Halfway There: Reflecting on the journey so far
This week we chat with Lauren, a first-time renovator, whose partner’s electrician skills are coming in handy as they tackle the ambitious task of updating their 1970’s home.
Lauren shares her experiences of living without a proper kitchen, getting cozy with her microwave, and not having a retreat space during the renovation chaos.
As we catch up with her midway through her renovation journey, having just completed the kitchen extension and gearing up for the rest of her home, Lauren reflects on the accomplishments achieved so far.
Amy: Welcome to Stories from Site, the renovation podcast that digs a little deeper. I’m Amy Dohnalek and together with my co-host Jane Middlehurst we peek behind the curtains of those insta-worthy interiors to bring you the real processes people went through to make their dream homes a reality.
This week we chat with Lauren, a first time renovator whose partner’s electrician skills are coming in handy as they tackle updating their 1970s home.
As we catch up with her midway through her renovation journey, having just completed the kitchen extension and gearing up for the rest of her home, Lauren reflects on the accomplishments achieved so far.
Do you want to start where you’re based and what your renovation is?
Lauren: Yeah, sure. So we’re based in a little village just outside of Norwich, And the project itself is what was the 1970s house. And we have put on a kitchen extension at the back, which is the main bulk of the work and the renovation.
That is nearly finished coming to the end of that now, hopefully. And then the rest of the house just needs like updating more than anything. Nothing really in the rest of the house was structural. Just one wall, to be taken out between a bathroom and toilet but the rest of the house just needs seriously updating it has artex all over the walls and green carpet and all nice big 1970s windows, those sorts of things.
So it’s more cosmetic for the rest of the house.
Amy: And what was your strategy for renovating?
Lauren: In hindsight, looking back, probably didn’t really have much of a strategy, to be honest and that’s kind of what I’m learning as we sort of go through this process. This is our first renovation. So, I don’t think we probably planned things as well as we could have done now looking back.
But we knew we wanted a project and my husband is an electrician by trade. So he’s quite hands on and practical and he likes to get really stuck in and sort of give things a go. So we knew we wanted something that we could add our own sort of spin to something that needed updating. And we wanted something that we could add value to.
And I guess when we decided to take on a project and start looking, that was probably the extent of our sort of strategy or find something that we can add some value to that doesn’t look like it needs an absolute complete overhaul.
And then just sort of see how we go really.
Jane: Did you start immediately? Or how long did it take you to actually get going?
Lauren: Yeah, no. So we didn’t start immediately. We moved in, in February 2021. So we’d, we made use of the, the government’s stamp duty holiday That was kind of one of the big sort of pushes for us to think, oh, now’s the time because we’d been thinking about, doing it for a couple of years, but it made sense to, you know, to make use of that opportunity.
But we were also during that period of COVID supposed to be getting married. So we were originally due to get married at the end of 2020. And then obviously that got postponed until later in 2021. So by the time we moved in,
we were about six or seven months away from the wedding.
And I just at that point, I couldn’t deal with trying to think about the two things at once. So we thought we’ll move and we’ll get the wedding. Out of the way, so to speak, and then we’ll focus on on the house. So we did in that time, you know, sort of put through our planning application and all that sort of stuff.
So that was all going on in the background, but we didn’t actually start the work until the wedding was over.
Did you work with a local architect to get the planning application?
Lauren: Yeah, we did actually. Yeah, quite, quite local to us. It was handy in the sense that they were recommended by a friend of ours who’d used them and were really, really happy with them. And also they’d done some projects locally in our village. So they kind of, you know, knew how the council worked and what they’d want and that sort of stuff.
So that was quite a straightforward process with the architect.
We did just go through the planning application. Twice in a sense, because we originally put plans in for a double story extension. And then we quite quickly realized that we probably wouldn’t be able to afford that. So resubmitted for just the ground floor extension.
That again was probably one of the the things I do differently in the sense that we came up with what we wanted. Did the plans, then got a builder to come around and have a little look and say, Oh, you might be looking in the region of this amount.
Whereas, you know, hindsight says probably should have got the builder over first, had a little look and decided whether or not we could afford it in the first place.
Amy: So how did it work Because you’re talking about how your husband is an electrician and that he did some of the works but did you also get a builder? Can you explain a bit about the build?
Lauren: Yeah, sure. Yeah. So yeah, we did, we did have a builder again recommended by a friend of ours who had used him before. So it was, we knew they were happy with his work. And, we got on really well with him. We were really pleased with him because he was, you know, it wasn’t like a big building company or anything.
It was literally just like a small local independent builder who worked just himself for the majority of the work. And then he would have you know, an extra pair of hands come and help him for jobs that needed, more than two sets of hands, But yeah, the bulk of the work he built.
Just just himself, which was quite, you know, interesting to watch. Actually, I’ve never, you know, done building work before or anything like that. And I never really considered that, you know, one single person could build a house basically, but he did.
Amy: that’s amazing.
Lauren: It was quite impressive to watch, but yeah, so he did the build of the extension and got it to the point of being plastered.
And then my husband and I have done some other bits and pieces. So like we laid the underfloor heating, obviously my husband did all the wiring He’s done a bit of plumbing in the house with some bits and pieces. So he’s done, he’s done a lot and he will give most things a go with the help of Google.
Jane: it just helps being a, a trades person working on sites. He’s seen everything, hasn’t he? So I guess it doesn’t feel such a leap to kind of turn your hand to other things.
Lauren: Yeah, completely. And just, he has the knowledge of how things work that I, that I don’t. So I would see you know, the builder doing something that perhaps didn’t make sense to me or I couldn’t see how it would get from that point to the finish point and that would cause me a bit of anxiety or worry.
Whereas I’d say to him, you know, what’s going on here? How’s this going? I mean, he’s like. Well, obviously it does this, this and this. And it’s just like you say, because having been on building sites, you kind of see the process from start to finish and how it works. So you don’t have to worry so much about those in between things.
So that’s been, that’s been really helpful.
Amy: So it sounds kind of like plain sailing from the way that you’re talking, but I did see on Instagram that you’ve had eight months without a kitchen, and I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about the kind of, other side this reno.
Lauren: Yeah, so, I guess, I guess in one sense, it has been plain sailing, like we’ve not had any, major hiccups or anything. You know, we’ve had the odd thing here or there that has been a little bit more difficult to achieve than we originally planned. You know, we’ve, we had to get the the installers of the patio doors to come back a few times because we weren’t happy with the work.
So, like, little things here and there, but no major catastrophes touch wood so far, but it has taken a lot longer than we planned and anticipated And I think, I say I think, I know a lot of that is down to us, really, in the sense that I take quite a long time to make decisions about things and because we’ve done a reasonable amount of the sort of finishing work ourselves, that has taken quite a long time because, you know, it’s been difficult to find the time to, to get that done.
So yeah, so the, the timeframe without a kitchen has been much longer than anticipated.
So for the first couple of months I was pretty good and I would try and, you know, cook a meal as normally as, as you could without an actual kitchen. But then as the time progressed and this sort of organization of my temporary kitchen became less organized.
I was less inclined to use it. And I think, you know, after five, six months of having to cook that way, you just get a bit of reno fatigue, don’t you? And we did start to make quite heavy use of the microwave at that point, which I guess a lot of people do, but after a while it starts to feel a bit tiresome.
So not having the kitchen has been I think probably the hardest part. And just particularly as well because of where we’ve sort of set up the temporary kitchen in the lounge means that we don’t really have a sort of nice relaxing lounge space that we can retreat to. So, you know, when you’re trying to get away from the madness of the, the build, you take yourself off to a separate room, you’re just reminded of everything else
Amy: like, oh,
Lauren: on. Yeah, it’s right in front of you all the time with no space. So that’s been quite stressful, but slowly starting to get rid of all that stuff now.
Lauren: I mean You were saying that you found the decision process tricky, that maybe that had held you up, where do you think that the barrier was to go as quick as you wanted in that process?
Yeah, I think the barrier is just definitely my indecisiveness, , I think. The trouble I’ve found with things like Instagram and, you know, having access to so much information about design and different people’s ideas is that I have found that I like so many different things and like so many different styles that I almost found it hard to sort of narrow down what actually my style was and what I wanted for, our plans.
And. I think I, I just got into the habit of really overthinking things and, you know, I’d, make a decision about one thing, but then overthink it and think, Oh, but what if this and what if that and what if actually this would be better or this would be more cost effective I felt like I was always trying to find, the absolute perfect decision for every single thing. And in reality, that’s just not possible. I think when you’re doing a, you know, a big project.
Amy: I can totally identify with that
it is a big challenge that I don’t think we’ve really talked about actually. Yeah, so yeah, thanks for bringing it up.
Lauren: it feels it feels like a lot of pressure I think as well because of all those things and you know when you’re spending your hard earned money and quite often really large chunks in one go, you feel like you want to give the adequate amount of time to that decision because it’s a costly decision, but also those decisions quite often they need to be made quite quickly, don’t they?
And I think I found the balance between that really hard. I felt like often I was having to rush a decision because that would impact the, you know, the next part of the work. But equally. with decisions where I’ve been given longer because it’s, you know, been pre planned. I still haven’t necessarily been able to come to the conclusion any quicker because having the luxury of time has meant I’ve had more time to do more research and look at lots of different options and that hasn’t really helped either.
But I think that also brings up quite an interesting dynamic on site, which is when you do have a builder who is installing your kitchen and is saying, Oh, I need the decision for this by this, this point. It does force you to focus on the decision that, you need to make, but I guess when it’s your other half saying, Oh, I need this.
Amy: It becomes a little bit harder to take. Like, why are you rushing me, you know? So I guess that that dynamic played into your decision.
Lauren: Definitely. Definitely. And I think, you know, luckily my husband kind of, you know, he knows what the deal is with me and how I, how I work and make decisions. But that has been frustrating for him. And you, and you’re totally right. I can definitely see the difference in. You know, how I have made decisions when the builder has texted me and been like, oh, so what we’re doing about this, what we’re doing about that, whereas when my husband is, you know, making plans for jobs that he’s doing, it’s not quite the same.
Jane: You said the back doors you had a couple of issues with. Was that something that your contractor, did they recommend a supplier, somebody that they worked with, or was that something that you had sourced yourself?
Lauren: That was just like a local company that, that we researched and we got we got some quotes from a few different companies and it just came in as a good quote. And the, I would say that’s probably been. My biggest sort of, not regret, but sort of annoyance with the whole project in the sense that I, I love the doors, the overall look of the doors and the effect of them.
but the, the standard of their workmanship is not what I had hoped it to be. And we had to get them to come back I think three times in total to you know, to finish them and put things right. And even now that they’re, they’re done and, you know, everything’s paid for now.
I’ve since found other things with the doors that aren’t a hundred percent, as I would have hoped them to be which is disappointing, but you know, when you’re in the midst of a big project like that, I think sometimes you just get to the point where you’re like, Oh, I just want this part to be done now.
Amy: I just want, you know, I just want these tradesmen off and done and not having to come back anymore. It’s hard, isn’t it, The sliding doors are a big chunk of the budget. And when things have a bigger price tag you kind of expect The workmanship, like you say, to match the price.
Lauren: Definitely. And I think, what we’ve found, and perhaps it might be because I’m married to a tradesman, we’ve found that people’s level of workmanship is not always to the standard that you would want it to be if you were doing it yourself. And I think particularly because, you know, me and Ash have been together so long now and he, you know,
He takes a lot of pride in his work. So I’ve sort of seen that throughout the years.
And that’s kind of been my experience of how tradesmen work. But I think the reality is that not, not everyone works like that and not all tradesmen take quite as much pride in their work, unfortunately. So that has been difficult actually for us in the process of this, you know, with a few little things here or there where, you know, we’ve had people come in and do stuff.
And then actually Ash has looked at it and thought, well, I could have done a better job than that. And, you know, that’s not even my trade. So that, that has been frustrating, but I guess it’s also been, a sort of learning curve in the sense that, you know, we now know that actually if there is a project that he thinks that he can turn his hand to and have a good go at, then, I trust him to do that because quite often he will do a better job than, someone who doesn’t care about the house or, care about the finish because it’s not their house.
I think you always take a little bit more time and effort with it when it’s your house because you’re the one living in it.
Jane: yeah, absolutely.
Amy: Can we talk a little bit about budgets? Do you feel like you had a clear kind of pot, and there was, no extra, and have you stuck to that, or has it been more It’s in the right ballpark and we’re just heading towards it.
Lauren: Bit a bit more fluid.
Amy: Yes, exactly. Yeah, how it been?
Lauren: Yeah, so we definitely, we definitely had a pot of money, a good chunk of money that was left over from the sale of our previous house. We kind of planned that when we, when we sold our last house and bought this one, we didn’t use all of the equity to put down on the mortgage. So we did have quite a large chunk.
To start with and we knew it wouldn’t be enough to do everything in the entire house, but we thought it would be plenty to get the extension done. We were wrong So fairly early on in the build we realized that we were going to have to borrow a little bit of money to, to finish the extension which was fine.
And I would say. We’ve not gone hugely over what we anticipated having to borrow at that stage. There have been a few things here and there that have come up that we hadn’t anticipated needing to do during the build. But you know, they were things that you couldn’t really foresee happening or needing anyway.
Amy: So it was quite easy to, you know, take that on the chin and think, well, you know, we, we couldn’t have planned for that. So let’s not get too upset about the fact that you know, we’re having to pay for it. So to your future self on the next, obviously after you’ve enjoyed your current house what would be your big memos to your future self?
Lauren: I think I would spend more time in the planning stages of just really nailing down exactly what it is that we want and what we want to achieve, as opposed to just having this sort of broader idea of thinking. Oh, let’s build a lovely kitchen extension. And that being the extent of the plan.
So I think I would really just think more about what exactly do we want in it? What sort of level of finishes do we want? What are the non negotiables in the project that we want? So that, so that you can then plan it at lot more smoothlyly, you know, you can get prices for those non negotiable things right at the start.
So, you know that, a big chunk of your budget is going to be spent by this because those are the things that you absolutely cannot live without. And I think I probably would. have a much more organized spreadsheet than I currently have in the sense that I started a budgeting spreadsheet at the start and have maybe looked at it a handful of times over the last nine months to a year.
So I think just, just generally, I probably would be a lot more organized.
Jane: It’s so hard, isn’t it? Especially when you’re managing that part yourself. I know that feeling of you, you know, you’re going to DIY shops and getting materials and you’ve got piles of receipts everywhere and you’re like, okay, well, I’ll, you know, you, you kind of think about keep track, but it is actually just really hard to keep a handle on it when, when you’re doing those parts yourself, I guess when you paying a contractor, it’s much more defined, isn’t it?
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely.
I do understand why people set budgets and, you know, planned budgets really well. But I also think that. and when I think back to what we’ve done, I don’t really think there’s that much, you know, we could have cut out because it all needed to be done. And I don’t, I don’t think we’ve been particularly extravagant about anything.
So although it might have made the, the process and the organization process for me a little easier if I’d had better oversight of everything that might have taken away a little bit of stress for me, I think. I’m not sure that it would have saved us any money in the, in the long run.
But I think it might’ve just made the process a little bit, bit more streamlined and easier. Yeah.
Amy: I think it’s also just that reassurance that you’ve spent the money intentionally and like, like you say, looking back, that’s how you feel, but it’s like knowing at the beginning, like, okay, yes, like we know where all our money is going on to this bit on this bit on this bit. And I’ve chosen that.
I think renovations can feel so chaotic anyway.
Just the nature of, you know, lots of different people and lots of different parts moving. That actually just feeling that sense of control, does help, get you through.
Lauren: yeah, I think you’re right. I think that’s really important because when it is feeling a little bit overwhelming and a bit. scary, how much money you’re spending just being able to actually really sit down and think, well, no, actually none of it has been frivolous. None of it, you know, has been without intention.
It’s all been for a reason. I think that can really help to sort of settle the nerves a little bit.
Amy: Yeah, and I think you’re right because I don’t think there’s any other part in our life where You know, it’s like five grand here, five grand there, two grand, you know, like that’s big amounts of money and everyone’s just like, yeah, yeah, of course.
And, but when you’re really thinking it’s coming from your bank, it’s like, oh my
Lauren: Yeah, it almost gets to the point where it feels like it doesn’t feel like real money I think sometimes it’s good to take a moment and step back and think, Well, actually, firstly, I feel really lucky to be in a position to be able to do this and make those choices, but also to just sort of reset yourself and think, you know, I do need to be taking note of, you know, all these big chunks, because
Otherwise, I guess that’s how things can spiral.
Amy: Yeah, it’s so true.
Jane: So having spoken about the kind of stressful sides of things, was there any key moments where you felt super happy or some kind of feeling of achievement in the process?
Lauren: Yeah, I think when the, I think when the flooring went down in the extension, that was, that was a big turning point for me, I think, because it was at that point that it really sort of turned from just a space, into like an actual room, I could see how it would be part of our house and how we might be able to live in it and spend time in that room.
So that really helped me because we’d gone, for quite a long period of time between the, the build, so to speak, being finished, the builder being done and off site to the point of the kitchen starting to go in, there was probably about three or four months between, between those two things happening.
So to live with just an empty, still dusty, like, dirty room that didn’t have a floor in it, essentially, for three or four months, felt quite, pointless, really. And obviously we couldn’t spend any time in there and, so that was a bit of a low point.
So when the flooring then went down and I, it transformed in, in 24 hours, that was a real, a really exciting point for us.
Amy: Amazing. The question is, is how is your kitchen now you can use it? Have you put the microwave where you can’t see it?
Lauren: So so the kitchen is, the kitchen units are in, we’re just waiting for the kitchen worktops. So we’re like, We’re, we’re like so close. We’re in touching distance now, but like parts of it are usable already.
And actually we’ve got a a combi microwave oven, so don’t have to use our old microwave now for anything. I can just use the nice fancy microwave if I need to. So yeah, so we are starting to make use of it now.
So, what’s your kind of end date? Mentally, have you gone there? I, yeah, I feel like. It’s like an always sort of evolving thing
So when everyone, you know, friends always say to me, well, when do you think you’ll be finished? I’m like, well, do you mean the extension or do you mean the rest of the house? Cause the extension might be done in four weeks time, but the rest of the house might probably be another few years. So yeah, I don’t know really for the rest of the house. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want to put a guess on it because no doubt I’ll be wrong, but certainly the extension means that it will be much, a much more pleasant experience doing the rest of the house than it has been doing this part.
Amy: Oh, thank you so much for being with us and sharing your story.
Lauren: I’ve really. enjoyed it. Enjoyed chatting about it.
no, it’s I think it’s so funny, isn’t it? Because in the moment, things can feel really hard and really miserable and really down, can’t they? But actually, you know, taking a step back to look at what what you’ve achieved and you know, what, what you’ve been able to do, I think is really helpful.
And I think that would be one big tip that I do have to people going through it is to try and focus on what you have achieved as opposed to what you’ve got left to do. Because for a lot of the time I spent way too much time thinking about how much more we had to do and how stressful that would be.
And actually I’d, I’d forgotten to just stop and look back at, you know, where we’d got to from where we started and, and actually now looking at. You know, I can sit and look at the extension and when I compare that to the view that I would have had, you know, nine months ago, it’s completely unrecognizable.
It’s an amazing achievement.
Amy: Thank you. so much.
Jane: If you would like to see pictures of Lauren’s project, then head to our website homenotes.co/storiesfromsite, and join us next week for mine and Amy’s roundup of all the top tips and lessons learned from this series.
Our closing thoughts:
Renovating is jolly hard work.
It not only takes up physical energy, but also comes with an emotional and mental load – especially when it’s your own home.
We say this a lot, but remember to take stock regularly and be kind to yourselves. What you’re undertaking is tough!
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