Before we bought ‘The Otto House’ we rented a large, detached three-bedroom house with an enormous studio in the garden. Like many here in the South of England we had to downsize to get on the property ladder so storage has always been a bit of an ongoing challenge. I am a curtain-maker by trade and not only used the old garden studio for making curtains but also for hoarding HEAPS of fabric, wallpaper, paint, magazines, books and anything else remotely crafty. It was like a creative paradise to me and something which I am sure I will never have again, but I am so very grateful for the two glorious years I spent stitching away in there whilst the sun streamed through the double doors. (And the winters spent in a coat, hat and gloves bent shivering over my sewing machine, but, you know, that sounded less poetic!)
There are definitely moments when you are knee deep in rubble, power tools and paint samples where you come to think this must be your life forever. Will I ever rest my fingers on a surface in this house and it not be covered in a thick layer of dust? (Probably not, actually!) Or will we ever have a house without lights hanging precariously from the walls, a rug covering up untiled surfaces, or living a life where you frequent Homebase more than your local pub?!
The first birthday of our firstborn, Darcey, was definitely such an occasion. We were three days away from moving in and had so much painting to do before the carpet fitters arrived that we just simply did not have the time to celebrate her birthday ‘properly’. Obviously, in a world where searching ‘first birthday party ideas’ on Pinterest can send you into a land of vomit inducing unicorn utopia, I found it quite sad that we weren’t making much of, what is, quite an important milestone. We had been a family for a whole year! We had survived! And more importantly, so had she!
As first time home owners there are certainly many things you have to consider that I’d never even thought of before. Now don’t get me wrong, I am really happy with the overall finish and we certainly have made a huge aesthetic transformation to what we started with, but there are some aspects of our renovation that I would do differently if I could.
So, firstly, why the rush?!
We were living in rented accommodation and managed to get a three week overlap where we could live in the comfort of one home, whilst drastically changing the next. Most of the work required was dusty and messy and in a small two-bed, we knew there would be no ‘give’ once we’d moved us, a baby, and all our stuff in, so we really needed it to be liveable and child-safe by the end of those three weeks.
People often ask us how on earth we do it all whilst looking after the children and to be honest with you, there is no magic answer. There is no wand that turns a dingy and dated hallway into a new fresh, practical and modern entrance unless you’re willing to put in the hard work (or hard-earned cash). Whilst we don’t have much of the latter, we have attempted (and completed) many DIY jobs around the house so here’s a few tips that we’ve learnt along the way…
Two of the things that get the most comments over on my Instagram @theottohouse are our bathroom tiles and this exposed brick wall. It really was so very simple to do and at next-to-nothing cost, is a great way to add character to a room on a low budget, but despite that we still felt pretty intimidated by the job and almost didn’t go for it. Do you have similar apprehensions? Read on to see how we did it and how we feel about living with exposed brick, one year on.
When we picked up the keys for our first home ‘The Otto House’, we had three weeks to get it ready for our little family. At the time Darcey had just turned one, and although a walk in shower with large white plastic handrails and a fold down seat may be welcoming for a weary mama after a long sleepness night, it certainly didn’t please me aesthetically or suit our needs as a family bathroom. Thankfully a builder friend of ours was on hand to help us with the tiling and plumbing so we could crack on and get it finished in the couple of weeks before move in day.
We started by ripping out the shower and the awful faux marble plastic surround that had been literally glued onto the tiles beneath it. Having spent ages trying to take the tiles off the wall around the fireplace downstairs, the thought of more tiles that needed removing (especially ones not factored into our tight time frame) was as unwelcome as a James Blunt song on the radio. I needn’t have worried however as the tiles only required a few forceful taps, a bit of leverage with the chisel and they all fell down, bringing the wall with it!