Listening to the walls: Restoring an Edwardian terrace

with Lou

This week we chat with Lou about her experience renovating an Edwardian terrace.

It’s her first renovation, and she’s rolled up her sleeves, learned trades on the fly, and brought her tired house back to life.

We’ll discuss how she restored original features and let her home guide the process to create cozy and inviting spaces.

Plus, Lou shares the satisfaction of rediscovering her creative side after years in the corporate world.




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.

Amy: This week we chat with Lou about her experience restoring an Edwardian terrace. She’s rolled up her sleeves, learned trades on the fly and brought her tired house back to life. We’ll discuss how she let her home guide the process to create cozy and inviting spaces.

Amy: Plus Lou shares the satisfaction of rediscovering her creative side after years in the corporate world. Hi Lou, thanks so much for joining us

Lou: Thank you for having me.

Amy: We would love to know a bit about your renovation

Lou: Well I actually call it a restoration not a renovation because I haven’t knocked any walls down or built any extensions

Lou: And, yeah, it’s been a journey.

Lou: I think we started with really wanting to bring this beautiful period home back to life. It was drenched in all of the wrong colours, in my opinion. And it was gloomy, and it was sad. And, wanted to make it happy and wanted to make it sing.

Amy: Did you have a vision for what you wanted to achieve?

Lou: So I’m terrible. I make it up as I go along. And no one actually believes me. But I genuinely, when I start a room, have no idea what it’s going to look like when it’s finished. My process is really backwards, so I’m not somebody who can mood board and look at the end result and think, wow, yes, let’s go make that happen.

Lou: I start with maybe a feeling of how I want the room to, to make me feel. So I’m in the office right now. I wanted that to be a really creative space. The bedroom, obviously I wanted to be very cocooning and calm. The living room is somewhere that has to function in. because it’s the most used room.

Lou: So I really try and anchor into how I want the room to feel. And then I kind of just start really piecemeal, so it might be like, Okay, I want some paneling. So I’ll put some paneling up, and then I might not do anything for a week, and look at it and go, I wonder what color we should make this? My, my electrician gets really furious with me.

Lou: He’s the only tradesperson we pay, and I only bring him in when I’ve painted, finished, done every single thing in a room, and then I ask him to come in and put holes in everything, and he gets really stressed out, but I just can’t imagine it until it’s done. Um,

Amy: Wow, that’s so interesting because I think a lot of people kind of swear by Pinterest and it’s like their go to or, you know, so tell, tell me like, yeah, where does it come from?

Lou: obviously I use Instagram, so I’ll see other people’s houses and other people doing things and that might give me, you know, the spark of an idea. So it might be as simple as, I want to paint the ceiling the living room was, I want to put paneling up the bedroom was, I want a mural, but that is literally as simple as probably it gets now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s, the exact right way to do things.

Lou: There have been times where I have bought five litres of paint and then decided that I don’t like the colour, or got halfway into something and realised I’ve made a terrible mistake. But My brain works in, in that process and everything comes out at its best when I’m going through that process. I find planning rather restrictive and I know some people don’t, but I just think sometimes you make a plan and you get so focused on sticking to that plan and achieving that plan that even if you know that.

Lou: It’s potentially not the right thing as you’re doing it. You just stick to it because it’s the plan.

Amy: I love that.

Jane: I think that fluidity is amazing because that is exactly what people need to have during the process because if you have that rigid plan, obviously things don’t turn out as you expect and then it’s very hard to shift and make up a new idea to fit your budget or fit what your house can do to it.

Jane: So I think just having that mindset from the outset is just amazing, really.

Lou: DIY really helps with that for me because like I said, the only trades person we’ve paid is our electrician. I tell a lie, we’ve paid a glazier to do a window pane. But that’s it. We’ve done everything else ourselves, so I’m not really answering to anyone.

Lou: And you know, I’ve got so many friends who’ve been through renovations and their builder tells ’em they can’t do this, or they’re architect tells, and that’s a bad idea. Or their joiner says, oh, that will never work. And, I mean, my boyfriend tells me that frequently, but I didn’t listen to him. So I just crack on and really do it myself.

Lou: And I think having a period home as well, the point I was making at the beginning is we’re really, It sounds, it sounds really It sounds really fluffy and I’m not a fluffy person, but I’m kind of guided by the house. This house has got a lot of people’s stories to tell, and it’s got a lot of history in it, and it’s had a lot of people here before me.

Lou: And I feel like a bit of a caretaker of the house. And as we do go through this process, it kind of tells me where it wants to be, you know. Bizarre and very non logical way that doesn’t sound like me, but it’s true.

Jane: That’s your guiding principle then, isn’t it? Because you need some structure to work within to know how to make decisions. And it sounds like that’s your decision making process is, is coming back to what the house can do and what it, what it needs. I love that.

Jane: What’s interesting about the approach as well is when you do have a plan and kind of this set vision and then something happens and you have to pivot. You feel the loss of the thing that you thought was the thing. Do you know what I mean?

Amy: And so I guess what’s nice about what you’re doing is you’re discovering what you want and what the house wants, and it’s kind of going in tandem. Yeah, I really love this approach.

Lou: It’s, We’re do the downstairs bathroom at the minute, or the downstairs toilet. I say we, I always say we, and my boyfriend does nothing, so I don’t know why I say we. I am doing the downstairs bathroom at the minute. And the only thing I had in my head that was, I wanted red. So I wanted red, and you know, I’ve put some paneling up, I’ve painted it red.

Lou: Then I’ve had to just step back for a week, because I’ve got no idea what colour I’m painting the ceiling. None. Like, no idea. And it’ll, this’ll be the fun thing now of trying to figure that out and what works in the room and what works in the room in the morning and the afternoon and the evening when the doors close when it isn’t closed.

Lou: And some people would have that on a mood board, but then,


Jane: It’s not the same as being in the space, is

Jane: it?

Lou: No it’s not. Yeah, so that’s definitely how I find it, is the house always points me in the right direction in the end.

Jane: That’s brilliant. So

Jane: are you tackling it room by room and then you focus on more room until it’s done and then move on or how are you managing that?

Lou: Yeah, so we, we did the living room first again, the royal way. I did the living room first because I just needed somewhere to retreat to, so. The living room was the first room it was also the darkest, gloomiest, saddest room and we moved in in January to the point where we had to have torches in there, it was just to be able to sit down.

Lou: So that went first and then we did the guest bedroom next, just because when people come to stay, like, you obviously don’t want them sleeping in a horror show, so that was done next. Then our bedroom. Came after that. Then the office came after that because we needed somewhere to work. The dressing room came next.

Lou: And then the whole stairs and landing, which is on three stories, I’ve actually been doing for, well, I finished that in December, but that was a nearly 12 month project. And I’m really glad because I was going to start that after the living room. And I’m so glad that I didn’t because I don’t think, I would have, I think I just would have just sold the house and never done anything ever again.

Lou: Because it was so, it was so traumatic that I think I would have just gone, No, I changed my mind.

Jane: I saw on your Instagram that you said the stair banister was a bit of a trauma.

Lou: Yeah, so we had, we’ve got an original Edwardian banister and balustrade, which is just obviously, it was just a nightmare. Lots of cling strip, lots of heat gun, lots of I call it extreme cleaning. Two sets of stairs, another set of banisters at the top. And I just think I’ve vastly, well you just see 20 second reels don’t you, of people going, look stripped my banister.

Lou: And then I think I’ve vastly underestimated the amount of time and patience and I think the problem with it, with the whole stairs and landing project is you can’t close the door on it, so everything else is easy, you just finish at the end of the night you haven’t got to clean up, you close the door.

Lou: You go to your other room, happy days, you might not even go back for a week. Whereas, it’s four stairs and landing, you’ve got to clean up at the end of every day, and that’s another hour, and then all your other rooms are full of dust and dirt. So, yeah, it was, I’m glad I did it when I did it, because I genuinely think I probably would have just sold the house and left and never seen it again.

Amy: Would you say this has been the most difficult DIY project, or is there anything else that competes with it?

Lou: No, I think that one definitely, just for those reasons outlined, and it’s a lot of wood, anything with wood I think is hard, like, the only thing that came second to that would be, we restored the parquet floors downstairs, and that was the first, one of the first things I did in the living room, so we’ve been in the house maybe three weeks, and this is our first buy and our first restoration, so very green, and I started trying to, Sand parquet floors with a mouse sander and I did that for two days Before my boyfriend said there has to be a better way of doing this.

Lou: Do you think you should get a different sander? So I then I got I upgraded to a belt sander, which was again fabulous but not as fabulous as perhaps doing it with a floor sander, which I never quite got to so I did the whole parquet downstairs by hand.

Jane: Oh my goodness.

Lou: but it’s always wood. It’s always sanding I think if you ask most people who are going through a renovation what the tricky stuff is, it’s always sanding.

Lou: It’s messy, it’s heavy, it’s long yeah, so anything to do with woodwork I would say has been the trickiest.

Amy: It sounds like you had that dream that all people buying an old house hope for is pulling up the carpets and finding an original floor under there. Did you know that that was there before you bought?

Lou: Yeah, so the only carpet was in the hall stairs and landing which was this hideous blue and brown stripe, great colour combo. So there was actually no carpets down and we already knew we had an encaustic tile hallway floor as well when we walked in, so. I think that’s one of the reasons why we ended up buying this house, is all of the features were perfect, so we’ve got the stained glass we’ve got all the original sash windows, we’ve got the original fireplace original floors.

Lou: So the features were here to, to be able to bring joy back to and like I said earlier, I feel like I’m a bit of a caretaker of this house because I felt like all these features that, we’re so beautiful and so fabulous and told this amazing story. We’re kind of living under a bit of a cloud and a shadow and weren’t having their chance to sing.

Lou: And that’s, that’s the whole aim of what we’re doing.

Jane: Oh, I love that.

Amy: So, can I ask, umYou said that you had to kind of go down the DIY approach. I mean, do you have any ideas of how much you saved by doing it yourself?

Lou: I think we must be in the tens of thousands. I don’t have an exact figure, but I think we must be in the tens of thousands because Yeah, as I say, we’ve only paid our electrician, so we’ve panelled, we’ve restored the floors, we’ve built in wardrobes, we’ve built in shelves, we’ve even plastered a wall installed ceiling roses, put coving up we’ve got to be in the tens of thousands by now.

Lou: Which I like to remind my boyfriend as well, because I always say if we ever sell the house, then I’m definitely owed that because he hasn’t done anything.

Jane: When you bought the house was that always the intention, you knew that you were going to do the DIY or did you get quotes and then be like oh my goodness

Lou: So we never had a budget, so we bought the house and the, we, we both put we put into our joint account every month to pay the bills and the mortgage and do the food shop, and then it was always a case of whatever, if anything is left at the end of, the month w go to do the house which is like in the hundreds of pounds, not the thousands of pounds.

Lou: So it was a case of, yes, I always knew that we would be doing this together. I thought we would be doing this together, not I would be doing this. And yeah, it was always a plan. But then I also just don’t think I could pay someone now. I was talking to someone about this the other day and I was saying, you can always pay someone to fix something, but how infuriating would it be to pay someone and then realise you could do it yourself? And that’s my thought process, so if I really, really mess something up, I can always pay someone to come and fix it. But, that hasn’t happened yet in two years. I just think, what would I rather spend my money on? Something I could do myself, or going on holiday, or you know, doing something nice.

Lou: So we spend money on tools. That’s about it. I will spend money on tools because I think if you invest in good tools, if you’re going to do DIY, then in the long run, it makes your life so much easier. But yeah, that’s about it.

Amy: Can I say, on your Instagram there’s a quote that the biggest lesson you’ve learned is that there’s nothing you can’t do, it’s just you haven’t done it yet. And I thought that was really inspiring.

Lou: Thank you. Yeah, I do. I honestly do believe that. I think, you know, all it is is confidence. And I think that. If you can just have that confidence to give it a go, you’ll be so surprised where you get to. Don’t get me wrong. Like, you know, is my paneling perfect? If someone got an angle finder out, probably not.

Lou: Is my plastered wall the smoothest wall in the world? Probably not. But I also live in an old house. So actually, nothing’s perfect in here anyway by nature of the fact it’s over 100 years old. But I think anyone would be surprised if they just gave something a go where they ended up, for sure.

Jane: Oh Are you teaching yourself? Is it kind of YouTube or do you watch tutorials? How are you learning?

Lou: Yeah, so it is a lot of YouTube, Instagram, but again, a lot of it is just actually, from starting. So, I remember when I panelled, the living room and I spent two days and I drew this diagram on a piece of paper and I measured everything out and I wrote it down and then I wrote down the length of all the panels and then I wrote down all the angles that it needed to be and none of my walls are straight.

Lou: So, I started doing it. And it, it was just like, why have I wasted two days here, drawing this all out and measuring it? And actually, it doesn’t go up properly. So I just learned to put my mitre saw in the middle of the room and start chopping centimetres off at a time until, till it fits. And I think with old houses, you are quite lucky that you have the grace of, the grace of that, to be able to go, right, if you stand in the hallway, one of the walls is probably five centimetres lower than the other wall, so.

Lou: If someone thinks it’s wonky, it’s not. It’s just your walls are out.

Lou: It sounds negative to say, have you had any DIY fails? The only thing, the only one that I look at and go, Ooh, that’s a bit squiffy, is we’ve got a door in the vestibule um, a stainless door, that I got off Facebook Marketplace for 30, and we’d spent about six months restoring, and it is on a sort of real skunt of an angle. Now it’s hung because the floor is so not level, and actually we probably should have thought about that but by this point we’d put six months into restoring it and it was going up, come hell or high water.

Jane: Do you get a lot of stuff off Facebook marketplace? Have you got any kind of top tips for people doing this themselves or on a budget?

Lou: Yeah, Facebook Marketplace, Charity Shops Love, love shopping in all of those places. I think from actually from talking to you for the last 20 minutes, I think what I’ve learned is I’m really tight, and don’t like spending money. Um, but especially having a period home, you can get away with so much more from, from buying from Facebook Marketplace or Charity Shop second hand.

Lou: I guess my biggest piece of advice is to put alerts on. So, chances are that you’re not going to find what you’re looking for in the minute that you’re looking for it. So, put alerts on for all the searches that you want to make. And also Expand your search. So for example, the stain, the stained glass door that I found that was 30 pounds I think it was from Leeds, but then I paid a man with a van, 35 pounds to collect it for me, and I ended up with a stained glass door for 65 pounds, which.

Lou: You know, even though I couldn’t go and collect it myself, it’s still a huge saving compared to if I’d bought a stained glass door from somewhere new. So yeah, don’t necessarily restrict your search to sort of five miles because you’ll be surprised what you can find and what you can manage to pick up without even going anywhere.

Jane: That’s amazing. I like, you know, you saying that you’re frifty with the money, which is amazing, but you are investing a huge amount of time, I imagine. You know, is it evenings, weekends? What, what’s your time commitment?

Lou: Yeah, so the first, the first year that we did this was weekends and evenings only. So, I would literally get home from work. I had a pretty very, well, pretty busy corporate job. And I would get home from work at like half six, maybe, work until the sun went down, and then every weekend be up at half six, finish at half seven.

Lou: So yeah, lots of time for the first year and then I was really lucky this year. I’ve changed my job. So my job’s a lot more flexible. I work from home most days. So it’s a lot more balanced now, but I guess that was. That’s a, a real sort of choice that I’ve had to make to go, this isn’t sustainable.

Lou: So, I can’t do this job and do this house and, you know, have any time to do anything else. So, I made the choice to, to change, to change my career really. Which in, is great because I, I always say that there, again, that’s. It comes back to that point of the house showing you the way, that’s been a really positive change in my life that’s come from pouring some love into, into this house and I feel like That was kind of the gift of the lesson that the house gave me back, really.

Lou: God, people are going to think I’m nuts and I’m talking, I’m sitting here

Lou: talking to my house, aren’t I

Jane: It’s just nice that you clearly enjoy what you’re doing and you get a lot out of it to rebalance your life is an amazing thing.

Lou: I always say that it’s hard to, to describe, but this house is my hobby. So, like, some people go to the gym, some people are in a football team, some people play guitar, you know,everyone has their thing, right? And, before we bought this house, my thing was my job, so I would put everything into work, I was really sort of work focused, work centric and I just realised I didn’t have a hobby, and I’ve only just realised that in the last year, that actually, yes I enjoyed my job a lot, of course I did, but I didn’t love my job, like I said I loved my job, I just didn’t have something that I did love, so, yeah, the sense of achievement you get when you’ve finished a room.

Lou: And, and, and all of that is fabulous, but actually, I get a bit scared about when I finish stuff, because This is my hobby, and I’m like, Is my boyfriend or my friends gonna think that I’m crazy if I just start decorating stuff again? Just because I, just because I need something to do.

Jane: You’ll finish this one and you’ll move on to another project. You’ll be a serial renovator.

Lou: I think, I think potentially that is going to be the case. Yeah, it is, it’s funny how, You know, I’m, I’m 35, Like, it’s funny when you go that long in, in life, And then all of a sudden, you realize what your hobby is. But then I guess as a kid I was always gluing and sticking and I did ceramics and, and textiles at GCSE and did art and I was always, quite creative and then I think that, you know, life, life stifles that out of you sometimes, or for the majority of people actually you go to work, you work in an office, you, you go and I’m not saying your life’s sad, of course I’m not, like, life’s great, life’s wonderful, but you get, you get new things, you go to the pub, you, you do, you know, you do adult things, and you stop gluing and sticking at some point, and you stop, doing the crafts, because who has time to do that at a weekend?

Lou: No one. So I think if you’re that way inclined, having a house to renovate and DIY, actually you just realize you’re doing all the same things you did as a kid,

Amy: Yeah.

Lou: on walls instead of bits of paper.

Amy: I love that. I’ve just got into I’ve got an allotment and it’s the same. Like I was the kid who was playing with mud and it’s like, oh yeah, it’s not a surprise, but it does take a while to, like you say, to get there. So um, I totally understand.

Lou: it’s like an acceptable route back into being a child, isn’t it?

Jane: One question is where are you in terms of, how far through are you?

Lou: So probably two thirds, I would say, but the challenge I’ve got is I’ve left all of the expensive jobs to the end. So we need a new bathroom and we need to get the garden sorted. And there’s some stuff I want to do in the kitchen. I’ve basically left all of the things that you can’t easily in inverted commas DIY to the end.

Lou: Yeah, I just took, I did all these jobs first. I’ll say easy, they’re not easy. But I did all of the easier jobs first, if that makes sense. So yeah, we’re two thirds through, but I would imagine that the last third is going to take a lot longer than the first two. So yeah, we’ll see, we’ll see where we end up.

Lou: But I think you’re right. I’ll probably end up with another project when we’re finished.

Amy: For sure!

Jane: I really love this chat every conversation is always different. And,

Jane: That’s really nice and really enjoyable. And thanks for chatting to us.

Amy: Thanks for being so open it’s really lovely.

Lou: Yeah, I hope I don’t sound like a crazy person that just sits here, like, stroking my walls and talking to my house.

Jane: Looking at your house and what you’ve achieved, like, yeah, stroke those walls. It’s beautiful.

Lou: Well, that’s where you’ll find me for

Lou: the rest of the day if anyone needs me. I’ve got, I’ve got a ceiling that I really need to figure out the colour of, so I’m just going to sit and have a chat to it now.

Jane: If you would like to see pictures of Lou’s project, then head to our website homenotes.co/storiesfromsite.

Our closing thoughts:

Often we can rush into cramping all our Pinterest ideas into a space!

We absolutely love the concept of letting the house lead the way, and taking the time to take cues from the existing bones of the place.


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