victorian terrace

DIY Victorian Stair Makeover

One of the first things I thought when I viewed the house for the first time was ‘urgh, who paints everything white?’ and my second thought was ‘How the fuck am I going to undo all this!?’

A couple of months after we moved in, I did some research online and found a chemical paint stripper that would be strong enough to remove the paint from the stairs (Yes… there is white paint from floor to ceiling!!) I settled on Langlow’s Strip Away Pro. It had brilliant reviews online for its efficacy,  I decided to give it a go. A word of warning though – it is designed to be used by ‘professionals’ and as such, is only available to buy on Ebay and Amazon. It is incredibly strong stuff and burns through latex gloves – I double glove with Marigolds AND latex gloves underneath and still have to replace them after a few uses. Langlow paint stripper BURNS the skin, so protective clothing, gloves and facemasks are definitely necessary. It’s also important to adequately ventilate the area before, during and after use as it also burns the lungs if not properly ventilated during use.

So, I have my stripper, some wire wool, a scraper, protective wear, some cloths and a bucket of water and get to it. I started on a floorboard nearest the bedroom as we have a yoga mat in the hallway (it’s incredibly echoey when everything is painted and there are no carpets!) so I could hide it if it didn’t look good or work out. Luckily, the paint came off incredibly easy with the scraper. Sadly, the previous owner hadn’t done the best job (to put it lightly!) on painting or varnishing the entire hallway upstairs and down. The whole lot needs to come off, then be sanded down. What a job!

I have to say, I am loving every minute of it! Yes, it stinks, yes it’s hard work physically (I’m wearing my wrist splints more and more since I started the stair makeover) but the instant gratification of the paint coming away is indescribable! Renovating a house is an incredibly slow, laborious thing if, like me, you have no money. I’m doing the stripping myself as my Fiancé works full time and I am really enjoying having something to fill my time with.

Here are some pictures of the stair makeover so far…

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I quickly found out that to strip the paint (mainly gloss, with 2 layers of Victorian varnish) from the skirtings was not a job for a chemical paint stripper. I googled how to strip paint from skirting boards and architraves and decided the best course of action would be to purchase a Heat Gun.

I practically ran down to my nearest Screwfix and bought their cheapest (yet most highly rated!) 2000w, 240v heat gun by Energer. I already had everything I needed so the next day after watching several You Tube videos, decided to give it ago.

It’s definitely all about trial and error and I learned quickly the best techniques for stripping the skirtings. I’m really enjoying the process of stripping, but I honestly can’t wait to hire a sander and get them ready for my next step (staining them as dark as possible!)

Here’s what the skirting boards look like.

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I ran out of chemical stripper so am waiting for a delivery of the next 5 litre can. I’m working with the heat gun on the skirting boards while I’m waiting to finish the stairs.

The next step, as I’ve said, will be to hire a belt sander (my dad’s loaning me his hand sander for the fiddly bits) and then I’ll look into the array of wood stains. My plan for the hallways and stairs is to stain the wood as dark as possible – a dark mahogany, hopefully, then matt varnish over the top. I’ve been researching original victorian floors and the plan is to get them looking as authentic as possible, so that means they’re going DARK! No more white paint thank you very much!

Watch this space – I’ll be posting another blog once I’ve finished the stripping process and I’ve hired a sander… that’s the really scary bit! Eeeeeek.

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The things no one tells you about being a first time buyer…

In May 2017 my partner and I set about looking for our first home together after 3 years of hard saving and scrimping and some help from a very wonderful Aunt.
We finally moved into our first home on Friday 13th October 2017 – yes, we are aware that we are nuts to choose to move house on Friday 13th but if you knew us as a couple, you probably wouldn’t be surprised!

Here are a few tips we picked up along the way – some obvious (now, in hindsight!) and some not so obvious…

ONE

Know thyself. 

When I say this, I mean know exactly what you want in a property before you set out – it really helps to have a firm idea of what you need vs what you want. We agreed very early on that we would never consider purchasing either a flat or a new build – a period property (Victorian, or Edwardian at a push) was the ONLY option for us and we stuck to that – even when offered to view affordable 1930s properties, we stuck to our guns because we knew in our heart of hearts what was right for us.

TWO

Know the Compromises

We knew we’d never be able to afford a ‘liveable-inable’ house straight off. We viewed some real shit holes to begin with then as we viewed more properties we learned what certain things mean in property listing on sites like Zoopla and Rightmove; such as a ‘manageable, low maintenance garden’ usually means a concreted or paved courtyard that you couldn’t swing a dick round.

There was one thing we were not prepared to compromise on, and that was the garden. We did however, fall in love with a property that had quite a tiny garden but we put an offer in anyway as the house itself was almost perfectly formed. Thankfully, we didn’t get that house – we found a house that was even better with a BIGGER garden in the end – so, perhaps ignore that bit of advice 😉

THREE

Know your limits

If you’re confident at haggling then this will definitely stand you in good stead for the ‘making an offer’ part. Be prepared to hear the ‘big sell’ – things like exaggerating how much interest they’ve had in the house, exaggerating how many offers they’ve had and even being asked after you’ve made an offer, if you can offer more. If you have trouble saying no, then try and get some help from friends or family to give you support while you make your negotiations. Don’t be fooled into thinking the estate agent is working on your behalf – they are not, they are working for the SELLER to sell the house at a price they want (and the estate agents really want to sell houses and get their commission!)

FOUR

Know your budget – and stick to it.

When we agreed on our budget, we decided on what we could afford to offer and we stuck to it. We stuck to our guns so that we didn’t break into our ‘renovation fund’ that we had running alongside our deposit fund. We sat down and agreed on the mortgage we could afford – we did not go for a huge mortgage, we saved for a bigger deposit instead. We agreed that being mortgaged up to the hilt is not for us and we want to have a good quality of life while we pay off our mortgage; so we worked out how much per month we could live comfortably on while paying the mortgage.

FIVE

Know your geography or at least learn it! 

We moved to a relatively new town – I’d been a frequent visitor to the town for years but have never really paid any attention to anything other than its shopping centre. We learned very very quickly from many many viewings which areas to avoid! There were around 6 areas of the town and we very quickly shaved 3 areas off the list simply by viewing houses in the area. The best piece of advice I can give you is ‘buy a not so great house in a great area, not the other way round’ because after all, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. It’s a cliché  but it’s true.

SIX

NEVER Scrimp on a survey

I spent months reading and researching Victorian properties and quickly learned a few important differences between new builds and period properties. I phoned up innumerable surveyors and asked how they measure for damp – old houses are usually damp and I found a wonderful gentleman called Peter Ward (look him up on Youtube) who knows everything about period properties – from his site I learned that a decent surveyor won’t use damp meters. They will know that victorian properties need to breathe and will point out things that a not-so-knowledgeable surveyor may not notice. I can personally recommend 1st Associated surveyors – we had a full survey done and the report was over 100 pages in length and was incredibly detailed. Even our estate agent was impressed with it – it helped us to re-submit a lower offer taking into account the structural issues with the house that we wouldn’t have known about without the survey. It wasn’t cheap, but it was absolutely worth every penny (or pound!)

SEVEN

KNOW YOUR PROPERTY

LIME EVERY TIME

The most frustrating thing I found when viewing properties was how much damage people have inadvertently caused when ‘modernising’ period properties. Seemingly simple things like re-pointing brickwork with cement mortar instead of lime mortar can severely impact the level of damp in a house. Cement mortar creates a barrier that means that moisture in the house cannot escape the way it was designed to – through the bricks and mortar.

Another death to period properties is double glazing windows (and in lots of privately rent homes, we noticed very few extractor fans were in use) and no ventilation – and hence, damp and mould.

PERIOD PROPERTIES NEED TO BREATHE – That is the difference between new builds and period properties.

Also look out for modern plastered walls – always try to replaster period houses using lime based plaster, not gypsum plaster, so that the house can BREATHE.

A Final Word

For us, the biggest hurdle when buying a house, was the deposit. It took us years and years of living separately and saving. We lived within our means (and continue to do so) and saved as much as we could get away with, without leaving ourselves ridiculously poor. We went without – I didn’t fritter my money on clothes or shoes and when we did buy things, we bought things ‘for the house’ – like furniture (thank you to my Mum and Dad for allowing us the use of their loft as storage for the past 3 years!)

The hard save is worth it – that pair of shoes or latest games console, is not.

Your deposit is what gives you freedom – freedom to choose a decent mortgage, a decent property and gives you freedom to own more of your house from the outset. In my opinion, there is no point putting down a 5% deposit and paying a huge mortgage for 35 years and living hand to mouth. Live within your means. Good Luck!!!

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