“Our home renovation story was not straight forward. Is it ever? But, we can promise you a happy ending.”

Our home renovation story.
Image Credit – The Wooden Hill

Once upon a wooden hill…

…there was a bright eyed and bushy bearded couple (my eyes, Ross’ beard obvs) sitting around a table in a magnolia dining room that no matter what they did always had an underlying scent of onions due to a rising damp problem.

Armed with enthusiasm, unrealistic exceptions and an endless collection of Pinterest mood boards, they began their quest to transform their tired old 1900 workers cottage into a wooden clad cabin of dreams that would make even the most bashful of Swedish sauna dwellers hot under the collar.

The mission: To change our cramped and impractical layout into a large, open and sociable space.

Chapter One – The Big Idea

One thing no one ever tells you about architects is that they will always sell you an initial idea for your home renovation that will not only blow your tiny mind but it will also blow your even tinier budget out of the Crittall style window!

I’m not sure if they get pulled aside at architect school, in between learning how to perfectly coordinate their neutral capsule wardrobes but it seems to be a technique that they all use. I think it’s designed to pull you out of your comfort zone, so that your priorities of which you thought were non negotiable to begin with, completely change and you start thinking about the space with fresh architecty eyes.

I have to be honest, I was livid about this at first. The architects initial idea was incredible and we walked away from that meeting like George Clarke and Sarah Beeny after a biker jacket binge at The Pleather Dome. We were completely hyped!

Draft 1: The initial idea had one large open plan space with the dining table on castors that disappeared into the kitchen island when not in use.

We rushed home and crunched some numbers, soon realising that it would cost us at least twice the amount of money that we had budgeted. So we took some time out and mourned the loss of the completely open plan living idea with the rolling dining table that glided all the way out into the garden and slotted back away into the bespoke concrete kitchen island whilst not in use, sigh*. We then began the brutal task of what is probably the second hated C word in the English language – compromise.

Draft 3489: The final layout was vastly different to where we began but actually way more appropriate for our family…at least that’s what I shall be reminding myself.

Fast forward three years, a dog, a child, 3489 re drafts of the drawings and two refused planning applications later and we were finally ready to move out of our house to commence the work, and this, I suppose, is where the story of our home renovation really begins.

Our home renovation story.
Before: Ripping out the old bathroom and kitchen before the steels went in.

Chapter 2 – Separation Anxiety

Perhaps taking the concept of open plan living a bit too far. Looking into the old bathroom from the new. Full reenforcement of the floor was required to take it from the bedroom to a bathroom.

As the house was going to be open to the elements in a very chilly January while the work was carried out, completely absent of running water and electricity, not to mention having a small person who had only just learned to walk and wanted to try to kill himself with whatever he could lay his tiny hands on.

We thought it would be for the best for me to take the child and the dog away to live with the Sister-in-Law in Warwick for eight weeks. Ross had pre-warned me that twelve weeks was more realistic for a home renovation of this size but I was feeling “optimistic’.

Our home renovation story.
Stripped back and steels in. The french doors are now what makes our serving hatch through to the dining room. The doorway has also been widened by 10 inches which makes the space feel so much more spacious.

Due to the nature of home renovations and various issues such as hidden drainage pipes causing an absolute shit storm in more ways than one, it maybe wont surprise you to learn that my optimistic (some might say naive) 8 week goal turned into 7 months. It was a tough old slog living apart for so long…

I think Ross thought that he was going to be living his best life for a few weeks, sleeping at the studio, eating dirty takeaways for dinner and watching super hero movies in his pants, but the reality was, sleeping on a hard sofa in a cold studio with only his kebab farts to keep him warm. Listening to the hipsters of Hackney playing loud minimal techno music on the roof terrace above while quaffing craft beers until all hours of the morning.

The new wider walk through from the kitchen to the dining room.

If you’d have told us right at the start that we would have to move out of our home for 7 months, would we have gone ahead with this renovation? You can bet your pampas grass we wouldn’t. But as everyone will tell you while you’re deep in the thick of reno regret “it’ll all be worth it in the end” – and even though you want to punch them in the face at the time they’re right ya’ know it really will be!

Chapter 3 – Coming Home

Perhaps the most difficult part of living so far away was not being able to check in on the progress of our build every day. Sorry Ross, I did miss you as well but my FOMO trumps you and your kebab trumps this time.

Trying to make decisions on the non sexy bits when you’re so far away is a challenge. The dull and practical decisions involved in a home renovation need to be made early such as power sockets…how many? How high up the wall do you want them? The questions just kept on coming and it’s really tricky to visualise when you’re not there and you haven’t even chosen the rest of the fixtures and fittings yet.

Our home renovation story.
So happy to have finally moved back in during the scorching June heatwave of 2017. No functioning kitchen but we do have ice pops!

So, as soon as that room was sealed and weather tight, we were back in there like a shot! We were psyched and ready for a life of Pot Noodles and sitting on boxes. It was still another few weeks before we had a fully functioning kitchen, I think Papa John thought he was my actual dad and I loved him like he was.

The builders became members of our family too arriving at 7am and leaving at 6pm every day…we even got to know their toilet habits, with 2pm being imaginatively re named ‘poo pm’…a time that should be avoided at all costs if you knew what was good for you. My ‘poo pm’ coffee and cake habit was a hard one to ditch once we waved a fond farewell to our beloved builder fam but we were spent in more ways than one and destined for a life of jacket spuds and baked beans until the end of time.

Our home renovation story.
Beans on toast for LIFE.

Chapter 4 – Happily Ever Before and After

Fast forward another 18 months from the start of our home renovation and we’re still not finished…I feel like there’s still so much to do. Here’s a little tour of the rooms that were done (just don’t mention the snag list yeah).

Our home renovation story.
Our new and improved rear end.

The Kitchen Extension

The first thing on the agenda of our home renovation list was to move what was once the downstairs bathroom to one of the upstairs bedrooms and extended into the side return to give ourselves a spacious and open plan kitchen and family room, overlooking the garden.

We always knew we wanted lots of natural materials in our home as they have been proven to improve health, reduce stress and even improve learning capabilities in children so the idea to clad the walls around the entire room and to also eventually take the cladding around the garden space too was one of our earliest ideas, and one that just stuck.

We’re currently working on the garden element of our home renovation…just a small issue of running out of money to contend with…but we do think that the overall effect will be pretty special once its done. We know it’s not everyones cup of tea, and it has even been described as a Centre Parks Chalet in the past but we LOVE out little chalet and in the end folks you gotta do what makes you happy and live for the now and not the re sale price.

Our home renovation story.
We love all of the interesting angles that the architect put in to disguise the fact that we are on a hill.
There have been a few tweaks but here is one of our initial layout plans. The dark grey box is the moveable kitchen island.

Our kitchen was a last minute switch around, we started off wanting a white, handleless Scandi style kitchen and at the last minute decided to change to a dark blue industrial style one as it was more in-keeping with the exposed ceiling beams and architectural elements that we had planned.

We sourced it from DIY Kitchen’s, it was a bit of a leap of faith as we’d never seen one in the flesh, the showroom was in Leeds and we hadn’t had the time to go and take a look ourselves. Thankfully this gamble in our home renovation paid off. They are incredibly competitively priced as you save money on the absence of the designer, meaning that you have to plan and lay it all out yourself. It means being brave, getting your pencil and ruler out and praying that you don’t miss calculate, as you can’t return it for a refund if you make a mistake.

You can have the doors sprayed in your choice of Farrow and Ball colours too for a bit of extra cost. We chose to spray them with F&B Hague Blue and we pimped them up with our own miss matched handles sourced from a mixture of Etsy and eBay. Finally we added a marble style quartz worktop to give it that lux feel. I doubt Devol will be quaking in their boots but we are so pleased with the overall finish for the price that we paid.

Our home renovation story.
We chose a wooden in frame kitchen from DIY kitchens and had it sprayed in Hague Blue by Farrow and Ball.

We may have been left broken hearted by the departure of the sliding dining table idea in our original home renovation plan, but in homage to that we came up with the idea of our moveable kitchen island instead. It gives the space flexibility as I need to teach Pilates from home sometimes, and I can just slide the island out of the way to create more space. It also makes the kitchen feel more bespoke and the chunky brass castors sourced from Ross Castors (this had to be a sign right?) are a focal point in themselves.

Our home renovation story.
We put one of our kitchen units on castors so that it can be easily moved out of the way when I teach from home. It made the space a lot more versatile and gives that bespoke feel.

The Family Room

The larch exposed beams are placed under the sky lights to add architectural interest.

Which brings us to our play room, garden room, sit on your laps and eat if you want to room…whatever you like to call it. We wanted this space to have a relaxed feel. Lots of natural textures and light…LOTS OF LIGHT.

We put in two 2mx1m sky lights, we decided to keep the ceiling beams exposed and as the windows pretty much cover the entire roof in here we ran the beams underneath them to support the weight as they are quite heavy due to being triple glazed for insulation.

It’s architecturally interesting and adds to that industrial feel when paired with the exposed copper lighting we created. We chose larch due to it being cheeper than oak while still having a beautiful grain running through and its not too orange like some of the other options either.

Our home renovation story.
We added a 45cm window to either side of our extension which allowed us a bit of extra space to get an arm chair or a sofa in the window. If this was made out of brick planning would not have allowed it.

As some of you that have done your own home renovation or extension will know, you’re pretty restricted when it comes to the size of extra floor space that you are permitted to have with planning. We added some 45cm wide windows to the side of our bifold doors, this is a cheeky but completely legit way to steal a little bit more space for your extension.

This would not have been approved as a brick built structure but as it was glass it was not an issue. It’s enabled us to have the space for an armchair or another small sofa in front of the doors and I can’t imagine how cramped this space would be without that extra 45cm…its made all the difference and creates a much more usable space. It’s definitely something worth thinking about if you’re struggling with the space that your restricted to by planning constraints.

The Bathroom

Painting in my Christmas pyjamas by torch light before we had any electricity.

This was the first room that we decorated by torch light in our pants during that June 2017 heatwave.

Originally planned as having off-white walls with a ballet pump pink claw foot tub. Again in a last minute change of plan we painted the walls and ceiling in Farrow and Ball Railings with off-white cladding around the bath and basin instead, this was perhaps the second best decision that was made in here as it disguises the restricted head height beautifully as well as adding that bit of drama.

Our home renovation story.
This bathroom feels like such a luxury after dealing with the horrendous draining issues in the old turquoise downstairs bathroom for 3 years.
The linen cupboard with space for a washing machine and tumble dryer has been a bit of a game changer.

The first best decision of our home renovation was plumbing in the washing machine and a space above for a tumble dryer (we still haven’t purchased the dryer so it’s currently a very useful linen cupboard).

Having your washer and dryer on the first floor is an absolute game changer…there is absolutely no need to put them on the ground floor and it means the dirty clothes can just go straight into the drum. It also saves space in the kitchen, allowing for more valuable storage in there which lets be honest is way more useful than in the bathroom.

Our home renovation story.
We changed the layout and reduced the size of the walk in shower in order to fit the washing machine and dryer into the bathroom. A decision that I do not regret.

Now, lets talk about tiles. I chose these patterned hexagon tiles quite early on in the process due to the lead times and the bathroom being fitted out first. Ross sent me a photo of them being fitted while I was living at the sister-in-laws and I hated them. Seeing them on their own without the paint and fittings to tie it all together made them seem random and way too busy. I genuinely considered taking them up but thankfully I stuck with them.

They are now one of my favourite focal points in the house and are so often commented on. I’ve never seen anyone else with them either so sssshhh…lets keep them between us hey.

The photo that almost caused me to rip out the patterned hexagonal tiles that are now one of my favourite things in the bathroom.

The Smallway

What do you call an entrance space that is too small for a push chair so you have to wake your sleeping child up every time you get home? Well I can think of a lot of things I’d like to call it but we’ll stick to the clean version for now.

Welcome to “the smallway“, too small for the grand victorian floor tile entrance that you really want but still trying to make an impact on visitors when you open that front door. It is people’s first impression of your home after all.

Our home renovation story.
The new tiled staircase has saved us from replacing the old mdf one and is a great way of creating an impact in small spaces.

One of the first things we did in phase one of our home renovation was an absolute no brainer, we moved the awkward radiator that made the space too narrow for the push chair and incorporated underfloor heating into the space. We decided against black and white floor tiles as we felt that the entire downstairs should have one consistent floor throughout to make the rooms flow and feel more spacious. We ripped out the wall separating the staircase from the dining room.

Our home renovation story.
Our carpenter created spindles out of quartered red cedar fence posts and created a really useful daybed underneath out of ply wood with lots more storage underneath.

As we weren’t going for that traditional victorian look in the extension we did feel that traditional spindles weren’t appropriate either. I toyed with reeded glass (too expensive) and even corrugated perspex (I’m not sure what I was thinking there).

Eventually we decided to quarter up some red cedar wooden fence posts to tie in with the cladding in the kitchen and family room and we made some floor to ceiling spindles. It’s a great feature in the room and helps the space feel more open and light. Not to mention being a cheep and easy way to create an impact.

Our home renovation story.

When the tiles are the exact right height for the stair treads then you know it’s meant to be…

The sanding and painting of the treads was another story. About 7 sand and fills later and you could still see the imperfections but you have to know where to draw the line and when to lie to yourself that the imperfections “give it character”. I still haven’t caulked around the edges of the steps but we’ll brush that under the smallway carpet for now.

Next, we had to tackle the staircase part of our home renovation. Lets just say the expectations were steep (get it) and the disappointment was REAL when we ripped up the old sage coloured carpet to reveal an MDF staircase.

My dreams of exposing a traditional wooden staircase were squashed and the dwindling budget did not cover a replacement so, I got my thinking cap on and found some floor tiles from Target Tiles that were the perfect depth for the stair risers and set about convincing Ross that tiling the stairs was an excellent idea. Thankfully he didn’t take much convincing and he set about getting his tile on. This part of the staircase tart up was a breeze.

Our home renovation story.
The staircase from above with our custom made downlight concealed in the hand rail.

Like most small terraced houses, we’re definitely challenged with a lack of daylight in this section of the house. An issue only made worse by the kitchen extension soaking up all of the light. To try and counteract this we added a bit of wooden coving to the existing handrail concealing a strip light that adds that little bit of extra light in the day. It also looks super dramatic in the evening, shining through the banister posts.

We added a top light (or fan light) window above the front door and the bathroom door at the top of the stairs to also try and steal some additional light from those areas too.

The Dining Room

Our home renovation story.

Not a huge amount need to change in here really. As mentioned previously in the original home renovation plan this was going to be one large open plan space along with the kitchen and family room. Crittall doors into our snug (the front room) were also on one of the earlier drafts but, to save some cash and bring things back into budget we quickly had to eliminate a lot of the structural beams. We then set about finding ways to make the space feel more open without knocking all the way through.

Our home renovation story.
Proof that serving hatches are not just for Christmas.

We opened up the doorway from the dining room through to the kitchen by about 10″. Its amazing what a difference this makes. We also resurrected the idea of the 1980s serving hatch.

A great way of making two rooms feel connected while still maintaining that separation and dividing wall to hide all the washing up when you have guests over for dinner. This now sits where the french doors into the old side return used to be, it adds light and a little bit of architectural interest too and is very useful for playing pass the pigs in blankets at Christmas so we’re chuffed to bits with it.

The dining room before we moved in.

The only other thing we changed in this room during our home renovation was the addition of the wooden fireplace mantle purchased for a steal on eBay. It gives the fireplace wall some interest as the room had a real lack of character before, we knocked a little inglenook alcove through too, to add some decorative logs which gives the room detail and depth. We also got our structural carpenter to knock up some built in shaker style cupboards out of MDF…but more about this in the next section.

Our home renovation story.
Adding the fireplace alcove, lintel and built in storage has helped to give the room some depth and character.


Ah sweet, sweet storage…you have changed my life.

These floor to ceiling cupboards in the kitchen keep the microwave and kitchen equipment hidden from view keeping the surfaces nice and clear so that you can display all of your favourite bits.

If you like things tidy like I do, plan as much storage into the layout of your home renovation as possible. We have a whole wall of floor to ceiling cupboards in the kitchen which even keep the ugly microwave concealed, and we also designed a huge storage unit for our family room to house all of the plastic crap toys and miscellaneous paraphernalia.

We used our beloved plywood to make the drawers and carcass, and my cleaver Rossage designed some sliding doors to keep the TV under wraps using the same quartered fence posts as used on the banister. If you stand at either end of this long wall the fence posts are like a pair of bookends framing the space perfectly…again impossible to capture in a photo.

Our home renovation story.
We designed this cupboard with sliding doors to hide the TV using the same red cedar fence posts from the banister and plywood from the under stair storage.

We can now pretend to be one of those smug, no telly families that play board games and actually talk to each other. Then when you least expect it, BOOM, we get out our massive 45″, dim the lights, turn the sofa into a bed and invite you round for popcorn….! Bet you were wondering where I was going with that one.

Our home renovation story.

We also built some under-stair storage using…you guessed it…plywood and had a mattress custom made by Mabel and Me Interiors to make it into a cosy reading nook and day bed.

Our home renovation story.
Arty, blurry shot of my son walking down the stairs just because.

So, how much did all of this built in storage cost? This is a question that I get asked a lot when I talk about our home renovation. Built in storage is expensive. Carpenters are expensive.

We asked our structural carpenter to charge us his day rate to build all of our cupboards for us. These are the guys on site that build the structural frames in a project. They don’t generally build furniture so you may not get the finish that you might expect from someone that does that every day as their bread and butter but as a result they are much cheaper. It saved us a fortune and as we embrace the rustic look in this house we don’t mind if things aren’t quite perfect…kind’a lucky that really!

The storage cost us around 2K for the TV unit, under-stairs seating cupboards and shaker style built in dressers in the dining room which was money well spent let me tell you.

Our home renovation story.
These shaker style fitted cupboards have completely transformed the space. We added the same handles as used in the kitchen to keep things consistent as you can see the dressers through the serving hatch.

So there you have it, our home renovation story in a nutshell. I knew it was going to be a long one but our home wasn’t built in a day so this blog post is kind of reflective of that.

I’d love to hear any home renovation tips or cost saving idea’s that you’ve discovered in the comments as we’re all just figuring it out as we go along aren’t we? It’s great to help each other out and share the knowledge as that, after-all, is the reason I’ve starting this blog.

Thanks for following our home renovation journey so far, we still have so much more up our sleeve so stick around.

Garden reno post coming soon. Eeeek.

Our home renovation story.

For more tips and advice on how to introduce biophilic design principles into your home and garden, you can read Marianna’s new book ‘At Home with Nature‘.

At Home with Nature by Marianna Popejoy

Join the conversation


  1. What a great blog. Very informative and innovative ideas. I’m interested in your stairs renovation. You said they were Mdf but does that include the stair treads as well as the riders? I’d like to do the same but my whole staircase is MDF and I have been told the treads won’t stand up to wear and tear.

    1. Hi Rachel! Thank you so much. Yes they are all mdf, 3 years on and it’s all still Very much in tact. No shoes allowed in the house but we do have a dog that runs up and down and I’ve not touched up the paintwork yet…I probably should 🙈x

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