Our takeaways: End of series round up
with Amy and Jane
In this bonus episode we take a moment to look back on the second series of Stories from Site.
We chat through the common themes that emerged and discuss our favourite top tips from our guests.
Amy: Hi everyone. Welcome to our end of series episode where Jane and I are going to be rounding up all the top tips that our home renovators have shared this season.
Firstly, thanks to everyone who’s made this podcast possible, especially Drench, our lovely sponsors, and of course our wonderful guests who without them this wouldn’t be possible. And also to all of you who’ve listened and left reviews and messaged us we are so glad to have you with us, and we’re so glad that you like this podcast.
So Jane, let’s begin by talking about some of the themes that have run through this season.
Jane: The first I think, which stands out to me is the fact that three of our renovators had contractors who either got into financial difficulties, or went bust or disappeared. And I, I think that to me, was quite striking.
We didn’t choose them because they had had those experiences that came totally randomly. And actually those renovations happened over quite a broad timeframe. Alex’s project was quite a few years ago now.
Jane: But I think it just shows that small contractors and the way that they work their work can be quite precarious and the way that they are running multiple projects. And the unforeseen events that can happen for those contractors can quickly push them into financial difficulties.
So I think it is just interesting to talk about that.
Amy: One thing that comes to mind is the fact that you want to be in a position where you haven’t paid for more than they’ve done on site and just how key that that is.
Jane: I think also the contract is interesting because Katie and Stewart both, both brought up the contract and Katie was obviously very frustrated that there was nothing that they could do, that they had lost their contractor. The contractor had disappeared, but that there wasn’t any kind of recourse for that and again, Stewart kind of emphasized the same point that, you know, you could go after somebody legally, but really what good is that if your contractor doesn’t have the funds as he said, and you can sue the pants off your contractor, but if they don’t have any pants, what’s the point also, or something to that remark. And, I do agree there is a, you know, that is a very frustrating situation.
But actually not to, not to take that and think, well, what’s the point in having a contract? I think contracts are extremely useful. But it’s actually in a slightly different way. So having a contract helps you iron out exactly what your agreement is with your contractor, which means that everybody is so much more secure in what is going to be provided for the money and checking you’ve got your insurance and you know, doing all that due diligence, your contract really helps you do that. So it is already, reducing the risk of something going wrong.
So, not to do away with your contracts, just because sometimes things go wrong.
Amy: Yeah, I mean, I guess personally because we were the architects for Alex’s project I think the fact that the builder didn’t disappear and he kind of just really owned up to what was happening, really enabled the rest of the team to come around and kind of, brainstorm ha a way through. But I do remember a time where I just really breathing deeply and thinking, right.
We just all have to stay focused on the task in hand and not get distracted by. How did this happen? Whose fault it was? And kind of going into this almost like a blame cycle, but we did all come together to get through. And I think it’s so easy in that kind of situation to go into defensive mode, I guess. And, looking back, it’s still so remarkable that that didn’t happen.
I think that the relationship that you’re talking about with the contractor is also played into another theme that came through this series, which was the retrofit process.
Jane: So two projects were retrofitting, which is upgrading the existing property to make it more energy efficient, and currently that requires a learning curve from the contractor. And so it does require a little bit of communication and trust between the parties that are involved in that so that you can get to the level that’s required.
And I thought that was interesting that, that, that just builds on that relationship as well to get the retrofit aspect of the project built.
Amy: On that topic. I think what was interesting about Stewart was the fact that he invested in the modeling part of Retrofit so that he could actually see, okay, I’m, if I invest this amount, then I’m gonna get this back. Or the payback period is this. And I think that’s just. That takes a lot of the worry and anxiety out of, do I go for it or do I not go for it?
You can kind of look at the facts and just think, okay, that’s worth doing. That’s not worth doing, you know, and I, I really liked that approach. Yeah.
Jane: I mean, we called it taking a leap of faith because to invest that money early on when you know that you’ve got so much, so many things that you, you want to spend that money on. It does require a bit of a mental leap, like we said, but it does pay off in, being secure in your decisions.
Amy: Faye actually talked about that as well, cuz she needed a little bit of convincing by Christian to go for the ventilation stuff. And I thought that was quite interesting because it is difficult when you see the price tag and most of us haven’t experienced what a really good internal environment feels like.
So, you know, you do think. Why do you need this? It, it feels like an extravagant thing, but I I love that her feedback now is just like, yes, worth every penny.
Jane: Stewart said the same, didn’t he. To be honest, we’ve been interested in the retrofit process and we’ve been quite invested in talking about the benefits. But again, just hearing them talk about it, was extremely convincing because I even though we’re kind of into this topic, I might have questioned doing that for my own projects, but if I ever get the opportunity having heard their kind evangelical response to it, then that is something that I would consider.
Amy: But I think that the problem is, is because we’ve all got limited budgets, haven’t we? And we are asking that budget to do more than it’s ever had to do before. And so, adding in now the retrofit stuff, which feels so important and valuable. But it’s on top of a really long list already of kind of things that are necessary.
I think renovating today is a bit tricky. Yeah.
Jane: Yeah, it’s becoming more and more loaded, isn’t it? With, with different aspects. But I’m, I’m really hoping that the more we talk about how people do it and the more normalized it becomes and the more contractors that are comfortable with working in that way, it will just become another aspect of the budget.
And, you know, an investment in the future of the house that you’re gonna get back in your energy savings and comfort. Yeah, just like you really, really want X, Y, Z feature. It will become another on the list, I hope.
Amy: The other overriding theme from this series that came through to me was planning. Planning ahead, which is nice because that’s what we are always talking about and banging on about. But if you think about it lots of the guests, this time were talking about it, so Jess, Alex, Temi and Eugene.
What do you think?
Jane: Yeah, Temi and Eugene really caught my attention with that one. I just loved how much they had really thought through every aspect of their project and how clear it was that that work that they had done upfront, directly correlated to their contractor being able to deliver that for them.
Amy: And that they could see that as well.
Jane: Yeah. quite often when we’re talking about it, it feels a little bit over the top perhaps. Like, do you really need to do all that work? But it is, it’s directly linked to, what you get out of the project, the more thought and energy and time you put into going through those different scenarios, imagining how you’re going to live in a space, doing your own research into, you know, for example, the flooring levels and what they wanted to achieve.
It really did mean that all of those things happened. And without having that thought process, maybe some of those things would’ve happened but you, you can’t know for sure. And like you said, when you were investing so much money, you only want to do that once and you wanna get it right.
And I guess also, I liked Alex’s cake comment that, you know, you need all the correct ingredients to make your cake, but that you only get to bake it once.
And that’s so true. You know, you’ve kind of been a bit haphazard in how you measured out the flour and it might not turn out how you wanted. And so I thought that was a nice analogy.
Amy: Yeah. It is true because I think also if you’ve done a renovation before, you can think, oh, we are making the same. It’s the same recipe, it’s the same cake, but actually it is always a slightly different, different cake that you’re making. So, which I think adds a complexity to the process.
Yeah, I think for me personally as well, I was inspired by Jess cuz I thought what was interesting about her home is how, joyful and kind of spontaneous it looks with the interiors, but actually how planned that was and how thoughtfully designed it was. And there’s a lot of time that goes into creating an interior that feels balanced and joyful. And I, I, that just came across to me.
I would feel confident to use color maybe, but not pattern as well. And I think what’s interesting with her is her strategy of having a repeating palette of motifs and colors throughout the home and even out into the garden, it makes so much sense to me.
And I think, yeah, it just comes across that it’s, it’s bold and it’s different, but it’s still really calm. And I think the reason it’s so successful it’s because of that planning that she’s put in. And yeah, I felt inspired to get a paintbrush out, actually.
Jane: From the same conversation, I I was thinking about the fact that you have to be brave, to be prepared, to be so specific about what you want and to follow that through. So the same with the courtyard tiles, how she’d mapped out every color and where it should be, and she wasn’t afraid to say to the contractor.
Follow this, this, I’ve, I’ve done this, you know, think it’s quite tempting to want to do that, but when it comes to it, you’re like, oh, just do the tiling. Like make it, you know, make it random. And I think you have to be brave to follow through on what you want to be achieved. And like she said, If something’s not been done correctly, especially from a technical point as she was saying about the drainage to the courtyard wasn’t draining properly, you know, to be brave enough to go back and say, you know what?
This isn’t right and I need you to do it again. I think all of that plays into this, this looking kind of quite free and easy, but that there’s a lot of work that goes into to making something look like that.
Amy: Yeah, absolutely.
Jane: Should we do the top tips because there were so many nuggets that came from our renovators this season and I’d like to pull a few of them out.
Amy: Yeah, go for it.
Jane: Things that I took from Katie’s experience, just keeping things in perspective. Just this idea that when you are in a renovation, everything becomes so magnified. And you can become very obsessive and insular about the process that you’re in and getting everything totally perfect.
But you know, as she says, things that you feel are extremely important at the time because you’re so focused on them, that actually when you take a step back later, things aren’t as important as you think they are. And, you know, whatever the situation that you find yourself in, obviously she was in quite a tricky situation, that you’re gonna get, get through that and that you’re gonna come out of the other side and that it’s only a temporary space.
And I, I thought that was really helpful for people to have in their minds.
Amy: I think the top tip I would take from Stewart was if you’re gonna do a retrofit, you’re gonna wanna get an architect that’s experienced by your side. And I think it comes across in his episode just how pivotal and crucial the architect’s role is in delivering his project and, and the trust that he put in the architect to do that.
He says, doesn’t he if you’re gonna spend a fair amount of money, you’re gonna want a professional sat by your side getting the most out of the money that you’ve got. And I think, yeah, that, that I think is very true.
Jane: Yep, we’ve just spoken about Jess, really, I think just the idea of working things out ahead of time. And again, if you have what you want to achieve, clear in your mind when your contractor comes to you to ask questions. It will make site run so much smoother because you’ll have the answers there to give them so that they can do their job properly.
And I think that is something that makes the contractor homeowner relationship really successful is when you have the answers prepared.
Amy: What about Christian and Fay? I think one thing that struck me from them was the difference between what things cost and their value. And I thought that was just such an interesting concept to really think about.
Jane: Yeah, I think for some elements, spending the extra money is really worth it. And obviously from, for their situation, the retrofit work that they put in and the ventilation system that they did was an extra cost, but it gave them, really good value for money.
It’s about having the research and the knowledge to invest your money in the right places know the places where you can, can spend less. Yeah.
Amy: Yeah, I guess with Alex’s I think my top tip from him was if you’re renovating with a partner, just to do all that hashing out and all of that discussion before you start the build and that you need to figure out what compromise you are willing to make when you’re planning the project because I guess the whole process of renovating will test your ability to compromise.
Jane: Yeah, if you are disagreeing about fundamental aspects of the project before you really get into it, you need to resolve those differences, hopefully before the project gets started in earnest, but definitely before project starts on site, because those differences are not gonna go away, and they’re going to be big points of tension and you don’t really have time to be hashing that out in the middle of a build project.
So yeah, and doing that process earlier, as earlier as, as you can do it and work out where, yeah, where those compromises are, will, will be really beneficial to getting your project to go as smoothly as possible on site.
Amy: I guess the last one, Tammy and Eugene I mean, there’s so many tips that I would like to talk about from them.
I guess for me, maybe the one is checking the practical fundamentals of the house. So when Temi talks about the electrics and how the existing electrics needed upgrading and they were in a really bad state and how they’d actually done other work first before in, instead of checking that out and just how that has to be a priority in terms of safety before getting onto the visual stuff. And I think it’s easy when you’ve got a limited budget or you just wanna get on, everyone at the beginning of our project is just highly motivated and you wanna get to the end point, don’t you?
But just taking that time to really make sure that the fundamentals are in place is just crucial.
Jane: Yeah, definitely. I think it, it’s not rocket science, but I really loved the concept of physically marking out the spaces and really seeing what you’re gonna get and where it’s going to go. Because I think as architects we’re used to looking at drawings and planning things out in in that way.
But actually to just get the masking tape out and literally mark out the space, it really does allow you to plan in a different way.
It’s probably better to actually think about the space in 3D and work it out that way. I really like that as a, as a tip.
Amy: I really liked Temi’s approach to budgeting and especially I thought her top tip about asking for discount from your suppliers was a great one because I think it’s true. What’s the worst they can say? They, they can say no, but actually I think they had quite a big floor area and so it meant that they actually, the suppliers were happy to give them a bit of a discount and that enabled her to buy other things that she wanted, like the quooker tab.
And yeah, I just think that strategy of where you spend your money, has to work for you and just yeah, I just thought that that was really good.
Jane: Final ones from Temi and Eugene. I love this because this is what we do obviously for our job, but stalking the planning portal. If you really wanna know what you can get and what you can do, go on the planning portal, look in your local area. And don’t forget to look at the things that have been refused, because that’s really gonna tell you what’s gonna upset the planners. And going into that process with just that really solid knowledge is is really good because it means you’re much more likely to get approval and then absolutely, finally, I just, I really love the notes so renovating is a bit of a game of working out what you want to achieve, but then giving that information to your contractor in the right way and at the right time, and, we often get asked by people like, when are we gonna, when’s the time that we talk about this?
Or when’s the time that we get to work out that? And it can be the same with your architect and your contractor. When do you tell them all the important things that you want included? And I think rather than just having them all in your head, as Temi said, every time you’ve got an idea about something or something that you want to be included, note it down for yourself.
And then you are always gonna have that list that you can keep bringing up. And know, you might be told, well, we’re not dealing with that yet. And you like, okay, well we’ll bring it up in a next few weeks. And just to keep a note of that so that you can keep those things in the mind of your architect or contractor is really important.
Amy: Yeah, that’s so true.
So, thanks everyone for being with us for this bonus episode and just to say Series 3 is going to be coming out at the end of May, so, look out for that. And obviously if you are out there thinking that you’d love to talk about your renovation, then please do contact us. We’d love to hear from you. And yeah, we’re so excited to be bringing more Stories from Site to you guys so that we can all learn from other renovations.
If you’ve enjoyed listening to this series, then please do support us by adding a review. It massively helps us get seen and share these stories with as many renovators as possible.
Our closing thoughts:
We have loved chatting and listening to our amazing guests and finding out about their renovation journeys.
If you would like to talk to us about your renovation, we’d love to hear from you! Get in touch with us here.
View more episodes
13. How communication can get you the home you envisage
This week we talk with Temi and Eugene about their process of creating the perfect home to suit their family life, both now and in the future.
12. What to do when your contractor becomes insolvent
We talk with Alex, a client from the early years of our architecture practice, who despite undertaken lots of preparation work to ensure the project ran smoothly, faced their contractor becoming insolvent just 6 weeks before completion.
11. Balancing home and garden: when retrofit meets design
This week we chat to Christian and Faye, an architect and garden designer who became each other’s clients when they decided to renovate a studio flat with a generous garden.
10. An eye for detail: And why you shouldn’t leave it all to chance
This week we talk with Jess who didn’t have the budget or even find the interior fittings she wanted, so set about making them herself.
9. Taking the leap to retrofit your home
This week we talk to Stewart who together with his wife Fiona relocated to make a forever home, only to begin on an epic retrofit journey.
8. Holding on to the vision when your builder disappears
We talk to Katie who started a loft extension only for her main contractor to disappeared after taking her roof off . . .
7. Our takeaways: End of series round up
In this bonus episode, Amy and Jane round up their takeaways and lessons leant from the first-ever series of Stories from Site.
6. Using your professional skills to make your forever home
We talk to Sandra who renovated a forever home for her retirement after downsizing.
Sandra had a really clear vision for the space she wanted to create and used her professional skills, coupled with some additional training, to create a stylish and social home for this next stage in her life.
5. ‘Doing it yourself’ to get the home you want
What started out as a necessity due to budget constraints became an expression of Jess’s passion for interiors and design. Showing if you can’t get someone to do it for you then you can do it for your self instead!
4. A joyful renovation: You just need the right people
We talk with Elesa and Steve who who found a run-down house that needed a complete back-to-brick renovation. They had the best experience renovating, and not a lot of people end up saying that! Find out the secret to their success in this week’s episode!
3. The self-finished renovation with Lydia from Fettle Studio
Today we’re chatting to Lydia about the extension and renovation of her one bedroom flat in London. Lydia is an architect and ceramicist with her own practice Fettle Studio. Together with her partner architect, Dan Ruddick, they wanted to wholeheartedly get involved in the build process.
2. Taking on the challenge of being a main contractor
We recently caught up with Nick and Dawn past clients of ours and reflected back on the project we did together. With some experience in construction project management, they took on the role of being the main contractor and employed separate trades to help them complete the works, all while juggling full-time jobs and having a baby.
1. Project managing a renovation during lockdown with Kirsty
This week we talk to Kirsty about managing a renovation direct with her builder while home schooling and a full time job.
Stories from Site Podcast . . . coming soon
Each week in ‘Stories from Site’, we’ll be finding out what home renovators really went through to make their dream homes a reality.