I couldn’t tell you how many times I get asked ‘how on earth did you cope with two babies in a caravan whilst doing up your house?’ The honest answer. I don’t really know. But I did, and I’m still here to tell the story!
But looking back, it was something I agreed to with complete ignorance. I think it’s fair to say it’s an understatement to call Luke a ‘handyman’, as he is much more than just ‘handy’, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my husband. He is a qualified plumber, that’s his main trade, but he specialises in property renovations. He has done quite a few for clients now, but admittedly never his own.
Our first home was a one bed coach house, which he transformed into a two bed with a garage conversion downstairs that became our kitchen/living area, but that was a well overdue project. It became a joke amongst our friends who’d ask me in front of Luke when he was going to finish the kitchen. This project took about 6 years and was only completed as we were selling. But in all fairness to Luke, he does have a full time job to do so all the ‘handy work’ he does on our home, is done in his spare time.
Spare time isn’t something you have much of when you have children. Can you see where I am going with this one.
So going back to our current home, our ‘still’ pink home, Our Pink Project, which I’ve fondly named it due to the peeling pink paint on the outside of the property. Which, we’ve had sandblasted, but Luke the perfectionist still feels the need to go over the whole property himself ready for painting. still not completed, but totally liveable. No longer are we residing in an unheated caravan with a shower that lets the rain in, a cooker that you have to stick your arm in to light with a match and a toilet that has slugs in. Yes this was our living conditions for over two years. An original promise my husband made to me was that we’d live in the caravan for ‘just a couple of months’. This, I could just about deal with, but two years?! Well that’s what happened, two years at which point we even brought our new born baby, Wilfred home too.
I distinctly recall viewing the cottage for the first time, walking around, listening to Luke talking through all of the walls he’d knock down, moving doors and adding rooms. Meanwhile I was just clocking up the pound signs and thinking about how much time it would take. But for some reason I agreed.
The decision to live on site, even though the living conditions were pretty unsavory gave me a chance to see the progress. So at times when I’d have a mini meltdown (and trust me, these were quite often), I could just look out the window and remind myself what all of this was for. I think this helped a lot. The start is probably the hardest. It’s exciting when you’ve got the keys, the property is yours and one of the first things you do is rip down that old 1970’s flowery wallpaper, some of the old brown and orange curtains and start dreaming about putting your own stamp on the place. But once that initial excitement turns to realisation that the point at which you will be choosing curtains is probably a very long way off. Reality sets in and that question that you will be asked more times than you’ll ever imagine, ‘when do you think it’ll be ready to move in?’ starts to become the norm.
Then there’s the spreadsheet. It’ll become your right arm throughout your project, you document everything on this, listing all those little jobs and materials, the timeframe and then don’t forget to add in that ‘total cost’ column. Unfortunately I have this incurable condition which prevents me from choosing the cheapest or most reasonable item for sale. But why are the nicest things always the most expensive? This causes a lot of arguments in our household, but in most cases (agree not all), they’re usually the things that last the longest or are just better quality. Or have I just brainwashed myself having had to say this to Luke so many times when he questions me. This is a debilitating condition when renovating a property though, because any budget you may have had, you can kiss goodbye. Instead, do the essential rooms first. The bathroom, the kitchen and then the bedrooms. However we didn’t take this particular advice, and did a few things backwards, utilising the caravan kitchen for as long as possible.
A friend who had also been through a full house renovation said, once you start seeing plastered walls, you’re nearly there. She was right, at this point it feels as if everything is coming together. But the journey to that pint felt never ending at times! When we had discovered we had a pretty bad damp problem downstairs and ended up digging a few feet out of the floor, things really looked like they would never end. This wasn’t a one off unfortunately, but I think in the grand scheme of things we were pretty lucky as nothing too serious happened. Unless you count the chimney falling down.
On move in day, we had a bathroom, we had bedrooms and a sitting room, but no kitchen. Instead, we’d do the walk from the house to the caravan for cups of tea/ cooking. It was a great way to cut down on unnecessary grazing and curb my 20 a day green tea habit, but it was pretty tough with a toddler and a baby in tow. So we made a makeshift kitchen in part of the kitchen area, this made a huge difference to our quality of living. We even bought a mini cooker which had two hobs on top, so we could still cook hot food.
Plastic boxes became our savours. We invested in loads of them. Also those plastic storage shelves with the drawers for organising things. We used the plastic boxes and shelves to store food (clear ones, so we could see what we had), and enormous black ones for clothes, toys and shoes. We used the caravan as a bit of a storage unit to start with and then slowly moved everything into the house.
Brand new carpets were laid. Cream carpets. So with works still very much ‘still in progress’, we were keen to make sure the carpets stayed cream. Luke laid lots of clear plastic sheeting over all of the carpeted rooms, and the stairs. If we were potty training, this was the time to do it!
We painted the entire house white, just so that it was painted and ready to move in and we could make decisions once we were in. I’m glad we did it this way. So many people say that you should try and ‘live’ in a space before you decide on how it’s going to look. For me, this couldn’t have been any truer. I think rooms are a bit like people, they’re all different and all have their own personalities. How can you know what they’re going to be like without spending some time in them (the room that is).
Moving into the cottage couldn’t have come soon enough, but works on the house still hadn’t finished at move in day, and even though Luke had tried to get a lot of the dirty and dusty jobs out of the way, there were still things that had to be completed. So this meant dust storms of varying degrees throughout the house. At one time in my life this would have sent me over the edge but everything can be cleaned (and it was!) Several times. Living in such chaos and uncertainty, which pretty much sums up a house renovation, means you have to try and avoid letting things totally out of your control bother you. And if there’s one big piece of advice I can offer you, it’s that most things during a home reno from timescales, materials, costs and trades turning up are all pretty much things completely out of your control and be prepared that these will not always be on time/ to budget or will be delayed. But what’s important is to remember, it will be done, because you’ll make sure it will.
Having lived in the caravan we had to embrace the minimalist life. Having a toddler and baby in the caravan and all the baby paraphernalia that they come with meant Luke and I had to sacrifice a lot of our own belongings just to fit theirs in. So when we finally moved into the house, opening boxes with our belongings in was an amazing feeling but also brought about some feelings of shame. I had so much stuff. Stuff I hadn’t used or needed or even remembered I had, had in over two years (some of it longer as it had been packed up and put in storage when we sold our first house). So I can honestly say that living in the caravan and undergoing a home renovation has been truly humbling. I wrote a blog post on this too ‘My life cleanse and why I don’t need things to make me happy’. It has definitely made me appreciate what I have, what we have and how lucky we are. For so many, our living conditions in terms of space and everything else in that caravan and even our makeshift kitchen in the house, are some peoples’ way of living. They have no choice.
So from those dark days, the arguments me and Luke had over when the house would be ready, the days I was ready to throw the towel in and book into a hotel or sell up and go and buy a new build so we could move straight in and I could start choosing curtains… and now, I’m writing this and can confidently say, I’d do it again. I would. This isn’t our forever home. We never planned for it to be, although we’re not planning on moving anytime soon, but I now know I couldn’t ever buy a house and move straight in. I’d need to knock down a few walls first! I’ve actually really enjoyed reconfiguring our entire house and making it our own. Now I feel like I know what to expect though, so will that make it any easier? I don’t know whether ignorance is actually bliss. But, one thing I do know is, I’ll be making sure we buy a much newer model of caravan (with central heating and double glazing), with no slugs next time!