Diary of a Renovation: Playing House

There are many setbacks when trying to renovate an old house. Some I anticipated, others not. Tripping over whilst crossing the street just over a month ago and breaking my elbow certainly falls into the latter. So sadly, yet again, home improvement has been almost as painful and frustrating as my bandaged limb and the physical discomfort of typing has meant that computer work had been reserved pretty much for needs-must activity. But fortunately now then plaster is off and physio has begun and I can once more use all ten digits to type, hurrah! And it’s high time I got back into the blogging saddle, so I’ll start off with another little progress report. Ready for a whistlestop tour?

Hallway, Stairs and Flooring:

Not much has changed here but I haven’t properly shared the renovated floorboards before, so here they are (well, half are – we’re eventually going to carpet the stairs but the ground floor boards are like this throughout now). Having learned how to do this the hard way, I’ll be dedicating a separate post to my methods another time, but I am proud to say we are now a cheapo-laminate-free house! The kitchen is exactly the same as when we moved in (much as I dislike it, it’s functional and therefore ranks further down the to-do list than most of the other rooms) and the dining room is essentially a makeshift junkyard right now until we can get a real shed installed in the garden and finally clear it of wood, cement and power tools. And as for the living room – a most exciting announcement to follow on that VERY soon so stay tuned…


As mentioned in my previous post, this was one of the first rooms we tackled due to its no-shower status (baths have a time and a place, and 6.30am on a freezing winter’s morn when you’re desperately trying to have a quick hairwash and get out the door is NOT one of them). So for a while it looked very much like the photos above – now, it looks like this:

A marked improvement, but so-near-yet-so-far from being finished. We’re still waiting for our plumber to finish the last of his jobs (swapping in a new radiator, boxing in the pipework, a bit of replastering and a couple of other bits) before the fun of decorating and accessorising can finally begin. Oh, and don’t worry about the unfortunate student-standard shelving unit in there. It’s totes going in the (as-yet-non-existent) shed and being replaced by something vintage and lovely ASAP, and needless to say the Swedish Sauna woodwork will hopefully be downpiped in the not-too-distant future. I’ll go into details about the design in a future post, but for anyone wondering, the floor and wall tiles are all from Topps, and the bathroom fittings are from Victoria Plumb and Better Bathrooms.


As the downstairs floorboards are a natural stain, I decided to go for white painted boards up here, mainly as I couldn’t decide which to choose throughout so thought I’d indulge myself the best of both worlds. The fireplace took about as long to sand as the entire floor did but now we’re totally loving its rough luxe finish. Still undecided as to whether to leave it au natural, do something clever or just paint it black. Hmmm.

So once that and the floors were finished, we ‘camped’ for a couple of months with a ramshackle collection of broken old wardrobes and clothes rails, until finally one magical day a man from Hammonds came and put us out of our misery by building us this:

All my life I have dared to dream that one day I might be the owner of proper, grown-up fitted wardrobes, and right now, if I put on imaginary horse’s blinkers and pretend I can’t see any other part of the room/house, it’s like being in a rather upmarket hotel. I wanted them to be very pared back and minimal so as not to faux-match or clash with the fireplace and floorboards, so I couldn’t be more chuffed with my choice of Fusion matt white slab doors and extra-long handles (that I have an overwhelming desire to cover with mismatched washi tape, but am holding back for now). We’ve now just got a bit more light-switch-relocating, woodwork-stripping and bookshelf-fitting to do before we can also finally start decorating in here too.

Office Room:

I cannot think of anything (much) more depressing than working in a wall-to-wall woodchipped white box room, so before I moved my office room in here, I just had to rip it all off. I’ve heard the horror stories about years lost to woodchip wallpaper removal, but either we were very lucky, or it was very badly applied in the first place, as the stuff literally fell off in giant swathes, like the house was begging me to remove it. I was only too happy to oblige, particularly as it revealed some really rather glorious textured, two-tone walls in its wake.

They were extremely crumbly, but after a weekend dedicated to sanding them all back (and two giant tubes of Polyfilla to make good the myriad of holes and cracks), they scrubbed up really rather well. Boyf’s Grandma’s writing desk was popped pride of place in the window, and my Ikea-hacked shelving unit from my old kitchen fits like a glove into the fireplace alcove. Other than that I’m still very much camping in here and will ultimately have to move out again at some point to finish it off and get things put away properly, but for now it does a rather fine little job.

Understairs Cupboard:

OK, not the most glamorous of areas to focus on – but I got the chance to do just that when a freelance feature for Woman’s Weekly magazine came along just as I was finishing up my contract working on the title. The idea was to produce a feature on great cupboard storage ideas, and my little understairs space seemed the perfect spot to showcase a selection of great products on the market to let you do just this. So after a big dollop of elbow grease and a little help from RatedPeople.com (mentioned on their own blog here), we were able to turn it from dumping ground into a fantastically functional storage space*. Here’s the final feature:

I’ll be back later this week with a living room reveal – thanks all for the kind comments on my last post, will continue to share the process as I go!

*The cupboard reserves the right to not be quite this tidy and colour co-ordinated all the time…

{Images} All images are copyright Joanna Thornhill, apart from the much nicer cupboard ‘after’ shots, which were taken by Sussie Bell and are copyright Woman’s Weekly magazine


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About Joanna Thornhill

Freelance Interior Stylist, Author, Writer and Crafter working for a range of magazine titles and commercial clients. Author of Home for Now (CICO Books 2014)

8 responses to “Diary of a Renovation: Playing House”

  1. myfriendshouse says :

    Dear Stylist’s Own, please please please can you sort out under my stairs too? Love My Friend’s House (half of). PS All your home improvements look fantastic.

    • Stylist's Own (by Joanna Thornhill) says :

      Why many thanks, My Friend (half of). Sadly the cupboard is not looking *quite* as lovely these days – giant black winter coats just aren’t as chic, and we had to photoshop out a giant patch of rising damp discovered shortly before shooting, and for some reason the boyf refuses to colour co-ordinate his clothing/shoes/keys/glasses with the cupboard’s designated colour scheme, tsk. If only Real Life could be pre-styled and photoshopped, sigh…

  2. Tim Brownell says :

    Some great ideas here, I’m in the process of moving It’s amazing how you’ve transformed the small space under the stairs into a quirky little storage room, we have a space under the stairs very similar to this, so thank you for the advice! 🙂

  3. Jay Lawrence says :

    Hi i was just wandering how you stripped back the boards in your hall right up to the skirting? or did you take up and replace? dreading attempting mine in a similar victorian hall, as I just know i wont get it clean enough at the edges using a hired edge sander.

    • Stylist's Own (by Joanna Thornhill) says :

      Hello – I used a handheld sander ‘mouse’ to do the edges – it went (pretty much) right up to the edge. I’ve done the same throughout the house. We hired a big ol’ industrial sander for the week which did come with optional extra of an edge attachment, which I wish we’d got now as I think this would have saved loads of time, but I think we still would have had to use the sander mouse to go right to the very edge. Will do a post on the whole process when I have time. I won’t lie – it’s a horrid, messy job, but totally worth it in the end and will hopefully look good for years to come. Good luck – I’ve still got back room and landing/stairs to do, eek!

  4. SNH Tradecentre says :

    Great to see so many different ideas in refurbishing your bathroom. There are great shower heads and shower accessories available that can really jazz up an often overlooked part of the bathroom. Practical can also mean fabulous.

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