Our next job was to fit the fireplace and tile the hearth. When we removed the ugly gas fireplace we did unearth what would have been the original tiled hearth. Unfortunately after years of abuse they were beyond saving, so it was off to one of my favourite shops, Fired Earth, to find a sympathetic replacement. We decided that it would be too difficult to get a close colour match to tiles in the fireplace surround so instead chose a beautiful metallic grey that would look great with the cast iron hood.
David had never really done any tiling before so it was the perfect opportunity for him to get some practice before we started the bathroom! He was very critical of his own work, but I think he did an amazing job.
Once the tiles were grouted and set we fitted the fireplace. David did a great job of this too and, like the cornicing, once installed it looked like it should have always been there.
Yes it would have been easier to get our plumbers to install new radiators in the master bedroom, but where is the fun in easy?
On one of our trips to the salvage yard we fell in love with some original cast iron radiators and convinced ourselves that we could clean them up and install them ourselves.
It was certainly a challenge, but we David did an amazing job. First David gave them a really good clean and power flushed the insides. Then he sanded them back, getting rid of all the rust. Finally he spray painted two coats of primer and two coats of top coat – we went for a traditional anthracite colour.
Whilst we did pick up the two radiators for a bit of a bargain, we did then have to splash out on radiators valves. Never did I think I would get so excited about radiator valves, but when these were delivered at the office I could hardly contain my delight!
Now all we David had to do was install them (eek!). Luckily David’s Dad was on hand to give David a crash course on pipework and radiator installation.
We may have got a bit ahead of ourselves getting the room re-plastered when we did, but we were on a steep learning curve and it all worked out ok in the end. The reason I say this, is because we actually had the master bedroom re-plastered before the re-wire, but hey it was nothing a bit of poly filler couldn’t fix!
Whilst we focussed our attention (or more correctly our cash) on the re-wire and re-plumb the bedroom came to a bit of a halt, but once we got going again things really started to take shape.
We were really looking forward to restoring some of the Victorian features back into the house that had been immorally ripped out during a period of ‘modernisation’. Installing cornicing and a ceiling rose in the master bedroom was a big part of that. We found a great company (I use the term ‘company’ very loosely here, it was actually two very laid back guys called Elvis and Earl) just down the road from our house which makes beautiful cornicing and ceiling roses using traditional methods and moulds. We were able to pick out moulds that matched the era of the house and once installed they looked like they should have always been there.
We also found an amazing salvage yard in our local area. This place was absolutely filled with hided gems but you had to have some vision to pick them out. We found a beautiful combination fireplace that was a perfect fit for the chimney breast. It was a bit rusty and had seen better days, but we knew it had the potential to look really beautiful.
We did find a few other bits and bobs, including a roll top bath, but that is a story for another day!
David and I installed the picture rail, this involved a lot of measurements and even a spread sheet, but we really enjoyed it. It was fun working together as a team and we could really start to see how the room was going to look. Now I just wanted to get on with the painting…
We had always agreed that the master bedroom would be the first room we decorate. If we had a nice bedroom to retreat to, it would make doing the rest of the house much more bearable. I think from the moment we had our offer accepted on the house I had already planned and designed what I wanted our bedroom to be like.
When we moved into the house we made the small back bedroom our temporary bedroom, this gave us the freedom to decorate the master bedroom at our leisure. During the first couple of weeks we made good progress on stripping the room back to the bare minimum. We stripped the wallpaper of the walls and ceiling, stripped the paint of all the woodwork and ripped out the shelving and the gas fireplace.
It was hard work, but immensely satisfying, like we were freeing the walls from years of build up, you could almost hear them sighing in relief.
Next on the list of things to do:
1. Have room re-plastered
2. Fit new cornicing and ceiling rose
3. Fit new picture rail
4. Buy Victorian fireplace
Once the wiring had been completed it was time for the heating and hot water system to be overhauled. Our current system was complicated, outdated and the fact that you couldn’t drink the water from the bathroom tap baffled me (then why are we brushing our teeth with it!?). With the boiler in the kitchen, hot water tank in the backroom, cold water tank in the loft and a pipe structure that resembled a labyrinth it was time to simplify things.
We decided to install the new boiler upstairs, in what will be the new bathroom. The bathroom will be plenty big enough and I never liked the idea of losing valuable kitchen cupboard space to accommodate a boiler.
Over the next couple of days we saw some big changes, not only was house number 59 now warm and toasty, but we got to say goodbye to the bright blue radiators and hello to nice new shiny ones!
In most rooms we had chosen standard white radiators, but felt that the living room deserved something a bit special. Placed in the bay window, the radiators would be a focal point and needed to look good, so we upgraded to column radiators.
We were thrilled, not only do they look great but they pump out a lot of heat.
When you are renovating a house slowly, room by room and living in it at the same time, you have to accept that things won’t always be perfect. I have accepted that we will have to live in varying degrees of squalor until we get round to decorating every room.
For example, in the living room we have boarded over where the gas fireplace was removed and it looks pretty ugly. I can live with that because I know that one day, in the not too distant future, we will buy a beautiful salvaged Victorian fireplace to rightfully reclaim its throne.
It is nice though to do little mini projects to help house number 59 feel a bit more loved, even if they are just temporary fixes. As the hallway will be the last room we decorate we decided it could do with a temporary fix, in particular the staircase.
At some point the original Victorian spindles and the nosing they sit on had been removed and replaced with a more ‘modern’ banister (utter sacrilege in my opinion). To restore the staircase to its former glory will be a major project, and not one that will be happening anytime soon.
David had removed the carpet within the first 5 minutes of owning the house leaving us with bare wood, which for practical reasons worked quite well, but they looked terrible and needed some love.
First we removed all the old paint – this was hard labour with a heat gun and scrapper. Then we sanded each step and gave them a really good clean.
Finally we painted the risers and the banisters in white gloss and the treads and hand rail in a dark oak matt varnish.
This ‘mini project’ actually ended up taking longer than expected, but it was worth it. The hallway now looks fresher and less like a building site, but is still practical and easy to keep clean.
Having the house re-wired was a necessary task, but not a particularly exciting one. Most of the work is hidden and if anything the house ended up looking worse due to the new wires being chased into the walls.
I failed to get too excited about the new fuse box, light switches and plug sockets – although we did enjoy coming home from work each day and discovering what work had been done.
One part of the re-wire that was actually quite exciting was the installation of a front porch light. Everything we had done up to this point had been a temporary fix, knowing that at some point we would re-do it, but this light fitting would be the first permanent feature of the house and so it required some careful thought.
Having never thought about outside lights before we took a walk around the block to get some inspiration and after much deliberation we decided on a simple but elegant lantern.