Top Ten Things I Learned During Our Major Renovation

We recently completed an extension on the back of our house which has allowed us to have a much expanded kitchen, dining and sitting area. The project took four months -- from June 19th to Oct 21st (not that I have been counting).

I know my renovation project is not of interest to everyone, so to try to make it more universal, here's what I learned throughout the process. Just in case you are going through it too, or might someday.

10. Know that you will lose it a bit. I wrote previously that I don't know how people do jobs where their clients are going through something that is emotional, life-changing or something they may just do once and therefore have very little experience of. You can read the entire post, or I can just tell you that at one point the Hub hit reply all, instead of just replying to me, so our kitchen designer got to see him say: "Can't take this anymore..."

9. If you are doing the renovation with a partner, you will worry about completely different things. The Hub worried that the house would fall down -- literally. So the early stages where the steel was being put in to support the upper stories of the house and the walls were being knocked down made him incredibly anxious. For me, it was having people in my house all the time that drove me crazy. And the mess and the dust. I felt claustrophobic. If the house had fallen down at least I would have felt less hemmed in.

Top stories of house held up by steel
8. Keep the neighbors onside. Make sure your neighbors know what you are doing and when. If in the U.K., you will need to let them know when it comes to third party wall agreements anyway. But do whatever they ask -- even if it is something that costs extra money. Do it, and do it gracefully. These are your neighbors for a lot longer than the project lasts.

7. Be bold. I wanted to paint the kitchen cabinets a really bright blue (Deep Space Blue by Little Greene if you're interested in the detail). The Hub and I had decided blue would look good, but the other choice was a more sensible classic Royal Navy. I wanted Deep Space Blue - it was the color that made my heart lift. But our kitchen designer told me he thought I was "bonkers" and I worried it was too bold. I asked nearly everyone I knew (and probably drove my colleagues a bit mad). Views were split, however. At the end of the day, I had to go with my gut. I don't regret the decision though - I love it. It makes me happy every time I see it, and that's what's important.

6. Just make a decision. Even if you have professionals doing the heavy lifting on a project, they can't do anything unless you've made a decision -- about the tiles for the floor, the splashback, the kitchen handles, the lights, the door knobs (I could go on. And on.) There were so many choices to make and my natural inclination was to want to wait to make decisions -- because next week I'd probably make a much better decision. But I fought this instinct tooth and nail and we became very disciplined about just making decisions quickly. And that really helped keep the process going quickly, which I think is one reason that our project actually kept to schedule. You won't make a better decision tomorrow than today!

5. Pay up. We hired a building and design company to source the sub-contractors for us and to do the project management. It seemed like the more expensive option, but we knew nothing about how to do a renovation and felt it would be safer to do it this way. I think actually in the end this saved us money -- and a lot of worry.

4. Ask everyone you know. All that said, it also helps to get as much input as possible. Throughout the process there were moments where we talked to friends who made absolutely crucial suggestions. One of my friends is a designer and we bought her wine and pizza and she looked at our designs -- literally days before we were scheduled to begin -- and she influenced substantially the final design of the kitchen. Another friend suggested we paint the larder and cabinet housing the refrigerator the same color as the wall to break up the blue, which really worked. And another friend solved my double-oven dilemma (a story for another day). There is great knowledge in people all around you -- sometimes you only have to ask to find out!

3. Don't panic! There were a few times when one of us panicked. And I certainly panicked when I saw the color of the cabinets for the first time. But the crises never lasted too long and we had some very good professionals on the job, so everything always got sorted out in the end. You may be spending a lot of money, but at the end of the day everything doesn't have to be perfect, just good enough (this attitude may also be why our project got done on time).

If all else fails, have a drink!
2. I have got the bug. I am surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the process. Not just the finished product, but watching it all happen, learning about how it got done and yes, actually making the decisions. I really like the idea of space and how people live in it. I liked it so much that we might even be embarking on another renovation project... so watch this space.

1. It is really worth it in the end. The times when I did get stressed and annoyed, everyone would say to me, "Don't worry, it will all be worth it in the end," and to be honest, I wasn't sure that I believed them. But it's true. The project has been done for over a month now and every time I walk into our new kitchen it really still does feel like Christmas morning. I love sitting in that room and remembering making all the decisions and what it used to look like before. I have to say, I feel much more attached to that room than anywhere in the house.

(P.S. If you are so inclined to have a poke around, click here to see all the photos from the project -- before, during and after. And let me know what you think of the bonkers blue!)


  1. Bonkers Blue rules. Great choice, which is evidenced by you feeling like Christmas each time you walk in. Happy housewarming!

    1. Thanks! (Even though I don't know who this is!) People seem to like the blue...


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