’s taken nearly three months and two joiners but we finally got started on the work today.

There’s a lot to be done:

  • demolition of the old partition wall and removal of the glass door
  • removal of the remaining kitchen unit
  • demolition of the fireplace
  • construction of a new partition wall in kitchen
  • re-facing of the other kitchen wall
  • construction of two feature walls in the bedrooms
  • construction of a fire safety wall in the loft

A reminder of the old kitchen partition wall…

And the demolition…

Followed by some construction

The new wall is built from OSB which has the advantage of being cheap, looking good and not requiring a lot of finishing. I really like the texture and colour of OSB, possibly something to do with growing up in a converted farmhouse where we had loads of it. It’s not typically used for domestic work but there’s a growing trend for it’s use in interiors and it seems to lend itself to imaginative applications. What you see here is more or less the finished surface though there will be quite a few more developments in the structure and function of the wall.

And so to the fireplace. This has been a thorny issue since the start. There was no way I could keep something as big and ugly as this but taking it out was bound to leave a huge hole and a mess requiring a creative solution. Just how much of a mess and a solution couldn’t be predicted until the demolition was done.


And the demolition…

As you can see, the results are pretty horrific. Mercifully, Mike (doing the demolition here) came up with a creative and cost effective solution which we’ve added to the schedule. Day one complete. More exciting developments tomorrow…

I haven’t mentioned the back bedroom very much as it’s basically being used as a storeroom for bits of kitchen equipment. Now that a visit from the joiners is a likely prospect, it occurred to me that I needed to start getting this room in shape in readiness.

The room is a similar size as the the front bedroom but has a giant built-in wardrobe and has lost an area in the corner due to the addition of the mad wetroom.

It needs basically the same work as the other bedroom except that the original coving is intact and I don’t feel the need to remove the woodchip wallpaper from the ceiling. Otherwise it’s wallpaper stripping, patching and repainting again.

As with the other rooms, there’s a fair bit of damage to the plaster and yet more patching and caulking will be required. One of the intriguing surprises in here was the remnants of a silver coated square stuck to the wall over the fireplace. I have no idea what it was for but it took nearly an hour of steaming and scraping to remove. Only one wall needs to be finished ahead of the arrival of the joiners so I’ve given it a first coat, the improvement is gratifying.

I also found a few more plasterer’s scribbles under the wallpaper. Comments please on what this might be…

Continuing my quick roundup. There’s been good progress in the front bedroom after the final removal of the wallpaper. I started painting the undercoat but was still concerned about the amount of uneven and damaged plaster – there isn’t a room in the house with undamaged plaster, I suppose that’s what you get with 100+ year old houses, but I really wish someone had taken a bit more care when fixing things rather than just bodging and covering up the problems. I then discovered Filler Paint (thanks Anne!) which creates a kind of adhesive coating which fills in cracks. It isn’t perfect – nothing but a full re-skim could cover some of these problems – but it does have a stabilising effect on the walls. This stuff is specifically for ceilings but all the walls could do with a bit of help so I’ve started using it everywhere as a first coat. The upstairs bedroom is now starting to look habitable though there’s still quite a bit of filling and further coats to go.

The main development in the kitchen is that there’s now hardly anything left. I’ve been negotiating (very slowly due to Covid and, you know, tradesmen…) with a joiner over demolishing the remainder of the kitchen and rebuilding it with something more functional. I’m hopeful this is now close to happening, after which the rest of the downstairs should progress at speed. I’ll do a separate post on this soon. Effectively, all work in the kitchen is aimed at getting ready for joiners to come in.

The sink has turned out to be a mini-project on its own. The installed sink is an ancient, wrapover unit which was too big for the space. To make it fit they demolished a chunk of the plaster wall and replastered the new sink in meaning that a) the wall is already compromised and b) the old sink can’t be removed without damaging the wall further and plastering. Underneath, plumbing for the washing machine takes up the left hand side of the space and the waste outflow pipe takes up the right so the chances of my getting a dishwasher under here are low. Again, something for a future post.

Did a lot of work filling and patching the exterior wall in the living room with help from my dad. It’s one of the worst in the house, crumbling, full of patches and very, very uneven.

On the left the wall in patched and pre-painted state. On the right after a first pass with paint.

I’ve also been gradually working away at the inset bookshelf nook. It had multiple layers of wallpaper and paint. I finally managed to burn it all off with the heat gun.

Things have been a bit quiet round here recently due to the fact that WordPress suddenly took exception to the scale of my pics – possibly due to the fact that I started using a new phone with higher image quality and I was laid low for an entire week with a bug. I did have another post on the way but it’s been superseded. I’ve been doing a lot all over the house so I’m going to do a quick series of room by room updates to catch up.

I’ve also given the site a new background images for a bit of variety. Give yourself extra points if you know where this comes from…

So we’ve achieved a sort of milestone, we began painting yesterday. This marks the turning point between the destructive and constructive parts of the project. The upstairs bedroom has reached a point where, with some more filling and wiping down, the undercoat can now start to be applied to the plaster. Needless to say this feels like a huge psychological step forward as we can now see some positive results even though there’s still much destruction to be done.

This is the test wall, filled, sanded and washed with liquid soap.

The kid gets involved in painting her room…

The end result may appear almost identical however we painting with watered down paint which is the recommended first step with unskimmed plaster. Next step is to fill and sand the rest of the room and continue painting.

I’m happy to report that the upstairs bedroom is now wallpaper free (with the exception of a tiny are behind the heater). This feels like something of a milestone after the ongoing battle that was stripping it all. I can now see the state of the raw plaster – which is a bit variable as you can see. Some filling required but it’s not too bad.