Lessons Learned From a Five Year Renovation Project

Homes & Interiors

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Hi, I’m Claire – a wife, animal lover, home-owner and all round interiors obsessive. By day I am Head of Sales and Marketing for an interior design company and by night I write an lifestyle blog called The Green Eyed Girl.

My husband and I have lived in our home in Birmingham for just over five years and we have been renovating for much of that time.

Before we met Will already had two renovation projects under his belt and not long after we got together he bought his third.

I loved being part of the process and offered up my interior and decor skills as a contribution. We extended, renovated and sold that house within a year and eagerly made our way to the next, learning and improving from the last one.

Once that was also sold we were on a roll and started looking for the next one. However, a change in the market meant despite putting in many offers we simply couldn’t pin down our next project.

It was then I found a house that was a HUGE project – a big Edwardian semi in a desirable part of Birmingham that needed all the work doing to it. It was unloved and in desperate need of some TLC. It was my dream home and I knew straight away that if we bought it, I wouldn’t be able to sell it on. Luckily, once Will had seen it he thought the same and we embarked on our biggest project yet.

The renovations started on the day we got the keys and it was only a few months ago that we could say that major building work had been completed.

We have knocked down, extended, reconfigured, replastered, rewired, replumbed, refloored, relandscaped and reimagined the whole space to create a home that we are as pleased as punch with.

There have times when it has been really hard going. We both have demanding full time jobs and so the house renovations and decisions had to take place in the evenings and weekends, not to mention we lived in it through all the work. There have been tears and tantrums (mainly from me) but it is safe to say we are delighted with the end result and we learned a lot along the way.

So in the interest of sharing, here are the greatest lessons I learned in the hope they may help you if you are embarking on a project of your own.

And if you have already completed a renovation yourself I would love to know which ones you nodded along with!

Lesson 1: Set a budget and then double it

Ok so maybe doubling it is a bit of an exaggeration but seriously, whatever figure you have in mind it is going to only go in one direction and that’s up.

We learned the hard way at the beginning thinking we were clever, researching the most affordable ways of doing and buying things and generally just being smart arses but we soon started to realise we needed to be more strict and allow for a contingency or we would run out of money.

We learned to create a budget for each element of the renovation including quotes from builders, tradesmen, interiors and then add on an extra 15% to cover additional costs.

In our experience, there is always something extra that wasn’t expected such as the time we found the previous owners had knocked down a supporting chimney breast and one half of the house was dangerously close to falling down. Or the time we found a leaky gas pipe that needed to be replaced and diverted. Actually, that happened twice. The joy!

Lesson two: Patience is a virtue

I didn’t realise how much patience was going to be required when we started, but basically as well as costing twice as much, everything takes twice as long. I have never hear of a building or renovation project that takes less time than expected – it is always longer.

I also had to deploy a general patience in order to cope with the mountains of dust, flaky tradesmen (why do they never turn up when they say they will?) and general stress of it all. I leant to shrug my shoulders and say Cest La Vie as often as I could as being stressed, annoyed and frustrated left me feeling, well, stressed, annoyed and frustrated.

And when you are washing up int he bath or have no heating and your plumber goes on strike it is really hard to be patient!

Lesson three: Where did all the tradesmen go?

Ah, tradesmen. They deserve a mention all on their own as they wrap up patience, money and sanity all in to one. Will’s brother works in the building industry and helped us with all of our building work and we still had issues finding good, reliable tradespeople who were available before 2025.

We realised that finding the right tradesmen at the right price can be a monumental task and waiting for them to then become available is something that requires Dalai Lama resolve.

The best people tend to come from personal recommendations but if you live in a different area to your friends and family or are the first to require a certain trade or skill then you are in for a challenge.

We often found ourselves spending hours of searching on the internet, sending countless introductory emails and having numerous initial meetings before we found someone right for the job.

My advice? Well I’m not sure I have advice but I really do want to forewarn you.

When you do find somebody good, ply them with all of the tea and biscuits they can withstand in the hope they’ll come back for the next job you have!

Lesson four: Get to know your style

A renovation somehow brings all your style and taste considerations to the fore front and will make you question your very personality.

Or maybe that’s just me?!

More than once when making a decision for our home I could be found head in hands asking “who even am I?”.

I think it is because I was creating something that meant so much to me, was costing us a lot of money and I wanted to make sure I was going to LOVE it all not to mention live with it all for a long time that made even small decisions feel like much bigger ones.

Picking paint colours was my nemesis and I am still going back and overturning some of my earlier decisions.

I found creating a shortlist of the style or items that I liked and pinning them somewhere I saw them regularly helped. Each time I passed them I would quickly assess which caught my eye first and what felt right most often.

If you are the kind of person who already knows what they want, please be my friend and tell me your secrets!

And finally…

Lesson five: There’s no such thing as finished

Finishing something is a state of mind. We ‘finished’ our kitchen years ago but we still need to sort out proper sofas for the area and I have forever in my mind had the idea of repainting the island. I told you paint colours was my nemesis.

As a bit of a perfectionist, I know I am always going to want to change something up, add something, redo something.

And of course, now that some of the work we have done is over five years old, it is almost time to go back over and refresh it 😉

I’ve learned the key thing is to finish to a standard that you are happy with and can live in and allow yourself the time and freedom to add the finishing touches.

And I have also realised that other people are far more forgiving than I am of myself. No one else notices the imperfections, unfinished bits or things that didn’t go quite to plan.

_______________________

Oh, and one more thing….get used to hearing the saying ‘It will all be worth it’. It’s true, but it will become such a cliche that you will want to punch anyone that says it to you.

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7 Comments

  • Enjoyed this. Lesson four is so true..and one we didn’t really think about up front. We’ll probably change a lot of ours as we go for just this reason..evidently we still don’t know who we are!! I blame it on being a gemini. Haha.

  • Love this! Such good advice and I love the before and after photos. Certainly all worth it in the end, must remember this!

  • Thank you for sharing Claire. Great read and your home looks beautiful!

    Number 2 made me laugh out loud. We moved in to our house last May, with quite clear ideas of what we wanted to do and how we are going to totally transform it. I started to make a project plan of when things would be done and trying to schedule it in to our lives (I travel with work a lot), which was questioned a lot by family and friends who had done similar, but I carried on with totally naive expectations. My dream kitchen / diner should have been “finished” for my birthday last August (lol)
    Instead, we didn’t start until mid August and only just got it fully useable to host on Christmas Eve, after weeks of cooking in a microwave oven in our lounge and washing up in the bath for what felt like forever. We have so much to do but it’s ours and we’ve lived through the tears and tantrums and created something us and totally perfect in my eyes.

    Now to be totally realistic about renovating the rest of the house ‍♀️

    • Thank you so much Allie.

      Ah, it happens to us all! It just means you are part of the renovators club now.

      It is so brilliant that you’ve created somewhere unique and perfect for you. Hope the rest goes really well too,

      Claire xx

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