What To Expect When You're Renovating - Part 3 feat. The Frugality
It's time for the third installment in my What To Expect When You're Renovating series of interviews. And this one is a bit special. I have long been a fan of The Frugality's Alex Stedman and her style. I mean seriously, there is almost nothing she wears that I don't see and immediately want to buy. And I'm sure many of you have been following Alex and her husband Chris' journey renovating and transforming an Edwardian house in North London. The renovations are still ongoing but they've done an incredible job so far. The main reason that I've found it so inspiring is that Alex has been so open about the harsh realities of renovating and budgeting etc. It hasn't all magically just happened and they've worked really hard to get to this point. You can hear more about that from her below...
She's also lovely IRL too and was patient enough to answer me two sets of questions for this piece, after I mucked it up the first time. I first approached Alex about doing this for me absolutely aaages ago. It was very early days in the blog and I honestly don't know what came over me. I'm a journalist. Asking people questions is what I do! And in my previous life I had asked people a lot more difficult questions than these. But I think I was worried about putting her out, or asking too much of her, as she was clearly a mega busy blogger. So instead I asked way too little, and by the time my journalistic instinct had firmly returned, I realised there wasn't really enough to put together a strong feature. And it was all my fault. What a wally!
Thankfully for me (and you), that was a fleeting blip in my common sense and better judgement and I am now operating at my usual high level of intelligence and sensibility ;-) So having met Alex a few times since, when I bumped into her again at an event a few weeks ago, I admitted my mistake and asked her if she wouldn't mind answering a few more questions to top up my feature. She would have been well within her rights to tell me to jog on, I'd had my chance and mucked it up. But she didn't bless her. She got these over to me just before heading off on her maternity leave, for which I wish her all the very best.
Anyway let's put that behind us shall we, it won't be happening again. Here is Alex's renovation story so far...
1) Hi Alex, tell me a bit about how you came to buy the house and how it looked when you took it on?
AS - Despite living in South London we didn’t feel we needed to be 100% tied down to an area, so decided instead for the best investment to look for, the most affordable (!) areas within zone 3 as we love London and still wanted to be close enough for transport. We were excited to try to look for a project, which are quite hard to find these days so when we saw this house we knew it was too good an opportunity to miss. The previous owner was a hoarder and had no working kitchen or gas meters and only one room in the house was really being used.
2) What advice would you give to anyone about to take on a big renovation project?
AS - I suppose don’t take it on lightly, we all watch Homes Under The Hammer thinking it’s quite easy but if you don’t have any structural skills yourself it can become very expensive and there have been times when this has been psychologically draining though it's much better now.
3) Last time I spoke to you, you sounded a teeny bit fed up with it all and you took a bit of time out from renovating to recharge. But you seem to be making amazing progress now, how are you feeling at this stage?
AS - Yes feeling much better, having a baby gave us a push that we probably needed. The new rooms (bedroom & hallway) have given me the sanity that I was due. It’s been hard, as we’ve had to borrow money ourselves that still needs to be paid back, but I think it’s worth it at the moment.
4) And now you have a baby on the way imminently which is very exciting! Did that change your approach to the renovation both in terms of outlook and the order in which you had planned to tackle things?
AS - We had always want to do the kitchen next, however our main bedroom is a really large room and we figured that it was more cost effective to do that room. It’s a large enough room that we could almost turn it into a studio flat, that will probably be used more with the baby on the way for the first few months (and we can still live on microwave meals!)
5) Have you got plans for a nursery?
AS - As the baby will sleep with us for a few months, not quite, but once we move our stuff out of the spare room into the main room we‘ll have a room we can start to think about doing something with.
6) You both seem to have been very hands on with the renovation. What DIY skills have you learnt that you didn't know you had in you?
AS - I’ve always known painting is something I can achieve myself, but my husband has definitely learnt a few things. He laid the flooring himself in the spare room and my dad has been over to help and has shown him all sorts in regards to plastering, heat gun, paint stripping etc.
7) When we last met we were chatting about the best way to deal with grumpy builders and plumbers. Any tips for keeping your builder happy whilst also getting what you want?
AS - To be honest I think the key here is to have a really good builder. We knew from doing our bathroom that our builder was reliable, cared about what we wanted & understood that my personality was not one that would compromise. I think always give them a heads up about what you want in advance, if you want chevron tiles that you know are going to be tricky, give them enough time to plan rather than letting them know at the last minute.
8) You've said previously that you're a self-confessed colour-phobe in the home but I see you've been embracing more of it lately with that lush teal velvet sofa (from Habitat). Can we expect more of that in The Frugality House?
AS - I’ve definitely moved towards colour pop furniture lately but I still think neutrals on the walls & floor are going to be a constant in the Frugality house.
9) What has most surprised you since taking on this renovation project?
AS - The cost, I suppose we were a bit naive, we knew it was going to cost a lot of money but nothing really prepares you.
10) Have you had any moments which have pushed you to the edge at the time, but you can laugh about them now?
AS - Not having water hot or cold for a month, we had to fill a bucket outside, from an outside tap and carry it through the house to the toilet every time we wanted to go, and wash our hands with a sanitiser. All while having no heating in January. That was tricky when we look back on it, but you just get through it because you don’t have a choice and it makes that hot shower in February all the more worth while.
Thanks Alex and see you on the other side!
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